Geopoetic Inspiration

Open world, open space, a space where the imagination can be free, a creative place, a cultural place. Poets and writers like Kenneth White and Norrie Bissell who work in the area of geopoetics open up these places. The International Institute of Geopoetics was founded by Kenneth White in 1989. White was born in the Gorbals in Glasgow in 1936 and raised in the West Coast of Scotland. A student of French and German, with Latin and Philosophy, White studied at Glasgow University before travelling extensively and settling in France. For me White’s writing is very familiar, embedded in the Glasgow and West Coast of Scotland that I know so well.

 Quoted from the inaugural text of the International Institute of Geopoetics,

 “The geopoetic project is not one more contribution to the cultural variety show, nor is it a literary school, nor is it concerned with poetry as an art of intimacy.  It is a major movement involving the very foundations of human life on earth.” 

“Geopoetics is concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world.” Kenneth White, Geopoetics: place, culture, world.

 As a musician and composer investigations of our relationship with the earth, how humans relate to the world are very appealing. If our creative endeavours are to be long lasting then they should have deep roots and be sensitive to the world that surrounds us. To quote Kenneth White from his book On the Atlantic Edge “a world arises from the contact between the human mind and ‘what’s out there’. When the contact, the relationship is sensitive, intelligent, subtle, you have a world in the full sense of the word. When the contact is brutal, stupid, ignorant, you have…..cacotopia”. Sensitive, intelligent, subtle, a good starting point for any creative endeavour I would suggest.

 There is an attention to detail in White’s writing that inspires deeper reflection in our own creative work. This acute awareness of detail, reflection and thought is demonstrated wonderfully in this excerpt XXII from the Kenneth White poem “Walking the Coast”

Walking the Coast XXII

the rosy quartz-
                   there in loose pieces
    on the beach of Coll
                   in granite belts
on the north shore of Loch Eatharna
               and in gneiss
     at Poolewe Glen Logan and Rona:
     an image of the soul
                         when it emerges at last
from the magma originaria
                             and through the conflcts –
                       an idea of earth

Kenneth White “Open World” The Collected Poems 1960-2000

Similar specifics of detail are also found in the White poem, Midnight on Atlantic Quay, which is a bit closer to home for me.

Midnight on Atlantic Quay

In the world there is fog
                                   and rain
                                   and mud
                                   and grease
                                   and stench
that’s the cargo that Glasgow
unloads on my mind
and tonight it’s all there:
                                   the fog
                                   the rain
                                   the mud
                                   the grease
                                   the stench
while I improvise a lonely blues
to which the boats contribute
boat that comes up the river
boat that goes down the river
fog-horns in action
the one sounding: glas
the other: gow
as through the city
were blowing trombone
ready to jazz with the sea

Kenneth White “Open World” The Collected Poems 1960-2000

atlantic quay

Full of humour and wisdom the writers working within the school of Geopoetics inspire creative thought for which there has to be space. White talks of ” ‘giving yourself a real beginning’ – that is, enter into a large, uncoded space, in order to attain to a greater dimension of one’s-self and, ispso facto, to a greater work field”.  He goes onto talk of not “going back to myth, metaphysics or religion” and going “beyond personal poetry and social poetry and linguistic poetry” into what he calls ” ‘world poetry’, poetry concerned with the world, that is, what emerges from the contract between human mind and the matter energy of the universe” (Kenneth White, 2003: xxvi, Open World: the Collected Poems 1960-2000). With geopoetics White has laid the foundations, a place for his and others creative endeavours, a space for cultural exploration. 

Caution required…

“if projects are going to be something other than politically blinkered or culturally half-baked, they need to have a broad basis – as broad a basis as possible, but at the same time be sharp with specifics, making for a landing field liable to inspire interesting take-offs and long-lasting flights” (Kenneth White: On the Atlantic Edge: 24)

It’s from such a landing field that I’m building a new collaborative project.  When collaborating with other musicians it’s the ability of the collaborators to be able to relate to the essence of a piece while at the same time bringing and sharing their own personal experience and musical language that makes for rewarding projects. If a space can be created that allows for open and honest dialogue then successful projects are more like to achieved. How do we create these open spaces ? How can we structure composition so that there is space for all of the contributors to be heard ?  How prescriptive would such a structure be, how open would it be ? I’m at the early stages of planning but one thing is for sure, I will strive to design a sensitive, intelligent and subtle process…..the alternative is unthinkable !

Before the Rain Solo Fingerstyle Guitar Composition

This is the particular image that I had in my head as I was composing this piece and it’s also the image that I try to keep close as I’m playing it. It’s good to have a reference point that pulls you away from the nuts and bolts of playing whether it be an image or a quote or whatever. Even though there is a freak storm on the way, there’s a sense of calm in this photograph of the Silvery Tay taken in Dundee by Maggie Smith which I tried to encapsulate in this solo fingerstyle guitar composition

Performance of said composition


Ear to Instrument Training

As musicians we want to develop the skill to be able to transfer the musical ideas that are created in our heads naturally onto the guitar. In order to achieve this we need to know the guitar fretboard very well in terms of where all the notes are, what their musical names are and how they all sound in relation to each other.

The Ear To Instrument Video below is designed to develop both your ear and your knowledge of the guitar fretboard at the same time. Go and get your guitar, watch and listen as this video plays. After I’ve played with Olivia singing the note names the video goes quiet and its your turn to sing and play back. Go on, give it a try ! Click here to go the musicianship section of the website where you’ll find more ear to instrument training videos with full explanation of how to use them




Blues Progression Developed with added Guide-tones

In this exercise I’ve taken the developed blues chord progression from my previous blog post, fingerstyle blues progression 2, and added a guide-tone line. For an explanation of guide-tone lines go to my original blog on the subject, guide-tone lines.

The first time around I play the guide-tone line with accompanying chords. The second time around I’m only playing the chords leaving space for you to have a go at the guide-tone line. The TAB is given beneath the video.

blues 2 guide-tones


Fingerstyle Guitar Blues Progression 2

In my previous blog on improvising on the blues I discussed using guide-tones as a route into improvisation. The guide-tones come from the chord progression so a nice way of varying the guide-tone line is to vary the chord progression. The progression below is based on the progression in my previous blog on the subject but I’ve added some extra chords to add more colour. Have a go at playing the progression. In my next blog I’ll look at creating a new guide-tone line from it. Scroll to below the video for the TAB and notation

Blues Progression 2



Tibo : Fingerstyle Guitar Composition

One of the most satisfying feelings when playing live is to have the awareness of the sound filling the room. In a quiet room it’s almost like a meditative experience. With that in mind, when I wrote this song “Tibo” I was trying to evoke that experience. It’s named after an establishment where I do a regular gig, “Cafe Tibo”

Blues Improvisation for Fingerstyle Guitar

This is the first post in a series where I’ll be looking at how we can develop improvisation techniques over the blues. Melodically I’m going to be looking at how we can build and develop improvisations and harmonically I’m going to be looking at how we can vary the basic blues progression. In the first 12 bars of the video I play only the chords of a basic blues progression in G. The notation and TAB are given below the video. In the second 12 bars I start to add the guide-tones. For a description of guide-tones go to my  previous blog post on  Guide-Tone Lines. Have a go at playing the guide-tone lines along with the video.

Blues Progression 1

Blues Guide Tones 1



Londonderry Air

Some melodies just have a timeless quality and Londonderry Air is one such melody. A traditional Irish Air, the melody can be traced back to the early 1600’s, albeit with varying theories of origination from the musical historians (there is a theory that suggests it originates from lowland Scotland but I’ll not push that one) . It’s testament to how a melody can have a life and a travel a journey through the decades and across continents. It has been been played by all varieties of instruments and will be for some time to come I’m sure.

Guide-Tone Lines

Learning how to improvise is an ambition of many guitarists and while it may seem at the outset a very difficult thing to achieve there are approaches to the subject that will help you get started. One of these is guide-tone lines.

In the attached guitar video I’m creating guide-tone lines for fingerstyle guitar over standard chord progression movements which I then go onto embellish. A guide-tone line is a melodic line which comprises of tones from the chords of the chord progression being followed. True guide-tone lines only use the 3rd and 7th of the chord but more sophisticated lines will make use of all of the chord tones.

One of the hardest things about improvisation is that it often takes place within a certain structure, for example a pre-determined chord progression. This can be harder to tackle than “free improvisation” where there is no pre-determed structure. By identifying melodic lines within a pre-determined chord progression you will start to identify possible motifs that could be developed. It’s also a good practice for developing your song writing skills. You’ll notice from the attached notation that the lines I’m identifying are not necessarily the top lines, in measures 5&6 the guide tone line is an internal line. In the attached video I’m using various ideas to develop the guide tone lines………….for a later blog.

If you want to try and add some of your own accompanyment to the lines in the attached notation, try play the odd root note from the chords. You don’t have to play everyone, just enough to support the guide-tone line which should already be implying the harmony.


Guide-tones a

Guide-tones b