A Kinrowan Estate story: Charles and Alice Pay a Visit (A Letter to Owyn)

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I found this charming letter in a bundle of archival material that we were cataloging for the Library this past week. L.L. Littlesworth, Esq. was the Estate Librarian for most of the late Victorian era.

From the letters of L.L. Littlesworth, Esq.

East Wing Library Belfry Tower,
Kinrowan Estate,
August 11th, 1865

Dear Owyn,

This afternoon, my good friend Charles Dodgson and his charming companion Alice came for tea. The Cheshire Cat I see often, as he regularly makes his rounds from the conservatory to the kitchens to the library here at the estates. But the library belfry, where I keep my personal effects and from where I write this account, is blessedly Cheshire-free, most days. And it is peaceful — no bells here since who-knows-when. These estates have been here what seems like forever, though every few generations someone feels compelled to expand upon what lay here before him. The entire library wing of this rambling place looks positively Medieval, though I suppose such is the fashion again, what with the Gothic modes and the emergence of the New Romanticism.

So — no bells in this belfry, just books, books, books. And scrolls and codices, more than one illuminated manuscript. Several inscribed stone tablets lean in corners which come and go as stealthily as the Cheshire Cat. Never before I came to work here did I see a place with so many corners, nor such a propensity for those corners to disappear when the fancy took them. Rumor has it some long-ago librarian here used the library’s extensive collected works on the Grey Arts to imbue the walls with a sort of ethereal elasticity. It enables us to continually acquire as many new books as we need, you see, without ever having to let any go.

The estate managed by the School of the Imagination is an easy walk from here; quite close, though closest on third Mondays and full moons. The other side of Oberon’s wood is sometimes quite close indeed, depending upon the circumstances of the hour and His Fey Majesty’s pleasure.

When Dodgson and his charge arrived I took them straightaway to the library for tea. Miss Alice is most enamored of the belfry. ‘Why, it’s rather like a rabbit hole, is it not, Mr. Littlesworth?’ she said. ‘Only it goes up, up, up rather than down, down, down; and it is lined with books rather than roots.’

Upon which my friend Dodgson mumbled, in an off-hand way, one of his famous doublets — ‘Books — boots — roots.’ He’s always thinking, is my friend Dodgson. His mind never rests. And Miss Alice! So fetching a child, and so intriguing. Once Dodgson created her, he could no sooner undo his work than any of us can undo any auto-manifesting fabrication, or flight of fancy made real.

For tea, Cook had laid out quite a feast for our guests (she spares no such labors on simple me!) — hardboiled eggs sprinkled with Paprika from the Indies; lovely slices of delicate fish which virtually melted on the palate; cakes a variety of shapes, and cordials a dozen colors. Dodgson remarked most favorably upon the fare, but I noticed Miss Alice refrained from the repast. When I directed her to the fish, she said — most politely, for she is an extremely well-behaved child — ‘Thank you ever so much, Mr. Littlesworth, but once one has seen a fish in all his livery, it is not quite the same to see him spread wide upon a platter, and seems not quite the thing to eat him.’ When I offered her the plate of eggs instead, she remarked, ‘Oh Mr. Littlesworth! I couldn’t  . .not since it was explained to me by a most insistent mother pigeon that only serpents eat eggs. I think I look not the least like a serpent, do you?’ Upon which I hastily reassured her in the negative. Dodgson was of no assistance. He merely smiled — indulgent of Miss Alice or myself I wouldn’t presume to guess.

In desperation, I piled the girl’s empty plate with cakes of every variety, thinking I’d never met a child who would say no to cakes at high tea. But she demurred, fixing me in a dolorous gaze with those enormous eyes of hers. ‘Mr. Littlesworth,’ said she — ‘A girl who grows all out of proportion for the simple act of eating a cake once might be pitied. She might be praised if she does it again to remove herself from a fix. But a girl who makes a habit of eating cakes, randomly and with no thought to the consequences to her size and shape. …’ She shook her pale head with finality. Our Cook is forever speaking of putting herself on a reducing diet, but I had quite the strong feeling that was not what Miss Alice meant at all.

After tea, I asked which portion of the estate my guests would most like to see. ‘Just please, Mr. Littlesworth, not the Conservatory,’ said Alice. ‘The Cheshire Cat has told me often what a lovely place the Conservatory is — how delightful its flora, how accommodating its fauna. He has recommended most strongly that I visit it while here. But I have decided not everything the Cheshire Cat says is true, strictly speaking.’

At which Dodgson laughed. ‘Are we speaking strictly?’ he said. ‘I make a habit of never speaking strictly, if it can be at all avoided.’

And so my guests decided they would explore the library wing itself, which if I do say so has quite a bit to recommend it. It has the shifting corners, of course, and the telescoping stairwell, which expands or contracts according to the seasons and to its willingness to allow access to a particular book. The library has been most accommodating during my tenure as its keeper. We have a benign relationship, this strange old wing and I. I like to think we co-operate to provide excellent archiving and retrieval services for the many, many volumes which come our way from around the globe and around the clock, as it were. I’m not always sure all of our volumes exist in the same temporal frame-work, though they may share the same shelves of magicked planks.

The remainder of our afternoon passed pleasantly. Time went quickly, as it does when spent in good company. The Cheshire Cat made an extended appearance late in the day, his grin materializing first and fading last, beaming down from its position atop the shelves on the upper landing of the belfry. Miss Alice pointedly ignored his presence, and asked me to explain my new toy, a tintype camera. I deferred to the Good Doctor’s superior knowledge, and he rambled for the remainder of the afternoon, blissfully unaware, I believe, that his young companion was engaged mainly in snubbing the looming feline and his enormous smile. I knew already most of that which Dodgson explained, but his enthusiasm was charming. He is a lovely man when his interests are engaged. His stammer virtually disappears, and he is then the most eloquent of scholars, and the very best of company.

Now the light is fading from my tower. Even that light which reaches here, far over the tops of trees fringing Oberon’s wood. I see the Old Mill Pond from my window. If I look very hard, I can make out pale wisps of smoke rising from the chimneys of the School of the Imagination. I picture my friends there, Dodgson perhaps writing in his journal as I do mine. His Alice — that strange, wonderful creature which is so like an actual human child and yet so unlike — perhaps she sleeps. In this odd twilight which exists between day and night, anything is possible. I think a creature so strange and lovely as Alice might outlive even her creator Dodgson and myself. Will she, I wonder, still be teased by the Cheshire Cat long after these papers crumble to dust; long after some future generation of Estate librarians decide this old belfry is no longer useful, or that some of these books must go?

I slide back onto the shelf by my desk this slim volume Dodgson gave me upon his leave-taking. I run a finger along the title inked onto the spine — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Part of me thinks she will outlast us all, this girl-child entity made real by the power of words alone. For that and for her, I love these books around me all the more.

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What’s New for the 13th of August: Ray Bradbury mysteries, June Tabor’s jazz-folk trio, Béla Bartók, live music by Midnight Oil, Finnish jazz, libraries and Richard Thompson goes acoustic (again)

I decided to return to the library and see what I  could learn there. Besides, I like libraries. It  makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around  me. I always feel better when I can see that  there is something to hold back the shadows. — Corwin in Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber

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Someone was possessed of a great and uncommon kindness back in the late Victorian Age anonymously gave us a very large sum to finance a new Library. That’s how the present one came to be an open cube, four stories up and three down into the earth with bookshelves and other things such as the musical Ganeshes that got moved here from the Pub rising up around triple glazed windows.

The old Library was kept, just repurposed for other uses such as the Turlough O’Carolan Irish Trad Music collection and  the Agatha Christie Reading Room which houses our extensive mystery fiction collection.

If you’re here during one of our blizzards, and we get a number of them every Winter,  make sure you come here sometime during the evening to watch it as the storm is amazing as the lights inside make it look magical. I’ve been known to get a dram single malt, peated preferred and definitely no water, and just watch the storm for several hours. Now I must take my leave of you as I need to finish this edition…

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Craig has a look at three mystery novels by the venerable Ray Bradbury, as collected in an omnibus. See for yourself why Craig says, ‘Where Everything Ends is a trio of fine detective novels (together with the short story that provided the starting point) from Bradbury in his inimitable style. He plays with the conventions, but since he so obviously loves the genre, this is easily forgiven — embraced, even — because the end results are, simply put, fine additions to the canon. This series is also dear to fans because it is likely the closest thing to an autobiography we will receive from this man who has brought so much joy to so many people for so many years.’

If you’ve ever wondered about John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and how it came to be perhaps the best known English language opera, Jack has the book for you, a work by Charles Pearce: ‘Given such a rich and rather racy plot, it’s no surprise that Polly Peachum and The Beggar’s Opera, which details how The Beggar’s Opera has fared from its inception ’til the late Victorian period, is a lively read.’

A mythology infused series featuring Detective Inspector Chen is next up. The first one finds favour with Liz. She opens thusly — ‘Snake Agent, like any good detective novel, all starts with a dame …’ But does it lay ‘a solid framework for future novels in the series’?

Robert takes a look at one of Glen Cook’s early series, Starfishers, beginning with Shadowline: ‘Glen Cook dedicated Shadowline, the first volume of his Starfishers trilogy, to Richard Wagner. Yes, that Richard Wagner. Think Götterdämmerung.’ Click through to start the survey.

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Muzsikás’ The Bartók Album gets an appreciative look by Brendan, who also reviewed Bartók’s  Yugoslav Folk Songs which you’ll see connects intrinsically to this recording: ‘During a recent festival in celebration of the works of Béla Bartók — one of this century’s most important musical composers — at Bard College, the Hungarian tradition revivalist band Muzsikás discovered that many people were quite familiar with Bartók’s classical compositions while being quite ignorant of the Hungarian folk musical traditions that inspired much of those compositions’

Gary reviews a new release from Richard Thompson, the home-studio recorded Acoustic Classics Vol. II. ‘It’s a handpicked selection of some of his currently most popular songs from his solo acoustic performances, hitting all the major periods of his 50-year career in folk-rock and what is now called Americana music.’

Next up from Gary is some jazz from Finland. ‘Finnish trumpeter Martti Vesala attempted to capture the sounds and flavors of his home base Helsinki with a classic jazz quintet,” he says. ‘The aural picture that emerges on Helsinki Soundpost is a delightful tour.’

Gary also reviews Nightfall, the aptly titled somber second release from June Tabor’s jazz-folk trio Quercus. This time out along with traditional British folk songs, the group tackles some contemporary fare from Dylan to Sondheim.

Rounding out his reviews this week, Gary looks at On That Other Green Shore from John Reischman and the Jaybirds. ‘Bluegrass, oldtime, gospel, multi-part harmonies, danceable instrumentals, even a Beatles cover – as usual, The Jaybirds do it all just right.’

Robert came up with a look at what amounts to a survey of Béla Bartók’s career in a recording featuring a number of his works: ‘It’s no secret that I am very fond of the music of Bartók, and I’m particularly pleased to have a chance to revisit these recordings, which include some of his most revealing works. The arrangement on the disc is somewhat odd — sort of a trip backward through Bartók’s musical thought, but then, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, you can listen in any order you like.’

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The What Not this time is on the matter of breaking long standing traditions. The email I got from Adweek was Crayola Is Vowing to Retire One Crayon From Its Iconic Box of 24 This Week.

Meanwhile Parker Brother had started out the week by removing the thimble and boot both of which had been in Monopoly since its start in 1935 and the wheelbarrow was introduced a generation later  in the 1950s. tradionalistd were appalled and vented their disgust loudly.

Now it’s Crayola tinkering with longstanding tradiation.  On March 31st of this year, the company announced that Dandelion will be retiring. Crayola has also announced that there will be a new color that is supposed to be a kind of blue that will replace Dandelion. Sigh — Has no one a sense of history?

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So the music this week is from Midnight Oil, an Aussie rock group fronted by Peter Garret, whose politics infused the band over the decades it exisited. Tip O’Neil, an Irish- American politician from Boston, once said that all politics is local, a sentiment that is mirrored in this band as all of their music has a political angle, usually in an unsubtle fashion.

Indeed Garret ran for a seat in Parliament and won. He represented a district in New South Wales for the Australian Labor Party. That in turn led to the Prime Minister choosing him to be the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.

I’ll stop prattling on about the political bent of the group and pick something by them from the Inifinite Jukebox, our digital media server. So let’s listen to ‘Blue Sky Mine’ which was performed as an acoustic set sans drum kit at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London on the 23rd of June, 24 years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Border Postal Service (A Letter to Mauve)

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Written by Robert ‘Robbie’ Macdonald, The Steward here between The Wars, to a friend, about the problems of getting postal service across the Border. The letter was reprinted by Robbie in his Journal, dated 2nd of June 1918.

Dear Mauve,

You asked about how we post letters and packages across the Border to Faerie and back to here. Well that’s a fascinating question which I hopefully can answer for you. I asked our Librarian if there were Journal entries of just how far back there was Border postal service. Jasmine got a look in her eye and disappeared into her office with a pot of tea and a plate of Border strawberry scones — the ones that start out red and turn white as they ripen. Certainly makes for a queer looking jam.

I didn’t hear anything more about this matter until several days later when Jasmine told me over breakfast that it came about when Titania and Oberon first ventured to this side of the Border too see our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they claim they assisted Will in writing, oh, so long ago by our standards but only a twinkling in the eye by the way they measure time.

Being Royalty, they needed to keep in constant contact with the Court over the Border lest someone, say Puck, caused trouble. So they created the Border Postal Service which allowed humans under geis to go into Faerie without suffering the fate of Tam Lin (that would-be Queen has, we’re told, been severely punished for her actions) and for Fey servants that travel here under a similar geis not to cause trouble.

The result is that our Fey Royalty can now get the teas they love from us when they are delivered here by our tea brokers and we can get the wonderful crafts that only a tradeswomen there can produce, such as the skirt that Jasmine was wearing that morning. And everyone writes letters back and forth, both personal and business related.

Delivering the post can be tricky as time, geography, and even the weather differ across the Border from here. Jasmine, our Senior Librarian, says we once lost a Several Annie by the name of Caoilainn for an entire Winter back in the reign of Queen Victoria; she was delivering a bottle of twenty-year-old mead as a betrothal gift to a member of the Court when the Border closed itself. (Laith claims it’s a living creature in its own right.) Caoilainn had a grand time and says she’s no regrets.

The only creatures who seem to have no troubles crossing the Border are the Estate felines who come and go as they please. The only queer thing about that is some come back with odd traits — some fade in and out, some can disappear there and re-appear a long ways off, and most disconcertingly is some appear to be very, very similar to long-passed-on Estate felines!

I must end this letter now, as I see that our Estate Gillie is eager to get the inspection of the salmon breeding pools underway. Give my love to your husband and the bairns.

Warmest regards, Robbie

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What’s New for the 6th of August: “Classical” music — the twentieth century

I am quite certain in my heart of hearts that modern music and modern art is not a conspiracy, but is a form of truth and integrity for those who practise it honestly, decently and with all their being. — Michael Tippett

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The twentieth century, like most centuries before it, began in turmoil, political, social, and artistic. (If you think that generalization is too broad, think about what was going on in Europe in the early years of the nineteenth century. Or the eighteenth century. Or the past decade and a half.) The world was heading toward the first World War, communism and other political movements were gaining ground in Europe and America, and as for art — well, Picasso and Braque were turning painting on its head, the Dadaists and Surrealists were doing the same to not only painting, but literature and theater, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf were rethinking narrative fiction, Diaghilev was recreating dance, and — well, it didn’t stop.

As for music, we can find several strands of development in the twentieth century. There were those who stuck to more traditional ideas, following in the steps of Mahler, such as Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninoff (albeit with a more-or-less apparent dose of what became known as “modernism”); there were influences from other traditions, such as the music of the East, which led to composers such as Claude Debussy creating new forms of composition; and then there were Stravinsky and Schoenberg, who to my mind did more than anyone else to influence the course of music in the twentieth century.

And that’s not even counting what was going on in America.

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To start off, We have a couple of books about a composer who is little-known but exerted a major influence on American music in the post-post-War period. The first is Carol J. Oja’s Colin McPhee: Composer in Two Worlds, followed by McPhee’s own memoir, A House in Bali: ‘McPhee had heard recordings of Balinese music in the late 1920s and was completely captivated by the shimmering textures and subtle, complex rhythms. In 1931, he headed for Bali, where he spent most of the next seven years, building a house in a mountain village and immersing himself in the life and music of the island.’

We should also note that American music became a dominant force in the twentieth century. One composer who is as prototypically American as any — and quite deliberately so — was Aaron Copland, as we learn from Howard Pollack’s Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man: ‘Pollack claims, toward the end of his work, that “…from the start of his career, Copland set out to compose music that was ‘recognizably American’ and that reflected ‘the American scene…in musical terms.’ ” ‘

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And then there’s film: I’m not talking about films about composers, although there have been more than a few of those, but rather the number of composers who created soundtracks for films. Starting with the introduction of “talkies” in the 1920s, musical accompaniment was no longer a matter of a pianist playing off to one side: there was music that was part of the film itself. And the list of composers who exercised their talents in this new medium is staggering, including such diverse artists as Aaron Copland, Benjamin Britten, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Johnny Cash, Jeff Beck — well, there are lots more.

Some composers took a different tack. Philip Glass, for example, took Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête, dispensed with the original dialogue and soundtrack by Georges Auric, and wrote his own soundtrack/opera: ‘Glass wrote the opera to synchronize with the dialogue in the film, and while the synchronization isn’t perfect here (the music was written for live singers performing in conjunction with the film), it’s close enough. Glass’ signature strong rhythmic structure has been harnessed to the action of the film, adding to the momentum, and the opera is unabashedly and unrepentantly melodic.’

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We don’t usually think of Debussy, who died in 1918, as a twentieth-century composer — there is a school of thought that maintains that a new century doesn’t really begin until about fifteen years into it — its character is only nascent before then. Debussy was, however, influential, especially in Eastern Europe, but that came later. He is known, along with Maurice Ravel, as an “impressionist” composer, although his main influence, aside from the music of Asia, was the Symbolist movement. You can get a glimpse of the differences and similarities between the two in this album by American pianist Leon Fleisher: ‘Debussy, great iconoclast that he was, was indeed influenced by the impressionist painters and was in addition an extraordinarily adventurous composer who developed what has become a fundamentally important mode in contemporary musical expression, the so-called “tone block,” which has influenced composers as diverse as Penderecki and Pärt. Ravel is pre-eminently a structuralist, focusing on form (which may explain to some extent his delight in and fascination with jazz, which is, after all, a highly formal idiom) to build his shimmering tapestries of sound.’

Richard Strauss (who did not write waltzes about the Danube) is another of those whom, for the purposes of this discussion, I will call “traditionalists” (even though they’re not, strictly). He was not averse to exploring in all sorts of directions but stuck with the traditional forms, more or less, as witness his smaller scale works: ‘“Richard Strauss” and “chamber music,” I have to confess, are not concepts that have joined together easily in my mind. In my defense, Strauss is best known for his operas and full-blown orchestral works, probably the most popular of which, thanks to Stanley Kubrick, is Also Sprach Zarathustra.’

Igor Stravinsky is arguably the composer who most influenced those who came after, as well as many of his contemporaries. From the scintillating impressionism of such works as The Firebird through his studies of folk music through his experimentation with Schoenbergian atonalism and back to strict neo-classicism, he blazed almost too many paths to count. If you don’t believe me — well, just think a moment: ‘I don’t think anyone is going to argue the weight of Stravinsky’s influence on twentieth-century music. It is so pervasive that, for example, while listening to Petrouschka, I was reminded of the soundtrack for every busy urban scene in every film practically since sound became part of movies. No less a figure than Claude Debussy wrote to Stravinsky: “It is a special satisfaction to tell you how much you have enlarged the boundaries of the permissible in the empire of sound.” And this was in 1913, when Stravinsky was still only in his thirties.’ And happily, Sony has issued a massive set surveying his career — conducted mostly by Stravinsky himself.

Another major figure in the music of the twentieth century, who to my mind is too little recognized, is Béla Bartók. Like Stravinsky, he delved into the folk music of his native country, in his case Hungary, ultimately incorporating its forms into his own compositions; he also experimented with atonalism, although he wasn’t too thrilled with Stravinsky’s neo-classicism. We happen to have a good sampling of various points in his career in a disc of several of his chamber works: ‘The works presented on this disc from 2L provide a good illustration of the composer’s approach to composition at various times in his career through some of his chamber music, which to me is always one the best ways to find out what a composer is thinking.’

It’s really in the years after World War II that “classical” music exploded, more or less: in Central and Eastern Europe, music assimilated the influences of Debussy, Stravinsky, and, importantly, Arnold Schoenberg and his followers; America took its place on the world stage as a major player in the world of music, itself assimilating influences as diverse as John Cage, American folk music, spirituals, popular music and the music of Indonesia and India.

Let’s start with the Americans, since they were the new kids on the block so to speak. This collection of American works for piano performed by Leon Fleisher gives a good idea of what American music had been and to a certain extent continued to be in the twentieth century: ‘American music of the twentieth century, at least that variety that styles itself “serious” music, is inhabited by a range of highly independent composers. One of its most notable aspects, in fact, is its resistance to “schools” outside of the broadest categorizations. The only designation I can think of that encompasses such composers as Ives, Thomson, Barber, Feldman, Cage, Bernstein, Partch and Riley is “American.” ‘

John Cage was a seminal figure in American art, particularly music and dance, in the post-War period. One of the more significant of his followers, for lack of a better term, was Morton Feldman, whose Rothko Chapel and Why Patterns? bring Cage’s ideas to a wider audience: ‘Morton Feldman, born in New York City in 1926, met John Cage in 1949; it is hard to say exactly how much influence Cage had on Feldman’s development as a composer, but one can surmise that the spare, non-dramatic quality of these two works, the Rothko Chapel of 1971 and Why Patterns? of 1978, owe something to Cage’s ideas of silence as sound and everyday sounds as music.’

We mentioned above Colin McPhee, who was tremendously influential on one of the few American “schools” of music, the serial minimalists: Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich, to name the most prominent. Reich was perhaps the most consistent minimalist of the group, as typified by the works included in Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings: ‘ I first encountered Reich’s music in the late 1970s-early 1980s at concerts sponsored by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which also introduced me to the music of Philip Glass. It’s rather that the works of both composers at that time were what I call “hard-core serial minimalism,” a sort of take-no-hostages approach that was strict, tight, and much easier to watch in performance than listen to on recordings: at least in a concert you could watch the musicians.’

Riley and Glass moved in different directions after the early 1980s: Riley moved firmly into the camp of “American individualists,” as one might see in his Requiem for Adam: ‘I gave up some time ago the idea of Riley as a “minimalist” composer, although many consider him in that light. His music is too adventurous, too loose, to inquisitive to cast him in such simplistic terms. Looking back over this little essay, I realize that I’ve continually made references to other composers to try to describe Riley’s music. It’s an inadequate attempt. The hints are there, but they’re never more than hints, a phrase that almost could be, a color that reminds one of, a rhythm that recalls.’

Glass, on the other hand, while maintaining his strong rhythms and repetitive patterns, got looser, one might almost say “romantic” in a certain sense. Perhaps this was a result of his engagement with music for the theater: opera and dance. Satyagraha, while still fairly early in his career, shows the direction he was headed: ‘The remarkable thing about this music, “transitional” though it may be, is the way in which Glass’ basic compositional devices, repetitive rhythmic and melodic structures, aggregate into music that sounds almost traditional until you listen closely, when the influences from Indian and Indonesian music become obvious.’

There was a lot more going on in American music, but limitations of space force us to leave that and head toward Europe.

In the years after World War II, Germany was struggling to regain its identity (among other things), perhaps a good metaphor for the work of Bernd Alois Zimmermann as revealed in the works included on Canto di speranza: ‘West German composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman is one of those unclassifiable artists whose style progressed through what seems to be the normal twentieth-century pattern: neoclassicism, atonality and the twelve-tone row of Schoenberg, serialism, and finally a kind of polyglot style that resolved into what is known in Germany as “Klangkomposition,” a style marked by planes or blocks of sound, similar to the late music of Claude Debussy and found in one variation or another across Europe, especially in the east among composers as diverse as Krzysztof Penderecki and Arvo Pärt.’

Speaking of Arvo Pärt, his works pose the question “Just what is contemporary?” This is illustrated in Da Pacem, a collection of his shorter works: ‘Pärt has, since the late 1970s, worked largely in triads, essentially the same as Debussy’s “tone blocks,” which gives his music a strong likeness to early Church music. Indeed, he has deliberately used the modes and structures of medieval sacred music, although his vocabulary remains contemporary. (And it’s worth wondering if “contemporary” in this sense really denotes anything new.)’

We can’t really talk about post-War music in Eastern Europe without at least mentioning Dmitri Shostakovich, who managed to produce some innovative music in spite of Josef Stalin breathing down his neck. The incipient schizophrenia of his career is illustrated in this recording of this Symphony No. 5: ‘When I was first making my acquaintance with the range of the twentieth-century “classical” canon, the Shostakovich Fifth was the penultimate achievement of Soviet music. Shostakovich, although a loyal Soviet citizen, was also an artist, which is a breed not particularly amenable to outside control.’

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We’ve barely skimmed the surface in this installment, but alas, space limitations rear their ugly head. (Heads?) However, we should mention Carl Orff, who, while he wrote some seriously scary operas — Oedipus der Tyrann, Antigonae, Prometheus, all in a strict, post-Schoenberg atonalist style — was also the creator of one of the most popular concert-hall staples, Carmina Burana, a cantata based on medieval manuscripts from the monastery of Benediktbeuren. It’s been performed innumerable times, in all sorts of settings — even in train stations.

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A KInrowan Estate story: Blackberry Wine (A Letter to Catherine)

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Dear Catherine, 

Our gardens are full of the good things one finds there as summer wanes: small and large pumpkins, the last of the ripe cucumbers, chili peppers ready for drying, plump tomatoes for canning and drying, blackberries, and an infinity of sunflowers! And we’ve had lots of butterflies and hummingbirds in the gardens this year — a nice thing to watch in the afternoon as I’m doing now.

Which is why I’m out here with a thermos full of cider apparently reading a book, Jane Yolen’s One-Armed Queen, which is most excellent, except if you were here, you’d find me watching the butterflies more intently than reading the book. It’s not that it’s not an interesting book, but rather that the butterflies are more interesting as they are in the sunflowers nearby with upwards of a half dozen on one giant head.

After a while, I decided that I wasn’t going to get anything out of the book so I turned my attention to helping Gus pick the crop of blackberries. Obviously Mrs. Ware uses them in muffins, makes rather splendid blackberry tarts out of them, and a blackberry cobbler that’s served with vanilla ice cream, but Gus noted that his wife Kate has been making wine out of them, a wine she calls Midnight Wine on account of its colour, which is like a night sky without stars or moon.

We got the berries for her new batch, so nothing would do but I come back to their cottage to sample the batch put down five years ago. Kate had a twinkle in her eyes when she noted it had a twelve percent abv! It was a damn fine wine — dry and not too sweet. We made a lunch of it along with some cheddar cheese, smoked salmon, and crusty rolls served with a garlic spread. All in all, it was a splendid repast, complete with conversation that had nothing to do with the Pub. We did get a listen to the first recording of  Solstice, a side-project of Snow on the Mountain group which we’d booked last year, which was quite nice.

I’m now sitting out by the Standing Stones after taking the long walk to them, writing this letter to you here before heading back to the Estate Building before it get too dark to see the rough path. If you’d been here, it’d been perfect.

With love, Iain

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What’s New for the 30th of July: an update on Peter S. Beagle v. a certain rat bastard, A sort of trad Nordic recording from Den Fule, A puppet performance, Scottish & Border Battles & Ballads, a novella by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, Music from The Dead and other Summery things

Say, it might have been a fiddle,
Or it could have been the wind.
But there seems to be a beat, now.
I can feel it in my feet, now.
Listen, here it comes again!

Grateful Dead’s ‘The Music Never Stopped’

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Ingrid, our Steward, declared earlier this week that today would be an Estate work free day as much was possible though the livestock would need tending to and otheir such matters. Mrs. Ware  and her ever so talented Kitchen staff  prepared a picnic of sorts so they could enjoy the day too. I even closed the Pub for the day as Bjorn, our brewmaster, set up taps of Celebration Ale, Albion Cider, Widdershins Mead and Banish Misfortune Stout at the top of the Greensward for all to enjoy.

There’s a pig cooking over the apple wood fire which should be ready in a few hours. Plenty of other fare as well — earlier today I saw corn ready for roasting, German style potato salad,  lots of cheeses,  fat sausages, a cole slaw with poppy seed dressing and lots of other tasty foods.

Indeed I’m finishing this edition earlier this week, so I too could take the day off.  After you read this edition, join us on the Greensward for music, libations, food and other summery things.

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First a public service announcement…

For fans and supporters of Peter S. Beagle who may have wondered what has been happening with Peter’s lawsuit against his former manager, The attached update is the latest filing by Peter’s lawyer. This Motion For Preliminary Injunction was filed on July 26, 2017. It asks the court to stop Conlan Press, or any of its agents, from selling and profiting from any of Peter’s work.

We highly recommend settling in with a bowl of popcorn and a tall cold one, and reading all of it. If you’re a fan or supporter of Peter’s, this will give you a look at the damage being done to him.

Please link, share, and let people know. This is a public filing, so let’s make it public!

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Craig has a look at three mystery novels by the venerable Ray Bradbury, as collected in an omnibus. See for yourself why Craig says, Where Everything Ends is a trio of fine detective novels (together with the short story that provided the starting point) from Bradbury in his inimitable style. He plays with the conventions, but since he so obviously loves the genre, this is easily forgiven — embraced, even — because the end results are, simply put, fine additions to the canon. This series is also dear to fans because it is likely the closest thing to an autobiography we will receive from this man who has brought so much joy to so many people for so many years.

Denise has a novella by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar that may start off in the summer, but gets decidedly chillier as you turn the pages.  Gwendy’s Button Box  ‘I s a delightful slow burn of disquiet and dread’  that has our reviewer wanting more.  ‘If this is how King and Chizmar work together?  I’m hoping this will be the start of a beautiful friendship.’

Lahri says ‘Scottish & Border Battles & Ballads is a mouthful, even for a Scot, and the concept is a little vague if you are impulse-buying this book. These are not ballads about the Scottish borders and battles but rather ballads specifically about battles fought in Scotland and its borders. The distinction is worth noting, for you will find none of the magical Border ballads about Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer or Michael Scott the wizard contained within.’

Somehow, we’ve never done a stand-alone review of Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, which oversight Robert has corrected for us: ‘Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars is a strangely deceptive novel. It seems, at first, fairly straightforward – a narrative about a group of artists trying to make it, interspersed with sections of a folk tale – but you start to wonder whether it’s really that up front or if Brust is pulling a Gene Wolfe and playing with your head – there seem to be all sorts of clues in the book, but are they?’

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Gary says up of Quake, a sort of trad Nordic recording from Den Fule that: ‘When I was trying to find something that my good friend, a Breton girl of 22 who loves nu-metal music, would like, I pulled out Den Fule. Her assessment: “That’s really fun, kinda’ like Irish music, but it rocks.” This accomplishes in ten words what will take me at least 300 to re-iterate.’

Richard has high praise indeed for a Maddy Prior album; ‘Flesh & Blood is one of the finest CDs I’ve heard in years. Prior’s voice, always angelic, has never sounded better; and, with the able help of Nick Holland and Troy Donockley, she has picked material that does her vocal talents justice. Indeed, the collection is so captivating that I’ve had to take it out of my work rotation; after all, I don’t get paid to stand around and gawk dreamily to music.’

Robert starts off his review of Thomas Barth’s Beyond Black & White with a bit of a rant: ‘It is sometimes very difficult to get past the packaging of recordings to the substance (if there is substance, which is not always the case), particularly when dealing with new age music (“new age” being one of those categories we use for things we can’t quite fit anywhere else, similar to terms such as “psychology” and “photography”). If you really want to turn me off, tell me your music is going to take me to a higher spiritual plane — another of those truisms I can hardly believe anyone has the gall actually to say out loud, much less write down for publication. Why else do we listen to music, after all?’ Don’t worry, though — he gets over it soon enough.

He was much less exercised by a group of works by American composer Samuel Barber as presented in Adagio for Strings: Orchestral and Chamber Works: ‘There is nothing really radical about Barber’s music: it sits firmly in the mainstream of twentieth-century American music in the post-Schoenberg, post-Stravinsky modernist vein.’

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A Figures of Speech Theatre’s Puppet performance is our What Not this time.  In his review, Chris writes of a puppet theater that owes as much to Japanese drama and American-Indian Mythology as it does to Jim Henson and Sherri Lewis; ‘Among the complex issues they set out to explore with Anerca are cross-cultural interactions, the misunderstandings of language, and direct emotional communication. Rather than putting Western words into another language, they focus on the emotional tone, physical world and spiritual quest of the characters.’

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The musical coda this time is, not ‘tall surprising, the Grateful Dead performing The Music Never Stopped’. So let’s listen to this song which was created by John Perry Barlow (words) and Bob Weir (music) as was performed on the 16th of  1976 at Passaic, NJ.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Guest Lecturer

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Several Annies, do pay attention now as there will be a quiz afterwards!

Well, now. Mackenzie has asked me in as tonight’s guest lecturer. He likes to keep these seminars going through the summer months, you know, when otherwise the staff and denizens of  the Kinrowan Estate get too caught up in the long days and short nights in Oberon’s Wood. Remember, Masters and Mistresses, you are supposed to be writing about books here.

And what does it mean, to write ‘about’ books? Hey? Any of you bright-eyed boys and girls ever paused to think about it, in your rush between the reference stacks and Jack’s in barrel? I’ve seen that barrel, and a mighty void it is, too. What are you all about as you proffer your analyses of art to the waiting ether?

Some might consider it a self-referential waste of time, especially the business of review and literary critique. ‘Them as can, do,’ the saying goes. ‘Them as can’t do, teach. And them as can’t do neither, criticize.’ Of course, that old saw is usually trotted out by someone who has written a bad book and been caught at it. There is power and skill needed to review a tale properly, so as to catch the casual reader’s interest and send it on like a well-aimed sling stone to find the original work itself.

But you may need to ask yourselves — and a frightening question it is – are you committing metafiction? When you write about another’s world, are you outlining the borders for the uninformed, or extending them? Are you lighting the path or creating a detour? It’s not my business or concern to tell you that — no, it’s not, so you can put away your notes and that dismayed look, young woman — it’s merely my intent to make you think about it. To read deeply and then to talk about it is a serious thing.

We all walk into books hoping. We hope for joy or mere amusement; for fulfillment of a dream and the filling of an idle hour; for a clear look at something we have glimpsed in dreams, or the first look at what has been unimaginable. When we consent to read a tale, we’re consenting to a journey that we have to take on faith. We hope to be well and safely conveyed the whole way, and not left robbed of our time by some nameless highwayman. We trust the writers to know the way and show us all the best sights. At their best, all writers take us on the perfect road; at your best, you are sharing your experience on that road.

Consider yourselves cartographers, ladies and gentlemen. Every book opened is a new world discovered. Worlds are vast things. They harbor as much danger as delight; neither one is always easy to find, and maps are required. Not all worlds will sustain life — a warning to the explorer behind you on the road can give warning that ahead is a deadly insufficiency of oxygen, or warmth, or wit. A bright red ‘Here Be Dragons’ pulls in as many eager travellers as it warns off the timid ones: someone languishing for the company of dragons may never find their heart’s desire without your directions.

So sharpen your pens and calibrate your compasses. The folk on staff all brought out their brightest inks, and the maps displayed in the books are grand examples to emulate.

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What’s New for the 23rd of July: a SF Day of Dead, baseball related books, some Tolkien works, Fantasia No. 34 performed, more early music, and other matters

 To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due.– Hob Gadling, toasting upon Dream’s journey as told in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Season of Mists

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What’s that lovely piece of music I’ve got playing in the Library? That’d be Boiled in Lead‘s  version of a trad piece called ‘Step It Out Mary’ Not ‘tall trad, but who cares long as it’s great music? I’m playing just BiL this afternoon as I go through the correspondence that’s come in to me this past fortnight.

Some of it is from the publicists we deal with you thought I might be interesting in purchasing for the Library. If I’m interested, particularly if it’s fiction, I see if there’s sufficient interest among the Estate community since the purpose of a work is to be read over and over, not sit on a shelf.  And some works never garner enough interest to be worth having. For those books, we use the British Interlibrary loaning system.

Now books by Tolkien and books about him and his work always get great attention here. Indeed Denise has his Beren and Lúthien for review now which has been edited by his son Christopher.

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So how about some works by or about Tolkien? Let’s start off with Gary looking at a perennial favorites of lots of us: ‘The long and colorful publishing history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit continues with a new edition that seems to be aimed at reclaiming the written version of the story as a way to introduce it to young readers. It’s a handsome hardcover book with illustrations by the young Jemima Catlin, who was hand-picked for the assignment by the Tolkien Estate.’

Kathleen has a look at book she’s treasured since her childhood, Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, ‘Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar — but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.’

Years ago, a large arrived from a publisher, not an uncommon event here, but this one contained ten volumes of, oh let’s have Liz explain: ‘The History of Middle-earth offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine a great writer’s creative development over a period of 60 years. At his death, J.R.R. Tolkien left a huge body of unfinished and often unorganized writings on the mythology and history of Middle-earth. In The History of Middle Earth (HoME), his son, Christopher, has sought to organize this huge collection of drafts, revisions and reworkings into an organized and intelligible whole.

Liz also looks at The Monsters and the Critics: ‘These seven essays provide a glimpse into Tolkien’s intent as a scholar, translator of texts, and novelist. Just as Sir Gawain’s shield device, the pentangle, gave graphic evidence of how Gawain’s virtues were inextricably linked, this book shows how Tolkien’s interests in philology (i.e., historical linguistics) and the art of fantastic fiction were bound together, each giving life to the other.’

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Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark which has a multitude of persons involved in it gets a review by Baseball fan Richard: ‘To be a fan of a minor league baseball team to be a fan of change. The best thing that can happen to your team’s best players is that they leave, promoted to a higher level. Those who return year after year are those whose careers have stalled out, veteran insurance stashed away in case better players get hurt. Even team names and affiliations change with painful regularity, leaving fans only the experience of going to the same ballpark year after year – assuming the team doesn’t move – to serve as essential continuity.’

He next looks at Lew Freedman’s Baseball’s Funnymen; ‘When most people think of the history of baseball, they think of it in terms of a Ken Burns documentary – soaring music, sepia tones, and a certain reverence for the deeds of players engaged in noble competition. But there are other sides of the game, not the least of which is humor. From the bungling, prank-playing Brooklyn Dodgers of old to the modern day, there have always been jokesters, pranksters and clowns both on and off the field.’

And then there’s book about a baseball game which lasted  almost as long as cricket test match which is reviewed by Richard too: ‘Bottom of the 33rd, as scribed by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dan Barry. The book is his ode to the longest baseball game ever played in an organized league, a 33 inning behemoth staged between the AAA Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket PawSox in 1981. Playing third base for the Red Wings that day was a guy everyone agreed was too big to play shortstop: Cal Ripken Jr. His opposite number for the PawSox was Wade Boggs. Mixed in with these two all-time greats were a few quality players (Bruce Hurst, Bobby Ojeda, Rich Gedman), some journeymen and cup-of-coffee types, and of course the guys who never made it at all.’

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Babylon 5‘s ‘Day of the Dead’  as written by Neil Gaiman is a study of what happens when an alien race creates their own strange version of that Hispanic holiday on that space station. Read Asher’s thoughtful look at this episode. This being a Neil related thing, it won’t surprise you that there’s an annotated script which Grey reviews here.

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Jane Yolen, Shulamith Oppenheim and Stefan Czernecki’s The Sea King is appreciated by Grey: ‘This lovely folk tale has many old friends in it: Vasilisa the Wise, a beautiful princess who is also a bird; Baba Yaga the witch in her house that runs by itself on chicken legs; the King of the Sea in his underwater palace of crystal; and the innocently wise boy who finds his way because he’s generous and observant. And it has one of the most poignant story lines of all: the father who promises to sacrifice the first thing he sees when he returns home — only to find out that he’s just been borne a son.’

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Storm + Calm gets Peter’s approval: ‘Described on their website as ‘a swirling reverie of Scots and Irish song; flute; whistles; fiddles; guitar; bouzouki; bodhran; and Irish dance, HAWP is a Celtic ensemble that combines ancient traditions with modern musical approaches to create a sound truly representative of Celtic culture in the 21st century. This album does just what it says on the tin.’

Robert gives a nod to our Coda with some comments on a collection of early music from Iberia, the Dufay Collective’s Music for Alfonso the Wise, he notes some context: ‘Alfonso X, “el Sabio” (“the Wise”), was king of Castile and Leon from 1252 to 1284, a time when those realms were an outpost of European culture on a peninsula under the domination of the Muslim Moors. He was known as a patron of the arts, and his court was a place where noted scholars, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, met with some of the foremost artists and musicians of the day. This collection, which includes the first known song cycle, ascribed to Martin Codax, gives a glimpse of a time and place which is deliciously foreign while at the same time hauntingly familiar.’

And, digging around in the Archives, we came up with this review of Ivory Consort’s Music From the Land of Three Faiths: ‘ Some medieval scholars consider “Moorish” Spain one of the Golden Ages of an otherwise intolerant and violent era. This is debatable, but it’s indisputable that they left a particularly rich musical heritage.’

More early music, this time from farther north — northern France, to be more or less precise — and rather less secular. Of The Tallis Scholars Sing Josquin, Robert says, ‘Josquin’s masses, motets and chansons are, as Peter Philips notes in his commentary on this collection, “complex, intellectually and vocally, posing problems which have only recently been found to represent a supreme challenge.” Or, more succinctly, “Josquin didn’t write any simple music.”’

Stephen finishes off these reviews off with a  look at Troka from the band of the same name: ‘The majority of the music on this CD is composed by members of the band and takes in polkas, waltzes, marches and polkas with occasional forays into Swedish, Irish, Balkan and bluegrass. The arrangements are complex but uncluttered, and steer away from the familiar folk approach of a “lead instrument,” taking the melody while the rest accompany. This is genuine “group,” playing with everything beautifully integrated to the extent that it’s hard to imagine these tunes being performed any other way.’

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Our What this time is that of Lars seeing an artist for the first time: ‘While in London in the summer of 1977 I went to the now defunct Southwark Folk Festival and for the first time I saw Martin Carthy in action. The festival was held in a teacher’s training college and the evening ended with Martin performing in the middle of the floor in an assembly room. We were just over a hundred sitting on the floor in circles around him. No stage, no microphones, no spectacular lights, just a man, his voice and his guitar. Pure magic. Do not expect me to tell you which songs he sang. I only remember a powerful ‘The Famous Flower of Serving Men’. But I have been a fan ever since.’

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Our coda this week harks back to the Renaissance — the Spanish Renaissance, to be exact, with a performance by Frank Wallace of Fantasia No. 34 from his album, Delphín.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Oberon’s Wood

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For the longest time this year, summer fluttered her wings against the panes of spring. Now, sunlight lingers long and hot. Afternoons stretch like thrice-pulled saltwater taffy, and the days here at the Kinrowan Estate have become the drowsy, heat-sleepy days of our warmest season. There is no doubt, when the air is heavy and breath comes languid from the lungs — warmth exhaled into warmth, drawn in as warmth again — that those fluttering wings have long since spread, unfurled across the land and become the too-heavy blanket of unfettered summer.

What does one do when the mind and body fall prey to the slow, hot haze of summer days? One waits, of course. One waits for the sun to sink, and for the stars to creep into his vacant seat. One watches the moon rise to hang low and globular in the nighttime sky like overripe fruit, illuminating all of Oberon’s wood. And when the hands of the clock in the KInrowan Hall main entry way meet in the middle of Time — at midnight — one goes to the party.

You may not have realized you were invited: you may not have paid close enough attention to your dreams of late. That’s how such invitations are customarily delivered; in dreams. In fact, you’re invited every year, though also never, as Time shows far less consideration for human convention inside dreams and the realm of the Consort to the Faerie Queen.

But perhaps you have attended our parties, after all. It may simply be that later, waking, you dismissed your recollections as mere fancy, or the common (if dreams are ever common) workings of a mind at sleep. Perhaps you recall dancing with a particularly fine gentleman of a bear? The one in the lavender waistcoat? His great, huge paws rested gentle as thistledown upon your shoulders, and he led you in a most divine waltz beneath the trees. (Though he’s not quite so light upon his feet as the sylph; who would be?)

No? If it wasn’t the bear with whom you danced, might it have been the undine? Not you? Well, if you’re sure. They have beautiful voices, those water nymphs, and there really is nothing quite so lovely as a midnight water-waltz on the banks of the old millpond in Oberon’s wood. Enough Dragon’s Breath Stout and a few turns about the pond, and a man could forget more or less everything he nearly thought he’d hardly ever remembered, almost…

This year we’re keeping the festivities simple. Our twelve bands have been booked, both human and fey (and three who refuse to be classified as either). The instruments await: the pennywhistle, the concertina, the dulcimer, the zither. The autoharp, the theremin, the ocarina and the drum. This year there are mad rumors of an invisible gargantuan harpsichord, to be played by a thousand invisible fingers.

But rumors are just that. Such an appearance (so to speak) remains highly unlikely, in the main.

If good food is what you seek, our twelve over-burdened wicker hampers have been packed. (The things are massive! Someone — we won’t say who — wanted to hire a dozen elephants to bear the load! Elephants, in Oberon’s Wood! Perish the thought. The Ents were more than happy to volunteer for the task, once the need was made clear.) When entering the fey-touched realms, one usually feels more comfortable taking food with, though there are plenty here at the Estate who scoff at the dangers. In fact, more than one on the staff here has been seen to consume quite copious amounts of fey-wrought food, and even more copious amounts of intoxicating beverages of questionable origin. We’ve not lost anyone yet for more than a fortnight, to our knowledge. Faerie prerogative? Perhaps. You’re more than welcome to come find out for yourself; to each his –or her — own. As has already been explained, you’re always invited, and never. It’s up to you.

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What’s New for the 16th of July: Elizabeth Hand’s favourite libation, Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park’ and other matters

Saturday in the park,  I think it was the Fourth of July — Chicago

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Care to sample our newest Summer ale? It’s called White Chalk Horse IPA and has a nice, light taste. It’s been very popular. It’ll go well with the whole hog barbecue that’s being cooked right now for serving up this evening after the contradance that the visiting Snow on the Mountain band’s providing the music for. Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, doing the calling.

It being summer, I’m reading several titles at once, so I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland’s The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. about an agency in our future which has developed time travel and recruits an agent to assist it in its quest to alter the past in order to bring magic back. Need I say that things don’t go as planned? Even at seven hundred plus pages, it’s a fast read.

I’m also reading Theodora Goss’ The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter, a delightful romp in a feminist version of Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in novel form only with better realised characters.

Now enjoy  your drink and give a listen to the Swedish tunes that the Neverending Session while I finish this edition off…

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Crow Mother and the Dog God, a Retrospective gets reviewed by Grey: ‘Meinrad Craighead has spent her long life creating images and words in her search for the deepest sources of the divine. As the girl christened Charlene Marie Craighead, she spent her summers in North Little Rock, Arkansas, running with packs of dogs, digging holes and listening to the stories of her beloved grandmother, “Memaw.” When she took holy orders as a Benedictine nun in England, she was given the name Meinrad, in honor of St. Meinrad, one of her own ancestors. Leaving the convent fourteen years later, she came to her heart’s home in New Mexico, where she has lived with dog companions and human friends ever since. In all that time, she has never stopped drawing, painting and writing about the images she has discovered.’

Robert was somewhat ambivalent about Elizabeth Hand’s Black Light, which he notes ‘is a foray into the world of dark gods, misty legends, and deep secrets.’ But you’re going to have to read his review to find out what the problem was.

He was much happier with Generation Loss: ‘Generation Loss is a foray into, for lack of a better term, “mainstream” fiction by Elizabeth Hand, many of whose previous novels have been marked by a decidedly mordant view of humanity (an attitude this one shares) and somewhere in the works, an apocalypse of some sort or another. They have also pretty much been easily identifiable as “science fiction.” The fantastic elements here, however, are the people and circumstances — the world at large is fairly normal, if not very pretty — and if there’s been an apocalypse, it’s been intimate and incremental.’

Robert also has a look at a trilogy that should be a classic, if it’s not. Describing George Alec Effinger’s Audran Trilogy, he says: ‘Effinger’s series builds a rich picture of a place (the Budayeen, the red-light ghetto in a Middle Eastern city that remains nameless ), a time (the late 22nd century), and a context (the political map is largely composed of the fragments of earlier superpowers, while it seems only the Islamic world has any coherency). The driving forces in the Budayeen are the same as the driving forces in any such place: money, sex, drugs, and power.’

I should note that D.O.D.O. is 750 pages long, a svelte length for a novel by Neal Stephenson, as the work Wes looks at, the first novel in The Baroque Cycle is 925 pages: ‘Quicksilver certainly doesn’t fall under the traditional conceits of science fiction, instead falling into something resembling ‘history-of-science fiction’. Set during the heart of the Baroque period, Neal Stephenson’s carefully crafted book follows fictional and historical characters through a world torn by conflict and plague. Those familiar with Neal Stephenson’s earlier novel Cryptonomicon will recognize the Shaftoes and Waterhouses, and the imaginary Qwghlm islands.  Quicksilver, while exploring the state of alchemical study during the years of the Royal Society, focuses on the contributions of the ancestors of the protagonists of Cryptonomicon. Even so, you don’t need to have read Cryptonomicon to enjoy Quicksilver.’

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Andrew notes that ‘Some stories are merely bad — dull, uninspired, or simply misformed. Others are bad in entertaining ways — bad movies, outsider art, and demented pulp fiction. Some stories are so horrible that it’s physically painful to read them, such as the work of Rob Liefeld. And then there’s Witchblade.’ It is now your solemn duty to read his in-depth review of the Witchblade Compendium, Volume 1 to see just why you should really, really avoid this work.

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Elizabeth answers our question of  favourite libation and says ‘To be honest, these days my libations don’t change much from season to season. It’s nearly always red wine. But at some point during the summer I usually have one margarita, on the rocks, salt — I had one while in San Diego — in honor of all the margaritas I used to mix for myself back in the day. I had enough then to fuel me for the rest of my life, plus it’s hard to get a decent margarita in a bar or restaurant — they all use a margarita mix, even in places like San Diego, and I don’t believe in frozen margaritas, strawberry margaritas, or some such. The one I drank in SD was the real thing. Rose’s lime juice, Cuervo, triple sec, salt. At the beach I used to do shots with salt and a slice of lime, but that was another century.’

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John went to see a legend among Irish bands: ‘Ending the Irish leg of their 2005 European Tour, Thin Lizzy arrived in Limerick to play at the University of Limerick Concert Hall to a capacity house. During the halcyon days of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Thin Lizzy were regular visitors to Limerick during their many Irish tours. For this re-constituted line up, this was their second time in the University of Limerick Concert Hall, as they played here before on their 2003 ‘Global Chaos’ tour.’

Robert shares some thoughts on tradition in music, specifically as it relates to a group of CDs featuring the cedar flute: ‘As I listen to more traditional music and more music from non-Western sources, I begin to realize that the blithe use of the word “traditional” is tantamount to making your own noose and putting it around your neck. This was brought vividly home to me while listening to a group of CDs from Native American and Native-derived artists. Historically, American Indian music has been viewed as being an integral part of a whole, residing quite inextricably with dance, religious ritual, singing, and drama. Music, in this situation, is functional rather than being purely aesthetic, in that it almost invariably accompanies some other activity: North American Indians did not have “concerts.”’

Robert’s next offering is a look at several recordings by two artists who start with the cedar flute and take off from there: ‘I learned a very important concept about making art in a dance class, studying butoh, the contemporary Japanese dance-theater that is at once highly abstract and fundamentally impressionistic: evocation. Our movements were not to describe an action, but to evoke the image of the action. This applies to works done in many mediums, from dance to poetry to fiction and, of course, music. Coyote Oldman (Michael Graham Allen on flutes, Barry Stramp on recording studio) has explored a range of possibilities inherent in this idea, basing their music on the sounds and textures of New World flutes (for the most part, made by Allen).’

We round off our music reviewing this week with Sean taking a look at yet another Clannad anthology, A Magical Gathering: ‘For those unfamiliar with the full panorama of the Clannad sound archive, these two discs might come as a surprise, as they contrast the band’s acoustic roots with more recent, perhaps familiar work, which is all too often formulaic, elegiac and in the hands of their most successful scion, Enya, totally commercial.’

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In keeping with our opening quote, not to mention our Coda, our What Not this week is a ramble through a nature reserve — in the middle of Chicago. Here’s Robert’s take on the North Pond Nature Sanctuary: ‘Chicago, perhaps surprisingly to most people, has a number of nature sanctuaries in Lincoln Park, which stretches along the lakefront from North Avenue in the south up to Hollywood Beach in the north. I say “perhaps surprisingly” because Chicago’s lakefront happens to be on a major flyway for migratory birds, part of the Mississippi Flyway, and given the city’s commitment to green space, nature reserves are pretty much a no-brainer. The “reserve” part is the result of Lincoln Park being one of the most used parks in the city, so we’ve had to set aside some places for the visitors.’

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There are bands for which I’ve deep liking for pretty much everything they’ve done such as the Old Blind Dogs or Steeleye Span, though the former used a full drum kit for a while that put me off those recordings. And then there are performers for which I can only blame radio play in heavy rotation for the song when I was working.

So it is with Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park’ which I’ve heard playing off and on over the past forty years. It’s certainly an upbeat, feel good summer song much like ‘Love Shack’ by the B-52s. It was recorded on 6th of August 1982 at the Park West in Chicago. It was released on Chicago V in 1972 and peaked on the Billboard carts at number three which is bloody impressive. It was lovely enough that I didn’t get tired of it. But I’ve prattled on enough about it, so here’s that song for you to have the pleasure of hearing performed live.

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