The first question most people ask me when they see the title of this album is “what the hell is an Octagyn?”
It’s a valid question with a pretty disappointing answer. It’s a nothing word. Barely more than a collection of synesthesiac responses in my strange brain to the music we put down on record, it articulates poorly what the colours of the music ‘look’ like to me. An imperfect statement of intent. But, seeing as this is usually met with a confused stare and an awkward silence, I began to think on what this strange word actually represented. And, as is the want of a neurodivergent brain, it took me to some pretty (and pretty odd) spaces.
I would like to share them with you. If, along the way, you get lost in the labyrinthine corridors of what I someday hope to call my mind, worry not - I haven’t found the way out either.
So here, in all their somewhat muffled glory, lie the fruits. Pluck as you please.
Album artwork (front): Benjamin Saville (@bnsvl)
Finding Freedom in Frailty
"Turn poison into medicine. Take whatever situation you have and make something constructive happen with it." - Herbie Hancock
In reading this, know three things: that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that I am queer, and that Octagyn as a project was conceived, written and executed in and around the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The word ‘Octagyn’ combines two words of significance to me: ‘octagon’ and ‘oxygen.’ As the hydra of OCD reared its many heads throughout my adolescence, I became fixated on the number 8; its disconcerting symmetry and obnoxious colour (an obtrusive green in my synesthesiac mind) were qualities I found both comforting and intimidating, towering over me like some evil, irritated snowman. It became a source of both comfort and pain for me, defining much of my relationship with my growing self, including family, pleasure, self-pleasure and self-punishment.
Like a benign tumour, however, it has grown with me; to this day, my favourite number is 16 (two 8s), the off-putting green finds its way into my love of green apple flavouring, and the relentless counting rituals to which I subjected myself have made 8-, 16-, 32- and 64-bar rest passages in symphonic music an irritatingly satisfying task to count. I am angry for what OCD has taken from me, but even angrier for how long it took me to harness its creative power.
Suffering from OCD can, in its worst times, feel suffocating. This suffocation has been an experience shared most globally during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time where extended isolation, social breakdown and collective trauma has shown the neurotypical world what they’ve been missing. The world has been searching for relief, for oxygen. For many, thus began a time of self-reflection, followed swiftly by motivations of self-betterment and even more quickly by grunts of resignation. In my case, the breakdown of a long-term relationship that distance had worn thin sent me spiralling inward, grabbing gladly at the familiar, abusive tendrils of obsessive behaviours that had dominated my childhood. As a cancer diagnosis in my immediate family limited any spiritual growth to the confines of my childhood home, all movement seemed to occur in stasis.
Movement in stasis… progressing inward… unlocking a truer version of the self. I look back now and think: how better to describe the queer experience?
A situation seemingly so poisonous had gifted me the opportunity to recalibrate.
Album artwork (back): Benjamin Saville (@bnsvl)
Movement in Stasis
"The chrysalis of doubt metamorphosed into the butterfly of panic" - P. G. Wodehouse
At this point, I began to re-establish an active relationship with myself. Allowing my inner queer child to reimagine their future altered the understanding of my past. I found freedom in frailty, embracing the vulnerability inherant to redefining the self. With no social space to explore my queerest dreams, I looked to the future, chanelling that anger and bitterness into joy and hope. Adopting the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ became a commitment to myself, the building blocks for a renewed existence.
Exploring all these weird and wonderful ideas in an isolated space produced a fervent energy that crystallised into the production of Octagyn. Each track came to represent a new stage of the healing process, from the titular ‘Octagyn’ to the self-explanatory ‘Move Ahead,’ then moving to ‘Youlogy,’ ‘Hypnoses’ and ‘The Essence of Finality.’
I’ll elaborate on the specific tracks a little later, but as a singular concept, the album is a product of holding those two ideas in suspension: suffocation and liberation. Taking the emotional weight of an ‘octagon’ - rigid, physical and 8-sided - and infusing it with the freedom of ‘oxygen’ - gaseous, ethereal and boundless - was the driving factor behind Octagyn. For me, it forged a space for both introspection and flamboyance to coexist and coalesce. The resulting album exists ultimately as an expression of rawness and recklessness, embracing the erratic and celebrating the uncertain.
It cannot go unsaid that the work of Julian Joseph and his jazz academy (linked below) provided the perfect breeding ground for these creative meanderings. I will always remember his brother James saying “welcome home” as he hugged me on my first day, and that feeling of community and belonging remains. It was Julian, James and their esteemed colleagues Trevor Watkis, Tony Kofi, Byron Wallen and Alex Thomas-French who directed my movement, energised my stasis and celebrated the result. They have my eternal gratitude.
John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse! Records, 1965). Photography by Bob Thiele, cover design by George Gray
Music as a Force for Healing
"Hope is a fragrance contained in the bloom of smiles where laughter is born" - 'Youlogy' (Octagyn, 2022)
Inspired by John Coltrane’s seminal album A Love Supreme (Impulse! Records, 1965), Octagyn documents a gradual process of healing and rebirth. The album comes as five tracks:
The Essence of Finality
For those unfamiliar with Coltrane’s masterpiece, his album comes in four parts:
Whilst my music will never hold a candle to Trane’s, I take inspiration from his healing trajectory. I intend the opening track as my ‘Acknowledgement,’ before ‘Move Ahead’ strikes a ‘Resolution’ to propel the self onward. ‘Youlogy’ - a song that explores the importance of grieving past selves - and ‘Hypnoses’ - a nod to the mantric nature of self-healing and ritual-based strengthening - form two halves of the ‘Pursuance’ of a new way of existing. And ‘The Essence of Finality,’ while in no way religious, offers a ‘Psalm’ of sorts. It is my call to arms, in celebration of death as a prerequisite to renewed life. In fact, as hour 20 of our 37°C recording session drew to a close, our particularly sweaty tenor saxophone player commented that “we looked like we were going to war” - a sentiment that I truly hope not to encounter too often.
The World Heart Beat Music Academy in Southwest London
So, there you have it. It remains for me to thank a frankly overly large list of people for their involvement in this project, though truly none of them are less deserving of their place than any other. But prior to that, I express my heartfelt gratitude to the reader, not only for indulging this level of sustained egocentrism but also for taking the time to get to know my music - and myself - a little better. I have included links for readings on OCD, queerness and the like below, but first…
With immeasurable gratitude to the World Heart Beat Music Academy, most notably Sahana Gero, Nick Cohen and Jim Sorenson, for their unwavering support, invaluable expertise and tireless work in bringing this album into existence. With love and appreciation to Julian and James Joseph, Trevor Watkis, Tony Kofi, Byron Wallen, Alex Thomas-French and all others involved in the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy, for sharing with me the science of swing and providing me with the most colourful musical home. This includes Plumm, Dan Jacob-Ormson, Milo Fox, Ruben Ross, James Wade-Sired, Jason Ansere, Emile Hinton, Menelik Claffey and Wilf Cameron Marples for their stellar contributions to this recording. With happiness and celebration to Lewis Gibbs, Cameron Todd, Phillip Bainbridge and Gerard Presencer for being as much friends as teachers and mentors, the latter bridging 775 miles across the North Sea to show me the way into my sound. With warmth and fondness to all my friends, new and old, who continue to bless me with their time and patience. And, most importantly, with boundless love to my beautiful parents, sister and partner, without whom none of the above would matter.
World Heart Beat Music Academy:
Julian Joseph Jazz Academy:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: