Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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Going Deep

I broke down recently and bought an electric bass.  The guitar and the banjo were plum evading me.  I play (or did) the cello, and the pennywhistle.  Both of those are pretty straightforward.  One note at a time, read the note, put the fingers where the note lives et voila, music.
So I’ve been poking at the basses in the local music store.  Not quite the thing.  Last week we were in, looking to get a guitar for a friend, after we’d been doing some basic work because he expressed interest, and we only had two guitars in the house, so the three of us couldn’t work together.
Across the street we went.  He looked at guitars, and I poked at the basses some more.  A no name job actually felt good.  The action was nice, the tone seemed ok.  So we hooked to an amp, and took it for a spin.  Sounded good.  Felt good.  Was the least expensive bass in the place.
Home it came, with an amp (Vox Pathfinder Bass 10) a strap, a book, a carry case, and a stand.  The stand means I can just pick it up, jack in, turn on and rock out.  Ok, the rocking out is gonna take a while, but bass is my sort of instrument (to my surprise, what with the orchestral musicians quasi-disdain for Bass [there are jokes about every instrument, but Bass and Percussion get a lot more grief than most]).
Oddly, part of what gives me frustration with the guitar is how one (or at least I) need to understand the theory to make it behave, and there is a lot of theory in those six strings. Everytime I thought about tuning methods, capos, alternate fingerings… I was somewhere between lost and overwhelmed.
The bass is no less dependent on theory, in some ways it seems as if might be more so; at least from the reading I’m doing.  The nature of the beast is to provide support and fill for what the rest of the music is doing.  If the guitars are running blues, you need to avoid building a major tone to the sound.
Lord knows the book I’ve got wasn’t helping, mostly (I think, because it assumes one has zero knowledge of music theory.  Telling me that Dorian mode C Maj, from the second, was confusing, infuriating, and mystifying all at once.  When I figured out that he was teaching the static pattern (because the base is [unlike a guitar] possessed of a completely regular progression from one string to the next) it made perfect sense.
So, for all that I want some of the theory (specifically in re chords), I probably have enough musical skill to make being able to play the bass a matter of practice.  Getting better than “not horrible” will take application, and expertise/mastery/getting really good, will take dedication (in this all things are much of a muchness), but it’s not opaque to me, as so much of the guitar still seems to be.
I can do this.

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Everything old is new again

I got a new laptop: the old one is working well enough, but was a bit cranky at times (being left alone seems to make it unhappy, and sometimes it just locks up if left unattended). I also fell in love with Dragon Age, which meant it wasn’t going to be enough. It can run Dragon Age II, after a manner of speaking (when the graphics card gets overloaded I had to close the window to get it to come back) but it won’t even launch DA:I.

I was, however, planning to keep it because my preferred application for working photographs is LightZone, a program which wasn’t able to compete with the behemoth which is PhotoShop.  It was written for XP, but when I got the last machine (running Win7, and bought because I wasn’t going to let them force Win8 on me: this machine was bought because I knew WinX was on the way, and glad I am of it.  Win8 is so annoying I’d rather be running WinME, but I digress) I discovered it was orphaned.  The team had folded up shop.

But it could still be downloaded and was, fundamentally, stable.

This morning, on  whim, I decided to see if it was stable in Win8.  I popped it into Google and lo!, they have released new versions as open source.  So I called my father and gave him the good news.

I like it because it’s built by someone who grew up using  darkroom.  It’s not “intuitive” (I don’t think that’s a useful word for user interaface in the first place, because it implies there is some Platonic Ideal which all users will “just understand”, that’s bullshit, and leads to assumptions of PEBKAC when it’s nothing of the sort), but once one gets the idea (which is that of Adams/White and the zones between black and white), it’s graspable.  If one has internalised that idea (as one must to become good at black and white darkroom printing) it seems intuitive, because it’s familiar (and if you read Ctein’s “Post Exposure” [available for FREE: here: probably until such time as Ctein does a new edition: it’s not as nice as the print edition, but it’s out of print, and this can be read on a tablet], this is the sort of thing he’s talking about).

Gah… that lost the plot.  I like it because it plays with images the way I learned to play with them, back when my fingernails were brown from fixer and smelt vaguely of vinegar from slopping in and out of D76.

So, it looks as if I’ll be trying to find a new home (or new use) for my middle aged laptop.  Happy days.


P.S: the HP envy series have less than stellar keyboards.  The click isn’t positive enough and I find I have to work more to be accurate: as well as pressing harder, so my arms get tired faster.  I hope I get used to it.

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Keeping the faith

We’ve been in England a bit more than a week now. In some regards it’s as any other such trip, one is both a bit overwhelmed, at the same time has the sense that one is seeing nothing.

We managed to short circuit some of that by going to Sidmouth Folk Week. It’s not that we felt we saw all of that (or Sidmouth), because the schedule was (as with any good convention) too packed in to take in half of what looked interesting, but rather that it felt one was taking part in a greater activity; as part of a community. It may have been a community of happenstance, but the shared interest meant I (at least) felt connected to some greater whole, which diminished the sense that I ought to be going great guns to “get it all in”.

Sidmouth was the fruit of pent up desire, and collaboration. We had been planning to attend LonCon, and then ShamrocKon. Mme. Pecunium has long wanted to go to Croperdy, so we figured we’d tack a bit onto the front, and make it a proper honeymoon (by adding a couple of days in Brighton to visit family).

We looked into getting a canal boat (shades of Wind in the Willows, which I still adore, and re-read); cost was prohibitive, esp. when the punitive nature of missing one’s time (by even the least margin) was factored in. So we looked into getting tentage, etc.

Which was when I asked the question, “Is Oysterband playing?”. Various searches revealed they 1: weren’t playing Croperdy, 2: but were playing Sidmouth. 3 Sidmouth was much closer to Brighton, and suited the rest of the planned trip a little better (giving us more time in Brighton, without losing any in London). So we hired a campervan, looked into the bands playing the various shows, packed our bags and headed out.

Not to go all fanboy squee… but I’ve wanted to see Oysterband since very shortly after I first heard them. I have eclectic tastes in music. Folk/Trad/Jazz/Rock/Some Pop/Filk/Symphonic. I love to sing (and have been taking lessons to improve my ear, so as to improve my confidence), used to be tolerably decent on the cello, have been getting decent on pennywhistle. I worked renaissance faires for about 20 years.

They fit into all of that; and have some solidly done political messages in their songs: it helps I seem to agree with their general politics, but a lot of the message in them is “be good to each other” and I can get behind that.

Sidmouth is more than a concert festival. Yeah, there are shows, and ceilidhs, and seisùns, but there are workshops, and parades, and it’s all in the town, so there are shops, and pubs, and the beach to walk on, and everywhere there are people with a shared interest; people are busking, or striking up random conversations about random things; comfortable in the sense that, even though strangers there is something in common.

The town joins in. The Bedford Hotel has a sign in the window, “musicians welcome” and every time I passed by, there was a different sort of thing happening in the bar. Roly’s Fudge had a couple doing dancing dolls, and I saw a sign in the window, “come in and sing a song/play a tune” and we’ll give you some fudge”.

With 60 years of history, it seems the village has taken the festival to heart.

So Weds. Evening we got ourselves to the show. It was all that, and a bag of chips. Music is magical. It’s powerful. It has the ability to be transcendent. This was all of that. It was worth all the hassle of driving a campervan on English roads (with the shiftbox on the left, but built for being on the right, and an underpowered engine. I missed more shifts in three days/400 miles then I’ve missed in years, almost all of them because 3rd was in a wretched place).

After the show I saw a tweet, from the band, asking us to come by the merchandising table, because they wanted to meet us. I’d been jazzed about the trip, and talking it up (it’s my first honeymoon, my first trip to England, my first Oysterband concert… I was perhaps a bit full of squeeful anticipation).

It being what it was, they got called away before we could get there. They were too busy the next night at the ceilidh, which was great. They started as a ceilidh band, and one can see why.
The next day (show three, in three days) was more intimate. It was JJ, and Ian, and Alan, and they told stories, and sang songs, and answered questions. JJ said, at one point, they were nervous when they wrote, “The Oxford Girl” because they were worried they weren’t doing justice to the tradition.

I found this interesting because, at some point in the past few years (I think when The Oxford Girl and Other Stories) came out, I got curious… the song has the feel of being connected to a real event. So I dug about and what comes up, from such a search is a lot of murder ballads, and as the band says… none of them is from the POV of the victim (which is in part because the parent form of those ballads is the broadsheets published as, “gallows confessions”).

So they wrote one. It’s, to me, an iconic tune. I think it was the song a girlfriend used to introduce me to the band; like a springboard it led to me diving in, and going deep.

The thing is tradition is a living thing.* Like language it dies if people don’t play with it. I play pennywhistle (to some level of moderate skill). I have little tutelage. I learned what I have from books, and tunes I knew, and my own ear as I played. And I was (until fairly recently) terrified to play in public.

I live in the states. “Trad” music here is somewhat ossified. One has the sense that one needs to have the tunes note perfect and spot on, or one can’t do them justice. One listens to groups like Battlefield Band, or The Chieftains, or The Oysterband, and thinks, “I’m not up to that”. It means the music is a bit less than it might be.

I didn’t know that before Sidmouth. I did know that I was going to be in Ireland, and I was going to sit in on a seisùn. So I had to get over my fear. I’d gotten over some of it at filk conventions. I’d jam on tunes I know (Lynyrd Skynyrd is KICK-ASS for playing pennywhistle to. Just sayin’). But that’s adding an instrument which isn’t endemic, even intrinsic to the tradition. It’s not one the players are going to have expectations of. So I went to a local Tues. night seisùn at Dempsey’s. Just tried to find the shape of the music, and run with it.

It works. It’s not perfect. I can’t lead a tune that way, but it works.

Skip to Sidmouth. I saw a set of workshops on, “learning by ear”. So I went. We learned an air: Sùilean Dubh. No variations (and a bit simpler than the opening to that song). We also worked on picking up a note, and how to move the song to where it goes from there. Interesting to me was that we got the C phrase (the song has the pattern of A/B/A/C/A/B:coda) well before we played it. We did an exercise before we SANG it. And we could sing it. We knew the tune, even though it was new to us. The trick is translation. So we played it out… and some of us weren’t quite there. And it was good. The rough spots tended to be in notes which made chords.

The thing I was doing, and feeling nervous, even guilty about was imbibing the tradition. Making the language of the music a language I can speak. Yeah, I want to learn set pieces, it the same way I learned to make hollandaise, or to recite, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”. I want to learn them so the grammar, the taste, essence of the music is there, ready to my fingers.

So that I don’t need to know every song being played to join in. So I can take what was old (and perhaps moribund) and give it, not a new life, but an ongoing one.

It’s why (to come back to the band) the show on Weds was so good. The recordings are great. Seeing them on feed from festivals is grand. Being in the room, where the sound is palpable, and the other members of the audience are there: vibrant, alive, participating is to take part in the tradition. It can’t die, not if we keep playing with it. Not if we take the old, and bend it to the present. Not making it new again; it will never be new again, but keeping it from stagnating into a relic from the past.

Oh yeah… after the third show, there was more than enough time to have a longish chat with the band, their partners, some of the crew. A pleasant capstone to a wonderful week, hospitable, charming, everything one should like to think them to be, from the way the music makes one feel.

I’d do it all again.

*and they nailed it. When I was trying to see if this was a murder ballad about a contemporary crime, one of the hits which was pulled up was this one, about “The Knoxville Girl” and how the ballad of, “The Bloody Miller” managed to cross the ocean to the Scots-Irish in the US, and got applied, using stock imagery to move it over, both in locale, and mores, to the American sensibility.  The linked article has some interesting comments on what the invention of the phonograph, and the way the 78s turned things into “the right way” and all the rest.

The subhead for this blog is taken from a song they wrote, based on a quotation of Alisdair Gray, which he attributes to Canadian writer Dennis Lee. In the best tradition we borrow from each other, and (sort of) file the serial numbers off.

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A work in progress

I was at a poetry panel at Boskone, and the seed of this came to me.  I don’t think it is quite what I had in my head, but that’s part of the problem which comes of seeing a poem entire, as a sense of emotion, and then working to put it to paper.

So I won’t say this is done, but it’s past the first draft stage of things; though it does still need a title (116 Seconds seems a bit like over egging the pudding).

It happened when I was young,

A hanging curve and the sense of slowing time

Then the bat slicing round to meet the ball: a deep, flat, resonant, THWACK!

The ball leapt away, a sliver of white, all eyes following it to that moment of breathless equipoise

where it hung, for that long and pregnant second, before the arc of rise stopped

before it slid to earth; falling beyond the stadium wall, out of sight

while the circuit of the  bases was closed


In the compass of those curves was Summer distilled.

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I bought a book over the holidays, “The Discovery of Middle Earth” by Graham Robb.

It’s not a book about Tolkien, or the Lord of the Rings, or the worldbuilding of the Peter Jackson films, it’s about the Celts.

It’s interesting, if flawed.  First one can’t set aside that his credentials are those of the interested layman.  He is not trained as a cultural anthropologist, nor an historical one.  That’s not a knock on him.  I am not trained (in any way as anyone is likely to point at and say, “he really knows what he’s talking about”) in lots of the things I am fairly well versed in.  But it’s a hurdle to clear, because lacking depth of discipline can lead one to error.

So too can being versed in it. The sword cuts both ways, to be trained is to accept some level of orthodoxy.

If his arguments have a fatal flaw it’s that he tries to do too much.  There are at least two stories being told, one is of the people who were paramount in most of what is now Europe for centuries (about 600 years).  A group of peoples who held sway from Ireland and the British Isles to Russia, and down to Turkey (where Paul was still addressing them in his Letter to the Galatians.  Who were waging war on the Greeks, and helped (by virtue of kicking their ass) to convert the Romans from small polity on the hills of the Tiber to a political dynamo which was able to wage a war of elimination against them, and create an Empire that covered a large area on three continents. A group which had religious leaders/political figure the Romans felt they had to kill to the last man (Claudius making it a capital offense to be a Druid in AD 54, about a century after Julius Caesar fought the Battle of Alesia, and won the Gallic Wars)

The other is of the worldview which both raised them up, and “brought them low”.

The first is a lot more defensible.  As a people the Celts have been relegated to a sort of sideshow, in part because they weren’t that fond of writing things down, and because the people who conquered them didn’t understand them at all.  In that regard, esp, in the things he argues for the role of both the druids, and the supernatural in everyday life, this is a marvelous book.  It manages to bring forward an interpretation of Celtic mindset which is compelling (and in keeping with the Celtic mythic systems we do have from Ireland, Wales, the Ilse of Man, etc.).

The other half of his arguments are harder. They are more speculative.  They also (as he freely admits) invite ridicule.  He is looking to see if he can find order in the Celtic World, is there an underlying “map” of the world, which they took from the divine realm, and moved to the mortal.  It’s an interesting theory, and he collects a lot of interesting (and somewhat compelling) inferential, circumstantial, and yes textual evidence (e.g. Caesar goes on about Gaul as if it were a barbarous wilderness, but he’s also able to move armies about at a rate which only works if there is an extensive road network.  The Celts engaged in some massive internal migrations; which seem to have been planned around aspects of religion, and politics: again the Romans reported on this).

We know the Celts made serious use of observed astronomy (with Druids needing some 20 years to be completely trained).  All of this is fairly well supported in his text. He argues well for a vibrant people, with a cultured society, an interesting worldview and a fascinating cosmology. He ties that into the rest in a way which is plausible; so plausible one wants to believe it.  So utterly fascinating I want people who have the credentials needed to get the funding to really dive into the questions he’s trying to answer to look at testing his theories.

Where he fails is in his language in the latter part of the book.  By the time he gets to Britain/Ireland (as places the Romans came to late, if at all) he has moved to phrases such as, “with what we now now about the Celts”, when what he ought to say us, “as is consistent with the evidence seen in…”.  Which is painful, because it leads me to wonder what level of his earlier argument is perhaps not so well supported.  What aspects of it are perhaps “what we know”, rather than,”what I think/believe, based on…”

So all in all, it’s worth reading,  but I don’t know that I can recommend without some strong reservations.  It might be best to check it out of the library.

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A color runs through it

A livejournal post, on progress in spinning was the spark to do more than just the recap of a really nice skein of yarn (which I will also do).  I’ve been spinning on the wheel for about a year (not quite, I got the wheel in mid-November).  According to my spinnenboek I’ve started 16 projects on the wheel in the past nine months, and 15 of them have come off of it.  That’s not too bad.  It’s not great, but it’s more than one a month, and as I’m spinning in the odd moments, or when we are sitting watching television, etc. it’s not too bad.  As a crafty-purchase it’s not sitting idle in the corner, so it’s a win.

I’ve still got my first skein of yarn, and as I was promised, I can’t do it again.  The slubby-mess it is (which is both a term of art, and a misnomer.  I don’t care for it much; though it’s got some charms; I know people who will pay good money for skeins of thick and thin.  I saw a shawl made from some just yesterday.  It was attractive, so what do I know, me with my aesthetic for more even yarns?), it no longer something I know how to make.  I have become a fine spinner.  I may not be a “good” spinner (by my lights), but the yarns I make are not thick, though I can still see the ghost of that first skein.

How has my spinning changed in the past nine months?  I’ve gotten more confident.  I don’t look at a hank of roving and say, “OMG… I’m going to screw it up!”.  I have taken to planning my yarns.  I’m also managing to get what I want (mostly) out of them.  I need more practice to have a solid sense of how the colors work out, but I’m getting there too.  I’m willing to take commissions.  I’m not looking to make a living at it.  I’m not even looking to make pin-money.  I’d like to make it pay for itself, so that I’m not pouring money into fiber, and in need of giving the yarn away to have room to make more.

So, for a basic commission (i.e. some sees a roving they like, and want’s to have some yarn from it), I’m happy to do that.  If they send me twice as much fiber as they want yarn.  It’s a pretty good deal actually, given what it takes me in terms of time, and what yarns cost on Etsy, etc.

So what does my present level of skill look like?

I started with a varigated roving, and split it down the middle, end to end.

Top in the Bowl

Then I spun it up.
Single on the wheel

You can see the banding.  It’s a bit more evident when the full bobbins are next to each other.

Ready to Reel

Once it’s been spun back, to make it more even on the bobbins, for more even plying, the striping isn’t really apparent.

Ready to ply

This is how they look, coming together off the lazy-kate, and into the wheel.


As you see, the two singles are from the same part of the roving, so they blend into a single color.  There are some differences in the way the two sides spun, so the transitions have some interference, which has its own charm. When done the bobbin was pretty full.


But it was balanced.  The yarn hung straight, and draped easily, before I set it. Afterwards it looked like this:


If you look you can see some of the interference zones.  This is all I had left


So, all in all, I’m getting better. I’m not where I want to be, but with an average of about 3oz per project, I’ve only spun 45oz, or a bit less than 3lbs. It’s not that much, so I’ve really got no reason to think poorly of my work, in fact, when I look at it objectively, I’ve every reason to think I’m coming along fairly well.

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Just some personal news/journaling

I was hit by a biyclist on Sat.  I’m all right, all in all.  I was crossing a street (W. Houston, at 6th Ave).  It’s a complicated intersection.  Houston splits into two one way streets; both eastbound.  6th both merges; with a triangular divider,  and offers the opportunity for a direct left turn (which is probably not a legal turn, but it gets made, every so often).  Since 6th is a four-lane street, all one way, and Houston is a divided street of four lanes in each direction there is a complicated visual sightline when looking upstream for traffic.

The Cyclist was going the wrong way.  He was nice, if a bit self-exculpatory/victim blaming (he said, “I tried to warn you, but you had your headphones on).  Me, I was stepping off the curb when the street hit me in the left side.  Then I became aware of having being hit on the left side; and got up.  I thought my right ankle was a bit sprained.  My right knee was a bit scraped.  Everything else seemed ok.  I probably should have asked for cabfare to the train; since it was another 3/5ths of a mile, or so, to the house, but I wasn’t really thinking at that point.  Adrenaline, the sense of dislocated shock (one of the things which one forgets, until it happens again, is the way the suddeness of it all makes such events seem to have happened out of time.  I am sure the guy who hits me has a much clearer memory of it, and probably a more horrific one; he was braking; though he should have been swerving, and I just kept moving into his path).

My ankle wasn’t sprained, though I did make use of my removable cast from breaking my ankle 2 1/2 years ago, on Sunday when we went to see “My Name is Asher Lev”.  Yesterday I spent in bed.  Recovering is hard on the body, even when one thinks one isn’t that badly hurt.  My right leg is strained, from hip to calf on the medial side.  The distal side is strained from the knee to the ankle, there is some strain on the medial portion of my right foot.  I also seem to be contused on my hip.

My left knee is coloring nicely, and typing this is telling me there is some contusing of my left forearm (I’m guessing it’s from the handlebar).

I don’t recall the transition from vertical to horizontal.  There was a world-filling BANG, and then I was looking up.  From the lack of, detectable, injury to my neck/shoulder/ribs/head I assume I put my right arm out on the way down, and so broke some of my fall, but I don’t know.  I rolled to my feet to get up; so that I’d not be using my right foot to rise (it was tender immediately, though no coloring, nor evident swelling was apparent).

The play (My Name is Asher Lev), was great.  It caught the kernel of the book, and avoided a lot of possible pitfalls.  It took a basic understanding of Hasidism/Judaism for granted; so there wasn’t much in the way of, “as you know Bob”, apart from a little; in the way of trying to explain the way in which some Rebbes are like tribal/feudal leaders.  There were some cultural in-jokes.  A spare, but not bare, set.  A cast of three; playing ten roles (The lead solos, there are three female roles, and four other male roles).  The presentation of the major supporting male characters was clean; they were different, in all the ways they needed to be, and had the similarities their role in the life of the narrator would imply.

It was stunning.  It’s one of a handful of performances I was straining to stand for at the end, as opposed to joining to the crowds standing ovation (I, don’t quite, rise pro-forma.  If I think the show was less than adequate I’ll sit while everyone else stands).  The story is intense, and the emotional impact of the inner struggles, and the sense of awareness Asher Lev develops, and the pain of being something of a stranger in a strange land when he is away from home; and (in a different way) a stranger in his own land when he is home was rendered well.  The pain of having a great talent (the kind which burns to be let out; something I’ve only had glimpses of; and for that I am, largely, grateful) is there.

It is probably more effective (and affective) if one has read the book.  I’d say it may be better if one has read it more than once, and not so recently that it’s fresh and clean.  I wasn’t burdened by my sense of, “but it was this way).

If you get the chance, see it.