Tuesday, April 26, 2011

frogs jumping over mosaic

shimmer sleeve notes (2).

He squatted on a flat rock, his feet in comfortable but well-polished shoes standing on flat pebbles. When he dropped his weight into the shoes a faint rise of the lake ringed the pebbles with wet.

He didn't want to meet the visitor. Albert touched the clandestine bell that rang in his study, he jerked awake from reading about a choir festival in Gamla Stan, he raced down the stairs, out of the side-door and down the sloping meadow thick with clover through the spruces and down here to the scallop shore. Here he would stay. He had only a light coat on, but on this day there was next to no wind.

Across the scribble of islands the Norwegians and the Swedes had danced, retreated, advanced, stubborn with pike and plume. A heave-ho for thee, maid of the mountains! For the honour of Jämtland, Jämtland's fair flower. They bled in the water.

He had left his pipe. Midges danced above the shore in sparkling snow-melt air. No, he simply had to have his pipe. He crept back to his study. There was silence in the house and it sounded like the danger was past, but now he had promised himself a real snorter of an evening pipe.

On the way back from the house he glanced again. He had filled his soul with this view! From the higher reach among the scrambling clover, as the sun lowered into a barrier of mountains at the far end of the enormous lake. There was a tough range, do not risk the back of that one! In earlier days he might have liked to try it with Bertil, mop-haired Bertil.

Brushing the last alder he said - addressing the lake without self-consciousness - Well, Old Fellow, here I am now. Immediately a raven croaked, flying over. He didn't bother to look up. He was a big man. He stood like a barn door, a bit warped perhaps, a barn door that didn't quite close.

As if it were possible. I am not accustomed to account for my decisions.

That is how he had begun with Albert. But later, he had condescended to explain that did not wish his home to acquire a connubial air. He did not, in short, wish it to be domesticated.

Later still, he had become emotional.

I am not married, so why must you marry?

He had grovelled basely. And Albert, splendid fellow that he was, had come good - again. It was not the first time this painful subject had arisen, but he hoped - he felt he had reason to hope - that now it was the last. A chink of afternoon sun came through and the lake stilled.


It's just nonsense!

It's what's happening all the time nowadays.

What is his meaning, to make an army band perform Clown music!

An insult to the Fatherland!

No, Herr Professor!

As if we weren't on our knees already!

Does he think we're a troupe of shepherds?

And that --- chromatic wail --- in the Allegro.

Dafnis and Kloe!

He'd have us playing saxophones if he dared.

Get the boot-polish out, Willi.

Some of the sting had gone out of their outrage, now they had managed to express more than they felt. Carrying their bandboxes, they clattered into a cellar at the corner of the street.

A glass, gentlemen?

They all had a glass, but Karl hadn't got any money.

That Lübecker, eh?

Karl blushed.

She'll eat you alive.

That's all nonsense. A man needs to relax.

He didn't care if they believed him or not, so long as they didn't find out where the money was really going.

In the summer afternoon a wave of golden scent lifted out of the avenue.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) - flower buds. (April 9th)

And a female Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus), looking for a good place to lay eggs.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Well-Tempered Clavier

Drive-to-work question, while listening to The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Q. Why is the eighth Prelude/Fugue specified as "E flat minor / D sharp minor" ?

I appreciate the two keys are equivalent but Bach must have scored it with either six flats or six sharps. Mustn't he? Anyone know which?


A. Apparently the Prelude is scored in E flat minor, but the Fugue is scored in D sharp minor.
This is used as an argument by some for the hypothesis that Bach wrote for equal temperament, not just for well temperament, but this argument can't be sustained, in my opinion. If a keyboard sounds in tune for D # minor, by whatever means, it must sound just as in tune for E flat minor.

Well-temperament (which allows all keys to be playable, but includes some subtly different intervals between notes) would make keys sound different in character and this could perhaps be connected with the impressions of key-colour that some enthusiasts have recorded. (E.g. Christian Schubart on D sharp minor: Feelings of the anxiety of the soul's deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key.

Personally I don't think this has a lot to do with tuning, it has everything to do with mass psychology and there are other key-characteristics that could equally well provoke the imagination to such flights.

For example: familiarity and (relative) unfamiliarity. The fact that that first piano piece you learned was in C major, not in B major. The fact that the tunings of open strings on violin, guitar, etc direct the beginner toward the keys with a small number of sharps. And then the literature that follows from this, and the body of associations that develop.

And after all, well-temperament would only have applied to keyboard instruments, not to melodies played on the strings. [Except, of course, when they're trying to stay in tune with a keyboard instrument. It is said that classical musicians are now so habituated to equal temperament that they play in it even when they don't need to.]

Finally, if well-temperament were an important factor then people would no longer have have ideas of key-colour, but of course we do; not experiencing the historically-bound romantic notions of Schubart's vehement fancies - very much the product of their era - but certainly recognizing the softness of A minor(Schumann's piano concerto) or the solidity of E (Chopin's prelude) - pick your own associations. In my own case - not having perfect pitch - I am certain I only experience key-colour when I know exactly what key I'm listening to.

[This post is really a belated follow-up to this earlier one on the 24-keys prelude form.]

Scriabin experienced key-colour more literally. His synaesthesic impressions appear to match the visible spectrum sequence VIBGYOR as you go through the cycle of fifths. For him, his own cycle of preludes would begin red in C major, then turn orange (G), yellow, green, blue, deep-blue (F sharp / G flat), purple, violet, flesh, rose/steel, deep-red (F) ....
So the first bit follows the rainbow, and the second, briefer bit (from A flat to C) tones from violet back to red along a different path.

Info from here.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011


a bigger long haul; the nose of cairo;
أكبر المدى الطويل، والأنف من القاهرة؛

لوحة التحكم
kyrenaica gravel

en större långa, näsan i Kairo

shell filled with blood;
lax as I am, bloor homes
swilled concrete

blocked out ragged avenues to the skyway.

as it
doily dries
alive, alive

ripstop leaves

whose eyes have sprouted poplars, alone with the jam-spoon, poplin Mollie


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Ill Frackemby

Been there (nb, that's Ilfracombe) for a few days of walking in wind and sun among those disorientating slate cliffs.

I saw all of spring in flower, long before (perhaps not that long before) it gets to Frome: wild strawberry, red campion, cow parsley. Odd effect. Travel changes time, everyone knows that.

I also saw three-cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum, above, showing curious junction between stem and pedicels, and withered spathe), and a wonderful Prunus 'Shirotae' outside Ilfracombe Museum (below).

(Below) Great Woodrush (Luzula sylvatica) - flower, barren stem, progressive growth on old leaf-bases... A common enough plant in acid woodland, but as is often remarked we don't get much acid in Frome...

I worried about why common scurvygrass seemed to vary so dramatically in size, behaving like two different plants, the small kind (which looked the same as in other places) and the big kind, which looked like a different plant I hadn't seen before.

Took photos of the common garden tree/shrub known as Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii). Sometimes called Snowy Mespil or Snowy Mespilus, but these names may also refer to other Amelanchier species, such as the sole species native to Europe, A. ovalis. A. lamarckii is not known as a native in the wild and is assumed to have arisen as a true-breeding hybrid of two American species.

I was reading Molière. The Misanthrope is a masterpiece, but is so unlike his other plays, or any other play of the period, that it gives us a sense of improvisation. It struck me that it's his Brat Pack thing, and also a bit like "The Only Way is Essex". Fly-on-the-wall is the right way to see life in Célimène's house, very splintered and unexplained, eg. those letters -we don't ever really find out who either of them is addressed to, or whether what anyone says about either of them is true. In this case observation of the unities creates a slice-of-life that is distinctively open-ended. So far as the play is a portrait of Generation X this all works out. But it leaves Alceste a bit out of the picture, and Philinte too.

Considering how tolerant Philinte is, his judgment of Célimène is a bit damning. He's jealous, don't you think? Philinte's sanity is attractive, but he doesn't get everything right. For instance he credits Arsinoé's virtue, but we see that she's an interfering old bat, even if we're also aware she doesn't quite deserve all the payback that Célimène delivers with such relish (and to our delight). Philinte is a bit too in with Eliante, who can also be sharp-tongued against her cousin. A sort of tacit distance lies between Philinte and Célimène. He is never the object of her satire. He never says anything exceptionable to her, but he listens to those who do.

(If you think you'd do better with a less informal account, forget it. Wikipedia needs a step change on its canonical literature articles. I've seen two recently - one on "The Misanthrope", one on Joyce's "The Dead" - that seem to have been written at the back of the class by someone who didn't understand the story. Wikipedia's methods of cross-improvement based on certain ground-rules - e.g. full references, objectivity - don't apply well to literary interpretation. If someone thinks it worth while to tell us that Oronte's reaction to his sonnet being criticised reveals his low self-esteem, you can't exactly dispute it as not true; more that Oronte's character just isn't the point here. If someone claims that Gabriel fails at first to recognize his wife on the staircase - well, I feel perfectly certain that this isn't what Joyce means us to understand, but how could I objectively demonstrate it? In each case what is being revealed is that the writer isn't inward with the kind of work they're describing, not because they haven't read it but because they don't belong to the traditional literary community that the text in part projects and that in part has slowly developed through centuries of polite criticism. But is that wrong? Does one need to belong to some sort of informal club of informed readers, i.e. informed of what is loosely called the critical context, to be qualified to write the Wikipedia entry? It seems that that's in fact my level of expectation, but the grounds for it are open to question.)

"Tartuffe himself is a titanic creation, one who makes our own 'Heap of Infamy' seem by comparison a mere cringing shadow" (John Wood). Strange remark. I really have a problem with seeing Tartuffe as a titanic creation. A part that doesn't appear until Act III more or less cedes any claim to be a protagonist. All we see him as is a conventional seducer. His power as a hypocrite is known only indirectly, and deceives no-one but Orgon and his mother. Wood's allusion dates him - he means Uriah Heep. I heard the David Copperfield music sounding strongly in Ill Frackemby; in fact I nearly bought it in a charity shop. (There wasn't much else to buy, we're a long way from a university here, the bookish graduates have not moved here, the stocks of retirees from more literate generations have run dry, - a bit better book-choice than Swindon, but less than Frome..)

Psalms 69:12 They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards.

Verse 12. They that sit in the gate speak against me. The ordinary gossips who meet at the city gates for idle talk make me their theme, the business men who there resort for trade forget their merchandise to slander me, and even the beggars who wait at men's doors for alms contribute their share of insult to the heap of infamy. (C.H Spurgeon, Treasury of David).

The influence, if influence there was, ran from Dickens to Spurgeon not the other way around. But David Copperfield does have a surprising number of phantoms of biblical allegory (not my idea, I read it in a book somewhere); impressionistic, not evidently significant allegory (unlike the symbolic patterns in Tale of Two Cities and Little Dorrit). The names David and Uriah being notable examples - too close together to pass altogether unnoticed, yet the point is - what? I would associate it with the unconscious depths that the author allowed himself to stir up in this book. Things that, if we are honest, meant more to him than us. The book amazed him when he re-read it. Nevertheless the atmosphere of its programme is distinctive and heady. It's the Dickens book I least often think about consciously.

We discussed our total failure to hear any perceptibly Devonian accents; the origin of the saying "green around the gills" (inconclusive; apparently jocular piscification as per "stewed to the gills"); whether Ilfracombe Art College is just a normal secondary school in disguise; fused double/triple dandelions - usually early in the saeson? ; whether motorway services cause accidents; why some clifftops make you feel vertiginous, others not; the eagerness of llamas to meet people; the 650-year-old lighthouse keeper's memory for cakes; millwheels ceasing to turn when the water is too low. And from the cliffs we saw peregrines courting in flight, with little squawking cries.

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