A Better Kind of Blue
Photo: Ricardo Bravo
by Sam Bleakley
The late, theoretical high priests of postmodern culture, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, contrast two kinds of space – striated and smooth.
They take this from the composer Pierre Boulez, who distinguished between two kinds of music – the striated is governed by rule and metrics, such as on- the-beat militaristic marching music. The ‘smooth’ in contrast breaks boundaries, deconstructing rhythm and tone, such as jazz, playing around the beat and improvising, flattening notes so that they become ‘blue’.
Deleuze and Guattari point out that the sea is by nature ‘smooth’, unregulated, unpredictable, its surfaces shaped by fickle winds, its depths pulled in and out of shape by shifting currents. Navigation lays striated space over the naturally smooth space of the sea – as the grids of longitude and latitude by which the sea can be partially controlled.
Surfers get close to the grain of the sea and understand its smooth or fickle nature better than most. But many spots have been so thoroughly mapped that they have become striated, take-off points, sections and tidal factors common knowledge rather than local knowledge. Hence the lure of outsider spots to outsider surfers, where the smooth spaces are nomadic, shape shifting, and liminal.
The Maldives has for some become striated space, well mapped, rehearsed, with predictable performances. But serendipity remains a big factor in surfing these multiple atolls and the addition of a new layer of surprise – improvised surfing to music, turns the experience back to one of grappling with smooth space, the potential for dislocation and a return to the spirit of nomadic surfing.
With a tapering swell the sea and sky merge into one brilliant slate-blue colour. The line - up is empty, a storm brewing, so the setting is now perfect for composition. My first reaction as the drums kicks in is to find a balance where I can hear the music and hear the sea simultaneously as one. Sounds mix - water moving, reef cracking, lips licking while cymbals smash, then horns and pianos kick in. True, a lot of the time, music is already spinning through your mind as you surf. But this is different. In fact, this is long overdue for me, an ocean lover who was been bitten by a bug whose consequences are impossible to shake off, and so have worked as hard- as-hell to shape an occupation out of this beautiful habit. Part of that imagination has been relating music to surfing and using metaphors of jazz in living.