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

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Let’s watch THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER in Iceland: 1.01: “Marionettes, Inc.”

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Title card with appropriate “digital clock” typeface.

SEPTEMBER 20th 2018 — Ray Bradbury loved cinema and cinematic storytelling all his life.

From trips to the movies with a beloved family member when he was a boy, he fell in love with the form and it never ended.

Two characteristics permeate all his writing: all of it is lyrical — he had the soul of a poet and that’s why he’s one of my favorite writers — and much of it is powerfully sensual. It engages all the senses.

He said one could film any of his stories by simply turning each sentence or paragraph into a shot. All the information was there, he said, in his writing: what to show and when and how.

From 1985 to 1992 the world enjoyed his TV series THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. It was filmed on location in many countries: Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and France.

Ray personally scripted every episode and proved his profound and natural understanding of how to tell a story in this form. His work for the series is a model of what to do and not do in scripting film and television.

(I prefer saying just “film” from now on. These are mini-movies in all but name.)

Scenes are allowed to unfold without drowning everything under too much dialogue. Just enough is said and not said. Sights, sounds, and yes, through the power of his work and that of his collaborators, also smells, tastes, and tactile experiences come through.

Iceland is to me Bradbury country and more like the remembered land of my childhood than anywhere else I have been as an adult. Magic is still possible here. The elements have power, like in his stories. The wind has a presence unlike anywhere else. There is the sea, there are mountains and waterfalls, and dark nights and summer cottages in pristine nature.

Stories live here and are respected. As is poetry. As is music. I write this in a snug bedroom with a great big bed and a slanting ceiling of the kind that through some geometrical alchemy seems to fire the imaginations of all creative people. I wish more than anything that I could really share all this.

In any case, Iceland is a great place to watch THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. I also did so in Paris last winter, and before that in Finland. As an adult, and long ago, first in childhood.

“Marionettes, Inc.” (1985), directed by Paul Lynch (who also directed many episodes of the STAR TREK spin-offs), is not among my favorite episodes. I felt casting James Coco (1930–1987) as the protagonist was not the best choice.

But like all these episodes, this one too affords many incidental delights. Here are some of them.


This and every other episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER is available as part of a DVD box set. Despite nearly VHS-quality video, it comes with my warmest recommendation.

Pitch shifting, rhythms, & a figure

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Audio Damage’s Discord4 pitch-shifting delay for iOS. This company was founded in the United States in 2002.

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.

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This little book from Paris holds my catalogued rhythmic vocabulary so far. After noting down each new rhythmic pattern with simple Xes over the cross matrices on the pages, I transfer each pattern to three solid favorite music-making apps. I’ll be able to draw upon this treasury of inspiration and material for the rest of my life.

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.

Serena logo
More than 1.6 million downloads.

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.

Bradbury country

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THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER 1.01: “Marionettes, Inc.” (1985).

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.