Friday, September 23, 2011

still-sound 7. Treefingers

Since moving to Los Angeles in 2006, Rob and I have moved house too many times.  Nearly once a year in fact.  It wasn't necessarily our intention, it just happened that way.  Last November we relocated to Echo Park.  The apartment is tiny and has no space for me to use as a studio (one of the reasons I started learning pottery - a way to make things without requiring a workspace of my own).  Thankfully an entire wall of the living room is glass and looks over Elysian Park so the space doesn't feel as tiny as it actually is.

My neighborhood isn't particularly beautiful except for the expansive
park where I have the pleasure of walking my dog.  The other day I walked her as the sun was going down.  It wasn't the first time that I noticed the trees that line our usual route - they tend to be noticeably dramatic and expressive. Against a setting sky, even more so.  The dark branches extend like inky fingers.  I thought of Radiohead's song Treefingers from Kid A.  For a while I listened to this track incessantly.  It describes a deep blue primordial space with pools of light emerging like nebulae.

The treefingers seem particularly fitting on this, the first evening of autumn.  I am grateful to Rosie (the dog) for being patient with me
while I stop repetitively to take pictures.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

still-sound 6. Ink

When Rob and I packed up the pug and left London in 2006 it was to live in Paris.  I was offered a place at the Cité International des Arts, an impressive Corbusier-like building perched on the Seine, right by the Hotel de Ville.  It's a residence program for artists set up in the 1960s by Monsieur et Madame Bruneau (back then things like this actually happened...non-profit organizations set up to benefit the arts in prime areas of cultural capitals - kind of hard to imagine now and I'm grateful to have been able to benefit).

We spent months without a tv or sofa - we didn't need them, the Marais was our backyard.  Rob read a lot and cooked.  Rosie tried to stay cool during the heatwave by spreading out on the tiles.  I tried to get some painting and plaster sculptures made but the three of us seemed to find ourselves just walking around the city most of the time.

The Mariage Frères tea shop was a short walk away on rue Bourg-Tibourg.  You can imagine it; dark wood paneling, slow ceiling fans, large tins of loose tea weathered in a way to suggest they traveled the seas from Ceylon or Formosa, sales assistants dressed in linen suits (sometimes seated in a small-booth caisse where they would accept your money in exchange for goods).  You wished that you could pay with colorful, massive bill notes rather than a little plastic chip-and-pin card. Obviously I sniffed every tin of tea, every candle and every incense. Many times.

Throughout the months of the residency I bought small boxes of the various incenses (all based on the scent of tea) - and ultimately favored the one that went by the name Encre de Thé.  The scent of ink and tea, 'inspiring the hearts of poets', or so it said on the box.  The sticks themselves were inky black.  When I eventually bought the larger box which contained a silver incense holder, the purchase felt like a ceremony and large investment (considering we had almost no money and a huge relocation ahead of us - it was).  The box has endured an unromantic journey to the US via United Airlines and several apartment moves throughout Los Angeles county.  Battered around the corners, I keep the box in a drawer and burn one of the remaining sticks only once in a great while.

This year I started dabbling in sumi ink, mostly for the smell. Choosing the brushes and rolls of rice paper completed the overall satisfying process of preparing the sumi-e experience.  So far the preparations have been more satisfying and fun than the drawing process itself.  Honestly, I'm not very good.  I've only practiced a few times, to ornament paper I then use to wrap ceramic objects offered to friends as gifts.

The first not-tiny object I made in porcelain was a simple cylinder pot.  To my surprise and slight initial disappointment, the pot warped into something elliptical and developed a golden burn along the top edge.  I now consider these irregularities to be the most interesting aspects of the piece.  I hold my ink brushes in this pot  - it's the correct size and the burn matches the color of the bamboo handles. The brushes stand upright, awaiting the next time the scent of of sumi ink lures me into drawing again.

Monday, September 12, 2011

still-sound 5. Full Moon

There is a full moon tonight, in fact it's the Harvest Moon.  I suspected as much when I walked the dog yesterday and noticed the almost-full moon hovering above Elysian Park.  September moons have caught my attention in past years as well.  They appear particularly big and bright, almost impossibly-so.  The air feels ripe for some kind of a celebration - and in many other cultures the Harvest Moon calls for one, but I suppose in the West we don't really pay much attention to things like that.

Two years ago we took a trip to Wiltshire.  During the ten years I lived in England I never managed to visit Stonehenge although I always meant to.  I was too busy drinking wine and watching telly in our one-bedroom flat in SE4.  Since leaving England I've come to fictionalize the country in a way, romanticizing certain aspects of the geography and culture. I'm more interested in the England of leylines and Morris dancers. Samphire and stone circles.  I've somehow erased the realities of Tesco, the Oyster card and discarded chicken bones on the streets of New Cross that my dog consistently noticed well before I ever got to. 

The trip to Wiltshire was specifically devoted to mythic England.  We followed leylines from Avebury to Saint Michael's Mount in Cornwall. We met a man named Peter who showed us West Kennet Longbarrow.  We entered the prehistoric cave and took turns standing against the stone doorway separating us from something beyond while Peter played a rhythm on a shaman's drum.  He described how he and his mates regularly snuck to the top of Silbury Hill and drummed all night against the backdrop of a full moon.  If I lived in Wiltshire I would be joining them.  I decided to take more notice of the moon's cycles, perhaps let them permeate my subconsciousness.  I wanted to start relating time to natural cycles rather than to a calender.

Shiragiku and Kyara Seiran by Seijudo

I was interested in the Shiragiku incense by Seijudo because I read that it contains a beautiful expression of kyara (a high-grade aloeswood) despite not containing actual kyara (according to the brand's description). The sticks are remarkably thin and hard, like graphite refills for a pencil.  The scent is breathtaking.  Dry, pure and woodlike.  To my nose it smells of kyara.  A subtle sweetness, comparable to a toasted marshmallow floats in the background.  I immediately recognized this as special and decided to only burn it on full or new moons.  Shiragiku's name in English, White Chrysanthemum seems to relate to it poetically rather than literally - the scent isn't at all floral.  That the image of a white chrysanthemum resembles the glowing circle of the full moon further emphasized that this was to be my lunar incense from now on.

I ordered a mini-stick sampler of the Kyara Seiran (or Heavenly Orchard) by Seijudo for the sake of comparison to Shiragiku.  It's considerably more expensive because it officially contains kyara.  I didn't expect it to smell like an orchard and it doesn't.  Admittedly I haven't spent much time with Seiran because I'm happy to take my time focusing attention on the white chrysanthemum.  Seiran is more dear so I suspect the raw materials are purer and will produce even more nuanced, transcendent scents - although it's hard to imagine anything that much more beautiful than Shiragiku.  Nevertheless I shall wait for a rare, extraordinary event to experience Seiran - perhaps a total eclipse. 

The Harvest Moon, 7:30 pm, 12 September 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

still-sound 4. Music that sounds like water

What I saw one afternoon when I came out of the Long Beach pool after swimming laps.

I've always had a thing for ethereal music. Within the ethereal music category sits a subgenre I like to call 'Music that sounds like water'.  Songs that fit this description I find impressionistic and synaesthetically pleasing. I break this subgenre down thus:

The Rocking Waves Song  
Long Time Coming by The Delays begins with a sound that's hard to describe - something like a whistle from a boat, perhaps announcing its arrival on a foggy morning. The sound makes me think of a lighthouse just as the sun is beginning to rise - the waves reflecting a silver light.  Strumming guitars and a marching dreambeat softly appear, setting the rhythm of gentle waves thinning out on shore.  It's one of the most bittersweet sounds I've ever heard in my life.

Porcelina of the Vast Oceans by The Smashing Pumpkins is a beautiful example of the musical equivalent of lapping waves.  A buoy rocks back and forth.  This technique was ingeniously used by Herbie Hancock in Maiden Voyage.  A simple theme repeats over and over, never really coming to a point, just rolling along.  A little rhythm played on a cymbal offsets the waves, creating a rocking motion.

The Shimmering Water Song

In Delius from Never Forever, Kate Bush pictures a shimmering stream reflecting sun (or moon) light in little piano sparkles.  The drum machine, hare krishna instrumentation and buzzing insects complete the picture.  My favorite pixie witch sings of a 'summer night on the water'.  Anyone who's into this kind of thing needs to do him/herself a favor and watch a clip of Kate performing this song on television.

The Oceanscape
The Cocteau Twins joined with Harold Budd and made The Moon and The Melodies in 1986.  The album is made up of dreamy soundscapes - or in this case, waterscapes.  Why Do You Love Me? was always my favorite track.  When I was in high school I had a digital
alarm clock that glowed with blue numbers and featured a built-in cassette player.  Every night before going to bed I would set the clock so that I could wake up to this song.  Arpeggios repeat on a watery sounding piano (a very Cocteau/This Mortal Coil sound) while an abstract, crystal clear guitar tone soars overhead; gliding down and up like a seagull.  I liked to wake up to this song because it was a gentle way to end my sleep, like a waterbirth.  In actual fact it was the little click noise the cassette player made when transitioning from pause to play that woke me up.  There was another track on the album, The Ghost Has No Home that suggested a hot, windless, summer day by a lake. A saxophone plays lazily as still water evaporates into the air.  I didn't like to wake up to this song as it sounded humid and hazy.  I required something more bracing.