SEPTEMBER 15th 2018 — My studies in Icelandic as a Second Language at the University of Iceland started with an orientation week in the penultimate week of August 2018. The first day was beautiful and sunny, warm but not too warm.
I was especially impressed by the warmth radiated by the head of the program, Professor Jón Karl Helgason (“Jón Karl, Helgi’s son”). He spoke softly and with a glint of humor, starting his introductory talk with a photo of his newborn son. He told us this was going to be our competition for the coming year — he expects us to match or exceed the progress of the young one.
This warmth is something I have rarely felt in the presence of Finnish teachers, but in Iceland it is not uncommon. Many Icelanders know how to bring warmth to a whole room, as Jón Karl did. It made the place feel welcoming and supremely safe. Whereas in Finland, in my experience, it is more common for rooms to have a constant low-level tension. It makes a huge difference.
But I don’t mean to put down Finns, who can have fine qualities of their own. And I have been fortunate enough to have studied under several exceptional ones.
During a break I found my way to the canteen, where I ate healthily: vegetable balls in curry pineapple sauce with pasta and salad, with a vitamin drink.
Other orientation week activities included a guided tour of the campus, hotdogs and soda in the open air, and of course a student party at the on-campus Stúdentakjallarinn (“The Student Cellar”) — with free bjór (beer).
As we were told during a later visit to the Settlement Museum, beer has long been important in Iceland. In the old days, no feast would have been possible without it, and feasts were very important community-strengthening events.
I headed home in the evening to my apartment in Kópavogur (“Seal Pup Bay”), feeling it had been a good start.
I would soon be moving much closer to the university, however. But that’s a different story.
SEPTEMBER 13th 2018 — Today I continued several long-running threads in my life:
First, learning to use more music-making apps, in this case Audio Damage’s pitch-shifting delay Discord4.
This allows for creating various effects for which I have no immediate use — but I am proceeding methodically to build a strong and wide foundation in all areas of music-making. It is good to have skills to draw upon when the need arises. This one relates for me most to the end stage of putting flourishes on otherwise pretty finished pieces.
Second, building my personal rhythmic vocabulary. In Paris last winter, I started implementing this idea when I found a notebook perfect for this purpose. Rather than horizontal or horizontal and vertical lines, its pages are marked with matrices of small crosses.
I had long been pondering this notion of starting to create a personal catalogue of rhythms, because I had come to realize that this is a key to much greater musical productivity in the future.
I derive these rhythms from melodies and harmonies of music as well as strictly percussive music and personal inspirations. And these rhythms can be used not only for percussive but also melodic and harmonic ends in creating new pieces.
As for the notebook, it didn’t hurt that its cover is themed in pink Tiki symbology. That made me smile. Tiki paraphernalia, so linked with 50s Americana of a certain kind, holds for me a quaint, carefree charm.
As for the figure mentioned in the title of this post, I learned yesterday that our little dark adventure game SERENA (for which I was one of the writers) has now been downloaded 1,684,328 times on Steam.
It is quite mind-boggling. Over 1.6 million souls all over the world have for a myriad reasons downloaded and experienced our game. We all poured our best work possible at that time into this game — I remember the exactly two months it took us to make it from conception to release as an extremely fertile, productive, inspired time — but it is safe to say this popularity has exceeded all our expectations. It seems to have struck a chord in the hearts of many.
SEPTEMBER 10th 2018 — What is Bradbury country? It’s a place where the magic of life and childhood are still possible. Where the elements and outwardly simple, primal sensory experiences can still get to you. The night means something, and the wind, and all the repeated rituals of life.
The first image and sound of the first episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER after Mr. Bradbury’s introduction:
Boiling eggs, closely followed by brewing coffee and toasting toast. I can’t begin to say how refreshing it was to me to see and hear these things. I could taste and smell the eggs, the coffee, the toast.
I was reminded of the good things in life, the things we would miss most if we were shot out into space, never to return.
Where in our filmed fiction these days do we even see or hear these things anymore? And when we do, nearly always they are no more than halfhearted daubs of color to lend the thinnest surface gloss to a story without real human warmth.
In Bradbury and other fiction I can love, these things are primal, self-sufficient experiences that need no other justification. They may serve some story functions, but that’s not really why they’re there. They’re there because in these things our love of life finds expression. We share.
But that’s already getting too far into analysis. Better to just experience and savor when we can.
Why am I so preoccupied with what I call human warmth? And why the same with thoughts concerning childhood?
The questions are nonsensical to me, because I cannot imagine a human being I could love or even like who cared nothing for human warmth, and no artist or kind person worth much of our time has lost touch with or stopped caring about childhood — their own, and that of others.
And a person with a reasonably healthy and developed mind who did not concern himself or herself at all with thoughts and hopes of making the world a better one for children to grow up in could perhaps be called something of a monster.
When I came to Iceland again, one day I was alone pushing a cart in a supermarket, feeling sad for reasons I won’t even try to put into words — and remembering the amazing scenes with Sarah Palmer at a grocery store in the TWIN PEAKS Season 3 trailer and episodes — and suddenly I heard a child’s voice that made my eyes sting.
It was so clear from that voice that this child was growing up in a caring family, in a world that is largely safe and where real childhood is still possible.
I had not heard that anywhere since my own childhood. Not in Finland and not in Paris.
It is a quality that I see and hear here, in passing, all the time. But I don’t remember it from Finland since I was a kid myself.
And like I’ve said, I believe there can be no greater gift you can give in this life than giving a child a safe, happy, good childhood and start in life.
We are here now — but one day we won’t be. We have to care and do what we can.
Sometimes I have days or nights when I feel I am on the very edge of the cliff. In my life, in better days, and on better nights, I have been lucky enough to be the recipient of great human warmth in many forms.
Words, deeds, from people very close and from people very far and even personally unknown to me. They all found some ways to pour some of their warmth out into this world, to pass it forward, and to give some of it to others.
When I feel on the edge of that cliff, I must remind myself that even if a wind were to gust up and blow me over that edge, I should try to turn around and hurl as much of my warmth back into the world as I can, even in that last moment — like a wizard casting their life energy as a final message and protection and strength over those with life still ahead of them.
I am not a wizard, but I care. Whether in art or daily life, if we find ways to do that, we are helping.
SEPTEMBER 9th 2018 — This entry inaugurates a tradition I plan to follow in the future:
The following of a number of threads like this, with the intention to see where they lead and what light they throw upon my special interests in life. This is far from the only “Let’s” series I have in mind.
THE GRAMOPHONE magazine was founded in Great Britain in 1923 by Compton Mackenzie, novelist, critic, actor, and gardener, along with London editor Christopher Stone. For many decades it covered all music released on record, unlike today, when it is solely dedicated to classical music.
This earlier orientation means it is quite a comprehensive bible to music of all genres released in those several decades. Combined with Spotify, it makes for a wonderful resource and guide into the music of times past.
Let’s see where the first issue takes us. You can find all these back issues as part of the digital archive available at least on iOS and other platforms as well. As a dedicated Apple user these days, I do most things in iOS.
A word of caution, however: I will be commenting only upon pieces of music that interest me at the particular time that I write my entries. There is a lot of more than worthy music that I will pass by. I just want to comment on some.
* * *
The time is April 1923.
One thing that these classic issues have to offer is a use of English now largely lost. While there are attitudes that will justly strike a modern reader as awful and harsh, there are also graces and subtleties that no modern publication can offer. The use of language is often rich and luxurious.
Of all the recordings mentioned in this issue, it would be hard not to place at the top the one by violinists Kreisler and Zimbalist of Bach’s CONCERTO FOR TWO VIOLINS. This can be found on Spotify in three parts: I. VIVACE. II. LARGO. III. ALLEGRO. This is music with a guilelessness perhaps almost wholly unfamiliar to most modern musicmakers.
Chopin’s NOCTURNE NO. 19 IN E MINOR, Op. 72 No. 1, played by pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch, is referenced. This wonderful piece is also available on Spotify.
Let’s learn some music theory:
E minor means that the piece is in the key of E minor. That means it follows the modern minor scale, which works like this (every half step is a step towards the next key on the piano keyboard, whether a black or white key, and every whole step is two steps on the piano keyboard, whether black or white keys):
Starting from the root note, in this case E, it follows this pattern ascending up the scale:
E, whole step (F#), half step (G), whole step (A), whole step (B), half step (C), whole step (D), whole step (E), arriving at another E.
Every minor scale in modern music follows this same pattern of whole and half steps.
So the only difference between modern minor scales is which root note they start from. The relationship between the notes of the scale is exactly the same in all minor scales. The same is true of all major scales, but I will come to that later.
In this way you can construct any modern minor scale in any key. You simply pick the root note (any white or black key on the piano or other similar keyboard) and follow this pattern of steps:
root W H W W H W W
You can also start on any of the black keys, and sharps and flats are added to the basic note names as needed.
A sharp is simply the next note above, whether a black or white key, from the default form of the note, and a flat is simply the next note below, again whether a black or white key.
Thus C# or C sharp is the black key between C and D, and Cb or C flat is the white note below C — in other words, B. Pairs like Cb and B, which actually refer to the selfsame note, are called enharmonic notes.
But enough theory for now. To conclude, the Chopin NOCTURNE IN E MINOR is called that because it takes E as its root and fundamental note and is in the minor key, so it uses primarily the seven notes of the E minor scale (or eight if you count the E above also).
Few of the early Wagner records mentioned in these early issues are on Spotify. Perhaps needless to say, Wagner dipped for his RING cycle into the well of myths first or only written down in Iceland — the Eddic sagas.
But though these are not on Spotify, I want to cite here the titles — evocative on their own — given for some Wagner recordings in this issue. In the following, Wotan = Óðinn / Odin.
DAS RHEINGOLD (THE RHINEGOLD)
“Alberich steals the gold: The dawn over Valhalla”
“The descent to Nibelheim: Capture of Alberich”
“The entry of the gods into Valhalla”
DIE WALKÜRE (THE VALKYRIE)
“Prelude: Siegmund seeks shelter from the storm (Act I)”
“Siegmund sees the sword hilt in the tree”
“Siegmund greets the spring night”
“Siegmund draws out his sword”
“Introduction: Brünnhilde’s battle cry”
“Wotan warns Brünnhilde not to disobey”
“Brünnhilde foretells Siegmund’s death”
“Introduction: Ride of the Valkyries”
“Brünnhilde gives Sieglinde the broken sword”
“Brünnhilde implores the protection of fire”
“Wotan bids farewell to Brünnhilde”
“Wotan kisses Brünnhilde into a deep slumber”
“The rock is surrounded by fire: Finale of opera”
Still on the subject of Iceland:
“A Review of the First Quarter of 1923” by the Editor mentions “THE SONG OF THE VIKING GUEST” sung by Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (p. 16). This early cylinder recording is available on Spotify. The song is from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera SADKO (premiered in Moscow in 1898).
The Zonophone ad in this issue (p. VI) lists singer Foster Richardson, with orchestra, performing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “THE VIKING SONG”. This, however, is not on Spotify.
Also mentioned in this Zonophone ad, as well as in the Editor’s review of the first quarter (p. 16), is the lovely Elizabethan song, “DRINK TO ME ONLY WITH THINE EYES”, recorded for example by Johnny Cash in much later days.
Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 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.
SEPTEMBER 8th 2018 — I came to Iceland to escape from a life I had outgrown and to run towards beauty and meaning.
My first visit to Iceland in 2016, for six very special weeks, left an indelible mark on me. Iceland and Icelanders captured my heart.
I started learning from them what was missing from my life.
I learned that the most beautiful things in life are human warmth and family and friendship and caring. Icelanders have these values in their hearts. They have to, living in one of the harsher climates on this earth.
I grew to love that climate too. The wind and the rain, and the occasional moments of sunlight and rainbows, have a way of cleansing your soul of unnecessary perplexities that other countries foster.
And I learned that more than anything else I want in this life to share my life with a special someone and to start a family with them. I am alone, understand, but this is my dream. There can be nothing more beautiful in this life than giving a child a good, safe childhood and start in life.
And it was driven for good into my soul, even more than before, that art and creativity in all their forms are things I need and want to have in my life as much as possible.
So I came to Iceland and started formally studying Icelandic so I could live in the most special place on earth — a land of youth and beauty and a land where childhood is still possible, Bradbury country and my own remembered childhood country (though that was elsewhere and the feeling no longer exists there, but does here), where the magic has not been driven away — and I came to create music and stories and poetry, some of them in Icelandic.
I hope to one day find what I am looking for. I followed my heart here and even though as I write this I have experienced a terrible personal blow, I have to try to keep going. In this blog I will talk about all the things I am doing and pursuing, especially creatively.
I wanted to put my dreams into words, so the rough winds of the moment wouldn’t sweep them away into eternity. And perhaps someone will read them one day.
Is there enough magic out there in the moonlight, a character in FIELD OF DREAMS asks, to make that dream come true?