Flute player and pastoral electronics producer Katie English shares online and offline sources of inspiration
I first came across Robert Walser through the 1996 Brothers Quay film Institute Benjamenta. His way of writing, finding wonder in the everyday and creating an otherworldly atmosphere from a seemingly mundane scene, is something I always endeavour to do in my work. Apart from his novels and short stories he also wrote numerous microscripts: short stories written on the backs of bus tickets, receipts and any small scrap of paper. They were assumed to be coded diaries but later found to be intricately written scripts. He ended his days in an asylum, to which his reaction was “I’m not here to write, I’m here to be mad”. Fantastic.
I’m really interested in how the brain works and this website contains weekly updates on recent neurological discoveries. I’d love to know what happens in the brain while writing, performing, improvising music. All the different connections that must be firing off simultaneously fascinate me. Often when I’m playing, I won’t be consciously thinking what I’m doing and just let the hands get on with it; but that only comes when after years of practice you know your instrument well enough. I was reading a book a few weeks back on how the brain can rewire itself after injury or a stroke, and it’s just incredible how malleable it really is, just how much can be achieved with intense concentration and practice.
Klee’s work has fascinated me since my school art teacher pointed me in his direction about 20 years ago. His use of colour and line is beautiful and his Pedagogical Sketchbook (1925, English edition 1953) has provided inspiration and a starting point for my work – his explanations of line and composition can easily be translated from the visual to the musical. Hajo Düchting’s Klee: Painting Music (1997) is another brilliant read as it explores the relationship between the two, a recurring theme in Klee’s career. I was quite surprised to find out that Klee was an avid fan of opera, which to me seems the opposite of Klee’s visual work in its grandeur and formality, but that just adds to the interest.
Brothers Quay/Bruno Schulz
I can’t remember how I first came across the Quay brothers but I remember seeing In Absentia as part of the BBC’s Sound On Film International series in 2000. The Stockhausen soundtrack just blew me away. Its images were just so perfect, harrowing in places but full of intimate feelings as well. Street Of Crocodiles (1986) is based on the 1934 Bruno Schulz story and has influenced my work with The Sly And Unseen after we visited their Metamorphosis exhibition in Barcelona last year. The sounds and images in the film have a gothic beauty and I love picking out the odd sounds made by everyday objects, used alongside acoustic instruments.
Hans Christian Andersen
I grew up on Hans Christian Andersen stories and The Little Match Girl is one of my favourites. There’s darkness in many of the stories but also an underlying warmth and care which I suppose must have influenced my outlook on life and how I approach composition. I always find it good fun to mix up something sinister or melancholic with a light-hearted sound, and vice versa, as it unsettles the listener and hopefully offers something new with each listen.
Mathematics And Music
The relationship between music and maths has interested me for years, as it offers a never-ending stream of ideas to explore. As with a lot of scientific and creative crossovers, composers who deliberately use set mathematical sequences in pieces can get too bogged down in trying to sound clever, with the end result being a nice idea but ultimately soulless. There are just so many aspects to explore and maths, like notation, is just a convenient way to communicate an idea. I’ve looked a lot into alternative forms of tuning, different divisions of octaves and so on, and find it a fascinating subject although I am always cautious to use the mathematical aspects of music in a creative way and not let the academic side take over.
A Daily Cup Of Tea
Here’s a fun little game that I came across through the Tchai Ovna (lovely Glasgow tea house) website when I first played there in 2007. It’s ideal for switching off after a day at work. There are days when you can try for hours and hours to come up with a new idea with no success, but the moment you switch off and zone out a little, inspiration strikes.