Excerpts from Day Three at the Sydney Cricket Ground:
Starc bowling to Saha from the Paddington end – dot ball; off-drive: boundary; dot ball; dot ball; dot ball; back-foot defence: dot ball.
Watson bowling to Ashwin – edged: boundary; dot ball; dot ball; dot ball; forward defence: dot ball; forward defence: dot ball.
Hazelwood bowling to Saha from the Randwick Street end – front foot defence: dot ball; back foot defence: dot ball; back foot defence: dot ball; drive to mid-on: dot ball; dot ball; off-drive: three runs.
Watson bowling to Saha – forward defence: dot ball; back foot defence: dot ball; forward defence: dot ball; forward defence: dot ball; on drive: dot ball; leg glance: three runs.
Hazelwood bowling to Saha – back foot defence: dot ball; front foot defence: bowler misfields, dot ball; late glide: dot ball; on-drive: two runs; dot ball; off-drive: boundary.
Drinks break – Saha: 34 runs; Ashwin: 11 runs
That was a short excerpt from the 2015 Sydney Test Match between Australia and India. I used similar excerpts from the 2013-2014 Ashes Series in Australia as a framework to compose a piece for brass choir. The piece is basically a continuos repeated pitch, with slightly different shadings of tuning. There are no dynamic changes or shifts in density – a listener might take interest in each event of a player’s articulation of a note, and its ending. The piece has yet to be performed.
Richie Benaud (1930-2015), former Australian team captain, Leg-Spinner and lower-order batsmen,cricket commentator and all-round gentleman son of Western Sydney had what some would consider a peculiar voice, in particular the way in which he pronounced the number ‘two’. And so, the score 2/222 is called the ‘Benaud Score’. In some countries, cricket is scored by the number of fallen wickets followed by the number of runs – 2/222 ; in other countries it is the reverse – 222/2. Why this is, I don’t know.
My performance piece ‘Numbers Descending’ is inspired by the Polish painter Roman Opałka’s number paintings, in which he painted consecutive numbers on canvass starting from 1 and aiming for infinity. The final number he painted before his death in 2011, aged 79, was 5,607,249. Being more interested in zero than in infinity, I started ‘Numbers Descending’ at one million, and have been counting aloud, slowly, backwards from there. It’s more than likely that I will die before I reach the number zero. In performance, each number takes on a real character with relationships to other numbers – consonance and dissonance, internal rhyme and rhythm and my occasional mistakes (counting large numbers backwards is more difficult than it might seem) – and when I reach new decades or centuries, I (at least) hear real timbral shifts in the material. ‘Numbers Descending’ sounds like my attending to a field – a sonic field, a semiotic field – within a recording of a field: the space in which the piece is performed. Each time I count, the space in which I do it is cordoned-off in time and space, and accorded a discrete ‘eventliness’ for me, in my narrative, in my life. What that experience is for the audience I can’t say.
There exists new technology in televised cricket to aid the umpires in making decisions. The sport is a wide expanse of not-much-going-on in a large open field, and when action does happen, it occurs very quickly. These events are sometimes difficult for the umpires to observe with the naked eye. One of these pieces of technology is called a ‘Snickometer’ or the inevitably shortened and O’d in the British Empire, ‘Snicko’. It is a slow-motion video replay with a waveform visualiser on the screen. It is used in order to determine whether the ball has hit the bat, or any other part of the player’s body, should an appeal be made for ‘Out’ caught or LBW. Usually, if the ball has taken a faint edge from the bat or glove, the waveform will appear as a thin spike. Other shapes on the waveform visualiser, the commentators assure us, are other sorts of sounds: the dull thump of the ball hitting the pad, bat brushing the ground, or the dangerously similar to ball-and-bat-edge sound of the ball flicking the batter’s shirt on its way through to the wicketkeeper.
Rhythm is a huge part of cricket. There is the rhythm of a Test Match – five days, three sessions a day lasting six hours in total, breaks for drinks, lunch and tea; distinctive weather patterns at each ground and how they develop over the course of a day; the pattern of the pitch deterioration according to the type of bowlers running on it, as well as the changes in ground and air moisture; the rowdiness of the crowd as they get drunker as the day wears on (this particularly applies to the English travelling supporters ‘The Barmy Army’ on their tours to hotter climes); and the rhythm of each individual player. Commentators will analyse a particular player’s performance in regards to their rhythm. A bowler who is having trouble finding the right line and length or who’s pace is not what it should be, is said to be ‘out of rhythm’. Some commentators will tell you that they can tell just by the run-up of a bowler to the crease, before they have even let go of the ball, whether or not they are in good rhythm that day. A batter, likewise, can be in and out of rhythm, their footwork slow, or not seeing the ball fast enough, the remedy for which is always, inevitably, getting back into rhythm.
Glenn McGrath (born 1970) – legendary right-arm medium-fast bowler, Australian Test, One-Day and T20 team member, and batsman of comically ill repute – is rumoured to have had a song that he sang to himself every time he walked back to his mark before he ran in to bowl again. He played in 124 Test Matches, 250 One-Day Internationals, 21 T20s, and 189 first-class games. He has never publicly revealed the name of the song. This was supposed to keep him in rhythm. His fans composed a song about him and often sang it from the stands when he was bowling well. The lyrics of which are a testament to the affect on creativity of a lot of beer being drunk over a very long time in, usually, very hot weather: Ooh Aah Glenn McGrath / say Ooh Aah Glenn McGrath.
A ‘wristy’ batter, and one with ‘soft hands’ is one who plays with finesse rather than power. Instead of using arm and upper-body strength to smash the ball all over the place, this other type of batter uses the pace of the ball to their advantage, and guides and places it in between fielders when playing their shots. These are the batters who I delight in watching. Batters from the Indian Sub-Continent are more often than not ‘wristy’. This can be attributed to the slow and turning nature of the pitches in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, where the more successful batter is the one who can play more strategically – placing their scoring shots gracefully in un-fielded areas until the fielding captain makes changes to stop the flow of runs in one area, the ‘wristy’ batter uses their ‘soft hands’ to change the angle at which the ball ricochets off the bat, and so scores runs in the places from where the fielders were moved.
I have never heard or read a cricket pundit attribute ‘wristiness’ to anything besides growing up playing cricket in these sorts of conditions. It is odd, however, that two of my favourite contemporary batsmen who happen to be of Sub-Continental descent, yet grew up playing their cricket in very different conditions – Hashim Amla in South Africa, and Moeen Ali in England – are classic examples of the ‘soft-handed wristy bastsman’. Perhaps it is the fear of being accused of racism that prevents people from suggesting that ‘soft-handed wristiness’ is somehow a biological trait of the Sub-Continental human. I myself am ‘soft-handed’ and ‘wristy’ – though a rubbish cricketer, and the softness of my hands are probably an outcome of never really doing any manual labour – these attributes well suit the playing of the trombone. Requiring no nimbleness of finger, wrist control is vital to accurate tuning and intonation on the trombone, as is the ability to control the small muscles in the lips, as well as the tongue, and one’s air flow. As an aside, during a Choral Conducting class while I was studying at the Conservatorium, our lecturer stopped me mid-chorale to complain about the floppiness of my wrists. He asked me ‘Are you a descendant of French nobility?’, my blank face said ‘obviously I’m not! What the hell are you talking about?’ ‘The French nobility were known for having slender wrists’ he replied. Interestingly, there is such a game as ‘French Cricket’, but it has none of the laws or gravitas of actual cricket and is usually played at barbecues or at the beach. But, I digress… To play the trombone very quietly, requires not only very specific air pressure control, but also control over the pressure exerted from the mouthpiece onto one’s embouchure. The amounts of pressure in air, and from mouthpiece to embouchure changes, I find, depending on in which register I’m trying to play quietly. Counter-intuitively, in some registers, for almost inaudible playing a great deal of both types of pressure are required.
Before Konzert Minimal began the process of rehearsing and pre-recording parts for a performance of a piece by Phill Niblock, Johnny Chang and I were talking about other ensemble’s realisations of different works by the composer. Johnny was talking about a certain type of tension that players can play with when playing very loudly, which for Niblock’s work seems necessary, but can result in simply tense instrumental playing, rather than the desired monolithic sound-world. Our concert a couple of months later was quite a success (I think) musically as well as in terms of audience – it was very large, and made up almost entirely of people who had never heard us before. Unfortunately, of our sextet incarnation of Konzert Minimal, zero performers were women. But, two of us were Asian – ethnic minorities in Germany…
I heard recently through the grapevine, but not officially said, that a long-running experimental venue of international reputation here in Berlin made the decision to have at least an equal ratio of female to male performers at all of their concerts. While I acknowledge that it is entirely self-evident that female musicians of equal talent do not receive the same attention as their male counterparts and something should be done about this, I feel a bit wary of the gender-binary enforced by this quota system, as well as the prescriptive nature of it. But, and this is a big but, this venue is trying to do something to address the problem of discrimination against female musicians. It has pushed to the forefront of my mind, when curating concerts, the question ‘who am I unconsciously overlooking, and why?’ and maybe that’s the intention of the curators of said venue. This isn’t ‘identity politics’ they are dealing with, but structural discrimination. A recent personal example: I had the need to invite another instrumentalist to an ensemble I have recently been working with. Another member of the ensemble suggested a cis-female who would be great for the group. I considered it, but instead chose a cis-male performer because, and I quote my own internal conversation: ‘I had heard him and worked with him many times before, so I know definitely that he would suit the ensemble’. The question of why I had heard him and worked with him many times before compared to that of the cis-female performer didn’t even occur to me until later, when discussing the new quota system at the venue.
I recently completed a 365 day text-realisation of Manfred Werder’s 2007(1), the score of which is simply: ein tag/ein klang a day/a sound. It was an exercise in field recording using text rather than amicrophone. Over time I began to come across a problem of assigning gender to invisible agents creating sound. For example, if the sound I chose to record for a certain day was someone yelling from another apartment building, I would find myself writing ‘woman yelling’ or ‘man yelling’, but interrogate myself about how I knew whether it was a certain gender of a person yelling, and then whether or not it even mattered to ascribe a gender to the yelling. But, there is a lot of sonic information in the ‘gendered-person yelling’ compared to that of just ‘person yelling’. The deeper into Manfred’s piece I went, the more entangled I became in the problem of a field recordist describing the world compared to that of a field recordist creating the world. Even now, many months after completing the realisation, I’m unable to see the two as discrete practices. For one day’s recording I agonised over whether or not to write ‘crickets’, as I couldn’t be completely sure whether or not I had actually heard the sound of crickets, or whether I had heard something that sounded to me like crickets but was actually something else, or whether or not the two were even different experiences.
My installation series Words in Trees is an explicit attempt to deal with the issues Manfred’s score raised. A word, the letters of which are made of bread, are hung in a tree like a mobile. As they turn in the breeze and are disturbed by hungry birds and other small creatures, the letters constantly rearrange themselves, reconfiguring semiotic meaning and visual form.
Time and the elements eventually not so much destroy as reconstitute the work, dispersing the material further into space in the stomachs of animals which is later excreted elsewhere, and breaking down – degrading into the earth as parts of the letters fall to the ground. Singular actions dissolving into the world through the actions of other forces: other people, birds, the weather, etc, but nothing is ever destroyed, only mutated, changed, dissolved – language back to words, phonemes, pictograms, and sound combinations – undermining that paltry tool (to misquote or paraphrase I can’t remember who) with which we order a pizza, as well as beg for our lives.
your words in my mouth
my mouth in your words
my words in your mouth
your mouth in my words
(repeated many times)