The Smith's Journal - September 2005

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"Shop as usual, and avoid panic-buying..."*

*(A quote from Negativland's album Escape From Noise)

Following the recent panic-buying of fuel as rumours spread about more fuel blockades (possibly instigated by the oil companies directly after they raised their prices - nice little earner!), Britain needs some direct action. The Chancellor should double the tax on fuel to dissaude unnecessary road use and encourage sustainable alternatives to fossil-fuels, ploughing the extra money into improving public transport. These guys are right - we should all just slow down a bit.

Driven To Distraction

The decision by Milton Keynes Council to ban roadside shrines on the grounds that they distract motorists is one thing, but we trust this ban will extend to include all roadside advertising hoardings, especially the evil new moving-image adverts we are now threatened with, and those featuring nudity ("Sorry Officer, I was admiring the physique of that scantily-clad supermodel, and didn't notice the cyclist in front of me..."). Nudity has its place. (Way to go!)

[UPDATE: There are better things than adverts to put at the side of the road.]

Ultimate Software Developer Setup

An interesting Slashdot article about the Ultimate Software Developer Setup. Of the furniture mentioned, my favourites were:

I used to have a Putnams kneeler chair which was a nice alternative to my other conventional chairs, but put too much strain on my knees when sitting for a long time, so I sold it. Of the Stokke chairs, I didn't find most of them all that comfortable apart from the exquisite Variable kneeler chair; I also love the look of their 1985 classic Garden (sadly no longer available, at any price). I was considering buying a Swopper pedestal chair from TenPoint in Amersham, but they have been unfavourably compared to the unergonomic ball chairs indicating "a risk to back injury with prolonged use". While in Amersham, I nearly also bought an Evoluent VerticalMouse, although I'd prefer a large trackball, and maybe a pen tablet. Of the many alternative keyboards available, vertical keyboards seem a good idea too (but here's a better one :-) although I couldn't be without my trusty IBM Model M or perhaps Das Keyboard. In terms of other computer hardware, there were the obvious suggestions of a multi-monitor setup with Xinerama, plus some more novel ideas:

[UPDATE: Since trying out some chairs at Back In Action, probably at least one of them is in my studio's future (in the end, two were). But another idea was inspired by the aforementioned ErgoPod500 and the computing-in-bed principle adopted by a friend. I was thinking that if I can learn to touch type, then lying down with a keyboard on my thighs and an LCD monitor either suspended above me or on a pivoting monitor arm might be a very pleasant way to compute. No good for my studio though, where I also need to operate countless other gadgets, but perfect for email and bedtime reading. Maybe I should try it out... ;-]


Musical Developments

Piano tuner came round to sort out my quarter-tone-flat upright, which was long overdue. Happily, it turned out he was also a drummer and progressive rock fan, so we talked for ages about Henry Cow gigs he'd attended and other such mythic tales. It's now a joy to behold quality tones from my piano, with long sustained notes hanging gracefully in the air instead of phasing all over the place. I played through some of my pieces in awe, looking forward to making some recordings at quiet times.

This comes hot on the heels of also having Seneke re-skin my djembe (awesomely! :-) after the skin broke while I'd been trying to tighten it up. So I'm currently bouncing off the ceiling! 8-) It sounds fantastic - I'd forgotten quite how high a djembe should be; before I broke the skin its open tone was getting embarrassingly low. [This was the djembe from Malika that David Oladunni had played years back, which had aged gracefully but was no longer sounding proper at all.]

So that's two of my favourite instruments that I shall enjoy taking out into the woods/running through the repertoire and falling in love all over again with :-)

Drumming is coming along in leaps and bounds. I'm now attending three different classes, playing djembe and dun duns with dancers. And our own group's newcomers' sessions are bringing in new faces and ideas. Last Sunday's session with Bizia, Jane, Jane, Tina, Ian, Marjolein, Pieter and friend was good, but I need to get more and more practise in. My newly skinned djembe is now a monster of pings and booms, but at the session I felt unable to play it. The new-found accuracy just highlighted the imprecisions in my rusty technique. So I need some quality time alone in the woods with my new machine to work on dexterity, agility, tones and timing... As well as some firing drumming, we made my dreams come true by finally singing a Zulu song that I'd learned with Scott Stroman at Dartington years ago (and dreamt about last week) and also by playing a fun game that came to me in another dream :-)

I also taught Theo and his mum David Oladunni's song 'Anye' recently. That song is magic. The look of radiant joy on her face beaming at her son drumming as we all sang was unforgettable. It is the same ecstatic vibe from Fats' house after drum classes at Jackson's Lane. Our drum group play that song too - everywhere it just creates warmth, love and spirit. I've taught it to Ruth who taught it to the kids at her son's school in 15 minutes - she then watched them all walking out of the school gates singing it :-) Exponential meme dispersal.

Bernard Szajner

The greatest news of the day came later on, upon finding an email from none other than French new-wave musician Bernard Szajner, one my my mentors, saying how much he'd enjoyed my web page about him, ending with an invitation to perform some of his music with him!

This has opened an invisible Mental Door in my mind that I never even knew was there: although I am a musician, I only tend to play music with friends and people I know. Since many of my friends don't share my diverse musical tastes, I never seem to get to truly express my deepest creative ideas in group settings, having to restrict them to my (mostly unperformed) solo works and future plans. I still crave the time when I can dive into the new world of sound in my head that is longing for exploration, but happily, that time is coming very soon. As I gain more musical confidence, I shall seek out other people I've always wished to work with. The world had better be ready...

Planning FSDD2006

Buzzing from these revelations, I went out to visit Harmer Green Woods near Welwyn, en route to a meeting about next year's Festival Of Song, Drum and Dance which will be held there instead of at Cuffley Camp, from Wednesday-Sunday 16th-20th August 2005. The site is very special, a wild wood of about forty acres with lots of places to explore. Our meeting was productive; we designated tasks and planned promotion. I shall be helping to organise the daily workshops and evening performances, as well as making a dedicated website.

[UPDATE: Alas, I have had to quit due to unreasonable attitudes of some people :-( ]

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 2005-09-23 - last updated 2008-01-01