The Smith's Journal - June 2006

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Website migration to

After a pleasant walk from Great to Little Offley in shorts and my Malham T-shirt, I settled down to implement PHASE 2 of my vast website's migration to my new domain: . The task was to create a new structure for The Smith that is more intuitive to use and navigate around; anything this large and complex is never going to be trivial, but I do enjoy a challenge!

The entire process will take weeks, involving editing hundreds of files by hand, with massive scope for error, yet I shall tolerate none. The ill-fated plan to computerise UK NHS records is simple in comparison :-) So there won't be much visibly going on on my website until the transition is complete. The old website address will remain alive for the foreseeable future, with redirects to allow search engines and bookmarks to gradually catch up.

Scanner = v.poor

I haven't had much time to use my new scanner, but have realised that it is, in fact, rubbish. I scanned some photos necessary for the Festival website I've built, but the scans have lots of vertical bands streaking up the image. This is what you get for 40 quid :-/ I only bought it because:

  1. it plays nice with Linux, and
  2. it matches my decor (i.e., not stupid silver) and doesn't look ugly.

I would gladly pay ten times that amount, but haven't found one yet that satisfies those two criteria. Now I must add a third:

  1. Produces good quality scans.

So I've postponed* scanning any more photos until I can do it properly, as the results are just not worth my time. And time is not something I'm rich in at the moment; I barely get chance to keep up with friends...

> So you are still alive ;)
They keep trying to kill me, but I grow back!

Spending inordinate amounts of time with a text editor is a fun, but lonely pastime ;-) Then I got waylaid in Cambridge for a few days and relieved of $$$$ in exchange for more Asian heavy metals...

*[UPDATE: I've had better success with recent scans, so shall continue using this scanner until I either find a better one, or get a negative scanner or digital camera.]


More bowls...

Just as I was about to fall into a Trough, John Mead phoned with news of more bowls he had to sell :-) With not a moment to lose, I packed my drums and flew up to his house near Cambridge. There I finally got to meet Phil from Nomads shop in Cambridge who said that Frank Perry is performing on Friday! WoW. I spent some hours going through hundreds of bowls, eventually settling on some to purchase after matching their pitches with my current set. Best of all, I acquired a fine large gong ;-)

Dizzy from all the energy of these ancient artefacts, I set off for our Vitae drumming rehearsal at Wendover church, safe in the knowledge that meanwhile, Linux was being discussed at Herts LUG in my absence, generously funded by the Brethren.

...than will fit in my house!

The next day I spent going through my bowl collection, checking tunings and updating lists. Setting up all 36 bowls all around my room, it soon became apparent that I need a bigger room! I moved parts of my studio around and restored some harmony to the house. Later on, I re-conceived an earlier concept of E-mail, and wrote it down, hearing Frank Perry's beautifully space-cleansing "NEW ATLANTIS" to prepare for the next day.


Frank Perry in Cambridge

Went with John to watch Frank Perry performing at MichaelHouse, a converted church in Trinity Street, Cambridge. The venue was packed with people who had come to see this legend of sacred percussion. We gave our rapt attention to the unamplified performance, the quietness requiring calm concentration which was sometimes disturbed by traffic noise from outside, reminding us that we were still in central Cambridge and not the secluded silence of an inner sanctum of a Tibetan monastery. This didn't bother Frank though, who was soon off on his magic carpet of special metals. Some of his bowls were kept wrapped up in cloths to protect the rare energies within; during the performance he would carefully unwrap one, play it and then put it lovingly away again. The long sustain of the bowls gave him plenty of time to move around the space, choosing from a variety of different beaters specialised for each bowl.

It's always good to meet a man with more bowls than I'll ever have. He'd brought along 145 (I counted them) from his collection of 600+, but Frank, if you're reading this, don't worry: there's always someone worse off than yourself. These special instruments were arranged in various formations on magic carpets across much of the floor of the church. In the middle was an array of many different kinds and sizes of bowl, set up around a central sitting position. On either side were two spirals of around fifty bowls each, described later by Frank as being Yin and Yang bowls respectively, arranged in pitches descending outward from the centre. The child in me longed to run around the spiral with a wand striking them all, which Frank later did :-)

In the interval he talked with good humour about the bowls and their unique energies. He described the first bowl he ever acquired, which dated from the 12th Century, as having a very intense heart energy. When he later unwrapped it and picked it up I can attest to a palpable feeling being draped over the room, whether or not due to the bowl itself or just Frank's deep affection for it and his craft, I'm not sure. Whatever the case, when he began overtone-singing along with this mystical bowl, we were truly captivated. After the concert, everyone was asking which of Frank's albums featured him overtone chanting (a note for his marketing department :-) Sublime.

Frank's freely improvised music for bowls differs from my own in that it is mostly non-tonal, whereas I've chosen my set of bowls to approximate a Western-tuned scale so that I can accompany other instruments. But it was nice to hear that other worlds are possible. The more cosmic sounding chord clusters of closely-spaced pitches reminded me of the late Gyorgy Ligeti's Lux Aeterna ('Eternal Light'), with its great clouds of sound hanging in the air; perhaps I shall one day explore these microtonal dimensions too. I certainly learned a lot about technique from watching this master at work; his lightness of touch and purity of tone was quite astounding, and something I shall take onboard.

After the event, John, Phil and I chatted with folk until they dispersed, and then helped pack away the gems, which amazingly fitted (like nested Russian Dolls) into relatively few boxes.

Outside in the street, the city was buzzing with student nightlife, throngs of elegantly dressed young things making me feel rather old in a town where the average age seemed to be 21. My reverie was startled by a guy coming up to me, claiming to know me. Then I recogised him as Ben, a fine clarinettist who had performed LIV, one of my compositions, at Dartington some years ago, which was a nice surprise.

Bowled over

It was inevitable that I would end up back at John's place, as I'd been obsessed with a bowl I'd not bought on Wednesday, which was calling me back... Meanwhile, the bowls had spread all over the house like invading golden UFOs, and now we sat in the lounge for some hours, sampling the finest antique bowls he had. He bemoaned the fact that it's getting increasingly difficult to find good old bowls these days, since the American/Internet market has upped the prices sky-high, and the real gems are now beyond reach. It was again 3am when I eventually left, with yet more bowls and wands in readiness for future bowl workshops.


Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 1: Ted's Naming Ceremony

Went to The Village Hall pub in Chalfont St. Peter near Beaconsfield, where Vitae Drum Circle were due to begin their Drumming Marathon of many gigs in not many days. This first event was a performance at a Naming Ceremony for the baby son of one of the drummers. Ted Quaife is a real character, despite not having mastered language yet; when he looks you in the eye, you know it is for real and that he is quite conscious of all around him. A truly switched-on kid. The ceremony began with us singing Angas' soothing song, gently accompanied by drums (with babes' ears protected from the loud volume). Then Chris Parks from Crooked Sixpence led a very moving naming ceremony with family and friends gathered. We each threaded a bead or small object onto a string to make a magical necklace to give to Ted as a memento of the event; I'd found an old foreign coin with a hole through the centre, and had charged it up with energy by placing it in one of my sacred Tibetan singing bowls, only to discover in the process that doing so made a fascinating harmonic buzzing sound.

After a fine buffet lunch, we played drums with gusto, and Justine and Annie even managed to dance within the confined space. People read out dedications and quotations, and Ted's face lit up; he loved being the centre of attention. I wrote in a book of comments marking the event that his mother should ensure that by the time he can read this he will already be a fine drummer :-)

Piddington Barn Dance

Then Jan and I followed Justine in convoy back to her place to chill out on this very hot day in her alpine garden, as folk arrived for the evening's festivities. I'd not been to a Barn Dance for years, and never had Piddington seen such talent gathered in one place: Justine, Jan, Tasha, Annie, Dennis, Chris and I all got very hot but had oodles of fun - nothing could peel the smile off our faces :-) Being too energetic for our own good, we often courted disaster with some rather dangerous high-speed manouvres, but miraculously nobody was hurt. I took particular delight in seeing just how fast one could spin the old ladies of the village! Due to the wife-swapping nature of the dances, I eventually got partnered with the tiniest girl in the place, a delicate little angel probably about half my height, which made for some practical difficulties, but I treated her gently. Afterwards, we retreated to Justine's again to cool down with a midnight singsong and chat in the garden. A fabulous day.


Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 2: Coombe Hill

Since it was the Summer Solstice, our usual Vitae Drum Circle session moved outdoors. We travelled in convoy from Wendover over to Coombe Hill, the highest point of the Chiltern Escarpment for miles around, believed by some to be on a leyline that runs through nearby Cymbeline's Castle. Luckily, the weather stayed fine, and we played for some time to about fifty people who had gathered up there to celebrate the longest day (it's a local custom), sat on the war memorial, with stunning views of the sun setting over the Vale of Aylesbury. It was very windy indeed - drums were blowing over! Since I was stood up to play, right on the edge of the very steep hill, I kept getting hit by gusts of wind and nearly took off a few times! This wind carried our sound far and wide; we later found out that people had heard us from Wendover, 2.5km away!

[UPDATE: We returned in 2008 to continue the tradition (2007 was dreadful weather). I missed the Summer Solstice sessions in 2009...2012, but made it for 2013 :]

[ Vitae Drummers performing at Coombe Hill war memorial | Vitae Drummers performing Yankadi at Coombe Hill war memorial | Malc from Vitae Drummers atop windswept Coombe Hill | Vitae Drummers atop Coombe Hill | Vitae Drummers atop Coombe Hill | Vitae Drummers atop Coombe Hill monument | Vitae Drummers atop Coombe Hill | Vitae Drummers playing Yankadi solo | Ant from Vitae Drummers atop windswept Coombe Hill | Ant from Vitae Drummers hovering over Buckinghamshire | Lovely sunset ending the longest day | Malc praying to the alien atop Coombe Hill ]


Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 3: Maidenhead Town Hall

I'd had to miss the previous night's performance at Hamilton School's International Evening due to work, but was first to Maidenhead on Friday night. I set up my recording gear since we were a smaller band and in a prime venue, without gales and noise to battle against. The event was a charity concert for Alzheimer's, organised by a friend of Natasha's, who was also singing; a jazz band and other acts also performed. We opened the second half with our set from The Swan, and were warmly received, although we kicked ourselves afterwards that we didn't get an African lady in the audience up on stage who was keen to dance with us :-)


Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 4: Festival of Football

Ever eager, I arrived early for Sunday morning's Vitae performance at the Festival of Football at The Misbourne School in Great Missenden. We played three twenty-minute sets on a vast field where many football games were being played by kids from the entire region, watched avidly by talent scouts from major clubs. Since the landscape was so open, it seemed like an infinite effort to make ourselves heard at all - the sound was spreading out in all directions, and not returning to our ears, but people reported that it could be clearly heard up and down the valley. I got quite a sun tan being away from my computer for so long, and we had a jolly picnic before our final set.

Vitae Drumming Marathon - Stage 5: Prestwood School Fete

In the afternoon we moved in convoy a few miles to Prestwood Infant School Fete where we gave a twenty minute set to a few hundred people gathered in the school playground, flanked by the local chapter of bikers (luckily we didn't get into a contest of who was louder :-) Ani's son Sam took some more great photographs of us:

[ Vitae Drum Circle | Dancers | Dancers ]

This is not quite the end of our Drumming Marathon, which continues in July...

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2006-06-26 - last updated 2008-07-04