Chris Prosser
Accordatura Violin

Chris ProsserAccordatura Violin

KMCD-011,012,013,014 (4 CD)

Durations: CD 1: 56:26 – CD 2: 66:44 – CD 3: 65:57 – CD 4: 65:24

This quadruple box dropped through my mail slot back in June of this past summer of 2009, and it startled me right from the beginning, if first only through the sturdy, classical and withheld beauty of the box, but upon opening the appetizing case and sliding one of the CDs – the first one; Duos - into the player, my amazement grew as I let the music permeate my senses, and, as I felt it, my body as well, with its muscles and tendons, dancing me across the floor and across time.

At first I got the feeling – almost, but not quite – of some of the many Scandinavian fiddlers I’d come across, like Anders Rosén or Mats Berglund – in Anders Rosén’s case particularly regarding his CD Hurv! (exclamation mark part of the title). Prosser’s intensity is well mirrored in Rosén’s burnout bowings, and the sharpness of tone, with an extremely wooden sonic nuance, appears in Rosén’s art as well. The spirit of this music reminds me some, also, of young and secluded Swedish enfant terrible Joar Skorpen, as he appears on a couple of scarce CDRs obtainable solely through membership in the Fiddler Society of the District of Bohuslan in Sweden (of which I applied for membership just to get those CDs…). Joar Skorpen is also one of the very few violinists who have actually played and recorded late Claude Loyola Allgén's intricate and very extensive Violin Sonata, with 100 minutes of very complex playing. Anna LindalJoar Skorpen’s teacher – is another violinist who has attempted this great feat. However, it was clear, soon, that this music by Chris Prosser was not Scandinavian.

The booklet has this to say about Duos – a title which also carries a sub-title: Bird's Reply to Bartok: 44 Violin Duos:

Written in response to Bartok’s 44 Violin Duos (1931) which were based on traditional East European melodies. Bartok was concerned that such tunes would become extinct and wanted to preserve them. Bird’s Reply is also intended as an educational resource although the pieces are original compositions with Celtic, English, Balkan and Klezmer influences. Here Chris Prosser plays both violin parts.
Tracks are grouped into seven sets with time signatures in brackets. Tempo is often rapid, e.g. in the first track 25/8 the ‘quaver’ pulse is over 300 beats per minute.

The titles of some of the tracks give you an inkling of the atmosphere of the creative act surrounding this music, like Dawn Chorus; Penguin Jig; Wingbeat; Dusk Chorus; Wake; Kauri Groove; Flight Path, Twig; The Visitor; Looking into the Distance; New Country; Dark Jig; Wild Violin; Meander. This vocabulary, it dawns on me (it felt so familiar) is similar to the naming of the parts of Terry Riley’s string quartets, like these from Cadenza On The Night Plain: Sunrise Of The Planetary Dream Collector; Mythic Birds Waltz; Gathering Of The Spiral Clan – and these from Salome Dances For Peace: The Summons; Half Wolf Dances Mad In Moonlight; At The Summit.

These CDs are perhaps not, for most listeners, suitable for unceasing, incessant listening, hour after hours. However, if you do give Chris Prosser the benefit of extended listening, you will be carried off through your hidden shaman consciousness layers, no doubt, up through a tickling-of-the-neck hypnosis. Original violinist and composer Malcolm Goldstein of Vermont and Montreal has an adage for one of his early works – from CENTER of RAINBOW, SOUNDING (1983): Go to a lonely place and rub a stone in a circle on a rock for hours and days on end (Eskimo vision event) – and this describes well the sensation of these short, swirling, intensive, glowing fiddle dances that move like minuscule whirlwinds of esprit though the time units of eternity. These violinistic incisions gleam like hints of neighboring dimensions inside the singing space of the brittleness of thin wine glasses.

Another release that offers a similar stubborn, if not relentless, energy and persistence like Chris Prosser’s massive effort – while also opening hovering poetic spaces, in which we ascend above the yard inside soap bubbles blown by a joyous child – is a double-CD from Keltia Musique (KMCD18), called A Celebration of Pipes in Europe (Cornemuses d’Europe en Cornouaille) from 1991, presenting wondrous, invasive and unavoidable pipe music from Asturias; Austria; Belgium; Brittany; Bulgaria; Estonia; France; Galicia; Greece; Ireland; Italy; Northumberland; Scotland and Yugoslavia.
This analogy places Chris Prosser’s collection in a wider and also deeper tradition; one that opens our musical and historical view onto a terrain that is incredibly diverse and rich, right in our blood as inhabitants of this planet, deep in the soil that we tread and live off of.
I recall a Swedish radio series from the 1990s with Thomas Lundén; Associate Professor of Ethno Geography, called The Landscapes of the Languages of Europe, in which Lundén explored all the many languages of this old continent, and showed how these languages in many cases had borders deviating a lot from the national borders, and he went deep inside all these languages – some of them unknown to me until I heard this radio series (and bought the accompanying book) – bringing back surprising facts of lingual history, that uncovered a latticework under the life we presently live; under the languages we presently speak, and the dynamic development of these ways we have to communicate; to make ourselves understood; to make ourselves misunderstood.

These Duos were recorded at Church Walk Studio in London in 2002.

The second set, and the third – Studies I & II – were recorded clear around the globe, at the Braeburn Studio in Wellington, New Zealand in 2007 and 2008. Subtitle for Studies I is Study of Additive Rhythm Cycles. 86 of a total of 110 Studies appear in the box.

Chris Prosser explains that this Study examines pulse, and he quotes from Chapter 3 of A. Winold’s Aspects of Twentieth Century Music (1975), where pulse is defined as an unbroken series of distinct yet identical periodically occurring short stimuli perceived as points in time.
Prosser explains the concept “additive rhythm” thus:

Pulse can be grouped into small rhythmic units accented primarily as either strong-weak or strong-weak-weak. When one rhythmic unit is added to the end of the previous unit the sequence is then an additive rhythm.
Later he says: When the sequence is repeated constantly it becomes a pattern which can function as a cycle to underpin a piece of music.

Prosser says that the longer cycles are there to challenge the player and listener because there is no obvious beat and the rhythm is at first unpredictable. He goes on: There is a release of tension when a cycle is recognized as such: its shape understood, beginning and end marked in the phrasing, twists and turns of the series of rhythmic units followed – the code is cracked

The above would indicate that this music might be of the whole-wheat kind, necessitating good teeth and effective jaw muscles, and perhaps you should be somewhat athletic before entering Prosser’s winding musical paths, which might drive you towards a bitter, insane end if you don’t have a certain escape route planned ahead. On the other hand, if you are used to many musics and a penetrating listening situation, and not afraid to climb icy precipes, boots equipped with crampons, snow goggles on, the sharp razor blades of this violin music flashing past your eyes – then this whirling intensity will lead to a meditative rush, no less: Stockhausen’s beat becoming pitch (Kontakte): the pointillist painting suddenly making sense as you back off!

Chris Prosser, in the booklet, continues his reasoning: Most people are more familiar with ‘divisive’ rhythm where pieces divide into regular groupings of small units with a predictable beat” […] Player and listener can comfortably tap their foot. Indian classical musicians are some of the few trained to understand and play additive rhythms. Both Hindustani and Karnatak tala systems methodically organize arithmetical possibilities of additive rhythms.

I once met an Australian man in his thirties or early forties, who participated in the Stockhausen Courses in Kürten, Germany. He was used to the wilderness of the Outback, and also spent time along the long coastlines of his continent. He could instantly see and measure the web of likes and dislikes among the people of the course, and there was something shamanistic about his ways, though he in no way tried to display this; quite the opposite, as he was rather withdrawn and inconspicuous. He looked a bit like a British skinhead, and thus seemed, at first, pretty out of place among all the so-called intellectuals at the course, with all their forced fine manners and their, in many cases, wanna-be crippled insides. This Australian’s shamanistic aura became apparent as you started to socialize with him. He walked in that kind of atmosphere that you may find in the Aborigine cosmic world view, with Dreaming-tracks and Songlines, well described in Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines (1987), dealing with the maze of invisible pathways that the Aborigines also describe as Footprints of the Ancestors, that entangle this southern landmass in a spiritual lattice work. Bruce Chatwin describes these Songlines in his book: Aboriginal creation myths tell of legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path – birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes – and so singing the world into existence. [which reminds me, quite off-topic, of a CD by artist Paul Panhuysen and his Kanary Grand Band, called Singing the World Into Existence, label Het Apollohuis, 1993]

This Australian shamanistic skinhead from the eternal coast of the southern landmass [how lonely a singular spirit under the sky on this line!] once told me: The body is always right. This made me think. His single, seemingly simple remark resounded in me. I was, however, ready for it, because it made a deeper sense to me, stating that beyond and under the obvious world of daily hustle and bustle, the commotion of moods and modes, greedy news reels and the eager grasping for utilities and gizmos, there is another aspect of existence which is silent but eternal, out of which everything transient and temporal rises and into which it recedes; a calm, clear existence, which the Tibetan Buddhists call Rigpa; the holy emptiness of it all – but an emptiness which should never be misunderstood as nothingness; on the contrary! Deepak Chopra calls it the field of Pure Potential.
In the Australian Stockhausen Courses attendant’s remark, the body is connected to this pure potential, this state of pure spirit – which knows best. His simple statement made it clear to me that knowledge is to be found here, directly, inside myself, which is inside the cosmos – that I am Cosmos, not as a being living in Cosmos, but that I – and everybody else and everything else - is the Cosmos.

The story about this Australian man – I think his name is Jason Nelson, flipping through my old member directories from the Stockhausen Courses - appeared in my memory as I kept listening to Chris Prosser’s Study of Additive Rhythm Cycles, which, in itself, has something important to say about Prosser’s art. It is not by chance that this happens. This music has a deeper significance than just as a rhythm study or a scholarly display. It’s just like other study pieces, in some cases made for people to practice, like Johannes Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, also have a much deeper significance than the one initially stated. It’s origin is somewhere else, in the inspiration of the composer, which, in turn, is directly connected to the center of existence; a center which is everywhere, as pure potential. The real wonder, to me, is how this flow is opened by the artist, how the unhampered flow is established and maintained. Bob Dylan, one of the brightest spokesmen – perhaps both unwittingly and unwillingly – for this pure potential, out of which everything rises, and where wonders sprout, says, in reply to Ed Bradley of the US TV show 60 Minutes in 2004 when asked about his prolific song writing, and where it did all come from: It came right out of that well-spring of creativity, I would think. This interview is very interesting, because Dylan looks back at his early, mystical writing of the mid-60s, and songs like It’s Alright, Ma, and marvels at the magic quality of the text, like was he talking about somebody else. Even he, the originator of the song, doesn’t understand how he was able to write it, or how he did it, and even says he can’t write like that anymore, though he can do other things now. He reflects on a time when the flow between him and that pure potential was gushing in lines like:

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even a silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

I asked Chris Prosser to provide a little background to the Accordatura Violin 4-CD set, and he kindly submitted the note below, from his home in Wellington, New Zealand:

In 1988 I left New Zealand on a quest for the roots of violin/’fiddle’ music in the traditions of Celtic and other European cultures. At the Glencolumcille Fiddle Festival in Co. Donegal, Ireland, musicians were talking about a core of 400 traditional tunes. This lead me to wonder what my own core 400 tunes might be. Coming from a new country with no particular violin or ‘fiddle’ tradition, I thought I would write my own. I was influenced by genetic heritage: Celtic, Anglo, Scandinavian, Jewish and ‘intuitive miscellaneous’.

A large number of tunes were written 1988 –2007 and those appearing here as Duos and Tunes represent a cross-section. Many have been performed around NZ as well as in London and notation exists as a resource for others. I suppose, in a way, it is an attempt to create a personal micro culture.

The Studies are an artistic extension of the above. Here open strings and first position fingering are woven together with violin bow crossing strings in additive rhythm patterns. More information is in the accompanying booklet.

CDs/scores are available from SOUNZ, the centre for New Zealand Music, . This website also has biographical information on me as composer and performer.

About the quote in the booklet, which prefaces Studies II: this quote relates to the numbers, which make up the units and totals of the rhythm cycles. The track order numbers or Study title numbers e.g. ‘Study No.7’ have no particular significance – they just denote order.

The quote – from himself - that Prosser mentions in connection with the Studies goes:

As I child I lived in Hamilton [New Zealand]. In the school holidays I would take a rugby ball on the to the pitch and play fifteen a side – with myself. One team was numbered 1 to 15, the opposition 16 to 30. Each number had distinct character and specific attributes. Even numbers tended toward the reliable but predictable. Some odd numbers showed quirky flair, others were erratic. Prime numbers 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23 and 29 were the stars.

Browsing his on-line biography at the Centre of New Zealand Music, one learns that Chris Prosser was born in England in 1956, but moved to New Zealand at the young age of 9, in 1965. Soon after settling down under, he started to learn playing the violin, and also to compose, awarded First Prize of the Bank of New South Wales Chamber Music Competition of 1972 with his Sonatina for Violin, Flute & Cello, at age 16.
He played electric violin with so-called fusion bands, sometimes to large audiences, like at the Nambassa Festival in 1979, where the crowd was estimated at 75000.
He spent the 1990s in London, England, and performed free improvisation with the London Musicians Collective, while also appearing at traditional music festivals with roots/rock band The Eclectics. To sustain himself, he sometimes played the Tube, the London Underground (subway). He also taught Skills for Life at Hackney Community College.
He founded Kauri Music Ltd in 2000, releasing four CDs.

Prosser has several projects going, like one called Found, which is a collection of two thousand tunes and sketches, many of which are yet to be realized. Presently he is working on standard tuning violin tunes, including Twelve Gurdy/Twelve Study for solo violin.
In 2006 he studied with Leroy Jenkins, who is a blues fiddler in New York, to arrange his solo compositions; a set, which remains to recorded.
In 2008 he was back to free improvisation on stage, trying to find musicians in Wellington to play his compositions in the Klezmer spirit.

The fourth and last of the four CDs in Prosser’s box contains Tunes. He writes about these:

Solo violin from collections Little Klezmer, Hurdy-Gurdy and Celtic Shorts & Kit Fidler & Music of Tufistan. Inspired by field recordings of traditional violin music from former USSR and countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Let me give you some of the titles, to raise your curiosity: All Beginnings are Difficult; Low Hypno; Acid Jig; Primal Waltz; Waihi Dance; Gurdy Toy rewrite; Person of Ethnic Origin; Highland; Le Vieux Nice; Moving On

Tunes were recorded at Braeburn Studio, Wellington in 2008. Chris Prosser plays a New Zealand kauri violin built by L. S. Day in 1936.

I am bewildered by the immense richness of this quadruple CD from Chris Prosser, and happy that this collection arrived at my door in Sweden. I’m reading, while listening to the Accordatura Violin set, a book by Deepak Chopra; one of his latest and one of his strongest books ever, dealing with the many levels of life, levels of consciousness – out of that eternal field of limitless potential – and the many-faceted violin music of Chris Prosser demonstrates, through precious, pristine compressions of air, one holy aspect of this potential, dancing into the mystery of my mind.