The Smith's Journal - March 2007

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Zen Stories

I've been enjoying reading the '101 Zen Stories' compiled by Paul Reps in the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, first published in 1939, recounting actual experiences of Zen teachers over a period of more than five centuries. This wisdom was itching to spread into electronic form, and I considered typing out the best ones, sure that the old Masters would not be offended at publishing their words. Luckily I found that someone had already beaten me to it :-)

Another fine story ends with an enlightening quote:

The mind CHOOSE reality. Put aside the mind and discover the truth.



[Transcription of a dream...]

A community of people forms around a (squatted?) house in the country, after a few people stay there and start to document their experiences. They set up a society/company/collective/co-operative to allow them to make enough money to survive as artists. The place will become a Launchpad for people to begin new lives working for themselves.

I play drums with a guy playing flute (not unlike Craig). An Australian girl (not unlike rasta Sacha) drops in, arriving through the Dark Tunnel, amazed. I tell her how we started here, and she joins. She is traumatised but fascinated by the ghosts she encountered in the Tunnel.

People sleeping at the wrong times of day threatens to cause chaos, making it hard to meet up to talk/jam when on different time clocks. A meeting is arranged to sort this out, and I suggest to fluteman that we fix our body clocks.

Through consensus, we come to some necessary house rules and Tasks that must be carried out if we are to succeed and survive:

  1. Maintain the house, land and gardens, including the 'parachute landing pad' which is a 3m-square area of soft cushions in the garden ready for people to Drop In by parachute without danger of injury. [!?!]
  2. Let visitors stay as guests for a short time, but they can only join us and stay on if they can prove their creative viabilty.
  3. Not live necessarily as a commune with all property shared, but more as a co-operative who can buy in bulk, help each other, etc.


Positively charged from this prescient dream, my day at work flew by. Afterwards I played through a piano piece I wrote at the turn of the century called "Decadends", to prime my mind before going out for a walk in the fabulous weather. And lo and behold, as I strolled, WORDS CAME and I spent hours walking and writing as the tune rolled around my head. I visited the splendid church in Haynes Church End and was dying inside that I didn't bring my camera as the daffs were radiantly lit by the Light (but camera would have been too cumbersome to walk+write with).

Eventually I got back home to play piano again with singing and now I am beside myself with excitement that I have completed a whole song that was previously just music searching for a meaning. I had an original idea about two pieces called "Decadents" and "Primitives", one very modern and complex, the other very primeval and minimalist, portraying contemporary and ancient societies, and ridiculing the typical narrow-minded Western notion that African/Indian/Other music is all just primitive, simplistic and animalistic, when in reality African/Indian polyrhythms are incredibly rich and highly organised structures of mathematic ingenuity. (Uh-oh, I'm sounding like sleeve notes already! ;-) The lyrics that came today just automatically wrote themselves ("open Channel D!"), outlining the concept and seeking positivity in our wounded world, in the curious way that once one has a topic/reason to write, it is easy peasy. Some bits need rewriting to scan+rhyme better, and allow chance to breathe - the original tune didn't consider this factor. Working on it is tricky since the meandering middle section of the piece is very hard to recall away from the piano, as it changes meter and key with decadent abandon. The title is not yet decided: either "Decadence", "Decadends" (music composed at midnight 1999-12-31) or "Decadents". [Or how about "Decadance" for ten dancers? ;-]

Anyway, the resulting song is currently arranged for voice and piano, and is fiendishly hard (for me) to play, negotiating almost every key and leaping about in radical harmonic patterns. The vocal part reaches way up into falsetto and is quite intense with challenging lyrics - I'm not sure how people will regard it but I really don't care because I KNOW IT IS FOR REAL. Music to awaken. [This piece may one day become part of my album Tunnel Visions, as the lyrics suit the concept nicely.]

I spent the evening trying to keep practising it, despite total exhaustion; I'm sure the artists/mothers among you are familiar with the feeling of not being able to do anything else once you have a new baby in the world :-) My fatigue and inability to concentrate was driving me nuts but no matter how angry I got I remained elated. I need to write it out properly so I can practise it without having to keep turning illegible scraps of paper, but I am so shattered now and must rest.


More BBC Filming

The coming of spring usually means a another day of filming at Michael's Folly with BBC Training. The weather proved challenging with cloud and some rain showers, but luckily most of the shooting was done in The Strawbale Studio. Then once we'd set up a complex lighting rig, proceedings were halted by a (thankfully brief) power cut, but the cameraman and sound crew were true pro's and took it all in their stride. I look forward to seeing the films once they've been edited, which are not for transmission, but just to train their upcoming directors.

In the morning, Rhys from BBC Wales directed a short film about my African drumming, including some bursts of Kuku out in the woods and discussion of my recent trip to Senegal (plus the screen debut of my African suit!). The afternoon's film directed by Anthony from Children's BBC News focused on my Tibetan singing bowls, and was far from childish, showing great flair and invention. After I played a short composition for tuned bowls, and demonstrated some bizarre fountain and water effects, Angus the cameraman was able to get experimental with some awesome still life shots of out-of-focus bowls looking like strange planetary landscapes. I left feeling positively charged with satisfaction that we had created something uniquely special; this happiness lasted some time and hopefully will spill over onto you, Dear Reader :-)


My 36th Birthday Party

An afternoon and night of partying with Steve, Ani+Ade, Sam+sister, Tash, Jess, Steve+Sue, Tina, Ruth, Bizia, Susanna, Jed, Lin, Roberto and Patrick. We began with some Bowling for Beginners in the Bowl Room, then a bracing walk to the woods and back. A simultaneous game of football+frisbee nearly proved fatal for Roberto who was watching the ball!

Back inside for a sumptuous feast I'd prepared; I was quite surprised that they devoured almost everything, since I'd catered on an industrial scale for the Army as usual. Afterwards we sang a bit of Djole while Ant set up his drumkit in the kitchen! Then the drums came out and we played Yankadi+Makru, Kuku, Lin's version of Kakilembe and others. It was nice to use this common repertoire to unite folk from the two drumming groups I play in.

Ant then entertained us with some musical saw, so I accompanied him with my weird water bowl (I must record this combo!). It was clearly time to light the candles, and suddenly everything went strange as the lights got turned out. Bowls were brought in and Lin danced powerfully with them in the darkness before enjoying some sonic healing. Patrick arrived late to this madhouse; indeed I was impressed with everyone's willingness to discover cosmic - it must have been the fullness of moon, and just goes to show you don't need booze to have a fun time :-)

Some more freestyle drumming raised the volume again before a brief spin through some esoteric records ended in celestial realms after midnight, the cuckoo clock chiming in my 37th year.

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 2007-03-01 - last updated 2007-04-21