Simon Barker: drums/bass
Phil Slater: trumpet
Carl Dewhurst: guitar (Hill/Mind)
1. On Running (Barker/Slater)
2. Breath Form Movement (Barker/Slater)
3. Hill/Mind (Barker/Slater/Dewhurst)
4. Cyclic and Pendulum (elastic recoil) (Barker/Slater)
Recorded at Studios 301 by David Nicholas, March 2016.
Mixed By Ivan Vizintin
Mastered By Christoph Stickel
Cover image: Simon Barker (Mt Kosciuszko National Park)
Kimnara Records, nara017, released May 2016
Special thanks to Phil Slater for his wonderful contribution to all of these tracks, and to Carl Dewhurst for his inspiring playing on Hill/Mind (and for teaching me how to run barefoot).
Also, many thanks to David Nicholas, the crew at 301, Ivan Vizintin, Christoph Stickel, James Waples, Laurence Pike, Ben Waples, Sydney Conservatorium of Music (University of Sydney), Scott Tinkler, Mash Ferris, Fran Barker, Junko, Amy, Sho.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about running and drumming. If you know me you might think that this is a strange thing to say as I think about those two things constantly, but this time it’s a little different as I’ve been thinking about running and drumming at the same time in order to see how my drumming can be influenced by an ongoing obsession with long distance barefoot running.
About four years ago, I was very fortunate to be introduced to barefoot running through an inspiring lesson (and numerous runs since) with Carl Dewhurst, that focused on the development of natural form and sustainable barefoot running technique.
When running long distances barefoot my focus tends to be on efficiency, form, and trying to get the body moving in a way that is very natural and relaxed. It sounds simple but it’s taken a long period of intensive running to feel like I’m in a position to talk clearly about it.
Barefoot running is a very silent practice as you don’t strike the ground so much as caress or sink into the contour of the area in which you step. When running well, there is no audible impact moment so the only noticeable sound is breathing, rustling clothes, and the peripheral sounds around you.
Even though many of the movements are silent, one can still be aware of the feel and duration of several cycles that are generated when running. For instance, legs move in a fairly constant cycle, arms and hands move like pendulums in small relaxed cyclic movements, the heartbeat carries on, and breathing, if relaxed, maintains a fairly even cycle. I say “fairly” because, if you really concentrate on each cycle, you quickly realise that every repetition of a given cycle is slightly (or very) different to its predecessor. When barefoot running, every step is distinctive as you are negotiating terrain which, even on a smooth bitumen path, is slightly different for every step. Likewise, every breath is slightly/very different in length or intensity, as are all other movements.
I’ve also found barefoot running to be a deeply meditative practice. With such a clear focus on efficiency, sustainable form, relaxed body/breathing, and zero impact, the mind is free to wander and process. Time seems to pass at different rates and most of the clear thinking seems to be subconscious whilst moment to moment awareness shifts from one feeling to the next. There is also a deeply pleasurable step by step feedback sensation with every barefoot step that is reminiscent of playing in puddles as a kid. This kind of meditative running rarely has any fast heart rate peaks so is a fairly peaceful experience (however, there are very intense emotions that pop up when running very long distances but they are not so much energy peaks, more like deep dark times of self questioning). I have a full-time job at the University of Sydney, and I find that if I run to work and back each day my mind is able to process the day in a kind of semi-conscious sorting process that I find hugely beneficial.
When imagining this collection of seemingly repetitious movements layered upon each other we end up with an interesting phasing and layering of different length cycles that offer unique combinations of events with every step.
So I was wondering how to play the drums in a way that responds to this feeling of layered, slightly mutated repetition and a meditative wandering mind, and I was amazed at how clearly these feelings conjured sounds and rhythmic ideas. The idea began with working on a form of micro-timing which sees every repetition of a simple cycle land in a slightly different location within the pulse. Over time, a process evolved to manage these locations and I found a very clear connection between mutating repetitions and the kinds of feelings I experience when running. Also, when developing ideas that featured repetitious overlapping cycles, it was immediately obvious when, for example thinking about brush strokes and breathing, a cycle was too quick in its decay as I’ve had thousands of hours hearing myself breathe whilst running.
I think this is the first time that I’ve had a very clear aesthetic goal that has arisen from a nonmusical activity, and also one which is produced mainly from collections of rhythms` and feelings that respond to physical motions and breath lengths. Since I first began playing music, I’ve been guided by aesthetic parameters and processes developed by others. Not so much stylistic parameters over the last decade, but aesthetics that inform how one creates tension and release with rhythm, the balance between high and low sounds, or processes that lead to certain kinds of rhythmic outcomes. Of course, over the years I’ve developed a large collection of my own processes and rhythmic language but most of the time the source material is cobbled together from various points of musical interest and influence. I’ve spent a lot of time studying with musicians here in Australia, with traditional artists in Korea, jazz musicians in NY, and a variety of shakuhachi teachers. All of these wonderful experiences have greatly shaped the way I think about ways of learning, ways of making and thinking about music, process as a tool for development, and looking to traditional forms as a means of finding core knowledge that can be unlocked from its context, mashed up, and re-imagined using aesthetic parameter, alternative process, and malleable core materials. So this is the first project I've recorded where I feel that I can turn to my experiences as a runner for answers to musical questions.
So this music is about running, not for running, and represents a very personal attempt to respond to meditative and cyclic feelings experienced during long barefoot runs.
released May 3, 2016
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