Friday, May 24, 2019

2019: An EU Space Odyssey

These photos were taken by me a few days ago at Space Expo at Noordwijk in the Netherlands. This exhibition is part of the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noodrwijk, which is the European Space Agency's main technology development and test centre for spacecraft and space technology. The European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organisation of 22 member states - including the UK - dedicated to the exploration of space. ESA's work includes researching climate change and providing communication satellites that enable the GPS technology used in contemporary 'must haves' such as smartphones and Sat Navs.

As a committed 'remainer' in the UK's Brexit debate I have, nevertheless, become increasingly disillusioned with the shrill juvenile rhetoric of fellow 'remainers' which includes lampooning ad nauseam Theresa May and throwing milkshakes at Nigel Farage. A very recent example of this idiocy is conductor and Bach scholar John Eliot Gardiner lamenting that Brexit is a double disaster, because he doesn’t know how he will transport musicians and instruments back and forth across Europe once the UK is out of the EU. He then goes on to voice his fear of non-ecological and non-biological products from America, declaring ''A chlorinated chicken' from Donald Trump. This is a nightmare'.

Just a few seconds on Google reveals that in the future John Eliot Gardiner is happily travelling with his musicians and instruments not only to non-EU Brazil, but also - zut alors - to the nightmarish non-EU land of chlorinated chicken. If the 'remain' lobby had spent less time peddling this kind of fashionable nonsense and more time communicating the very real benefits of infrastructure economies of scale derived from EU projects such as the European Space Agency, the UK would not now be in such a sorry political mess.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Citizens of the Earth

I would like to express the thoughts of a man who, having finally penetrated the partitions and ceilings of little countries, little coteries, little sects, rises above all these categories and finds himself a child and citizen of the Earth.
That quote comes from the French philosopher, Jesuit priest, pioneer of New Age thinking, and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; the photo was taken by me a few weeks ago at a village school in Morocco's High Atlas. Edmund Rubbra's Eighth Symphony is subtitled Hommage à Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and reflects in music the philosopher's compelling search for the ineffable. Please remember, fellow UK music bloggers and rabid anti-Brexit activists, we are - like the youngsters in my photo - citizens of the Earth, not just denizens of the EU comfort zone.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Inner landscapes

These photos were taken last week in Morocco's High Atlas where I was celebrating my forthcoming 70th birthday with some serious trekking. On my itinerary were the cascades at Setti Fatma, the upper slopes of Mount Toubkal - North Africa's highest mountain - and a two day traverse from Imlil to Ouirgane via the 2664 metre Tizi M'Zik Pass complete with Berber guide, mule and cook.

My playlist for downtime on the treks included Alan Hovhaness' Mysterious Mountain - persuasively advocated by none other than Fritz Reiner with his Chicago orchestra but now woefully neglected, the contemporary minimalist acoustic folk melodies of the Tunisian duo Ÿuma, the single-pointed concentration of Jonathan Harvey's Tranquil Abiding, the motivational oud meets disco of DuOud, and Robert Rich's exploration of the space between music and silence Inner Landscapes.

Both Jonathan Harvey and Robert Rich's music is informed in different ways by Buddhism. The High Atlas is Berber country and the Berbers - Morocco's indigenous people - follow the Muslim faith. But an earlier post highlighted the similarities between this region and the Mahayana Buddhist heartland of Tibet. In his introduction to Yogavacara Rahula's study of the teachings of Gotama Buddha the Sri Lankan monk Bikkhu M. Punnaji explains that:
Buddhism offers its own critique of religion. In this religion is not theocentric, centred around the idea of a creator god, but rather sees it as being centred around the interests of man. Religion is not something that has come down from heaven to fulfill a divine purpose, but something that has grown up on earth to satisfy the deepest of human needs. It is not based on divine revelation but on human discovery. It is not dependent on blind faith and worship but on the understanding of experience through the use of human intelligence. It is not based on history or a story which if proved false would tumble down, but stands on the hard rock of direct personal experience. The practice of religion is not based on the idea of punishment and reward but on selflessness and love, nor is it following the commands of the creator, but basing one's actions on a feeling of responsibility for oneself and others.

This was my second visit to the High Atlas in five months. Last November I trekked the ascent to Sidi Chamharouche alone just three weeks before the horrendous murder and beheading of two young Scandinavian women tourists by Islamic extremists - by a grim irony the brooding photo taken then and heading the previously linked post depicted the murder scene. By another grim coincidence I was in Sri Lanka just before the recent terrorist outrages there, and, to prove that hate-mongering is not monocultural, while I was in Morocco last week there was yet another multiple killing by firearms in America. As Donald Trump sends an aircraft carrier and bomber task force to 'warn Iran' it is worth reflecting that when the Dalai Lama was asked "What can we do about the crazy havoc in which we live? His Holiness reportedly* responded "Attend to the crazy havoc inside yourself".

Some will doubtless dismiss this spirit quest - as they have dismissed previous ones - as only for the idle rich. To which I would respond that my whole trip - including on-time flights by the airline other music bloggers love to hate, Ryanair - cost less** than taking my family to an Instagrammable restaurant in London's West End followed by good stalls tickets for Boris Godunov starring Bryan Terfel at Covent Garden, and my delightful companion on the treks was our hard working daughter who took a week off work. There will be others who will think that On An Overgrown Path should confine itself to eulogizing Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, endlessly dwelling on Wilhelm Furtwängler ill-advised Nazi dalliances and hammering Brexit, while also turning self-promotion into an Olympic sport and squeezing the last drop of blood out of the #MeToo stone. To them I offer in conclusion this extract from Rene Daumal's Mount Analogue, a novel which has much to say if people would only listen:
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.

One climbs, one sees, one descends; one sees no longer, but one has seen.

* But reader beware.
** All the complex logistics of our trip were handled cheerfully and without a single problem, as have been my previous visits to the High Atlas, by Mohamed Aztat's team at the Atlas Trek Shop in Imlil. Particular thanks go to Hamid at Dar Adrar, Amina at the Ouirgane EcoLodge, and above all to the two Ibrahims, our guide and cook on the Tizi M'Zik traverse.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Higher and higher

This year brings the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July, an event celebrated thematically at the BBC Proms. That anniversary provides me with an opportunity to showcase an album which some - including this writer - consider to be one of the best prog rock albums of all time, yet which is still puzzlingly overlooked.

The Moody Blues had achieved outstanding success with their first three concept albums, Days of Future Passed (1968), In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) and On the Threshold of a Dream (1999). Their producer Tony Clarke, who was responsible not only for the outstanding sound of their most successful albums but also played in key role in shaping their creative concepts, was deeply interested in both philosophy and astronomy, and had a telescope on the roof of his house for stargazing. NASA staff were among the fans of the band and Tony Clarke had visited Cape Canaveral several times as a guest. So when recording of of the new album To Our Children's Children's Children started in May 1968 he proposed that "space...the final frontier should be the theme of the album.

The album's first track Higher and Higher depicts a rocket leaving its launching pad, although other interpretations can be put on the title in view of the band's anthem to Timothy Leary on In Search of the Lost Chord. That notwithstanding, their bassist John Lodge explained how the opening sound effect - listen via this link - was created:

We got in touch with NASA and said we'd like the sound of one of their rockets taking off so we could put it on the front of our album, which we were doing. And they sent us some sound over, but, actually, it wasn't very good. So, we got in the studio and spent a couple of days and made our own space sound of a rocket taking off and sent it back to NASA and said, 'Perhaps you'd like to use this on your future missions.
The Moody Blues' albums were a favourite of the NASA astronauts and To Our Children's Children's Children is featured in a playlist of 'Lunar Tunes' on the official NASA website. The band's pioneering 1967 album Days of Future Passed was played on board the Atlantis shuttle space craft by chief astronaut “Hoot” Gibson. He later presented the band with the actual recording of the album that he had carried on four shuttle trips. Band member Justin Hayward later wryly commented: “That was nice, and receiving it from NASA in the original cassette version, which I noticed they illegally recorded, made it even better somehow”.

Sources include Marc Cushman's encyclopedic history of the Moody Blues Long Distance Voyagers: Volume 1 (1965-1979). New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Thought for Easter Sunday

One should not honour only one's own religion and condemn the religions of others, but one should honour others' religions for this or that reason. So doing, one helps one's own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and also does harm to other religions. Whosoever honours his own religion and condemns other religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking "I will glorify my own religion". But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely. So concord is good: Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others.
Those are the words of the Buddhist Emperor Asoka of India. The photo of the Colombo skyline was taken by me recently. Please let's remember the dead and injured in Sri Lanka as well as the structural damage to Notre-Dame.

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