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March 2013

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I didn’t have a problem with rejection, because when you go into an audition, you’re rejected already. There are hundreds of other actors. You’re behind the eight ball when you go in there.

Robert de Niro

Term has ended.

Phew!

It is in the nature of such things that the last few days of the school term have a tendency to accelerate to an uncomfortable canter, as each and every one tries to get done all that which cannot be left undone before the community as a whole – with the pitiable exception of those hardy souls who manage without school holidays – departs the hallowed halls for the green fields and sunlit uplands of their respective holiday haunts.

Notwithstanding that, at this time last year, I was myself flying off to British Columbia to pay my first visit to the Kickass Canada Girl subsequent to her departure thence – there are no prizes for guessing where I will be during this particular break.

The first part of this last week was occupied by the auditions to which I have previously made reference. I will elaborate on the exact nature of this school production in future posts – all that need be said at this point is that the piece requires a cast of twenty four of which four play the leads. In form the piece is manifoldly picaresque and of no little complexity. Its cast will need to work closely together and must therefore be most carefully selected.

Over the first two days I saw forty nine 13 and 14 year olds. The standard is pretty decent but – as might be expected – it becomes ever more difficult to make valid comparisions the more one sees.  On the third day I called back eighteen of the more gifted potential thespists, in an attempt to nail down the choice of the four leads. I could easily have recalled twice that number.

To facilitate the choice I also took time – at this point – to consult others. Those who teach these particular boys Drama or English – those who are their tutors – those professionals on our theatre staff who encounter these boys in other productions… all have useful insights into the nature and abilities of those who have submitted themselves for approval.

Then came the hard graft. Two of the leads were reasonably easy to cast – though again I had two or three candidates who might equally have been selected for each. The other two parts are – for reasons that will become clearer when I explain the nature of the piece – considerably more difficult to fill. After considerable head-scratching – however – I thought I might just have cracked it.

At this point – as dictated by School etiquette – I took my cast list to the Head of Drama for his approval. He pointed out that one of my choices for a lead role might not have been entirely wise. Forewarned is fore-armed – and on reflection I was most happy to have been spared making this discovery further down the road.

The cast list was posted on the last morning of term. Some very happy faces – some potential grudges that may come back to bite me in future drama classes. All part of the rich tapestry…

Now for the fun part!

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI really must apologise for the recent lamentable lack of interesting new images to accompany these posts. I can only beg your indulgence for what will doubtless be an equivocation of excuses.

As ever I carry the Fuji X10 with me every day – to work and elsewhere – looking for opportunities to record what I see and whatever tickles my fancy. However, the start of this year really has featured atmospheric and climatic conditions of such a truly dire nature that the impetus to indulge in observational lacunae has been strictly limited. In other words – the weather has been so sh*t that I can’t be ar*ed to stop to take pictures!

This time last year – as is evidenced in this post from last March – saw the UK basking in almost summer-like conditions with the temperature approaching 20C. I enjoyed a wonderful top-down drive down to the coast in Pearl on the occasion of a family funeral.

This year – as can been seen from the accompanying image – temperatures struggle to rise above zero and even the south of England is still suffering snow falls and heavy frosts. The poor daffodils look shocked and stunned and resolutely refuse to open their buds. Who can blame them? Last March was the third warmest here on record. By contrast – in some parts of the UK – last weekend was the coldest March weekend for 50 years. What’s more, there is no sign of the weather improving this side of Easter!

Bah! – and Bah again!!

Our dear friends in Saanichton report that temperatures in Victoria are up into the mid-teens – and that spring has well and truly arrived. I will do my very best just to feel happy for them – and not to be at all bitter!

How am I doing?

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logoWe are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.

Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

I have posted previously on the subject of songwriting, in the course of which ramblings I have made reference to my ‘home studio’. There was a point at which this facility took the form of a separate room filled with an accumulation of arcane items of musical and recording equipment acquired over several decades. All that remains now is a single keyboard and a computer tucked away in the corner of a bedroom – though you will not be surprised to hear that in power and capability this humble setup outperforms its predecessors many times over.

The keyboard – the only item that remains from the studio’s previous incarnation – is the venerable and iconic Korg M1, one of the very first Music Workstations. Featuring the now almost ubiquitous ‘sampling and synthesis’ sound generation technique to create a high quality audio palette the likes of which had not previously been heard, the Korg M1 was only produced for a 6 year period from 1988 to 1994, but examples of the breed can still be seen – and heard – in use throughout the music business. In one of those ‘eureka’ moments I heard a demo sequence being played on one of these beasts in a music shop one day in the summer of 1988. I had to have one!

By modern standards – of course – the M1 seems somewhat crude and limited. It could, for example, play only 16 concurrent notes – and considerably less if these featured layered or complex sounds. I now use the M1 purely as a keyboard controller to input notes to the computer. The sounds themselves live on, however, since both the M1 and its successor – the Korg Wavestation – along with all of the additional sounds originally found on extension cards, are available as a ‘virtual instrument’ software package for the computer.

The computer itself is the motivation for this post – or to be more accurate, the software that runs on it is such. Back in the 1970s when I was playing in bands the only way to create a permanent record of a song was to hire a studio – by the hour – for as long as it took to get the piece down on tape. As we had very little money and studio time was not cheap we became accustomed to working quickly and dirtily. When the first relatively inexpensive 4 track cassette recorder – the Portastudio – became available in 1979 I was one of the first in the queue. This little device revolutionised home recording and – though the quality was average at best and deteriorated rapidly if tracks were ‘bounced down’ to create more space – I used it extensively for the next two decades.

When, however – following the dictat of Moore’s Law – home computers finally became powerful enough to handle digital recording I quite naturally hurried to investigate the emerging software packages that would turn the machine into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Over the years since I have tried most of the leading contenders but was not – until relatively recently – content that I had found a package that had been truly designed with the musician in mind rather than the computer geek! The solution on which I finally settled in 2007 – Tracktion – has one of the simplest and most intuitive interfaces I have encountered, based on a workflow that mirrors the way that I record music.

Almost inevitably things turned out not to be quite as straightforward as I would have hoped.

Tracktion was designed and created by an English developer, but had been taken up and marketed by a large American musical equipment manufacturer. Around the time that I purchased my copy this manufacturer lost interest in the product, suspended further development and stopped fixing bugs and responding to customer support requests. The software still worked – of course – but would clearly become more and more outdated as time passed. Faced with the prospect of having to start all over again – and probably of having to settle for something I considered inferior – I decided to grit my teeth and to stick with the package anyway. Regardless of these limitations the software has since served me well.

I don’t know what induced me, then – just the other day – to browse the InterWebNet for titbits on my favourite music production software, but I was in for a most pleasant surprise. The original developer- Julian Storer – had set up a new company, purchased back the rights to his creation and re-commenced development work after a 6 year lull. Hooray! Naturally I immediately upgraded my setup to the new version.

This news fills me with a warm glow and I wish the company every success. It is good to have them back.

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Photo by 37 °C on FlickrIt is difficult now to imagine that – had our plans of the past year come to fruition – I would have been packing up and moving permanently to Canada in a little over four months from now. Much of this imaginative difficulty stems from the ‘sheer weight of traffic’ on my calendar since the turn of the year. We have not yet achieved the vernal equinox and already six months’ worth of activity seems to have been  packed into a few brief weeks. How would I ever have found the time to organise my emigration? Right now – sadly – retirement feels a long way off!

This calendrical congestion has not been ameliorated by the precosity this year of Easter, which movable feast – as you doubtless know – falls on the Sunday following the first full Moon on or after the equinox. Since that date can be as early as March 22nd, this year’s festival (on the 31st) might be thought a breeze. By contrast to the latest possible date (April 25th) it does – however – still represent a significant squeeze to the schedule. School term finishes on Maundy Thursday (the 28th) so there is no time to ‘wind down’ before the holiday weekend commences.

Furthermore – the end of this particular term affords little opportunity to catch my breath…

The School’s Easter holiday will be a busy time – for those of us in IT at least. The remaining two departments must be moved into the new Science building and the occupants of our single boarding house must be moved out into their new accommodation so that demolition can start on the current building – to make way for the next phase of the redevelopment – the School’s new Drama Centre.

For my part there is an additional burden over the coming months – though ‘burden’ gives a somewhat misleading impression. I have agreed to direct the next School production – the Junior Play. Parts in this traditional end of year entertainment are open only to the 4th and 5th forms (ages 13 – 15) for the simple reason that everyone else spends much of their summer term buried in the examination hall – or in preparation therefore.

To add to other immediate stresses – therefore – it is also necessary to audition for – and to cast – the production before this term ends. Practically that means auditioning, recalling, whittling down and selecting twenty four from more than fifty budding thespists during the lunch hours of the only three full days next week that the boys are actually in school.

No pressure then!

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThough this year marks the 40th anniversary of my first involvement with young people’s theatre (a fact that had not occurred to me until I sat down to compose this post) and though I have throughout the last decade and a half been involved in a variety of capacities (writer, director) with school productions, I have only been teaching drama in secondary education (Canadian: high school) for the past four years. The School’s last inspection was more than five years ago and I have thus not yet had to endure the scrutiny of formal lesson observation.

Until now…!

I led two drama classes yesterday, either of which could have been observed – although since I only teach a couple of 4th form (1st year – don’t ask!) sets there was a fair chance that the inspectors would not bother with me at all. My morning group are pretty hard work – still lacking a degree of self discipline and featuring a couple of characters seemingly determined to argue every point. The afternoon set are considerably better behaved – though to this point they have not been particularly adventurous.

I found myself offering up a silent prayer to a whole panoply of deities prior to my first class – hoping that no inspector would appear. Once we were five minutes into the period I was able to relax a little, secure in the knowledge that my struggles to keep the group on track would go unrecorded.

Having successfully taken this hurdle at the canter I thought I could relax a tad (tad = smidgeon!). I arrived – quietly confident – a few minutes early for my afternoon class. First through the door at the class change bell… was one of the inspectors! Deep breath! Hold the nerve…!

Well – I don’t know how I did, but my set were total stars. For the first time since I had met them – a few weeks ago – they started to show real imagination and a fair bit of potential. Frankly – they were brilliant! The icing on the cake was that – at the precise second that I wound up the session with my final exhortation – the bell rang. Nice timing!

What I did not anticipate was quite how wiped out I would feel afterwards. There must have been a fair bit of tension and adrenalin involved, though I was not particularly aware of it at the time. Lying down in a darkened room seemed the best restorative…

…that and a large drink!

 

Stop press: Though the report on the inspection will not be published for another month – and the contents are strictly embargoed until then – the High Master indicated that they will cause general contentment all round when released.

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidA tightly controlled level of something only faintly resembling panic has set in at the School as we embark on four days of inspection. The outcome is expected to be positive – if not very positive – which certainly adds to the pressure.

Independent schools in the UK are inspected by a body called the Independent Schools Inspectorate – or the ISI (should you prefer the TLA). An ISI inspection can take one of two forms – an interim inspection or a full inspection. This one is the latter. Independent schools must be inspected every six years at the outside, but inspections can occur more frequently should the inspectorate deem there to be a need so to do.

The effect of this regimen is that the more time passes without an inspection taking place the higher is the likely-hood of one being called at any point. The ISI gives one week’s notice – making the announcement of an inspection by a telephone call on a Tuesday for a visit the following week – the which has the effect of keeping everyone constantly on their toes. As time passes and the probability of an inspection increases so one feverishly checks the number of weeks left in the term during which such a visit could take place. Since much of the summer term is ruled out by examinations, had we in this instance made it through another week without getting the call we would have been in the clear until the autumn.

No matter. Better in many ways to get it out of the way.

The inspection team comprises eleven inspectors who – in addition to all of the attention that they will be paying to governance, health and safety, child protection and other policy issues – will be observing around one hundred classes over the four days. There won’t be time for the inspectors to observe every teacher but they will cover the majority of them and – understandably – no notice will be given as to which those will be. The inspectors will appear – or they won’t! I have two drama classes on Thursday – either (or neither!) of which might be chosen. At this point I am really not sure whether I would prefer to be observed – or not.

We shall see…

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theI was perusing some old posts on this blog… Yes – I know! – I know! – but I wanted to revisit some of the thoughts I had this time last year – at the point at which the Kickass Canada Girl departed for Victoria. One of the many benefits of maintaining a blog – of course – is that I can do so.

An idle comparison of my posts at that time with those more recent revealed something that I hadn’t anticipated – something regarding the way that I address my (considerably) better half. In early posts she is addressed directly as ‘Kickass Canada Girl’. In more recent posts she has become ‘The Kickass Canada Girl’.

Intrigued, I was moved to wonder at what point – and indeed as to why – this change had come about. Closer examination of archived posts revealed that it had happened over a fairly short period at the end of last year – in late November and December. This was – of course – around the time that the Girl returned to the UK.

The pursuit of the ‘why’ led me to consider more closely the ‘article’ itself. The British Council website includes the following in its helpful definition:

definite article: the

The definite article ‘the’ is the most frequent word in English.

We use the definite article in front of a noun when we believe the hearer/reader knows exactly what we are referring to:

  • because there is only one – as in “The moon is very bright tonight”

…or…

  • because we have already mentioned it – as in “A woman who fell 10 metres from High Peak was lifted to safety by a helicopter. The woman fell while climbing.”

I hardly need say more. Kickass Canada Girl has become The Kickass Canada Girl because she is definitely the only one – and because I believe that I have mentioned her previously… at least once or twice!

I like it – and thus so it shall remain. The Girl is the definite – and definitive- article!

 

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Rattle“Drums and rattles are percussion instruments traditionally used by First Nations people. These musical instruments provide the background for songs, and songs are the background for dances. Many traditional First Nations people consider song and dance to be sacred. For many years after Europeans came to Canada, First Nations people were forbidden to practise their ceremonies. That is one reason why little information about First Nations music and musical instruments is available to us.”

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website

Pursuant to my previous post describing my search for fresh Celtic fusion music it occurred to me that I should revisit an earlier – though less successful – quest to find something similar but based instead on Canadian First Nations’ music.

That such a fusion is relatively difficult to find doubtless has its roots in the policies implemented over a century and a half by the European settlers, the which were aimed at the cultural assimilation of the native peoples of what became Canada. Not only does this (as the ‘Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Canada‘ website makes clear) explain the paucity of knowledge and understanding of an art form that would have been handed down orally, but it also throws light on the way that those forms have been regarded since the revival of interest in the native arts over the last 50 years or so. An art form which enjoys uninterrupted pursuit and interest continues to evolve, to grow and – with good fortune – to flourish. Once the narrative is fractured perception of the art form changes from the present to the past tense and the interest therein becomes primarily historical – concerned with the preservation and nurture of its original or traditional forms. At this point the art form ceases to be a living entity – or is in grave danger of so doing.

The Kickass Canada Girl enquired as to the nature of my researches and – on being enlightened – pointed out briskly that I might have asked her first rather than wasting my time. She had a point. Not only is she a great music lover but she is also – on her mother’s side – part Aboriginal – her band originating in the North Thompson above Kamloops in central BC.

She extracted from her extensive CD collection a platter by Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble entitled ‘Music for the Native Americans’. Yes – that’s Robbie Robertson of The Band! I was not aware that Robbie – born in Montreal – was of Mohawk descent on his mother’s side – nor had I heard ‘Music for the Native Americans’. I like it a great deal and were you to check out these clips you might find that you do too:

It is a Good Day to Die

The Vanishing Breed

Coyote Dance

Grateful as I am for this discovery – however – I am still very keen to find other musical fusions from the Pacific Northwest. If Canadian – or other – readers know of such I would be grateful to hear of them.

 

It did occur to me to enquire of the Girl how is was that – after getting on towards a decade together – she had only just thought to introduce me to this wonderful music. I decided against! Something about maintaining the air of mystery I suppose…

 

 

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…they’d make it illegal!

Emma Goldman

One of the interesting consequences of being married to a girl from the other side of the planet – a side of the planet to which I myself intend re-locating – is the discovery that when it comes to politics there is simultaneously little to choose between nations whilst at the same time being a world of difference. I guess that – whereas the ‘art’ and practice of politics are pretty much universal – the intricacies of the situation at any particular point on the globe tend to render the actuality of the local political jungle opaque to the outsider.

The Kickass Canada Girl has explained Canadian federal and provincial politics to me on a number of occasions. Sadly she finds herself having to repeat things that have clearly not penetrated deep enough to have stuck, though I do believe that I am making slow progress. It doesn’t help that there would seem to be an appreciable disconnect between the politics of British Columbia and those of the rest of the nation. This should come as no surprise given the size of the country, I suppose, particularly since in the UK – a comparatively compact constituency – we seem able to support an infeasibly extended accretion of political opinion – albeit not across our major parties.

Caricature_gillray_plumpuddingPerhaps one of the best ways of getting a flavour of the political purlieu in any particular locale is to follow the work of the political cartoonists thereabouts. In the UK this noble and ancient art can be traced to the 19th century and to such luminaries as Hogarth and Gillray. The latter’s renowned cartoon – ‘The Plum Pudding in Danger’ – representing Napoleon and Pitt dividing the globe into ‘spheres of influence’ – is a particularly good example of the genre.

All this – of course – simply by way of an introduction to a cartoon that I saw in this week’s Observer, and that I thought might give quite a good flavour of current UK politics to any of you across the pond who don’t follow such things. And, well – why would you?

The cartoon refers to the recent Eastleigh by-election – brought on by the resignation of the sitting Liberal Democrat MP on pleading guilty to an offence (his wife took the rap for a speeding ticket when he was – in fact – the driver!). To make life harder for themselves the Lib Dems fought the campaign in the shadow of the fallout of a recent sex scandal (oh – really!) centring on the alleged behaviour of their former chief executive.

The Lib Dems are currently in coalition with the Tories who – though they themselves had designs on winning the seat from their coalition partners (nice!) – found themselves beaten into third place by the UK Independence Party, whose political leanings probably don’t need much introduction.

Chris Riddell’s cartoon captures the essential zeitgeist pretty well, I think. I particularly like the Lib Dems as a diminutive unicorn!

 

 

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photo by Gary Henderson on FlickrWith the parenthetical pertinence of the fact that this is St David’s Day in mind I will – if I may – expand on the Celtic theme of my last post.

Every now and again I feel moved – more so than I normally do – to  explore and embrace the culture and heritage of what I feel to be the key part of my ancestry. As is common nowadays I can trace my lineage in a variety of directions. One element of my mother’s family originated on the north east coast of England – another from the midlands (from the area around the delightfully English sounding town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch!).

My father was – however – always extremely proud of his Scottish heritage and in this my siblings and I have enthusiastically followed. Just as soon as we were old enough to make the journey (by train – my father could not drive!) from the home counties to the highlands we embarked on the first of an extended series of family holidays in Scotland. My father was a great hill walker and he and I covered many a mile on peaks across a swathe of the country from Ayrshire to the Great Glen. In later life I have made repeated forays to Edinburgh, both for work and for visits – as performer and spectator – to the Edinburgh Festival.

I find there to be a romantic and gently melancholic quality to much Celtic art, be it poetry, prose, instrumental music or song and regardless of whether it be of the Welsh, the Irish or the Scots. There is something particularly haunting about Scottish music, the resonance of which with the lowering hills and the exquisite straths and glens of the highlands and islands from which it originates will be apparent. I find myself from time to time overtaken by a irresistible urge to immerse myself in it. And yes – I do like the skirl of the pipes – but I also love the clarsach, the fiddle and the whistle.

Now – I have some sympathy with those who like their ethnic music pure and who demand that it be reproduced strictly according to tradition, but music is a living language and – like all languages – must be in a state of constant evolution. My own musical interests lie more in the discovery and exploration of new fusions of tradition and modernity. To this end I found myself recently reconnoitering the InterWebNet for exciting new syntheses of music based on traditional Celtic forms.

I found many interesting things – of course – but this was what I liked the most:

Paul Mounsey is a Scottish composer who married a Brazilian and subsequently moved to Brazil. His music is thus a fascinating fusion of classical Scottish themes, Gaelic voices and Brazilian percussion. His biography on Wikipedia reads thus:

Paul Mounsey (born 15 April 1959) is a composer, arranger and producer from Scotland.

He lived for over 20 years in Brazil. A graduate of Trinity College, London, where he studied with Richard Arnell, he has written for film, television, theatre, advertising and also for the Latin American pop market. He lectured for a short while at Goldsmiths College before moving on as creative director of Play It Again, one of the biggest commercial music houses in Brazil. He has also written articles on various aspects of music. He’s written pop hits for Mexican boy bands, has received commissions for chamber and multimedia works, has lived with and recorded the music of indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest, and to date has released five solo albums. Paul’s music has featured in the television and cinema adverts for tourism boards such as VisitScotland. He is currently based in Los Angeles working as composer, orchestrator and programmer in the film industry.

Have a listen to these samples and see what you think:

Wherever You Go:             

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Nahoo Reprise:                  

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Taking Back the Land:       

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Senses – 2011:                 

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