Friday, January 11, 2008

Jack is...

Jack is perpetually annoyed by the fact that whenever he logs onto facebook and goes to update his status setting he can never think of anything interesting.

Having used facebook for a while now, it's quite easy to occasionally think about what you're doing in the third person, and imagine writing it as your facebook status. However, every time I happen to go on to the facebook, I think about what my current real life situation is, and usually only come up with "Jack is sitting in front of a computer." Whilst this statement may be completely true, it's also incredibly boring. And so yesterday, at around this time, as I logged out of facebook, I decided to write down my statuses throughout the proceeding 24 hours as and when I was happened to become aware of my situation in that third person way I described earlier.

This is the resulting list:

Jack is picking up his egg.
Jack is walking up and down stairs way too much.
Jack is easily swindled.
Jack is begrudgingly doing it for you, you big lazy bum.
Jack is suffering from 'counting £10 note disease".
Jack is listening to very loud music.
Jack is Kooper Trooper.
Jack is annoyed that he can't find his capo anywhere.
Jack is very late in writing a new blog entry.

So there you go, I think this was an interesting experiment, although it's yielded absolutely no solutions to the problem that prompted it (other than of course writing these things down daily to update later... but even for me, that's a bit too sad.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wizard Rock?!

Now let me explain...

Actually let's just let the YouTube do the explaining!

Well there you go. Like many other people, one day I randomly came across a band called
Harry and the Potters. I later discovered that there were a whole load of other bands all over the MySpace like Draco and the Malfoys and the Hermione Crookshanks Experience. All the while I thought it was quite fun and silly, but ultimately a little too cringe-worthy to take seriously.

With the release of book 7 this summer, there were so many loose ends and unresolved questions that I thought I'd check out a few podcasts - which turned out to be great! - because they were hosted by people who'd already read the book (and indeed the entire series) many times and so could point out all the cool little details I'd missed. The result of this was that I was exposed to more of this '
wizard rock'.

When I found out that
Harry and the Potters had played to thousands of people and had released 3 albums, I began to take it a little more seriously, but it wasn't until I discovered The Whomping Willows that I realised how cool this music could be. This band seemed to mainly take the piss out of Harry Potter in a very funny way and at the same time displaying an obvious love for the books.

It was at this moment that I thought "hm... I could do this."

So I did:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Turns out it was just a phase.

When I was about 13 I became slightly more aware, and open minded. In this instance I'm specifically referring to food. I became more willing to try new things and gave more consideration as to where my food came from. This eventually led to my becoming vegetarian. In reality this was a very easy change to make; my dad did most of the cooking at home, and as he'd been vegetarian for about two decades, could make quite delightful meals with just vegetables. In spite of this easy transition, my personal ideological change had a far greater effect. As a pretentious teenager I took it upon myself to constantly point out to my friends how disgusting the very concept of 'Factory Farming' was; how we had made ourselves as Gods - breeding lesser creatures to die for our eating pleasure; how the mangled corpses in Butcher's windows would make me queasy; and that unless you yourself were willing to slit the throat of a struggling animal - then it was complete hypocrisy to eat ones that had been killed for you.

I do still believe all of this stuff now, but luckily I'm not quite so arrogant as to keep harassing my friends about it (and I admit I am myself a hypocrite - I still have a pair of leather shoes). However my views have changed, I'm now quite acceptant of the fact that if I was stranded on a desert island with nothing more than coconuts to sustain me, then of course I'd hunt a wild boar, I'd and kill it, and skin it, and cook it's meat, and I'm sure it would taste wonderful (although by this point probably anything that didn't taste of coconut would be wonderful.) Because ultimately I've now accepted that my life is more important than that of other creatures, in the same way that I begrudgingly accept that Animal Testing is very necessary in the search for life-saving drugs.

Ultimately my philosophy came to centre around one main question - do you really need to? These days there are so many meat alternatives that you can have a perfectly healthy diet without eating meat. Of course you might want to eat meat just because you like the taste, and that's fine, but I personally don't feel it's worth killing an animal just so you can have a tasty snack (especially when there's so much other nice food available.)

I faced a new dilemma when I found out about the dairy industry. Cows only produce milk when they have calves. Within a year or two of giving birth, a cow will stop producing milk. This means that countless bullocks are killed as a result of keeping their mothers producing milk. And anyway, what would happen to the mothers when they got too old? - I don't know but I bet it's not too friendly.

So I then gave up the milk. Even when faced with the fact that this food source would be harder to replace, I reasoned that it can't be a huge deficiency, as in evolutionary terms it's not part of our natural diet - I can't really imagine our hunter-gatherer ancestors running across the plains trying to suckle at the nipple of a nimble gazelle. I didn't however give up eggs and become completely vegan. Chickens lay eggs naturally - it's a biological function that would happen anyway. I felt there was nothing wrong with eating the eggs of free range chickens.

However, within a year or two I felt for my abstinence of milk with far less conviction. Going off to uni was a significant moment in my life, which came with many changes, and many new experiences. I contemplated then whether I still felt it was wrong to eat dairy products. I decided that I was still as convinced as ever about the meat, but with the milk I wasn't so sure. I decided that it was better to keep going as I was rather than risk later looking back with regret at a time of weakness where I 'strayed form the path'... (something like that)

Now that I've finished uni, and am at another significant moment of change in my life, I have again examined my ethics and found that I'm still as disengaged with my reasons for not drinking milk. I can still recite my arguments and work through them to their logical conclusion; but the amount of feeling behind them would never be enough to motivate someone to actually give it up. And so I was left thinking, is there really any point continuing? So the other day I had a slice of a cheese and tomato sandwich - it was ok - but I tell you, that mild cheddar was such a strong flavour! My taste buds obviously need some readjust back to how they functioned before, and then I can begin a life that doesn't involve eating cheeseless pizzas (yep.... sad times indeed...).

But I return to the question I posed earlier - do I really need to? Well no, I don't need to eat dairy products and if I didn't ever eat out, then I'm sure I could manage a milk-free diet more or less.

So again, do I really need to? – No, but... why not? The way I feel right now is that there's really nothing wrong with eating dairy. Yes, the industry around it is does result in animals being slaughtered as a by-product, but I'm not sure I can judge people for that any more, because I know that I myself could slaughter in the same way.

This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to instantly change my eating habits - as unfamiliar food sources cheese still seems greasy, and milk still has a slightly unpleasant, pallid, watery smell. And I am able to conceive that I might look back on this time with regret some day; and that maybe this slackening of my ethics is a subconscious manifestation of my insecurity over my future and the direction of my life at the moment. All I know is that to live your life within any given rules, you must believe in them with enough conviction to motivate yourself to do so. (you can't give up smoking half-heartedly.) And being a lacto-vegetarian is a cause I just don't really believe in any more.

So, the cynics were right - turns out it was just a phase - one that lasted six and a half years, but a phase nonetheless.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Teacher...?

Now that I'm living in rural Wales once again, I'm keen to keep an eye out for any potentially interesting music related activities that I can get involved with. One such activity is volunteering with the Young Composer of Dyfed. This is a competition that I won in 2005, and as the organisers of YCD have always been very good to me I felt it would be nice to do something for them, as well as good experience for me. So next week I'll be going around a few schools with this year's ensemble in residence, and helping out with their presentations.

Another role that emerged at our last meeting is what I've been doing today. This afternoon I went to a special needs school to do a workshop with a group of 4 children on graphic scores. A graphic score is a way of writing music where you don't necessarily use standard notation techniques. So this could be anything from, simply adding a few symbols to a score, which are explained by a key; to huge sheets of paper with shapes and patterns of different colours all over it, which are left open to the interpretation of the performer.

(Examples: weird, even weirder, what?!)

The idea with these workshops was to get the kids to make a score on large sheets of paper, several feet long, which could be displayed on a wall and performed by the ensemble when they came to give a presentation the following week.

Thankfully today I was accompanied by a helper from the school and the guitar teacher, so I wasn't left alone to deal with a group of kids with learning difficulties. My biggest concern approaching this workshop was that the children wouldn't find it engaging, because everything I'd planed relied heavily on their participation. Thankfully this was the least of my worries. Let alone being disinterested, I could hardly stop the kids singing, drawing, and constantly interrupting with new ideas. Of course, as well as this they found time to cause mischief, insult each other and disassemble a biro, but all in all I feel it went reasonably well.

I've always dismissed being a teacher, and never really thought I'd be able to be one. After today's experience I can't really say that this view is ever going to change very much. As a music graduate, teaching is probably the most obvious and economically stable career path, but I just think I'm not that great with kids. I will admit that by the end of today's session I seemed better at engaging with the children, so maybe there is room for improvement. I guess we'll see at next week's workshop.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's not August Supplemental.

A little extension to my last post, but in the form of things you can click on! (because lots of writing can be quite boring at times... and everyone loves to do clicks!

My graduation looked something like this (although I've no idea who's photo this is).

This is how I beat Sarah at chess in just two moves. (I know!)

Thisis a multimedia piece by opne of my tutors from the summer school. It's fro string quartet,a nd computer with video and it's just really cool!

Harry Potter geeks who enjoy podcasts can waste time via
The Leaky Couldron and Mugglenet .

And for the really hardcore Potter fans -
Click Click

And as always, you can hear little bits of jack on
the myspace! .

Hope this livens things up a bit!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

It's not August.

Yes, unfortunately I have failed to keep churning out a post every month, but in all honesty, there haven't been that many big things to report, although now I think about it, quite a few little ones, (maybe even medium...).

Well I had my graduation! (surly that deserves more than a medium?) It was great fun! (although there was lots of queuing and you had to pay an excessive amount hire your robe that you'd only get to wear for a few hours) I received my certificate, and got to shake hands with our chancellor Richard Attenborough (that old guy off Jurassic Park). Admittedly, we didn't get to throw our hats in the air and cry "Huzzah!" at the end, but still, you can't have everything.

I then went to a week-long Contemporary Music Summer School in Doncaster. This involved classes led by professional composers and performers, as well as workshops and at least two concerts a day. On the way back I visited Ash and Sarah at Huddersfield, which was delightful. I played with Ash's sling-shot, beat Sarah at Chess several times, and enjoy their wonderful cuisine ("Mmmmmm, nice and crunchy Broccoli...")

The only bad thing about that northern excursion was that it began on the 21st of July. (for the uninitiated, this is the day that the last Harry Potter book was released) As I was then to spend a week at a very intensive summer school, I couldn't allow myself to get a copy of the book as I'd have ended up missing concerts, or else staying up through most of the night reading. This meant that when I got back home and could finally start (on top of the fact that I'd spent the previous month or two reading all the preceding 6 books) I was a little bit worked up about it. Once I'd finished though I was perfectly happy. And after I'd then spent a further day or two finding out all the little unexplained bits from interviews on geeky websites, I felt very happy. So if there's anyone out there who hasn't read the books, I would strongly encourage you to go out and buy the entire series - it would be a wise investment!

Other things I've been filling my time with include: a day of recordings organised with my friends at the Young Composer/Musician of Dyfed; writing many silly piano miniatures for no real reason other than for my own amusement; sampling the social life that Lampeter has to offer; and working on another little music project on my computer that I might tell you about later if it turns out ok.

Also, just as more of an overview, my plan at the moment is to live at home (back in Wales) for the year; write some music; read some books; get a job; and hopefully prepare myself for returning to uni to do a masters in composition or something like that. So far this plan has been going ok, although (as I mentioned in my last post) committing to one style and direction in music is going to take a lot of careful consideration.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Best Music Concert?

Well now I'm at another stage in my life where I have to try and decide on a few things, which often feels a lot harder than the actual doing of the things. (It's like when my dad and I would talk about what to have for diner, each of us feeling that the person who had to decide what we were to have had a far harder job than the person who would then go and simply cook it). In this instance (as always (i suppose)) I'm referring to music. Far from just trying to 'find my compositional voice', I don't even seem to be able to settle on a single media and genera. Now I don't want to sound like one of those people who thinks that if your music doesn't fit into a pre-existing genera then its doomed to failure; but for me to be able to develop within any given genera, I feel I'm going to need to devote a lot of time and effort into it so that I know exactly what I' m doing, and don't just end up knocking off poorly realised imitations of its paradigms.

This got me thinking about what music I've been exposed to during my time at uni that has really amazed me. And it was this thought that led me to write this entry, and to try and decide, of all the concerts I've seen in the last few years, which have been the best.

One of the first that sprang to mind was a recent free-improvisation gig in the Brighton
Soundwaves Festival. This was a cosy little event held in a café, and as I was volunteering in the festival, after I'd helped with moving furniture and setting up the PA, I could enjoy the concert for free. It consisted of three groups, each of which would approach the 'stage' and then just start improvising. How pre-prepared any of these performances were it's hard to say, but they all felt as if any structure they were supposed to have would have been immediately abandoned if the music led them somewhere else. (Here's a link to an organisation many of the performers were in). One of the more memorable aspects of the concert was a drummer who seemed a little bit insane. He played pretty conventional beats all the way through, but seemed to change instruments every few seconds - all the while keeping the rhythm going and making it feel completely natural. He'd start by simply clapping (although getting quite a range of different sounds out of just two hands), then he'd move onto the drum kit, then incorporate some more drums, then he'd pick up a tambourine and shake that in one hand whilst still playing the drums with his other, then carrying the tambourine he'd get up and start stamping his feet, then drop the tambourine and start tapping a microphone, before reaching out to a bottle on someone's table and blowing across it as an additional percussion instrument. He may have overshadowed his bandmates somewhat - but it was nevertheless a incredibly energetic performance.

Another concert that really sticks out is seeing
Jose Gonzales at the Brighton Dome. This was a year or two back now, and so I hadn't heard much of his stuff (also, as he was still just pushing past the periphery of the mainstream the ticket was a bargain at just £12.50). First of all he had two unusual warm-up acts that were highly original (the second of which consisted of 3 women in green tutus playing on computers and effects pedals). And then there was Jose himself. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have seen Nick Drake in some folk club, or a young Jeff Buckley working the lower east side; and it makes me thankful that I went to this concert. Having said that, a concert hall with a few thousand people - most of them drunken students - made for a less than intimate experience. But with wonderful music and well planed, sympathetic lighting, it maintained a wonderful atmosphere that made for a great evening.

And there have been many other interesting concerts: in the Brighton Festival, and more in the Soundwaves Festival, and outside Brighton in the Aberystwyth MusicFest - two of the real stand out pieces from the numerous concerts there were Fratres for String Quartet by Arvo Part, and Messiaen's Quartet for the end of time - both were completely amazing experiences. There've been great amateur concerts, concerts by the Uni Symphony Orchestra, and the uni's 21st Century Ensemble (a contemporary music group which was radically updated from its former title of 20th Century Ensemble, in 2006). I've seen West End Musicals, and one of my own tutors playing his Piano Concerto with the Brighton Philharmonic. I've found that compositions by amateurs are often more engaging than those by established composers, and that the price of the ticket doesn't necessarily correlate to the enjoyment you will receive (attending an opera at Glyndebourne was a really good experience, but had I not received a free ticket I doubt I would have been willing to pay the standard £150 myself).

Choosing one concert as the best would probably be impossible, (and even if I did I'd probably change my mind pretty quickly,) so the best I can do is to end on a performance that was nevertheless pretty amazing. In a medium sized performance area attached to a gallery I saw a four-piece band called
Huun-Huur-Tu. They were a group of Tuvan throat singers and the concert was just mesmerising. At the end of it I had no idea weather the concert had lasted 40 minutes, or 3 hours - you just didn't know - and it didn't really matter, the music was that good.

Well there you go. I've put a few links in here and there, but if I've learned anything about music it's that people have radically different tastes, and that it has nothing to do with quality or complexity - it's just a personal preference. So rather than end this post by telling to listen to all the people mentioned above, I'll just gently encourage you to go out there try and discover some new music that you can love – its for your own good!