It has been fun - and it has also been a fascinating and stimulating journey already, crafting such a broadly collaborative track and is very much in line with the way I’ve always seen Campfire evolving and pioneering new ways of working together.
Spring Equinox sees the release of the first Campfire Circle Singers project in its initial form, the first sighting of an evolving musical journey that started in November at Campfire Convention 002.UK at Union Chapel.
Iteration #1 a collaborative remix that has culminated in the track 'Sa Ta Na Ma' (Iteration #1), seen here in pre-release form
The track was hugely significant for me in that it was the first musical event in twelve years that made me want to go back into the studio and start creating music again.
I felt very much as if I was tapping into a new direction and fresh sound, one based around the power of communal singing, underpinned by a primal desire to find our individual voices and to map that onto a bigger collective picture which opened up possibilities way beyond musical creation - into realms of collective consciousness and even transcendence.
Those who were there will recognise the feelings that the sessions instilled in them. What has been even more interesting is the virtual collaboration that followed whereby the creative process was expanded, brining in 30 people up to this point in time. I’d like to think that our upcoming Global Beacons focused around solstices and equinoxes gives the track potential for new interpretations from different parts of the world, whether in live circle singing sessions or in recording studio reinterpretation situations.
The evolution of the track for me demonstrates the creative potency of collaboration. It has already been through several stages in its journey, given birth at the spontaneous, joyous circle singing led by facilitator @Tobias Hug at the Campfire meeting in London in November which I fortuitously managed to capture on my iPhone, followed by the positive reaction that was flowing after the event about this session.
I spoke to Tobi about his discovery of circle singing and what it meant to him:
"I’m a singer, beatboxer, choir conductor and ensemble leader as well as a programmer for acappella festival. I was in The Swingles for eleven years and am now a member of Beatbox Collective. I like to organise or facilitate music, teach it and perform it, freelancing, meandering and voyaging around the world, travelling between different vocal events, beatbox festivals etc
My discovery of circle singing came about Bobby McFerrin who is very much a one man orchestra, it’s incredible how he uses his voice in very instrumental ways, singing all the parts at once. Whole concerts can improvised, using the voice and basing the whole thing on improvisation. He creates little motifs and gets the circle to repeat the sections, once he’s created two, three, four of these interlocking motifs, it becomes a very powerful musical moment - the spontaneous nature is what gives it much of that power. The concept is to loop little motifs - looping is repeating and it is a psychologically powerful tool where you are likely to get yourself into trace like state through the sheer repetition. That tool is used in musical forms - canon, round sound, ground bass and is also used in religious practice like a mantra or prayer where people get into a trance-like state through repetition. It is also about connecting with other people, circle singing is powerful, beautiful and easy, you don’t have to be a singer or very skilled. It’s very democratic and you can develop it into quite a sophisticated art form."
The next stage of the creative process was focussed on the studio rather than the circle, although the circle did widen in unexpected ways, not least the spiritual focus of the track which began to take on a form around life's cycle and universal unfolding. It just evolved in a very organic, natural way.
@Bruce Bickerton and I started to assemble the initial track on one November evening in his Buckinghamshire shed. This involved a lot of ‘found sounds’ - for example, the kick drum sound is me stomping on the floor, miked up with no shortage of audio skills by Bruce and we also played around with hitting a piano lid to get a resonance from the piano strings as well as the percussive strike. Bruce was instrumental in putting me in front of the microphone as part of a natural process given that I was already responding vocally to the track as it was being played back. It was akin to going into another realm where I was suddenly bringing out my primal self, responding to the simple parts Tobi had originally conjured up for the ensemble and I could feel myself responding with a form of rhythmic syncopation underpinned by some neanderthal grunting which was coming from a place I didn’t immediately recognise, surely not from me! It was partly like I was in the studio as Piltdown Man with Hugo Montenegro revisiting ’The Good The Bad and The Ugly’ them tune, it was also pure expression in much more physical way than placing my hand on a keyboard had ever felt. It was a transformative learning experience, as was literally finding my voice. After only ever singing on one track prior to this and not being confident of the results on that occasion, it was a positive step. Bruce was laughing his head off too, which only encouraged me!
The track began to take shape in other ways. I had recently started to do yoga so breathing was often uppermost in my consciousness and I put down some rhythmic breathing to tape. The whole life force element of the track was immediately apparent and took over its onward direction. I played it to @Kimm Fearnley and mentioned the Sa Ta Na Ma element of our recent yoga and mediation. It was a powerful force for me and captured the sense of awe that I have felt whenever I’ve sensed the totality, the infinity of being.
Bruce was busy with other work so I asked @Graeme Holdaway, an old friend who had engineered my very first mix CD for the Big Chill, ‘Eyelid Movies’. He offered some studio time in his Shepton Mallet studio to progress the track. After scoping out how we might lay some of the samples of the original session into the bed of the track, we then looked at developing a rhythm groove. I wanted it to gentle but consistent. I did around half a dozen percussion overdub tracks and we ended up creating a blend of them all. Kimm then phoned in a whispered vocal which sat very well with the rhythmic bed and she also sent the resonant Tibetan bowl sound at the beginning. Tobi then phoned in a lead part which started to carry the track to another level.
I like the idea of performers or singers phoning in their contributions. It means we can work as global collaborators easily and effectively. I’ve never been one for pristine and perfect audio. The first album I produced at Cooking Vinyl was recorded on a cast off Sony Cassette Corder (early 80s pre walkman secretarial device) which was a spontaneous field recording which went on to sell half a million copies so I’ve always elevated the soul and spirit of a recording above any notions of technical excellence.
The final phase of the track’s evolution has happened over two months this year. I was fortunate to be introduced to Paul Leonard in my new home town of Frome and we immediately established a productive way of working so that he could engineer the track in his own time, invite me over to have a listen and do some work on the arrangements or instrumentation and then he’d mail me the latest mix for comment and analysis. In reality Paul brought much much more to the track than just engineering, effectively layering some addition sounds such as sitar and harmonium and also arranging the choir climax at the end of the track. Paul is also into his chanting so he was coming to the track with exactly the right approach and seemed to buzz off it too which was exciting. We naturally settled into a productive way of working. On Kimm’s suggestion, we looked at ways to moved the track into more of a multi-faith arena to bring in different mantras from world religions and invited her friend Irshad Mohammed to phone in a call to prayer from the exotic environs of Sheffield.
Hear the the story on my podcast...
“One of my highlights of the London Campfire Convention event was the impromptu community choir. It kind of summed up the spirit of Campfire for me. We literally had five minutes at the end of thinkshop so we warmed up with some quick, really playful vocal and physical exercises and before we knew it, he’d split us into sections and given us cues for sound and rhythm ideas…he’s basically a brilliant conductor. He told us when to come in, whether it should softly or loudly and effortless we created an improvised, harmonious textured performance with some cool beatboxing from Tobias that brought it all together.
He inspired our innate creativity, reminded us that at any moment, we have the tools to do this thing we’ve been doing since time immemorial ,often around Campfires - connecting with others, expressing our experiences and feelings, celebrating our diverse talents and working together to benefit everyone, even those who just listened. And actually, it was just really good fun.”
It has been fun - and it has also been a fascinating and stimulating journey already, crafting such a broadly collaborative track and is very much in line with the way I’ve always seen Campfire evolving and pioneering new ways of working together. An initial idea is taken and passed on, leading to new insight through interpretation as living embodiment of a democratic process. Campfire as an organisation is beginning to set similar dynamics in motion and will eventually lead to it being a radically different type of networked-based enterprise which can trailblazer new community-based collaborations.
As experiential ways of making music go, I’m joyful to be part of this foray into what is a new kind of wild singing for me. It is somehow tapping into a universal affirmation of wholeness, an uplifting, healing elevation where each contributing became part of a temple of sound where we can all celebrate life and our diverse talents.
The Campfire Circle Singers : Sa Ta Na Ma (Iteration #1)
Finding our collective voice. Conceptualised by Tobias Hug, remixed by Pete Lawrence with co-creative assistance from Paul Leonard, Bruce Bickerton and Graeme Holdaway.
SA is the beginning, infinity, the totality of everything that ever was, is or will be.
TA is life, existence and creativity that manifests from infinity.
NA is death, change and the transformation of consciousness.
MA is rebirth, regeneration and resurrection which allows us to consciously experience the joy of the infinite
Lead voices: Kimm Fearnley, Tobias Hug, Irshad Mohammed.
Ensemble singing: Azka Malik, Manda Graham, Ralph Pettingill, Mark Robbins, Bryony Croft, Jenny Barrett, Eugenie Arrowsmith, Martin Nelson, Michael Solomon Williams, Sharon Prendergast, Ruth Wallsgrove, Jez Allerton, Paula Knee, Lizzie Jackson, Joshua Coase, Elisavet Tapini, Karen Hiorns, Gemma Dempsey, Suzanne Noble, Gaynor O'Flynn, Lou Mycroft, Sally Hughes, Eileen Inglis, Bob Bollen.
Original recording from Campfire Convention 002.UK 04.11.17, Union Chapel, London.