Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Laminar flow region

Have been listening to the wonderful Hilliard Ensemble recording of Gesualdo' Tenebrae responses (recorded incidentally in the Benedictine Abbey of Douai, Berkshire, England , see picture below).

Supremely beautiful music, but the product of a very troubled mind. In 1590 Gesulado created one of the great sixteen century music scandals when he had his first wife, her lover, and his son murdered.

Hearing the wonderful Sacconi String Quartet (now it is not just policemen that are looking younger........................... is also string quartets) playing Schuman's Quartet no 3 (opus 41) reminded me of how much great music is written in chaotic regions. After this great work Schumann abandoned the quartet format forever. His latter years were dogged by periods of depression, he began to suffer halucianations, attempted suicide, and died two years later cared for by his wife and the young Brahms

Nick Drake, see A troubled cure..for a troubled mind also spent his last years in the outer regions. One of the most interesting explanations of why life in the outer regions generates such great creativity is found in the book Then We Sailed Away by The Ridgway Family.

"Perhaps the brain has the equivalent of a laminar flow region (like water from a tap), where all the ordered information and processes are well catalogued and indexed. This is our acquired and inherited knowledge, conscious and sub conscious.
Outside this region there is the equivalent of chaos, masses of unstructured data and half-formed thoughts: a swirling mass of unstructured and unintelligible information derived from the incalculable quantities of sensory input the brian receives every second: a region of wild turbulence and disorder. Chaos.
We are only vaguely aware of this chaotic region. Here lurk the demons of madness. Yet isn't genius on the edge of madness? What is actually happening at the boundary - at the edge of chaos? If the analogy of our example of the water flowing from the tap holds true, than at the edge of chaos there is an erratic stream of tiny whorls of disordered thought which comes spinning out of chaos to penetrate the lamina region.
Are these tiny whorls the seeds of creative thought? Does inspiration heighten our awareness of them, and allow us to crystalise the occasional one into a brilliant idea? For so much of our brief time on earth, we are content to exist in the secure and predicatable laminar world. However, when we face the demons at the edge of chaos we can sense the tiny whorls of creative thought as they come spinning out of the blue...."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Being and nothingness


The inspiration for Jean-Paul Satre's Being and Nothingness came to him in a Paris cafe, when he asked the waitress for a cup of coffee with no cream. "I'm sorry," she replied, "we're out of cream. How about with no milk"?
invisible hit counter

Friday, November 12, 2004



Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) 1913 by Wassily Kandinsky

The Nick Drake thread below started from Brad Mehldau's improvisations on his new Live in Tokyo CD.

I keep coming across improvisation on The Overgrown Path, and am starting to understand its importance. One of the most progressive record labels around is the French company Alpha (at the risk of sounding boring why are so many good things like this French? - does anyone know an innovative baroque recording company from the US? But that's probably an unfair comment because this thread started with Brad Mehldau,who was born in Jacksonville, Florida). I bought Nobody's Jig by the wonderfully named Les Witches in Heffer's splendidl CD shop in Cambridge at the weekend. Then I moved on to All' Improviso with L'Arpeggiata and Christina Pluhar also on their Les Chants de la Terre label.

Now no prizes for guessing what All' Improviso is about. In the very good sleeve notes for this recording Christina Pluhar makes some fascinating, and important observations about improvisation...

All musicians find themselves faced with the same questions. Should we elaborate or preserve, interpret or create? How far can or must we go in terms of innovation? Where are the limits? And when - and above all how - can or must we overstep those limits?

Improvising, while trying to bridge the gap between two styles of music, naturally raises a number of questions. Have we the right to do this? What exactly are we allowed to do? What is the name of the resulting style?
But the most interesting questions are these: What do we have in common? What is the basic pith of improvisation? What can we learn from one another?

For a musician, whatever his background, improvisation is the most direct form of communication with the listener. In every age and culture, improvisation came before all other forms of music. It exposes our true, inner voice, which has been affected by our musical training. Today we are free to choose, and our chosen pathis an expression of our innermost being. The music we use to express our emotions is the mirror of our soul.


Christina asks the important question - Where are the limits? There seems to be a continuum from disciplined improvisation such as All' Improviso, through creative improvosation such as Brad Mehldau's which still remains linked to the original to the free form of Keith Jarrett's ECM improvisations on Book of Ways and Spheres (Holding my copy of the former recording as I type reminds me I bought it in the Ahlens City department store in Stockholm where Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lind was tragically murdered).

Book of Ways is an extraordinary double CD of improvisations on the rarely recorded Clavichord, while Spheres is an equally uncompromising set of improvisations recorded on the Trinity Organ in the Benedictine Abbey (another thread, see Pliable's Travels ) at Ottobeuren (see picture below), and uses a range of effects including pulling out certain stops part way.

These two Keith Jarrett explorations of the art of improvisation have divided his critics far more than any of his other recordings. Did they exceed the limits? Did they fail to meet the test identified by Siobhan Davies, choreographer in a recent article?

It isn't enough for new work to be intellectually open: it must be intellectually rigorous too.-

invisible hit counter

Tuesday, November 09, 2004



If you put a bunch of healthy fleas into a jam jar which they can can easily jump out of, then put on the lid, the fleas will keep jumping up and hitting their heads.

After a while, they'll jump just short of the lid because they don't want to get a headache. If you take the lid off, the fleas won't be able to jump out any more.

There are two ways to get them to jump out: either put a Bunsen burner underneath, or put in a normal flea which jumps out straight away and the others will follow it.

People are either motivated by force or by inspiration.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Silence is the monk's greatest treasure: it favours everybody's prayer, work and rest; that is why we are happy to share it with you.

Silence is absolute from Compline to Lauds of the following day; during the day, avoid loud conversation in the cells and the corridors.

It is not possible to listen to the radio or cassette without earphones.

Lastly, out of respect for the recollection of others, we would ask our guests to keep silence during breakfast and tea.

Extract from leaflet Welcome to The Abbey


Music is the space between the notes - Claude Debussy


The best writer is the one who communicates his thoughts in the least number of words - anon


The word "noise" is derived from the Latin word "nausea," meaning seasickness. Noise is among the most pervasive pollutants today. Noise from road traffic, jet planes, jet skis, garbage trucks, construction equipment, manufacturing processes, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and boom boxes, to name a few, are among the audible litter that are routinely broadcast into the air.
Noise negatively affects human health and well-being. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity, and a general reduction in the quality of life and opportunities for tranquillity.
We experience noise in a number of ways. On some occasions, we can be both the cause and the victim of noise, such as when we are operating noisy appliances or equipment. There are also instances when we experience noise generated by others just as people experience second-hand smoke. While in both instances, noises are equally damaging, second-hand noise is more troubling because it has negative impacts on us but is put into the environment by others, without our consent.
The air into which second-hand noise is emitted and on which it travels is a
"commons," a public good. It belongs to no one person or group, but to everyone. People, businesses, and organizations, therefore, do not have unlimited rights to broadcast noise as they please, as if the effects of noise were limited only to their private property. On the contrary, they have an obligation to use the commons in ways that are compatible with or do not detract from other uses.

From the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse web site


Mobile phone services for airline passengers arrive 21/06/2004 by Sean Cornwell

ARINC, the transportation communications and systems engineering company, and Telenor are soon to market new technology to allow airline passengers to use personal mobile phones aboard commercial flights. The new technology will in theory allow seamless usage of today's popular GSM mobile phones on any commercial aircraft flight.

"Passengers will be able to make and receive mobile phone calls, and send or receive text messages just as they do on the ground," stated Graham Lake, ARINC Vice President and Managing Director, Europe, Middle East and Africa. "It is not a question of whether mobile phones will be used on aircraft. It is merely a question of when." The new technology initially will leverage the Inmarsat SATCOM systems currently deployed on 3,000 aircraft worldwide. The system is alsodesigned to accommodate evolving technologies such as the Inmarsat Swift/BGAN and Ku broadband systems such as ARINC's SKYLinkTM.

The two companies will offer the airlines a comprehensive, one-stop implementation package. The technology will address the airspace as a virtual GSM country, simplifying the mobile addressing and connectivity during flight. Current terrestrial GSM roaming charges are being used for end-user pricing models.

From web site

Feasting on Words – Monks Listen to Literature While They Eat in Silence By Barbara LeBlanc

When Fr. William Sullivan, O.S.B., asks what you are reading these days, he is not making small talk. He really wants to know.
As Prior of Saint Anselm Abbey, Fr. William selects the books that will be read to monks at lunch and dinner, according to a tradition spelled out in the Rule of St. Benedict. He scours The New York Times best-seller list and combs book reviews for biographies, histories, and other non-fiction works that provide a menu for the mind while the monks take their meals in silence, as also dictated by the rule.
“You can tell you chose a good book when people go up and read what they missed if they missed a meal,” he said.
The job of reader rotates weekly among the monks. Recently, Fr. Anselm Smedile, O.S.B., read from A History of the Popes 1830–1914, by Owen Chadwick. Sitting in a balcony high above the dining tables in the paneled dining hall known as the refectory, Fr. Anselm knew he was expected to read correctly and with some animation. St. Benedict was specific on that point, as well.
“I try to prepare for the week by reading the selections that are to be read from the Bible, Rule of Benedict, and the current book,” Fr. Anselm said. “The only frustrating parts of table reading for me are the words in foreign languages or mispronouncing words that many of the monks know, but I have never come across before.”
In years past, the prior would ring the bell if the reader mispronounced a word. “Read it again,” Fr. William said, imitating one prior’s German accent. That happens no longer. Now, Fr. Jude Gray, O.S.B., a former professor of public speaking and oral interpretation, or another monk will mention the correct pronunciation in private.
“I’ll say, ‘You know that word…? Well, most people pronounce it this way,’ ” said Fr. Jude, who has coached younger monks in preaching and table reading. “It can be very intimidating for a young monk, with all those Ph.D.s down there.”
His advice: Read the text beforehand and know what words to emphasize. “Sense echoes sound,” he said.
Silence makes for quick meals—as short as 15 minutes at lunch—so a book can take three months to complete. Between books, there may be papal documents and other pertinent texts to read. At noon, there is always a section of the Old Testament and at dinner, passages from the New Testament, Rule of St. Benedict and the Abbey Book of Customs.
“Like serving a meal, we need to speak the Word, as though feeding by ear,” said Fr. Iain MacLellan, O.S.B.
Monks are enthusiastic about the reading, saying it enhances fellowship and exposes them to books they may never have read on their own. Fr. William noted that it also provides diversion to a group of men who, seated according to seniority, may be passing the salt to the same dinner partner for 50 or 60 years.
Among Fr. William’s selections, David McCullough’s John Adams is the reigning favorite. The least favorite? The History of Blood, which was suggested by a monk then living at the abbey, didn’t last two meals.
“People couldn’t take it,” Fr. William said. “They were getting sick.”

From web site of Saint Anselm Benedictine Community web site.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Our future.............


Put bacteria in a test tube with food and oxygen, and they will grow explosively, doubling in number every twenty minutes or so, until they form a solid, visible mass. But finally multiplication will cease as they become poisoned by their own waste products. In the centre of the mass will be a core of dead and dying bacteria, cut off from the food and oxygen of their environment by the solid barrier of their neighbours. The number of living bacteria will fall almost to zero, unless the waste products are washed away.

From The Doomsday Book by Gordon Rattray-Taylor

Smile why it has been


Saw the black gospel group GK Real live last night - very good. The excellent lead singer said the Lord is claiming music back - reminded me of how both today's pop and classical music are built on the platform of religous performances.

Servant and Master am I:
Servant of the dead
And master of the living.
Through my spirit the immortals speak the message
That make the world weep and laugh,
And wonder and worship.For I am the instrument of God:
I am music.

This thread leads me to a wonderful recording of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's Five Part Mass that I bought in France recently on the K617 label.


Nick Drake has featured in several recent postings, and by another of those fascinating pieces of synchronicity Pergolesi and Nick Drake both died at the shockingly young age of 26, albeit nearly 250 years apart. The pictures at the beginning and end of this post show some haunting similarities despite their totally different musical genres.

The purpose of this posting is not to dwell on their passing at such a young age. It is rather to celebrate the extraordinary riches that both Giovanni Pergolesi and Nick Drake left behind after relatively brief lives with the thought...

Don't cry why it is over
Smile why it has been

If you do not know their music follow the Overgrown Path to some real riches.

invisible hit counter

Pliable's travels

I've just returned from France, the whole trip was very stimulating. I tried to make it a pilgimage (personal rather religous) and travelled light (relatively - I took seven books!) with just a rucksack and used public transport - which is very good in France. I got a lot out of my time at Ste Madeleine, but equally learnt a lot from being close to the French people, and on my own which meant I was closer to the local people. Once again I'm afraid I was left wondering what we are doing wrong in Britain, the French education system seems to be so much better, their town centres are so much more civilised and safe, and the absence of rubbish tipping (fly tipping) by the edge of public roads was noticeable compared with England. It was also interesting to see numbers of young people at Mass in Nimes on a Sunday. (By the kind of serendipidity that this site was created to exploit I was reading Patrick Humphries' Nick Drake - the biography (see A troubled cure...for a troubled mind above), and found the book rich in links to Nimes, Arles and Avignon.

I spent three nights in Nimes bed and breakfasting at Thierry and Jean-Luc's lovely little city centre studio with a wonderful little terrace looking across the roof-tops. Here is the view from the terrace - click on the link for more details, recommended.

I spent five days at Ste Madeleine monastery in Northern Provence. The Abbey and monastery are quite strict Benedictines verging I think towards more disciplined orders such as the Cistercians. To be close to the monks and understand their commitment was inspirational. I found my stay gave me a lot of new perspectives. I can't say it was relaxing but that wasn't why I went. It took me some time to understand the pattern and niceties of monastic life. Silence and the outside doors locked after Compline (20.15h local time - 19.15h body clock time) was a challenge for a serial insomniac.

There were no new religous revelations for me, more a confirmation of what I had concluded already. The life and power of the community confirms an Almighty power, but I'm afraid my unease with some aspects of Catholicism remain. As Ste Madeleine is a religous order in its own right it reports (if that is the word) directly to Rome, rather than through the French Catholic church. There were a number of unidentified dignatories among my fellow guests who were involved in much serious discussion, I am afraid I wanted to drag them all outside, point out the fantastic scenery and weather and shout "Isn't it all wonderful - praise the Lord!" Thank goodness it wasn't a Trappist monastery - they were built in damp and flat regions to avoid tempting the eye with wonderful scenery.

There were some other fascinating and inspiring guests though, including the Chaplain of
Chavagnes International College. This is an English boarding school for boys outside Nantes for an interesting and very valid take on education (would be interested in any views on their policy on television and the Internet as set out in the FAQ section).

Moments such as being led through into the enclosure for my first meal, and entering the refectory with sixty monks in black habits standing lining the sides were quite extraordinary. Being served very good steak while the Brothers had a boiled egg were more perplexing.

All the offices are sung in unadorned Gregorian Chant. The wonderful Baroque stye organ in the Abbey is only used for Sundays and Feast days. I slipped in one morning when a monk was practicing on the organ, and found its sound like a burst of sunshine after relentless the wonderful but relentless gregorain Chant. Compline sung from memory in the dark was very moving though. I bought back lots of CD's (the Abbey has a very good shop which sells their bread and produce plus a lot of books and music) including the Pergolesi Five Part Mass (I'm writing a separate post on that), the Couperin Organ Masses (with plainchant),Ramaud Motets and a wonderful cheap four CD set from Erato (£17 for four CD's) of all of the well known settings of the Stabat Mater. I also bought in FNAC in Avignon the new ECM
disc by pianist Vassillis Tsabropoulos and Anja Lechner on Cello Chants, Hymns and Dances.Again I will write another post on this fascinating disc when it has spent more time in the CD player.

I took with me the Benedictine Handbook (which includes the Benedictine Rule) which I would thoroughly recommend. It is beautifully published and printed here in Norwich by the Canterbury Press - part of Hymns Ancient and Modern. It has a chapter by Esther de Waal. I also tried The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris which I found both too American, and if you'll forgive me a bit 'holier than thou'. Also sampled was Henri Nouwen's The Genesee Diary about life in a Trappist monastery in the States, but again I couldn't really relate to it I'm afraid.

Anyway, that is a very much layman's take on my pilgimage to Ste Madeleine. I would like to return, and think I would get a lot out of another visit as I now know the rhythms and nuances of monastic life.

We're off to see a visiting gospel choir tomorrow night at the United Reform Church in Halesworth as part of their very good Arts Festival.

Saw the wonderful Yukio Ninagawa production of Hamlet
with Michael Maloney in Norwich a couple of weeks back - fantastic!

Going to see what remains of Fairport Convention in a few weeks - open the window as wide as you can and see what flies in!

Picture below is Norman Foster's fabulous Carre d'Art
gallery in Nimes, with the Maison de Carre temple in the foreground.