So… a month or so after I completed the walk, John Ward and I showed up with all his gear in the tiny but intensely evocative early 11th century pre-conquest Saxon church at Newton, just outside Castle Acre. This was on a cold, windy, rainy day in November as the sun was going down. The place feels ancient, with its small barrel-ceiling nave, Saxon stonework, a wonky central tower with dead-end stairwells that ascend to a long-lost gallery above the departed rood screen, and an even smaller chancel and modest altar, which you can just about touch both walls of. The floor and skirting are dripping with moss and damp, and nowhere does the building contain a right angle. You can see the moss in between the bricks in the photo; no kidding.

This is one of the few churches actually on the Peddars Way; however, the village had abandoned it sometime ago, merely being accompanied by a large farm and a few houses, and now cut off from even them by the main coast road. Presumably the rest of the congregation had shifted allegiance to nearby Castle Acre when superseded by the Normans with the grander Church of St James, the Norman Motte and Bailey (there to show who was in charge), and the sprawling late 11th century Cluniac monastery about two miles up the road. Another statement of domination by a fresh wave of conquerors, leaving this small Saxon church & hamlet thoroughly cowed.

Newton All Saints. Measuring the resonant profile with John Ward

It was dark in the church; and difficult to get any usable photos with my vaguely crap aged tablet. While John set up his gear (a mike, a speaker and a laptop), I walked around the space, giving random claps, listening to the echoes and slapback. As the rain beat down, John gave several frequency sweeps in differing locations, the most interesting being under the central tower. The sweeps are kinda spooky, as you stand there listening for something to happen for the first 5-10 seconds and then wonder what else is happening after it disappears, standing quietly until it informs you it’s finished. This, you realize, (of course) just brings home the amount of your very own hearing loss. There is stuff happening in the silent sections, but now it’s just music for dogs (here’s one of my particular faves:). So here’s the sweep result:

We got this profile from the center of the church; unlike most of the returns, which are on the haphazard side; usually containing what look like a number of harmonic spectra from several random bass notes; this is interesting as it shakes out to a slightly flat (10-12 cents) E G C; with an additional top octave C is sharp by about 20 cents; an inverted C major triad: a concord, of sorts.

Confession: I was disappointed; I have trouble with simple consonances with my composer hat on. This should not be the case.

I’ve been up against it the last couple of months composing and preparing for the Cambridge Jazz Festival gig on the 26th of November, featuring ‘Jazzman’ John Robert Clarke’s performance poetry and Laura Brera’s dance interludes – just about there…things are at the herding cats stage trying to set up some rehearsals; unlikely we’ll have everyone in the same place at the same time.

Reading an interview with Jan Gabarek, he mentioned that he never had much interest in geeking about with possible sax/mouthpiece/reed combinations; he had used the same somewhat standard (and a bit unfashionable) MkVI-Berg Larsen set-up for years, in the meantime creating one of the iconic (and most copied, after Brecker – and it’s interesting to speculate whether Brecker had been influenced as well) sax sounds of the last quarter of the twentieth century. I remember sitting in the Jazz Workshop in Boston in the early 70’s, waiting to listen to him, determined to disapprove of some unknown Scandinavian interloper (with the strange “I-come-from-the-planet-Vulcan” haircut seen below) who had replaced my fave guy of the moment, Dewey Redman, in the Keith Jarrett Quartet…. and then he just played a simple, soaring line…

He talks about never giving his gear a thought until rather recently, when he started getting involved with the Internet. He referred to his sax as a tool, a ‘hammer’ something which he not particularly interested in and was invisible to him as long as it did his bidding. This saxophone-as-hammer is similar to the idea of Heidegger’s hammer (I know, there was the unfortunate business with Adorno, who was down on this guy) ; an object that is invisible as long as it fulfills its function. Garberek was happy for years playing in his preferred manner without thought of mouthpieces , reeds or particular instruments .But, of course, Theo Wanne promises everything, and once Gaberek started messing about on the internet, the chimera of a better world hovered just beyond his reach; one where everything spoke effortlessly from low Bb to an altissimo double F… balanced, in tune, rich in timbre. Squeaks are sent to a specific circle of Hell, or perhaps just on Charon’s ferry across the Acheron to accompany the wailing of souls on their final journey to damnation…I think all reed players would like to think of that as the last outing of all their squeaks down through the years. One would faint, and find that all the squeaks had been banished upon awakening on the other side. Here is Delacroix’s take on Charon, Dante and the Damned (not the band) hearing all the squeaks from the mortal world while crossing the Acheron on the barge, such as all those Parker out takes….