Wednesday, May 31, 2006

How to justify a bad day

Well, my bad days don't usually involve blizzards, ice and snow, but I think Ben Saunders' words could be applicable to many situations:
It’s miserable, but in a way I’m glad it’s happening. As I said to Tony as we clambered into our sopping tent, it’s great to have mental reference points like these to fall back on.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I was pleased to read today (even though it is old news) that L'Arpeggiata will be releasing a new CD later this year - a collaboration with a flamenco guitarist. One of my all-time favourite records is their All'Improvviso - a fresh, beautifully-crafted, inspired and inspiring CD.

When I first heard this music, driving with a friend of mine to a gig in the country with my harpsichord bundled in the back of the station wagon, I realised how close many of the baroque musical forms are to folk music. Gigues, chaconnes, sarabandes - they all stated off as dances, that real people danced to. And they weren't the sedate affairs we have come to know from BBC period dramas. They would have worked up a sweat, the women's hair would have come loose, they would have drunk beer to refresh them and give them spirit for more dancing. Before I encountered All'Improvviso I had never thought that "classical" music could be this alive. These people play 16th and 17th century music with the same energy and vibrancy as the best folk musicians. In their hands this music is not dead, despite the fact that it originated 400 years ago. And they are not afraid to put their own stamp on the music - in fact, a lot of this CD is work composed and improvised by the group themselves. The very first track is a song by Lucilla Galeazzi about the house that she wants to have one day - full of music and friends. You can listen to it here

One of the most amazing things about this CD is the way they have worked with jazz clarinettist Gianluigi Trovesi. Let alone the fact that he is a jazz musician and the rest of the ensemble are trained in early music, the clarinet wasn't even invented until much later on. So it is a completely "foreign" sound for this music, or so one would think. Actually it doesn't stand out at all as out of place, but it certainly does stand out for it's amazingness!!

Anyway, I think this CD is ace :)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why Genres are Crap

9 days ago, at about 4:30 in the afternoon, my thesis topic suddenly and irrevocably changed. I was planning to write something about improvisation in renaissance or baroque keyboard music, but was struggling to find a reason to research and write about that. As a joke I said maybe I should write a thesis entitled "Why Genres are Crap", and my excellent and insightful supervisor (yes, I know you're reading this!) suggested that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.

So for the last few days I've been thinking about the idea of genre in music, and the seemingly great rift between classical and popular music. At this point I have no idea how I am going to tackle this gigantic topic, and what will be my specific argument, but I am really interested in questions like:
Is genre useful or restrictive?
Does it mean that people focus more on the type of music rather than the artistry or merit or value or any of those things that make music beautiful?
Do we concentrate on the style at the expense of the substance?
Why do people listen to the music that they listen to?

Basically, I think that the division between 'popular' and 'art' (classical) music is pretty ridiculous. Musicians are constantly put in little genre pigeon-holes: classical, early music, country, pop, hip-hop, fusion... even 'cross-genre' is almost a genre in itself.

Obviously I have to come up with some swanky, uber-intelligent argument at some stage, but in the meantime I'm going to ramble and see what happens.

Stay tuned for some slightly more coherent and incisive... stuff...

In the meantime, I am glad that there are other people that are thinking along the same lines, though :)

Friday, May 26, 2006


I have been musing about solitude lately. In February this year I moved to Eltham to live by myself in a little studio amongst the trees. This was a big change for me, after having lived for nearly 10 years in the inner city. All of a sudden I didn't have a milk bar on the corner, a gelati shop up the road and a tram stop at my doorstep. Now I have to get in my car in order to go anywhere.

I am glad to finally have enough space for my harpsichord, and that there are no neighbours who can be disturbed by my practicing. I have tried to block out time for practice and the other work I have to do for my course. My wonderful harpsichord teacher has encouraged me to spend time being, and dreaming, and meditating, as well as putting in the hours at the keyboard. I am aware that time for contemplation and space for creativity are important for artists.

It has been interesting to observe, though, how much I have questioned myself for spending time alone. It is a concept that is not often celebrated in 21st century Australia. Sometimes I feel that I am being measured by the quality of my social life, and I start to worry that I am being too hermit-like.

I do love to socialise, and this weekend is full of dinners, coffees, catch-ups and the like. When I am at work I am constantly with people. So why do I get all angsty after spending one day in my own company? I have plently to do, I am by no means bored or unfulfilled, and I am mostly enjoying spending time with my instrument, learning and playing music.

I think that perhaps I get worried that society will not accept me if I decide sometimes to shun it. That if I spend a Saturday night at home, I will never go out again. This, of course, is a completely irrational belief, but humans are full of irrational beliefs, aren't we?

In the midst of my solitude on Tuesday afternoon, after I had had my harpsichord lesson, and in a little break in my practicing, I read this post at Click Opera, and the last two lines brought a smile to my face.
There's no shame in being introverted. People who love quietness love life.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Crap words

After thinking about cool words yesterday, I started finding words I really don't like. Here is a selection:

boring: I remember my mother saying to me that there was no such thing as boring, and I think I might be starting to agree with her. There are lots of things that I don't agree with in the world, but I think I'd rather describe them as bad, shitty, crap, terrible... but not boring. I especially don't like the expression "That's a bit boring" when used to describe something that is unpleasant or inconvenient.

ordinary: mostly for the same reasons as "boring". Describing something as "ordinary" when you really mean it was awful is just silly!

years of age: as in "she is only 25 years of age". Why can't you just say "she's 25 years old"? This is just pseudo-officialism and is also silly!

I'm sure this list will be added to... feel free to contribute :)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cool words

Scott Ginsberg's post about cool words has reminded me that there are a couple other words that I really like (apart from "angst" which I use at least 5 times a day!). Here they are:

liminal: this word I first came across in at uni in a lecture about the Bertolucci film Il Conformista, where it was used to describe the protagonist - on the threshold of society, not quite belonging, but not an outcast. Originally, I think it is a medical term. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it:
• adjective technical 1 relating to a transitional or initial stage. 2 at a boundary or threshold.
— DERIVATIVES liminality noun.
— ORIGIN from Latin limen ‘threshold’.

crepuscular: this word I found in Antonio Melechi's Fugitive Minds: On Madness, Sleep and Other Twilight Afflictions. When I saw that title in the bookshop, I couldn't not buy it! Crepuscular describes things to do with twilight - semi-nocturnal animals, shadows and all sorts of cool things. This is definitely a word that should be used more often!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Jumping on the Bandwagon late, as usual

This week, at Poetry Thursday the prompt was to "get lost in the poetry section" of a bookshop or library. Being a total newcomer to poetry I had never even looked in the poetry section of a bookshop before. I didn't even know where to find it.

Thursday night, I had an hour to kill between a coffee appointment and dinner at a friend's house. I was in the city, so I went to visit Borders. I quickly found the small poetry section, between "black fiction" and "drama". It was interesting to be confronted by shelves of books about whose relative merit I had no idea. I don't know what makes poetry "good" or even what it is, really.

I picked up a few books at random, and read through some writing. I noticed that I was drawn to the smaller books. A little brown spine, with "The Learning Curve" in white letters caught my eye. I liked the picture on the front, and I opened to one of the first poems "The PE Teacher on the Day Before School Begins". Then I read another, and another. I walked out of Borders $22 poorer. That was the first book of poetry I had ever bought: John Foulcher's "The Learning Curve".

One of my favourite poems from this book is "The Art Teacher".

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Are you Creative?

I have just finished reading Laura Young's series on creativity, starting here. I especially liked part 5: Be willing to stand naked before yourself. Without prejudice. where she quotes Clive Barker:
It's a question of sitting quietly with yourself and saying, the only company I have in all the world is the person I am. And everything else can go away from me, everybody else can go away from me. It is within the bounds of possibility that all the people I love most in the world could be gone tomorrow. I have to be at peace with this myself. And a third of this "myself" is a sleeping self. An important third, perhaps the most important third. So, let me be quiet with myself and sit with myself and like myself, and what my subconscious is telling me.

I also enjoyed what she had to say in part 10 about criticism, and the difference between creative voice or impulse and the technique which enables us to express that voice. We can continually work on and improve our technique, but that in itself is a means to an end, and we shouldn't take criticism of our technique as criticism of us as artists:
Comparing your technical expertise to the student next to you in art class, or to your best friend, or Picasso simply compares tool kit to tool kit.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Question of Talent

I gave a presentation about myself in one of my Masters seminars last week. Our task this semester (our first in the course) was to talk about ourselves, our background, and our convictions related to music. I talked about my history as a musician, and the turning points, and moments of realisation that I have had. Here is one paragraph:
For most of my uni years I was farily heavily involved in student politics. I was a member of one of the socialist groups on campus, and was waving the red flag with abandon. I was fascinated to talk to people about the world, and why it is the way it is. I had never really questioned that before. The fact that humans created the society that we live in – and that therefore we have the potential to change it – was such an eye opener for me. I was also interested in ideas of equality and elitism. The idea that everyone is equal, no matter who they are or what their background, was quite different from what my experience in music, where, it seemed to me, there was a great division between those who were ‘good’ and those who weren’t. I started to become very wary of words like ‘genius’ or ‘talent’, as they suggested some sort of inborn ability that others lacked. Is musical ability a product of nature or nurture? In my own socialist utopia, everyone had the chance to play music and make art.
I still don't really know how I feel about the idea of talent, genius, inborn ability, or whatever you care to call it. But how else do you explain the way some people seem to be really good at stuff while others aren't? Is it subtle differences in background and education? Do some people have more determination than others? How do we explain Mozart's achievements at age 5? Do we all have the capacity to be Mozarts? Or are some of us doomed to perpetual mediocrity?

Some new research by Anders Ericsson and others suggests that
the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.
They argue that whether someone enjoys an activity or not is a huge factor in whether that person will become good at it or not:
Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.
All this seems very logical, and supports the theory that I wrote about here. Maybe there is hope after all!

(Thanks to for the link)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pop vs Classical?

Greg Sandow once again writes about the gulf between classical music audiences and concerts and the world of popular (for want of a better word) music. He mentions the ways different audiences respond to music:
Often orchestral music is very rhythmic. Why doesn’t the audience move (even a little) to the rhythm? Do orchestras preclude that, by sitting blankly onstage themselves?
I am not so sure that it is entirely about the music that they are playing, but perhaps more about the attitude and engagement of the performers and the general atmosphere of the performance. I am still formulating my ideas about this, and will try to write more about my thoughts soon.

But in the meantime, Sandow's post reminded me of something I heard about on the radio this morning, which was a concert by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and supported by youth radio station Triple J. The ASO have a series this year called "The Edge", which
will seek out the sounds of contemporary culture fusing the music of the X and Y generations to the classical. The Edge will merge the forces of Triple J with ABC Classic FM, 1960’s French poet of jazz Serge Gainsbourg with Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Muse and Jeff Buckley. The emergent sounds will have its audience listening to music standing bravely on The Edge! These late-night, one hour concerts at the ASO’s Grainger Studio will be recorded for broadcast on Triple J Radio with the support of ABC Classic FM.
It will certainly be interesting to see what these concerts are like, and how they resonate with their target audiences.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bungled Headline Fury

Jason Kottke and Paul Bausch have noticed some trends in media headlines lately. Personally I like how no-one makes a smiple mistake anymore - no, in the Australian media it is always a bungle:

"Traffic chief slams taxi fare bungle"
"Fiji election official admit bungle over numbers voting"
"Immigration bungle let murder suspect out: ALP"
"Body bungle warnings ignored"
"Mum on warning mission after pharmacy bungle"

This word has been particularly effective in the media surrounding the "body bungle" of Australian soldier Jake Kovko, and lots of people have been furious to boot:

"Widow's fury over Kovco bungle"
"Mother's fury at bungle"

Monday, May 08, 2006

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Cold & Grey

I conceived my first poem last night, on the way home.
I didn't write it down.
Now I can't remember it.

My car still doesn't have a heater.
This morning I wore a jumper,
a jacket,
a scarf,
a coat,
and gloves.
And I put a hot water bottle on my lap
to keep me warm.

Today is grey.
Bleak. Cold.

I have lost sight of the good
in life.

And can only see grey sameness.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Struggle

Lyrics I heard on Triple J this morning:
"How long should an artist struggle before it's just not worth the hassle?"
Can't for the life of me remember the name of the song, or the artist, but it was suitably artistically angsty.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The essence of time

There hasn't been much lately. Time, that is. I feel awful bad for neglecting you, my droogies, but I'm sure you're surviving just fine without me.

I found this today on nownow:
Today at 2 minutes & 3 seconds past 1 o’clock it will be:

1:02:03 04/05/06

- a moment in time that occurs about every thousand years.

How special is that?

Now it’s up to you not to waste this historic second in time. When, in the distant future, your grandchildren ask you how you spent this once in a thousand year moment, don’t let the answer be, ‘I was on the toilet, honey’.

Yelp, cheer, smile to your self, hug a stranger. Just do something to mark this rare but wonderful oddity. Because before you know it we’ll be back to boring, out-of-order time, and their ain’t nothing special bout that.
Make sure you make the most of that split second of infinity!