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Despite the fearsome Covid-19 viral strain having such a catastrophic effect upon the fabric of normalcy, this dystopian nightmare having such appalling consequences, my fabulously talented team are making good progress in regard to this complex project. I have the most gifted, talented group of people who are contributing, using their own fields of expertise, towards the completion of two CDs and their associated printed music. Allow me to make some introductions:

Adaq Khan is a London based sound engineer and producer. He is rapidly making for himself a reputation as one of the country’s leading recording engineers. His CV includes recording at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican and, further afield, the Czech Republic. Accolades include Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice and iTunes Classical No. l Album. And, last December, one week before Christmas, he recorded the twin CDs of my latest project at the Menuhin Hall in Surrey where we met one rain-soaked morning. In order that we could make an prompt start to our recording he had arrived early at the Hall in the cold dark wet to unload and set up his impressive array of equipment. He had heard me banging on windows and locked doors attempting to gain admittance and sped along corridors and stairs to rescue me from the incessant downpour which was to characterise the winter months.

Over two long intensely focused days he worked with unbroken concentration and attention to detail, making countless annotations on my scores and adjustments to his sophisticated machinery, his tools. We soon established an easy working relationship as we worked towards a common goal. After a long day of recording he continued to work late into the night, alone in the empty vacant Hall. Yet he was there waiting, ready, early the following morning. He was giving one hundred per cent.

He is now working with our star performer Mary Dullea. He has sent her the second edits of the 50 pieces that constitute the 2 albums. He is waiting to hear from Mary with regard to whether she requires further engineering as they work together to achieve perfection.

Mary: Dr. Mary Dullea, one of Europe’s leading pianists and a dedicated advocate of contemporary music. Director of Performance at the Royal Holloway University and a founding member of the dazzlingly awesome Fidelio Trio. Her CV is an amazing record of her stellar career. I am not going to attempt to dip into it or cherry pick her successes. If you are sufficiently intrigued, you can easily with two clicks, delve into it yourself and be suitably impressed.

This is our fourth collaboration. She is an enthusiastic advocate of my innovative Non-Prescriptive methods of composing to such an extent that she readily agreed to record the Pieces without having seen the scores. Her unwavering support for my music gives me strength to continue in some of my darker moments. She is a most wonderful person to work with. Her magnificent realisations of my music showcase both her extraordinary pianistic skills and her understanding, her empathy, of my work and evoke the most enthusiastic accolades from the reviewers.

Since our first collaboration, Set for Piano (2012) I have written much about this remarkable artist. You might, if you care to read more, rummage through my past blog posts or Mary’s website.

It is my intention that the printed music of the Pieces should be made available at the same time that the CDs are released. Given that my team remain free from viral infection, that will be around June. The person responsible for transcribing my handwritten scores into something very much more legible is Ashil Mistry. We are working closely together. He drip feeds me with the first edits for me to proof read. I am always aware that if I do not recognise the inevitable errors and send them back to Ashil for correction, then these will go on to be published. I spend many hours comparing his edits to my original scores and then as a further safeguard I play them very slowly on my piano. Ashil and myself are working towards making 50 perfect error-free pieces before we finally send them to Divine Art which will act as an outlet for sales. The Pieces will be available separately in PDF download format but I would like both the volumes to be also available as complete sets. The cost of this, however, might be prohibitive. It will have to be costed.

And now the unique, and this is not hyperbole, Stephen Sutton, founder and CEO of Divine Art Recording Studios. This company was formed by Stephen in 1993. He is based in Vermont, America, some three thousand miles from Manchester, England. How is that for social distancing? He has acquired several labels, amongst them Metier, Athene, Diversions and Heritage Media. He works tirelessly – and that is an understatement – to produce CDs, more than 500 at this time of writing, of the highest quality and which feature some of the world’s most notable artists and composers. He is one of the most remarkable people I have had the good fortune to meet. Over the years our relationship has slowly matured and now we are good friends. His other obsession is South Shields Football Club which he follows from afar with great passion. I have sent him a club scarf and mug which he greatly appreciates when swaddled in depths of a Vermont winter. He now awaits the final edits from Adaq, the scores from Ashil and the sleeve notes from Michael Quinn.

Michael Quinn: In 2015 when the double CD of my Three Piano Sonatas were released, it was met by very favourable reviews. For me it was fascinating for me to read each reviewer, their different understandings of my music and their different styles of writing. One reviewer caught mine (and Mary’s) attention. It was his wonderful empathy and quality of prose. You can find his review amongst my blog posts “taking the listener everywhere and nowhere” March 2015. And back then, five year’s ago, I thought how wonderful it would be if I could persuade him to write the sleeve notes for a (then undetermined) project. So a few weeks ago I did get around to asking him and promptly received a most enthusiastic acceptance which included a relevant quote from the philosopher Wittgenstein written without any conceit at all. His review of the Sonatas included a quote from Busoni. Clearly this man reads a lot of very serious stuff and remembers in detail what he does read. I wish I could do that. He is no run- of- the- mill scribe. I look forward to reading his sleeve notes, how he approaches the Pieces and his expressions, given his gift for wonderful prose.

And to the art work. This is a collaboration between Alwyn Egginton, Peter Vodden and Stephen Sutton. A long time ago, once upon a time, I taught in a school in Wythenshawe, Manchester. It was my solemn duty to play solemn music as the school assembled for morning prayer. This for two years. On my last morning at the school, I released my frustration at the piano in no uncertain manner. The teachers and pupils shared in my musical rebellion. The headmaster however was not pleased. By noon the Art Teacher Alwyn Egginton had produced a wonderful dynamic sketch of myself at the piano arms and legs flailing, the piano disintegrating. Peter Vodden, my dear friend, has tinkered with the sketch and in doing so has deleted the Headmaster’s comments- “Thank you Mr. Craven that is just what we need to start the day”. He has sent this modified sketch as a suggestion for the art work to Stephen Sutton who has gone along with the idea. What will the final version of Alwyn’s cartoon look like after Peter and Stephen have shared their ideas and have further fettled? Already Peter has added colour to Alwyn’s pencilled original work.

And so, as Covid-19 continues to drain the life from so many countries, economies and businesses, whilst millions are falling ill and thousands are dying a lonely isolated death, amazingly,in the context of all that, my talented team, separated by hundreds, (in the case of Divine Art, thousands of miles), working from three different countries, making expert use of technology, continue to diligently work towards what I hope will be two successful CDs together with the associated music.

My next post will be written when all these separate complexities have, under the aegis of Stephen Sutton, coalesced into a product which I hope might find favour with the many pianists out there looking for something, which, because the pieces are presented in my Non-Prescriptive Low Order format, offer something that is different from the usual pieces for pianists.

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Manchester Grammar School 2017. Anthony Goldstone’s alma mata. A wonderful, celebratory concert dedicated to the memory and sad loss of this supremely talented, forever modest pianist. His repertoire could only be described as eclectic. He once hand copied for me a simple beautiful piece by Manos Hadjidakis, “Conversations for a Little White Sea Shell”. I still play that piece from his manuscript and am always beguiled by its melodic appeal, simplicity and cultural nuance. Go on to include composers such as Messiaen, Mussorgsky, Mozart inter alia and you begin to understand just how diverse his tastes and repertoire were at a relatively early stage when his career was yet to burgeon.

Unfortunately in later life Tony became a victim of a late-diagnosed prostate cancer. Treatment was in vain. He passed on 2nd January 2017. The event was, in hindsight, hugely ironic for me. Within a few weeks I was informed that I also had an aggressive prostate cancer. I have chronicled my journey, my relationship with The Alien in previous posts.

The event was facilitated by the notable, seemingly indefatigable, recorderist John Turner and hosted by Tony’s widow Caroline Clemmow who chose to include in the programme and personally perform one of the piano pieces that I wrote and dedicated to Tony many years ago. It was a typically thoughtful gesture which meant so much to me. The programme, the exquisite performances, had concluded and the splendid refreshments were being demolished molto presto by performers and audience. John, plate in hand, engages me in conversation and unwittingly says something that not only ricocheted around my head – and still does – but was to become the inspiration of this project. His remarks were to the effect that my music would be performed more frequently if it wasn’t so incredibly difficult to play and that only a very few could even begin to publicly engage with the demands of my middle and higher order Non-Prescriptive music.

And, thinking about this, I had, with reservations, to agree. John had made a valid point. There is Mary Dullea, myself and a person who lives in Yorkshire who, when she is not able to sleep at night descends the stairs and spends 15 minutes or so realising a selected page of my High order format. She has taken quite naturally to my Non-Prescriptive methodologies. I am convinced that her being a contemporary free -thinking artist endows her with a suitable mindset which enables her to fluently accept and realise the challenges of my music.

Following this seminal conversation with John I made a huge decision to embark on a major project which was to be so different to my usual output. These 2 volumes, each consisting of 25 pieces, constitute a considerable seismic change to my previous recorded music. They are quite tonal, abound in melodic, hopefully attractive, ideas and all are quite short. Call it Craven Lite. I have become temporarily the Richard Clayderman of contemporary piano music. They are technically quite approachable. My intention being to reward any pianist with even modest standards of ability with almost immediate success. In both volumes there is a slowly increasing gradation of technical difficulty but there is very little that will be beyond the capabilities of those who, because of life’s vagaries and vicissitudes, have perhaps not achieved the levels of pianistic excellence they once promised themselves. Or for students who might wish to explore, to play pieces that are very different from the usual fare. For, importantly, all these pieces are presented in Low order format which might sound formidable but isn’t. What it means is that for each piece the parameters of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, pedalling and instructions re the articulation of the notes are omitted from the scores. Unlike most music this method of Non Prescription allows the performer a great freedom of interpretation. He/she is invited to engage with the music in such a way that he/she becomes part of the compositional process by being able to determine the outcome of any performance. Furthermore, the pianist may elect to vary these missing parameters (instructions) and, by doing so, can achieve any number of different outcomes. I have played most of these pieces to Caroline Clemmow, for years an Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music examiner. Her enthusiastic verdict were that the pieces were “fit for purpose”.

Pieces for Pianists will be available both on CD and in printed downloadable format sometime in 2020. The ever- supportive superb Mary Dullea will be recording in late December at the Menuhin Hall, Surrey. When I first asked her if she would be prepared to commit to this quite divergent project she accepted without a moment’s hesitation before she had even looked at the scores.

It is my intention that the release of both the recordings, together with the music, will assist and inspire those pianists who wish to engage with Pieces for Pianists. The pieces played by one of the most foremost pianists who is noted for her interest in contemporary music can serve as a guide, a starting point. For Mary will be able to demonstrate just one way in which these pieces can be realised. And if conservative -minded pianists chose to imitate the recorded realisations, this cannot be such a bad thing to attempt to emulate the performances of Mary Dullea.

And that piece I wrote for Tony? As a gesture to both Tony and Caroline, I have decided to include it in Volume 1 of Pieces for Pianists. But now, in keeping with all the other pieces, it is offered without any instructions or guidance in respect to performance.

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“You’re cured”. How can such simple words mean so much? And it is not the first time that I have been the recipient of such good news. Twenty years ago, after having undergone surgery to excise a high risk malignant melanoma, I received a similar verdict in the same hospital, the quite unique Christie. Then I stood, this time I was seated. Then my hair was blond, now it is grey. And I am being informed that recent blood tests indicate that The Alien, an aggressive Gleason 8, is no longer in attendance. The PSA level came in at less than 0.1, the testosterone level less than 0.2. Results that I had hoped for were now indisputable hard data. The would be assassin has fled the scene, defeated by the advances in medical science together with the combined efforts of the doctors, nurses, radiographers and many others, some working in distant pharmaceutical laboratories. People who I will never meet.

 

I exit the hospital into a late, cold, darkening wet Friday afternoon harbouring complicated emotions. I am euphoric yet chastened as I remember my mother and all the cherished life-long friends who I have lost, four alone in the last two years. Due to late diagnoses, their prognoses were quite poor. They lasted for only a few weeks. I deeply miss them more than I can put into words. Most of you reading this will share the same feelings of irreplaceable loss.

 

I have looked at some stats. There are approximately 1,000 new cancer cases in the UK per week. And although cancer survival rates are improving, more than 3,000 people die from cancer each week. One quarter of these will last no longer than six months, mainly due to late diagnosis. And, although the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, Britain has the worst cancer survival rate in Western Europe. How can this equate? Is there something profoundly wrong here? I have always taken great care to maintain an apolitical blog but I am compelled at this point to say that so often I have strongly disagreed with Governments’ (pl) spending priorities. So often I am of the opinion that significant amounts of the public purse are carelessly spent, perhaps squandered on projects, causes that I deem are not nearly as vital as saving, extending, improving the quality of peoples’ lives by providing enhanced medical provision. But enough of this. It’s a worn tired debate. My hat, or yours, thrown into the ring will go unnoticed. Back to the thread.

 

For the second time in my life I have somehow, for no apparent reason, managed to evade the voracious, pitiless grasp of The Grim Reaper when so many countless others have not. Many years ago I reached the firm conclusion based on thinking, observation and evidence, that life is a random, illogical game of chance. We delude ourselves if for one moment, we think that we are in control of our lives, our destiny. Some will simply be luckier than others and no amount of philosophy or theology can make much sense of that because there is no sense or reason to be found. Disappointingly so, there is no Grand Plan. The Gods are cruel and indiscriminate, perhaps even more so than homo sapiens. They give life only to take it away on a whim, a throw of a dice, a spin of the wheel. I am remembering a hymn sung at my old school. One of the lines – “Live every day as if it were thy last”. We should have sung that one line. Every day. Fortissimo.

 

And now what lies ahead a propos further treatment? The thirteen weeks cycle of Prostap injections will continue for a further two years. During the third year the side effects should, hopefully, disappear. But I must be careful to say that side effects can be widely different for every man. For me they mean that I must fight the ever present fatigue each day beginning with every morning. It is ever-present. The temptation to sit and do nothing is to be resisted. It is always a challenge. A test of will power. Resolve has taken the place of testosterone as a driver. However, it is possible to wade through water however deep. And then there are the hot sweats, at the moment 70 – 90 per week. They are quite debilitating. I am presently attending weekly sessions of (western-based) acupuncture at the Christie with the hope that this treatment can, to some extent, alleviate the frequency, intensity and duration of these nuisances. Getting up six or seven times per night to wipe myself dry results in sleep deprivation adding to the levels of fatigue.

 

I will be monitored every six months for the remainder of my life. At present the one major indicator of renewed malignancy is a PSA test and I am, in addition, scheduled to visit the Urology department at the Wythenshawe hospital. I have not been there for some months. I hope there is some kind of trail for me to follow. The numerous signs pointing the way to this department have never worked for me.

 

And at times there are still some residual, quite inconvenient side effects from the month of Radio Therapy that I had in August/September. Scroll back to ” Medical Science v The Alien – A Month of Radiology”. September 16th 2018. And, as a reward for doing so, you will find a photograph of me after my last treatment ringing Emma’s bell.

 

And my music? Some years ago when I started this blog it was my sole intention to chronicle my progress as a composer but, as my diagnosis fifteen months ago so changed my life, I decided to write about my life as a composer living with cancer. The rate of my composing has slowed due to the fact that on so many occasions I can barely summon the energy to rise to the cognitive level required for composition. But I have persisted. I have never given up. I don’t give up on very much at all. And I have written many new pieces, all of them of quite short duration and, in doing so, I am nearing the completion of my next project, more of which I will disclose in future posts. And, after this incredible news regarding my health I can settle and write that tenth piano sonata. And the eleventh. And the twelfth.

 

During the last fifteenth months or so I, as a patient, visited three Manchester hospitals – The Christie, Wythenshawe and Trafford. There have been many visits sometimes two, maybe three a week, and on every single occasion I have been so greatly impressed by the professionalism, the singular dedication of the doctors, nurses and all the supporting staff. These are exceptional people working every day under considerable pressures and stress. Their efforts can only be described as truly heroic. And it is because of these people and others involved in the development, the rapid advance of medical science that I can now look forward to extension of my life. I will be forever in their debt.

 

For me now, there is light at the end of the tunnel but, as I look back on the last fifteen months, there was never any other outcome to be considered. Not for one second. One has to always believe and, if there is nothing else, there is always hope.

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Rehab at the Christie


Thursday 28th January.   The weather is in synchrony with the season.   Snow has somehow managed to penetrate the ever- present mantle of Manchester’s polluted air.  The mercury hovers around zero. Vehicles are stranded, abandoned and on the pavements (sidewalks) people tread according to their age.  The elderly with caution.   The young progress regardless of the fact that there is absolutely no friction ‘twixt foot and the compacted, trodden snow. I also see the occasional T- shirt and shorts. What unaccountable science is going on here?

 

I am bound for the Christie hospital for the first of nine treatments of acupuncture which might, hopefully, ameliorate the debilitating effects of the hormone therapy, which, in conjunction with radio therapy, is being employed to keep The Alien at bay. I find my way to the Re-Upholstery Department and, after only a short wait, am called, beckoned, welcomed and led into a small room.

Anna has entered into my life.

She sets about the chore of assembling some kind of patient profile. I can anticipate the questions, Anna cannot anticipate the responses. Allergies? Salads and children. My subsequent answers are equally informative. The profiling is quietly abandoned for the day, put to one side.I am already becoming aware of the fact that Anna has a natural calm, a serenity about her even to the pitch and cadence of her voice. Her persona, her profession a seeming perfect fit.

 

And now it is down to the business. Within a few minutes twelve needles are growing vertically from my feet and legs. An extraordinary sight. Anna dims the lights and leaves me lying prostate(sic) on the bed. I am aware that on the other side of the door there is animated conversation, laughter, an energy and vibrancy which is acting as a counterpoint to my still, quiet room. I examine the shadows, the strange shapes from the dimmed lights which are now painted onto the walls. And the minutes glide seamlessly, imperceptibly by.
A gentle tap on the door. Anna enters, my eyes adjust to the sudden brightness and the room becomes animated,filled once again with her practiced dialogue.In some strange way she has never left the room. The needles are removed, carefully counted. Am I supposed to feel any different? I take a quick inventory of myself. No, I don’t think so. But, during the following week, I experience half my usual number of hot sweats and, for several nights, sleep for more than my usual 4 or 5 hours.

 

Seven days later I am in the same tiny room. Anna needs to know how I have reacted to the first session of acupuncture. The response, however, is not straight forward. The improvement on the frequency of hot sweats might be due to the fact that the week has been the last in the thirteen week cycle of Prostap (H.T.) injections which is my regime. I usually feel better at this stage. Or  could it be that the acupuncture is already having beneficial effects? It is supposed to be an accumulative treatment. This line of enquiry is laid to rest.

 

This week 16 needles sprout from my feet, legs, hands, brow and head. Anna is upping the game. A routine is already becoming familiar. Dimmed lights, a disappearing Anna, a sudden silence. Again, I am alone, insulated, surrounded by mute silhouettes drawn for a short while upon the walls. My environment at such variance with the energy and vitality that is just a short distance from me.Time feels to be suspended, somehow it takes on a different characteristic, felt rather than rationalised.

 

Time drifts by, neither fast or slow. There are few references, no measures, hardly any delineation.And, as last week, I am keenly aware of the juxtapositon between my silent, still chamber and the animated bustle of the hospital. The gentle tap on the door, Anna materialises and brightness and normality are restored. She begins to explain some of the techniques that are involved in the mysterious art of acupucture whilst the needles disappear, one by one. This week we both count together. She begins to teach me some techniques which will hopefully help me manage the hot sweats which plague me each day and night.She refers to these as tools.

 

I exit the Christie into the cold, dark chill of an early February evening and soon become part of the endless, slow- moving line of commuter traffic. Will those sixteen needles have any favourable effect upon the fresh injection of the Prostap? I usually feel quite below par for some days after an infusion of this powerful cocktail. Let’s see……………

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This review is by Peter Byrom-Smith who is rather more than a critic. He is a composer, he lectures on musical composition and hosts a radio show on Fab Radio International. I always welcome being discussed, dissected by fellow musicians, especially when they are composers. They typically exhibit great dollops of empathy, perception and acuity when writing about my Non-Prescriptive compositional techniques.

 

His review is most positive and his comments generous although, not for the first time, Scott McLaughlin’s magnificent notes receive some flack.

 

I will again rise to the defense of Scott (that’s Dr. Scott) McLaughlin’s sleeve notes. Who, other than he is able to write with such clarity, erudition and authority about the insanity of quantum entanglement and the complexity of my compositional techniques? Yes, Scott also reads Difficult Science and has closely followed the evolution of my compositional techniques for many years. I know that many people, including reviewers, are dependent upon his notes to gain a greater understanding of my music.

 

I do, however, have one quibble with the review. Mr. Byrom-Smith labels Entangled States as “An interesting concept album”. This is the first time any reviewer has used this term in connection with my music. I think that Mr. Byrom-Smith might be applying that word “conceptional” in the sense of an album whose parts hold a greater purpose collectively than they do individually – where the process of creation is more important than what is actually created, the idea or the concept being the most important aspect of the work as opposed to the outcome. I am guessing, surmising here. I have not discussed this with the author. My presumption may be way off-track. I might be interpreting his label wrongly. But he does refer to ES as “an interesting conceptual idea”. That’s a clue, isn’t it?

 

If this is the case and my suspicion is indeed correct, then I must state that my Non-Prescriptive ideas, techniques and methodologies have been developed solely in order to achieve a quite specific end result. They have never been considered (until now ?) as an end in themselves.

 

Allow me to extend two examples which I think are relevant to this point.

 

Firstly, 12 Tone Rows or serialism. This once reactionary methodology is associated with Schoenberg and his contemporaries, the Second Viennese School, c.1920. This system was never an end in itself. It was developed essentially to challenge the traditional tonal, melodic and harmonic structures which had been the bedrock of western music for four centuries. The fundamental concept of the 12 Tone Row System was designed to give equal importance to each note of the diatonic scale. Doh was dead. Doh was no more! Atonality was the new big idea.

 

Secondly, counterpoint, sometimes although not always correctly, referred to as polyphony.

 

This complex and rather cerebral compositional technique was developed in the Renaissance  and perfected in the Baroque period by J. S. Bach and his contemporaries. Typically the music is identified by having several lines or voices that utilise the same melodic idea. The result is a rich harmonic tapestry, each part contributing to and enriching the whole. One of the greatest examples- for me as a pianist- of counterpoint is Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues c 1730. It is no coincidence that Entangled States is also made up of 48 pieces. Bach’s 48 was inspirational for me. And also, like Bach, I wanted to fully demonstrate my own compositional ideas that are embodied in my Non-Prescriptive techniques. The 48 also known as the Well-Tempered Clavier (no, I’m not going there) has been performed many times by giants, Ashkenazy, Barenboim, Gould, Richter inter alia. But significantly, not one recording of the 48 has been described as a concept album. Ever. QED…

 

That’s my cavilling done with. That’s my two cents- worth. Think of it what you will. I do hope Mr. Byrom-Smith responds and that we can engage, exchange ideas, discuss this point.   Is that label justified?

To read the full review, click on:

https://www.amazon.com/product-reviews/B07DD7GWPZ

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The review is written by editor Jeremy Condliffe whose family runs this independently- owned weekly newspaper. Since it was founded in 1893 this journal has had only four editors. I find that quite remarkable. It typically distributes 16,000 copies across south Cheshire and north Staffordshire.

Unfortunately, the link provided gives access to only the first paragraph of the review and I somehow do not think that you will subscribe to read the full article. In lieu, here are some extracts:

“Ms Dullea improvises where she needs to, and like a good writer can ape the style of different people, she presumably does a good job of inserting what Craven wants; perhaps he doesn’t want anything, just something. He is non-prescriptive after all.

“What does it sound like? It lacks most of what music normally possesses but is neither unstructured or formless … and it is never strident or intrusive.

“It also reminds us of Steve Hillage’s seminal ambient album, Rainbow Dome Musick which just emerges for a while then stops.

“Basically: nice piano, expect mood more than tunes.”

That’s quite some connect. Rainbow was written in 1979. It was a music ambient conception that was pioneering, ahead of its time. It was one of the very first of the genre of electronic psychedelic that became so popular in the 1980s. Just what is the connection that Mr. Conliffe is attempting to make here? Perhaps the answer lies in his last sentence:

 

https://www.chronicleseries.com/Entertainment/Reviews/Eric-Craven-Entangled-States

 

 

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Medical Science vs The Alien


A month of radiotherapy.

Monday 6th August.   A blue sky, bright sunlight, temperatures in the high twenties. The heatwave continues and shorts worn with socks are now the fashion.

I make my way to the Radiography Planning Department at Manchester’s Christie Hospital. The purpose of my visit is for a unique plan of treatment to be prepared. I have a CT scan which gives my cancer specialist, Dr. James Wylie, information from which he can devise the course which will last for four weeks. A calculated amount of high energy x-ray beams will be directed at the prostate. This will cause damage to the cells of The Alien which, in turn, will stop them from dividing and growing. The hormone therapy which I have had during the preceding six months has possibly decreased the size of the prostate by as much as 20 per cent and made The Alien more susceptible to RT.

During the scan three tiny tattoo marks are made in specific areas on my hips and lower abdomen. This will enable the radiographers to set myself and the linac in exactly the same alignment for each of the 20 sessions. The scan also shows the precise location, size and shape of the prostate which ensures that the radiotherapy is targeted at The Alien and that the surrounding tissue – mainly the bladder and the colon – receive as little as possible.

 

The First Week of Treatment.

Monday 20th August.   It’s still very warm but I forgo the shorts. I present myself at The Christie Radiotherapy Department and am directed to Suite 3. There are 11 suites in total. I am welcomed by staff clad in maroon coloured scrubs and am comprehensively briefed on procedures and possible side-effects. I am trained, prepared for what will very quickly become a familiar routine.

I climb onto a table, there is a soft, yielding headrest and my knees are slightly elevated by a cushion. The tattoos are exposed and painstaking alignment commences. Small movements of myself, the table and the linac. Measurements are read and sharply defined green lines move over my lower abdomen. Millimetres are critical. The team become focused on the alignment. It has to be precise. They notify me that they are leaving  to go to their shielded control area. The team can observe and talk to me via CC TV.

Suddenly, silence, stillness. I concentrate on remaining perfectly motionless. I am not quite cognisant of what is to happen but the arms of the machine, a linear accelerator, which surround me begin to make  noises and begin a slow 360 degree sweep in one direction, pause, generate different noises, and then proceed in a slow 360 degree rotation in the opposite direction. The machine is quite vocal. It sings its song. Whilst I am zapped by high energy x-rays I lie and listen to the music of the machine. There is no sensation and I am somewhat disappointed that a Star Wars-like coloured beam does not emanate from one of the pieces of equipment circling me. I am informed that each machine costs in excess of £3,000,000. The greater part of the linac is installed in and beyond the wall of the room at the head-end of the table.

 

The Second Week.

I am now an old hand. Grizzled, experienced. The staff and I are on first name terms. I am informed that I have, for some unknown reason, become one of their “favourites”. What have I done to deserve that honour?  Can it be my happy socks?

And halfway through the week the anticipated side-effects begin. I have read about them, been informed of them by the radiographers  and now they are upon me. Urgency and frequency. I am given Tamsulosin by a doctor. It gives no apparent relief and my journey by metrolink tram to the hospital becomes increasingly fraught.

 

The Third Week.

The side effects become more acute and, by necessity, I am confined to quarters except for my daily commute to The Christie. I have now exchanged the mode of travel from the tram to a car. This journey typically takes 25 minutes. With some foresight and planning I can just tolerate this amount of time. My appointment times are helpfully changed so that I am able to travel when there is slightly less congestion on the roads. There is always traffic congestion in Manchester. It is the second most congested city in the UK after London.

I am now visiting the bathroom 10 – 15 times during the night. I am becoming incredibly fatigued. I no longer go to my music studio (The Struggle). The beam is affecting my bladder and colon.

So it’s time to turn up my resolve. I am determined to see this through. I am resolute. The equation consists of short term difficulties, inconveniences, disruption, against an extension of my life. It is a no brainer.

And several of the radiographers have gleaned during our conversations that I am a composer. A few have read my blog and show an interest in my music. Next week I will present them with some of my CDs as a grateful thank you. It will be different from the cakes, chocolates, wine and flowers that constitute the usual currency of patients’ gratitude. The staff, are beyond praise. They help to create and sustain the ethos which makes this hospital such a special place. They are all mostly young, some having just completed their three years of training. When they are asked what they do, I would like to imagine their response as being along the lines of “I save lives and give people hope”.

 

The Fourth Week.

I am finding that the weekends of rest are necessary. I am informed that the tissue surrounding the prostate, which is suffering collateral damage from the radiation, can recover to some degree. Again I turn up the resolve button. I am reduced to a state of almost total exhaustion,  this post has taken several days for me to write. Interesting prose and wit elude me.

As ever the days slip by. Time is slowed. It is moving slower than the rate of tectonic drift. There has been no respite from the side effects of urgency and frequency. Doctors inform me that this is not uncommon and that the condition will typically continue for six to eight weeks after completion of the course.

The final date of treatment at last becomes the present. It is Friday 14th September. My course of treatment commenced in hot Summer weather, today it is distinctly Autumnal although the leaves have not yet begun to fall. Two radiographers, Thomas and Aneeka, guide and instruct a student who has difficulty in manoeuvering my body into the correct alignment. She will learn. There is an air of celebration. We joke (“Here I lie prostate before you”). The machine commences its circumnavigations and sings its song. We hug and say our goodbyes and I bid my farewell of these special people.

Previously, when the bell has been rung, I, together with all the others in the vicinity have applauded. That signifies many things including feelings of empathy and brotherhood (sisterhood?) And now it’s my turn. I have been waiting a long time for this. I grasp the plaited rope and ring the bell the required three times fortissimo. I leave the hospital with layers of complex emotions.

 

The bell.

It is often an emotional moment when patients who have completed their course of chemo or radiotherapy get to ring the bell. And there is a fascinating, rather magnificent history attached to this celebration.

Emma Payton was eight years old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma on her face. After some treatment at The Christie it was decided that she would benefit from Proton Beam Therapy. At that time The Christie did not have this technology so Emma went to a hospital in Oklahoma, USA. There, on the final day of her treatment, she rang the bell. It was an already established tradition. Her family were so inspired by the moment that they have since donated almost 200 bells to hospitals across the UK.

As you can see from the photograph, the bell is a rather hansom specimen, highly polished. It has a nice length of plaited rope attached to the clapper. The verse on the wall behind the bell reads:

Ring this bell
three times well
its toll to clearly say
my treatment’s done
this course is run
and I am on my way.

Emma Payton/Maria Watt

When the bell is rung everyone in the vicinity, staff and patients, stop what they are doing and applaud loudly and enthusiastically and with recognition.

This year The Christie Proton Centre opens for business. Emma and her family have reserved the special one hundredth gold bell for the proton beam therapy department.

 

Moving on, looking forward.

I am informed that the side effects of the RT will take 6 – 8 weeks to resolve. During this period I will adopt a period of iron discipline. I will consider eating lettuce, having an alcohol free day and inducing sleep by listening to minimalist music. I have acquired a pedometer app on my phone. I will acquaint myself with this toy, mindful of the fact that my walks around the ‘hood will, by necessity, have to remain within a short distance of the bathroom and I will watch programmes on the TV which show people running very quickly. Exercise by proxy.

30 months of HT (Prostap) lie ahead. I will seek to find ways of mitigating the prominent side effects of this which are, for me, fatigue, breathlessness and frequent hot sweats. As soon as it is possible I will resume the commute to the Struggle and summon the required level of cognitive energy that I need to compose. My music is perhaps the principal victim of this rather unfortunate period in my life.

I am all too aware, despite the last line of the verse attached to Emma’s bell, that my journey, as Florence refers to it, is far from over. Dr. Wylie informs me that my type of cancer is slow to react to the treatments and that it will be six months before he will be able to assess the damage sustained to The Alien which is persistent and intelligent. It is able to adapt and react to HT. It is a wily beast. (Sorry Doc, I couldn’t resist).

The engagement between The Alien and medical science is far from the end. It is neither won nor lost. Perhaps it is simplistic to think in terms of winning and losing. Perhaps it is best that I don’t think in these terms at all and just get on with my life, my music.

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The review in question being from John France of MusicWeb International.

Mr. France begins his review of Entangled States by admitting that he “is baffled as how to approach this double-CD”. In this state of bafflement he continues.

That there are “48 separate, short piano pieces: all untitled save for their roman numerals” (those are, by the way, titles) presents him with “difficulties”. More difficulties are to be found “in the 10 pages of densely, but not necessarily opaquely written text” which he says “calls for profound study, not a quick glance”. Well, Mr, France yes, it’s not exactly this week’s issue of The Beano.

Mr. France has looked up what he said in his revue of the Three Sonatas and has regurgitated ad verbatim some of what he wrote then. He is still vexed that “he cannot get a handle on the composer”. Does he really need my shoe size to be able to write a review of the music?

He states that he was not able “to give it all my full concentration”, that he tried to read the liner notes but was “stumped by the density of the text”. It is at this point that we must ask if Mr. France is best employed as a critic.

Finally after pecking and quibbling at what is not the music he does get around, albeit very briefly, to actually mentioning it. “And finally, most important of all, what does this music sound like? It could be described as Kaikhosru Sorabji” (again a reiteration of his former review) “having cocktails with Bill Evans, Count Basie, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky” but then readily admits that this is a “sweeping stylistic simplification”. That is all that he has to say about the 48 pieces of music. That seems to be the summation of his insight. Is it sufficient for any potential listener to “get a handle” on my music?

Then a completely unexpected, dramatic, volte-face. “It is typically comprehensible to the listener and nearly always pleasing to the ear… This is an impressive and often quite beautiful production”.

So, in summary, he doesn’t like anything about the CD other than the music.

Here is a link to the complete review:
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2018/Jul/Craven_entangled_MSV28571.htm

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Entangled States


Some four years ago I made a small pencil mark on a blank sheet of manuscript. The relocation of stuff in my head to stuff on paper had at last begun. This project had been swirling about in my thoughts for quite some time and now my ideas had clarified, become defined to the point at which I knew I could take on the challenge of what I considered to be quite a daunting undertaking.

That moment was the first step on a long creative process which has involved the combined skills of a small group of supremely talented people – Mary Dullea, Alex Van Ingen, Scott McLaughlin, Peter Vodden and Stephen Sutton. For regular habitues of this blog these are familiar figures and need no introduction. Without them my ideas, my music, would not go beyond the confines of my studio. I am deeply indebted to each of them.

Entangled States extends my Non-Prescriptive methodology. For further explanation I refer you to Scott McLaughlin’s well-researched and detailed sleeve notes. These can be downloaded. The structure of E.S. is comprised of 48 pieces of short duration. 24 are written in my low-order format and 12 in middle-order/high-order formats each of these having 2 realisations. This to demonstrate the raison d’etre of Non-Prescriptive compositional and performance techniques – namely that each piece can be played (realised) in an infinite number of ways.

Divine Art has described Entangled States as an “astonishing masterpiece of contemporary complexity”. I hope that this epithet does not deter people from listening. It might be that many people are not attracted to the idea of introducing further complexity into their already complex lives.

Entangled States seeks to push against certain established compositional boundaries. An increasing body of opinion reckons that I am “taking music in a different direction”. If this is the case I must hope that I can take my audience with me to wherever my journey leads.

Now that the CD has been released I must await the comments and evaluations of the reviewers. Perhaps it should not be so, but as a composer I exist embalmed in permanent layers of doubt and uncertainty and, from choice, work in a self-imposed near- vacuum. Their generous comment and approval lends me some degree of assurance, a motivation to continue, so necessary on the many days I hit the compositional buffers.

To conclude this post I include a very recent brief review from Naxos which is the largest independent label in the world and one of the biggest-selling classical labels. It is also one of the largest global distributors of independent classical record labels such as Divine Art.

“Eric Craven is like no other composer – both because for most of his life, he has been a recluse from the musical establishment while living out his role as family man and teacher, and also because his compositional technique is his alone. Aleatory in general principle but more complex, his works contain elements of both high-order and low-order ‘non-prescriptive’ writing – in other works varying degrees of flexibility allowed to the performer. Totally abstract in form and concept, though inspired by a principle (here, the particle entanglement in Quantum Mechanics), the pieces, especially ‘low-order’ where the score is more prescribed, can take on the appearance of other forms such as baroque fugue, romantic prelude or even soft jazz. Moreover the music is hardly ever ‘challenging’ for the listener, with quasi-tonal, melodic flow. In many ways Craven is laying down a new direction for piano composition. Mary Dullea in her third album of Craven’s music demonstrates her amazing pianistic prowess but also her perceptivity and understanding of the scores which she realises in full showing wonderful expertise in interpretation. Dullea, as both solo artist and member of the Fidelio Trio, is becoming one of the ‘must-hear’ pianists in the contemporary music world.”

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A promise made good.


At the conclusion of my last post I perhaps foolishly promised to present you with good news about my condition. Foolish in the sense that I have very little control over the alien mutating cells that are impervious to the body’s natural defenses and are intent upon invading and ultimately assassinating the host.

If the self can be defined as an amorphous combination of thoughts, aims, imaginings, ego, memories, intention, then we can claim to have some degree of autonomy, of self regulation, of self determination over these. But to the cellular self, the host, we cannot make any such claim. Our cellular structure, without our knowledge, awareness or consent can act against itself and, in a subversive, anarchic and often disastrous manner proceed to carry out what it is so well equipped to do.

Yet The Alien has chosen a poor time to attempt its nefarious activities. As a consequence of the progress of medical science, the ongoing research, trials and testing, the boundaries of what is possible in terms of improving and extending the quality of life, together with the successful treatments, are rapidly extending. I count myself quite fortunate to have acquired my type of cancer at such an opportunistic time. Really.

I have now been on Prostap slow release HT for two months. Last week saw the first meaningful results of this treatment. And, at this point, I am so pleased to be able to present to you the promised good news. My PSA level has plummeted from 14.9 to 1.3 and my T-level to 0.2. In just eight weeks. Some powerful cocktail this Prostap. Perhaps my foolishness may be interpreted as optimism, belief, hope. One must always have hope. I have always kept in mind “To live without hope is to cease to live”. I forget the source.

This means that The Alien is now starved of testosterone, off which it feeds, flourishes, survives. Its progress will now be slowed and hopefully, at the same time, the enlarged prostate will be reduced in size which, in turn, will enable the RT to be more effective.

It is a powerful brew this potion. There can be side effects, different for each patient. I am quite breathless on exertion. I am slowly, reluctantly, accepting and putting into practice the good advice given to me by Nurses Florence and Beth, namely to recognise my new limitations. So, I have slowed my speed of walking to a sometimes barely perceptible forward motion so I do not become breathless. Stairs and inclines present a challenge. Four weeks ago I was ascending the steps at a tram station. Slowly. I had to pause halfway up and practice my now familiar fish- out- of- water- gasping act. Two elderly ladies came past me trailing their shopping trolleys, engaged in conversation. I was buried in an avalanche of conflicting emotions, so much so that I was unable to select any particular one upon which to fulminate. Florence, Beth, new limitations. This, the reality.

Again, the good news is that slowly my breathlessness is becoming less breathless. On the level I can sweep past any 4 year old, easy prey. They can’t focus. Soon I will be challenging the infirm and ancient. Well, progress has to be measured somehow.

And I am perpetually exhausted. I get up in the morning and I am running on empty. It is often difficult to achieve anything that involves thinking, reasoning or movement. Falling asleep in a chair, on a tram is effortless. Morpheus always has his hand near to my shoulder. Perhaps this is a causal effect of running on nil testosterone. Testosterone is given to athletes to improve performance. Zero testosterone …..? My composing is suffering collateral damage, it is a major casualty. I find it almost impossible to maintain concentration, focus for any length of time before Morpheus intervenes.

But it is working. It is doing what it says on the label. I am so fortunate to be a successful recipient of modern medical science when so many people are not. There is a long challenging path ahead. 34 months of HT and in August a month of RT. I can do this. I have my own resolve and so many people batting for me. And, once again, I wish to thank all of you who are concerned about my health. Not only the people who know me, perhaps through my music, but those from distant countries who are following my progress, or to use Florence’s term “journey”. I hope this post is some small reward for your support.

Lastly I cannot think of a pseudonym for my oncologist, Dr. James Wiley. Nurse Blond, The Cricketer, The Arbiter, Florence came so easily. But not so for Dr. Wiley. Any suggestions will be welcome via WordPress.

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