Links: 2015 — 11

Before I share my favourite links from the last month, I have a little personal news to share. I spent the period from the 24th to the 27th of September catching up with family, including relatives from other parts of the country. Each day had its own special event — a school concert and school play that some of my relatives were part of, a seven-year-old’s birthday party, and my nephew’s baptism.

Here is an ultra-cute video of my niece (in the pink) with a friend on the trampoline. It was recorded at my sister’s place at lunch on the 27th.

Now on with those links:

I’d like to add a few comments to the item on selective mutism. It’s not something I’ve experienced directly, but learning about other people’s experiences — through documentaries and so forth — always takes my thoughts and emotions in interesting directions. It evokes memories of experiences that, while not the same as selective mutism, serve as analogies that I can draw on to understand it better. And it makes me fantasise about what I’d say to the people whose stories I hear if I could meet them in their past.

I’ll share one memory as an example. I was raised in a religious household, and during my teenage years I was Christian myself, but I never joined in the ritual of saying grace before a meal. I remember one day when my parents expressed their wish that I would, to which I said something like “I think I could if– if– if– …” and faltered. My parents reacted poorly to that, telling me I shouldn’t bargain with them, but the words I couldn’t get out that day were: “I think I could if you promise not to overreact, not to make a big deal out of it, not to make me feel like the centre of unwanted attention.”

When I think of selective mutism, I think of that memory and others like it, and multiply them by a thousand in my mind. The analogy is far from perfect, but it’s something — a seed of connection around which further empathy and understanding can be built.

I also think of the song Across the Waters by Jimmy Gregory (from the 1996 album West Along the Road). The song is really about lovers who are separated geographically, and celebrates the fact that, however much they miss each other, their love is strong enough to withstand being apart. But I feel the following excerpt could just as easily be about selective mutism, and in that context is extremely poignant:

There’s a strength in the silence between us
Still waters run deep.
There’s an ocean of words that I’d say to you
But sure all of them will keep.

In those words I hear an acknowledgement of the turmultous emotions and intense desire to communicate that lies beneath the silence of selective mutism, along with an assurance that there is no pressure: that it is OK if today is not a day when words can be spoken. Do you agree? What do they evoke for you?

If I was trying to build rapport with someone suffering from selective mutism — trying to create an environment where they could feel comfortable and understood — then between the song lyrics, the memories, and the willingness to learn, I like to think I’d have something to offer. Though the opportunity to show it would come less easily in life than in my fantasies. Comments will be gratefully received, especially from readers who have been there.

A cruel-coloured scathed crow

Audio pareidolia applied to song lyrics is a potent source of comedy. A single misheard line is often amusing enough, but the illusion is taken to another level when the imposed and original lyrics are in different languages. You may remember the Four Tuna video that went viral several years ago, in which a very well-known Latin song is given English captions that somewhat resemble the Latin phonetics. The result is simultaneously hilarious and fascinating.

I have listened countless times to the Youtube video of Karan Casey singing A Chomaraigh Aoibhinn O — an extraordinarily beautiful Irish song. I first linked to it in 2008, and it’s still a favourite. The lyrics, alongside an accurate English translation, are available here.

Recently I decided to give it the Four Tuna treatment, and my fake English lyrics are given below, underneath the original video. You can follow along and see how well my false lyrics fool your brain.

FAKE ENGLISH LYRICS

Moving hard down creek,
Nor the kid is still related;
I come back heaving gold.
Store the vine, though a cool work,
And your do will clearly fail all;
I come back heaving gold.
Laugh, ha-ha, yellow well,
Spoke a kind-hearted greybuck;
The gloam does swallow
The font of the layerer.
Oh, Grandma Creek,
It’s suet lower K, lol,
I come back heaving gold.

If stone grew barren
At a cruel-coloured scathed crow,
I come back heaving gold.
Through the last seven sewers,
Little heart’ll want a grainer;
I come back heaving gold.
Our fastest larrikin,
Here gone the pathed fields;
My wrath I show,
Let it show o’er the glazed fair.
Wrote a scar, penned and drew it,
And a new sort of spare art;
I come back heaving gold.

Nor veer sour or solar,
Shadowly we came, which
I come back heaving gold.
He knew we’d get fond
And yearn, let it stay here;
I come back heaving gold.
Our barber carried on,
Got a new sort of cradle;
If a heart got barred,
Fish can like a late shift.
It’s cost me a legion,
I flew a lot of leisure;
I come back heaving gold.

I vaguely entertain the notion that a skilled satirist could weave some story around these words — as another layer of pareidolia, that would be somewhat fitting. They’re utterly meaningless, of course, but it does no harm to caution readers in Ireland to watch out for the cruel-coloured scathed crow, just in case.

Does it work for you?

[I originally shared this on Google Plus — which is sometimes useful for sharing things that are still taking shape in my mind, with minimal attention to presentation or how they might seem in retrospect — but I’ve decided it merits a place on the blog.]

Fragments of song

There are several old posts on this blog about music that I composed when I was younger. But as a teenager in the nineties I also composed some fragments that never became complete songs, and I’ve not yet blogged about those.

So here is a selection. The lyrics are brimming with teenage angst, and are also rich in words I thought of as inherently poetic at the time. If any of them inspire you, you’re welcome to adapt them in your own creative works. All I ask is that you let me know.

Most of the recordings below were made expressly for this blog post, and are not polished performances. Their purpose is simply to demonstrate the tune.

The first one is the chronologically oldest, and here is a tune I recorded some years ago, followed by lyrics:

What I feel is a kind of torture
Every moment reminds me of a thought that once occured
And I feel nothing less than torture
When I remember that the thought is too absurd.
I cannot justify the course this tension’s leading;
I wait unsatisfied, in pain and almost screaming.
Waiting for some release from torture
To release my mind, a thought that’s not absurd
And I feel nothing less than torture
When I remember that the thought has not occured.

The next fragment is intended to sound like some old folk song. It’s rich in metaphor and open to interpretation. [Update: I have replaced the recording with sheet music. In time I may do the same with the others.]

noplacesodistant

There is no place so distant as my only world;
There is no sound so faint as our most piercing scream.
What shall I build, here where a thousand stones are hurled,
And where the wind erodes away each worthless dream?

This one is about being abandoned by a valued friend. The second verse would have included the line, “And I’ll walk to infinity again today” (invoking a sense of aimlessness).

Every healing word I know is void;
Watching silence greet every desperate cry.
Everything we shared, everything we said;
Watching memories freeze as they pass me by.

A few years ago I wrote the above fragment into a story — as previously mentioned here — and also included this one.

How do I build from impossible stones —
Where’s the ground to hold them?
How do I walk from infinity home
After wandering there?

To finish, a fragment that is only one line long, but which I’ve always thought has potential for a pop song.

Unwelcome conclusion of a painful illusion.

I hope these brought you pleasure, and that they don’t evoke your current state of mind. But you have my sympathy if they do.

Some thoughts on synaesthesia

I’ve been planning to post about synaesthesia for some time, not because I have a lot to say, but to share the little I do have. This is part of a plan to write shorter posts about smaller topics, but hopefully more of them.

I’ll assume the reader has some idea of what synaesthesia is. One important aspect is the distinction between projective vs associative synaesthesia, which I first read about here. Usually when people think of synaesthesia, they think of the projective type, in which a literal experience of one sense is triggered by information detected by a different sense. In the associative type — which has less of a ‘wow’ factor and gets less press time — what is triggered is an abstraction rather than a literal sensory experience. It’s the difference between seeing the colour blue and thinking of the colour blue.

I am no synaesthete, as such. But people sometimes make the case that there is a continuum from the average person and a clear-cut synaesthete, and for the associative type I am inclined to believe this. I can certainly point to experiences of my own which might be dubbed ‘sub-synaesthetic’, in which I detect a certain rightness in complementing one sensory experience with the thought of another, even if I can’t say that one triggers the other. My impression is that most people can do the same, to differing degrees.

If you have either true synaesthetic or sub-synaesthetic experiences, please share them in the comments. Below are some of mine.

  • I have long felt that if written Dutch were a colour, it would be hot pink. There is just something inescapably hot pink–ish about written Dutch.
  • I’ve been known to connect music with certain tastes. For example this piece harmonises with the thought of soft toffee from an old-fashioned sweet shop, and this one (Ebb Tide by John Coleman) evokes a glass of chardonnay. Given how French the latter sounds it probably doesn’t surprise much, but there you have it. Other music evokes more complex associations, but that’s outside the scope of this post.
  • Certain vowel sounds seem best complemented by certain colours, if I think about it at all. I’ve long felt the only colour that properly belongs with the eeee vowel (that’s [i] to linguists) is yellow — possibly because yyyyellow — tending through orange to red as more open front vowels are considered. Sometime last year I asked myself whether I could similarly associate colours with the back vowels, and while this required a deliberate effort I found I was able to consider a candidate and say, “Yes, that’s the one”. Here is my sub-synaesthetic (and interpolated) vowel diagram:
    synthvowels
  • That’s all I can think of, but I have a nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something. If so I can always add it later.

Your turn now.

P.S. I used this colour interpolating tool to make the above chart. Note that it has a bug that means it won’t work if the Red value is set to BB, but apart from that it’s a very nice tool.

Musical relay game

Here’s something to try. Call it a game, or an experiment, or a project — it’s interesting and fun no matter how you describe it. You need two players, each with a passion for listening to music, reasonably broad tastes, and a completely different selection of albums.

The rules

To begin, send your partner a track from your personal music collection, having agreed beforehand on a protocol for how to do so. Don’t trouble yourself with thoughts of copyright, because this is private correspondence and nobody cares. It’s almost optimised to lead to extra sales.

Your partner should listen to the song you selected (I use the word “song” to avoid the formality of overusing “track”, not to imply that all the tracks should have lyrics) and after careful reflection, send you back a song that, in their opinion, resonates with the one they received. By resonance I mean a subjective sense that the two songs fit together somehow — that they have something in common which unites them — so that a transition from one to the other feels as smooth as possible. It has to be defined intuitively rather than mechanically.

In turn, you should send back a song that resonates with the one you received, and so on, back and forth, until you’ve sent each other six tracks each. That’s enough for a twelve-track album, and a satisfying length for a game.

Some advice: Occasionally a specific song may come to mind straight away, but usually you’ll have to hunt for a bit. Try starting with an album that might provide a match, and listen to a few seconds of each track to refresh your memory. Aim for a track that resembles its predecessor in multiple respects, but if you can’t find a good match, do the best you can. In my experience you can always find something that will fit, even if it’s a song you don’t normally pay attention to because it’s overshadowed by other tracks on the same album.

Different people relate to music differently, and you must accept your partner’s subjective opinion of what resonates with what.

An example

I recently played this with a friend, Dan, and below I’ll describe in detail how this particular experiment went. Dan’s choices will appear in magenta and mine in orange so they stand out. I’ll include commentary, but in most cases won’t spell out what the tracks have in common — the reader is welcome try and identify these as an exercise.

Dan picked the first song. Rather than send tracks (or even links), he opted to confine himself to songs I could find on Youtube and let me search for them. His opening play was Birima by Youssou N’Dour [video].

My method for sending songs was to upload them to Box and send links by email (I deleted each track after Dan acknowledged its receipt). In answer to Dan’s first play I chose Iamagit by Telek. Here’s a thirty-second sample, and here’s a really bad video in which a couple of Russian boys mime rather pathetically to a recording (also, the first few beats are missing). The similarity between the song title — a word in one of the languages of Papua New Guinea — and the English phrase “I am a git” rather amuses me. You may sometimes see the song referred to as Lamagit (due to an ambiguous font on the album), but Iamagit is correct.

Dan struggled to find a match, and after a few days decided to let his subconscious do the work and simply choose the first song that came into his head. He picked Mr Wendal by Arrested Development [video]. This is a very different song from Iamagit, and I struggled to see any similarity. Dan, in retrospect, thinks it was a bad choice too. Eventually I realised the connection must lie in the metre: Iamagit goes something like /x/x x/// on the bass in bars without lyrics, while Mr Wendal goes /x/x x//x on the drums through the whole song.

In reply, I chose On The Edge by Oysterband. Here’s a thirty-second sample, but the only videos I can find are from an inferior live performance that really will not do (it leaves out half of the instruments). Dan says that of all my choices, this is the only one where he struggles to see the connection to its predecessor, but here are some thoughts. First, occasional use of a rather tinkly-sounding guitar or other instrument adds texture to both songs. Second, I don’t listen to hiphop-style songs with lyrics spoken rather than sung, but On The Edge provides some approximation in that there are often several consecutive syllables at the same pitch, and many syllables between pauses. Third, both songs contain a lot of very harsh sounds plus a strong beat, and fourth, both have lyrics about social inequality. Together I think these qualities combine to make it a reasonable match.

Dan responded with Have You Ever Seen The Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival [video], commenting that he’d settled on the strategy of choosing the first song that comes to mind. This is, of course, by far the most well-known song in our exchange. As a match, I felt it was mediocre — it didn’t clash with On The Edge (as Mr Wendal did with Iamagit), but nothing about it seemed particularly connected, either. The main link I can see is that both songs have a downward-tending riff between parts.

My next choice was Ubeyneihem by Meir Banai [video], a Hebrew song about being content in both urban and rural environments. The chorus (according to my sources), translates as: “And in between them, and in between them, I go and then come back. I have in me some of one and some of the other; I have some of both.” Just for your interest.

Dan then selected King Without A Crown by Matisyahu [video], which has nothing in common with Ubeyneihem except that one is sung in Hebrew and the other has lyrics with Jewish themes. Moreover, Dan wouldn’t have even known that Ubeyneihem was in Hebrew if I hadn’t mentioned it. Talking about this after the game was over, he wrote: “I think up until this point, I was approaching this as a bit of game rather building an album. And it was as much about introducing new songs and bands to each other. And from this point of view a cultural link between two songs is just as valid as a musical link. Even though the cultural link in this example is pretty skin deep too. Thus from this song onwards, when I started to think about the musical connections a bit more carefully, I think the album becomes a lot more coherent.

In my view it is a game, but one in which the challenge lies in finding the best match you can from your own collection of music. If played well, a coherent album emerges as a side effect (in which a listener can experience the stepwise evolution from each song to the next).

Now entering the second half, I picked Tine Lasta by Kíla [video]. (Note: some of the Youtube videos I’m linking to contain someone else’s — e.g. the uploader’s —  theme tune added to the beginning and/or end of the track, and just to warn you, this one is particularly obnoxious. Ignore it.) This was Dan’s favourite of all the tracks I shared, and Kíla by far his favourite artist; despite being Irish himself he had not previously heard of them.

Dan’s next selection was Me Gustas Tu by Manu Chao [video]. By this point he was, as indicated earlier, putting more thought into his choices.

I then chose Aguas Claras by Surkuy. I can’t find a video or sample of Surkuy’s version, but here is someone else’s cover of the same song, which I assume is traditional.

Dan’s final pick was Hora Zero by Rodrigo y Gabriela [video].

We’d agreed to exchange six tracks each, and now it was now my turn to pick the final song. I had wanted to avoid including more than one track by the same artist, but the only match that felt right to me was Ríl A Do by Kíla [video]. At least it’s from a different album.

Our post-experiment discussion covered topics like which connections were least obvious, what we thought of each other’s songs in their own right, whether we were content with the variety covered, and so on. Regarding the variety, my only caveat was that we’d exchanged nothing that was carried more by the melody than by the beat, since Dan tended to choose songs with a very strong beat which I had to match. It can be interesting to observe how different people relate to music, and Dan clearly pays more attention to the drumbeat of a song than I do (an observation he confirmed).

Postscript

It’s a fun exercise to try, and for friends reading this blog post, I am definitely open to doing a musical relay with you at some point. Not in the immediate future — I need a breather — but let me know if you’re interested in doing so at some point.

I also welcome comments of all sorts, as ever. Feel free to add any perspective you have, from a whimsical reply to something I mentioned in passing to a thoughtful analysis of our playlist.


Update: I played this again with @fuddlemark on Twitter in September 2013. My choices were: (2) An Tiománai by Kíla; (4) Nervous Doll Dancing by Nervous Doll Dancing (clip); (6) She’s Moved On by Oysterband (clip); (8) Sweet Comeraghs performed by Karan Casey (this isn’t actually in my music collection; I only know it from Youtube); (10) C’hoant Dimein performed by Cecile Corbel; (12) Night Ride Across the Caucasus by Loreena McKennitt. I’ll let the reader speculate on what Mark’s intervening choices might have been, but this was track #5.

Flock of Worlds

In the January 14 installment of the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, Bob Hirshon challenged listeners to write a solar-system-related song, with plans to showcase the songs received in a future podcast.

[UPDATE: My song was featured in the August 14, 2011 episode of the podcast, which I recorded. Pity that the audio quality suffered so much in copying/converting: the version below is much better.]

I decided to give it a go, and at the time of writing sent Bob the link to my mp3 file about 24 hours ago.

Here is my submission. I hope you like it, and please tell me if you do. [download]

Lyrics follow, and then technical info. Read the rest of this entry »

A World Within Your Mind

In 1997, I wrote a song called “A World Within Your Mind“, which may be the best song I ever wrote. The words and music have been on my website for years, but what with (a) the fact that I’m slowly migrating to a new website, and (b) the fact that I now see the website as secondary to the blog (rather than the other way around), I’ve decided that I should post it here.

The recording is almost as old as the song itself, and involved the use of a cassette tape. Lyrics below.

A World Within Your Mind (Adrian Morgan, 1997)

There’s a world I was exploring
A world within your mind
And in it I was searching
For a path I could not find.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking of the sky

Many years ago, I bought a copy of the Doctor Who tie-in book The Monsters by Adrian Rigelsford and Andrew Skilleter. I still have the copy, though it’s showing signs of wear and the jacket is lost. Anyway, one of the introductory pages features the poem “I could not sleep for thinking of the sky” by John Masefield, for which I composed a tune and have made several attempts to record it over the years.

Now that I’ve bought myself a better microphone, I decided to have another go. Nobody is ever really happy with a recording that contains their own voice, but this will do, and you can listen to it here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Microphone testing

I bought myself a new microphone today. Here’s a test recording I made to verify that it works properly. You might enjoy this; it’s a short piece of improvised music.

New music for me

I went to Womadelaide yesterday, and in my opinion the best music on offer this year was that of Rokia Traoré. She sings mostly in the West African language of Bambara and sometimes in French, and my purchase of her album Tchamantché is the first time that music sung in an African language has been added to my CD collection.

The only disappointment is that the coverslip doesn’t contain complete English translations of the songs. English translations are provided for the songs in French, but for those in Bambara the original lyrics are followed by what I take to be a very loose French paraphrase (often much shorter than the actual song) and then an English translation of the French. I would like to have complete English translations of all the Bambara songs, because it’s fun to follow along and learn something about another language in the process. (If anyone reading this can help out, drop me a line.)

Below is an updated list of what I’ve got in my CD collection, in approximately the order in which I acquired my first album from a given artist.