The Smith's Journal - December 2009

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Quit Africa Junction

Tags: Drumming

After a year of many brilliant gigs, I decided to leave this band for various reasons of time+space. Sadly I live too far away to make regular rehearsals practical; the distance is too painful/tedious to travel weekly, and I already spend too much time+money driving for work :-/ Maybe if I had a posh smooth swift car and a fast direct road, instead of having to redline my van over the rally route, I'd be more inclined. Sadly there is rarely enough money in music to even cover my costs let alone my time. Not that I was ever in it for the money, but it hurts to pay to play when I'm not rich anyway, no longer enjoying the luxury of full-time employment and a regular salary. I can do charity gigs until I'm blue in the face, and while it's good for my karma, it won't pay my bills. It's the same trouble that the likes of Duke Ellington and Sun Ra came up against trying to manage big bands of starving musicians: venues won't pay enough for them all. And I've found through experience that gigs that don't pay proper money don't tend to take musicians seriously (no soundcheck, inadequate time slot+facilities, etc.).

Instead I'll focus on my own many blossoming projects, and spend more time in my studio where I belong. I have to dedicate much of my time to that else it never gets done. So sadly I can't do everything I used to so much. My own music is too important now to keep bottled up in dusty scores and old tapes - it is crying out to be released into our cruel world, ready to be dissed, dismissed and ignored... ;-)


Bedford Djembe Group perform at The Arena Building

Tags: Drumming

Bedford Djembe Group performing Moribayassa ] Bedford Djembe Group performing Moribayassa ]My Bedford Djembe Group gave a spirited performance at The Arena Building in Bedford College as part of a showcase concert organised by Bedfordshire Music.

We began with the fabulous fishermen's song Jeti Jeti that I'd learnt from Ghanaian master drummer Yaw Asumadu at African Beats Camp, then jumped over to Guinea for Moribayassa, before returning to Ghana to play Fume Fume. Our set ended with me calling on the audience to join us in song during the uplifting chorus of Djole.


Ensoniq SQ80 crosswave synthesiser

Tags: Studio

[ Ensoniq SQ80 synth ]Despite heavy snow, today I drove to Wolverhampton and bought one of these :-)
Santa came early! My reasons for getting this "truly underrated instrument":

[ Ensoniq SQ80 front view |  Ensoniq SQ80 rear view |  Ensoniq SQ80 left side view |  Ensoniq SQ80 right side view |  Santa came early :) |  Ensoniq SQ80 with Christmas trees ]

Computer, synths, mixer and racks from high above swivel chair | Audentity dual screen Nanopolis desktop with Ensoniq SQ80 ] Dual-screen Ardour desktop with Ensoniq SQ80 synth |I decided this synth is so versatile it can get me "close enough" while I save up for a SEM/modular... plus it can do so much more as well. I regret passing up the opportunity to get one a few years ago for £160! Nowadays prices are ascending as people see and hear what these synths can do. This one is in fairly good fully-working condition and came with manual, data cartridge and Syntaur soundset diskette. Some YouTube comments describe them as "rare as rocking horse shit here in the UK". More cool YouTube demos are here and here (others are less good); some other famous users include:

"John Carpenter used the SQ80 in his movie soundtracks"
"This is the only synth the late 80's and early 90's UK acid house star Adamski used for all his compositions including his first two albums."

Tipi Harmony

Tags: Music, Drumming, Eco

After all that excitement, I went back out in the snow again to sit round a fire in a massive teepee in the woods with Fabrizia, Ruth and Stevie and seven others, where we sang and jammed on bowls+flutes+gits+drums+perc for four hours! We were truly in The Zone and loving every minute. It was like being in pre-colonial Native America or Tibet or Narnia or somewhere, with snow falling down through the chimney hole onto the fire. I melted a bowl-full of snow to do the fountain bowl experience. Then everyone tried perching the huge bass bowls on their heads; the place resembled some weird alien hairdrying salon (wish I'd got photos!). An unforgettable night, with some amazing Music From Elsewhere!

BTW, anyone interested in tepees and Native American culture must see the film "Little Big Man".


The decade ends

Tags: Music, Misc

Lorna and I spent a cosy Christmas at her sister's house, enjoying the warmth of a roaring fire and festive hilarity of singing Christmas carols with the family. We played a great board game that Lorna and Margret had dreamed up thirty years ago, like a musical version of Monopoly, for which we designed a board and made special cards. It worked out well and didn't cause any family feuds so expect to see it in the shops next Christmas...

We also made fine use of the many vegetables present to construct musical instruments such as parsnip flutes and Denis even made a fine-sounding flute from a brussel sprout stem! Ours went wrong so instead Lorna and I gave a rendition of "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" on carefully-tuned wine glasses, before Denis played a different carol by blowing across a growing collection of beer bottles. The kids were meanwhile beavering away elsewhere in the house constructing crazy contraptions out of bottles, beer bottle tops and bits of wood. Their clangorous performance was only later trumped by the bagpipes coming out. No television was watched.

Sadly I still haven't completed my piano piece Decadends, although I have spent a lot of time on it during December, trying to finish it a decade after I began it, re-scoring it out and practising it.


Tags: Arts, Misc

We saw in the New Year at Margret's house again, and Lorna had of course brought her trusty Turkish drop spindle. I was most delighted that she taught me the gentle art of spinning. I'd many a time been fascinated watching her doing this, and never dreamed I could manage to do it. The amazing act of drawing out the wool defies physics. It was sheer bliss to sit there beside her, taking it in turns to draw out wool for the other to spin, while sister Margret raced ahead of us spinning at lightspeed the fibres of the universe on her wheel, and the fire cracked and roared, and snow fell. Wizard Prang would be most impressed. He said:

"Spinning, at least for the likes of us, is a hieratic process. That means that all these things are consecrated to the sacred. We do not earn our living this way. We are not craftsmen. Think of the act of spinning as a sacrament, and of these appurtenances as sacramentals. Then don't even consider how long it takes to nuke a rolag well."

"We are reverently engaged in a mystical ritual. The celebration of that ritual is a whole experience."

"These teachings are not great big woolly abstract theories. The best way to understand them is to experience them by doing something properly. People ought to eat like that: but they talk or read instead. People ought to do the washing up like that: but others tell them that they take too long. If you take up spinning, get lost in the act. Then you will store up personal power. You will also get a good thread, which is a pleasing side effect."

But the important thing was that the shishya every now and again suddenly experienced that the spinning was just ... happening, and the process itself was somehow merely using her services as an acolyte.

This is precisely the same reason why drumming falls apart once your rational conscious mind starts interfering by trying to think.

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 2009-12-20 - last updated 2011-05-16