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An opening up of possibilities: The Musician's view

by Alannah Thomas-Moore(more info)

listed in sound and music, originally published in issue 29 - June 1998

Music plays an important role in healing and therapy. Much research has been done into the many beneficial effects upon the listener. However, little is known about the views of the people who create such music. To discover more I went to talk to Nick Perring and Mark Vernon, collectively known as LagoonWest. Their wonderful instrumental CD, Less Than Angels, has received rave reviews in the Health press. It is uplifting and soothing at the same time, making it the perfect accompaniment for all kinds of therapies and relaxation.

The music is very evocative and sensual. How do you bring these qualities to it?

Nick.    The way we create the music is based totally on feelings and emotions. What one or other of us comes up with as an idea we respond to emotionally – it’s only the ideas that we like, or have a response to, that are developed. That creates music which has a very strong sense of mood or atmosphere or moment.

Could you describe the situation in which you write the music, and how much you feel it enables you to capture the original mood of its inception? Do you try to capture specific sounds or situations when you compose?

Nick.    The first and most obvious thing is that we always write in the countryside so we’re very isolated from life in London. It’s very green, very relaxing, miles from anywhere, in a deserted, tiny little cottage. There are no distractions, no telephone calls. We also write very intensively, for periods of four days at a time.
Mark. The idea finds us, whatever idea it is. It presumably relates to the day, the atmosphere, certainly the fact that we’re in an isolated environment so there aren’t distractions. If you’re in a situation like that it’s more conducive to the energy levels that make one come up with ideas.

Would you say that in an isolated and beautiful place, you are inspired by the surroundings? Do you go for a walk down a beautiful country lane and come back feeling really inspired?

Mark. It’s like being let out of prison. To my mind the escape from London, the drive down, the whole experience of getting there and being there and having a great view, that’s very important. It feeds one with loads of energy and that is often suppressed in an urban environment. Maybe that’s what brings it out – it’s an opening up of possibilities.

How do you, as a writing team, go about creating a track?

Nick. Working as a team, a bad idea gets very quickly rejected! It has got to pass a panel of two of us and as we’re both quite different, it has to meet two separate quality controls. We both have to love an idea to use it, if we don’t, it simply doesn’t get written. If one of us doesn’t like it then we will go off on a tangent that we do like.
Mark. It is interesting sometimes when we pursue an idea and then something comes in which is unexpected – that spontaneity is something I think we thrive on.

So it does tend to develop organically?

Nick. It grows totally organically. You have to be completely open to what’s going to happen, to the incidental. You start writing with a blank piece of paper and you have no goal in sight. If, say, Mark accidentally leans on the keyboard and there’s a piano sound and we like that, it’ll go in. It’s being able to seize the moment. Quite often what happens is that we start a song and it goes in a completely different direction and what we started with disappears completely. We start with a piano or some chords, and then something else will evolve out of that. Then it’ll take on a new direction and we’ll drop the original idea and say “Oh, now this is moving somewhere else, that we actually prefer”.

On the CD, some of the tracks really flow into each other. Was that as a result of the way you arranged them in the end or did you actually write them one after the other in order?

Nick. No, it just so happened, interestingly enough, that they fitted together beautifully like that, probably because of the way in which they were written. Some of those tracks were probably written on the same day!

Sandra Chitty, a Pilates teacher, told me “There is something special about this music, it’s emotional and has different themes, it moves along and has a journey. There is something about the storyline which is so moving.” Do you specifically aim to sustain coherence in the music?


Nick. For most musicians the writing, recording and mixing of a track is a very slow process. It can take weeks or even months and during that time it changes and evolves. A lot of the feeling of the initial idea gets lost – which is why a lot of artists fall in love with their demos.

What we try to do is master it immediately. We try to see everything through to its conclusion – it starts and it will be finished at the same time, so everything is written quite quickly, musically speaking. We can remain faithful to the mood that the piece originally starts to evoke in us until we finish the piece. Often the passage of a piece of music is the evolution of the music. So what you hear at the very beginning, say the first half a minute, will be the initial ideas that we had and then the following seven minutes will be all the other ideas that we had which relate to that and led on from it.

Unlike most musicians, you retain technical control over the whole writing process. How do you think this makes a difference?

Nick. Well I wear two hats. One is the creative hat and one is the engineer hat and I try to balance those two roles. Coming to the engineering role as a musician rather than as a technician is quite nice. You are looking from a musical point of view so you’re trying to keep the communication in there and retain the emotion rather than simply doing what’s technically correct.

What factors do you take into account when deciding which instruments to use? Which instruments do you use and why?


Mark. Some of the album was just recorded on a piano, but then we use the natural sound and start to manipulate it afterwards.
Nick. On the whole most of the instrumentation is recognisable. Then what we try and do is change it in some way so it mutates or grows into something else. We are also trying to use more organic instruments, real instruments where you can hear the person, like saxophone or guitar. Again, it’s being able to hear the emotions in the music or respond to it and relate to the humanness. The other thing is that working on a computer you do try to put in deliberate mistakes in order to keep the humanness there, or you try not to erase too many of the mistakes as it evolves so that it retains some of its spontaneity.

So you do use modern technology as well?


Nick. We do use samplers, keyboards, and a computer.

Do you sample things from nature?


Nick. We do, it’s the idea of accidents happening. Often we’ll be in the room and a noise will just occur. If it’s raining outside we’ll think “Gosh this sounds brilliant!” and we’ll include rain. Sometimes someone will bump into something, or the sound of a door slamming works on a particular beat so we might use that.

Marcus, a practising reflexologist who uses Less Than Angels, said “We use it regularly to create an atmosphere of calming peace… it takes the client into a space which is conducive to good healing.” It must be gratifying to hear that listeners have found benefit and peace of mind from playing your music. Is that one of the things that you want people to feel?


Nick. Yes, I think that’s fantastic. I think any form of emotional response to music is great and that really is the bottom line. I think the worst form of music is the kind to which there is no response.
Mark. Certainly this music doesn’t breed indifference.

In a recent study at an American University1 stress levels in journalists were studied and found to reduce while they were listening to relaxing and soothing background music. Do you think that actually composing the music is stress reducing in the same way?

Mark. It is for me. Just making music the whole time is not a habitual thing for either of us. I think that means that a lot of the energy levels that we’ve built up during the period that we’re not making music come out whilst we are composing. I certainly find that to be the case, I really look forward to it. I think if you do it the whole time it wouldn’t be a release. You’d think “Oh no, another day in the studio”. Whereas for us it’s almost like a pregnancy, giving birth to ideas. When we work very hard and after all that hard work we have created something of incredible beauty, I get a tremendous kick and buzz and adrenaline hit.
Nick. It’s the best buzz in the world. The moment of inspiration – when something is actually being created, that’s always the best moment. I’m not sure that personally I find it beneficial as a de-stressing thing, I find it pleasurable and I enjoy it but I’m not sure I would put it in those terms. I can see how making aggressive music would be more de-stressing.

The music was originally used in performances by the Tripsichore Yoga Theatre and the spiritual nature of yoga informs the music. A feeling of peace emanates from Less Than Angels, even the more upbeat tracks. Do you have such feelings in mind?

Mark. Well, Nick is very hot on all things technical and I’m not. It’s fair to say that I don’t have a full comprehension of the tools at my disposal so there is a childlike vibe for me which is very interesting. I didn’t learn music so I don’t know quite what I’m doing and it’s the fact that you don’t know quite what you’re doing that allows you a much more joyous discovery.
Nick. One thing that we tend to do, that most musicians don’t, is record quite quietly. When we’re playing, the volume is usually relatively low. That means the sensitivity of the music is much greater – if you record a whisper and increase the volume, it’s still a whisper, it’s just a loud whisper. Whereas if you record a shout and you play it really quietly it still sounds like a shout. Because we do work quietly the music has that kind of soothing, mellow laid back quality.

It has been fascinating to hear the point of view of the musicians rather than the listeners. Finally, then, has this recording achieved what you wanted it to?


Nick. That’s not for us to say, really, we’re the people who created it. I think our moment for enjoying it is in the creation of it and it’s for other people to say whether it works for them or not. The question is, does it work for individuals? Do people enjoy it? Does it make them feel something? Do they respond to it when they listen to it? That is the mark of its success.

Further Information

Less Than Angels by LagoonWest is available by mail order from Christabel Records on 0181 907 6030. Or send a cheque/ PO to Christabel Records, PO Box 232, Harrow, Middlesex, HA1 2NN. The price is £12.99 including P & P.

References

1    by Professors Carl Charnetski and Francis Brennan of Wilkes-Barre University

LagoonWest’s CD,  Less Than Angels
LagoonWest’s CD,  Less Than Angels

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