David Cattanach

The Creative Spirit

  This is a challenge for in the spirit of literature I will attempt an essay on the relationship between practioner and imagination.  The person I have chosen for practitioner is Eric Satie, can I bring him to life?  He walked across two centuries, the nineteenth and twentieth, setting music alight.  Goggle has a happy way of giving brief descriptions to difficult subjects, in the browser I have searched for Joe R Lansdale, Amanda Palmer, William Faulkner to date I have only been in the presence of one.  We had an audience with Amanda Palmer in York, where we stayed over at an Ibis Hotel, and searched the Shambles on a wet night, waiting for the concert doors to open.  The Shambles was quaint and Dickensian with little effigies in windows and fine cheeses slowly matured.  Amanda was on form with a Grand Piano and drank often from glasses filled with red wine.  Her big voice reached across the aisles.  Satie could have been a similar presence with a Grand Piano with his girlfriend Suzanne Valedon swinging from a trapeze that hung from the rafters.  Would giddy Paris ever reach into the English theatre?

  I have researched the term ‘imagination’ – an enhancement of life in certain directions.  A gulf exists between inner experience which does not reach reality against external reality which evades your inner life.  This quote is taken from “The Sources of Artificial Imagination and the Sources of Supersensible Knowledge”.  With this dry assessment let us now look at Satie.  He was born in Honfleur, France, a place I have visited, a place of uniform greys exaggerated by roofs with slate renderings, similar to the Lake District but sitting on a flat coastline.  It’s uniformity could have inspired Gymnopedies, the composition a precursor to later artistic movements, minimalism, repetitive music and the theatre of the absurd.  Eric Satie may have looked at his blank music score and thought I cannot notate this my work very well, and some very poor student would have written his compositions down.  A teacher Emile Decombes called Satie ‘the laziest student in the Conservotoire’.   Referring again to Google The Writing Cooperative relates:- “Understanding your Creative Engine – the 8 types of Imagination”. Under 3 it talks about Imaginative Fantasy, a moment of inspiration and you go off to explore wherever the fantasy takes us.  There is Satie repeating his musical phrases, waiting for some marvellous Eden, that never quite comes into view, but his only solace are the repetitive greys of his home town, Honfleur. This is my take on his initial compositions.  His way of explaining an interior world to an external audience. 

  Lets widen our mirror, Gymnopedies was intended to reflect on a festival in ancient Sparta at which young men danced and competed against each other unencumbered by clothing, and the name was a droll reference to Satie’s gentle, dreamy and far from strenuous exercises.  But let’s remind ourselves of the paintings now in the art galleries, reflecting the times.  There were new ideas of some elysian fields where men and women were uncorrupted and they were often painted in all their bareness to explain some sort of innocence.  Satie was  a contemporary he was giving musical form, an alternative physical experience, it was his own personal take, his working of the imagination. 

  We were lucky to see The Parade composed by Satie with modern sets originally designed by Picasso.  In the gods at the Paris Garnier Opera House the narrow seats were uncomfortable, but the modernist designs were designed for this opera, and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes had trod these very boards.  The visual experience has to be viewed against Satie’s then preoccupation with the Dada movement, Jean Cocteau and others.  It was composed during the First World War and the chaos must have entered into the libretto I wonder what he would make of Covid 19?  This current chaos would surely stir his imagination, mainly because we do not know what will happen after it has run its course.   He had for a period, to earn a crust, working in cabaret theatres, Le Chat Noir (the Black Cat) for one, in and around Montmartre.  It was an extravagant time even Einstein says ‘ Imagination is more important than knowledge’.  

  Memory Reconstruction, another of the 8 types of imagination, memories are sub-conscious stored bits of information.  Imagination often fills in the gaps.   It’s the colour of Satie’s life that informs his music.  Every day he would dress in one of 7 identical grey corduroy suits and, brandishing his umbrella, would walk to Paris to drink coffee at his favourite cafes.  It brought to mind the modern artists Gilbert and George don’t they wear matching attires but I don’t think they would walk a distance to reach the bright lights. Satie only ate white foods – eggs, sugar, scraped bones, fat from dead animals, veal, coconuts, chicken, cotton salad and certain fish.  Would this put to shame the varied diet of a vegetarian?  I don’t think it’s a balanced diet but then he is friends with Tristan Tzara and Jean Cocteau!!  In Paris I have enjoyed Terrines (of exotic meats), kidneys and various small birds but not the famed Ortelon that Mitterand consumed on the eve of his death.  Satie’s diet and manner perhaps explains monotony and repetition in his music,  his dress regime demonstrates a particular rigor.

  Satie died in 1925, in his apartment were found two grand pianos placed one on top of the other, the upper instrument used as a storage for letters and parcels.  Some of his compositions were stuffed in the pockets of his suits. In a filing cabinet he maintained a collection of imaginary buildings, most of them described as being made of some kind of metal, which he drew on little cards.  In local journals, he offered some of these buildings e.g. a ‘castle in lead’ for sale or rent. Other artists with imaginations have left behind bewildering rooms.  These rooms have become gallery installations, some of a permanent nature.  We can think of Francis Bacon or Brancusi.  I’ve even seen an invented city of Prague that inhabited the mind of Franz Kafka.  So I would say that imagination works in ways not immediately apparent in the jumble of life.  My particular excitement are in the plain pages of notebooks, the variety of pens and the voices of writers.  Music is getting strange these days, 6 minutes of birdsong on Sunday mornings at a specific time for Radio Three listeners!!  To which is strung composed pieces written, often decades removed from the present day, and we can only imagine why they were created?

Flights, Issue Seven, December 2022