As the days now reach their arms toward longer light, it is with some satisfaction that we have finished our most recent sojourn in the studio in England. The undulating Wiltshire countryside provided an appropriately serene and reflective visual backdrop to our music-making in the Big Room at Real World Studios, which always makes us feel like we are slipping into the comforts of a home away from home.
The Big Room really is a big room. It is multi-tiered and built with live performance tracking by multiple musicians in mind, and has long windows at the front that look out over a pond that never ceases to amuse and delight those of us who are inside wrestling with the musical notes. Last summer we found ourselves watching the heron that came to fish at regular hours and would remind us that it was time for tea. During our most recent visit, we were regaled by the visits of a swan family: seven of them in total, five cygnets and then Mom and Dad. Most wonderfully, they would often visit at night, gliding past the studio windows like silvery ghosts, bathed in the spill-over of light from the studio windows.
As usual, our days were long, but amazingly they didn’t feel that way. This is largely due to the wonderful design and size of space that we work in, like a big musical kitchen, spiced with the wonderful camaraderie of my musicians and colleagues.
After a ramble in the kitchen, some heading for the traditional English breakfast and others just for the croissants and delicious local jam, we would begin our day around 10am, take lunch between 1 and 2pm and then return to work until dinner was called around 7pm. We returned to the studio for the third instalment and would often work till at least 10.30pm if not much later. This daily cycle can go on for at least two to three weeks at a time without stop.
I am sometimes asked why we record at Real World Studios and not in Canada, which is my home base and where there are and have been some very fine recording studios. Our choice of Real World is largely due to two major factors.
The first consideration is being able to conveniently accommodate musicians from all parts of the world by setting up in a centralised location. In some cases, issues like work visas play a role. A second element is that due to the fact that I have also chosen to run my own label /management company, I find it psychologically helpful to be as far away from those kinds of matters as possible, or at least have them diminished by distance. I must truly live and function creatively from another part of my brain. I am firmly convinced there is a kind of “muscle memory” involved in familiar spaces, and although the studio there is familiar, it is still “fresh”, which I also believe is an integral element in the process of creativity.
This musical session once again involved my long-standing colleagues Brian Hughes and Donald Quan as well as Hugh Marsh and Caroline Lavelle. Our first musical guests were a wonderful viol group called Fretwork. The viols are a family of bowed instrument somewhat older than the violin family and are played without vibrato. I absolutely adore the sound they create, and anyone who has played a bowed instrument can appreciate how challenging it is to create a beautiful sound without vibrato.
I also invited some of our Greek friends who had joined us in the summer, to record a lovely piece from the Mediterranean. As with many Celtic melodies, it seems that its origin been lost and is enjoyed if not claimed by many countries in the Mediterranean .
Our last musical guest arrived from Oslo, a wonderful woman and superb musician, Annbjørg Lien, who plays a couple of bowed instruments from Scandinavia. One is called a hardanger fiddle and the other (which looks like an elongated hurdy-gurdy) is the nyckelharpe. The latter truly is a haunting-sounding instrument and before we knew it, word had gotten around to some of the others in the studio environment that there was an “unusual instrument” on the property. We soon had a flock of visitors… like bird watchers come to spot a rare bird!
We wound up the session a little ahead of seeing the snowdrops peek above the sleeping earth with all its beauty and bounty. And just as we were leaving, the fury regarding the insensitive display of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was starting to get under way and at this moment is only barely starting to subside.
Through my music, I have tried in my own humble way to explore many facets of history and humanity through the strong belief that there is more to bind us together than tear us apart. Although on one hand we all cherish the right to freedom of expression, the greater challenge, I believe, is having the wisdom in the interests of social harmony and respect to know when to exert it. I would like to add my voice to the many others around the world who come from various religious and non-religious persuasions who believe that the voice of sensitivity, moderation, tolerance, forgiveness and love is the one which must prevail. In all the ways we can make music in the world, hopefully we can make sure that that raising our voice for peace is heard.