The Smith's Journal - March 2004

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Official Opening

Having invited guests over for my birthday and the "Official Opening" of My Studio, I've now got a deadline to encourage me to get on with cabling and get the place together. I've moved my music computer into the wardrobe to keep the noise down; now I need to make some long cables to reach in there, and see if it will run OK in a confined space. The long process of seemingly endless tidying is starting to make progress as I file away stuff in the densest arrangement possible, to optimise the junk-to-space ratio. Hopefully all this effort will pay off next time I move house, as having items well-documented in a modular format (my cube storage) should make for an easy transition to a new space. While not perfect (not silent nor spacious enough), Court Cottage is good for the time being. Oh for the day when:

Maybe then I can get some real work done again and utilise my talents which are currently waiting in limbo...

The Woman With No Shadow

Whoa! I've just been hit by a large wave of coincidence... Yesterday I found myself strangely moved on hearing part of Richard Strauss' opera "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" on Radio 3's Composer of The Week programme (I'm not normally a Strauss fan nor an opera buff). Then last night, while looking up the ghostly tale of The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor, I stumbled on another page with a spine-chilling story and gruesome photo of "The Woman With No Shadow", which brought tears of fear. Nothing like a good ghost story to unsettle you while all alone in a creaky medieval cottage! It wasn't until today, on hearing more about the Strauss opera, that I realised the connection... Very scary!

Herts LUG

Went to the pub in Stevenage to meet the monthly Herts Linux User Group, which was great fun as ever, talking lots about Debian, Cheap Linux Boxes, productivity (or lack of it) in backward-looking companies, network security and spam, with Nicolas ending up extolling the virtues of cycling; I think he's persuaded me to get a proper bike. Best quote: (paraphrased) "The health risks in being unfit far outweigh any dangers of cycling."


Curious old villages

A good day. As Rik would say, "Ah! Well, things are looking up!" :)

I got up early to catch some emails and then spent the best part of the morning sorting out folders of music, finding old compositions and projects I'd long since forgotten about = a nice surprise. My new filing technique is unstoppable :-) Later, during work, I was called out to Sawbridgeworth in Essex and so took the back roads to avoid traffic, finding some amazing unknown territory east of Ware, including the Henry Moore Foundation -- huge sculptures sitting in fields -- and some curious old villages at Widford, Green Tye and High Wych. I must return with a camera and blue skies. What a pity that unnecessary expansion at Stansted Airport is going to spoil this lovely landscape :o(

Landfill site graffiti

Another blot on the landscape that I saw was a huge landfill site beside the A10, newly built and waiting for our rubbish, insightfully decorated with graffiti, which I went back to photograph a fortnight later

[ Capitalism is rubbish - People+Nature not Profit+Power ]

[ Landfill site left view | Landfill site right view | Landfill tip with graffiti | Landfill site corner view ]

[UPDATE: The site has now been 'landscaped' with a CCTV-patrolled 3m-high fence atop large earth banks hiding the sight of our own waste from our delicate bargain-hunting eyes. Happy shopping! ;-]

Later, hearing Rodrigo's "Concerto D'Aranjuez" on the radio brought emotional tears recalling my earliest memory of childhood, being carried on my (now deceased) father's back during a rain shower in Scotland, eventually finding a cafe to shelter in (they must have been playing the music in there). Moments like this put you back on your feet, give you direction; the words "Write a new composition!" resounded through my mind.

My Electronic Life

Back home I was happy to receive a wonderful response from the AGNULA developers to my audio software requests. How cool is FLOSS?

Keeping up with my electronic life is becoming more intense: email, eBay, and now meta-moderating on Slashdot as user SST-206 (named after the Ursa Major Space Station ;-), not to mention my championship surfing and web-building, leaves so little time for music and life, let alone a full-time job! I'm not sure if it was wise starting this journal with eight million other things to do; an interesting Mark Twain quote makes me wonder, and William Gibson did stop writing his journal in order to get on with more important stuff. Similarly, Neil Gaiman also said:

It's quite possible that the next time I want to write a novel I'll stop blogging, or, more likely, cut back enormously -- possibly only allow myself to blog if I've I've made my word count, or only post on Sundays, or something equally as mundane. Because the journal's well over quarter of a million words long already. And that's not a book...

So perhaps I won't write every day; we'll see...


3-headed frog!

By George! Whatever next?

EU IPRE directive letters to MEPs

Deeply concerned about the nasty proposed EU Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement directive, I've written to:


Mauricio Kagel

Visited Roberto to watch some films by the Argentinian composer Mauricio Kagel:

This man's ideas about music, theatre and film are a breath of fresh air.

[UPDATE 2008-11-08: Rest in peace]


We also watched a fantastic animation called "Hilary" by Anthony Hodgson about a man telling his child a story about a girl called Hilary who dreamed of a life without people, on Mars...


Roberto also gave me a fascinating article called "We Have Reached Overload" written by Ed Twist (or should that be Twist, Ed) about the damage that our electronic age is doing to us as human beings. Interesting reading; I do see this spiralling effect, and am (*erm*) considering ways to combat it. I'm certainly a sufferer, having spent much of the day reading reviews of CDs and audio gear, always searching for something to consume (the disease of capitalism), while my house doesn't get any tidier. It's like a mental panic, and I often find myself urgently needing to update a text file or a web page even while away from a computer, lest I forget later. The ever-increasing flood of things to do gets overpowering at times, yet still I sit here writing instead of doing something...

Just the other day while travelling along a country lane I passed a bird on a telegraph wire, who looked down and thought: "Oh, these humans - always racing around, burning up more fuel than they need or have left, taking life too fast to notice reality and be themselves for a minute. They should pause for a while to compose themselves..."


EU IPRE directive passed :o(

Burning the midnight oil, up all night unable to sleep, disturbed by the newly passed EU Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement directive :-(


Schnittke's Requiem @ Temple Church

Went to a wonderful concert at Temple Church in London of Alfred Schnittke's "Requiem" of 1975. The piece is truly epic, scored for sopranos, mezzo-soprano, tenor, choir, trumpet, trombone, organ, piano, celeste, bass and electric guitars, with percussion (marimba, vibraphone, timpani, tam-tam, tom toms, snare drum, flexatone). The Holst Singers are one of the finest choirs in England, and the chance to hear them in such a wondrous building was unmissable.

So I braved the weather and headed into town, neglecting to check the address on a map first, thinking I knew where Temple Church was: somewhere near Lincoln's Inn Fields? I arrived at Holborn with ten minutes to spare, looking around where I believed the place to be, and suddenly heard angelic choral music near to some vast buildings of regal splendour, only to then find that the music was emanating from someone's window above a pub, so I started walking around in search. After asking a few people, I chanced upon Chancery Lane, and hailed a taxi, who replied that it was just a few minutes walk in that direction, near to the Temple Bar. So I walked off in 'that' direction that he had pointed, sadly leading me west instead of east along Fleet Street, past the front of the huge and splendid buildings I found earlier, but which provided no means of entry. It seems the Good Lord deemed it necessary for me to get some exercise walking around the Aldwych (to repent for not making the most of the sunshine today while I stayed indoors tidying my house) before I should be allowed into His house! Passing the London School of Economics, I came full circle back to where I'd started from, and then went the other way down Fleet Street. I was getting quite perturbed now as the performance had started, and I still had no idea where it was. I found St. Bride's Church, where I'd once been to a concert, and then in desperation retraced my steps, eventually finding a sign pointing down a tiny alleyway. This led into a series of courtyards and maze-like passages, within which I found the round church, from which applause was resounding.

I went in as quietly as possible as the choir settled into the second piece (by Brahms), sad to have missed Bruckner's "Motets", but glad to have made it in time for the Schnittke. By chance I'd actually sat in one of the choirstalls, complete with the vocal score laid out ready for the Requiem, which I had a look through. After the Brahms, which was sung in the round part of the building, the choir moved into the choirstalls in the chancel where the instruments were waiting, so I went and found a pew right behind the timpanist, with a great view of the performers, from where I took some photographs. Although they were taken handheld without a flash, some came out quite well, although quite what happened to the last one (a composite of the two below it), heaven only knows...!

[ Celestial choir (The Holst Singers) in Temple Church | Percussion viewed from the pulpit in Temple Church | Applause for the orchestra viewed from the pulpit in Temple Church | Applause for the orchestra viewed from the pulpit in Temple Church | Applause for the orchestra viewed from the pulpit in Temple Church | Musical instruments in The Chancel after the concert | The round Nave in Temple Church lit in an eerie light ]

The Requiem was wonderful to behold; I'd only known it previously from the radio, and seeing it live gave new insights into the arrangement; some of the deepest organ notes were just a rippling of the air, beyond human hearing! This music is very powerful and being this close was deeply affecting. Like life, it contains everything from simple beauty to terrifying chaos, composed with such grace and emotion, ancient yet modern. The Benedictus features a spellbinding sequence of descending chords sung to the words "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord", magically evoking the Holy Spirit drifting down from heaven to Earth. The choir were sublime and there was a tangible presence in the air; I noticed that after playing the toms in a particularly frenzied section of the final Credo, one percussionist was trembling her sticks in mid-air in anticipation of the climactic snare drum assault, as gongs and organ echoed around her.

[ The Nave seen from The Chancel | The living and the dead congregate in the round Nave in Temple Church | Sarcophagi in the round Nave in Temple Church | Panorama view of the circular nave in Temple Church | The floor of the round Nave in Temple Church | The ceiling of the round Nave in Temple Church ]

As the applause rang out at the end, I crept surreptitiously up the wooden spiral staircase to the pulpit to get some aerial photos from four metres above the whole band and jubilant audience. As people dispersed I wandered around and took some more pictures of the amazing 12th Century architecture, including the round nave with its strange sarcophagi. I left with the music still swimming around my ears, knowing that I will one day write a setting of these wonderful words.


Drumming session

Today's drumming session was sweet; Jane, Melissa and Patrick attended so we went over some mesmeric triplet patterns before Roberto and David turned up bringing much Joy in the form of David's wonderfully cosmic UFO-like instrument called a Hang. (I'd love one!) From then on we forgot about practising the set rhythms we're working on, and just jammed in a most uplifting manner, with the magical tones of the Hang perfectly in tune with my Tibetan bowls.

The Permanent Way

Tonight I sat transfixed listening to Radio 3's broadcast of David Hare's hard-hitting play called "The Permanent Way", about the decay of the railways, assembled from fragments of interviews with railway bosses and workers, and train crash survivors and victims' families. Essential listening: this should be taught in schools. If you missed it on Sunday 14th March, I strongly recommend making use of the Beeb's Audio On Demand facility, where the play can be heard online (for one week only), or you could even see it at the National Theatre.


Dinner @ The Wyndham Theatre

Went to see a hilarious play called Dinner at The Wyndham Theatre in London's West End. This is highly recommended and the ending is a gem that Hitchcock would be proud of. The lead actress Harriet Walter is a friend of Fabrizia's cousin, so we went backstage afterwards to see her. She talked about the effect of performing a play every night for almost a hundred shows; it must be quite odd to repeatedly portray such a monster. Thankfully she is a most charming woman when not in character!


Beeb disk drive arrives

Hurray! The new disk drive for my Beeb arrived today just in time for my Birthday Party, so I'm at last able to run all of my old disks, lying dormant since my old drive died. Hmmm, lots of gaming to do! I may not be updating this Journal for a while...


Birthday Celebrations

Round One of my Birthday Celebrations began with a pleasant walk around Great and Little Offley with Bizia and Helen. We walked and talked and took in the spring air, and even saw a herd of wild deer (a very beautiful sight). Later Roberto and Ian joined us for dinner, and I showed everyone my Beeb and new studio toys.

Waking Life

Then we watched some short films on DVD, played on Ian's Apple laptop connected to my LCD screen. When people left Ian also showed me the awesome film "Waking Life", a fantastic philosophical journey into the world of dreams and consciousness. The main character wanders around meeting professors and strangers who discuss the nature of being asleep and lucid dreaming. The action is all filmed and then re-animated in an amazing technique called Rotoscoping. You need to see it.


Birthday Jam session

To Bizia's for another Birthday Party/musical gathering, but I was too tired to really enjoy it. After a few hours of playing we went indoors and feasted on the remains of the meal I'd cooked from last night (which amazingly fed us twice). Then people left, and I packed up the instruments and food, and went home to bed ready for work again in six hours (*groan*). Too much work and not enough play!



Despite feeling despondent all day, I was umming and ahhing all evening about whether or not to go to see my DJ friends at The Monday Club in St. Albans. Eventually, at 9pm, I'd convinced myself to stay home, until, venturing outside, I saw the clear starry sky and bright moon, then found Rob's text message inviting me, so I decided to seize the opportunity rather than sit at home and be sad. The place was packed with about three hundred people and an immense atmosphere conjured up by the DJs from DreadZone, spinning a mix of upfront breakbeats and drum & bass. They were truly taken aback by the vibe for a Monday evening! I met lots of old friends I haven't seen in years, including Debbie who'd come down from Lincoln for the weekend. So I had a good boogie and chat, getting invited to DJ there again in June/July. Afterwards I went back to Hansi's place with Debs and chatted for a couple more hours before zooming home for five hours of sleep after a brilliant night.

The Story of The Drum

On the way home, I caught the final radio programme of "The Story of The Drum" on the BBC World Service. This cool series has managed to get my attention each week, despite being on at 01:30am, as if it were a programme designed just for me. It ended with: [paraphrased]

"...and somewhere out there, is a young percussionist who will take this tradition onward into new realms, new forms and directions..."

YOU BET THERE IS! Just wait till I get these rubber bands off and finish building my studio...

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 2004-03-03 - last updated 2006-08-18 - links verified 2006-02-12