Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

Plaintive in tone


I don’t want to come across plaintive in tone. Simply because I am overwhelmed, over emotional – an ex-engineer feels emotions, well, yes, he does – struggling to cope with all the demands which are, after all, self-imposed.

This is not the case; I am thrilled, pleased, grateful, for all the support I receive. I could not have expected the response I continue to receive, not that I had any expectations in the first place. I said to my wife two or three days ago, look at how far I have come since you encouraged me to do something with the work I produce.

What appears to be happening is that, as successive individuals see the work, they like it. I would never have thought such a thing possible. After all, I just produce it. And would anyway. Be that the case, I still feel driven, compelled, to get the work in front of as many people as I possibly can, and to find as many venues as possible.

Yet, it all seems incredible. But, as my wife says, that person, who, more than any other, encourages me, the work speaks for itself.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 28 October, 2017

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Filed under: Arts, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Preparing for the fair: 9-12 The Other Arts Fair Expo Centre Noble Street Brooklyn New York


This is the tough part. Getting all the preparations in order. There are a myriad of details to attend to. Completing all the requirements of TOAF. Indemnity insurance, drop power line, extra spotlight, making sure there are chairs and a table. Then at this end, printing,  packing and shipping the work to Brooklyn. Where to have the work delivered?

I am behind the curve because here in Houston many of us are still going through recovery from Harvey, the supposed 100 year storm, where the water that night fell on the house like whole football fields being poured on us. But we are better off than many here. Some lost their house, primary place of residence, because the inundation was so great, others had to leave their homes because the dwelling was damaged such that they cannot live in it.

Life, though, has returned pretty much to normal. The streets have been cleared of the sheet rock which was dumped on side walks, where there are sidewalks, Houston has few. Many streets don’t even have one either of the road. How you are supposed to walk in safety is a question nobody ever asks.

An engineer and an architect, we were not to be told you have to this and you have to do that, you must do this, and you must do that. Adjustors employed by FEMA, the government flood agency, in an effort to safeguard people, were making arbitrary if conservative assessments based on the water level in the house.

In time we have lived in our house, since 1999, we have never had water in the house, so the question of there being mold was something we held in disbelieve until measurements proved there was. An independent inspector we hired found humidity, which is to be expected but no mood. This lifted us from taking immediate action. Thursday was the first time we have had a contractor to the house for an estimate. I will not give the hair raising process we have then go through. Suffice to say that we received a letter from the mortgage company which holds the FEMA payment against submission of invoices from the contractor doing the work. The letter is punishment for being a flood victim and is quite illegible in its interminable requirements.

I should not be seen to be making a case for special pleading. The damage to the house and its repair is a straightforward matter but the disruption to the family is quite another matter. But many people here have it worse.

Ahead lies booking accomodation and airfares. Yes, I am going. At one point the prospect was remote.

Malcolm D B Munro
saatchiart/malcolmdbmunro
Saturday 28 October, 2017

 

Filed under: Arts, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

On the music of Valentin Silvestrov (Валентин Васильович Сильвестров)


I have a rule with this blog. I shall never cooment on the music within a musical post which links to a piece. I have taken the rare opportunity to cooment about music.

In this case I would like to make some mentions of what I am hearing of Valentin Silvestrov’s (Валентин Васильович Сильвестров) music. Silvestrov is clearly Russian. The music speaks loudly of the composer’s origins whether we listen to his piano music or his symphonic work.

Those who follow this blog or visit frequently will know that I am always on the look out for new music, meaning music that is new to me, or newly composed music. I dispair sometimes in my search. Blind alleys and just auful music can lead to this. Fold music is a particular offender in this regard. Those who treasure their country’s native musci often play it without any authenticity or, to my taste, the music is too tired and  tied to its past and does not speak to the present. Or it is commercialized and its ethnic roots are lost. Many times such music is best avoided. In a few countries whose music I am familiar with, there are players and idviduals who have championed their native music and have made it real and plearuable to listen to. Those who make the effort are few and far between.

I live with a ghetto of my own world of rock music. I have my tastes as has anyone else and bands and singers I once listened to I can no longer.

Few people, even professionals have listened to as much music as I have. I have listened to it day in and day out since I was around three years old. Problably before that but I don’t remember.

The rock I love survives but the mainstream Baroque and Romantic composers have not. I have a vast CD collection and a large LP collection before that. Clasical music is by far and away the largest component. LP’s were always expensive but, where classical music is concerned budget labels arrived early on the market and access to a vast realm of music from every period became avaialbe. For modest cost you could own motets and plain chant from the earliest periods of written music to the whole output of, let’s say, Chopin’s piano work, or all of Beethoven’s orchestral work. You could purchase whole operas. Mozart, Donizetti, Bizet and into the early twentieth century.

However, you can only listen to Beethoven or Hayden, or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, a certain number of times. I mention only two but you get the idea. After a hundred listenings, concert goings and home and driving listening alike, the works lose their charm. All classical music works at an elevated plane. This is what makes it classical, usually written and performed by trained composers and performers. But what it lacks is the visceral. At least form me. No classical piece could match, any rock music piece would be invidous to chose as an example but let’s choose Paint it Black. whether by the Rolling Stones or Chris Farlowe.

Among the various pieces of music I tend to load onto the blog are three disciict forms: minimalism, new classical, meaning written since the middle of the twentieth century and the present, and post rock. The latter is hard to identify since so many bands and individuals perform as a crossover point between what is called ambient, a term I hate, and music with a heavy drum beat accompaniment. When I first started listening to this form of music I found it not so likeable and extremely hard to tell one band or individual’s music from another. Gradually, I found that there were bands and solo artists whom I liked and others I did not. But there is a sameness in the music that limits its appeal.

Minimalism sitll has a life which is quite extraordinary. Forms of music last a long time, this is true. The Baroque, the Classical, the Romantic all lasted for decades and sometimes slightly over a century. I could never have said when I first started listening to it that it would last so long and at time it had only a limited appela and a small audience. The music refreed to in the previous paragraph could almost not exist without minimalism have emerged as a musical form. I am not shure about ambient. I don’t really know how that musical form came into being. One thinks of Steven Hill and Hearts of Space, a radio show still running. I listened for a number of years and no music from those programmes survives in my memory other than that that I do not like. Let me mention just one name. George Winston. Whole record labels existed and probably still do to support these artists and that form of music.

Whatever can be said of the post rock music, much of We Lost the Sea and Endless Melancholy is memorable and bears repeated listening to. The form itself is restrictive but, none the less, and this is part what has driven to have me write these words, is a sheer paucity of musical ideas. Moving over to Rock for a moment, let us take two examples of sheer exuberance and abundance of musical ideas, Pink Floyd and Yes. Both British bands, that’s true, but the freedom and creativity that they exhibited shows what young band members are capable of. Hard acts to follow, very likely.

The more mainstream post Romantic forms of music have been relentless in their pursuit of new ideas, new musical forms and new musical sounds. Computer music first started, by and large, in unviersity departements. But you can only produce so many forms of sine waves. After a while one composer’s sine waves sound exactly like another, because, for example, the note A just above the G on the G clef is standardized these days at 440 Herz, though I notice some music being made availabe with A at 432 Hertz or slight variations on that, so A always sounds like A, putting aside the instrument playing the note for a moment.

Besides computer music, in the post atonal world of Webern and Berg, much non Romantic music being written from the mid twentieth century on has been what is often referred to as difficult music. Certainly it is demanding. This is not usually the kind of music to run under your pillow to try to help you go to sleep at night.

But, like the sine wave tone generator, there is only so much you can do before, after a decade or so, new composers sound pretty much idistinguishable from previous composers in the same genre and form. After Xanakkis and Stockhausen, for example, you cannot out-Xanakkis Xanakkis and out-Stockhausen Stockhausen any more than you can out-Beethoven Beethoven or out-Mozart Mozart. I leave it to the reader to determine whether there is any parrallel between the two sets of two composers, so many years apart.

Still, this search for a new and usual in music is part of who we are. Folk music existed and still exists as a startic form and some of the tunes which survive are of great antiquity. In fact, little in the oral tradition of the spoken form persists in the way that non written music has survived in surprising places upon this globe. Given this relentless search I have You Tube to thank. It would not otherwise be possible to discover so much and from so many unlikely places. One might look at a Wergo catalogue, for example, but how would one know to choose to buy a CD by a Turkish composer who is writing well within the mode being written by a counterpart out of the music school of a California univeristy or some other place in the United States. That Turkish composer is as up to date in his or her musical ideas as anyone anywhere else where there is an interest in what I would still call classical music.

And here exactly is a problem. The music smacks of the academic. Music written by professors whose job is to train music students and write music. And this itself is an internacine, self perpertuting activity. One wonders about being taought to teach. One then teaches others to teach. You see the point.

To break free of this, you either have to chose to expose yourself to music far outside the Western realm, as did Steve Reich and many other American musicians and composers, before him, in Far Eastern music which still far away from the accepted tonality in the West. Or you have to have talent that allows you to rise above the average output from an academic music school. Yet it works both ways. Those English bands mentioned above and others like them at the time were the last products of schools which still taught music. And training makes a difference, selftaught or more formally schooled. Music produced by those who eshew any kind of training at all will be consighed forever to the margins.

I am sneering to a certain extent at those composers who shelter within the arms of a university but that likely is unfair. In a post Beethoven world, indiviuals in the art world with whatever form is adopted, tends to be one of making a living from it and not relying on someone supporting you. Baroque composers and players, for example, were all supported by kings and princes. Every self respecting court in Europe and beyond, had court muscians. But Montiverdi, Correli, Scarlatti and Vivalidi set themselves apart from the hundreds of composers who wrote at the time. The vast majority of those composers’ music is totally indistinquishable one from another. But it didn’t need to be. Vivaldi did not travel to your court to play. So you only knew of his music from his reputation and, maybe from some hand written scores.

That changed in the Romantic era with music from one composer being played by orchestras all over Europe. This came about through the rise of the Bourgoesie and the spread of literacy. And here we are, you and I, a product of that, and able to listen to a form of music which is not what is called to popular taste. Though some formal composer’s piece caught in celluloid or digital visuals might change that where a single piece of his is concerned.

 

 

 

 

Malcolm D B Munro
Tuesday 26 September, 2017

Filed under: Arts, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

A city left hapless


As a blogger, I think it important to keep up and running when and where I can. I wanted to post of this blog, if not an update, at least word from this afflicted city. This blog has many followers and silence at this end is not helpful.

News of any inciden to the outside world, particularly of disasters, is always minimal and those trying to follow events are hampered by the lack of detailed reporting. I think people are glad to hear more of how the situation is, and of  the events that materially effect others lives.

I think that those outside of aaffected areas are glad to hear that life goes on within it and of what efforts are being made to allow this.

It is far too early to be talking of what the cities, their inhabitants, and officials need to do for the future to cope and respond properly in situations like the present. There will be those who ask what value lies in conducting such a survey as this, incomplete though it is. Unless and until a thorough inventory of shortcomings and inadequacies is conduted no future improvements will or can be made.

Perhaps what this post can best do is to report on what the present situation and how the storm in general terms has affected the cities and their inhabitants. At this stage pointing to some of the egregious failures and inadequacies helps point to a future post where what needs to be done is future can be evaluated. For this is not going to be the last storm that hits this area and some in the future may be worse than the one we have just witnessed. This is fourth largest city in the United States with some 4 million people living within its bounds.

No storm or hurricane in this area has been as bad as the present. I have lived in the city since 1984 and seen a number of them during that time. They have varied in their severity. One problem that residents and everyone here faces are two fold. One is that storm systems in the Gulf of Mexico and variable in their strength and movement. They are quite unpredictable and will move, gather strength and change course with great speed. On the other hand, there tends to be an attitude of optimism. So many storms and hurricane weather systems tend to dissipate and die out of move of into the Atlantic. While such an occurrence provides relief, the fact that it does occur has people get complacent and to not take warnings seriously. Weather tracking is good and those engaged in ii competent.

What hit this city and made it quite unprecedented was the sheer volume of water than fell on Saturday night. There was plenty of warning that this would be the case. People were filling their cars with gas and stocking up from the supermarkets during the course of Thursday.

What nobody appears to have prepared for, especially officials, was the bayous would overflow their banks with the result that heavy precipitation had nowhere to drain to and water stood in considerable depth in many areas. Some still are as I write.

The most severe effect, therefore of this storm, is flood damage. The extent of t he damage is considerable.

This city and surrounding areas is situated on a flood plain with some areas more low lying than others. Areas particularly vulnerable are well known. For these areas more than any other response was poor or worse than that in many cases. Help to those effected came late and was inadequate.

Before continuing one should mention those facilities which responded well during the course of the storm development. Of particular note is the local power company. They have been exemplary in their efforts to keep the power up and running. In areas where power poles were felled because of ground giving way were obviously affected. Generally throughout the area power has been continuously maintained. This compares most favourably with previously where power was lost for long periods, meaning in excess of 24 hours and only intermittent power available beyond that.

The second facility of note is communications. Television stations maintained broadcasting where they could, but not all. Telephone companies and internet providers stand alongside the power company in providing uninterrupted availability. This is important since people need to be in touch with both what is going on and with friends, neighbours and loved ones. Officials charged with responding to quickly developing events critically need to be able to communicate with each other.

Televisions reporting was not, and continues to be less than what it could be. While human stories are no doubt helpful, though I am not sure they are, particularly when reporters are exposing themselves to life threatening situations, there was not sufficient reporting on the storm’s progress and effects. Not sufficient attention was given to officials both issuing warnings and holding press conferences. 

There were, in addition, some noticable changes of behaviour on the part of inhabitants. Contrary to all recent floodings, and it does not take a storm for signifant flooding to take place in this area, rain itself can cause that, people did not venture out in their vehicles. 

For example, I live on a boulevard with a grassed and treed medium. In a recent storm of not great severity, the boulevard flooded. Cars, both saloons and HUVs were abandoned on the medium and many cases on the lanes themselves. This was depite warnings to not drive unless you had to. On that occassion, the flood water on the boulevard abated within  three or four hours. There are flood gauges on all underpasses where is a danger of flooding and these are all too often ignored.

First responders always do as best they can in such situations as this. But they are hampered if they do not have support structures in place to aid them in their work.

The merit of a post such as this, if there be any merit in it at all, lies in a follow up. Were I to reach out to those who set policy and effect plans for the future, my contribution will not be small. Few take the trouble to do this. There is a very great deal that can be done and prepared for in advance. As stated earlier, this will not be the last storm this city will suffer from, Being better prepared substantialy mitigates effects.

But now is not yet the time.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 29 August, 2017 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Arts, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Mental Architects – Ascend


Mental Architects – Ascend

Malcolm D B Munro
Thursday 24 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Too soon a loss


“La cité sans nom” est le titre d’une nouvelle de HP Lovecraft, qui fait référence au monstrueux caché, à la peur indicible que suggère la mythologie de l’auteur. pourtant, de la crainte de la nouvelle de Lovecraft, l’auditeur n’en sent pas les effets dans la pièce éponyme du disque de Fausto Romitelli, la plus longue de cet ensemble de cinq morceaux. Tout baigne dans une atmosphère que j’ai trouvé douce et qui fait la part belle au beau son. Tout ceci est purement subjectif car ce qui est beau pour les uns est inécoutable pour les autres mais j’ai retrouvé avec ce disque les sensations que j’avais eues en écoutant les oeuvres de Tristan Murail et surtout Gérard Grisey, têtes de pont de la musique spectrale à laquelle Fausto Romitelli n’est pas insensible.

Difficile de parler de la musique de Romitelli lorsqu’on n’est pas musicien et que les mots techniques manquent mais j’y ai trouvé du plaisir car sa musique, aussi étrange soit-elle, décrasse les oreilles de toutes les scories que l’on peut entendre au quotidien : musique complexe qui nécessite une bonne qualité d’écoute, musique truffée de détails sonores, musique ample. Ceux qui connaissent le groupe musical “Art Zoyd” (qui a contribué à la pièce “Flowing down too slow” et dont j’ai si souvent le disque Les Espaces Inquiets:Phase VI il y a plus de vingt ans) ne seront pas déroutés par les pièces de Romitelli.

Une occasion de découvrir un musicien trop tôt disparu à l’âge de 41 ans.

“The nameless city” is the title of a short story by HP Lovecraft, which refers to the hidden monstrous, the unspeakable fear suggested by the mythology of the author. However, from the fear of Lovecraft’s news, the listener does not feel the effects in the eponymous play of Fausto Romitelli’s disc, the longest of this five-piece set. Everything is bathed in an atmosphere that I found sweet and which makes the good part to the beautiful sound. All this is purely subjective because what is beautiful for some is unavoidable for others but I found with this record the sensations I had had while listening to the works of Tristan Murail and especially Gérard Grisey, bridgeheads of the Spectral music to which Fausto Romitelli is not insensitive.

It’s hard to talk about Romitelli’s music when you’re not a musician and the technical words are missing, but I found pleasure in it because his music, strange as it may be, eases the ears of all the slag, You can hear every day: complex music that requires a good quality of listening, music full of sound details, ample music. Those who know the musical group “Art Zoyd” (who contributed to the play “Flowing down too slow” and of which I have so often the disc Les Espaces Inquiets: Phase VI more than twenty years ago) will not be disturbed By Romitelli’s plays.

An opportunity to discover a musician too soon disappeared at the age of 41 years.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 19 August, 2017

 


Filed under: Arts, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

I exist, don’t I?


Periods of great turbulence often lead to rash encounters, with the result that I’ve never felt like a legitimate son, much less an heir.

Patrick Modiano, Pedigree, a Memoir.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Who am I, Dad?”

“Well, you’re a boy.”

“But suppose I were a girl?”

“Strictly speaking, you can’t be.”

“But suppose I were?”

“You would have to be like your sister.”

“Suppose I were neither.”

“You would likely have troubles ahead, were that true.”

“I better stay a boy, then.”

“That’s right, son. That’s best.”

The above dialogue of mine captures within a few sentences the essence of what many of the novels and short stories I have read in recent times concern themselves with. The question of identity All of them have been European. The phenomena is worth exploring in greater depths than the present essay attempts to do. In brief  there are many aspects to this question of identity and of the questioning by a speaker of their existence.

I suppose that those of us who have had troubled childhoods, like Modiano, find that the experiences from those childhoods stay with us life long and set us apart from others who do not have the knowledge of what is to be the product of an unhappy childhood. There is merit in this, though. Just as Patrick Modiano illustrates in the quotation at the head of this essay, those us with such a background have stories to tell. The book that this particular quotation comes from is, as his title states, a memoir. Nevertheless, Modiano has told mostly stories. In fact, he as spent his life writing them.

As he says of this particular book, he couldn’t write an autobiography. (It is episodic rather than a continuous narrative.) I don’t think I could either. My memory blocks both the pain of childhood and of the accompanying difficulty, or impossibility, of functioning properly as an adult since that time .

I have not known of Modiano’s work previously. His books have not much over the years been translated into English. I understand, though, he has had a coterie who have read him assiduously despite that. For some reason he is now hitting the book shops, not unconnected, no doubt, with the fact that, in 2014, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are four titles of his on the shelves of my local independent bookstore, from no less than three publishers. This particular title is seeing the light of day in English ten years after being published in French.

I had recently purchased a book of Guatier’s poetry, bilingual thankfully, published in a series by Yale, The Margellos World Republic of Letters, and somewhat desultorily was searching their site to find other books in this particular series and stumbled over this memoir of Modiano’s,  with its startling observation on the first page, quoted above. You can’t possibly read such a quotation without going out right away to get the book.

Modiano and I have a similar background by way of childhood experience. Only the incidentals differ from any kind of accordance. He was born, as I was, in 1945. His parents met during the war which leads him to make the observation he does. He began writing in 1968, four years after I left high school. Our backgrounds could not be more different though, quite apart from him being French and me English, or British, whatever that means.

What drives me to write is the realisation, something along the lines of what Tolstoy wrote, that all happy families have the same story to tell, and unhappy families each have a different story to relate. I think of Dirk Bogart’s memoirs (A Postillion Struck by Lightning, 1977, among others) which appears to be filled with a happy upbringing, and a largely happy life. Kenneth Clark, based on his biographies (Another Part of the Wood (1974) and The Other Half, 1977) seems to me to have also had such a life. With no disrespect to either individual, they each appear to have only one story to tell.

Writers such as Modiano have a host of stories to tell as witness his large output; some thirty works. What propels this ability to tell other people’s stories I can’t say without some reflection. Of course, these stories are fictional. But they have to be based on what the writer has observed. Perhaps the humility which comes from the very experiences they have had as children shapes their outlook on life; to see others, to see the suffering of others, from whatever perspective they choose.

In reviewing and reflecting, on the lives of the writers I have known through my reading of them, I am struck by the extraordinary number of them who have led troubled lives and, perhaps more importantly, the sheer number of them who committed suicide. This appears to be true whether one looks at US, UK or European authors. How such writers wrote from the depth of pain that they clearly felt on a daily basis quite eludes me. The psychology of the drive to express their lives through the written word and through the doings and peccadilloes of the characters they created is certainly worth studying. And driven to write the overwhelming majority of them clearly were.

This is not to say that only troubled people write, though, truth to tell, most people who are troubled don’t write.

Do we ever know the lives of others? Of those around us who patently lead distressed lives? However much we listen to such people, what comes out of their mouths or is emoted by their behaviour, does in no way lead us to have any insight to their internal selves. Those lives are remote and removed from us. We, each of us, is only aware of our own inner landscape.

I cannot report other kinds of creative artists. I can only speak of writers because it is they whom I know best.

The value to us in our modern age is reading of the inner lives of others. I guess that, among other reasons for valuing the work of writers, is their ability, unique ability, to write so authentically on the inner life the characters they create. No other medium does this. This might be termed the preoccupation of the angst that appears to be attendant to our times, at least since the end of the First World War, if not slightly before that.

Modiano’s particular preoccupation appears to be with identity. This is surely a vexed phenomena, this question of who we are in relation to the external world. Certainly, writers in previous eras have given us internal monologues. But these almost always were, or are, running commentaries on what that character observed or heard. This device was supposed to tell of the character of mostly the protagonist. Even that approach to writing has been relatively recent given the aeons over which the writing of people on the page has existed. The greatest part of the history of fiction, and one would also have to include tales such as those written by Homer and his like, have been external to the characters. One does not have access to their inner lives, other than what they say. I mean it is unlikely that, whoever the original story teller was, witnessed what he or she wrote of.

Throughout that long history the greatest concern has been with plot. Who did what to whom. And many writers continue to write in this mode.

However, the writers most venerated in our time are those whose works are all  but plotless. Those books that might have no other character than some invisible speaker, or simply a stream of consciousness reported by an omniscient observer. An interminable river of thoughts, if that is what they are. One wonders if such works would be possible were it not for Freud. It has to be said, that were we to go sit on a mountain top and to live away from what we laughingly call society in a sort of backwoodsman’s kind of life, I doubt that we would have any identity crisis at all. One does not read of such people taking their own lives. Perhaps such lives force externalisation. In cities though, especially the major cities, this existential crisis seems to be something of a common occurrence.

So how is that writers such as Patrick Modiano can write so successfully of the internal lives of their characters? Is it a matter of projection of their own internal lives? But that can’t be. Those of us who live in maelstroms have little insight into ourselves. We simply try to survive each day. Some more successfully than others. And stay at home, lying in bed when it gets too bad. It is said that writing is a gift. That you can either write or you can’t. There is nothing in between. I suppose there are bad writers. Heaven knows I have read enough of them. Or, at least, tried to stay away from them most of the time.

Writing often speaks of a felt sense. How this can be taught to others?. Perhaps writing courses are sort of feel good communities. An Alcoholic’s Anonymous for those addicted to the vain and difficult world of trying to write. And it is difficult. Writers such as Modiano only make it appear easy. It is said to be a craft. And that may be the best that can be said of it. What drives a writer like our subject will likely remain a mystery. One thinks of Colette who knew from the age of eight that she would be a writer.

Much that fascinates us cannot be answered: the why, the how. So, the product of writers like Patrick Modiano may fascinate. Understanding how that world is created may always elude us. That doesn’t stop us trying. Whole industries of academics exist to attempt to answer such questions and churn out endlessly, year after year, turgid, impenetrable tracts read only by their fellow industrialists.

The rest of us prefer to read the real thing. The work itself rather that essays about the book, like this one. We would rather continue to be fascinated. After all, I exist, don’t I?

Malcolm D B Munro
Thursday 10 November, 2015

Filed under: Arts, Book Review, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Mastering a craft


I thought to share my musical journey within the pages of this blog. I can’t say that I shall do this regularly; I strikes me in doing so that several stones are killed with one bird. I get to develop my writings skills, it helps reinforce what I am learning, doing; it makes real the process itself, and, who knows, may inspire or encourage others. And, as the title of the post notes, I don’t think this is restricted to music, for those of you who look for relevance in them, the posts, which will be the topic of these posts.

I cannot promise that I will not be repetitive, redundant. Nowhere, I tell people around me, does it say in my contract as a human being that I have to be perfect, nor will I even try. Rather, the effort is to master the craft. Besides, few readers will have, or will follow every post on this subject. And so such imperfections will help bridge the gap between one of their readings and another. Or they might.

Again, the detectives among you who have, with eye glass in hand, followed with patience the strivings of this writer to write with clarity and precision, and often failing along the way, will recall that in South Africa, where I lived from January 1973, actually the first, until May of 1984 at which point I came to this benighted country to join a brother, that I studies music in its various forms; piano, singing, theory, history, at a time in my life when I was deeply depressed. This meant, as previously noted, that I failed to make any progress. 

But, and here is the rub. I retain all I learnt. Naturally, the knowledge and skills lie within me and have to be brought out of the closet and practiced brushed up.

To that end I am studying How to … Read Music by Mark Phillips. I have gobbled up the contents. it is all of 77 pages. I have Rudiments of Music on order from Brazos, my favourite bookshop, but that will take some time to arrive.

I never, ever make notes in the books I read – a story as to why told perhaps at another time. But with this book I am scribbling all over it. At a furious pace.

So I thought to share with you what I wrote on the title page inside a box I drew there. Actually I wandered out of the box, but that is the nature of the artist is it not.

What I wrote is:

At the end of the day, or its beginning, it is the  bond that is formed between the keyboard and the player that matters most, No knowledge or playing ability is a substitute for this. Without this bond, the playing will be lifeless and ultimately unlistenable to.

It follows, therefore, that bad playing, missed notes, hesitations in rhythm, will be forgiven and might even add charm to the performance. No audience for whatever form of music wishes it to be perfect. What, I think matters to them, is the passion and concentration the player brings to the playing, and a deep feeling for the music being played. That surely will have the audience leave having enjoyed the perromance and feeling that the concert or performance was well worthwhile attending. And might even have them wish to attend at a future date a performance by the same player.

Now, as I have previously said elsewhere, I have no pretentious of being a performer. To think for one moment that I can master the requirements of playing the piano, my preferred and favourite instrument, is beyond any realistic goal. The practice alone removes any possibility of that. And that is not what I am pursuing; my pursuit rather is to master the craft and gain more than enough knowledge required to compose in a manner sufficient at least to allow those who review my work and pronounce on it, and those who are tasked or choose to perform it, to understand the Dickens it is that I am saying in musical form.

And all these words, all this knowledge gained ,will be utterly useless should I not have the musical ability to at least match my ambitions. But such a thing is in God’s hand. I come with as little or as much as I have. It is for me to turn that ability into something which gives others pleasure. It matters not whether the results be simple or highly acclamed. Simple is what most people remember best of a piece of music. Complex, it seems to me, is reserved for resident composers on a sinecure at some campus somewhere.

Going back to the question of the relationship of the performer to the keyboard, and the audiences tolerance for infelicities, there is no substitute for rehearsal. For you had better know what you are doing. You cannot mix a cake in front of an audience, when you have promised, and they have paid, to watch you bake it.

So it is with a composer. It surely behoves the composer to present his work in a sufficiently form that the intended plays understand what it is he or she is trying to convey. That is the rehearsal required of those who step onto this path. The finished score must be what these pages are not,  letter perfect.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Dean Village then


The Dean Village does not resemble the Dean Village of my youth. Youth? Well, when I was five or six.

There was a channel sluced from the Waters of Leith, the port to the north of Edinburgh, on the coast of the wide Firth of Forth. The channel supplied water to a tannery to the back of the hollow in which the village still sits. The tannery was comprised of a three or four story warehouse, or workplace, with windows with no glass in them. An opening in the face of it had a rope hoist to lower the completed leather to some transport to take it away below. I never saw a horse or truck do this but I suppose they did or how else did they goods get to market, wherever that was. The sheep skins would arrive I don’t know by what means, and be scraped in the open. I suppose this was in the morning. I only was in the village after school. The tannery gave off a very particular smell though I am glad to have forgotten how it smelt,

The tanners wore long leather aprons and frowned in concentration of their work. Burly men they were as so befits hefty work. They ignored us children, flies upon the scape.

In front of the tannery, where we played, was a patch of earth, littered with broken bottles and other detritus of human waste. What purpose this land had served I never knew nor wondered.

A tenement rose to the north of this surly patch of land, across the cobbled road, the common surface for roads then in Edinburgh, properly called sets, from Aberdeen, no doubt, Granite City by nickname, Edinburgh’s was Auld Reeky, It is not that now, pristine in its stone faced buildings, the pride of any city to be so bequeathed.

The road ran down and up out of the village to join more major roads at either end. The road we used came to an end at the village’s lowest point. Alongside this road to its north  was a public bath building, Drumshugh Baths, which may be mentioned in a future post (don’t hold your breath) and to the south, a depository for the King’s Theatre, both of which feature, each in their own way, in my childhood growing up in Edinburgh. 

High above the theatre depository, which contained decades of sets never likely to be used again but kept just in case, ran Rothesay Terrace where my home at the time was.

On the other road, the one that goes in and out of the Dean Village, to its south, was the Dean School. This was my earliest school which, too, has for me its own memories. This is where I learn reading, writing and ‘arithmetic.

The centre of this story is, however, the what would be now referred to as a slum tenement. I never entered this building but befriended a girl who lived lived there with her sister whom I met but didn’t like. Margaret was the centre of my female attractions. Well, besides one other in the Dean Village but no mention of her will be made here.

I never met any others of Margaret’s family nor did she ever make any mention of them. I seem to remember a smaller brother. But likely he was too young an age for me to pay attention to.

On the naked patch of soil we, a group of riotous boys of age similar or older than me, would invent games and throw bottles at each other. or put squibs in them and run away. Squibs, for those who don’t know, are miniature sticks of dynamite which have a blue paper twist atop a cardboard cylinder in which the gunpowder was housed. Well, I think it was gunpowder, though, to me now that seems dangerous to the extreme. These implements of the greatest noise and least harm could be bought all year round at any  newspaper store – there were hundreds then in Edinburgh. The purpose of these otherwise lethal explosive weapons was to frighten wifeys, which they assuredly did. These worthy souls came out of the tenements to chase us away, with us running like hell, screaming with laughter. Such was the sport and play of our youth.

Margaret was a sullen beast with lowered eyes which, when raised, looked suspiciously around. For what I knew not. She was slovenly dressed in what today would be called rags. She was thin but was cheerful in my presence, and I much enjoyed her company and our conversation. You then did not play with girls and I was unusual as a boy to talk with girls, But may mates never teased me, I don’t know why. Margaret’s sister had a perpetual scowl on her face and never talked. Snot ran unheeded from her nose. Terrible green stuff the like of which I had not seen nor seen since. If this stuff got too far down her face she would, with a snort, suck it into to her mouth. Margaret seemed dainty by comparison.

At some point my parents must have learnt of my meanders and henceforth I was forbidden to go down to the village. I obeyed this stricture and went to Drumsheugh Baths instead, And there I befriended a girl from a very different class from that of Margaret’s.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

As Nature intended


The heading of this post might be better posed as a question.

A constant preoccupation of mine, alluded to in many previous posts, is the fact that we are not responsible human beings and do not heed those responsibilities to act as we should upon the face of our home, this wondrous planet.

We are the top of the heap of Creation’s creatures. The Chain of Being as in the past put, with no better model being posited since. But we are out of kilter. I have never seen this spoken of anywhere. Should some reader know better, I would be grateful if that reader would point out such a source.

We are a disease. Some fault of us is built in. I do not know why. We have no natural enemies. Except ourselves. We gratuitously starve, main and kill others of our species and steal, rob, plunder and displace others of their settlements. And, even if we do not go so far as that, we speak and act with evil to others. We treat others whom we perceive in ignorance as not being like ourselves in ways we would not treat ourselves. We despoil our home as we would never do our own shelters.

We rush relentlessly forward, perhaps to our own destruction, as we have throughout our history doing greater and greater harm which grows greater and greater every day. We are in denial, a further symptom of our unnatural pathology. Despite the growing evidence, we live only for today and never think of tomorrow and the consequences of what destruction we wreak. We pursue only selfish goals and exterminate all in our path. Were are we going and why? To what purpose? And is any sanity about it?

No person or persons has cried out and been heard, has been listened to, has taken heed of to act in concerted action to right what we so thoughtless do wrong. We adopt a willed blindness and a child’s suspension of disbelief.

We are sentient beings, the greatest gift that could bestowed on us ,yet we squander it in endless futile, senseless ways. We seek to know everything but do nothing wise with the knowledge we gain. That knowledge stands as an ugly monument to our folly.

The only people on the earth who do not act in this way are those left who live and work within their environment and do no harm to it or others. We call them ignorant, uncivilised, as if our way are better than theirs, and justify our way with empty platitudes and seek to make such people desperately unhappy by coercing them into our midst as we google up their land. Or we simply exterminate them to usage our guilt.

We do not own the earth nor any land upon it. The land belongs to all species, ourselves included, to be shared and shared alike. Far less do we have any right to spoil in any way  what in every way belongs to every species, no matter how small or large.

In our minds, that devil’s creation, we are the sole begetters of what we see and live  upon.

Why it is that we stepped out of Natures cycle it is beyond me to know and I don’t think any other has asked.

I am no better than any other to whom I address these remarks, or than any other who may never know of these views. I am sure that how ever just they are, this call will be ignored.

But never mind. I say them, these thoughts, these remarks. and think them to be true. I make a clarion call from among our midst for others to see what I see. I cannot act alone. To go live on a mountain top or its like, would be to deny my responsibilities. And turn my back on what I despair of. My call is to others, for even a few, we can say to others what it means to mend our ways.

But I never lose sight of the fact that I am as destructive in my way as any other of our species. But I do wish, and even hope, for us to do better than we have so far.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017

 

 

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

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