Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Milk Diaries: Manuscripts

Relatively early in my exploration of the Soviet post-punk band, Kino, I discovered a lyric sheet which was presumably written in the hand of the group's late singer, Viktor Tsoi. The cyrillic script was unfamiliar to me, but I liked the lined paper, the clean curvature of the print and the chord changes marked out on every second line. The most endearing part of it had to be the crosshatched sketch of a packet of cigarettes, referring to the name of the song and incidentally, one of their biggest hits.

There is an intrigue and allure in a person's handwriting, particularly in the context of these little bits of paper. They exist as score-free prompts to the songwriter, fragments with few clues referring to where this piece of paper came into the creative process. Was this jotted down in a bedroom, a hotel lobby, a studio? You come across some scribblings, crossed out lyrical alternatives that could have easily made it to session. For me, I look for clues of the songwriter's inner workings, their state of mind and the meekest suggestion that a perfect piece of pop could have immaculately conceived, free of heavy contemplation or anxiety.

I can only assume that my interest in handwriting derives from my background as a diarist. Although I have kept a diary for a little over 20 years, I only learned about stream of consciousness writing around seven years ago. The practice has allows the writer to purge thoughts and personal plagues in perfectly formed script and it's an amazing thing to see, pages and pages of work that is uncorrected and unscrutinised. The most blissful thing about it is not the analysis, as such, but the quickness of it, the simple act of your hand moving swiftly across the page.

I talk about handwritten music with my Dad a lot. He has developed this hobby of taking the messy, handwritten scores of favourite obscure operas and developing his own personal editions, comparing his interpretations with scanned rarities on IMSLP. He would tell me of the nuances of Rossini's handwriting over shelled peas and often show me clean copies of my favourite Arthur Sullivan operetta side-project, Cox and Box. In this project, it is not about interpreting the composer's state of mind, it is about clarifying his musical intention in light of the very few resources available.

Perhaps the precious thing about these musical artefacts is not the presence of handwritten mark by the hand of the songwriter or composer. I am beginning to think it is the fact that someone had the good will and foresight to preserve such documents. When Queen's archivist, Greg Brooks released a book of the band's studio jottings and lyric sheets, I was simultaneously both relieved and annoyed to see that these things existed. It was remarkable that these fragments remained, but I felt a bit jilted that they were kept from us for all that time.

No comments: