Monday, February 28, 2011

Right! Enough talking...time for some doing...

There hasn't been a lot of THIS happening lately.  So high time I dusted of the pencils, brushes and paints. I am not in the mood for bright colours at the moment...everything is too bright in this weather.  I want something more subtle, some softer colours...perhaps I can lure Autumn in with gentle hues and delicate pen strokes.  And acrylics are hopeless in this kind of heat, the paint dries on the palette before I can even use it.  So a bit of ink and wash sort of stuff, making it up as I go along so I don't have a clue how it will look when it's finished.  An illustration for my little song 'Through the Window.'

And this passed by this afternoon.  It made a lot of noise, grumbling and harrumphing and promising much, but I tried not to get my hopes up.  And then surprise of surprises, it actually did rain.  I stood out in it for 10 minutes and got (sort of) wet, but everything is so hot and dry it seemed to evaporate almost instantly.  The pavement was hot and wet instead of just hot, for about 5 minutes, then the heat in it dried it off.  And I dried off too in about 15 minutes.  It has gone off on its grumbling way, still making a lot of noise but it's all bark and no bite.  Autumn officially starts tomorrow.  I wonder when it will ACTUALLY start?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The language barrier...when words are not enough

As someone who adores language and all its marvellous permutations and conundrums, it might seem strange to admit that I also see language as a barrier sometimes to a deeper, instinctual experience. I suppose it’s my background of studies in Literature and Culture that has made me very aware of how UN-transparent language can be. Language is not like a glass window that you can see clearly through, it is more like a prism refracting sunlight, splitting the original thought into multiple possible meanings just as sunlight is split into all the colours of the rainbow. That’s one of the wonderful things about language, it has this chameleon-like ability where a single word can have multiple meanings, however it can also be dangerous when misused. And sometimes it simply CANNOT express what we feel, and it ends up getting in the way rather than facilitating expression. Like looking through a dirty window, sometimes your attention is distracted by the smudges and smears and you can’t see clearly what’s beyond. And I find this is particularly true when language is coupled with music.

Because music is essentially something that we FEEL, not so much a thing we ‘understand’ or analyse, there are times I think when words just take away from the experience, rather than adding to it. I’m not talking about vocals here, I’m talking about words because actually, I believe the voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, the most versatile, and absolutely the most ancient. But I find that when I hear a song in a language that I do not speak, I often have a more powerful, or somehow deeper, response to it than I have to a song I can understand. When you hear the melody, you generally ‘know’ immediately if this is a sad song, a song of sorrow or longing, or a happy song full of joy and exuberance. If you know the words, then the meaning is specific to whatever events are described in the can perhaps identify with it, but it’s not about YOU. But, if you hear that song sung in a language that you don’t understand, then you fill that gap with YOURSELF, it becomes about your sorrow or your joy, intensely personal and meaningful. It actually becomes easier to enter into the spirit of the song, to understand it on a much deeper and more instinctual level, because we are listening with our hearts and not with our heads.

I think I first began to understand this when I heard the Trio Bulgarka for the first time. Apart from the incredible SOUND these women make (something I’d never heard before and therefore hugely exciting to my young self), the emotion the music evoked was exciting. I used to play around trying to sing like that, just making words up that sounded a bit like what they were singing. And I discovered how wonderful it actually is to sing without ‘real’ words. It’s as if you’re freed from the restriction of having a logical narrative, of having to remember the right words in the right order. If you’ve never tried it, go ahead, even if it’s just in the shower, it’s wonderfully liberating.

Later, when I was singing with An t-Eilean Mor, the Scottish Gaelic group I was with during the late 90s, I encountered a similar thing, for me as a singer and also for the people who heard us. Though we usually had English translations of the songs so WE knew at least what they were about, singing in a language you don’t speak, once we had overcome the difficulties of learning the correct pronunciation (not an easy thing with Gaelic), the words became beautiful sounds that were filled with emotion that WE felt. And time and time again, I saw audience members reduced to tears listening to a song whose meaning they had no idea of. And often, they would come up to us afterwards and tell us what the song meant, to them. And bizarrely enough the number of times they hit the nail on the head was uncanny...”Oh, I could hear the sea in this one, and then a storm came and the ship was lost and it was so sad”, or “I could see a woman sitting by the fire singing to her baby and I thought of my mum...”

Over the years, there seems to have been a rise in popularity in ‘World music’, and more and more often film music is featuring vocals that have no real words, and I suspect it’s a lot to do with this. Don’t get me wrong, as a fledgling songwriter, I still adore ‘proper’ songs with beautiful, meaningful words and that’s what I strive for when I’m trying to write one. But I’m also inspired by people who use words differently. I’ll leave you with the incomparable Lisa Gerrard, and I defy you not to be moved by her song. As an interesting bit of trivia, it’s always fascinating to read the comments left by people on Youtube videos of Lisa’s music. Debate continues to rage about what language she’s singing in, some people claim it’s Gaelic, others are adamant it’s Latin, or Hebrew, or Sandskrit. Many ask for translations, and some even provide them! The music moves them deeply and they believe that knowing ‘what the words are’ will deepen the experience. But I don’t think it would. For the truth is, almost always, Lisa is singing in a language that perhaps has the odd word from here or there or ones that ‘sound like latin’, but it is her own invented language. It’s not a language you can understand with your head. But your heart will know what she’s singing about.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"The Night Journey" by Terri Windling....

A little while ago, Theodora Goss wrote a beautiful analysis of Terri Windling’s poem “The Night Journey”. Please pop over there and read it before you go any further, it is a stunning and evocative piece. It’s also a piece that resonated deeply with me, reminding me of a short poem I wrote almost 20 years ago, about that same journey towards (or perhaps inwards to)...well, we’re not sure, a muse, a trickster, a phantom...or all three. I won’t say any more than that, it is for each reader to find their own story in it. But reading the poem seemed to me like weaving a spell, and I felt I didn’t just want to read it, I wanted to HEAR it, it needed to spoken out loud, like an invocation. So...I gave it a shot. I blew the type up large on my computer screen and then read/sang directly from it into the computer mic, making guitar bits up as I went along, so it's very....hmmm, immediate (ok, ROUGH!) But I tried to capture the sense of a storyteller, huddled perhaps by a fire in the dark of winter, weaving a little magic for her listeners while the wind blows outside. I ummed and ahhed to myself about what to do with it...then, as I know how precious her ‘spoon’ time is and how full her in-box is likely to be, I tentatively sent it to Terri to see if she’d like to hear it and what she might think of it. So, I’m very happy to say that not only did she like it, but she’s given me permission to post it so you can hear it too (thanks so much Terri!) And she also sent me a link to a version recorded by Oliver Hunter, one of the talented people behind Goblin Fruit (definitely worth checking out for marvellous mythic poetry). I’ve come across Oliver’s music before and he actually has free downloads of it on his website...I downloaded both his CDs a year or so ago and love them and play them regularly, so pop over and check that out too!

So, here you go...2 versions of “The Night Journey” by Terri Windling, as recorded by Oliver and myself. Quite different, but both (I hope) managing to convey the sense of magic and mystery of the poem.

Late Note:  I've just checked the links for Oliver's music, and they don't seem to be there anymore, and there's a Malware warning coming up on one of them, so I don't know what's happening there.  I hope he makes his music available again soon, it's great stuff.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Imagined Self...or, who is that masked blogger?

"The Fantastic Self" cover illustration for The Fantastic Self:  Essays on the Subject of the Self. 

Having whirled around the world (or just the ‘whirled’ as India Flint beautifully calls it) via the web, discussing the ‘Imagined Village’ of interconnected blogs (or ‘Windlings’ as Jane Yolen suggested!), a comment by Shane Odom on Terri Windling’s post started me thinking about the inhabitants of this aether village we are creating. Shane said this:
Artists and creatives, we are like shamans, going into our inner spirit worlds to find stories, songs, poems, tales, and images. We bring them back, for the benefit of the village, but while traveling, we must not be disturbed. We also must pay the shaman's price, in complicated emotions and life goals. 
I use my Facebook as a blog of sorts, for now. I was a LiveJournal poster until so many left it. It is odd, how often I get folks who idealize my life, perceive it to be a dream. They use that exact term, which is of course a part of the language of the shaman. However, their perspective of it is so far and near to the truth at the same time. Oddly, I tell folks that what I share is all Faerie Glamour. It's stardust, and moonbeams, and if I showed you too much it would be dried leaves and old bits of acorns and moss. It seems like I am giving so much, but I am really keeping the best for me. 
I’ve been thinking about this, that readers may perceive the lives of their favourite bloggers as something far more wonderful and exotic than it really is, more than their own. Because I know I do this myself, read blogs of adventures in far-off places and think ‘oh, what a wonderful life that person leads, I want to be like them.’ And it has gradually dawned on me, reading the comments that readers leave on my blog, that there are people who think that about me...and quite often, they’re the same people I’m reading. An interesting case of ‘the grass is always greener’ perhaps? Whether we are consciously creating an online ‘persona’ or not, we still choose what to show and what not to show. We decide what we think our readers will find interesting, and leave the boring bits out. We choose when to post and when not to.  We post about what we think is important.  Mostly, I don’t post about the things that get me down, or make me sad. But I do have things that make me feel that way, just as everyone does. Perhaps what I’m doing when I blog is trying to pin down my own sense of myself, who I am and who I want to be. What I want to be doing and what’s important to me. I’m still a work in progress, and so I usually show the best bits, the bits I’m proud of or happy about, maybe the bits of me that I feel are more ‘finished’, or more polished. I generally leave the messy and untidy and disorganised bits out. So I suppose I am creating a world of faerie glamour, as Shane says. Creating a little corner of magic in the vast web, which does, and also does not, reflect my real life. My life through magical, rose-coloured glasses. Or maybe I’m weaving a spell, and if I weave this ‘magical life’ convincingly enough here, in the 'imagined' village, then it may just begin to bleed into my real world, and become my real life. Perhaps I am weaving myself anew. If nothing else, reading back over the posts I have written in the last year allows me to see the path behind me, the small white stones I've dropped on my way from there to here, and if I know where I’ve come from, it is easier to see where I’m headed, which direction I want to go, and what’s important to me. So, I am web-spinning, creating a ‘Christina’ who looks more like the one I’d like to be. Perhaps when she is finished, I can, like a butterfly, shrug off my old caterpillar self and step into this new thing I have made. Or perhaps that’s part of the faerie glamour too, the belief that we can transform ourselves just by whispering our dream into the aether where others might hear it.  Because if someone else can hear it too, it must be real.


Sending thoughts and prayers to our Kiwi neighbours across the ditch.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"The Imagined Village"...a moveable feast on blogging...

"Every adventure begins with a small step and a giant leap of faith."

I've taken the title of this post from a music video that appears in the side-bar of John Barleycorn Must Die, which I only noticed AFTER I left a comment on their fascinating interview with Rima Staines this week.  It seemed terribly apt, as the discussion this week is a lot about blogging, and my comment was regarding blogging as the building of an online village/community of creative people who inspire and support each other.  That's why I blog, and I suspect it's why a lot of people blog.  Incidentally, Rima herself is one of the reasons why I blog, if you haven't already discovered her marvelous Into the Hermitage then go go GO (but not right now, finish here first, as Rima's world is a little like faery land...easy to get lost amongst its marvels, and you may never find your way back!)

In the interview, Rima discusses her view of blogging as an art form in itself, how it is a way of creating a small corner of magic that is uniquely hers and her vision in the WWW, where anyone can drop in anytime and see the art she creates.  It has helped her reach a point where she can support herself through her art, and her art can reach into the homes of people all over the world, an impossible feat before the internet.  Rima also lives in a very REAL creative village, a beautiful small town in Devon, England, where her neighbours are such luminaries as Alan Lee, Brian and Wendy Froud, and Terri Windling (to name a few).  We can't all live there, flung to the far corners of the earth as we are.  But we can create an IMAGINED village, where we meet regularly, discuss what we've been working on, throw new ideas around, and share favourite music and good laughter.  And we ARE creating it.  John Barleycorn is worth a look any week (new posts every Friday), as not only is it documenting the development of a particular graphic novel (and all the highs and lows that accompany the birth of a new work), but it is an ongoing discussion on the creative process in general, featuring regular interviews with artists from all over, and a lively discussion from followers around the world (yours truly can easily claim to be the most long-winded!)

Terri Windling (who is married to Howard Gayton, one of John Barleycorn's partners-in-crime) took up the torch (or perhaps, being a moveable feast, it is a large cauldron full of rich stew?!) and continued the discussion about blogging on her Drawing Board.  Terri Windling is the other main reason I why I blog.  I first discovered her through her marvelous novel The Wood Wife, and then through the magical websites of the Endicott Studio and Journal of Mythic Arts, full to the brim (like that cauldron) of a wonderful rich mix of poetry and art and essays and stories about mythology and faery tales.  An award-winning writer and editor, and a stunning artist, Terri's blog is a wonderful cornucopia of thought-provoking essays, beautiful artwork, gorgeous music, fall-off-your-chair-belly-laughs, and of course, there's Tilly the resident muse (who occasionally smells like fox poo but we don't hold that against her!)  Her latest post, about why she blogs and how it can overcome the communication difficulties that suffering from a chronic illness can cause, clearly struck a chord as there is now a comment list as long as my arm (and growing).

But what I found most interesting, as I read through, is how the names on these comment lists are becoming familiar to me.  Mostly I don't have faces to put to them, but there ARE words, thoughts, ideas, personalities that I recognise.  I feel I do know these people in a way.  We regularly meet up at places like Terri's blog, and I visit their little corners of the web world and leave comments, and they visit mine.  Their comments stimulate and encourage me to keep creating, to keep challenging myself by trying new things, in a way that is almost impossible in the 'real' world.  I do not live in a close-knit creative community, and I can hardly accost a stranger in the street and force them to listen to the song I've just written or look at the painting I'm working on and expect an intelligent, coherent comment.  I'd probably just get arrested (I'm just now chuckling to myself as I imagine singing on the train into work, while my fellow commuters carefully move away from the 'crazy lady' and call security!)

In this crazy-busy world where it seems we are all time poor, often it is hard to go out and physically create that kind of nourishing community, find those like-minded people and get to know them, spend the time in the cafes or pubs or someone's kitchen talking and debating and laughing together.  So how wonderful it is that we can, at the click of a button, no matter what time of the day (or night) it is, or if we are still in our PJs or haven't got the breakfast dishes done yet, connect instantly with people all around the world who understand what we do and why we do it because they're doing it too!  And I love this cross-pollination that happens, the arbitrary yet serendipitous connections that are made.  I might read 3 of my favourite blogs, all discussing different things which, on the surface at least, have no links.  But reading them together CREATES a connection, a bridge between disparate ideas that suddenly makes sense and a new idea emerges.

Terri commented on the John Barleycorn post that this discussion is becoming a 'moveable feast', flitting from blog to blog across the web.  I like that idea, moving from the kitchen in one house to the lounge room in another (or the attic!), each blogger providing a special dish for all to share.  Sometimes we might bring a tried-and-tested old favourite we've made many times before.  And sometimes we might feel brave enough to experiment with an entirely new recipe, knowing our fellow 'villagers' will appreciate our efforts and encourage and support us to keep experimenting.  I've been doing a bit of this lately and I truly appreciate more than I can express the comments you have left for me.  They make me brave enough to keep on doing it.

So, now that this has most definitely turned into a novel of 'mermaid proportions' (!), it's time to finish up.  But I'll leave you all with a request.  A recurring theme in these discussions about blogs has been the almost unanimous dislike of the word 'blog'!  It is NOT a pretty word, and really cannot begin to encompass the beauty that we find in a blog like Rima's or Terri's.'s high time we found a new name.  Here are a few off-the-top of my head ideas, please feel free to come up with something much better.....!

webtale...aethertale...aerthersong...websong...webweave...wable (web-fable, though could be pronounced 'wobble'...quite fond of this one!)

"Coming Home" a creative 'village' where we can all live, no matter where in the world we are.

Late Note, Saturday 26th Feb: For anyone popping in since Tuesday, I've posted some follow-up thoughts about who we are when we blog here, and don't forget to check out part two of John Barleycorn's interview with Rima here!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A song for the moon......

The full moon is upon us, so I thought I'd post a song I wrote for her.  You WILL let me know if this starts to get too annoying, won't you?!  I wrote this song about 3 years ago.  I was listening to a lot of Fado at the time (probably the best way of explaining is that it's the Portuguese version of the Blues...if Billy Holiday had been Portuguese, she would have sung Fado!)  I gave up trying to work out the words from CDs and decided to try and write something in English with the same feel to it (doesn't quite work, but oh well).  Also I wanted a song that sounded like it was supposed to be sung without any accompaniment.  And 'La Luna' was the result, a song about the sad, lonely lady moon.

So of course, one of the things I've been itching to do since I started learning guitar is work out an accompaniment for it.  Entirely illogical, isn't it?!  So had a fiddle around last night and worked out some chords, and discovered by accident a lovely 'flamencoey' sounding one, and put it together...roughly!

So I recorded both versions this morning...attempting (unsuccessfully) to avoid planes going over.  Let me know which you like better!

And click here, and here, for some fantastic REAL Fado!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Through the window...

OK...this is very very VERY rough.  But you did ask for it so you've only got yourselves to blame.  Cordelia and I out in the (very UNsoundproof) studio, in front of the computer with its very basic microphone, bumbling our way through Garage Band recording software (which came free with the computer).  There's a stuff-up in the middle (dammit, that's what happens when you get cocky and throw a surprise 3rd chord into a 2 chord song!), and the wind picks up and you can hear branches scratching the tin roof, but I think I managed to avoid any planes going over at least!

So...."Through the Window"...the first song I've ever written with a guitar.  Words are here if you want to read.
(now lets see if this works...........fingers crossed as she clicks on 'publish post')

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rambling on....

And more music...well, it's on my mind a lot lately.  There has been a distinct lack of VISUAL creativity happening around here, but lots of AURAL stuff going on.  So this week I have worked out how to play this song.  Well my version of it anyway.  I don't quite see the point in duplicating exactly someone's way of playing even if they are the writer/composer.  A good starting point, but then I think what makes a song live and carry on are the new things that other singers/players bring to it.  And not forgetting the difference in guitar playing ability between some of us!!!  So I found some guitar TABS for 'Rambling Man', and changed my tuning to DADF#AD...and then just had fun fiddling around and finding pretty chords that I thought sounded right.

As for other things, it has been disaster central in Australia lately.  Thankfully there has been minimal death or injury, but the loss and devastation has been huge.  Record floods and Cyclones in Queensland, severe flooding in Victoria, even an unusually far south Cyclone near miss over this side of the country which brought with it a short burst of torrential rain and some minor flooding (just a taste of what could come if La Nina brings us a wet Autumn), high winds, roofs blown off and a 'catastrophic fire warning' inland that very thankfully never eventuated.  And just this last couple of days, terrible bush fires have destroyed dozens of homes in the Perth hills, half an hour drive from here.  I hope that we have seen the end of it.

I feel I should apologize too, for the lack of blogging action in the attic of late.  It's incredible how much time 3 days of a 'real' job seem to swallow up, and I get home with an empty head and nothing of any meaning to say.  But now the girls are back at school, I hope to organise myself (now there's an impossible task!) a little better and find some time for the things my fingers are itching to create!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A very brief Cyclone update...

The news coming in from North Queensland is, well, probably as best as can be expected.  The full extent of damage is still unknown and some areas have been completely cut off and emergency crews can't get in yet.  But SO injuries or deaths have been reported, though it's still too early to be sure everyone is safe.  Most places are still in lockdown as it isn't safe to come out yet, and a second, higher storm surge was expected.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that everyone over 'tother side' is OK.  Thank you to my readers for your thoughts.  I'm a long way from all this devastation (though WA had its own Cyclone scare a week ago, thankfully no more than a few roofs blown off in the end but it could have been much worse), but it's heartbreaking to see our fellow Aussies have to go through this all over again.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cairns...and Queensland...

My thoughts are with everyone in my namesake city Cairns, and EVERYWHERE in North Queensland, at this terrifying time.  Please take care, don't take any unnecessary risks, hold close to your loved ones.  The rest of Australia will be here to help you rebuild, just keep yourselves safe.  That's all that matters.  We are all hoping against hope that somehow, somehow, it will pass you by and dissipate.  Hoping and praying.

Updated 8:15pm local time as Cyclone Yasi threatens many more towns and communities across North Queensland.  Yasi is the most powerful cyclone to ever hit Australia.  It is more powerful than Hurricane Katrina which devastated  New Orleans in the USA in 2005.  It is hitting the east coast as I write.  All we can do now is hope and pray that there will be no casualties.  Wherever you are, if you are reading this, please send your thoughts and prayers to those people who are going through this right now.
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