The battle against the bland
What ties these experiences together is this: in each case, something distinctive has been replaced by something bland; something organic by something manufactured; something definably local with something emptily placeless; something human scale with something impersonal. The result is stark, simple and brutal: everywhere is becoming the same as everywhere else.Once again two paths converge. I have been reading Real England: The Battle Against the Bland by the environmental campaigner Paul Kingsnorth. In this chilling book, which supplies my opening quote, Paul Kingsnorth paints a vivid picture of how, due to the ever increasing influence of government-supported giant corporations, the English are becoming "uniquely among European nations ... almost a decultured people".
The small, the ancient, the indefinable, the unprofitable, the meaningful, the interesting and the quirky are being scoured out and bulldozed to make way for the clean, the sophisticated, the alien, the progressive, the corporate. It feels, to me, like a great loss, which seems to suck the meaning from the places I care for or feel I belong to. It matters.
While reading The Battle Against the Bland I listened to Undiscovered Islands, the new CD of music for piano and flute by the English composer Graham Lynch. As I played the disc and read the sleeve notes it struck me that there were striking resonances between Undiscovered Islands and Paul Kingsnorth's book. So I asked Graham Lynch, seen below, about the new CD.
On An Overgrown Path - Graham, your CV says you have 'chosen to live in remote and elemental locations'. London dominates the UK classical music scene? So does living in Cornwall pose problems?In The Battle Against the Bland Paul Kingsnorth talks about the distinctive, the quirky, the meaningful and the interesting, which is also a perfect description of Graham Lynch's Undiscovered Islands. This exquisitely turned and fiercely independent project shows, once again, that musically there is an alternative to the clean, the sophisticated, the alien, the progressive, and the corporate. As Graham Lynch says 'It’s all sides of life, and I enjoy that'. Or as Paul Kingsnorth says 'It Matters'.
Graham Lynch - Although I'm a UK composer I have a very low profile over here, despite having written works for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Singers. By the wonders of the internet, most of the musicians I connect to are in other countries, and although I often get several performances a week these are mostly abroad. I compose full time, but living in Penzance is probably not as useful as living in London; but it's quieter! I'm hoping that this disc will help redress the balance a bit. It's not that I'm totally unknown over here, another piece by me, Invisible Cities, was used as the modern test piece in the recent Leeds Conductor's Competition and generated some potentially useful spin-offs, but I don't tend to be in the mix.
OAOP - You say you don't tend to be in the mix, but your music has been performed by some pretty eclectic ensembles. How would you describe your composing style?
GL - I write classical music and tango nuevo pieces, and things that are a bit in between. This might sound a little strange, but for me it’s all part of one style, one way of thinking. Behind all these pieces there is a melodic and modal way of writing that has been influenced I think by southern European music such as flamenco, fado, and Mediterranean music generally.
OAOP - In your early days you mixed learning the piano with playing keyboards in rock and jazz-rock bands. What part does dance play in your music?
GL - In the past many composers wrote works that engaged directly with the idea of the dance, and I now see the tango as being part of this tradition. As you will hear with works like Alba and Spanish Café these are very much concert pieces, and quite complex and demanding to play in their own way.
OAOP - Your music is tonal, so what is your relationship to the contemporary mainstream?
GL - I should say though that it’s not that I dislike atonal modern music, I have been very influenced by composers such as Boulez, Birtwistle, Ligeti, Carter, etc. It’s that I don’t feel I have anything to say in that particular style, and perhaps times have moved on a bit. Pieces like Invisible Cities, and some of the ‘White Books’ allow me to think more about pure musical structure, the tangos allow me to explore different and more visceral human emotions. It’s all sides of life, and I enjoy that.
* Undiscovered Islands, which is the first commercial recording devoted to Graham Lynch's music, is released on the independent Priory label. Mark Tanner is the pianist and Gillian Poznansky the flautist, they are seen below. Priory's founder Neil Collier engineered the excellent sound in the peerless acoustics of St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol. A special mention should go to Priory for the excellent documentation and artwork which is seen above. Priory do not support download purchases of the album, so Graham Lynch's own website is currently the best place to buy the CD; there are also audio samples from the disc on his site.
Now follow the path from Undiscovered Islands to Inner Cities.
Photos of Graham Lynch credited to Simon Green. Paul Kingsnorth blogs here here. A review copy of Undiscovered Islands was supplied by Graham Lynch at my request. Real England: The Battle for the Bland was borrowed from Norwich library. And yes, that is the Mezquita at Córdoba in the CD cover montage. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk