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Guest column - The art of swimming by Cinematic Orchestra's Phil France

Guest column - The art of swimming by Cinematic Orchestra's Phil France
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The Cinematic Orchestra‘s Phil France releases his debut solo album The Swimmer on Monday (7 October). So why the aquatic theme? Well, waving just learnt to swim properly, France explains in this guest column why he had to dive in musically too…

I’d been meaning to teach myself to swim properly for quite some time. Relocating from London to West Yorkshire provided me with the opportunity. My niece, an expert swimmer, provided information on correct techniques and I found a great pool in a spa built in the former home of Charles Waterton, (a 19th-century naturalist and explorer) close by.

I had always swum but with no particular technique. There I applied myself to learning how to swim properly. The correct way of breathing during breaststroke was relatively easy to accomplish. When I figured out how to actually breathe on alternate sides after odd numbers of strokes during the front crawl it felt like a revelation. I pushed on, gulping for air at times, trying to keep calm in the main, never in actual danger. And with the learning of the technique, thinking of nothing but my breathing, forward movement and the feeling of my body in the water my mind started to focus not on the act of swimming itself but on the album I’d been trying to get started on.

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I propelled myself forward. Water and swimming began to bind my musical ideas together. The feeling of calm and steady progress I got whilst swimming provided me with an emotional composure I needed to create my first solo works. The swimming informed the actual sound too – repetition of strokes accorded well with the movement of arpeggiated patterns and sequences I was constructing, and the experience of warm, deep, clear water coloured and shaped the sound.

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Around this time I began to look for references to swimmers in culture. If swimming had had such a profound effect on my own thoughts and feelings then surely it had affected others in similarly profound ways.

A few of my favourite references include Jean Vigo‘s 1931 film Taris, Roi de L’eau which has wonderfully dreamlike and surreal underwater sequences, revolutionary at the time. The 1968 film The Swimmer is an enigmatic picture, with protagonist Ned Merrill swimming via the pools of his wealthy Connecticut neighbours to his own boarded up, empty house. No respite or support for him in the act of swimming but an escape of sorts nevertheless.

Fellow Yorkshireman David Hockney‘s poolside pictures, painted in the 1970s whilst living in California, are suggestive of physical and sexual freedom as well as a kind of lifestyle of lounging and decadence contrary to stereotypical Yorkshire values. I love them.

Phil France@philfrancemusic

For more head to Philfrancemusic.com.


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