Post #2072: Finished items and new projects – from knitting to radio.

That up there is a picture of me wearing the Beacon Shawl to work yesterday. That is my third finished object from the materials documented in the top left photo below (which I blogged about back here in September) :

projectsfall

For the record, the above items are a Woodland Stroll Cape, a Cappuccino Dress, and the Beacon Shawl. All three have now been worn – the first two on more than one occasion. Although we still have six more weeks of fall – this feels like the culmination of my autumn projects and that everything afterwards constitutes winter. This is probably true in that my current WIPs probably won’t be finished until winter officially starts in December!

Since the dress, my sewing has been at a bit of a standstill, though my knitting continues apace. On the needles currently are a Paulie Sweater (I’m halfway done the second sleeve!), a Christmas gift cowl, and the Cowichan-style vest that I blogged about a couple of posts ago. I’ve got a very busy travel schedule coming up and so I am not starting any new sewing projects – and really am not interested in anything that isn’t portable at this point.

In other project-y news, after some recent realizations about radio-worthiness, Brian and I are embarking on a new project together – the Live from the Urban Crow podcast. While we still have to figure out how to make our recording devices work (we own two, and a mixing board, plus computers – but have never made a serious study of audio) – we’ve got some big plans for a bi-weekly show featuring a lot of what this blog covers: making, recipes, how-tos, interviews, throwing great parties – and so on. The difference will be that you get to hear Brian and I in conversation about these topics, which might be hilarious (or not). So far we’ve got a bunch of segment ideas plotted, so stay tuned and when we learn how to use our equipment I’ll let you know.

It’s been awhile since we did a new project together (if you don’t count the fact that our whole life is a project together) – and while I have thought about doing a podcast before, I never thought of asking Brian if he would be interested in doing something like that with me. Turns out, he is very interested – and when we canvassed our friends for subject-matter yesterday, we realized that they are also excited by the idea. So I’m encouraged that this might actually happen, and soon.

We’re headed to the cabin tomorrow – and I’m really looking forward to seeing (and sharing) all the work that’s been done this fall.

Post #1991: A thing I would like you to do (vote!)

Here is a little video of me and my husband making music on the Sunshine Coast back in February – just to entice you along…. but what I would like you to do is go to our CBC Searchlight page and have a listen to our song in the contest and then cast a vote for us. You can do that without logging in or anything if you just head over to here: http://music.cbc.ca/#!/artists/Lone-Crow-Jubilee and find the voting button on the right hand side underneath the “Searchlight Official Contestant” button. Giving us a thumbs up or liking us on FB is cool, but not necessary for voting. From there you can connect with our Facebook or Twitter accounts for regular band updates. You can vote every day if so inclined and maybe we’ll even spark the interest of our local CBC hosts!

Post #1973: A new fiddle for me

I have to admit that I feel.somewhat ridiculous about the fact that two days ago Brian and I had a big discussion about budgeting and getting focused on paying down the big cabin debts…. And then yesterday I went out and purchased a new violin on a layaway plan. But there it is. That’s exactly what I did. I’ve been pondering a new instrument for a long time with various motivations.

At first I wanted to get a cheap instrument for taking camping, then I liked the idea of five-string, then I wanted to upgrade and get another classic violin like my Stainer copy, but an older/higher quality version, and then I was confronted by the fact that I need to be able to plug in at shows and I really dislike most of the attachable pickups on the market (and mini-mics aren’t an option because they cause feedback on my vocal mic). I had read about these Gage Realist 5-string Violins on the Internet and listened to all the audio reviews of them – liking what I heard about and from these instruments. It’s one of the only electric-acoustics on the market at a non-custom price which was also attractive to me since I wasn’t prepared to spend more an a couple thousand dollars. Because I am taking the week off work to complete my term paper (very close to done!) and Brian took yesterday to hang out with me – we decided to go down to Long and McQuade and check out the Realist 5-string that they had in stock. Needless to say, I didn’t just try it out – but decided instead to purchase it on a lay-away plan (Brian offered up a decent downpayment towards it). I was far too attracted to the hassle-free pick-up with phantom power and the ability to get by without a pre-amp – to just walk away from the thing once I picked it up!

The amplified sound on this instrument is great, but as it’s a new wood instrument, I expect the acoustic sound to get somewhat better with regular playing over the next few weeks. Unplayed violins always sound a bit “crunchy” to me, attributed to the tightness of a wooden body that hasn’t had much resonance. If I had a stereo with a big speaker, I would simply put the instrument on top of it for a week or two to loosen it up, but given the fact that I don’t have much of a stereo setup, I’ve got to play the life into the thing. Still and all, this violin has a really resonant, almost reverberant sound – and the extra low string (which gives it the range of the viola) is pretty fabulous.

Unlike my lifetime violin (I’ve been playing my Stainer copy for 30 years), the low range on the Gage is really rich. Also unlike my lifetime violin, this instrument is full-sized and it’s got a significantly wider neck and body (my Stainer is a 7/8 and those violins are known for their slender build). So it’s going to take some regular playing to get used to and build up the musculature in my shoulders for a bulkier instrument. Since there is a 30-day return policy, I’m aiming to play as much as possible between now and early January to ensure that it is the right sound and feel for me. But so far, so good – I’m pretty excited about its tone quality and feel already. I’ve got a gig in two weeks time and my goal is to play this on stage – so I’ve got a lot of playing to do between now and then! (not to mention three sets of song lyrics to memorize – yikes!)

Reconfiguring the classics – a Max Richter short.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTapNp-31rU%5D

A little musical geekery for those of you interested in classical music, minimalist music, reconfigurations of the “greats”, and the ever-interesting Max Richter. The fact of having to wait until 2013 for this album release is a bit maddening on the heels of this teaser video – but wait I will, in anticipation of hearing Vivaldi turned inside out. An ambitious project from one of my favourite contemporary composers – Richter actually undertook to rewrite the Four Seasons on a note level – leaving in the main figures and patterns which make Vivaldi’s music so recognizable to our western ears, while changing (as he says) 3/4s of the notes in the score. This seven-minute video gives a bit of the story and a taste of what that project has in store musically.

Flying Folk Friday

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPXheIrcKr0%5D

My band – The Flying Folk Army – played a show last Saturday for the first time in seven years. There are video tracks of the whole affair on YouTube – which I am tickled with. The last time we played there was no YouTube! (or social media of any kind).

For those of you remember Flying Folk Fridays at La Quena – I am sharing our ever-popular version of Rasputin to get your weekend started!

Listen: Max Richter, The Blue Notebooks

Everyone carries a room about inside them. This fact can even be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one’s ears and listens, say at night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall.

Franz Kafka, The Blue Notebooks

I am going to come right out and admit here that I own an awful lot of music in the minimalist existential genre – by which I mean classically minimalist with a certain amount of angst built into the backdrop. The type of music that swells movie scores, or that you turn to on a grey day with a cup of tea and The Myth of Sisyphus in your lap. Music for introspection we could call it, though I’m sure that there are new music critics out there who would just call it sentimental and not dissonant enough to provoke.

In any case, of this burgeoning collection I am fairly convinced that the album I most cherish for its ability to put me into a deeply reflective (and often melancholy) state of mind is Max Richter’s The Blue Notebooks.

Richter defines his music as post-classical, drawing from electronic, classical, spoken word and spontaneous sound recordings. It is is with this palette he paints scenes that are almost visually evocative in their lush loneliness. A typewriter echoes in a seemingly empty room, a voice reads from the notebooks of Franz Kafka, the single note of a violin sails high atop the human experience, while we are anchored by an undulating, underwater rhythm – each part of the composition restrained into perfect interplay, pulling the listener into a deep state of affect, an internal landscape that holds disappointment and promise in the rise and fall of the guiding heartbeat (Shadow Journal).

While each song on this album employs different composition and recording styles, a sensibility of emotion holds them together as a whole. From a complex arrangement of electronic and stringed instruments, the listener is taken to the sounds of nature and then a choir against an organ backdrop – and then released again into the solo piano reflection which bridges into another spoken piece. As a listener I find myself drawn into the depths, only to be reassured by the moments of release and even lightness that Richter builds in. This is a believable intimacy as it fully engages the self, while at the same time satisfying the voyeur who overhears the inner thoughts of others.

Recorded in 2004, Richter has put out several albums and movie soundtracks since, but I have not had nearly the time with them that I have with this recording. I am hoping to write more in-depth about the music in my collection which I think moving and thus worth sharing. While there is lots of music I enjoy, there are only some albums which are worth talking about. This  – The Blue Notebooks – is a deeply affecting album, and thus one for those who need music for the quiet days inside them.

Makin’ music.

I started learning how to play the violin when I was just two and a half years old, my mother being a music teacher and all, not a minute of potential was going to pass me by. Consequently, the feel of a fiddle under my chin is second nature – even when I don’t pick it up for years – and reading music is a little bit like looking at another language which I know almost as well as my first.

But despite that (or perhaps because of it), I have had a push-pull relationship with playing music for most of my life. I quit lessons when I was fifteen, started busking at 20 (and paid my way through my first year of college), put my instrument away until I was 24 when I pulled it out again for a university breadth requirement. That course lead me to the Flying Folk Army, a band I established with six other people in 1998 and played with until about 2005. And now? Other than a few forays, I haven’t played at all in the past five years. Five years! That’s after a playing schedule that involved at least one practice and one gig per week for a long time – not to mention the 3 and 4 gig weeks during out busiest periods….. The music, it just slipped out of my life once the band eroded into other lives (we never did break up, we just stopped having time for one another as other things took over).

For the first couple of years I didn’t miss it, a band is a lot of work after all – and after awhile it had begun to feel more like work than I wanted it to. I had taken over gig scheduling and promotion and organizing rehearsals early on, and so I felt a bit burdened by the responsibility of making sure everything ran right in addition to just busting it out on stage. I needed a break from playing and at the time I hoped that the break would morph into some other musical project after I had recouped myself a little. But instead of seeking out other projects, I found myself loathe to look at my violin – preferring instead to sing along to my badly-played guitar which at least I had the excuse to suck at.

And that’s how it’s been, with the exception of some weddings and half-hearted jams. I haven’t wanted to play at all.

Sort of. I mean, I thought I didn’t want to play at all, but then it started that I would hear music recordings that sounded like they were made in a kitchen and I found myself turning them off because it hurt me to hear. Like I’m locked out of that kitchen music and I want back in so bad I could cry from it, and so instead I’ve found myself tuning it out. I stopped going to the gigs of friends for similar reasons, which I thought was a jealousy about being on stage, but recently have discovered that it’s something quite different I miss.

That realization came from a conversation among my old bandmates on Facebook, when afterwards I could hear a particular song echoing in my head all the way home on the bus. Titled “The Ukranian Song” on an old piece of sheet music (that can *not* be its actual name), it is comprised of a slow part and then a fast part (a really fast part) which I used to play in harmony with our accordionist to a backdrop of guitar shots and encouraging shouts by the rest of the band. I wish I had a recording of it handy – but for now you’ll have to put up with this description and believe me when I say it was the kind of song that drove crowds into wild dancing and hollering. Amazing. Anyhow, as I was thinking about all of this I realized that what I missed most of all – more than the creative connection, more than the stage, more than the crazy dancing fools – was the feeling of pure empowered joy that ran through me when I played those insanely speedy numbers. The strength of my fingers, the courage of my physical being to stand up there in front of others and challenge the strings and my fingers to keep up without breaking. That! That is an incredible feeling and I don’t know anything else like it.

It’s what I miss. The melodic to the frenetic, the angst driven into the strings, the blocking out of everything except getting the notes down in the right order, the muscle memory the retains the melody long after the mind has forgotten it. I can’t sing the damn song to this day, but I can still play it (albeit slowly at the moment) if I let my mind go and my body take over.

Remembering that, I feel a pain well up inside me, a trapped impulse to get back to that place of ability and joy, but I don’t want to dial it down anymore. I want to let it out! and as a result I have recently picked up my fiddle. In the living room, sheet music stacked on top of the piano, I hammer my fingers down in exercises designed to bring strength and dexterity back, regain the fine muscle control needed for such daring feats of sound. I swoop my bow out in stretches that reach all the way around my shoulderblades, into my lower back – and I pace with them, improvising on chords and scales, filling the wood up with vibrations in order to restore the sound to my underplayed instrument.

It’s painful at the moment, my mind moves faster than my fingers (it should be the other way round), I trip on the fast runs and my waltzes aren’t light enough. And it hurts! A half hour of playing and my arms are sore from the effort, my lower back doesn’t like the fact I’m sitting at the piano instead of standing and moving my body with the bow. But at the same time I’m reminded how second-nature my instrument is to me – I can pick it up and still play the ten songs embedded in my body, I can improvise on a theme without giving it too much thought. This makes it believable that I might make myself good enough to play with others again, sometime in the not too far future. Perhaps the Flying Folk Army reunion hang-out, perhaps a random jam, perhaps a solo or two at the labour cabaret next month?

I’m not sure if I’ll even keep it up, but answering this call right now seems essential as I seek more ways to incorporate creativity into my life. If ever I could refashion myself, it would be to work less and create more. More of what’s real. More meaning. More joy and beauty. More excitement and freedom of spirit!

My fiddle is just one way to do that. And I am finding my way back stroke, by stroke.

Last Night……

I was lucky last night in being finally introduced to the music of Amanda Palmer (I went to a Night with Neil and Amanda because I’m a Neil Gaiman fan). Needless to say – I am smitten. I have searched YouTube for the my two favourite songs of hers from the set list last night and present them here.

The first song posted here one made me cry (and laugh) – and if you grew up a girl in the 70s and 80s I imagine you might feel the same way. All I have to say is thanks Amanda Palmer for getting this!

This one just made me laugh outloud:

Neil Gaiman was also fabulous – but posting him reading here is just not going to approximate the electricity that existed in the theatre last night. Thanks to both these talented creators for doing what they do. Fantastic.