Sunday, 30 August 2009

Random acts of Wagner

I think Waltraud Meier is absolutely stunning in this, although Domingo contributes a lot to the atmosphere. And, the ludicrous side of modern technology: Wagner's tremendous Romantic scene of lawless love and a Penguin Classics Pride and Prejudice can dwell within a foot of one another on the same sofa on a lazy Bank Holiday Sunday, separated only by my knees.

Health warning: the problem with Wagner is that the melodies are a continuously woven stream through the whole act, in such a way that once you start getting into it, it can be very difficult to stop, and before you know where you are it's an hour later.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

pole dancing

In class we were asked to visualise our axis, to help with posture.

I'm supposed to give it colour and texture.

Steely? Rubbery? With bells on? Possibly pink? Something wooden, in light pine and IKEA styling that requires some assembly at home? Perhaps I need one of those aura-seeing people to help me.

After a bit of fidgeting and staring into space, I get a sort of thinnish, silvery, somewhat flexible pole with a brushed metallic sheen. It's not very fancy or original, but it works for me.

I do find that visualisations help.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Zombie music

There's live music, with real live musicians playing their instruments right there and then.

There's dead or suspended-animation music, captured, preserved, and reanimated from something plastic, a boon to humanity.

And then there's Zombie music.

Buskers do this in the London Tube network. They play an instrument, or sing, but they bring with them a backing track, which is all the rest of the music except their own instrument, and loudspeakers. They play along with that, slaves to the machine, and if we're lucky they more or less keep time. It's an abomination, but you can keep moving.

When I was on my holidays I was briefly menaced by the Undead Clarinettist of St. Wendel, a man with a suitcase-sized loudspeaker on wheels, who wandered about playing Undead Clarinet and Ghost Piano to luckless diners at restaurants in the square.

Make music, if you are inspired to do so. Make it badly, if you want; it would be nice if people didn't hire you (I'm dreaming). Make it live with other musicians, or on your own; or make it direct-to-dead.

But Zombie Music is just wrong.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Stained Glass Hat - yarn

I am on Sleeve 2 of the Mosaic Jersey.

I've also promised to make a pink hippopotamus for a breast cancer charity, and there's another baby on the way in my knitting club. That means some sort of animal. And my colleague who sits next to me is having a baby as well and I think she should have something, though maybe not an animal in this case as she already has a little lad of fourish and I feel I'd have to make one for him too, whereas baby hat type things don't create jealousy.

Also in my queue is this yarn for a hat.

It's an extraordinarily soft merino sock yarn.

My plan is:

  • Cast on say 150 with a small needle and the dark brown as the base colour, using Techknitter's clever and convenient tubular cast-on for 1x1 rib. This gives a totally ridgeless edge.
  • Join into the round and make about 3cm of 1x1 rib.
  • Introduce the variegated blue-green and work a Fair Isle diamond pattern I've designed on squared paper which uses the blue-green as stained glass and the brown as leading.
  • Carry on till it seems long enough.
  • Then I'll have to make a decision about the top. I could gather the top, as is done with a fairisle hat made in Norway that I own. Or I could work decreases into the fairisle pattern, perhaps by extending the diamonds into some sort of flame shape. Or I could stop the colour pattern and go back to using one colour or the other only, before working decreases for the top.

But for this week, I'm still on Sleeve 2.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


England 332 & 373/9d
Australia 160 & 348/10 (102.2 ov)
England won by 197 runs

Day Four, the Oval

Ashes decider

See you in Trafalgar Square!

[Edit: there's still only one Gary Pratt, though.]

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Egg and Chips Pugliese

I don't know why it is, but ever since I started to recognise the style of Pugliese - even before I knew the name - I have always thought of it as egg-and-chips music.

A free-range egg, obviously, probably organic, and proper chips. Not a wicked battery egg or "fries" or any of that rubbish. Proper fried egg with a rich runny yellow yolk, and proper chips, crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle with lots of potato flavour, correctly fried in the right sort of oil, and just enough salt, perhaps a touch of pepper.

You do have to be hungry, or it's totally wasted.

I've heard he was a Socialist, perhaps he wouldn't mind.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Slow Food tango - Andreas this Friday

Time for my shout-out to Andreas, who occasionally sets me right in the Comments, especially on matters of music. As you may have partly gathered from the comments on my DJ question, he's teaching classes this Friday and next Friday at Carablanca (19:30) - purely social tango with an uninterrupted close embrace. With Monica Lopez, for this occasion. He's also DJing this week. He has a kind of 'slow food' approach to tango, focusing on the quality of the basic ingredients, which makes a lot of sense to me. He also tells me that he talks to the women in his classes ("I want them to improve - I have to dance with them" - and he looked endearingly shocked at my eventual and only about 25%-joking response of "Dance with your students? Who the hell does that?).

Tangocommuter has already written a post with a particularly nice video (not a performance - social dancing at La Crau, with Céline Devèze).

Disclosure: I have danced with Andreas more than once and would like to repeat the experience as often as he feels inclined to cooperate. I'd also like it if more men tried to dance more like him, because it feels wonderful for the woman. So my motivations in posting this are perfectly selfish. Do as you please.

[Update 27th August: I see Danny has linked this from the Carablanca website, so you deserve something a bit more entertaining for clicking through. Here are Andreas and Detlef Engel taking the piss at La Crau. Andreas following (most of the time) - Detlef with ponytail and poker face (all of the time).

Second update 28th August: Tangocommuter describes the class here, with an interesting comments thread. Class 2 of 2 this Friday, i.e. tomorrow.]

Monday, 17 August 2009

Those dry shirts really work

Those dry moisture-wicking sports shirts really work. I was dancing milonga with someone on Saturday and sweat was practically dripping from his nose, he was having to mop his face at every opportunity and I avoided head contact, but his shoulders, back and torso were absolutely dry.

I don't know what the brand name is, or if there's more than one; it might be dry-fit, I'm not sure. They tend to fit rather tightly and that might be a necessary part of how they work, but if you don't like the way that looks, you could probably wear one of the underwear styles under a normal shirt. It might even still make you feel cooler rather than hotter, because I think the way it works is to spread the sweat around and improve the way it evaporates, which how sweating cools you down in the first place. But there are also some that look like normal polo shirts. I have a dark blue Helly Hansen top for jogging (I think it must be an accidental overflow from my sister's wardrobe, as I have no memory of ever buying such a thing) which I think is in a similar fabric - it doesn't get sweaty, and washes at 60C. It says "100% polypropylene" on the label, but I think the trick is in the way it's spun and woven rather than the substance itself. It might be the same stuff as these - the 'cool' ones rather than the 'thermal'.

Anyway I was very impressed. It's a pity they don't do styles that would 'go' better.

Sunday, 16 August 2009


No particular excuse, just things I've been reading this week and might want to look at again later.

Bronte Capital: one to watch, not necessarily for conoisseurs of fraud (Mr. Big Wells? that's a bit weak), but it'll be interesting to find out if he's right about the bigger fish he mentions at the end.
LOLFed: This is probably quite good news about the US economy.
Language Log: Investors' Business Daily presumably confused by Hawking speech synthesiser
Krugman: Affinity Fraud - Bernie Maddof and the Birthers I love Krugman when he's rolling his eyes.
Language Log: Korean alphabet adopted by miniority Indonesian tribe for writing and preserving aboriginal language. Schoolbooks published. Heartwarming!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Butterfly House

I was on holiday this week and got to do fun things like go to the butterfly house that's at the front of the Natural History Museum. It's hot in there.

This is a Lime Butterfly or Swallowtail, Papilio demoleus.

This one was too fast for me.

I didn't get its name but in my mind it's the Strobe Butterfly.

Last Tanda Pugliese

Today I have a DJ question.

On two occasions recently, (I think with different DJs), the last tanda of the event has been a set of Pugliese. Since I get home by public transport I only rarely stay for the very last tanda of an evening so I actually don't know how common this is. It could happen 90% of the time or it could be 1%.

It would never ever have occurred to me to use Pugliese for the last tanda.

Upside: it's very beautiful, emotionally engaging, very distinctive playing.

Downside: It's often very challenging to dance to. A lot of people are extremely cautious about dancing to it at all; a lot of people quite understandably only want to dance to it with the just-right person, a person whose technique and musical response happens to work with their own in the right way.

But at the same time, a lot of people like to follow the traditional practice of dancing the last set with their sweethearts. It is more or less quietly expected. And the problem with this is that there is no reason whatsoever why you would expect the sweetheart and the right partner for Pugliese to be the same person.

Using Pugliese for the last tanda just seems rather cruel. I think I would have done my best to choose something more likely to produce a satisfying dance with a wider possible range of partners. I don't know what that would be, but Pugliese doesn't seem like the outstanding candidate.

Does that make sense?

For my tangoless readers here's an embed of Mr. Pugliese and his orchestra playing (in concert rather than for dancers, but you get the idea). The piece is "Arrabal".

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Floorcraft flyers

Sorry, it's a bit quiet around here, after a burst of posting. I see tangocommuter has got some photos from tango al fresco last Sunday and in July. I don't usually take my camera to milongas. But I've been looking for a picture that could serve as the background to a flyer.

Click to embiggen.

I don't know who this lady above is, as I was staring fixedly at her feet, but I like their sweet little pose. It would be nice if the message itself could raise a smile.

This second one is more dramatic and probably makes the point better, but there's less room for the message.

I think I need a better choice of font, too, but searching through fonts takes time, I'm not sure what criteria to use (except that I think sans-serif is easy to print, but hard to read) and I've got to go out and do something else now. Suggestions in the comments please.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Vanessa cardui and corporate greenitude

Not another touring teacher, breathlessly described in a torrent of meaningless adjectives and instantly consigned to the recycle bin*, but a butterfly, a Painted Lady, otherwise known as Vanessa cardui. Look at the white tips of the antennae; I love my camera.

I don't know what this is. It's about 4 or 5 millimetres across, if that, and it grows in the thin layer of scrubby grass over builders' rubble that serves as a communal garden outside my flat. [Update: the Comments come up with the goods again: Lorna says it is Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris.]

* Internal communications at the company I work for usually include, in the boilerplate at the bottom, some message to the effect of "please consider the environment before printing this email". It's in tiny text, and sometimes written in green, and of course nobody ever reads that bit anyway, even in the unlikely event that they read the rest of the email. I can't think why anyone would ever want to print this stuff, so there seems to be a bit of wishful thinking going on. But there are employees who imitate it. Then there are others who see the opportunities for self-expression in a corporate enviroment that are offered by text no-one reads, especially when it is not in the native or preferred language of 90% of the possible readers. I have a (German) colleague who writes, in English, under the company address section required by his local law, in the usual greenitude spot, well below the radar of any sane human, and therefore presumably intended as a private message to the kindred spirit who reads emails backwards out of sheer bloody-mindedness:

This email was written using 100% recycled electrons.

I have been known to replace my rather contentless official job title with the more descriptive "Village Witch". But only to trusted colleagues.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

habañera, milonga, clave, candombe, libertango

This starts as another "things I wish I'd been told in week 3" post. In this case, it's inspired by a CD I've just bought which has a 'candombe' on it. (The rest of the CD is standard tango, milonga and vals). But then it becomes a post for my Dad, who will like it.

I am no musician; I can sort-of read music, in that I understand more or less how the writing works, but I have to puzzle it out letter by letter, as though it were Greek. I'm partly repeating other people's explanations where I'm confident that I've understood them, and partly just puzzling it out. I'll tell you when I get beyond my knowledge, which won't take long.

Habañera ("from Havana") is the characteristic rhythm of milonga.

The most famous and familiar example in European music is the Habañera from Act I of Bizet's Carmen. Here it is sung by Maria Callas. The rhythm is there, alone, right at the start, played on low strings. The speed varies a lot, but it goes on right through. If you don't know it already, then tap your fingers along with it while she sings. It speeds up and slows down dramatically so you have to keep listening to the orchestra.

I'd write it like this:

1_2_3_4_2_2_3_4_ 1_2_3_4_2_2_3_4_ [etc]

Pom paPom pom Pom paPom pom

The capital Ps are two evenly spaced beats. Sometimes the rhythm pauses or falls silent and sometimes the whole orchestra plays it. If you don't know the song, the general gist is "love is a bird, it knows no law, you'd better watch out if I fancy you".

An aside; when I learned that song many years ago I was interested to find that the melody has a little triplet where you'd expect it to follow the pa-Pom. It makes it very interesting. "L'amour est-un-oi-seau reb-el-le-que nul ne peut apprivoiser ...", that's actually written as three evenly spaced little beats. The melody isn't to the habañera rhythm. You have to listen to the orchestra.

Now (Dad and curious beginners) play this one, which is Fred and Caty Romero dancing a slow milonga. Listen at about the same low pitch of the strings that started it with Callas. Their feet will help you find it from about 00:05 to 00:12. If you find it hard because you're distracted by the different tune, watch Fred's feet from 00:20, where's he's not doing much traspié so he steps on the capital P. It's exactly the same rhythm as in Carmen, just a bit faster.

People don't usually step on the little 'pa', it's too fast, but Caty does it a little bit from around 02:10. Most of the time people seem to step on the little pom, or divide the other Pom in half, or both. But anyway, it's a rhythm that very much makes me want to dance.

Now here's something quite different: the clave which we hear in cuban salsa. Now I don't really get salsa so I'm winging it a bit here. (The little girl is cute).

It's a set of three evenly spaced beats, a pause, and a set of two, not necessarily in that order, it also comes as two-then-three. I looked it up and found it written down. Now, I'm not really sure if what I found is quite right, but the best I can do to translate it into a form I can make sense of is this:

1_2_3_4_5_6_7_8_1_2_3_4_5_6_7_8 ... repeat, or

1_2_3_1_2_3_1_2_3_4_1_2_1_2_3_4 ... repeat.

Now compare this candombe that Maya sent in, in a previous comment. At the very start and from 02:00 I am pretty sure that what I'm hearing is, among others including the habañera, that same rhythm. I don't have any reason to think that this rhythm or another particular rhythm says candombe the way the habanera says milonga; maybe there is one that does, I don't know what it is, and maybe there isn't; but it's clearly on the menu.

Of course, there's a lot more than that going on in the drums - too complex for me to hear and understand without a guide. And even more so with this, which Tangocommuter showed me. A group of musicians in Havana are clapping and singing a really complicated rhythm. I am well beyond my knowledge with this; I have no idea what they're doing and had to listen several times to find anything at all that I recognised or could follow.

I'm not sure if the one thing I do think I recognise is even being clapped by any one musician, or just emerges from the total. But it goes like this, from about 00:28:

1_2_3_4_5_6_7_8_ 1_2_3_4_5_6_7_8_ 1_2_3_4_5_6_7_8_
Or you could write:


8, divided into two longs and a short, 3 and 3 and 2, is the driving, uneven rhythm Astor Piazzolla was so famously fond of, and that just makes some people climb the walls with excitement (literally in this video at one point). Here it is in Libertango, with Yo-Yo Ma. It's the drum that's playing the rhythm - the starter melody is doing something just slightly different, and the cello melody something else entirely.

I love Libertango - it's one of the ones I'd really miss if it never got played.

I'm not arguing any case here. But it often seems to me that talking about where musical ideas come from is often a bit meaningless. People make music using what they know and what they've got, so in as far as you have identifiable genres of music, it does often make at least some sense to talk of them as though they were descended from each other. Not as much as it does with languages, but to some extent, and certainly as much as it does with any art form - including, for example, film or fashion. All the pieces above are related to each other somehow, and at least some of them are quite possibly, if not provably, related through up-and-down paths of living and dead individual human brains and not only by chance. But that doesn't mean that any of them is the ancestor of another, any more than I am the ancestor of my cousin. I'm not.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Help me not be a crazy lady

When I see someone who, when I was so ill-judging as to dance with him, heaved my waist to the right, shoved my head to the left, bounced up and down, rocked from side to side, walked like two-legged drunken deaf spider with no sense of time, and twisted me about with a death-grip - when I see him wrestling a poor innocent beginner around and instructing her in detail and interminably on the dancefloor, it makes me insane.

This is not, heaven knows, an uncommon occurrence, but every now and then there's an example so outrageous that I have not always and on every occasion managed to restrain myself from making faces and mouthing like a loopy lady "don't listen to him!". Nor have I on every single occasion refrained from seeking out the young woman later and saying the same thing.

I probably need to stop doing this, because it's NUTS.

Anyway they can probably look after themselves. I certainly did when I was a beginner; I knew I could follow my teacher, no problem, I knew I could follow other good dancers, I knew I didn't know much, but I knew enough not to listen to that sort. It didn't stop the first one reducing me to tears, but the second and subsequent ones weren't problematic.

So if you are someone who has the skill level and human spirit to gently retrieve said beginner, to dance with her, perhaps in an open embrace, because she'll be a bit battered and probably frightened and probably hasn't been taught close embrace, and if you can give her a nice, musical dance that feels good, and if you are a kind person who can find something - anything - to praise about her dancing: you'll be a hero in a small way to her, you'll be a hero in a small way to me too, and you might just rescue me from a long slide into the loony bin.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A milonga with a jacuzzi

[Update 25/01/10: The milonga at this venue is cancelled, probably permanently - it's looking for a new one]

Okay - the deal is that most of the house at 33 Portland Place is closed for repairs/maintenance/whatever in August. However, the lovely organisers of this milonga have obtained access to the basement, a bit of the house the dancers don't normally see. Instead of going in by the main door you go down the stairs on the right.

The jacuzzi room leads off the dance floor. The dance floor is in a dark red and gold room with a bar, the bar with its back to the windowed private light-well, the light-well being where the drinks are camping out. The floor is much smoother and easier to dance on than any of the ones upstairs. It's red, the wallpaper is patterned with roundels, the mirrors start at about waist height. There's enough actual room bouncing around between them that I don't remember being too much thrown by my own reflection.

This part of the house turns out to be a strange blend which as far as I can tell is achieved by buying good things over several centuries and letting them sort it out. And then going, "I know what we'll do with this bit, we'll paint it white, stick in giant mirrors and a bizarre parody of a family portrait, fill in this odd-shaped hole with the chaises longues that are the real ones and not the fake ones they have in pretentious department store toilets, put the jacuzzi on a giant square wooden pedestal, light it with underwater coloured LEDs, put two of those little gilt chairs from upstairs above it like paired thrones, and finish it off with two young women hanging the toes of their Comme Il Fauts over the edge of the water and having a bit of a goss."

It does make the atmosphere rather steamy, so don't overdo the clothes.

You are politely asked to wash your feet before paddling. You'll need to bring a towel if you're going to. I don't think anyone actually did.

And they had surprise live music, Oscar Acebras, who played the guitar and sang, without amplification, while we danced around him; a vals, a milonga, a tango, another milonga just for fun. It was awesome. There's some video of him when he was there before on the website, but I can't link directly to it because it's all Flash. You'll need to go to Events then navigate to the last page and click Oscar and then the second square.

The rest of the music was unpretentious, as usual, and consistently in tandas (no cortinas, though).

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Video update - Fred and Caty Romero

I've just found this - it's Caty and Fred Romero's performance at the Festivalito de los Angeles that I went to a couple of weeks ago. This is the 'modern' piece that I mentioned. Thanks to milongaorillera for posting.

I had a poor view from where I was sitting but I was rather moved by this performance. Anyway, I think it's a beautiful close-embrace inward-looking social-style tango with a lot of feeling, to a piece of music quite different from anything else played during the weekend.

Watching it a few times, I notice the tiny slow step at 00:15, which is an example of what they taught in the "harmony and slow movements" class. Finding out how to lead and follow that is one of those deceptively small things that can suddenly give people a lot of new possibilities.