From October 24th – 27th I was lucky enough to experience Distil, “a twice yearly gathering of musicians rooted in folk and traditional music, but who are interested in expanding their creative horizons into other other areas of musical practice”.
Well, what an experience! Set in the beautiful surroundings of New Lanark, Distil was a 4-day residential experience extraordinaire. I was one of 9 musicians who took part this year. The three workshop leaders were Chris Wood (fiddle, songwriter, traditional musician), Brian Irvine (composer and improvisor) and Joost Buis (composer and improvisor).
The days were filled with group sessions and one-on-ones with the workshop leaders. Joost Buis’ first group session was an eye-opener. We were exploring free improvisation. Now, I’d be fairly used to improvising around a chord pattern or a melody but completely free improv is something very new to me. The group seemed shy and not so sure during this session but by the last workshop with Joost everyone was really enjoying the free improv and we happened to be creating some very lovely musical moments.
My one-on-one with Brian Irvine was particularly inspiring. The main objective was to encourage the belief that one should never get writer’s block and I have to say I now share that belief. There are so many ways to compose that I hadn’t really thought of. I was put on the spot and made to compose a tune in 5 minutes. To my surprise I managed it! My brain had to make snap decisions and it worked. At the end of the 5 mins I had a tune. It was much easier than I thought. Kicking myself for not recording the tune at the time.. Brian shared all sorts of other interesting composing techniques which I will certainly be giving a go from now on.
Chris Wood offered questions about how to think about your music in a different way. His workshops were very interesting. My eyes were opened to a range of new music to listen to and to learn from. We talked about the word “arranging”. As folk musicians we all use this word a lot without really thinking too much about what it means. It was great to come up with ideas about what it can mean. I feel much more open-minded (even more than I was) about arranging music now.
When we weren’t in workshops we were usually in the restaurant. I think I ate more food during the 4 days at Distil than I have done for the rest of 2013. What fantastic food. We were very well looked after. I even managed a walk up to the Falls of Clyde with a few other musicians who braved the elements that afternoon. And if that wasn’t enough there was a pool and sauna! Tunes in the bar were very enjoyable, especially all our renditions of Disney, ABBA and the Spice Girls!
Everyone who takes part in Distil in given the chance to compose a piece for the Showcase which will be performed by Mr McFall’s Chamber. This is something I am very interested in doing after being so inspired from my time at Distil.
Thanks to all the musicians who were on Distil for making it really enjoyable. Thanks to the workshop leaders for some inspiring sessions. Thanks to Simon Thoumire and Dave Francis for letting me be a part of Distil 2013. Can I come back again?
Photos of workshops by Martin Forry.