Notre-Dame, Medium, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water

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The main image for my Medium feature “My Creative Brushes with Notre-Dame de Paris”. It’s about drawings I had created before the fire, actually during my public drawing in Reykjavík in March 2019.

18th APRIL 2019 — I have started moving most of my online writing to Medium.com and I may eventually switch completely over there.

Having said that, I’m finding it difficult to let go of this little blog and I appreciate the connections I’ve made here — sincere thanks to everyone who’s reading this.

You can find my writings on Medium under my full name. Recently:

Plus, yesterday I also launched a full day-by-day serialisation of my first book as a Medium series. This innovative Medium form is designed for viewing on smartphones. You tilt your phone to look from side to side. You can also subscribe to this. Here’s the link.

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Haunted Garden ebook debut

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Front cover of the ebook.

10th APRIL 2019 — The ebook edition of my first book, You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1, is now available on Amazon.

Everyone who buys the print paperback edition can also get the ebook version for free. The next volume in the series will be coming out early this summer. Amazon description for Vol. 1:

“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand. This ebook is an exact reproduction of the paperback edition, allowing every detail of the full pictures to be seen.”

Amazon’s automatically generated preview ends just before the illustrated pages begin, but I have requested this to be changed to show more of the book. The change has been made and that update will soon be live on Amazon.

The new preview will show 20% of the content. Until then, an equally revealing preview can also be found on my site simosakariaaltonen.com.

My first book is out — You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1

You Never Know What You'll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1 cover
The wraparound cover for my first book.

29th MARCH 2019 — My first book You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1 is now available on Amazon.

More specifically, the paperback edition is — the ebook version is taking longer to work its way through the system, though it has already passed review, so should be available within some days.

The print edition is a large (8.5″ x 11″) 68-page colour paperback. Purchasers of the paperback will also get the ebook for free.

The Amazon product description:

“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand.”

Creating something beautiful and imaginative for young people and the young at heart has long been one of my most cherished dreams.

I feel there can be few greater things a person can do than give a child something that may spark their imagination and create the kind of joy and wonder I remember from my own childhood when I pored over my favourite books. I still return to them and they thrill me as much as ever.

Works such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (late 19th century), the most beloved Finnish fairy tale novel Mestaritontun seikkailut (a really beautifully illustrated book from 1919 whose title translates as “The Adventures of the Master Elf“), and Malcolm Bird’s The Witch’s Handbook (1988).

I hope my first book, later volumes in the series, and items featuring this world and these characters will find their way one way or another into the lives of many children and others young at heart and give them something special and memorable.

Amazon’s automatic Look Inside has unfortunately provided a preview that stops short of the illustrated pages, but a more revealing preview is available on my official site here:

www.simosakariaaltonen.com

Creating in public (& update)

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Early art for my current projects.

5th MARCH 2019 — Around the turn of the year I got very busy rearranging my life. To my regret, this meant completely putting this blog off to one side. I suddenly got more productive than ever. As a result, several of my creative projects are approaching completion.

This spring I’ll publish my first book and my first sets of sheet music. I’m also getting close to finishing my first symphony, and I’m working on a comic strip and already creating the materials for further books after the one I’ll soon publish. There’s more, but these are the main projects right now that I’m working full speed on.

At noon this Wednesday, 6th of March, I’ll also step onto the stage for the first time in my life since school. I will be drawing and animating things for about an hour with my iPad hooked up to the screen on the stage of a bar called Stúdentakjallarinn (The Student Cellar) on the campus of the University of Iceland here in Reykjavík.

This is essentially performance art in the form of creating in public, as it’s not a presentation. I’ll just draw and animate, and visitors to the bar may observe or ignore according to their inclination. We want to see what the reaction is to this experiment. I was inspired for this idea by the late great Harlan Ellison, who used to occasionally write in public.

I feel really good to be so productive — more so than ever before in my life — and it feels wonderful to set on this road of more active engagement out in the world in connection with art. But I may not be able to continue this blog in the form I originally envisioned. I regret that.

The work I am producing now is the work I had been heading for all along in my life. I feel grateful to have gotten to this point. That would not have happened without all the support I have had over the years from many goodhearted people.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has encouraged and supported me through the good times and bad. Now to make some art.

Theater

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A play about to begin?

OCTOBER 18th 2018 — The photo is from IceCon 2018, between panel discussions at Culture House Iðnó in Reykjavík (early October), but it made me think of theater.

Theater is special. There is a magic to it. This post is a small tribute to that.

From the heavy curtains to the wonderfully worn, scratched stage floors,  to the costumes and props, makeup and music, light and shadow, real people and things in physical space sharing an experience that will always be new, never exactly the same, and of course the amazing, intoxicating smell that many theaters have, theater engages all the senses and involves us as human beings in a beautiful world of art.

I support the idea that parents should let children discover this magic in one way or another at a young age.

Some things in life simply make for warmer and often — not always, but often — more empathetic souls. And theater is one of those things.

A fresh wind

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Mister Rawshark likes it too.

OCTOBER 2nd 2018 — There’s a fresh wind blowing. Some corner has been turned. I don’t know why or how. But that’s the feeling.

I was thinking this with some wonder on my way to the grocery store, and next thing I knew, this book, THE UNASHAMED ACCOMPANIST (1984) by Gerald Moore, fell in my lap — I found it on the free book exchange rack at the nearby shopping center.

Gerald Moore is a pianist whose work I got to know in the early 2000s when I acquired a collection of back issues of BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE, the cover CDs of which featured full, quality performances of classical music. He played on some of them.

(I still have that collection of magazines and CDs. I packed them and only a small number of other important things into plastic storage boxes and asked my parents to keep them for me back in Finland.)

I also remembered an interview with him from those issues. And the thing is, he was already active in the 1920s, so I’m currently coming across his name in the back issues of THE GRAMOPHONE I’m now reading.

To paraphrase from memory one of my favorite writers: We respect serendipity around here. I’ll share the exact quote in a later entry when I come across it again.

Or, for another paraphrase of the general thought, when two meaningful events occur in such close succession, it means something.

Somehow, the things we need seem to find us sooner or later, wherever we go. At least, as long as we follow our hearts. No matter how strange or difficult the road.

P.S. “There’s a fresh wind blowing in THE WILD SHORE,” is what Ursula K. Le Guin said of Kim Stanley Robinson’s debut novel, which I only just realized was published the same year as THE UNASHAMED ACCOMPANIST. Mister Robinson is the only living science fiction author whose work I read.

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 3 — August 1923

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The only picture in this issue is of the author of the article on Byrd on the 300th anniversary of his death, the Reverend Doctor Fellowes. Unfortunately many of these early issues are minus the advertisement pages, which I would love to see included for every issue. Fortunately this will change with later issues.

SEPTEMBER 24th 2018 — The third issue of THE GRAMOPHONE bears the cover date August 1923.

Reverend Edmund H. Fellowes, Doctor of Music, contributes a one-page article on English Renaissance composer William Byrd to mark the 300th anniversary of his death. This was a time when music from times this far in the past was only starting to be recorded, and its admirers therefore treasured every new release.

Few of these early recordings of Byrd are on Spotify, but four that are are mentioned in the reviews section. All played on the harpsichord by Violet Gordon-Woodhouse:

  • “ROWLAND OR LORD WILLOBIE’S WELCOME HOME”, FVB. 160.
  • “THE QUEENE’S ALMAN”, FVB. 171.
  • “GALIARDA”, FVB. 255.
  • “EARLE OF OXFORD’S MARCHE”, FVB. 259.

See this earlier post in this “Let’s read” series for a photo of Ms. Gordon-Woodhouse. She did a lot to increase the popularity of the harpsichord and awareness of its importance in the history of music.

I have to mention one more Byrd song cited in this issue, though the recording is not on Spotify, because it has such a great title: “WHY DO I USE MY PAPER, INK, AND PEN?” Most great composers also had great senses of humor. Bach composed a COFFEE CANTATA.

An aside: These back issues of nearly a century ago (at the time of writing this) are treasures. But they are also relics. For example, the N word appears in this issue.

As someone with an academic background (the unwelcome effects of which I have long worked to shed), I am personally not shocked by such things — because anyone who has done any reading of old texts has seen this type of language in old texts all too often. But it is good to realize times have changed since then.

That said, I assume an intelligent readership, so I won’t be climbing on any soapboxes or wasting space commenting further on matters like this. But I did not want to sweep this under the carpet.

Francis Brett Young in an article called “At Random”:

“A little time since, I was asked to contribute to a symposium on a question raised in America […]: whether the cinematograph had not rendered the novel superfluous. The question seemed to me a silly one, for it disregarded one of the fundamental functions of the novelist, which is the achievement of verbal beauty, with all its suggestions, in prose.”

“Z.” rues the loss of a record:

“I only had an opportunity of playing the last-mentioned record once, when the interpretation made a great impression on me, and I am sorry to say that the disc has disappeared from my review shelves. Perhaps my colleague, Mr. J. Caskett, was so much pleased with it that he has literally devoured it, or it may be that he sat on it by accident and buried the fragments in the garden without daring to confess his crime.”

I miss this kind of relaxed, conversational style in publications like THE GRAMOPHONE (these days minus the definite article). Also, digital music — much as I deeply appreciate it and its availability — means no such anecdotes or musings could come about anymore, except with the hardy souls who never abandoned physical media.

Another flight of fancy from “Z.”:

“Much is lost if they are not played with the loudest needle, and although the scratch is not unduly in evidence, so exquisite is this music that I have never felt such bitterness against chemists for not being able to do what they ought to be able to do. If I were a despot, I would summon before me the leading chemists of the day; I would immure them in a completely equipped laboratory, and I would give them two years to eliminate the scratch from gramophone records. The penalty for failure should be imprisonment for the term of their life in a cell lit by acetylene gas and covered with encaustic tiles. Here they should spend the rest of their unnatural lives, listening day and night to the strains of a cheap gramophone playing on a scratchy record ‘I’M FOR EVER BLOWING BUBBLES’. Their food should be sent in to them from the Eustace Miles restaurant in Chandos Street; their lightest reading should be Freud, Jung, and Ernest Jones; and doubtless, if I really were a despot, I should be able to devise all sorts of additional horrors, which in my present state of limited power I have neither space nor time to enumerate.”

He did well enough already. Eccentric digressions like this in these vintage issues often make me smile. They are very human, and more of human life and of humanity comes through when writers are allowed real freedom of thought and expression, and the luxury of enough space. Something has been lost since these days, at least when it comes to most music journalism.

Less charmingly, “Z.” strays from the eccentric to the crude with this:

“Not that I crave to hear the words of what is one of the most tiresome songs ever written, and one that by some curious misfortune of mine second-rate sopranos always choose to sing whenever I go to a concert in Italy. I nearly committed sopranocidio by throwing a lemon squash at the last woman I heard sing it.”

Hardly gracious or gentlemanly.

So while I admire some aspects of these older approaches to music journalism, things like this occasionally cool these warm feelings.

Back along more amusing lines, “Z.” again of a record:

“I thought that it was a really good record; but, alas, with each succeeding performance it becomes more tinny, and if I play it much more I shall be able to preserve tomatoes in it.”

Frank Swinnerton comments on the limitations of the day’s recording technology:

“The gramophone cannot yet reproduce the letter ‘S’. It cannot yet render satisfactorily the full volume of an orchestra or the pure tone of the pianoforte. Always the orchestra has a tinny vibration — a dwarfing of the original; nearly always the piano has many notes — particularly loud notes — resembling the banjo. Pang, pang, pang… Strings are still the most satisfactory instruments for mechanical reproduction.”

A recording already mentioned in this “Let’s read” series and available on Spotify:

  • Norman Allin singing Albert Ketèlbey’s Shakespeare setting “BLOW, BLOW, THOU WINTER WIND”. “Z.” says it “can be used for frightening cats.” I like this composer’s orchestral pieces more, though.

In the “Gramophone Societies’ Reports” (yes, people used to gather together to listen to music on the gramophone), Ernest Baker of The South-East London (Recorded) Music Society comments on Wagner’s music:

“It covers the whole gamut of musical emotion; it has such amazing descriptive power and is so full of pure musical beauties. We have the music of the sea, of fire, the air, love, life, and death — all painted by a master-hand upon an immense canvas.”

All this reminds me of Iceland as well.

An article called “A Decca Romance” tells the story of a portable Decca gramophone that a British battalion hauled around in “a large clothes basket” in World War I. Everyone brought back records when on leave, in England or Paris, for example, and records were also ordered by post.

“Strange homes that old Decca has had, up and down the villages of France, in ruined houses, in huts, in tents, in transport lines.”

After the war was over:

“It was put up for a raffle in the village, and no less a sum than five pounds was raised for the Benevolent Fund of the battalion’s Old Comrades’ Association, while the man who won it for one shilling is not grumbling at his bargain. Long may it flourish in its new home!”

Wagner pieces or extracts mentioned in this issue with some relevance to Icelandic sagas (though none of the recordings mentioned is on Spotify), cited again here for their evocative titles (Wotan = Óðinn / Odin):

SIEGFRIED

“Forest Murmurs”

“Forging Songs” / “Siegfried Forges the Broken Sword”

“Mime’s Treachery to Siegfried”

“Siegfried Follows the Forest Bird”

“Brünnhilde Hails the Radiant Sun”

“Brünnhilde Recalls Her Valkyrie Days”

“Introduction: Wotan Invokes Erda”

“Siegfried’s Ascent to the Valkyrie Rock”

“Brünnhilde Yields to Siegfried”

Plus the related composition, not part of the opera:

SIEGFRIED IDYLL

 

GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG (TWILIGHT OF THE GODS)

“The Parting of Brünnhilde and Siegfried”

“Hagen Meditates Revenge”

“Gunther and Gutrune Welcome Siegfried”

“Prelude: The Rhinemaidens Scene”

“Brünnhilde Kindles the Funeral Pyre”


Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 3 — August 1923”:

This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.

Earlier entries in this series:

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 2 — June 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 1923