Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'm out of here

So it's that time of year again, I'm heading off for a few weeks of R & R and Eastern European soul food back home in New Hampshire - I've got my red checked jacket and Herman's Survivors packed and ready. The picture is a bit disingenuous; the slowly deepening purples of a mountain sunset... I'd like to think it's always like that, sitting at the diner in Center Eaton next to the lake.

But my view should be more of something like that of Hampton Beach - full of empty white clapboard summer houses, over-accessorized SUV's, chubby people walking their dogs and slightly crap restaurants. But I will spend some time up in the hills.

Locally, however, the bad news is that my local dump of a bar, Lupo's (picture a nautical motif of plastic lobsters and Christmas lights suspended in the fishnets over the bar here) has just been raided by the DEA. This should surprise no one, as you would expect of a beachfront bar that usually puts plywood over the sea-facing windows in order to keep the sun off the TV running non-stop Bruins and Celtics games over the bar. And, of course, it's not the first time that Lupo (yeah, that's his name - but let's be honest: didn't you always want to have your very own bar named after you?) has had a petite contretemps with the local 'protect and serve' guys.

Anyway, a fitting end to the year was my pedal crank breaking on my way home from a ride near Lidgate; the crank sheared clean off as I was out of the saddle honking up a long gentle incline on the way home from a 50. The next thing I knew I was all over the road having winded myself on the handlebar stem as I almost launched over the top. That's the trouble with running 'classic' 25 year old campag stuff on your winter fixie road iron; it's just a war of attrition on the way to a hiding to nothing. I also discovered it's really hard to ride a fixie with one pedal uphill as there's nowhere to put your other foot. The only solution was a gentle roll a mile back down into the village.

So while sitting outside the Star pub nursing a half pint (I only had 2 quid on me after the hot chocolate in Newmarket; I know - wild) in the alternating weak sunshine/hail (the Spanish staff kept trying to beckon me inside, concluding I was obviously well mad) waiting for 'she who toys with my heart' to come and rescue me, I felt strangely at peace.

the snow beckons.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

my original face

Coming out of Cambridge the other night on the Guzzi, a bit late after an interminable student ensembles session, I was suddenly confronted by a sea of weaving blinky lights ahead on the way to Stow-cum-Quay. As I approached, with not a little apprehension, rolling off the throttle and digging my knees into the cylinder heads as the engine braking spun the speedo backwards, I was suddenly engulfed by a local flowering of hipsters, my first real sighting en mass. And even better, most of them were on over-accessorized fixies, many brakeless. It was a suburban attempt at an 'Alley Cat'. Damn - I now know how birdwatchers feel spotting that elusive corncrake.

I suddenly felt old, watching them all huffing along in the dark (somewhat slowly) with all the wrong gear - I wanted to flip up my lid (...not, like, 'flip my lid, daddio', but the one on my helmet) and say something like " ...hey guys, I've got one of those things and I've been riding them for 30 years, thanks to my dear departed (and hard as nails) Father-in-Law...", but that would just be sad. I will post up a few bits about my Father-in-Law John's riding at a later date.

And, once again continuing with the "stuff brings happiness" tangent, I have to admit that I seem to have reached a slight impasse. ("oh no?", you say? "Who could have foreseen that?") What I haven't mentioned thus far was that the bass clarinet I had been hoping for (in a fashion not unlike those fervent TV evangelicals in the US) arrived about 6 weeks ago, and I have been messing about with it daily since (thus proving the existence of higher powers, albeit in a lower register). When, the previous summer, I played a concert of semi-free improv at Kettles Yard with two laptop guys I know, I had snagged a bass clarinet a couple of weeks before, practiced it a bit (I used to have one 25 years ago, along with a clarinet) and was perfectly happy to just let my fingers and instincts do the walking. And, to my surprise, it turned out pretty well. I fell in love with it.

But, now after 6 weeks of diligent scales and arpeggios with a metronome, I now feel completely inhibited by the thing, (especially when I put it down and pick up the sax), and the contrast is scary. I'm much, much more fluid on the damn thing then I was the last time, but now I'm thinking about it. I'm trying to do very simple versions of the sorts of relatively complex patterns that I use on sax and just freezing, totally falling on my face. After the years of practice in improvising, you just need to do it; taking a line for a walk with an almost blank mind, no preconceptions. That seems to stem either from having no inhibitions on an unfamilar medium, or being supremely comfortable and totally detached from whatever is found in your hands: one thought and you are lost, utterly and completely. Quickly: what is your original face?

However, I'm back into tenor big time, and I'm going to drop using alto on the Riprap gigs. A decision.

And other things, the violist seems to be getting on with the piece, she said she was going to play it for her chamber group - hopefully the news will be good. Here's the usual cheesy synth fragment in lieu of the real thing; just click on Viola piece.

however,as far as important things go, there is now the rebirth of the old Sturmey-Archer 3-speed fixed hub of legend to consider for us sad-assed fixie riders.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

cult of stuff.

It is strangely wearying, this restless search for a better life through the acquisition of objects; although we now know happiness can be bought. As outlined in the last post, I had it in writing from a local spiritual leader that a fixie titanium audax frame would cease the endless slow but exceedingly fine grinding of the wheel of karma, and help me lose my pod, all for just £899. And now it has happened again, with the discovery that after callously abandoning my first love, tenor sax, for the last three years to play alto, mainly because I "... just wasn't, like, hearing it any longer, man..." (what was I thinking? like someone who throws over his whole life; job, relationship and family, and ends up waking up in a fly-blown motel with an excruciating headache to find that a fickle piece of tall Estonian brass has left him sans wallet or car keys when his money finally ran out....)

please, please: Newk, Trane, Prez....forgive me.

So after my tenor sat, sullen and accusing in the corner of my room for a couple of years, I guiltily gave in and started practicing the damn thing again after purchasing a new (and pricey) mouthpiece a couple of months ago. This is not unlike couples who hope an expensive holiday will help them find the magic they lost somewhere. And because these kind of hopes always prove foolish and desperate, I've always fought shy of getting involved in the 'new mouthpiece' arms race that all players can succumb to; all too often they end up with bags of expensive mouthpieces that they thought were going to change their life at some point. My stand was always this: buy something decent and learn to use it. Like bicycles, it's the man not the machine.

However, my tenor sound had been getting woolier and woolier, and I seemed to have trouble projecting when compared to anyone standing next to me. Ultimately embarassing for someone whose one-time point of pride was scaring guitarists with a 1960's duckbill Brilhart Level-air. (sorry, very obscure, I know, but once the last fucking word in 1960's rock and roll space-age sax technology; complete shite to play)

This is all caught up in sad guy stuff; such as almost keeping senile Italian motorbikes running, and, with a tight smile and a little self-depreciating chuckle, gamely taking on modern 200 mph carbon-festooned Japanese rockets at the lights (and always losing, plus having to go back and collect the trail of small bits that vibed off when I revved too hard)
Or stomping my aging converted fixie up a hill without getting out of the saddle trying to drop tri-guys riding with the latest pricey kit, jabbering about their iphones and playing with their 'on-bicycle sat-nav'. Sad, sad, very sad aging guy stuff, I kept telling myself. Not very good at all; girls are so not impressed - time to let that stuff go and grow the hell up, for Christ's sake.

But surprisingly, the new mouthpiece was good, and did change my whole sound - my old set-up must have been quietly becoming crap over a number of years. Now to address the underlying problems: the fact that my rhythmic accuracy has also slowly degenerated over the last few years when I made a conscious decision to let my playing slide a bit to finish my post-grad studies. This is not entirely a bad thing - I have now come back both in a wildly different mindset, and realizing that the idea of purely virtuoso playing is not quite enough. But we are talking hours of metronome stuff; wildly boring. The real excitement is in the composing and realizing of new textures, trying to break from being the "...the fastest tenor player..." (which I never was) and think about compositional issues, which is far, far more interesting and engaging. (Or so I tell myself?)

Ted Gioia points out in his excellent book The Imperfect Art, (after which he sadly never followed up some of the points he raised, concentrating since then on history rather than aesthetics) namely that jazz has long been, aesthetically, a somewhat immature art form because of its over-reliance on virtuosity at the expense of structure; the cult of the virtuoso soloist over the that of the composer. When younger, I could never see what the problem was, but after years of gladiatorial pick-up gigs and head-to-head tenor battles, you start to realize that the attraction of what is primarily spectacle begins to pale; this insistence of technique over content has long been banished from the aesthetic of other art forms.

but hey, none the less, I can now play really loud on tenor again, and that feels good - for all the wrong reasons. Now to get a new set of wheels for the fixie. And now that I've more or less finished the cello piece and my weird singing piece for solo viola + voice, I can start messing with The Holy Goof again, and prepping up for the Ruth Padel gig on the 30th.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

a cessation of the world of desires.

Andy and I, standing in front of a trade booth at a recent track cycling meet, were confronted by a highly polished vision of another, more perfect world. It was as if we were able to look beyond our present situation where our feet are stuck in the lower realms of animals and hungry ghosts, and have a brief vision beyond our human realm to that of devas and bodhisattvas. We both knew, at that moment, possessing it would still the ceaseless working of samsara. Spooky.

It was a very, very lightweight titanium audax bike frame with the option of fixed or geared riding. So, in short, everything. Gears - or not; mudguards - or not... club runs, forest trails or towpath bashes; long audax runs or light, quick continental touring via magic plastic.

Andy, being a man of the cloth, confirmed my suspicions that the purchase of such a frame would mean my life would be suddenly fulfilled - no more frustrations concerning work, unfulfilled personal goals, male pattern baldness or tribulation in relations with the rest of humanity. And all that for just £899 (I'd still have to fit it out, though; campag?). How often does that happen in life? How rare is it that you can buy happiness and also banish middle-age spread? I rest my case.

So, I've just finished a cello suite for a friend from Slovenia, hopefully to be premiered this year. I have to say that I really enjoyed it, and I'm getting into the idea of writing for particular people. So I've also started working on a solo viola piece for a friend in Sweden - I'm really not sure how she's going to react to that one, as I've specified that she must hum/sing as well as play.... could be wildly embarrassing for all concerned. I still haven't heard back from her after a rough draft; she's probably agonizing about how to be polite, and just regretting she agreed to do it.

I sort of got into it while thinking about double-stopping, and listening to my own tuneless vocal drone as I was messing about at the piano trying to sustain lines. The dog was so not impressed. I had been been spending time juggling a little pitch matrix I had constructed and turning it this way and that trying to see what vertical and horizontal possibilities it might hold, and wishing parts of the line, the third voice so to speak, would just carry on. But, of course, a string player can only really sustain lines on two strings for any length of time; hence the humming. I'll put some bits up next post, although there's an ominous silence from the party it's being written for, so that idea might have to go.

I was down in London at Kings Place to watch my old supervisor, Martin Butler, play with the ensemble Notes Inegales. The entire program was mostly based around Peter Wiegold's compositions which were all based on various improvisational strategies. Martin, a classical pianist, has for some time been heavily getting into Miles in his Bitches Brew phase, and is working hard on becoming a jazz-ish improvisor, filtered through his own composing style. The best part of the day was hanging at the pub afterwards with a group of players and composers. Must do more of that sort of thing (the hanging bit, not the pub...)Anyway, here's a clip of Miles from that era.

Lastly, a beardie guy picture....complete with my own personal doppelgagger, a kind of reverse Dorian Gray thing; it's a painting made of me the last time I had a beard, about the age of 24; unfortunately, I had just lost the braid.

That is now so gone, with the impending start of term....although there was an intermediate stylish goatee phase, after which Jane threatened divorce.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

back from the not-so-frozen wastes....

Another inexcusable silence on my part, partly caused by a 3-and-a-bit week camping holiday in Sweden,(no sniggering; as I know that anyone of a certain age tends to equate this sort of thing with a naughty Sid James - ' Carry on' state of being...blonds, volleyball, healthy outdoor pursuits and high jinks in the sauna) and partly by an almost crystalline stasis of any of my higher mental functions, i.e., almost anything above lizard-level brain stem function.

This could be in part caused by me having become beardie guy over the holiday, as I didn't fancy shaving for three weeks with cold water (..I know...wuss...). No doubt the effort of forcing hair though the skin of my lower face took almost all of my psychic energy, not to mention creating a dangerously yang state of mind. And, to be honest, another contributing factor could have been my recent temporary abstention from any sort of strong waters in the evenings, which usually contributes to a state mildly reckless euphoria and well-being; a welling of hope and a readiness to share my lot and reach out to other seekers of the ox. This was precipitated by my sifu suggesting a temporary cessation of caffeine and the oil of the sun would result in a much better circulation of chi.. this, however, remains to be seen. I have mostly become very dull. (how can you tell the difference, you ask?)

So I had secretly hoped the beard would give that kind of slightly dishevelled George Clooney look as seen in The Perfect Storm,

or perhaps even the steely U-Boat commander looked sported here by Jurgen Prochnow from Das Boot

But it didn't quite work out like that. It was more of a 'Papa Hemingway' look as he progressed towards the bitter end:

Anyway, this sort of thing is all clearly explained at the mandatory website for guys

I really have to raise my game, among other things. There's been a lot of composing and cycling occurring as well, a solo cello piece, a prospective viola piece and now some settings for John Clare poems for a festival next summer.

more soon...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Job 2:7 metaphorical boils

Again, another hiatus in the progress of this blog; I've just finished term, had a run of good gigs, and done the TS Eliot festival. I had spent the last month and a half composing for that, and had arranged a rehearsal and recording session for the material with Ruth Padel and Grevel Lindop so as to release some of the current repertoire after the gig in Little Gidding.

It was not to be... more a rising crescendo of tribulation to try a Job, although the word YHWH never passed my lips. Nor did I think it was directed by Satan....(and of course you knew there had to be a But do read the bizarrely lame exegesis relating the trials of Job to 'Chippy' the parakeet and his ordeal with a vacuum cleaner on the Job life is more like that, really.

Ok - so this is how it went:

First, 5 days before the session, Russ did his back; ...badly, he was now out of action, and didn't know whether he could play the actual gig in two weeks, let alone the session.

Then Roger had a problem with the times on the day due to a misunderstanding; my fault. But there was confusion as to when he would actually be around, although I had someone to cover.

Next, the mixing desk at the ARU studio was still AWOL; there was a clumsy portable fix, but it is the sort of thing that makes engineers mutter dark thoughts and maledictions under their breath, especially when pressed for time.

Finally, the day before the rehearsal/recording, one of my poets bailed - there had been a major crisis (public rather than personal) and they felt it was impossible to go ahead.

ha ha ha .... all in all, interesting times. Session cancelled.

I had written, as threatened, a lot of stuff for bass clarinet. good stuff. Like "Forests are Falling"
and " Sighting the Tiger" for instance, to go with two of Padel's poems, along with a Rameau rip-off and other stuff. But it all went well on the day, as Grevel and Malcolm contributed to a great gig.

The one last thing that finished off this series of minor trials was getting run over very slowly while commuting into Cambridge one morning. I was on my old touring bike, purchased from John Pavey 20 years ago. we went back a long way, touring all over the continent... Alpine passes, the Mont Ventoux - and never mind the Pyrenees and the Tourmalet

... I was sitting at a junction next to a car on his left (as you would) preparing to go straight on. He, on the other hand, decided to try and take advantage of a very short break in the traffic coming from the right to make a rapid, clever left turn. He started gunning the engine (no indicator) and suddenly my front wheel was disappearing under his wheel arch, along with the rest of the bike as he started to roll... I flopped off as this was happening across his hood and started thumping it, while making observations to no one in particular about sexual congress, genitalia, procreation outside the church's sanction and his possible position on those issues. We then had a frank exchange of views which ended up with him giving me his phone number and driving me to work as I sat in a quiet fury. Of course, he was an Estate Agent.

hey - but the LeMans is taxed and on the road, Le Tour has started, and I've cycled 250k so far this week

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I'm sorry if this blog does languish from time to time; but, like standing quietly for a period of time, things around you begin to emerge. If, for instance, you were to practice Three Circle Stance at dawn by the stream you'd become aware of a deer walking quietly behind you, rabbits emerging from the brush and going about their business as if you weren't there, small birds pecking around the ground near your feet and a sparrow hawk alighting in the branches in the oak above you. Or you'd start to wobble around like the poor sod in the video. But, to be honest, it has been anything but quiet for the last month: college stuff rises to a crescendo of mild hysteria towards the end of term...exams, marking, recitals...not too mention trying to remember how to play saxophone again, catch up to some looming compositional deadlines. There's a series of Ruth Padel settings to finish and rehearse in the next few weeks. I've got about four sketches on the go, and I'll post up some clips soon

Apart from all that, I've been poring over the score of Ades' Asyla every afternoon for the last week.... damn. Superb handling of orchestral color, which makes me realize that I didn't grow up performing, conducting or just being immersed in the 19th century canon. The beginning, with two pianos tuned a quarter step apart, chromatic cowbells and high string harmonics make for a unique gesture in the opening. The whole thing seems quite humbling and reinforces the fact that I'm arriving at this quite late having started out as a jazzer... it keeps sending me back to the drawing board with Holy Goof. It's the adroit use of color and gesture that I envy. The people who I admire for this seem to come from a French brilliante kind of effortless use of texture, which I know is always much harder than it sounds; folks like Takemitsu or Dutilleux.

Life goes on here - Spring has arrived with a vengeance - there's a pair of buzzards nesting in the next field, I hear them mewing at dawn when I'm out emptying the wonderdog (who is limping badly these days - best not to think about it yet). The daffs, cowslips and primroses are up and the snowdrops are finished. The hawthorne is beginning to blossom, and the tawny owls nesting next to the house have finally shut up in the mornings. I've been able to practice in the meadow for the last couple of days in the evening, which is always a special thing - I love to hear the sound bouncing off the hill opposite.

So...trying to re-learn sax again for upcoming gigs, recording and such in the summer.. ..depressing; I used to be a contender. Things feel more and more like a one-way ticket to Palookaville lately. It seems that my tenor concept is particularly crap at the moment; I've been making myself listen to recordings of my gigs, which I always avoid as it is sooo depressing. The fact that I now don't have the time to spend hours on my horn seems to be the most evident on tenor; most days for the last few years I come home and put in as hour or so just trying to keep my fingers and embouchure intact. This now shows up in an improvising concept that seems to consist primarily of tired stock phrases I've been calling on for years and fluid scales which are ok, but nothing to do with music. Time for a re-think, or at least a Glenlivet.

The header photo is one of the latest distraction here at the Lazy K, a Guzzi Le Mans - someone gave this to me as it needed a good home and some fettling. The poor guy didn't have the time to work on it, and I think after 5 years in the garden shed it was precipitating a major domestic in a small-ish terrace with two young kids.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

slobbing out.

Slobbing out on the sofa, slightly the worse-for-wear because of my special grape nerve medicine, I ended up watching a sober (unlike me) adult (ditto) documentary about Hokusai instead of my more usual Pimp My Ride for once. Through the mild fug of post-teaching exhaustion, there was suddenly a discussion of how Hokusai's technique (and I include here not the usual print of Hokusai's Great Wave but one made years earlier with more or less the same view of OFuji-san, but without the frantic humans to give it scale and facing in the opposite direction, which gives it a completely different feel) with his use of repetitive visual units both in details and structural layout was not unlike the contemporary concept of fractals. And with that, I suddenly made one on my usual chaotic lateral and-not-terribly-original leaps to think of Cage's use of small number series (4:3:2:3:4) to generate both global (overall structure) and local events in his piece First Construction (in Metal) about which I had had to gabble for two hours at my second year guys earlier in the day. I'll bet they are so glad we didn't start on fractals.

That would have almost been as bad as my experience yesterday of trying to explain stasis in minimalist compositions and contrasting it with an 19th century Romantic narrative-based aesthetic by getting spun off on a riff that eventually ended up with me discussing my imminent arrival in the warm-ish nether regions according to most Western Judeo-Christian narratives versus the never-ending enso of many Asian systems, while a group of open-day 18-year-old six-formers embarrassedly stared at their shoes. They were embarrassed for me... Uh-uh - not going there again.

For my own composing, of course, anything quite so organized is liable to break down as rapidly as a 30-year-old Italian motorbike's electrics, something I have considerable experience of. But I take comfort in Adorno's dictum about intentional objects ("art") in that they are not necessarily aesthetically validated by "instrumental" behavior; i.e. the mimicking of physical processes modeled and tested through reductive scientific reasoning. You can breathe a sigh of relief right there and get on with stuff..

I always start off with the best of intentions, but find myself soon wandering around grabbing at shiny sounds.... but we are so not talking synaesthesia here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

the old gods awaken...

There are two possible ways of re-mounting the auto-advance plate and cam lobe in the distributor on a Guzzi, and it's impossible to know which one is right without splitting the frame, dropping the engine and pulling out the distributor drive cam; so you have a 50-50 chance of getting it right. This morning, I stood next to the Guzzi's inert carcass and flipped a coin in the mild late-winter sunshine, full of hope for the immediate future.

On the one hand, hitting the start button is greeted with a throaty roar (and as a musician, I've begun to realize that the reason the sound of various V-twins is so attractive is because of the asymmetrical firing pattern - each one , Guzzi, Ducati, Harley, has a unique signature sound depending on the degree of that asymmetry; the, say, 135 degree da-dup of a heartbeat instead of the even, bland 180 purr of a BMW [sorry Rog...]); or, on the other , the engine produces a few strange poops and echo-y metallic burps as the ignition tries to fire on the exhaust stroke. Needless to say, the latter was the outcome at lunchtime, after a morning spent stripping out the old electronic ignition system I now knew to be dead, and re-installing a pair of standard breaker points.

It took two clumsy hours to install the first time, but only 30 minutes to change over for the second try; and the fact that it was the right way around was announced by a hellish, rising open-pipe din as one of the carb sliders stuck and I frantically stabbed for the kill switch. Whey-hey.

Next, some time spent trying to getting the timing, points, valves and carbs back in the ballpark, as I've changed the whole set-up between all the mismatched parts from the two bikes..

In the meantime, I've been spending a lot of time sketching some Arias for the opera project Holy Goof while I'm waiting for some text from Malcolm. The idea of Cassady's adventures, first with the Beats, later with Ken Kesey, to his last mad walk of into the freezing night along some railway tracks to his death is beginning to get exciting. If I can get a couple of arias into some kind of orchestral suite form for Peter Britten's orchestra next year, it could serve as a launching for an entire opera production. All I need is (sigh) money.

Also, I'm spending some of the weekend going over the AHRC composition grant for the Riprap project, and starting to think about the Ruth Padel gig this June 27th, and setting up a companion gig in Cambridge for her as well, and I've just gotten a green light for one in November as well. I'll have to organize a recording of the new stuff once we play it in a bit.

Still thinking about bass clarinets.... when will they come into my life?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Imagine a membrane...

Imagine a membrane... a membrane say, a mile across and four or five miles long. This membrane is solid and crystalline, and perhaps a foot or so thick. Now imagine shining a heat source on it, like the sun, so that it begins to expand. But it is fairly rigid, being crystalline; how does it relieve the stress of expanding ever-so-slightly in the weak Scandinavian winter sun?

What we have created is something your average bass-box Escort driver with 10k+ watts driving 18" kickers couldn't even begin to conceive of.... and without the distortion.

My friend Magnus had taken me upcountry a bit inland from Stockholm to visit an archaeological site he was currently working at; in the summer there's a small ferry, but in the winter you walk out across the ice to reach the island. When we got about halfway there, the wind suddenly dropped, the sun came out, and the ice suddenly began to sing and reverberate with long groaning noises and rifle-like cracks. The video embedded above gives no idea of the kind of subsonic shudders that come up from the ice through your boots - something like whale-song, but felt in your bones. I was utterly and completely gobsmacked, and had to keep stopping to listen.

I can't begin to tell you how lucky I felt. I've heard it before; but faintly, almost as if I was kidding myself because I wanted to hear it. Not like this. The whole show finished when the entire valley echoed with a sound like rolling thunder that lasted about 20 seconds as something major re-arranged it self the length of the lake. The old Gods awaken. (try pasting that last phrase into Google for a positive embarrassment of sad Goth/Fantasy/New Age sites... something else to explore, I suppose)

I've now spent days trying to find the sounds again, but I'll just have to go back....

I have now put up some of the tracks from the Chelmsford gig on the brand shiny-new Riprap site on Myspace for your listening pleasure. The strange thing about that gig was how well it went compared to my playing a week later trying to run some in-character straight post-bop for Chris Ingham's Rebop effort. I just couldn't make the switch in styles fast enough. More on this soon.

More soon - just trying to do something with the Holy Goof... it seems like marimbas are go.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

we are just vessels through which passes the music of the cosmos...

From it's beginning with the uncanny resemblance to the badly acted overture of a porn film, to the final strange little curtsy that results from the fact that he's carrying just a bit too much beer-induced waist-related gravitas and can no longer quite bend over to bow in that particular pair of lederhosen, this is a humbling lesson to us all as performers. Yes, it's the King of the Yodelers.
So come on, watch how he kicks it up a couple of notches when he steps on stage, and does a mild Bavarian crowd-surf of the beirgarten benches. You can almost smell the sauerkraut and bratwurst, the sawdust and the crowd... and I'm half-way there already, having a particular Polish- mom induced love of pickled cabbage steeped in vinegar. Pierogi heaven. Although, I was thinking of the food; and butter-fried heart attack on a plate...with cabbage.

Somehow, I chanced across Franzl Lang (Der Jodlerkönig) singing "Einen Jodler hor i gern". Translated it means "I love to hear a yodel". This was in my usual late-evening-self-medicated state of chaotic lateral thought, having had an epiphany while watching a Jimmie Rodgers clip (aah-ha) thinking about the fact that no one talks about yodeling anymore. Yes, that heart-stopping rapid alternation between 'head' and 'chest' voices only a few master, and entered US popular music through the polka craze of the late 19th century has disappeared from the likes of popular consciousness such as the Tonight Show. But help is at hand, as the above website outlines, and is also probably grounds for a divorce. But I have noticed it re-entering the mainstream consciousness through a few tentative yelps by some various indie singers influenced by early Country styles

I realize I've been pretty quiet of late, having just gone through a fairly mad period of composing and rehearsing for the Grevel Lindop Riprap gig; of which I'll post some clips shortly. It was excellent, if under-attended....

Saturday, January 24, 2009

attachments to material things: foodshark

The Foodshark in Marfa Texas; the first place we found a veggie, non-deep fried meal in a week of travel in the Southwest. It makes you realize how immersed you are in the material; who should care if you eat nothing but fried beans for a week? Certainly not achieving an unattached understanding; complete and clear, like water reflecting the moon. The mind in samadhi, like the sky, For ten thousand miles, not a cloud.
Certainly not thinking of salads, beer(s) or a secondhand cross frame to go trailstorming with. Or even a Yamie CL221 bass clarinet to open out some new textures in Riprap. No, nothing like that. Anyway, Marfa is an amazing hallucination that suddenly appears out of the distance after almost 200k of windswept high plains. A small town that grew up as the railhead for the area, it was once the wealthy, bustling world center of merino wool (cue Rapha clobber here). After that, it collapsed in the depression, and the town was left twisting in the wind, miles from anywhere, until Donald Judd, the New York Minimalist artist, arrived to begin buying up the town as cheap studio/exhibition space. What you see is an 'ironic' Prada shopfront in the middle of a very quiet space (200k quiet)

Apart from that, it's suddenly fairly mad times - multiple poetry settings required in two weeks, for a concert in Chelmsford with Grevel Lindop. It needs for one to just keep going to that little calm place. Plus a request for a piano reduction of an aria from 10,000 Things, and a duo that might look at an old sax piece of mine that needs radical re-editing. And, of course, trying to get in some time on the horns, teaching, marking, etc. Also, there's the Britten Sinfonia doing a workshop with Knussen this weekend, and the West Suffolk Wheelers Reliability Ride on Sunday. Not to be missed.

Strangely, the comments section attached below these blogs requests more high, lonely train pictures and such.

So.... my fave cheap motel, with the half-mile long freights with four huge throaty Union Pacific locos dragging it up the grade that rumble through every ten minutes, like a vibrating bed you put a quarter in, only free:

and Maria's, a great place to have scrambled eggs on toast with tons of chili sauce, (which only aids the Mel Brookes moments alluded to above) in a picturesque valley surrounded by mine tailings:

and the beer garden of the above establishment:

and of course, the final 'rails-into-the-distance' photo ( for a while), leading out of Marfa, Texas.,

I think I've milked this holiday about as far as I can, and we haven't even arrived back up North yet.

You all have a safe journey now.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Filling ratholes with cement.

It's that kind of provocative title, isn't it? Almost like the beginning of a bad metaphor in what will turn out to be a cringingly boring sermon as you slump, hungover, further into the pew. ( "...of course, we should try and understand that we've all had to fill ratholes with cement; each and every one of us. We cannot stand in judgement. But this should always bring to mind the parable of Jesus among the money changers in the temple... [ I had just typed 'Monet changers', which looked far more interesting... that proximital slip of the T and Y being adjacent each other on the keyboard creates a whole different tangent that is tempting to follow..anyway...])

So as I laid in bed at 3 am listening to an ongoing rodent Summer of Love in the walls, it brought to mind Gary Snyder's concept of 'porosity' from The Practice of the Wild, the idea of allowing our surroundings to move freely through our lives, a kind of practice of interpenetration and embrace of Rattus norvegicus. After all, they are sentient beings. .... Right. All that went out the window yesterday, when it was discovered that the furry bodhisattvas had started chewing on Jane's green, un-fired pots, as she had been using coconut in the clay body to open the texure of the surface during the bisque firing. Madam was not pleased. So it's a Friday evening, and I'm gripping a beer (sadly not a PBR , as suggested elsewhere) and filling ratholes with cement.; not off to interesting gigs, fashionable parties, or an evening filed with scintillating, Wildean repartee.

Anyway, sorry for the digression - the header photo: more holiday snaps. Lordsburg, New Mexico; a bypassed godforsaken railway town that was once a major hub of activity. It was the place that the 'Ringo Kid', John Wayne, had to get to in his early film Stagecoach, by John Ford. Standing in the middle of the high plains on the border of Arizona at over 4,000 feet, you can now stand on the main street at rush hour, all six lanes of it and take photos at your leisure. The early sun shows gold off the rail tracks that every 10 minutes a what seems miles-long freight labors over the imperceptible incline, four locos in front, two in the back, laden with containers of white-goods soma from China.

This vast space seems haunted, and indeed it was; we had spent the day driving up from the Mexican border through a long, high valley that was all pasturage, about four miles wide flanked by 1,000-2,000 foot ridges hemming in each side. This, compared to the landscape before and after, had seemed relatively lush in a high-plains-kind-of-way. We stopped for about a half an hour, alone, just outside a place called Apache, and listened to the impersonal, autonomous wind that had blown forever, irregardless of our presence, and would always continue to do so. The sense it gave was one of something lost, you kept scanning the ridges for some sign of the reasons why. The effect was entirely otherworldly, though you knew you were on a road, in the USA, in a car, participating in the shiny, almost-new Third Millennium.

The reason became clear at the next crossroads (to glorify one house by a dirt track by that name) - there was a stone cairn which, after seeing nothing for the last 60 miles, we stopped at. It was composed of spooky recovered stone quorns the women had used for grinding corn and local rock, with a small bronze plaque that announced this was the place that Geronimo and the exhausted Apaches had finally surrendered to the horse soldiers. Geronimo and 35 warriors had held off 5,000 cavalry for almost a year, (who they knew would only ever increase in number) and had finally been split up and ethnically-cleansed to reservations hundreds of miles away in Florida, while others had been sent to the extremely unpromising scrub land tracts that white guys decided they couldn't use for anything else. I found later it was called Skeleton Canyon; it had been their valley.

The thing that occurred to me was that all the valleys had been someone's long before they were driven from them.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back in the saddle again...

Cue the Sons of the Pioneers here, as we just got back from a week driving the back roads of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. However, this breathless update of our adventures in the wild Southwest, NYC art galleries and New Hampshire blizzards had to wait a few days as I arrived home to find mice had chewed through many of the cables strewn around my desk for the computer, necessitating a few days of soldering, cable purchasing and re-wiring.

This particularly iconic (yeah, I know, I hate the word too) motel sign, beckoning us all to our own personal Calvary of rusting bathroom fittings, static- fuzzy televisions and 'lite' American beers (unless you subscribe to some of the perhaps heretical views of the Ark of the Covenant actually lying under the true site at the Mount of Olives; thus making it your own personal martini buoy) was what drew us to the Motel Motel (it had no other name, so we'll just call it MM for the moment) in Fort Hancock, Texas, after a day of trickling down side roads along the Rio Grande. (I know, I put my hand up; I lied on the Facebook page by saying this was from Globe, but I uploaded the wrong one and couldn't be assed to change it... let's face it, Facebook sucks as far as extended, cogent discussion goes - although compared to Twitter, it's Adorno's Aesthetic Theory; and who doesn't love that book?

None the less, the actual motel at Globe, Arizona is here sub; and you can see, if you zoom the photo a bit, not only is it refrigerated, but there are room phones and a large, unexplained picture of Geronimo gracing the entrance. Add that to being surrounded, as I mentioned elsewhere, by green-tinted, worked-out stepped ziggurats of the abandoned copper mines which overshadow the town.

Needless to say, it was a real find. The whole town sat above five thousand feet in the mountains 100 miles roughly northeast of Phoenix, hard against the barren, high-altitude scrub-infested reservation the Apache had been forcibly ethnically-cleansed to at the end of the 19th century, after Geronimo's final unsuccessful uprising.

More on other things from this holiday as time goes on, but I must get to work on some settings for a gig in Chelmsford next month, where Riprap accompanies the poet Grevel Lindop. This should be interesting, as we have no idea yet as to what we're doing. Malcolm promises some suitable material soon...

El Rancho: it's refrigerated and very reasonably priced, and it's waiting there just for you and that special someone... you know you deserve it.