Glasgow musician Jer Reid is going head-to-head with yuletide commerce.
“I wanted to try and generate some way of marking time, other than the brutal consumerist horror show that passes for a midwinter festival,” he says.
Reid’s artistic response is Winter Cycle. It sees him observe every midwinter high-noon until January 4 with a series of collaborative, multi-disciplinary improvisations in Glasgow city centre.
The Issho Taiko Drummers’ guitarist launched his undertaking on December 5, and by its conclusion he’ll have joined forces with 31 different artists over 31 consecutive days – including guitar heartbreaker RM Hubbert, folk diviner Wounded Knee, novelist and musician Luke Sutherland (Mogwai), drama artist Xana Marwick, pop corruptor Iain Campbell, contemporary dancer Rosalind Masson and ace gig illustrator Jenny Soep.
If Winter Cycle is a reaction to the prescribed and commodified ways in which we’re urged to mark time, especially in December, then so too is it a rally against the formulaic presentation of music.
“I got bored with three bands on a stage a long time ago,” says Reid of the traditional rock show set-up.
“It feels like such a limited way to engage. Of course, it’s still possible to see exciting things in that format, but there are so many other possibilities.”
Reid’s experiences as a music fan informed his fascination with unrehearsed art. He cites John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as being particularly influential. “And Dutch band The Ex were a big part of seeing that it was possible to improvise even if you don’t know scales and chord progressions,” he continues. “It’s just a matter of listening and wanting to connect with the people you’re playing with, and the people who are watching. Punks can improvise too.”
Since his apprenticeship in early-1990s “noisy guitar band” Dawson, Reid has explored cross-disciplinary, unorthodox and improvised work.
“I wrote a thing for four electric guitars, called From Home, that Annie Lok choreographed and danced to, and that RM Hubbert, Robert Johnston [Life Without Buildings], Stevie Jones [Arab Strap] and Howie Reeve [Tattie Toes] played,” he says.
Inspired by RM Hubbert, he’s also started performing in people’s homes. “It’s such an old way of doing things but given the fact that I’ve always played through amps and had gadgets, it’s new to me,” explains Reid. “It feels genuinely revolutionary to have music in everyday life, not just as part of some spectacle onstage: to reconnect with culture in an old and simple way.” But it is a brave thing to do, is it not – to play in such intimate spaces? “It’s terrifying!”
At present however, Reid is especially roused by his “expansive” dialogues with dancers. He recently began a series of spontaneous duets with Scottish contemporary dance artist Rosalind Masson, who’ll collaborate with Reid at Winter Cycle on December 24.
Masson jumped at the chance to participate. “I’m happy to be involved in any project that has an element of duration,” she says. “It’s reassuring for me to think that artists can produce works that show their dedication to the medium through daily practice.”
She also believes that Winter Cycle challenges our assumptions of art.
“The beauty of improvisation is that every moment is essentially the moment – there’s no hierarchy between research, development and final outcome,” she reflects.
Masson is based in Glasgow, as are all but five of Winter Cycle’s stars: does the city provide a significant backdrop? “It’s crucial,” nods Reid. “It’s the place, landscape and culture I was brought up in.” He also tips his hat to the practical benefits of having a wealth of ingenuity on his doorstep, and having a welcoming venue in Stereo.
Reid’s communal, open approach to art extends to the documentation of Winter Cycle. “I’m doing 31 CDs, one of each performance,” he says. “It just feels right to do it, and to involve visual artists and friends who’d like to do covers. There’ll also be a booklet with writing by me, by people involved, and by anyone viewing, and we’ll do a compilation CD at the end.”
He’s surprised and excited by Winter Cycle’s journey so far. “It already feels like a process that’s linking day-to-day, and there’s an amazing feeling of buoyancy, of support, of the creativity of the other folks involved.
“The weather has been fun,” he offers. “Jack Figgis had to play on half a kit because he couldn’t drag his drums through the snow – but he absolutely blazed.”
Reid acknowledges that the process of Winter Cycle will change him as an artist. “But I’m much more interested about how it will be for me as a human being,” he says. “I want to try and raise daily life beyond what it is in this culture; to mark time as a part of a whole life: to feel more mortal.”