Micro-commission: Tom Rivière


We’re pleased to announce a new micro-commission: The Myth of Understanding by Tom Rivière.

The Myth Of Understanding is a digital work created by double bass player and composer Tom Rivière especially for Lancaster Jazz Festival 2022. The piece takes the form of a website and represents an abstracted sound map of Lancaster, with composed and improvised music sitting alongside images and field recordings captured by Tom during a trip to the city in Spring 2022.

Try it out for yourself: The Myth of Understanding

We asked Tom to share some thoughts about the idea for this commission and his creative process.

The Myth Of Understanding

This piece brought together a few ideas that I had been thinking about at the time, but the initial idea came from a line in the brief for the commission set out by Lancaster Jazz Festival about the possibility of creating a work that would sit outside of the typical model of contemporary digital content creation and consumption.

As a child in the late 1990s I remember the internet had for me a less fixed purpose than it does now, offering mysterious possibilities of discovery and even transformation. A school friend and I, probably subconsciously influenced by the dot-com boom, tried to make a website to sell paintings through, hoping we too could get rich. Neither of us could paint or knew how to buy a domain name, so it didn’t get very far, but the idea that you could throw a website into the ether, people would somehow find it and that this would somehow change your life or someone else’s is still appealing. So here I ended up trying to build another website about 23 years later.

I think that creating my own website to present a work is interesting in the sense that I have more control over the experience of my audience. Like most musicians, when I present work digitally, it is usually through 3rd party websites or apps, such as Instagram, YouTube or Facebook. Although these kind of platforms are very convenient for both myself and audiences, they also attempt to commodify attention through distraction, so that we spend more time engaging with the content they present, which I think can limit the experiences we have with them to the superficial. I wanted my page to be under-stimulating and almost boring in comparison to the everyday experience of content creation. If you want to get something from it you have to sit with it for a while and if you get bored and leave at least it was your choice, not because a social media algorithm presented you with something more exciting.

I had the idea of creating a map of some kind and I travelled to Lancaster in Spring of 2022 to collect images and field recordings – the points on the map. The images were made using a digital camera I bought used for £5, I was interested in what inherent aesthetic quality older digital formats might have, which seemed in keeping with the nature of the project. The camera is a Panasonic from 2005, the still images look like bad quality camera phone pictures, but it has a VGA motion picture mode that makes images which I find strange and nostalgic, these are what ended up on the website.

My approach to creating the music on the website was to imagine how I would create a film score or computer game soundtrack if I had to play all the music on solo double bass. This mainly involved re-contextualising my compositional process rather than reinventing it. In terms of the composed music, I wrote as if I were writing for a quartet or piano trio and then tried to figure out how to play that music on the bass.

Photo by Maria Alzamora

Follow Tom on Bandcamp, Twitter, and Instagram.

Lancaster Jazz Festival is made possible by