By way of Jay Griffiths, Wes Anderson, Rosie Swale Pope
I’ve been working on an album of songs under the name Solar Violet for a number of years and the sound element has been finished for a good while now. While the album has been mastered by the peerless James Dunn of Cafe Oto, there are pre-mastered versions of five of the tracks over on Soundcloud and as I continue to arrange artwork, I recently put together a video for one of the tracks ‘Wilden Times’ which I have added to Youtube.
The video is a simple enough edit that takes footage from Yuri Norstein’s beautiful 1975 animation ‘the Hedgehog in the Fog’ which I felt went well with the song. In its way, this is probably the softest song on the album and my use of the fretless bass sound from Kawai’s digital piano was definitely critiqued by friends. I would have agreed at one time I am in no doubt and yet when I recorded it, I could not escape the feeling that it worked while foremost in my mind was previous work from Robert Wyatt and Kate Bush who have in the past used this sound to great effect. As such, I was aware there was a lineage of high soundcraft with it – although of course that can never be a determinant for each new instance. There is no escaping that as a bass sound it does lack edge, but it feels like it brings something else – a kind of warm coalescing that works to bring the other sounds together with it. Besides, with a lot of electronic bass sounds and a number of live stand up bass parts from my friend John Brown on other songs I’d recorded, as a sole instance it felt right.
As a song, ‘Wilden Times’ is part of an ongoing area of thought and concern that I’ve had regarding wildness and its something that runs through the album (as well as many posts on this site). In their track ‘Shoot Doris Day‘ from 2001’s ‘Rings Around the World’ Super Furry Animals sang ‘its a fight between the wild and tame...’ and although I became aware after writing the song that it was also about depression (the first line’s reference to the ‘black dog’ reminded me lyrically of Nick Drake while I am aware there are other references out there to the same image/thought in this context) it seems to me that the song is an attempt to break out of a deadened, depressed form of relation through a knowing wildness. I also couldn’t escape the thought that the reference to violence in the lyrics (below) and specifically defusing it – also applies in this way. Depression while being an experience of detachment, ennui, lack of capacity, lack of charge also strikes me as being an oblique form of violence against the vibrance of being. In this way it is understood as a kind of hidden violence against one’s own being and its relation in richness of contact and vivacity to connections of life involving love, intensification and the becomings of flourishing in its multiplicitous possibilities.
In fact it was when I was visiting a friend in Paris and borrowing his spare bike, we were cycling through the city when I was struck by the idea of possibility-in-being as something that could be calm but wild. This was striking because we are habitually held by an image of wildness which is feral and hostile, as such the power of this thought resonated because I realised it held the door to something else, a kind of wildness which ran through poise and hinted at lucidity. To realise one’s wildness as an act of calm and lucid poise and in this way, a knowing or feeling of life which reaches beyond what might ordinarily constitute the same thing when this quality is missing. I hadn’t long finished the song when this happened and I felt that there was a relation there that ran counter to the main image and suggested also that this wildness could be almost invisible or undetectable at different points, an important corollary for a human world replete with intensive traps and striated power relations of unseen and unmentioned kind.
In terms of ideas of the wild and of wild terrain, probably nothing I have encountered beats the introduction of her book ‘Wild an elemental journey’ by Jay Griffiths, a soaring, searing story in itself of her experiences of wildness and wild spaces (opposed in general to the places of most human beings) often extreme, dangerous, extraordinary and alive – she gives expression to its forces with more poetic force and power than virtually anything else I have encountered in writing in this way. It was sometime after I had recorded the song that I was given this book, but it felt like it resonated deeply with what I had also come to understand through my own experiences and journeys to wild places. To wit:
‘I felt its urgent demand in the blood. I could hear its call. Its whistling disturbed me by day and its howl woke me in the night. I heard the drum of the sun. Every path was a calling cadence, the flight of every bird a beckoning, the colour of ice an invitation: come. Every mountain top intrigued my mind, for the wind at the peaks was the flautist, licking his lips, dangerously mesmerizing me with almost inaudible melodies. This was the calling, the vehement, irresistible demand of the feral angel – take flight…
I found a paradox of wildness in the glinting softness of its charisma, for what is savage is in the deepest sense gentle and what is wild is kind. In the end – a strangely sweet result – I came back to a wild home.
From shamans in the Amazon, I learnt something of how the wastelands of the mind, its dark depressions, could be navigated, and from them I learnt to see the world through the eyes of a jaguar. From Inuit people in the Arctic, I learnt something of the intricate ice and how all landscape is knowledgescape. From whales and dolphins I learnt how much we do not know, the octaves of possibilities, the maybes of the mind. From Aboriginal people in Australia, I learnt the belowness of deserts, how land is heavy with significance and how it sings. From West Papuan people, I learnt how freedom is the absolute demand of the human spirit. Everywhere, too, I learnt of songlines, how people who know and love a land can hold it in mind as music.‘
Wilden Times (lyrics)
And finding that sound in the growling of,
The braying black dog,
And turning one’s hand to the way to,
Defuse that violence,
And so from within comes the thought that,
Truth searches out
And outwards it comes like a river this,
This burning wild,
The ripples of when as its known to them,
So caught with what’s back there,
And further ahead in the pack they look,
A remind for you to where,
It’s a calling from wilden times that
Brings out your flight,
So bypassing dogs of the night and
Head straight for delight,
So once again out and about this time,
With a song to steps in mind,
And let go caress to the mess of the rest
The rising of what circums’s breath but
Its gone and returned by the wind and
What gets given love,
And by summer’s sweet breath in the waking of
These earth found lives…
Another moment that for me shines out in relation to this moment, is a favourite scene from Wes Anderson’s best film (probably) The Fabulous Mr Fox, when at the very end and after his wars with the human farmers, Mr Fox encounters the wild outlier; the wolf, momentarily meeting at a distance with the mountains in the background. It is a quietly stunning moment and comes as a strident ignition to the very end of the film. The fox is a humanised creature in this story, endlessly capering for food and family in a human-social world of being, while their encounter with the wolf in this way is the wild outside of their story, touchingly unknown (‘what a beautiful creature’). There is still a wildness to the ways of the fox, but in our spaces now they are so often an interiorised presence within urban structure as scavenger of the tarmac and garden passageways and litterings of the streets… The wolf remains the wild semblance with whom a salute is possible and is exchanged, before they each make their way once more.
From Jay Griffiths and Wes Anderson, it would be remiss if I did not leave the final word with South Wales’ own, the redoubtable and extraordinary Rosie Swale Pope, from whose book about running around the world I also learned that ‘freedom and responsibility go together’. She writes with a stunning simplicity both spare and epic. The prologue (below) to her book ‘Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes’ (which she undertook after the death of her beloved husband Clive) is of her encounter with a pack of Siberian wolves whose connotation for the idea of the wild is probably never more beautiful.