22 May 2015
"Well there's no doubt this was a dark moment..."
The invitation to recreate his song 'Convergent' as an exclusive for the very first T-jay release brought London composer, singer, producer, DJ, multi-instrumentalist and record label owner Adam Scrimshire face to face with an emotionally-charged chapter in both his songwriting and his personal history.
Convergent is the second track on Scrimshire's third album 'Bight'. It was released as a single and the song has been remixed several times since its release. As relationship songs go, it's a dark, confronting and cathartic piece, distilling a personal crisis into an apocalyptic vision. The seas rise, fires rage, mountains crumble. It's an emotional outpouring - but raised to the level of mythology without a hint of sentiment or a note of melodrama. It's delivered with the calamitous certainty of a prophet, rather than the anger or hurt of a heartbroken man.
No one will be waking up. No one will be waking up now.
As Scrimshire explains, the apocalyptic tone of the song draws from the convergence of two central ideas: a destructive relationship with a woman and a destructive relationship with god(s).
"I'm not a religious person, neither am I one who wishes to bludgeon religion or the religious, each to his/her own. I will always wish our energies; love, hope, generosity, sacrifice, were focused inwards to our society, world and communities rather than upwards at supposed deities. It's not simply religious though. I equally wish our energies of meme creation, cat videos etc. were also focused on progress and helping communities. We are inherently wasteful."
It was that very wastefulness, as the story goes, that incurred the wrath of an Old Testament Yahweh, who sent a flood to wipe the slate clean. And - if we take the broader view that frames it as allegory and metaphor, rather than a literal tale of vengeful genocide by an omniscient tyrant - rightly so. But as we learn from these stories, an apocalypse is not the end of the world. It is, rather the revelation of end times. There have been many of these throughout history, perhaps the most famous of these being the last New Testament book - but more recently, we have been presented with revelations of global nuclear war, climate catastrophe, the Millennium Bug, pandemics, terrorists with nerve gas and dirty bombs and impending asteroid collision. These cataclysmic possibilities were and are all very real - and also act as powerful metaphors for certain kinds of human interaction of a kind each of us has experienced in one way or another. As the character Riley Finn says of his relationship with TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse."
In 2012, at the time Convergent was written, doomsday was, once again, imminent: foretold in the texts of the Mayans and in the fact that their calendar simply came to a stop in that year. While a fair amount of magical thinking is required to take seriously a causal effect between ancient prophecy and global disaster, the apocalypse had made its way into the zeitgeist. It was on our mind.
The creature that appears on the cover of this T-jay is a Medusa - named after the beautiful monster of Greek mythology who turns men to stone. It's a creature of grace and beauty, deadly and paralysing, immersed in the ocean and almost entirely made of water.
"And of course the talk of the sea rising to claim you is a part of the entire concept of the album Bight which was an ode to the sea. A place of deep spiritual resonance to me, a thing full of many of my most important childhood memories."
You would think that nothing would wake you up like the eradication of all life on the planet Earth. It's a bit of a slap in the face. But every end time has its naysayers. Of the three ways to deal with an impending calamity - positive action, fearful retreat and outright denial - the last of these is the most destructive, particularly when that calamity is a scientific certainty, rather than a superstitious fantasy. Those who claim in the face of all evidence that they have faith everything is fine and that nothing bad is happening are worse than ignorant. They're the willful transgressors. They're the ones who drown in Noah's flood.
Convergent is about that blind faith: being blinkered or blinded to reality. That an apocalyptic event, ironically, would need to happen to wake some people up from their ignorance. Scrimshire is on the side of Yahweh.
"If there is a god, I would almost completely agree with her wishing to descend and bring an end to the idiocy and self destruction with one fell swoop. The message got lost and maybe nothing can be done to restore it."
Of course, the feverishness of the 2012 end times provided a backdrop to a more personal note. The song looks at how sometimes in relationships we too can become blinkered and blinded and lost in our own dramas. It explores the phenomenon of being drawn inwards to a person who pushes all others away, and how you eventually close the curtains on the world, losing contact with friends and family. Worse, you are fully aware that this is happening, but paralysed, turned to stone - incapable of breaking the spell. And what is needed at that point is an apocalypse: something cataclysmic to wake that person from what they are doing to themselves and to you. To get them outside, the walls have to be burned to the ground.
It was precisely at the height of the 2012 Mayan apocalypse that Scrimshire's own world came to an end. He wrote an original demo for Convergent in his home of 14 years and two albums while it was being packed up to sell. He knew that he would soon no longer have a studio or a drum kit, and had begun experimenting with electronics and guitars. The song was completed in his new home in a new part of London - a tiny apartment that his life only barely squeezed into. And, he says, maybe that claustrophobia came through a little.
Théodore Géricault's famous painting The Raft of the Medusa depicts a group cast adrift after a terrible shipwreck. In its terrifying explicitness, intense claustrophobia, chaotic emotional intensity, and lack of any heroic figure, the painting was emblematic of the Romantic style, in which the untamed and devastating forces of nature are portrayed. And the ambition of the Romantic project was an awakening through apocalypse. As Diderot explains: "All that stuns the soul, all that imprints a feeling of terror, leads to the sublime."
But an apocalypse should be contextualised. The end is also a beginning. There is a dove. An olive branch. A rainbow. We move on. We even grow.
"I wish I could have found a way to have put more hope in this song. As I took to singing this publicly it became so apparent how dark this was and in many ways how at odds with me. I have my moments, my cycles of darkness and doubt, but it is not the sum of me. And when singing this, while I understood it and felt it, it wasn't me. It's difficult to share a song of such negativity. I'm proud of it and it seemingly resonated with people in a more powerful way than things I've written before. But I wonder that, with a little message or kernel of hope in there somewhere, it might not have reached a few more people and felt a little more relatable. Even to me."
This exclusive T-jay version of Convergent is almost entirely new. While the lyrics remain unchanged, there is hope in the music. The instrumentation is lighter, the arrangement more open and optimistic. While Scrimshire was cautious about reworking a piece from an album that he had already produced, released and toured, he embraced the opportunity to present his own apocalypse in a new light.
"I struggle to look backwards with music. I'm in agreement with my strongest role models, Miles Davis and Bjork on that front. To revisit this piece, in this way, I needed it to mean something else to me. So I am re-interpreting it. Building it again from scratch. Approaching the production as I hope to approach my next musical project.
When Convergent was made, I was forced inside the computer, relying more and more on the virtual domain. And my current taste is a strong reaction to that. This recording incorporates real drums, real synths that I previously emulated (ARP Odyssey, Moog). It is tracked onto reel-to-reel tape before coming into the computer at the final stage. This is an analogue interpretation and a risk. Because the hope is to make a facsimile, but with my current mind, so to discover that I have progressed, that my skills have improved, that I am a better producer."
In technological terms, 'convergence' is the idea that true progress involves disparate systems, tools and processes coming together. T-jay bridges the digital and the physical. It connects the seemingly insular world of the mobile device to the real world social, face-to-face environment. Scrimshire's remake of Convergent takes a song created in the digital environment and liberates it in physical space. There could be no more apt first release for this new format for music.
Andrew Dubber - T-jay
It's no surprise that you destroyed it all
Came down inspired to raze it to the floor
Held up your arms and brought it to a close.
No more said,
The end of this,
Every word slips away.
Loving you is like an ending
The curtains must be pulled tight and sewn shut
The sun can never rise on this ocean
And no one will be waking up
The seas would have to rise and claim you
Before the world could come through your door
And fire will have to burn this house down
But no one will be waking up
It seems you built it all to tear it down with fire
To take it back again
Lifted mountains and then threw them down too tired
To build them back again
No more said,
The end of this
Every word slips away