Matthew Marchant’s Diary – Level 1 in Los Molinos


Date or timeframe: 20-01-2004 / 31-01-2004
City: Los Molinos
Country: Spain
Source:
Category(-ies): /

Montreal January 21st 2017

This is the story of my experience of the Level One course in Los Molinos in January 2004.  The story begins at the intro course I attended the previous summer and during my meeting with Hernan.  He mentioned that a Level One was coming up in January and would be directed by Robert Fripp.  I reacted by saying that I was not sure I could make it because of my studies and Hernan said that no one knew how many more times Robert would attend a course and that I didn’t need to decide at that moment.  After, leaving the meeting I knew this was an important opportunity.

After returning to Montreal, I had many things to deal with.  The immediate one was to move out of an apartment I had just rented because I simply could not bear the idea of living there.  It was too noisy, too run down, too expensive for what it was.  Something had changed in me in Sant Cugat and I was seeing things in a different way.  I moved back to my parent’s place, continued the exercises from Sant Cugat and also continued work on my graduate studies.  I was also in touch with the Montreal Guitar Circle (MGC).

My time with MGC deserves a story of it’s own.  It was a great continuation of what I had learnt in Sant Cugat, it opened me to the GC repertoire, gave me the opportunity to perform music in Montreal and introduced me to many people, both directly and indirectly and many of whom have remained close friends to this day. The MGC was also a place for me to prepare for the L1 that I decided to attend.

Arriving in Madrid, Train to Los Molinos, The course Begins!

I arrived in Los Molinos on Tuesday January 20th 2004.  It was an overnight flight and this time I made it a point to go straight from the airport to the house and not waste any time.  I wanted to keep as much energy as possible for the course.  The same evening was the inaugural meeting.  During this meeting we were asked to explain our reason for attending and also our aim for the course.  The meeting was long as the group was quite big (around 70 if I remember correctly) and there was translation which made things longer.  The atmosphere was very serious.  I shared my aim which was to get to know myself.  Robert responded:  “What would you do if you knew yourself?”.  I didn’t know how to answer but said that if I knew myself then what to do would become clear.  I understood Robert’s response.  We need to set clear and measurable goals or else we will not be able to hold them.

During the next few days there were various meetings with and without guitars and also for various groups.  I was part of the L1 group and this group was divided at times according to different needs.  On the Friday Robert announced that the course was to begin again and that the 2nd inaugural meeting would take place during the evening.  It seemed as though Robert felt the course was off track at this point.

During this meeting we were asked to restate our aims.  In preparation, I walked in the courtyard thinking about what to say.  What came to me was to participate as actively as possible.  I wanted to see my role and also to respond in an active way.  This aim was well received during the meeting.  I felt it was something that I could remember and use for the remainder of the course.

Tai Chi

On the Saturday morning was the first Tai Chi meeting conducted by Luciano.  I was really impressed by the experience and saw this as yet another important beginning.  I recall the incredible atmosphere that was generated in the ballroom.  During the evening I tried to remember the movements on my own in the courtyard.  Later I would seek out Tai Chi groups back home.

Group discussions

A common theme for discussions during meals and meetings was dealing with fatigue and low energy.  Robert expressed how we can find ourselves in a situation where more energy goes out than energy comes in and that we need to be aware of this.  We need to see where energy is being leaked and to plug the leaks.  Also, that we can be too lazy, in which case we will always be disappointed or work too hard and the result can be damaging.

Related to this was a memorable meeting in the chapel on Wednesday evening.  Martin B. from the L1 team team suggested we meet to read a text that Robert had put on the bulletin board.  Robert said that this was a first ever GC initiative and seemed very pleased.

Hernan, Martin, Curt and Robert were in attendance and Martin B. was the reader.  There was the reading and then discussion.  The atmosphere was quite intense.


Dallas Saturday February 4th 2017

This is the second part of my experience of the L1 course in Los Molinos in 2004.  I’ll continue where I left off.

On the Sunday evening the performance challenge was given.  Hernan’s hat came out and Robert chose the names.  I was on a full L1 team, a trio and a quintet.

After the meeting the L1 team group met to discuss the challenge.  This was a big group of around 12 people.  I came up with a bass line inspired by an exercise  and presented it to the group.  It was accepted but we struggled with the rhythm.  This made the composition tedious and I began regretting having shown the idea.  I felt tension developing in the group.  We arrived at something that wasn’t very strong but it was time to move on to our other pieces.

I then met with my trio and we worked late into the night.  This time another member was taking initiative and I took a more passive role.  This time it was difficult to contribute to this group and  I saw my lack of fretboard knowledge as an obstacle to expressing ideas I had.  When we decided to retire for the night the piece was neither complete nor very solid and I began to wonder how it would come together the next day.

The next morning I was up at 6:10 am for the morning sitting.  Right after breakfast from 8:30 to 9am I sat down next to the ballroom entrance and began working on the quintet piece.  A simple arpeggio bass line came to me.  I liked the sound and felt I was on to something.  I then went up to the dorms and shared the idea with the rest of the group and let them know that they could continue working on it as I had decided to attend the bathroom cleanup.  I was running on adrenaline at that point and remembering my aim which was to participate as fully as possible.

Afterwards, I joined up with the quintet group and learned that the song had been completed and even with lyrics by Martin B.  I was impressed at how quickly they put it together.  We went down to one of the rooms at the end of the ballroom and rehearsed.  I was very happy with the outcome.

I spent the rest of the day composing and rehearsing with the trio group.  I also took a much needed power nap.

The time of the performance finally came.

The atmosphere was crazy with lots of heckling.  One heckler even climbed through a window.  The L1 group was asked to perform and I felt tense and stumbled at the beginning and the awkward rhythm made it difficult for the group.  We were laughing stock for the hecklers and I felt responsible.  The trio piece did not go any better and again I stumbled at my entrance point.

Looking back, it is clear the first 2 compositions did not work out very well.  Also, instead of going along with the process, I got in the way at a few points which through things off course. The experience was humbling and I saw how I could better respond the next time.

Fortunately, the quintet piece turned out better though.  Again, I struggled at the beginning of the piece, but the group held it together and the audience listened.

The next day Robert offered the possibility of composing but this time with someone of our own choice.  Yas, a level 1 member from Osaka Japan, asked me if I wanted to work with him.  I said I would think about it.  Afterwards, Alain VK approached me and proposed that we work together.  I suggested we compose a piece as a trio, with Yas.  I felt like Yas should be included.

We worked, there were some interesting ideas but nothing worth performing emerged.  Alain dropped out, then I dropped out as well.  Looking back I wonder if I was still holding my aim to participate as fully as possible.

At dinner a few people expressed disappointment with the hecklers during the previous evening’s performance.  Robert said that “the role of the heckler is to make the performer be aware of his state” and that “the heckler is like the fool in the traditional English Morris dance.  He pokes the performer when he’s screwed up.”

On the Wednesday morning Robert mentioned that the course had 3 distinct parts.  First beginning, second beginning and the 3rd part.  In this part the group must take the initiative.  Looking back, this was common on other courses too and made sense to me.  We need to take responsibility and also take initiative to make the course a meaningful experience.

At this point in the course, Robert offered personal meetings.  I signed up and then prepared by walking around the yard thinking about what I would ask.  I struggled for quite some time and just walked in circles.  I finally arrived at something and brought it to the meeting.  I asked my questions but felt I was reciting from a script.  Nonetheless, some of the words that were spoken remain with me to the day, especially that “There is economy and ecology in architecture”.  I knew I needed to build a foundation and structure for my personal and professional life.

On the Thursday Robert asked us to choose one thing to work on and that we wish to bring back with us.  He also asked to present it to the full group on the following day.  I began by meeting with Martin S. seeking for advice.  This guided me to choosing a picking exercise and I went to work on it.  It was simple and I worked on it for several hours, repeating the same sequence of notes over and over again.  I felt I was developing ease with the exercise but saw that the exercise was presenting new challenges and was more difficult than I initially thought.

When the time came to present I volunteered to go first.  I had a memory of one of the Montreal Guitar Circle’s performances where the performers acknowledged the audience before playing.  Similarly, I gazed around the room and then I looked at Robert.  He was looking back.  I counted to four in my head and then began.  The notes came out ok but Robert asked me to begin again.  I did.  Robert then said : “a very good beginning”.  I tried to absorb the experience as Curt had suggested after one of the full group meetings.  I felt calm and relieved my performance was over.  I then made the effort to observe all the other performances as well as I could.    

The Final meeting took place later that day.  Robert asked for any comments on the course.  I had some ideas but hesitated for a moment before speaking.  In the past I always felt intimidated when speaking in front of groups.  I decided to speak and said that at the beginning of the course I was searching for something that was in San Cugat but seemed absent here.  Robert said that : “expectation is prison”.  These words resonated strongly with me.  I knew that certain experiences can’t be reproduced and we should not even seek to reproduce them.  I also knew that I needed to be open and ready for new experiences in the future.

The course had come to an end and it was time to go home.  I was tired and knew that there were missed opportunities but that there was also learning.  Overall I felt grateful and that this was the beginning of work at another level for me.

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