Researching records on a medical theme
This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my guest for Gemini is Ceri Owen-Jones:
“When Jake asked me to take part in this project, the first thing I looked into were the origins and myths of Gemini. At my friend Sue’s suggestion, I went from Latin to Greek (Castor & Pollux) and back to Gemini’s Babylonian origins in the Great Horse Twins, and the parallel Vedic tradition of the Twins, the Ashvins, which means the ‘possessors of Horse’. According to Joseph Campbell, the mastery of the Horse brought a new energy and vitality to the dawn of the Iron Age and its symbolism replaced that of the Bull.
There are many horse songs in traditional Welsh music. I chose to play & record a Ceredigion melody, Y Dau Farch. Y Dau Farch is a conversation between two horses, one old, one young, about their past and future, which feels perfect for Gemini, a sign with an emphasis on duality and communication. Keeping Gemini communication in mind, the albums that leapt out at me in Jake’s vinyl library catalogue were the Welsh language learning albums. I wanted to explore communication in a second language, the difficulties of learning and expressing oneself, how comprehension in certain registers and subtle expression can be problematic.
With what I now know is classic Gemini superficiality, I mis-read Jake’s guide to album choices. Once figured out, I was glad to see that amongst his base-line choices was The Planets by Holst and from this I liked an arrangement of ‘Mercury’ (ruling planet of Gemini) by Tomita, a fuzzy soft Moog version. Jake also pointed out that one of his Gemini readings by Melvin J Gunton and Brian Skinner was made in Canada, a great choice for a Canadian in Wales / a Cymro who grew up in Canada. The constant idea in my life is duality.
My birthchart has seven planets in Air signs as well as my Midheaven (I’m Air heavy!). To represent Air, I chose the tracks Air and Listening Wind by Talking Heads, Walking in the Air sung by Aled Jones, and The Dragon by Vangelis (the Dragon, especially in Chinese myth, being a creature of clouds and air and a potent symbol in Wales). I saw that Jake has two copies of this last record in his listing – found at Emlyn Antiques – one with a cover, and one without.
I added a Miles Davis album as we share a birthday. It was a choice between Dr. Jekyll and Decoy. Although the title Dr Jekyll seems appropriate to describe the duality of Gemini, I veered off with the Decoy as the feel of the music seemed good for the flightiness of the ruling planet Mercury. This album was given to Jake by our great friend Peter Stevenson.
In medieval music, each modal scale was associated with a planet. Mercury was hypo-phrygian and as one of Gemini’s characteristics is the enjoyment of improvisation and the ability to adapt easily, I thought I would improvise variations on this mode based on the Welsh melodies Y March Glas and Triban y Cathreiwr (for the Ox in me).
Thinking of form: moving from calm to frenetic is the two parts, yin and yang, of Gemini. This will be based on feel, and collaborating with Jake. It’ll just have to happen as it happens.
Dragons swirl amongst the clouds. The heartsease, Viola tricolor, with its zygomorphic flowers, are like the Twins. A Tibetan singing bowl to clear the space and air, along with gifts given to me and Elsa (musical Twins) from Jake, completes the Circle.
I paired this with Taliesin of the Shining Brow: Canu y Gwynt; a riddle of the Wind.”
Ceri’s record selection: Talking Heads – Air; Talking Heads – Listening Wind; Aled Jones – Walking in the Air; Disciau Dysgu Difyr – Adar; Miles Davis – Decoy; BBC Radio – Welsh for Beginners; Cwrs Cymraeg llafar;
Along with the Maurice Woodruff I played with a number of moon themed tracks including some random bits of this traditional Chinese Music album…
…Debussy’s Clair de lune, the Tomita synth version..
And some versions of Moonlight Sonata, two from Richard Clayderman and one from Ronald Binge and his romantic strings..
March was to be the start of a year long series of improvisations exploring parallels between creative and ritual practice, the symbolic power of the circle, the zodiac, repetition and magic. Working with musician friend Jay, we were planning a monthly live webcast performance from my studio, me playing records, Jay taking a feed from the desk, sampling and treating with Ableton and sending it back into the mix.
We have been talking about this for a while now and rehearsing since January.
It’s been a fantastic listening exercise, trying to find balance between the analogue and digital and working out ways of creating structure within the performances based on some fundamental astrological ideas i.e signs, houses, modes, elements and decans.
In choosing records, I was inspired to seek out spoken word astrology ones having found a copy of ‘Tetley take you Stargazing with Maurice Woodruff: Aries’, in the Ty Hafan charity shop in Cardigan some time ago. Thanks to Ebay and Discogs I almost have the whole zodiac by a number of different astrologers.
There are also a number of musical interpetations of the zodiac signs and several copies of Holst’s planets.
Mixing in with those are a few tracks refering to magic in different ways. So far the only one thats made it into the mix has been A Kind of Magic by Queen, I have a few others in mind which will no doubt make later mixes.
Given the current Covid-19 restrictions we are unable to start the project as planned and im still not quite sure what this will mean for it. While we are finding a few extracts from our Aries rehearsals to post soon and work out how to proceed, I am posting this video of a vinyl only mix to be going on with.
The overlay is a sketch created in After Effects exploring wrapping a few circular images around a sphere. The images are photos of my mother’s crystal ball in the sunset light from the studio window and a version of my birthchart drawn by my mother back in 1996.
A mix of records leftover from a Zoom party where people chose vinyl from my databases and I played their requests – like a slow, unreliable, shit jukebox.
Ambrose & his Orchestra; 5000 Welsh Voices; Frankie Laine; Blondie; The Pentangle; Bois Y Felin; The Maple Leaf Four; The Dubliners; Max Boyce; Neal Hefti; Dire Straits; Dean Martin
A mix of leftover records selected during Rowan’s Zoom birthday party last weekend. I sent out links to my vinyl databases and played requests – like a slow, unreliable jukebox.
KLF; The Proclaimers; Adamski; Max Boyce; Bert Weedon; Wendy King; Dean Martin; possibly others…
FLOW – A morning stream of sonic interactions, river songs and vinyl.
Collective connective musical memories emerge from an assemblage of old record players, vinyl records, local recordings and sound pictures.
FLOW seeks to connect people and places through a process of listening, participation and response.
I wanted to create a work that followed the river Teifi’s journey, taking a sonic walk along the river through field recordings made between my home town of Aberteifi and the festival, while drawing on local recordings of mine from previous projects based on the river (Deuair & Peter Stevenson – The Talking Tree), vinyl records referring to the river and other places on it’s route (Vernon a Gwynfor – Taith Teifi), and recordings of my late friend Lou who loved the river and was inspired to write a number of songs relating to it. I walked along the river Teifi, reflecting on its journey and mine, both geographically and temporally. Recording along the way, gathering a variety of sounds – the water, the trees, the wildlife and myself in the landscape.
I used to walk the footpath along the river with Lou talking and listening and I remembered a song she wrote called ‘Bright Rivers’ and thought perhaps to use that in some way. While looking for that I found a song simply titled ‘The River’ in an archived folder labelled 11 early tracks. It was from Lou’s first ever demo recording session, recorded at Fflach studios, Cardigan in around 1992. Simple, a bit rough, and unique those recordings are the only ones with Lou playing her own guitar accompaniment. It has an energy that reflects her youthfulness and her passion for singing and writing songs. There was also a version of ‘Moon River’ with Katherine Crowe, recorded in Cardigan with Jon Turner at Backbedroom studios in around 1998, it’s particularly poignant as both Jon and Kathryn have also died in the last 10 years.
Through this the work took on a theme of loss, of constant change, movement and personal reflection. Forming as the body of source material grew, a sequence of sounds started to suggest itself. Starting with local recordings and those personal memories and sounds, the idea was that it would becoming more national and collective before reaching out toward international and universal.
Starting the work with a precomposed track made from field recordings and my local recordings, for about 10 minutes it played through the local area towards a collection of records. The records were selected using my database, searching for words connected to rivers – river, stream, brook, afon, creek, nant etc. and names of rivers – Thames, Tyne, Avon, Teifi, Usk, Severn, Mississippi, Colorado, Niagara, Nile, Danube etc. Others were selected because they had rivers on the cover (see below and previous posts).
From this eclectic collection of vinyl I selected and mixed a few choice bits before allowing the work to become less structured and deliberate, embracing random loops from the collection. At about 20 minutes I opened up the mix to the audience and invited them to come and join in the selection and playing of the records for the remaining period.
All the while the room was lit in one corner by projected video of water reflections and ripples of streams, a series of 3 screens with headphones played video of previous works made on the Teifi, Wye and Severn. One included new videos made for the festival, 3 vinyl records playing videos, 2 filmed playing in the locations pictured on their sleeves (Cwm Allt Cafan & Cenarth) and one the Vernon a Gwynfor song ‘Taith Teifi’ playing in the studio. Another screen showed ‘Sometimes I live by a lake’, a slideshow of photographs taken during my years living in Llechryd, mostly looking out towards the river and Abercych. Adjacent to the installation of turntables and screens was a stream of vinyl records pooling then winding across the floor, inviting careful steps to explore its journey through the space.
The process and legacy of the work has, for me, created a keen sense of connection to the river and the surrounding area, a feeling of being part of the artistic continuum existing in the teifi valley. A community and practice connecting us all both locally and to the wider cultural landscape.
The following were either shown in the space during the installation or were used in the composition.
Thinking on rivers as a theme I also remembered one of the last poems written by my Mum during her last year, a difficult but rich time of reflection filled with creativity and kindness. https://lizwhittaker.wordpress.com/more/the-dancer-on-the-river-of-light/
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.