Cowbells: Mahler, Messiaen, and Bill Bailey

Cowbells: Mahler, Messiaen, and Bill Bailey

Stephen Jones: a blog

Mahler, a constant inspiration, got me exploring cowbells (wiki: here and here).

For Mahler they represented a far-away realm, “the last greeting from earth to penetrate the remote solitude of the mountain peaks”—suggesting Chinese poetry and painting (cf. Das Lied von der Erde).

He uses them in the 6th symphony, most strikingly (sic) in the first movement, where they feature (along with celeste!!!) in a pastoral vision that suddenly interrupts the trampling jackboots—in my post, on Bernstein’s performance from 12.05, or on Barbirolli’s recording from8.24. This brief refuge is itself brashly crushed (Bernstein 15.01).

In a later revision to the score Mahler added this typically generous instruction:

Die Herdenglocken müssen sehr diskret behandelt werden—in realistischer Nachahmung von bald vereinigt, bald vereinzelt aus der Ferne herüberklingenden (höheren und tieferen) Glöckchen eine weidenden Herde—Es wird jedoch ausdrücklich bemerkt, dass diese technische Bemerkung keine programmatische…

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Arabesk: Dilber Ay

Dilberay
Left, Dilber Ay; right, Büşra Pekin in the title role of the 2022 movie.

Flying on Turkish Airlines, to follow the safety video (Trailer for a thriller) and a dodgy dervish movie (note here), I’m also grateful to them for introducing me to arabesk [1] singer Dilber Ay (1956–2019), subject of a recent biopic (Ketche, 2022) that captivated me, even without subtitles. Here’s a trailer with German subtitles:

Dilber Ay was brought up in a Yörük-Kurdish tribe of Kahramanmaraş province, south Turkey. Her family migrated north to Ankara and then Düzce, where she was discovered by TRT scouts at the age of 13. Constantly abused at the hands of men, her story chimes in with what seems to be a dominant genre in Turkish cinema. This interview doubtless reads better in Turkish, but you get the gist…

Like much of the most moving music around the world (see e.g. under flamenco, or the Matthew Passion), Dilber Ay’s music expresses anguish—often stressing the theme of imprisonment, as in her Flash TV series Kadere Mahkûmları (Prisoners of fate, 2011–15). It’s always the plaintive slow laments that captivate me, often with exquisite free-tempo taksim preludes on violin. Two songs featured in the film:

  • Antepten Ötedir:

  • Meyrik (1981)

Among her other songs,

  • Kader:

  • Barak havasi, with further contributions on zurna:

  • Deli gönül yastadır:

For more anguish, try Songs of Asia Minor, and Some Kurdish bards, under West/central Asia: a roundup.


[1] I featured İbrahim Tatlıses under The call to prayer. On the changing arabesk scene, Izzy Finkel’s instructive BBC radio programme “Istanbul’s factory of tears” (2019) includes contributions from various singers and producers, as well as Martin Stokes, author of The arabesk debate (1992).

New Orleans brass bands

Eureke 1955
The Eureka band, 1955. Source

Having long rejoiced in the bands heard on the 2 glorious CDs Frozen brass ( Nepal, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Ghana, Surinam, Bolivia, Peru!), it’s high time for me to get a basic education on the brass bands of New Orleans. [1]

The early years
After the Civil War and Emancipation, black civilian bands began to emerge, their style inspired by both European-style military bands and the ring shout of African slaves at the Sunday gatherings in Congo square. Organised by labor unions, social aid and pleasure clubs (the Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Association was founded as early as 1783), they would perform on parades for feast days like Mardi Gras, and play hymns and dirges on funeral processions.

By the early 20th century, new instruments, sounds, and styles were transforming the musical landscape. Early groups included the Excelsior (1879–1931) and Camelia bands. Perhaps most celebrated is

  • the Eureka brass band (wiki; YouTube topic) (1920–75); here’s a brief clip from 1951:

Excerpts from 1952 to 1963:

Some more footage:

and Westlawn dirge, 1961:

Since the 1960s
By the early 1960s, despite concerns that the tradition was in decline, New Orleans brass bands enjoyed a renaissance, gaining wider celebrity through tourism, heritagification, and touring. As new generations were trained, the stylistic spectrum broadened. Among the more traditional groups:

and

  • the Original Liberty jazz band, founded by Michael White in 1981—here they are in a 2015 recording for Smithsonian Folkways:

  • The Olympia band, led by Harold Dejan and Milton Batiste, was a major training ground.  Here they are in 1982:

Soul Rebels
The Soul rebels. Source.

and by the early 80s, groups were incorporating hip-hop and funk into their repertoire, like the Rebirth band,

Moreover,

For more brass bands, besides Frozen brass, do explore the Balkan scene (under Musical cultures of east Europe), Brassed off, and even the bands accompanying saeta ritual songs in Andalucia; for China, e.g. the Shaanbei big band sound. See also, Trumpets, wind and brass bands, and A jazz medley.


[1] Besides studies like

  • William J. Schafer, Brass bands and New Orleans jazz (1977)
  • Richard Knowles, Fallen heroes: a history of New Orleans brass bands (1996), and
  • Mick Burns, Keeping the beat on the street: the New Orleans brass band renaissance (2006),

note e.g. the Hogan Archive, a CD series from Smithsonian Folkways (e.g. this), as well as articles here and here. This article leads to four videos (starting here) that make a succinct introduction, along with an outline of the style’s rhythmic foundations (NB this virtual exhibition, with great photos and audio reminiscences). 

Wiki articles include
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_funeral
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_shout
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brass_band#New_Orleans
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_line_(parades)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mardi_Gras_in_New_Orleans.
See also
https://beyondthedash.com/blog/cultural-spotlight/jazz-funerals-a-new-orleans-goodbye/7363.

Li Manshan: another film screening

film image

Among the numerous topics that have since amplified my blog, it’s always worth bearing in mind that its original raison d’être was to advertise my film Li Manshan: portrait of a folk Daoist (watch here!!!). It complements my book on the Li family, and numerous vignettes and updates on the blog (roundup here).

An initial round of screenings was followed by a lull during Covid, so I was happy to introduce it the other day for the Music Department of Bristol University, at the enterprising initiative of Michael Ellison, a composer with a strong focus on transcultural performance, in particular Turkish music (see e.g. here).

It was good to watch my film in company again. In my intro I observe that this kind of subject can’t be addressed only by reading old books in libraries: books are silent and immobile—fieldwork is the key! As I like to say, it’s not only about Daoism, it’s an everyday story of country folk—a bit like The Archers. So this isn’t some obscure academic subject, or some exotic remnant of ancient oriental wisdom—it evokes the basic concerns of local communities, and how they handle life and death.

Audiences will approach the film from different backgrounds: Daoist ritual (often with an emphasis on “salvage“), ethnomusicology, sinology, modern China, and so on. In my book (and on this blog) I try to show that all these strands have to be integrated. Students studying ethnomusicology (rather than “music”) will find it easier to grasp my comment that the film can’t be neatly pigeonholed under music; conversely, for students of Daoism (and even Daoist ritual) I stress that sound is the vehicle through which ritual texts are conveyed and animated; it should go without saying that soundscape must always be a major element in our study of ritual.

Watching the film again at a certain distance from my initial flurry of work, I worry that it may be somewhat tough going (Like, Hello?). For those eagerly awaiting the “red and fiery” bustle of ritual (Chau, Chapter 3), the opening sequence that sets the scene before we get to the funeral makes quite a lengthy prelude, and once the ritual begins the opening hymns (even abbreviated) are slow and a tad arcane for the uninitiated.

The pace gathers as we follow the sequence of funeral segments; the scenes with pop music, and the afternoon clowning, make suitable interludes; and viewers are reminded of the human personalities who have maintained the tradition through thick and thin, with vignettes on the great Li Qing (including his 1991 Pardon ritual) and the reminiscences of his widow being particularly moving. Li Manshan’s own voiceover is illuminating. So I still feel this is the way the film has to be…

Zhaoqing screenshot

Again, watching it at a certain remove, I recall with a certain amazement all the work involved in providing the translations for the vocal liturgy (with original texts shown on screen), and karaoke-style captions for the mnemonics illuminating the percussion patterns—culminating in the exhilarating Yellow Dragon Thrice Transforms Its Body, coda to the Transferring Offerings ritual (from 1.07.55). And I constantly admire Michele Banal’s fine editing.

While I point out that compared to some such groups in the south, the ritual practice of groups like the Li family band is quite simple, I still find it remarkable that they still do so much, even if it’s still a pale reflection of what they did 80 or even 20 years ago. Audiences tend to be interested in the future of the tradition, which I address in The life of the household Daoist. Other relevant posts from my roundup include

Anyway, DO watch the film (including the excellent joke after the end of the credits!), and spread the word!

Debussy: flute, viola, harp

In these superfluous polarities that we set up, I can’t help favouring Mozart over Haydn, and Mahler over Bruckner/Richard Strauss. Similarly, I’m so enthralled by Ravel that encounters with Debussy make a more occasional pleasure for me.

Laskine

One of Debussy’s most alluring works is the late Trio for flute, viola, and harp (1915; see e.g. this introduction). Having heard it a lot in my 20s, I’m just as enchanted now.

The instrumentation is one of those magical combos that was just waiting to be invented, like the shengguan ensemble of north Chinese ritual groups (e.g. sidebar Playlist #8), the classic bebop line-up with sax and trumpet, or the banana-and-peanut-butter sandwich.

Lily Laskine (left) and Marcel Moyse recorded it with Eugène Ginot in 1927 (first movement here); in this 1938 recording the viola player was Alice Merckel:

I still wonder if Noor Inayat Khan played it during her student years in Paris.

Evanescent, melancholy, and whimsical, fleeting vistas emerge and dissolve like Rouen cathedral in the mist. I relish the fleeting chinoiserie, and hints of Mahler’s Abschied at the end of the first movement, with a 7th on flute and harp hanging in the air over the harp’s major triad. And at the very end of the piece, the quirky extra chord never fails to delight me—it’s as if having spent so long gliding around in a sensuous, elusive sea of chromaticism, the performers are so surprised to find themselves actually landing on a chirpy conclusive cadence that they think they might as well confirm it for us with a final flourish.

The very end of the first and last movements.

I like this in-the-round performance at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, with Emmanuel Pahud, Yulia Deyneka, and Aline Khouri, from 2018:

And talking of Boulez, for the influence of this instrumentation on his sound-world, listen to Le marteau sans maître.

The Debussy Trio is a star exhibit in the chamber repertoire for harp, along with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (under my main Ravel page) and Caplet’s Masque of the Red Death. For more Debussy, Clair de lune is worth experiencing anew. For more Ravel chamber music, apart from the piano trio (also under Ravel), see Méfiez vous des blancs.

* * *

A BTL comment somewhere there led me to this mysterious quotation from Goethe (cf. Cite not Faust):

Blasen ist nicht floten, ihr musst die Finger bewegen

To blow is not to play on the flute; you must move the fingers

—or he might just as well have said

To move the fingers is not to play on the flute; you must blow.

Either way, it’s small wonder that Goethe wasn’t in great demand as a music teacher (cf. Stewart Lee on the British Book Cover Awards; for another post dragging a German icon to the trash, see Beethoven’s melodic gift, yeah right). A more radical maxim would have been

Don’t just do something, stand there

(which I still think should have been coined by Miles Davis), or a Zen koan on the silent shakuhachi in an empty forest.

Trailer for a thriller

TA thriller

Usually I shrug off airline safety videos like everyone else, but for some reason I’m mesmerised by the Turkish Airlines creation, which indeed transpires to be a classic of the genre:

Accustomed as we are In This Day and Age to searching for suggestive clues in tiny scenes, I can’t help regarding it as the trailer for a thriller [*Spoiler Alert*].

The opening—apparently taunting us real, frazzled passengers after we have finally managed to jostle our way on board, searching desperately for a space where we can cram our unwieldy luggage—shows a typically contented nuclear family (man, woman, and young boy) boarding what appears to be a private jet, with no queue at all.

At least, we assume the boy is theirs. The way the woman pushes him “playfully” towards his seat may suggest some kind of coercion; the man, typically, is relieved of tedious “parental” chores by craftily choosing a seat behind them.

They all have the most enormous eyes and pupils—a genetic trait amazingly also found in the flight attendant. In an editorial sleight-of-hand that may confuse, two tantalising scenes (0.31, and 2.31) show cameos of a different mother, with a toddler; and her eyes are suspiciously concealed from the viewer—could she perhaps be free of the outsized-eye syndrome? But is she another member of the international child-trafficking gang?

At 1.00, frustrated by his new domestic routine (even if it’s only a front), the vacuous man, in a vain attempt to flirt with the flight attendant (the frustrated middle-aged husband’s classic cry for attention), attempts a comedy juggling routine with his mobile (cf. Mark Heap, at the end of this clip). When it goes wrong, the attendant ignores his request with a polished, patronising smile; she seems to be a ventriloquist, though we’re not provided with subtitles (“Serves you right, you posh vacuous tosser. Have a nice day!”).

At 1.42 we at last get a glimpse of the only other two passengers on board. One, a shifty spectacled guy in a suit and tie, perhaps a CIA operative, looks round nervously to keep tabs on the cunningly-disguised family.

Besides being suspiciously skinny, the “family” are all blissed out, suggesting massive drug intake—even the captive boy conveys a jovial air, whether he’s been pumped full of heroin or because they’ve threatened him into keeping up the facade.

Even when there’s a SUDDEN LOSS OF CABIN PRESSURE OMG they remain eerily calm. “Oh cool, we’re all gonna plunge to a watery grave trapped in this burning coffin!” (cf. When you are engulfed in flames). The man is clearly delighted to have an excuse to inhale more drugs via the mask. The only thing that does seem to alarm him at first is that he can’t take his cabin luggage full of high heels, sharp objects, and smuggled diamonds with him—but the drugs are kicking in, and he soon regains his composure. If it’s realism you want, try Airplane (“Assume the crash position”):

Or did they know about the fake crash-landing all along—is it an ingenious attempt to escape the clutches of the CIA? I wonder if the elusive Woman with Normal Eyes, with her decoy toddler, will play a crucial role as the plot develops after they are rescued by a lurking mafia gunboat.

Apart from the captive passengers and my own deranged fantasies, one wonders about the psychology of the 1.8 million people who have watched the video on YouTube so far (Roll Over Godard), and the many who comment on it (“What am I doing watching this at 3am in my nan’s house? I don’t even have a passport!”).

I was less impressed by the soothing music, sadly not a taksim on the kanun or a rousing dance for davulzurna—but there I go again, orientalising…

It was less of a challenge to interpret the phrases in Teach yourself Japanese as the plot of a horror movie.

TA’s earlier flight of fantasy is also most creative:

And here’s a cute safety demo from Pegasus:

Jazz in Kuzguncuk!

After our trip to Nardis in Istanbul, to supplement the myriad delights of Kuzguncuk, who’d have thought there’d be a dinky new jazz club there too!

Kuzguncuk jazz

We heard the vocalist and songwriter Fuat Tuaç, based in Canada since 2011, with Baturay Yarkın on keyboard and Aydın Balpınar on bass. It’s great to hear an acoustic gig. Singing without the protection of a mic must pose a challenge, the singer further exposed. Whereas I invariably gravitate to women singers (at least in popular music, as is clear from my Playlist of songs), Fuat has a great voice, with a strong, unaffected presence. He enjoys the variety of singing in six languages —notably Turkish, French, and English, as well as Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

From his YouTube channel, a playlist:

including clips from Nardis (#7, #9) and from a house concert at Kuzguncuk (#8, #10).

I found his Turkish songs most affecting, like the Ayten Alpman classic Söyle buldun mu aradığın aşkı:

as well as Bu aralar and (in a cameo with Yeşim Akın) Uzun ince bir yoldayım. I also enjoyed his classic French chansons, like Ne me quitte pas (#4), and Sous le ciel de Paris:

Here’s the title track from his album Late bloomer:

and here he introduces his new album The immigrant.

Anyway, it’s great to have this club on our doorstep. All we need now is a meyhane where Greek, Armenian, and Jewish singers can sing their soulful amanedhes… Yeah right.

Rock it, Mom

Rock it mom 2

In an entirely futile effort to keep my finger on the pulse of Chinese popular culture, I’ve been watching the current TV hit series Rock it, mom (Yaogun kuanghua 摇滚狂花, directed by Li Jun 李骏 and Jing Lipeng 荆丽鹏). It’s well contextualised in a China Project article (cf. this review).

Rock It, Mom tells the story of Peng Lai [played by Yao Chen 姚晨], an over-the-hill, middle-aged rock singer. A run of disappointing relationships caused her to move to the US, where her music career never took off, leading her to return to China. As she tries to put her troubled life back together in her home country, she reconnects with her long-lost teenage daughter Baitian [Zhuang Dafei 庄达菲], whose passion for rock music inspires her to restart her career.

Rock it mom 4

The mother-daughter dynamic, competing in their destructiveness, makes a refreshing study in alienation. Once again I am reminded of Long March veteran Wang Zhen’s classic riposte to Cui Jian’s Nothing to my name:

What do you mean, you’ve got nothing to your name? You’ve got the Communist Party haven’t you?

You can watch all twelve episodes as a YouTube playlist, currently without English subtitles:

To help keep roughly on track, the first two episodes with woefully impressionistic subtitles are here:
https://www.iq.com/play/rock-it-mom-episode-1-l6o2m3oxv8?lang=en_us
https://www.iq.com/play/rock-it-mom-episode-2-m2ta0571zk?lang=en_us

It does make me miss Beijing—skyscrapers, underpasses and all (cf. Beijing yogurt).

Rock it mom 3

See also Platform, New musics in Beijing, and Liu Sola, voice of alternative China.

More muzak: ice-cream vans and garbage trucks

Ice cream van

Further to my post on Muzak, at a certain remove from traditional scholarship on the Great Composers or Daoist ritual, a couple of examples of how ethnomusicology “delights in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse”, in the immortal words of John Cleese.

Back in the heady days of the SOAS shawm band, my mate Simon (not to be confused with Philomena Cunk’s mate Paul, bane of many a hapless expert interviewee) took time out from his research on percussion in Korean shaman rituals to undertake a fieldwork project about the music of British ice-cream vans. Like Liu Kuang’s Wall inscription for the Director of the Imperial Music Office in the Tang dynasty, the loss of this work is to be lamented, but Simon recalls driving around in his parents’ Morris Minor with the window down in the peak of summer, listening out for ice-cream chimes:

After picking up the tell-tale sounds, I’d pursue the van until it stopped (if it wasn’t already stationary), park nearby, buy an ice-cream, and hover around until the queue had disappeared. Then I’d approach, briefly summarise my project, and conduct my semi-structured interview—designed to elicit all the van owner’s experiences and thoughts regarding chimes. Only a small minority of owners declined. Most were eager to talk. I remember a couple of responses especially clearly: a huge Italian man threw up his arms and said “Of course I like the music. If you don’t like-a da music you don’t like-a da ice-cream”; another guy said something along the lines of “Honestly, it’s a nightmare. I get home and the tune is still going round and round in my head—sometimes I can’t sleep”. Someone else had removed the usual tinkly ice-cream chime and had rigged up a huge stereo system blaring out jungle music. Nowadays, it seems that the chimes are UK-made [see below], but back then, I remember people telling me that they typically bought Swiss-made music boxes. One man did things rather differently, having a special box made for his fleet of vans that played a Welsh hymn in a computer game beeping kind of style (he was servicing a patriotic rural area in the valleys). The van owners made some interesting comments about territory too—how they would listen out for others’ chimes as they drove around, making sure not to get too close.

A Guardian article by Laura Barton from 2013 reminds us of the distinctive sounds of the British summer, like the low, sweet call of the wood-pigeon and the distant sound of leather on willow. Some history:

The earliest chimes were operated like a music box and fitted with a magnetic pickup and amplifier. It wasn’t until 1958 that transistors transformed the van chime, along with amplifiers that could be fitted to the vehicle’s battery. Traditional British ice-cream vans have tended to use Grampian Horn loudspeakers, angled downwards, towards the road, to diffuse the sound, and though the technology has improved sound quality, the distinctive tinniness of the ice-cream van’s call is largely regarded with affection.

This sounds like a candidate for the nostalgia of Memory Lane UK. Now, indeed,

in a move that has brought jubilation to the ice-cream industry, chimes can play for up to twelve seconds rather than four; and once every two minutes, instead of three. Vans may also now chime while stationary.

YAY! Although this ruling is not actually to be blamed on the bureaucrats of Brussels, it’s just the kind of victory in which the Minister for the 18th century would exult—apparently evidence of the staggering success of Brexit (Yeah Right), liberation from the yoke of Brussels red tape, along with the right to feast on bendy bananas.

As to repertoire, a representative of MicroMiniatures, leading company for the manufacture of the chimes, explained that among the most popular tunes are O sole mio, Greensleeves, and Match of the day, as well as Jerusalem, The stripper (um…), Nessun dorma, Cherry ripe, and Waltzing Matilda (the BTL comments to this 22-minute (!) YouTube compilation open with a list; for further detail, click here).

John Bonar of Piccadilly Whip [Ah, the coy innuendo of British punning!] commented, “We’ve just always used the Pied Piper since the start, so all the vans we order come with that tune. You get pretty sick of it. But whatever tune you’d have you’d get pretty tired of it.”

If you find 22 minutes a tad excessive, there’s quite an array of more succinct medleys on YouTube, such as this:

The sonority makes me wonder if Indonesian ice-cream vans borrow from the gamelan…

* * *

For Taiwan, in a refreshing change from studies of ancient nanguan ballads, another recent Guardian article explores the island’s musical garbage trucks. Recycling (sic) research dating back many years, a recent article by Chinese-music scholar

addresses the topic in detail.

Garbage in Taiwan is at the centre of a musical assemblage that resonates beyond the confines of the nightly waste collection soundscape. Garbage trucks in Taiwan are musical: Beethoven’s Für Elise or Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska’s Maiden’s Prayer announce the garbage truck brigade’s arrival at designated times and places throughout urban Taipei. Neighbours stream into the street for a turn at depositing their pre-sorted waste into the proper receptacles. Taiwan’s semi-tropical climate, combined with a densely situated human population and the presence of well established rat and cockroach populations, makes garbage management a matter of daily urgency.

Guy traced Taiwan’s pop music “from the early 1980s through to the present as evidence of ways in which everyday habits and practices of reckoning with waste have seeped into a wide range of sensibilities”.

Despite efforts to diversify the repertoire, it has remained far more limited than that of British ice-cream vans. A maiden’s prayer was preloaded onto trucks bought from Japan in the 1960s, and has remained strangely tenacious. The other dominant tune is Beethoven’s Für Elise, apparently preloaded onto trucks bought from Germany.  Now embedded in the Taiwanese psyche, the sound of the garbage trucks has been incorporated into modern Taiwanese culture:

And I would heartily concur with

“Whenever I hear Für Elise, I feel like I need to take out the garbage as well.”

To my ears the stark monophony of this limited repertoire sounds more alien, even sinister, than our jovial ice-cream-van jingles—but I quite recognise that they serve different contexts, so maybe I’m just orientalising… And while these instances may be considered muzak in the broad sense of manipulating behaviour, they serve to alert the community—closer to the use of muzak in 1950s’ factories than to the subliminal aural conditioning that anaesthetises us in elevators or shopping malls.

Cf. Thinking outside the (music) box, What is serious music?!, The art of the miniature, and even The call to prayer.

Gilad Atzmon

*Part of my surprisingly extensive jazz series!*

OHE

The British jazz musician Gilad Atzmon (b.1963) (YouTube topic; website), leader of the Orient House Ensemble, is a versatile wind player. A vocal advocate of the Palestinian cause, he renounced his Israeli citizenship in 2002. While his novels and political writings have prompted accusations of antisemitism, his musicking is more widely acclaimed.

Brought up in Jerusalem, Atzmon went into exile in London in 1994. Here I’ll just focus on his early albums with the Orient House Ensemble (named after the PLO’s former HQ in East Jerusalem), which he founded in 2000. Among the original lineup was drummer Asaf Sirkis, who worked in the band until 2009. 

Of their seven albums from this period, here are some playlists—in the “global bazaar” of London, I admire the way that they never flaunt the various Asian/Balkan elements in their vocabulary, integrating them into their jazz language.

  • Gilad Atzmon &* the Orient House Ensemble (2000) (with Nard-ish as #4!):

  • Nostalgico (2001) (creative tributes to the classics—some great tracks, including #4 Singin’ in the rain!):

  • Exile (2003)—whose more oriental flavour is enriched in the opening tracks by British-Palestinian singer Reem Kalani:

  • Refuge (2007):

  • In loving memory of America (2009), embellished by string quartet:

* * *

The albums are less challenging than their live gigs (“I don’t think that anyone can sit in a house, at home, and listen to me play a full-on bebop solo. It’s too intense. My albums need to be less manic”). Here’s Liberating the American people in 2006, full of contrast:

Some more recent examples: with Frank Harrison (piano), Asaf Sirkis (drums), and Chris Hill (bass):

2012 (vimeo):

2013:

Atzmon has remained loyal to his bebop inspirations—here’s another tribute to John Coltrane, from 2014:


* Pedants’ corner (yet again: see note here): the ampersand is authentic, if not to my taste…

Paths for the reluctant guru

Osel 1986
The young Tenzin Ösel Hita Torres with Lama Zopa Rinpoche (left) and Geshe Sopa  (right)
in 1986, during the consecration of Lama Yeshe’s stupa at Vajrapani Institute, California. Source.

A recent Guardian article, let down by the tabloid-style clickbait headline From six-year-old Tibetan monk to teenage Ibiza raver”, led me belatedly to the intriguing story of Ösel Hita Torres (b.1985) (website, including bio; wiki).

The latest publicity is prompted by a new four-part documentary in Spanish, but his story has long been in the news. After this 1990 interview,

Vicki Mackenzie published Reincarnation: the boy lama in 1996. Two years later the BBC visited Ösel at Sera monastery in exile in south India, when he was 13, to make a documentary film:

The Guardian updated his story in 2009, and in 2012 Jolyon Jenkins made an instructive radio programme for the BBC.

* * *

The fifth of nine siblings, Ösel came from a village near Granada, where his parents had become devotees of the lama Thubten Yeshe (1935–84), an influential teacher—even if some detractors considered him a materialistic paisa lama, like many gurus.

Soon after his birth, Ösel was identified as the tulku reincarnation of Lama Yeshe, and formally recognised by the Dalai Lama. * He was brought up under the aegis of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), headed by Lama Zopa, a close colleague of Lama Yeshe. Vicki Mackenzie’s detailed account of Ösel’s early years can be found on this page.

Ozel DL

This lengthy footage was filmed in Holland in 1986:

Ösel’s training in Sera monastery, from the age of 6, was remarkable. His mother features in the BBC radio documentary, and offers further perspectives here (some Spanish practice). As Ösel later reflected,

They dressed me in a yellow hat, they sat me on a throne, people worshipped me… They took me away from my family and put me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a lot. It was like living a lie.

So by the age of 18 he was free to make a similar choice to that taken by Krishnamurti in 1929, walking away from the cloistered life and his role as successor of the FPMT, despite their protestations. Opting for the secular path, he was disoriented by liberal Western values (“I was amazed to watch everyone dance. What were all those people doing, bouncing, stuck to one another, enclosed in a box full of smoke?”), and having spent a period living on the streets, he studied in Canada and Switzerland before opting to study film-making (cf. The CupTypical, you wait ages for a film-making lama, and then two come along at once). He is a friend of the 23rd Gomo Tulku (“the rapping lama”), who also opted for a secular lifestyle. Now settled in Ibiza with a family of his own, Ösel recognises that his story is easily sensationalised, and he remains on good terms with the FPMT.

Osel family

* * *

Concepts of the “spiritual quest” may vary substantially over time, between cultures, and between classes. In Christian and other faiths, some monks find that the abnegation of the cloistered ascetic life loses its allure.

Of course, the situation of Tibetan centres like the FMPT, reaching out to Western followers, is very different from that of monasteries in Tibetan regions. For poor families there before the 1950 Chinese invasion (and even for some years before the radical interventions that escalated from 1956), it was almost a routine choice to send a young son to become a monk in the local monastery. In cases when an infant was identified as a tulku, to be venerated as the reincarnation of a high lama, his spiritual education would be closely supervised until he was ready to take his place as religious leader.

Since the occupation, state intrusion has often forced monks to abandon the clergy; despite the vast revival of religious life since the 1980s, the monasteries, potential hotbeds of unrest, have become ever more tightly surveilled. Ironically, the Chinese Communist Party has had to recognise reincarnation, with high lamas commonly becoming political pawns—most fragrantly in the case of the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (b.1989), “the world’s youngest political prisoner”, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Panchen Lama campaign
Source.

Aside from state interference, it is not out of the question among the clerical rank-and-file to change course.  In Tibetan regions since the 1980s (as in pre-Communist China), among those who entered the monastic life in their youth, some have left to get married and care for a family, with little soul-searching. However, in Tibet it would be unthinkable for a tulku to abandon his role. The case of Ösel—not only a tulku but a European—is different; while his position was high-profile, with many resources having been invested in his path, aspects of the FPMT’s Western-leaning mission perhaps made his choice at least conceivable.

More often in the West one hears of making The Journey in the opposite direction: those who forsake sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll for the spiritual quest (hints of this with the Beatles, to cite another high-profile case). In Europe and north America the attraction of the Wisdom of the Mystic East grew after World War Two (some noble instances including Gary Snyder and Alan Watts), and many Westerners have devoted themselves to Tibetan Buddhism (see e.g. Donald Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 1998).

Gratifyingly, Ösel hasn’t rejected the spiritual path, but what he did renounce was becoming the object of blind veneration—an impressive choice when he had a ready-made, even cushy, career before him. I’m sure Ösel appreciates scenes from The life of Brian expressing the pressure on gurus to Bestow Wisdom upon their disciples (see note here, and at the end of my Krishnamurti post).

Still, despite his new family and outside interests, Ösel was perhaps unlikely to lead anything that resembled a Normal Life; deeply imbued by his upbringing, he has gone on to cater to demand among the Truth Seekers with an active teaching programme. While he generates far less hype than Krishnamurti, his demeanour is appealingly down-to-earth. Here’s a lecture he gave at Kopan monastery in 2012:

Many more talks online, such as here ( 2017) and here (2018).

Just as I admire those who persist in the religious life, I respect those who free themselves from it, or forge their own path—as long as there’s a thread of, um, mindfulness. After all, everyday normality is at the heart of Daoism and Zen.


* For the recognition of the Dalai Lama himself, click here (opening with the story of another “well-behaved” young lama!); and do watch the amazing footage of his own “graduation” rituals in 1958–59 (here, under “The political background”). The Dalai Lama’s early education in Lhasa was not entirely other-worldly: apart from learning English, maths, and geography, he watched films in his own private cinema. I wonder if he has commented on Ösel’s change of path.

A whiter shade of pale

Whiter shade

In 1967, just as I was beginning to dip my toes in oriental mysticism,  and just after Jimi Hendrix landed from Outer Space, Procul Harum’s debut single A whiter shade of pale became an iconic track of the Summer of Love, along with Sgt Pepper. It’s another of those pieces that slips too easily into legend, filed away without reliving its originality (click here, under “The ultimate tango cliché”; cf. Reception history).

My fusty musical tastes then being largely conditioned by the violin, I suppose I responded to the song’s classicism, although Bach didn’t mean much more to me then than he did for most fans of the song. Along with the trippy lyrics, the blending of the Hammond organ (cf. Booker T. Jones in Memphis) with the blues/soul/rock vocal style is perfect:

We skipped the light fandango
turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
but the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
as the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
the waiter brought a tray.

And so it was that later
as the miller told his tale
that her face, at first just ghostly,
turned a whiter shade of pale.

She said, There is no reason
and the truth is plain to see
But I wandered through my playing cards
and would not let her be
one of sixteen vestal virgins
who were leaving for the coast
and although my eyes were open
they might have just as well’ve been close.

Here Procul Harum perform it live:

This 1967 film (banned from the BBC) captures the zeitgeist:

A whiter shade of pale is the subject of a programme in the BBC radio Soul music series. With its walking bass, it’s commonly supposed to be inspired by Bach, in particular the Air, but the connection is more generic. Other similarities seem oblique, like the organ prelude O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde groß, or the opening Sinfonia of Bach’s 1729 Leipzig cantata Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (sadly not written for the BBC sitcom):

A more recent comparison is When a man loves a woman, sung by the splendidly-named Percy Sledge (1966):

While generally recreations of original versions are to be welcomed, I seem to regard A whiter shade of pale as sacrosanct, like Beatles songs, so I’m not susceptible to Annie Lennox’s cover. There’s a nice cameo in The commitments:

Meanwhile in 1967, great songs were still coming out of Detroit amidst social upheaval. Among other good years for music, try 1707!

Roundup for 2022!

Like a suburban Sisyphus doing and undoing a jigsaw, having gone to great lengths to mix up the daily sequence of my diverse topics in a stimulating fashion, it’s that time of year when I try and reassemble them into some kind of thematic order (cf. 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021). In September I essayed a handy roundup of roundups, covering some of this ground; and in November I listed Some recent *MUST READ* posts. As ever, in the sidebar you can consult the tags and categories, and even the monthly archive (scrolling waaay down); the homepage still provides useful orientation.

Disturbingly, the items featured below are just a selection, but do click away on all the links…

Perhaps I can begin with a story that combines several of my interests:

While I can’t quite claim to have won the World Cup for Argentina,

and I’m exceptionally fond of

  • Ogonek and Til, for fans of tennis, fado, and Noh drama—wacky diacritics and nasal vowels, with matching anagram and limericks.

Meanwhile I seem to have recovered from being a Ticking Time-bomb:

* * *

China:

And it’s always worth reminding you of my film on the Li family Daoists, and this roundup of posts on them, as well as my work on Gaoluo village.

Tibet (updated roundup), including

I also update my collected posts on Uyghur culture, including

Turkey features prominently in my Roundup of posts on west-central Asia, as I try to educate myself (and even this is only a selection):

leading on to

and William Dalrymple:

Some posts on Ukraine (Applebaum, Snyder, Sands), also linking to

As to other world music,

An Irish music medley, including recent entries:

North Indian music (collected posts):

Jazz (roundup of another extensive series) (Turkish jazz listed above):

And then:

Western Art Music: among this year’s posts on Bach (updated roundup) are

Mahler: my whole series is now listed here, with recent additions

Also

Society, religion, ritual:

A mélange of other topics:

New entries in A Sporting medley include

Drôlerie:

Well, that’ll keep you busy—as a reward, in future perhaps I’ll try posting every three days, rather than every other day, and I might even reblog earlier posts a tad less avidly—not wishing to try your patience (“You must come over and try mine sometime”—Groucho).

CHIME: Chinese music studies in a changing China

The prime of CHIME, the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research, coincided with a heyday for Chinese music studies, encompassing a range of historical topics, regional traditions of ritual, opera, narrative-singing, folk-song, and instrumental music, as well as pop and avant-garde music. The CHIME journal is full of valuable information—articles, field reports, and reviews of books, CDs, films, and concerts—for the PRC, Taiwan, and the diaspora.

CHIME 1989
1989 seminar at Kingston, London, hatching the idea of CHIME.

A recent discussion of the board, when we hinted at an issue that I’m only just beginning to see more clearly, is doubtless relevant not only to China but further afield. From around 1985 to 2010 there was a remarkable energy in fieldwork, research, and pooling information. In the PRC after the collapse of the commune system from the late 1970s, along with the vast revival of traditional culture (see e.g. Testing the waters, and Ken Dean: discovering Fujian ritual life in the early reform era) came a renewed vigour in fieldwork and research. The work of the Anthology of folk music of the Chinese peoples, along with the major institutes in Beijing and Shanghai, open to new ideas (notably from anthropology), all rippled out to the provinces, counties, and villages. At the same time, Chinese and foreign researchers were able to collaborate on fruitful fieldwork and research projects. Outside China, apart from CHIME, ACMR in the USA made a useful forum (cf. Chinoperl); funding for tours was available, and recording companies like Ocora and Pan were keen to release CDs.

ant
Antoinet Schimmelpenninck in Amdo-Tibetan area, south Gansu, 2001 (photo: Frank Kouwenhoven).

But as China has changed, so have we; much of that energy has since been deflected. CHIME was based in Leiden, where Antoinet Schimmelpenninck and Frank Kouwenhoven devoted a charming old house to a growing archive, where they hosted lively gatherings. Since the sad loss of Antoinet in 2012, the bulk of the collection has been moved to Heidelberg, the instruments to Lisbon (both major tasks); meanwhile leading lights on the committee had found academic jobs, developing their own projects.

The CHIME journal: first (1990) and most recent (2019) volumes.

Of course, political constraints always had to be negotiated in the PRC, but the scene there was now deteriorating, first under the stultifying reification of the Intangible Cultural Heritage project (from around 2005), and then (since Xi Jinping came to power) with increasing limitations on research and publishing. Today, our research in the humanities is inevitably coloured by the spectre of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong; state surveillance is ever more extensive.

Apart from CHIME’s annual conferences, I keep hoping that its online Newsletter can be maintained—but now I finally realise that it’s hard to do so. All the diverse material was relatively simple to collate when we were all going to China regularly, and when there was a wealth of stimulating activity to document. Despite the shrinking scope within the PRC, there must still be plenty to report, but one would now need to find other people to draw attention to it. While in the early days CHIME could serve as a clearing house for such information, one wonders who might be able or willing to do so now: various names have been mentioned, mainly younger European scholars currently based in China.

But another crucial factor in CHIME’s changing dynamics is the internet revolution, wondrous yet indigestible, with WeChat, Facebook, Instagram, and so on creating new, more immediate forums, as material (both textual and A/V) has become available online in China. Even so, outside China, if someone could take on the task, a comprehensive index would still be useful: a revamped CHIME website could make a useful focus for all the diverse information that emerges. Hopefully it will also include A/V material uploaded from the archive—working with Heidelberg, now its home. Apart from inclination, time and money are inevitable hurdles. Like Life.

In memoriam Bird and Fortune

Bird and Fortune

John Bird died this week, nine years after his sketch partner John Fortune. Having teamed up in the heady days of British satirical shows in the 1960s, they had a glorious new lease of life working with Rory Bremner from 1989.

So to follow the classic “You say potato” sketch (“on the perils of over-reliance on the written text”, as I suggested), here’s a playlist for their George Parr interviews, satirising ministers, diplomats, generals—more apposite today than ever:

Among my highlights there are the Washington diplomat (#2), the Home Office minister (#7), the British businessman in China (#8), and the merchant banker (#14). Alternating roles, they nail the establishment’s inane, complacent sense of entitlement, the blithe insouciance with which they barely bother to conceal the iniquity of their stances. All this can be heard on the lips of many a “government” representative today—this interview could almost be a verbatim transcript of the current Tory position on immigration and asylum:

Or this:

I don’t like the word xenophobic, it suggests irrational prejudice… Of course it’s a Greek word, and I detest Greeks.

Breakdancing on the eve of Tiananmen

Ziwei 4

In 1950, soon after “Liberation”, the great Yang Yinliu and Cao Anhe invited a wind band from Ziwei village (in what later became Dingxian county, Hebei) to record in Tianjin, coining the term “Songs-for-winds” (chuige 吹歌), which soon became a standard—and misleading—image for wind bands in Hebei (click here). But they never managed to go to Ziwei, and Yang soon began work on the ritual music of the Zhihua temple in Beijing.

By the late 1980s, as fieldwork resumed after the hiatus of the Cultural Revolution, Yang Yinliu’s successors in Beijing were clarifying the “northern” and “southern” styles of wind ensemble serving amateur ritual associations on the Hebei plain. The “northern” music accompanying ritual referred to the solemn classical style of temple ensemble (led by small guanzi oboe), and this was to be our main focus in the villages. The more popular repertoire of the “southern” style (with large guanzi) sounded more secular, and was more readily recruited to political campaigns—but as we later learned, it too served funerals and temple fairs. Both styles had been used in the temples of Beijing, Tianjin, and the Hebei plain (see e.g. A slender but magical clue, and under Festivals) since the early in the 20th century.

Stimulated by the 1986 “discovery” of the Qujiaying village ritual association, I began working with the Music Research Institute in Beijing to document the similar groups all around the Hebei plain just south. Our fieldwork began to develop with a reccy over the New Year period in 1989, before the Tiananmen protests got under way.

Ziwei 3

By the early 1950s Ziwei was a large village with over a thousand households; by the time of our visit it had doubled. The origins of its wind ensemble were in the classical style. Even before Liberation they had been providing wind players for professional troupes in Beijing, Tianjin, and elsewhere in the region, and they kept doing so through the Cultural Revolution.

We accompanied them on a trip to perform for a wedding at a township in nearby Lixian county, and on our return to Ziwei we held a recording session. Whereas the membership of most ritual associations is male, here unmarried women also play the wind instruments. The association’s repertoire included breakdancing (piliwu 霹雳舞), recalling Taiji, and a pop singer—both highly serious in demeanour (cf. rebetiko). After decades of isolation, pop had spread from south China as the commune system disintegrated (see Platform), along with a major restoration of ritual life.

Langfang huahui 1991

We got another glimpse of the secular end of the continuum on a 1991 trip to Langfang city. And during our fieldwork around Xushui county in 1993 and 1995, where the temple connection was evident yet again, we found more material on the “southern” style. Some villages like Gaoluo had both northern and southern ritual associations.

QMZ 1958

The Qianminzhuang association, Xushui 1959.

Still, the southern style was always subsidiary, both in the villages and in our fieldwork—see our reports, county by county, under Local ritual.

Molly Drake

Cate DID

Desert Island Discs constantly reveals the personal meanings of music in our lives. Cate Blanchett’s thoughtful recent selection included Mahler 5, featured in her new movie Tár, in which she plays a conductor—despite rave reviews, I look forward to watching it with a certain trepidation, since Western Art Music seldom comes off lightly at the hands of directors (cf. Philharmonia). Anyway, her choice of the second movement (with Abbado, to boot!) was most discerning.

I have to admit that I’ve never warmed to the voice of Kathleen Ferrier, although I’m a devoted fan of Janet Baker. The series generally suggests Christopher Small’s plea to recognise the value of all kinds of musicking, not merely the “prestigious” (cf. What is serious music?!), and guests often include a track of amateur, domestic musicking that evokes intense memories or associations.

Molly Drake

Cate introduces Molly Drake (1915–93; playlist), observing: “So private, she was making music inside her home, for herself really… she gives me quiet courage.” Her choice is The little weaver bird:

Pundits have made a link between Molly’s “melancholy meditations on the fragility of happiness” and those of her son Nick.

Cate Blanchett’s final disc was Count Basie’s mantric, hypnotic rendition of Neil Hefti’s Lil Darlin’ (another gift from Tár):

Right at the end Basie slips in a little quote from In my solitude.

I’m even more infatuated by this version by the wonderful Sant Andreu jazz band (cf. here, and sequel):

Those hieratic wind chords remind me (and probably only me) of Messiaen.

The handmaid’s tale, Season 5

Handmaid 5

Just in time for a merry dystopian Christmas (as if Bambi isn’t enough), the latest season of The handmaid’s tale (for the previous series, click here) has just finished airing on Channel 4—ever more relevant not just amidst the struggle of women in Iran and the further curtailment of women’s right in Afghanistan, but closer to home, since the overturning of Roe v Wade.

Series 5 still steers clear of The testaments, Margaret Atwood’s update to her original novel. It hinges on the mutual dependence of June and Serena after they find themselves crossing paths again in Toronto—no longer such a safe haven amidst the changing dynamics of anti-refugee sentiment and murky diplomacy. As June reminds the saintlike Luke,

“America wasn’t Gilead until it was, and then it was too fucking late.”

Developments in Gilead itself now play a subsidiary role, driven mainly by the manipulations of Commander Lawrence and Aunt Lydia, suggesting a more media-savvy image for the Christo-fascist regime. While the constant degradations have long become over-familiar (and I remain dubious about the way both sides sanctify motherhood as the ultimate moral yardstick), the plot remains compelling. The ending is contrived, but I’m still looking forward to the next season…

Some Chinese posters and pinups

In 1993, as I plunged deeper into fieldwork on ritual associations in rural Hebei, while staying at a dingy hostel in Laishui county-town I was struck by this graphic public information poster from the local Public Security Bureau:

Poster LaishuiThis detail is particularly fine:

Poster Laishui detail
Caption:
Don’t casually drop cigarette-butts or rubbish, and don’t spit all over the place;
maintain cleanliness inside and outside the dwelling.

More precisely, and indecorously, I may add that tutan 吐痰 encompasses the staggeringly common habit of emptying one’s throat via the nose onto the ground, generally with a loud and dramatic flourish—a sound that accompanies some of my finest recordings of ritual performance. At the time it didn’t look as if campaigns against the tradition would have much effect.

Moving swiftly on, political posters have long been a popular topic, but travelling down to the countryside, some intrepid art historian might care to make a diachronic and regional survey of pinups adorning the otherwise bare homes of poor peasants since the 1980s’ reforms, which cheerfully rub shoulders with family photos, posters of Party leaders, and images of deities like Guanyin. I found this montage on the wall of a home in Gaoluo village around 1993:

Pinups Gaoluo

Pinups often make a drôle backdrop to our portraits of wise old folk musicians, like this 1995 image of vocal liturgist Li Yongshu in Yixian county nearby:

Li Yongshu, Baoquan 1995

Here’s a selection from Shaanbei, heartland of the Chinese revolution, in 1999:

All this by contrast with the god images that adorn the ritual building at New Year—Gaoluo again (see here, part of a series on Ritual paintings of north China):

Gaoluo 1989For more recent Uncle Xi pinups, and incentives to display them, see God images old and new, 2—sequel to an article that features murals adorning kang brick-beds dating from just after the reforms of the late 1970s.

ZQ meinv

The Time Regulation Institute

Time Reg cover

I’ve been delighting in

A fine satire on the alienation of modern bureaucracy, the novel was published in full after being serialised from 1954.

Born in adversity, the narrator Hayri İrdal becomes apprentice to the wise old clock repairer Nuri Efendi, and spends time (sic) performing in improvisatory theatre groups (“I was living in a world of lies and illusion, and that was all I wanted”). Returning to Istanbul after army service in World War One (“four years spent in vain”), he is indolent and indifferent to everything around him. The Viennese-trained psychoanalyst Dr Ramiz, himself “the incarnation of discontent”, relishes his case, but expects more from him:

“I want you to have dreams that are more in line with your illness. Do you understand me? Use everything in your power to have the right kind of dreams.” […] All this contributed to my moving that much closer to bona fide insanity.

Dr Ramiz introduces Hayri İrdal to a coffeehouse, where he delights in telling stories with the regulars, as life was suspended.

New ideas were at first humoured out of courtesy and a slight curiosity, but they would remain unaddressed until the crowd’s ever-vigilant imagination had recast them as pleasantries, thus assimilating them to their own idiom. This is what happened to any attempt at serious conversation.

His family life is unfulfilling:

I detested the life I was living but lacked the strength to start another. I had severed all ties. I had no bonds with the world save for the compassion I felt for my children. I had no choice but to endure it all—or at least tolerate the world around me. The moment I set foot outside I was a prisoner of my wandering and endlessly colluding mind, which led me off to exotic worlds whose enticements beckoned, only to stay beyond my reach.

While he finds further distraction from his ennui in the Spiritualist Society, the model of the ascetic dervishes can’t help him solve problems stemming from his worldly concerns. At last he meets his mentor Halit Ayarci, with whom, amidst much partying, he hatches the concept of the Time Regulation Institute, a nepotistic institution that defines its own function.

At last Hayri İrdal has a “surging sense of purpose”. He spends his early months at the Institute devising platitudinous slogans and exchanging gossip. As Hayit Ayarci impresses his political contacts with arcane colour-coded charts, the Institute goes into full swing, recruiting suitably talentless employees from their relatives and drinking buddies.

Although Hayri İrdal has always preferred a life in which “idleness, or wasting time, is a source of happiness” (in Pankaj Mishra’s words), they devise a system of fines for those whose timepieces are not synchronised with any other clock in view.

When an inspector notified a citizen of his fine, the offender would initially express surprise, but upon apprehending the form logic behind the system, a smile would spread across his face until, at last understanding this was a serious matter, he would succumb to uproarious laughter.

He refines the system by offering a discount to repeat offenders. The staff expands as they set up Regulation Stations, “small roadside posts where ladies and gentlemen could stop in to adjust their timepieces”.

Gradually he eases into his new role:

I began to use terms like “modification”, “coordination”, “work structure”, “mind-set shift”, “metathought”, and “scientific mentality”…

He muses on freedom:

Today we use the word only in its political sense, and how unfortunate for us. […] The political pursuit of freedom can lead to its eradication on a grand scale—or rather it opens the door to countless curtailments. […] I have been made to understand that in our lifetime freedom has been kind enough to visit our country seven or eight times. Yes, seven or eight times, and no-one ever bothered to say when it left; but whenever it came back again, we would leap out of our seats in joy and pour into the streets to blow our horns and beat our drums.

Pondering the ever-growing roster of employees, Hayri İrdal suggests selecting those with experience, “people who have more or less worked for a certain period of time in a particular field”. Halit Ayarci rebuffs this idea:

“To be experienced means to be run down, frozen at some fixed point, and stuck with stagnant ideas. Such people are of no use to us.”

In a satire on Atatürk’s invention of tradition, after Hayri İrdal gives Halit Ayarci an account of the wonders of clock-making, though “never one for reading or writing”, he is persuaded to compose an entirely spurious biography of a 17th-century clockmaker, The life and works of Ahmet the Timely. His patron “was not at all mistaken when he divined the need for the illustrious Ahmet Zamani to have existed”, nor was he wrong when he assigned him to the reign of Mehmed IV.

Although a handful of armchair academics dismiss the work as a complete fabrication, it becomes a huge international success. Still, the enthusiasm of amiable Dutch scholar Van Humbert poses problems.

Finding the tomb of a man who never existed in mortal form is more difficult than you might imagine, as is surviving vigorous debate with a foreign scholar, even with the aid of an interpreter.

As Hayri İrdal becomes a celebrity, his wife joins in the deception with alacrity, embroidering a fantasy of their happy life together, to Hayit Ayarci’s delight:

To him, my continuing doubts about the existence of Ahmet the Timely and my rejection of my wife’s picture of me as a banjo-playing equestrian were all symptoms of the same malady.

“Your wife has presented you as the ideal modern man and still you doubt and deny it all!”

In a satire on the gullibility of the masses, Hayit Ayarci even concocts a successful singing career for our narrator’s tone-deaf sister-in-law:

You say she’s ugly, so from a contemporary point of view she’s sympathetic. You say her voice is wretched, which means it is emotive and conducive to certain styles. You say she has no talent—well then, without a doubt she is an original.

As the Institute extends its global reach, our hero designs a surreal clock-themed building in a satire on modernist architecture:

People moving up and down either wrought-copper staircase would be visible, as they would be encased in glass. I now saw I could arrange them diagonally across the centre of the hall to disrupt the traditional four leaf clover formation. Of course all the pillars—each one a little higher than the next—would be connected by little bridges so as to allow those moving up and down them to cross.

After a fractious final gathering, the Institute is consigned to continuous liquidation.

* * *

Apart from evoking Kafka and Borges, I was reminded of the stories of Švejk and his creator Hašek (whose Party of Moderate and Peaceful Progress within the Limits of the Law was designed partly to bolster the finances of the pub where the election meetings were held), as well as Flann O’Brien, with his annotations on the ouevre of de Selby, and his All-Purpose Speech.

The 2013 translation is adorned by an excellent Introduction by Pankaj Mishra (cf. his review). Putting the novel in global context, he reflects on Atatürk’s cultural revolution and the developing world’s “feckless programme of Westernisation” in the pursuit of secular and rational ideals, where “the onwards-and-upwards narrative of progress, dictated by the state and embraced by a gullible people, has contaminated everything.” Adducing Russia, Japan, Iran, China, and India, Mishra notes a “tragic mismatch between the intentions of these hasty modernizers and the long historical experience of the societies they wanted to remake in the image of the modern West”. As in his 1939 novel A mind at peace, Tanpinar suggests the deracine sense of arriving late, spiritually destitute, bewildered by the “tawdry illusions of modernity”. Hayri İrdal—“one of those superfluous semimodern men familiar to us from Russian literature: more acted upon than active, simmering with inarticulate resentments and regrets”—“has a keen appreciation of the absurdities of the self-perpetuating and self‑justifying bureaucratic state that embodies progress and enlightenment in Turkey”.

Gosh—is that the time?

Tango for Messi!!!

For Sunday’s World Cup final, a paean to the genius of Lionel Messi. Watch his magical dribbling skills in awe, click here for a compilation of some of his great solo goals (the magnificent finale adorned with suitably ecstatic commentary!), and admire  this longer compilation. Among innumerable tributes, here’s a detailed analysis, and I like this recent article by Anita Asante. See also this BBC documentary.

For comparable artistry, cf. Ronnie: a roundup, and A god retires, under A sporting medley.

* * *      

The vision of Messi dancing his way through flailing defenders reminded me to expand my limited acquaintance with Argentine tango—don’t worry, I’m not going to try and dance. [1]

As with flamenco, fado (here, with sequel), and rebetika, the demi-monde roots of tango in the ports and bordellos were soon co-opted in a typical progression from banning (like the waltz) to bourgeois respectability, as the genre’s sleazy, predatory background gave way to the elegant sensuality of polished cabaret and ballroom performance (for critiques of artistic competition, click here). Please excuse me if I round up some of the Usual Suspects below, and for focusing on music rather than dance.

The early years, and the Golden Age
In the traditional style, the habanera rhythm, with the jagged, staccato syncopation of its 3+3+2 accents (cf. Taco taco taco burrito), is common to other Latin American genres (see this useful wiki page). The tango sound became more distinctive from the late 19th century with the addition of the bandoneón, originally used for church music in Germany (cf. Accordion crimes—including an early Polish tango).

The dance, with its sinuous intertwinings, spread around Europe from 1910. Echoing the “posturing machismo” of flamenco, Ricardo Guïraldes wrote in homage (sic):

Hats tilted over sardonic sneers. The all-absorbing love of a tyrant, jealously guarding his dominion, over women who have surrendered submissively, like obedient beasts…

Naturally, in recent years the sexism of tango dance has been subjected to much critique.

The global fame of tango was spread by the new radio, recording, and film industries. Here’s Rudolph Valentino with a tango-travesty in The four horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921):

Here’s a playlist of early 78s:

And this playlist includes tracks by a host of bandleaders, including Osvaldo Pugliese and Uruguayan violinist Francisco Canaro:

Here’s a remastered album of Julio de Caro’s band in the 1920s:

and the great Aníbal Troilo on bandonéon with singer Edmundo Rivero in Cafetín de Buenos Aires (1948):

Tango is part of a widespread musical family expressing heartache (duende, saudade, sevda, and so on), whose letras lyrics enhance its melodic melancholy; however, in vocal timbre I find none of the harsh anguish of flamenco cante jondo. The quintessential tango singer was Carlos Gardél (1890–1935), heard on playlists like this:

To redress the macho dominance, women singers from the Golden Age—some great tracks here:

“The ultimate tango cliché”
Like other pieces that suffer from over-exposure (such as Bach’s Air, the Mahler Adagietto, Debussy’s Clair de lune, Ravel’s Bolero, Dream a little dream of me…), it would be great if we could hear La cumparsita with original ears, but the kitsch image of Some like it hot (1959) leaves an indelible impression. Slower and more evocative than the first recording by Roberto Firpo (1917) is Eddy Duchin in 1933:

With the lyrics it’s quite transformed—I like Carlos Gardél’s version (#5 in playlist above), reminiscent of fado. Like most performers, he sang the Si supieras version by Pascual Contursi, which is maudlin enough—but the anguish of tango is rarely expressed so extremely as in Matos Rodríguez’s own lyrics, heard in this 1945 recording:

La cumparsa de miserias sin fin desfila                The parade of endless miseries marches
en torno de aquel ser enfermo                               around that sickly being
que pronto ha de morir de pena…                         who will soon die of grief…

Well, that’s the last time I’m inviting him to one of my parties.

The piece must have become a millstone around the necks of tangueros—but its immortality was confirmed by Tom and Jerry:

Piazzolla
Meanwhile, as juntas and Perónism rose and fell, Buenos Aires was in flux; with an ever-swelling immigrant population and changing tastes, “old-guard” tango declined amidst the rise of pop music. And so to the nuevo tango of Astor Piazzolla (1921–92) (Songlines; wiki), “the Boulez of the bandoneón” (an epithet attributed to L’Éxpress, making one worry about its readership figures), who “elevated” the genre to the status of art music in the concert hall (NB What is serious music?!). After his youth working with some of the great bands of Buenos Aires, Piazzolla was drawn to the style of modern WAM composers like Bartók and Stravinsky, studying with Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger—who, to her credit, insisted that he follow his own path. 

Boulanger with Piazzolla 1955
Studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, 1955.

He also recruited jazz musicians to his groups, although by the standards of jazz his arrangements were over-prescribed (cf. Unpacking “improvisation”).

Again, just a selection. Tres minutos con realidad (1957):

Adiós nonino (1959), a requiem for his father:

Balada para un loco (1969), with his second wife Amelita Baltar:

Libertango (1974) (playlist):

Suite Troileana (1975):

 And the gorgeous Oblivion (1982; danced here, and here):

I’m keen on his late Quinteto Tango Nuevo, with Fernando Suarez Paz (violin), Pablo Ziegler (piano), Horacio Malvicino (guitar), and Hector Console (bass)—click here for their 1984 gig in Utrecht (playlist).

As the “world music” scene took wing and boundaries were breaking down, Piazzolla became a legend. A definitive book is María Susan Azzi and Simon Collier, Le Grand Tango: The life and music of Astor Piazzolla (2000). And here’s the documentary Tango maestro (Michael Dibb, 2004):

Joining a long list of London gigs that I kick myself for missing, in 1985 Piazzolla performed for a week at the Almeida Theatre! Awww…

* * *

The scene has continued to develop, with nuevo tango supplemented by neotango. But as Adam Tully observed, 

It’s too easy to think that [Piazzolla] was leaving it all behind or rejecting it; in truth he was completely a part of this music and wanted it to be ever greater, to grow rather than to stagnate. And the dead end is to think that since Piazzolla innovated, then the natural progression of tango is the language that he invented. The danger there is for other composers, arrangers, and performers to get absorbed into Piazzollean language, which is what happened in the 80s and 90s.

Finally, some bonus tracks. Dance, with its complex technique, remains a vital part of tango’s social life, deserving greater attention than I can offer; but here are some staged representations. Carlos Suara’s 1998 movie Tango:

For Last tango in Paris and The conformist, click here. A scene from Frida (2002):

And Rose and Giovanni in Strictly:

I won’t venture into Finnish tango, but here are a couple of playlists for Turkey (cf. Midnight at the Pera Palace, and Jazz in Turkey). Seyyan Hanım (1913–89):

and Şecaattin Tanyerl (1921–94):

Hmm. Like I’d know—I was just admiring Messi weaving his way through yet another helpless defence, and recalling his time at Barcelona, comparable only to Bach at Leipzig [Late entry for 2022 Pseuds’ Corner Award—Ed.].


[1] Useful starting points include the chapter in The Rough Guide to world music, Songlines (including this selection), and wiki:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tango
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_tango
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_tango
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tango_music
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figures_of_Argentine_tango

For the wider context, see Peter Manuel Popular musics of the non-Western world.

.

Jazz in Turkey

Jazz in Turkey cover

As a follow-up to Turkish jazz in London and our visit to Nardis in Istanbul, I delighted in the documentary Jazz in Turkey (Türkiye’de Caz, Batu Aykol, 2013; review here). You can watch it online here, and it’s on Mubi.

Opening with the elegant Emek Theatre in Beyoğlu (1924), the film recalls the early years of the jazz scene (cf. Midnight at the Pera Palace), dominated by non-Muslim musicians (cf. Songs of Asia Minor), mingling with foreigners (notably White Russians)—Armenians like Hrant Lusigyan and Gregor Kelekian, and Turkish Jews such as Leon Avigdor (here and here) and Gido Kornfilt. Here’s Gregor Kelekian’s band in 1933:

Here I can only mention a few jazzers whose work I’m particularly keen to explore. The film is structured around fond reminiscences from veterans such as Bozkurt İlham Gencer, Emin Fındıkoğlu, Selçuk Sun (who recalls how he first picked up the bass, cf. Bernard Breslaw!), Cüneyt Sermet, and Okay Temiz.

Also delightful is trumpeter Muvaffak “Maffy” Falay, whose priceless story about how his name was gleefully heard in the States (cf. Lives in jazz) accompanies the final credits—rather like the joke at the end of my portrait film on Li Manshan! And Dan Morgenstern introduces Atlantic Records under the Ertegün brothers.

Also featured are women singers such as Sevinç Tevs and Ayten Alpman.

Welcome Dizzy
Welcome Dizzy, 1955.

Musicians note the effects of the pogrom of 6th–7th July 1955, whereafter the non-Muslim minorities who had nurtured the early scene disappeared. Still, as a new craze for American culture thrived (cf. Japan), jazz became a kind of “diplomatic weapon” in the Cold War, with some of the great musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones visiting from the States, going on to recruit young Turkish students to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. At the heart of the film is Cüneyt Sermet as he listens enraptured to a blues by Arif Mardin:

And despite the 1980 coup, the scene kept developing, with what became the Istanbul Jazz Festival. Also driving the scene at the time were musicians such as Onno Tunç, and drummer Erol Pekçan, also an influential publicist on radio and TV—he even broadened public taste to jazz from Poland and Spain. Here’s a track from his 1978 album Jazz Semai with Tuna Ötenel & Kudret Öztoprak:

While İlhan Mimaroğlu explored electronic music under the aegis of Atlantic, Neşet Ruacan and his sister Nükhet made a mark, as well as the great keyboard player Aydin Esen. Among those offering insights here are Kerem Görsev.

Özdemir Erdoğan on guitar and wind player İsmet Siral made early experiments in incorporating an Anatolian folk vibe—here’s the latter’s Vay Sürmeli:

and, with Okay Temiz:

Further stimulus came with influence from the “world music” boom, borrowing in particular from the Balkan brass sound—even if commentators observe appositely that this taste is more popular among foreigners (the tofu-eating wokerati, I suspect) than within Turkey. Kerem Görsev and Can Kozlu make some sound points. Here’s Ilhan Erşahin’s band Wonderland:

The topic turns nicely to the importance of the master-pupil relationship, and respect for senior figures like Tuna Ötonel, while featuring the work of the younger generation such as trumpeter İmer Demirer. Finally, Can Kozlu points out that rather than relying on some antiquated cachet, it’s a positive sign that jazz now has to justify its place among other new genres in a “tough, fast, and merciless” new world.

Completed in 2013, Jazz in Turkey was clearly a labour of love for Batu Aykol. The Emek Theatre, which opens the film, was demolished in May that year—just one of the events that stimulated the Gezi Park protests. In 2016 Aykol also published a book with interviews and material that didn’t make it into the film.

The 2002 Silk Road festival

Hua gig

I mentioned the 2002 Smithsonian Silk Road Festival in Washington DC in my post on, um, Jerusalem, national anthems, and football, but now that I come to revisit my photos and notes, I’m struck by what an extraordinary event it was—and how much of it I missed!

The Silk Road has long been an alluring marketing slogan, but it made a spectacular pretext to gather musicians and craftspeople from all along the route—a remarkable feat of organisation, particularly only a few months after 9/11.

In tents set up on the National Mall (Xi’an Tower, Kashgar Teahouse, Nara Gate, Samarkand Square, Istanbul Crossroads, Venice Piazza…), a wealth of groups performed daily over ten hot summer days. To name but a few: Turkmen, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek, Mongolian, Afghan; [1] Bukharan Jewish traditions from the USA; Peking opera, narrative-singing from Beijing and Suzhou; Indian folk, notably Kathputli string puppets and Manganiyar musicians from Rajasthan; Persian classical, Khakasian, Armenian, Azeri, Turkish, Uyghur muqam… And for sacred cultures, besides Tibetan monks from Drepung monastery in exile (cf. The Cup), Bauls from Bengal, and Syrian Christians, a group of Alevis from Turkey performed their sema ritual. Also featured were martial arts and wrestling from Mongolia, India, and Iran, as well as a range of craft and food traditions.

Walking Shrill CD

Here’s the thing: I hardly managed to catch any of these performances!!! My role was to look after the Hua family shawm band (2004 CD Walking shrill, my 2007 book, and Dissolving boundaries)—the shawm (suona/zurna) having reached China via the Silk Road, you dig. Having visited them at home in Yanggao county, north Shanxi, in 1991 and 1992, I had returned there in 2001 with a view to inviting them for the festival, and I then focused on Yanggao shawm bands for some time—only managing to devote my attention fully to the Li family Daoists from 2011. Anyway, I had to be constantly at the service of the band as minder and roadie, both on the Mall and at our hotel—handling their Byzantine (sic) family dynamics, keeping them happy, varying and refining the repertoire for two gigs of 30’ or 45’ each day, while augmenting my notes on their part in the ceremonial life of Yanggao. The Hua band were accompanied by the genial Li Hengrui from the county Bureau of Culture, who occasionally made himself useful—though I didn’t have the foresight to veto the yellow silk pyjamas that the bureau had designed for them.

Bureau Chief Li teased me for bringing them all this way just to play for “another bloody temple fair”, but the band found it a rather familiar setting. They also played on parade, with Yoyo Ma (figurehead of the festival) making a valiant effort to count to 4 on the gong—the band worked out that he was a Big Cheese, but couldn’t imagine that he would ever make it as a musician.

All the participants stayed at the same hotel, where our meals were provided; during the day on the Mall we rested in the performers’ area, where we were fed.

with Shuni

With able organiser Shuni, herself a gifted musician.

Impressive as the daytime gigs were, most delightful were the nightly parties back at the hotel, with everyone dancing to the Indian singers, Turks on zurna, Armenians on duduk, and so on. I did a routine with Indian juggler Kishan while Hua Yun did his amazing tricks on wind instruments.

On their first trip outside Shanxi, the Hua brothers were remarkably sociable. They particularly enjoyed hanging out with the Rajasthani musicians—significantly, both came from peasant backgrounds, whereas some of the other groups had rather more conservatoire training. Perhaps some of the musicians who shared an overarching tradition, like the various maqam groups or Central Asian bards, were able to forge more meaningful relationships. Any political tensions were swept under the (brightly decorated) carpet. I’m wary of the modern cliché “International Cultural Exchange” (click here, and here), even if the Silk Road embodies the idea—but the main point was simply for audiences to be able to hear all this wonderful unfamiliar music, as a gateway to further explorations. 

Hua with Rajas

The Hua brothers also met up with Zhang Fengxue, a paper maker from a village in Chang’an county south of Xi’an—their dialects made it hard for them to communicate, so sometimes I had to try and interpret (Yeah Right). Zhang recalled going on rain processions with the village “water association” (shuihui) to Taibaishan in 1952, 1976, 1979, and 1992.

Left, Kathputli puppets; right, Hua Yun with Drepung monk.

In the hotel’s outdoor pool, the Tibetan monks practised underwater meditation, their swimwear matching the colours of their robes. They offered me a Mañjuśrī mantra that they suggested could cure stammering:

OM A RA PA CA NA DHI

Left, blues; right, with Roksonaki.

I took the younger members of the Hua band out to hear blues at Bar Lautrec; everyone met up in the hotel bar early in the morning to cheer on Brazil for the World Cup final. At the 4th July party we admired the fireworks; a nice Turkish volunteer shaved my head, long before I became a regular with my Kurdish barber in Chiswick (cf. At the barbers). The Hua band did an impromptu gig with the Kazakh folk-rock band Roksonaki. Finally we admired a Silk Road fashion show, and Yoyo played a moving Bach solo alap in gratitude to the legion of helpers.

fashion 2

It was the most exhilarating time. There I was, rubbing shoulders daily with a wealth of musicians with whom I would now love to hang out; but there was nothing to be done—I gladly devoted myself to the Hua band.


[1] For an introduction to such traditions, with AV samples, note The music of Central Asia website,

Sufism: Naqshbandi ritual in Istanbul and beyond

So far, my dabblings in the ritual traditions of Istanbul have consisted mainly of exploring the cem ceremony of the Alevis—itself a substantial topic, both in the city (here, with sequel) and around Anatolia. In its values, gender inclusiveness, and ritual style, Alevism is closely related to Bektashi beliefs, but is quite distinct from other Sufi orders (tariqa) active in Turkey.

An online article by Ömer Tuğrul İnançer makes a useful introduction to the ritual activities in Istanbul of orders such as Mevlevi, Halveti-Jerrahi, Qadiri, Sa’diyya, and Rifaî (see e.g. this extensive list of tekke lodges by order, and historically, by district).

Naqshbandi traditions
Like other tariqat, the Naqshbandi order has a wide presence around west, central, and south Asia. [1] It is influential in Turkey, where it is largely urban, supported by literati, bureaucrats, and merchants.There its pronouncements evince a less than liberal strain, vocally opposing perceived social decadence; opposing Westernising reforms, its leaders are critical of “heterodoxy”.

Hakan Yavuz, in his chapter “The matrix of modern Turkish Islamic movements: the Naqshbandi Sufi order”, observes that “the Sufi orders have turned out to be the major institutions for the aggregation of economic and political interests”. Focusing on Istanbul, he considers the Naqshbandis under the rubrics of inner cultivation and religious salvation, a tool for upward mobility, a network for social and political services, and a model for a community—headings that one might well apply to other orders too.

Naqshbandi Yaddasht
Concentration on God (Yaddasht). Source.

As to the Ottoman background, Sultan Mahmud II (1808–37), suspicious of charismatic popular leaders and competing loyalties within the state, banned the Naqshbandiyya-Khalidiyya order in Istanbul, as well as the Bektashis. But under later Sultans the Naqshbandis expanded their influence, often taking over Bektashi lodges, becoming “one of the most important forces between ruled and ruler”.

In the early years of the Republic, despite their support for Atatürk’s War of Liberation, the Naqshbandi and other Sufi lodges were banned. Still, their

ability to adjust to new situations and to develop new arguments neutralises the hostile propaganda of opponents who seek to identify the movement as fundamentalist or an “enemy” of modernity. For example, the Naqshbandis fully supported the Turkish War of Independence but protested against the radical and authoritarian secular transformation of the system by Mustafa Kemal.

Most of the eighteen rebellions against state policies between 1924 and 1938 were led by the Naqshbandiyya. But they were better able to survive persecution than some other orders.

In response to repression, most of these orders gradually transformed from strictly religious associations into competing educational and cultural informal associations with religious underpinnings. They gathered support from sections of traditional society, which regarded the Kemalist variant of secularisation as too radical and destructive for Turkey’s social fabric.

Indeed, “the post-Republican elite, which shaped the opinion and identity of the leading Muslim movements, evolved among local Naqshbandi groups in Istanbul and Anatolia”, and “the Turkish Muslim understanding of Islam is very much filtered through Naqshbandi concepts and institutions”. In modern Turkey, Naqshbandi is the most politically active of the Sufi orders; like others, they are closely involved in education, healthcare, commerce, and media promotion. Of the four main branches in Istanbul, most wealthy and influential is the lskenderpaşa, based at their Mosque in Fatih. But Hakan Yavuz argues that the remarkable adaptive powers and pragmatism of the Naqshbandi

may lead to decline, not so much because of state suppression or rivalry from other orders, but because of its smooth adaptation to capitalism and its integral involvement in Turkish politics, both of which may undermine the spiritual and cultural aspects of the order.

As he suggests, along with a reduction in the mystical and heterodox features of Islam and Sufism, Islam has been delocalised and a new, abstract, highly centralised and economically conscious faith created to cater for the modern urban population.

Dhikr
On the Asian side of Istanbul, we visited the village of Beylerbeyi, just along the Bosphorus from Üsküdar and Kuzguncuk, to attend the Thursday evening dhikr (zikr) ritual at a Naqshbandi dergah (see here, and wiki), where Sheikh Mesud Efendi (d.1908) was influential. Set in a picturesque old quarter up the hill, the wooden building is just as fine.

Naqsh exterior 1

The practice of collective dhikr (zikr) is intense. Among the Naqshbandiyya it is traditionally classified as either khafi “silent” or jahri “loud”; they seem to find both acceptable—see e.g. Isenbike Togan’s chapter on the historical controversy between them in Central Asia, n.1 below.

Glimpses from the women’s gallery.

Directing prostrations in a packed hall, the sheikh chanted a series of invocations, with occasional simple group responses. As the lights were switched off, the worshippers turned to sit in a circle facing the sheikh, the repetitive group invocations becoming more intense. In a segregated area on the upper floor a substantial group of women was also deeply devout, as my companions reported.

* * *

With such a very basic grounding in live ritual, I turned to YouTube for the wider picture, where several videos suggest the deeply immersive somatic experience of Naqshbandi dhikr. In her Introduction (n.1 below), Elisabeth Özdalga observes:

Many Sufi orders practice the dhikr collectively, with intensive and emotion-laden expressions, where the partakers move their bodies rhythmically as they loudly pronounce the names of Allah. The Naqshbandis are traditionally known for greater self-restraint. […] [They] have generally been regarded as more sober and orderly in their religious practices than other Sufis.

I can’t assess this as a general characterisation, but from the clips below it seems to need modifying. This substantial excerpt from a haḍra ritual in Bosnia is well annotated, featuring both Arabic qasidahs and Turkish ilahis:

Still more imbued with emotive expression are the rituals of Uyghur Naqshbandis, in a region of Central Asia that was invaded by the Chinese Communists in 1949. In retrospect, the Chinese state’s approach towards Islam in the decades before the clampdown under Xi Jinping may now appear relatively benign (see here). This zikr was recorded by Jean During in southwest Xinjiang in 1988, during a period when Uyghur traditions were enjoying an impressive revival after the end of the Cultural Revolution:

And the remarkable excerpts below show Uyghur Naqshbandis performing zikr in south Xinjiang on the eve of the Chinese campaign to obliterate Uyghur culture:

As to the Western diaspora, Naqshbandi groups meet in Europe and north America (cf. Alevi ritual), such as the Osmanli Dergahi in New York, transmitting the teachings of Shaykh Nazim Al-Haqqani (1922–2014), who moved from Istanbul to Syria, while also based in his native Cyprus (cf. wiki)—this 2017 video is among many on their YouTube site:

* * *

I’m acutely aware that outsiders like me cannot even begin to comprehend Sufi ritual. But my visit to the Naqshbandi lodge in Beylerbeyi reminded me again that (as in much Daoist and Buddhist temple ritual) the heart of ritual performance lies in The Divine Word, embodied through the pure a cappella vocal liturgy of the mosques and Sufi orders. In this case, the observance is unmediated even by percussion. 


[1] See e.g. Elisabeth Özdalga (ed.), Naqshbandis in western and central Asia: change and continuity (1999), including Isenbike Togan’s chapter on central Asia (on which see also here). Note also the chapter on Afghanistan by Bo Utas.
For Xinjiang, note Rachel Harris, Soundscapes of music in Uyghur Islam, and (for the Istanbul connection) her recent lecture, from 42.00 (see here). I look forward to reading Ha Guangtian, The sound of salvation: voice, gender, and the Sufi mediascape in China (2022). For Uyghur Sufi bards on pilgrimage in Xinjiang, see also Ashiq: the last troubadour.

Vassalage

Goulet
The Treaty of Le Goulet. Source.

As an arcane warmup for the France–England match tomorrow: one of my favourite expressions, outstanding in its entitled pomposity, is this description of Teresa May’s Brexit plan from the patronising patrician lips of The Haunted Pencil:

the greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Phillip II at Le Goulet in 1200.

JRM

The Tree-Frog should know—he was there. Yup, he sure knows how to Get Down with the Kids. So that’s what they teach them at Eton, when they’re not busy hurling racist and sexist abuse at girls visiting from a state school. I wouldn’t know, I only did Woodwork at Skibbereen Comprehensive. *

I’d love to slip the bon mot (oops) into a chat over a pint at the Aardvark and Climbing Boot, but so far even “vassalage” has proved beyond me. Still, it might work as a new model of car (“Tesla Vassalage SR”), or in a catchy pop lyric—an early draft by Ken Dodd, perhaps, interpreted in the suave tones of Wee-Smug himself:

Vassalage

With this government one doesn’t need such a long memory as Tree-Frog, whoever the Prime Minister is this week, presiding over “the greatest fiasco since the day before yesterday”. May we be released forthwith from this Tory vassalage!


* My attachment to Skibbereen goes back to a rainy evening fuelled by inordinate quantities of Guinness on a Mozart opera tour, also memorable for a brilliant story at an Armagh pub session. I briefly flirted with the idea of applying for the Skibbereen Philharmonic, undeterred by the fact that there isn’t one.

Tibet: The Cup

Cup 1
New refugees prostrate before the abbot.

Having watched The Cup (Phörpa) (Khyentse Norbu, 1999) when it first came out, I’ve enjoyed it just as much on a recent viewing. “Inspired by true events”, it’s a most endearing film, against the spectre of Chinese repression of Buddhism within occupied Tibet (wiki; reviewed e.g. here). This glossy trailer largely fails to convey its charm!

Director Khyentse Norbu is none other than the lama Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, who worked as consultant to Bertolucci for Little Buddha. Set in a Tibetan monastery in Indian exile during the 1998 World Cup, the film was shot in Himachal Pradesh, with amateur actors (including the abbot and monks) playing themselves, resulting in what Roger Ebert calls a “cheerful truce between the sacred and the mundane”.

Cup 2Orgyen displays his “shrine”.

The plot is driven by the football-obsessed young monk Orgyen (Jamyang Lodro), and his encounters with the abbot, (longing to return to the homeland), his assistant (more tolerant than he seems), and the oracle (belittled by the younger monks).

Charged with looking after two new arrivals have just escaped from Tibet, when Orgyen leads them in sneaking out of the monastery to watch a match after dark in the nearby village, one of the new refugees struggles to climb through the fence, prompting him to come out with one of my favourite lines:

How did you manage to escape the Chinese?

Another review observes the irony of the abbot’s bemusement at “countries fighting over a ball” while the Tibetans are deprived of their own homeland. Also subtly portrayed are Orgyen’s patronising attitude towards the new arrivals from China, the monks’ lament “When will this country ever develop?”, and their distance from the local Indian community.

Cup 3
Mischief during monastic ritual.

The aspect of ritual as chore—dozing off, fooling around—makes a refreshing change from the much-touted Wisdom of the Mystic East shtick. But beyond mere drôlerie, a message of benevolent wisdom shines through, and after the dénouement of the final between France and Brazil (glimpses of a youthful Zidane!), the final homilies are as gentle as the rest of the film.

Cf. Echoes of Dharamsala and other posts under my Tibet roundup.

Ostinato: jazz in Istanbul

Nardis
Photo: Augusta—who took to the 15/8 pattern like a duck to water…

Soon after the London Jazz Festival celebrated the 20th anniversary of Nardis, I found myself (only partly in the hippy sense) in Istanbul again, so on one of my rare raids on Europe from the Asian side of the Bosphorus I was able to spend an inspiring evening in the jazz club itself, just below the Galata tower—a change from Alevi ritual and köçek dance (see under West/Central Asia).

This documentary about Nardis (so far without English captions) opens with the amazing Bill Evans (see under Ravel, and here) introducing the 1958 piece by Miles Davis that gave the club its name (cf. Evans’ 1970 live performance in trio):

Nardis 2The night we visited, the club—founded by Zuhal Focan (left) with her husband Önder—was hosting the Swiss drummer Cyril Regamey, with François Lindeman (piano) and Andreas Metzler (bass), who came together with local jazzmen Bora Çeliker (guitar) and Can Ömer Uygan (trumpet) to pay homage to the amazing creativity of Herbie Hancock‘s band around 1969–70. Bora Çeliker (YouTube channel) plainly delighted in the material, his funk pedal to the fore; while Can Ömer Uygan (YouTube channel) was discreet, adding some subtle touches.

Note Batu Aykol’s fine film on the history of jazz in Turkey; see also Jazz in Kuzguncuk!.

* * *

Here (not for the first time) I feel like a football commentator reviewing Swan lake—but right from the extended opening number Ostinato (Suite for Angela) I was turned on (belatedly) to Herbie Hancock. A tribute to Angela Davis, it’s one of the gems of his Mwandishi period, on the eve of his immersion in Buddhism (cf. the Sufi influences on Yusuf Lateef, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders):

The complete album is here; we can add to our appreciation with the aid of Bob Gluck’s detailed commentary in Chapter 6 of You’ll know when you get there: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi band (2012).

The syncopated ostinato is a thing of beauty in itself. Notation is a cumbersome tool, but it can give us a handle (and most jazzers themselves refer to it at some stage). The recurring bassline has a bar of 4/4 followed by a bar of 7/8 (cf. the additive metres of Taco taco taco burrito)—I’ve transposed it down a semitone, making it easier to envisage in solfeggio:

Ostinato full

So both bars ascend in conjunct pentatonic motion with somewhat different scales before falling to cadences on la and so respectively. * As Hancock reflected,

I wanted to write a tune with an underlying rock beat, but using it in a more open way than usual. I finally achieved it by making the number of beats uneven—it’s in 15/8, one bar of 4/4 and one of 7/8. I started with a repeated syncopated bass line in 4/4, a regular thing. The way I chose the notes in the riff was that I figured most of the rock bass lines telegraph their chord so distinctly that there’s no escaping it. I wrote something that could imply many chords … some fourths even, like Trane and McCoy… a kind of pentatonic scale, but starting on a different degree of that scale.

But then I thought “Why should I keep that all the way through?” so I changed it slightly and shortened every second phrase by half a beat. Now if, instead of two 4/4 bars, I had a 4/4 and a 7/8, it meant I had to change the notes to make them sound natural. Having done that, I had to decide what to put on top, and what it is, is different degrees of tension and release. Music and life flow because of those qualities, as do all the senses. It’s contrast: to know what cold water is, you have to know what hot water is. Music’s like that; it has to flow, and if there’s no tension and release it will be totally bland, with no vitality. […] Having 15 beats in a bar automatically sets up a little tension, because just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it eludes you. At the end of each bar we all hit a phrase together, and that’s a release. That’s also true of harmony. Very little of the music is consonant, but the dissonance varies so greatly that it’s a matter of some of it being less dissonant and thus becoming consonant by comparison.

Amidst a dense electronic and percussive collage, the vamp is introduced by the opening bass clarinet, with Buster Williams taking it over on bass beneath the swirling mists of Eddie Henderson’s trumpet and Herbie’s own keyboard textures.

Ostinato 2

Roll over Beethoven, eh. Seriously though folks, we need to treat all kinds of musical creativity seriously! Great—exploring Herbie’s ouevre will make another embryonic project for my education in jazz, following on from Miles, Trane, and Pharaoh Sanders


* If for some implausible reason we were to interpret the two bars as traditional Chinese melody, where pitch substitution is a common means of temporary modulation through a cycle of fifths (see Table under Dissolving boundaries, §3, “Scales”): as the second bar ascends, la is substituted for a flat 7th, preparing us for the introduction of fa in the cadential pattern—effectively a double transposition of the pentatonic scale from C to B♭! (Keep up at the back there…)

Binmenism

Nostalgia 1

A recent Long Read by Dan Hancox in the Guardian gets to the heart of our distinctive British malaise of nostalgia, trumpeted on the Memory Lane UK Facebook page. At the heart of this phenomenon are the “proper binmen” of yesteryear (cf. Lonnie Donegan):

To their admirers, proper binmen embody a lost postwar idyll—and the decline in national character can be seen in the appalling state of their modern-day counterparts, who are rotten in spirit, in character and in service. […]

Back then, in an unspecified period between 1950 and 1980, the binmen were stronger, more hardworking and more polite. Not just that—back then, the binmen were happy. Everyone remembers them the same way: always cheerful, always smiling, frequently whistling. They always had a kind word for you, never complained, and always closed the gate. They took pride in their job, which was hard work, but honest work. These judgments are delivered with absolute certainty. Back then, “They were always a really friendly crowd who you could have a good laugh with,” writes one commenter. “Not like the bin men of today, you are very lucky if they respond to a ‘good morning’.”

The historic shift in bin collection is taken to mark a wider crisis in masculinity. “That is when men were men, not the wimps we have today,” writes one Facebook commenter. “All be off work with PTSD nowadays,” chimes in another. Proper binmen “didn’t care about Health & Safety Shite”, writes another. The plastic wheelie bins we have today—with their emasculating pastels, often colour-coded for recycling, and their humiliating, labour-saving wheels—are just further markers of our moral, social and spiritual decline.

The supporting cast to proper binmen includes proper football man and proper Labour man. The key is noble suffering.

Stern voices have clamoured to remind us that being dangerously cold, being desperately poor and enduring powercuts, broken supply chains, food shortages and cold baths has happened to Britons before, and it would probably do us good, if anything, if it happened again.

Nostalgia 2

Among numerous other fetishes are

One pound notes. Queueing to use a phone box. Playing in the street and yelling “car!”. French cricket. Jam sandwiches. Scabby knees. Skipping. Coal fires. The slipper. The cane. The ruler. Getting a thick ear. Cumbersome lawnmowers. Ink wells. Duffle coats. Tin baths. Marbles. Jack Charlton. Forgetting your PE kit. Bus conductors. Bob-a-job week. Wooden ice-cream spoons. Snakes and Ladders. Ponchos. Beans on toast. Men opening doors for women. Slow dancing to Nat King Cole. Worzel Gummidge. Sweets by the ounce. Icicles hanging from the window frame (“Before central heating!”). Miss World (“All natural. Not a bit of botox in sight”). The power cuts of 1972–4 (“we coped, we were strong”). Scrubbing and polishing your front steps (“That’s when people had pride in where they lived”). Outdoor toilets. Cigarette machines. Flares. Playing in bombsites. Jumping in puddles.

The list could run and run—one might add cheery bus conductors, or the “innocent” sexism of Carry on films and “saucy” seaside postcards, for instance.

As Hancox notes, the rich and powerful profit from the philosophy of “We had it tough. We kept calm and carried on. We didn’t complain. We muddled through. We made do. We mended. It never did us any harm. It made us who we are”.

Underpinning this celebration of suffering is the masochistic idea that it is your individual responsibility—indeed an important test of your character—to withstand ruinous social and economic crises not of your making. […]

Elizabeth II herself was, we can reasonably assume from the tributes which followed her death, a proper Queen. Under the headline “The Queen’s 1950s frugality is key to our future”, one Times columnist praised her for being “naturally parsimonious”, personifying not obscene wealth and the plundered spoils of Empire, but the halcyon moment of High Binmenism, at some point in the 1950s, before the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP. “In this age of Amazon Prime and Kim Kardashian-style super-rich spending, her frugality may seem quaint,” Alice Thomson wrote, “but it feels timely. As the cost of living crisis hits, everyone is looking for ways to cut back, taking a Thermos of coffee to work, eating leftovers for lunch and sewing on lost buttons.” That even a literal Queen has to be explained in this way suggests how deep Binmenism goes.

This indeed compounds our mystifying subservience to the monarchy.

Alongside their mission to excavate the rubble of the past, the Facebook nostalgia communities often pour scorn on the objects and rituals of today’s zeitgeist, in particular the damage done by technology. Computer games, smartphones, social media and TV are seen to create a disenchanted childhood, lacking in imagination, adventure and risk.

Still,

The vitality of the nostalgia industrial complex is a reminder of just how appealing it is to have your private reminiscences, buried memories, and hazy childhood images validated by others—whatever your age. It is a source of comfort to know you are not mistaken, that your version of your life’s story is shared. […]

Our gaze seems to inevitably turn backwards. The politics of the past few years abound with a desire for a return to an imagined, halcyon former version of Britain. This is true of both sides of the Brexit referendum; for remainers, there is often wistful talk of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony or the New Labour period, while Brexiteers look back further into history.

Brexit, like the Memory Lane UK posts, partly speaks to an existential sadness about the passage of time and the desire for revenge on what we imagine it has done to us. You can only take back control if you have become convinced you once had it, and have had it torn from your grasp. […]

Stewart Lee delights in sending up the bendy bananas and Primeval Nothingness to which the Brexiteers long to return. Hancox goes on to cite William Davies on the way people who feel disenfranchised often find solace in nationalism:

The nationalist leader holds out the promise of restoring things to how they were, including all the forms of brutality—such as capital punishment, back-breaking physical work, patriarchal domination—that social progress had consigned to history. For reasons Freud would have understood, this isn’t as simple as wanting life to be more pleasurable, but a deep desire to restore a political order that made sense, in spite of its harshness. It is a rejection of progress in all its forms.

All this can shade into racist memes like attacking the toppling of statues, criticising BLM, and advocating for “proper” history to be taught “again”. At least the current “government” is doing its utmost to restore rationing and poverty—and the return of child chimney-sweeps would doubtless be popular in certain quarters (cf. The Haunted Pencil’s paean to “uplifting” food banks). Our relationship with the NHS, and the migrants who continue to make it work, is another much-discussed aspect of post-war British identity (succinctly, see e.g. this 2008 article).

Hancox cites an LSE report into class identity, which interviewed “successful TV producers, actors, and architects who all brushed aside their own private schooling, housing security, and material privilege to foreground a single grandparent who was a coal miner”.

But he also notes a more tolerant strain of humanist libertarianism, concluding:

It is not good enough to merely dismiss the Facebook nostalgics’ sepia-tinted version of history out of hand, if you care about Britain today. The proper binmen are living inside many of us, pulling our strings and guiding us not just down memory lane, but into the future.

Felicitous conjunctions

Unlike Keith Richards, the figures for my blog are not broken down by age and sex. But WordPress’s Stats do list posts by number of views for day, month, and year—giving rise to some felicitous conjunctions that are Grist to my Mill, recalling Unlikely bedfellows.

Recently I glanced at the daily list to find A tribute to Laurence Picken neck-and-neck with Cunk on Earth, and Taranta, poverty, and orientalism vying with French organ improvisation. In the November stats, Tchaik 6 finds itself sandwiched between Everyday life in a Syrian village and Aboriginal music. In the upper half of the league table for “All Time” views (sic: perhaps since the dawn of human civilisation, rather than the beginnings of life on earth),  Robert van Gulik occupies a respectable position that raises hopes of a Europa League place, but he’s pipped to the post by the Pearl and Dean jingle

Actually, such connections, like apparently random passengers stuck on the Orient Express in the snow, or indeed on the Northern Line, are kinda part of my Masterplan—I do indeed relish making bold leaps in my sequence of posts.

Cf. Global audiences, where viewings by country resemble an Olympic medals table. Hours of Harmless Fun for All the Family…

Bhairav to Bhairavi at Bhavan!

Bhavan

Hot on the percussive heels of Israel Galván’s flamenco reinvention of The Rite of Spring, I paid another visit to the splendid Bhavan Centre in west London, where resident vocal guru Chandrima Misra led her students in the first of two evenings displaying their progress learning a variety of north Indian ragas—the latest in a series of courses over many years.

Bhavan ragaChandrima Misra directing students, Founders’ Day, March 2022.

Between the opening and closing numbers (with nearly a hundred students seated on stage) we heard a variety of solos and for two, three or more singers—mostly women—in the popular khyal style, discreetly supported by Chandrima Misra on harmonium, with Rajkumar Misra on tabla, whose own students also took turns. Students paid eloquent tributes to the diligence and inspiration of their unassuming guru.

Framed by rāgs Bhairav and Bhairavi (introduced here as part of my extensive series on north Indian raga), the programme illustrated a variety of ragas roughly in their proper sequence prescribed over the course of the day, such as Bhimpalasi, Multani, Puriya, and Bihag. Many used chromatic scales with augmented intervals—none more complex than Lalit (introduced here).

As I observed on a previous trip to the Bhavan, it’s always intriguing to hear how young students learn the building blocks of a raga, memorising increasingly lengthy bandish compositions before going on to develop their own voice. The event had a celebratory family charm that rather conjured up an image of the Tring Amateur Dramatic Society; and it suggested the core of the mehfil aficionados who attend concerts of the great visiting artists—a strong amateur basis for the appreciation of raga in the UK.

* * *

In this concert footage, Chandrima Misra sings rāg Multani (flat 3rd ga, sharp 4th Ma, with re and dha—both flat—only sounded in descent), again with Rajkumar Misra on tabla, and Prabhat Rao on harmonium:

She herself trained with Munawar Ali Khan (1930–89), master of the Patiala Gharana tradition; here he sings rāg Yaman, always entrancing:

Munawar Ali Khan was the son of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1902–68)—who, as wiki notes, while agreeing that the beauty of classical music lies in leisurely improvisation, favoured shorter expositions of lighter ragas, reluctant to impose long alaps on his audience. In this brief excerpt he sings Bhairavi in thumri style:

And here he is heard in a selection of clips:

Chandrima Misra’s other main teacher was Vidushi Sanjukta Ghosh—in this radio concert from c1983/84 she sings rāg Lalit:

For more London concerts of raga, see Raga at the Proms and Indian singing at the BM. And do explore the wealth of music under A garland of ragas—notably the intense alap of dhrupad singing and the sitar playing of Nikhil Banerjee!

A flamenco Rite

Galvan

I’ve long been hooked on the gritty art of flamenco (series rounded up here), and The Rite of Spring is utterly compelling in both orchestral and ballet versions, always a rich source of inspiration for new interpretations. It makes perfect sense for them to come together, and the other day I was delighted to attend a solo dance performance of La Consagración de la primavera by the ever-innovative Israel Galván at Sadlers Wells.

It’s hard to unhear the sonorities of the orchestral score, but the pared-down arrangement for two pianos (played by Daria van den Bercken and Gerard Bouwhuis) worked well, and Galván was mesmerising, embodying Stravinsky’s vision with his chthonic percussive energy.

Here are excerpts from a performance last year:

The dance complemented the agonised ethos of flamenco—modifying its ”self-pity, posturing machismo” (Timothy Mitchell) and the “culture of victimage” (William Washabaugh) (see Flamenco, 2). Blurbs for Israel Galván typically remark on how he “challenges gender norms”. While stressing the angular syncopations of Stravinsky, he added his own rhythmic counterpoints. His whole body became a sound-box, with relentless stomps and shimmies (his legs sometimes concealed beneath a huge billowing skirt) and expressive arms. Much as he deserved a nice sit-down, you might not think that the hectic Danse sacrale that concludes the piece would be quite the moment, but he spent most of it on a chair—legs, feet, and arms frantically busy as ever.

The Rite of Spring usually makes a climactic finale, but here it was the centrepiece of a continuous event, amidst two contrasting musical works, Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues and a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti—also making suitable vehicles for Galván’s style. The programme brought out the highly percussive nature of the piano, even if I couldn’t help imagining a version on bandoneón and xylophone.

“Making a mistake” in Foreign

Blue kite stillFrom Blue kite (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993).

With “mistakes” (closely followed by denials—notably Brexit) having become routine under this evil Tory regime, I’m reminded that I’ve always been fond of the Italian sbaglio (verb sbagliare), with the appealingly economical negative prefix s- creating an expressive diphthong. Admittedly in this case a positive version baglio/bagliare is elusive, but it reminds me of other words equivalent to English dis-, such as

  • svantaggio disadvantage
  • sfiducia mistrust
  • scontento discontent
  • sfigato loser
  • scaricare unburden
  • sfiorire wither
  • staccato detached
  • sforzando “with excessive force”—Beethoven’s speciality.

Like I’d know… A suitable aperitivo here is the negroni sbagliato (cf. the Lumumba and cubalibre).

Returning to “mistakes”: in British politics, “misjudgements” that have appalling social and economic consequences can now be casually brushed aside with a patrician air of disdain. In China,  however (as throughout the socialist bloc), “making a mistake” (fan cuowu 犯错误), a catch-all for political, sexual, and indeed clerical misdemeanours, is now used humorously—despite (or because of) its Maoist heritage, with the disastrous personal and familial consequences that could ensue from innocent infringements against the fluctuating political orthodoxy of the day, or entirely innocuous casual remarks—cf. Goulash deviationism, China: commemorating trauma, and movies such as Blue kite and Living. In documents from the Maoist era the term is a sparse hint of such faux pas, as under The Houshan Daoists, requiring us to read between the lines (see my review of the Anthology of the folk music of the Chinese peoples).

Patricia Lockwood excels again

The LRB has enriched my life, but nothing in its pages is so invigorating as Patricia Lockwood’s articles (click here for her own literary ouevre and a selection of her reviews; see also here).

Much as I learn from the LRB, some of its reviewers tend to submerge the book supposedly being considered beneath their own superior expertise, reading like “it should have been ME who wrote about this topic”. Ms Lockwood’s style is highly personal, but she manages to keep the poetry of her own fantastical world in the service of deep insights into the milieu of her subject, while drawing us into the whole craft of fiction writing. In a recent review of two story collections by George Saunders her comments illuminate, rather than obscure, the author’s message.

She reflects on the sense of failure conveyed by Saunders’ characters:

It must be, in order that he can overcome. At some point, the source of poignancy stopped being the characters, and started being the desire of the stories to rise above themselves. They wanted a little more than they had, than they could ever have. They could feel their strength, if they were just given a chance, they could be more than Daryls, Dereks, Kyles…

Commenting on his religious background, she stops herself:

Trying to trap me into writing a big Catholic thing, eh? Well, I won’t, except to say that we probably have a few of the same voices in our heads.

Saunders 3

Reading Lincoln in the Bardo, she observes:

Short fiction is a cruel form. It is life in miniature: not enough time. Some of its best practitioners have been cruel, or doctors in an age when we took legs off with hacksaws. It is hard to keep giving readers that edge they can brace against, catch their breath, say OK, all right, you know it and I know it. It is hard, after experiencing their love, to stop yourself from showing up to rescue your readers too soon.

On Saunders’ experience as a teacher:

If you’re a normal person, the first time you set foot in a classroom you will hear a voice that says: “It is wrong to take their money”. Other claims rise up to drown out this voice—what holier thing than the study of literature; talent cannot be taught, but the fundamentals can; they are paying for a circle of protected time—and all of them are true, but the voice is loud, louder than literature, and grows louder when you see a student so full of desire for her own life that she can barely breathe, and you taking money for it. What will she do? Is there a world for her? Are you part of the cheat, have you been promoted to middle management?

As to his insights on Russian fiction:

Why is Saunders so much more interesting about Turgenev’s “The singers” than about Gogol’s “The nose”, when Gogol would seem his more natural forebear? Most memorably, A swim in a pond in the rain has a great section on Tolstoy’s “Master and man”, the story he is always writing in one form or another: one man dies to save the other, in falling snow.

Finally,

There is something insoluble here. He is telling us that you cannot trust the Pulse—this is the fact that must be continually learned. Your feeling (you are, after all, doing this to feel the feeling) has nothing to do with whether it is good, just as your desire to be good cannot be worked out in fiction. But in those moments it does come to you what a guy is for, and you are covered in glory; it comes to you what it is to be a cloud of consciousness, with lives moving through you and that weird holy look on your face. The body lies far below you, in parts, the Worm Interlude—real site of your genius—passes into another phase, one you seem to remember from before you were born. “Where were you, before you came here?”

Heaven, Jeremy offers.

I want her to teach me everything. In exchange I can offer to share my experience of Daoist ritual in north Shanxi—but I’m not waiting for the phone to ring (that heavy black Bakelite contraption on the table in the hall).

Turkish jazz in London

Anatolian fusion

In the London Jazz Festival, to follow the radiant gig by Andrea Motis I sallied forth to swinging Exmouth Market to sample a mini-festival of Turkish jazz curated by Turquazz in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nardis jazz club in Istanbul. A “pop-up venue” * in the same pleasant hall that last year hosted Veronica Doubleday’s entrancing concert to launch the new edition of Three women of Herat, among a series of gigs (reviewed here) was Female voices of Turkey, as well as an intriguing talk on Thomas the “Black Russian” and Maksim tavern.

Ozan band

I relished the Anatolian fusion ensemble, led by Ozan Baysal on bağlama plucked lute. Rather as the only word that makes any sense in the “Hengshan Daoist Music Troupe” is “Daoist”, I wasn’t hung up on the Anatolian connection or the fusion, but the ensemble was exhilarating.

My ears having become attuned to the bağlama by its use to accompany the nefes hymns of Alevi ritual (click here, and here), I admired the creativity of Ozan Baysal (YouTube; and e.g. this intro), playing with Tolga Zafer Özdemir on keys and synth, Bora Bekiroğlu on electric bass, and Burak Ersöz on drums, all currently based in London.

While Ozan remains steeped in the traditional style, * the double-necked bağlama opens up new possibilities for him in a rock-based vibe, as he explores the şelpe style with a variety of left- and right-hand techniques. Being keen on free-tempo preludes, I appreciated his fine taksim intros, unfolding into long numbers in exhilarating dialogue with Tolga Zafer’s funky keys and synth. The band clearly loves playing together, and I’m All Agog (a complete gog, or perhaps ğöğ—cf. kösk) to hear more from them.

For a visit to the Nardis jazz club in Istanbul, click here!

* * *

* In more traditional mode, here’s Ozan Baysal at SOAS earlier this year with the different lineup of Anatolian Groove, including the Kurdish/Alevi singer Suna Alan, and Melisa Yıldırım on kamancha fiddle (website, YouTube):

For my belated education in Turkish culture, see under West/Central Asia: a roundup. And click here for a roundup of posts on jazz, including not just the Golden Age but also Ethiopia, Poland, and Japan.


* The tabloid Leitmotif “pop-up brothel” has recently segued seamlessly into “pop-up Prime Minister”

A short story

Note
I found this handwritten manuscript, apparently the author’s only fictional creation, while sorting through my old family papers. * Except by osmosis, I was never privy to the lasting personal trauma it evokes. For me, that itself adds another layer of sadness; I never overcame my teenage alienation from the older generation, unable and perhaps unwilling to identify with their own human conflicts—and indeed it was many years before I became aware that such introspection was even possible. But aside from all that, I greatly admire the literary merit of the story, which speaks to an experience that extends beyond the
Brief encounter generation.

 

She took the box of chocolates from him and glanced wearily at the contents—why bother to choose, she thought. I’m sure to get it wrong. Turkish delight… orange cream… perhaps ginger or brazil nut. What’s the betting I’ll end up with coffee or nougat—and anyway I don’t really know which one I want, or even if I want one at all. She pushed the box away, and her mind wandered back over the years, taking her from the comfortably furnished room, neat, warm, quiet, with its view onto a carefully tended suburban garden, to the shabby cottage where two little girls waited for their daddy to bring the Saturday treat he always collected for them when he went for his evening sports edition. The pools win had never come, but for her the memory of choosing which sweet to take from the penny packet he triumphantly produced was interwoven with the excited checking of football results.

When did I start to make the wrong choice, she wondered. The choice was my own, people didn’t influence me, did they? Did they? Was it not outside conditions, a sequence of events converging on me, forcing me into a narrowing passage where only one choice became possible, and finally became no choice at all? The war influenced so many people in so many ways, but for me the influence was gentle, tucked away as I was in the country, too young to have to leave home, my father in a reserved occupation, far from the bombs that caused such havoc. Oh no, I can’t blame the war. She thought of her dominant mother, who was outwardly kind, so absorbed in her little family, and whose whole life was lived for them, but who nevertheless expected complete obedience, unquestioning acceptance of her way of life. Was it her rule, her permanent ordering of every detail that had made it so difficult for her daughter to accept the responsibility for her own choice in even the smallest matters?

sisters 1935
Two sisters, 1935.

At school the range of subjects had been limited by shortage of staff and accommodation caused by the need to share with evacuated schools, so by the time she had realised where her interests were it was too late to change, and the professional training she would have liked had been suspended for the duration of hostilities. She had fallen back on her mother’s choice of career, accepted her ambition for her, but chosen for herself the college in London—in spite of the doodlebugs.

She thought suddenly of the relief of being able to go home to the country from college, and then, for no reason at all, of the young farmer’s son who had been her constant companion. They had been friends, real friends, with an easy give and take, a flow of laughter and understanding, and a joy in the beauty of the countryside around them. His parents’ farmhouse had been welcoming, with a cool, clean atmosphere after the strenuous activities of haymaking in summer, and a friendly glow in winter after attending to the animals. His mother was a homemaker by instinct, not in the self-conscious manner of the modern housewife, and her husband made everyone welcome without looking over his shoulder to see if he was creating the right impression. His family had farmed there for generations; this was where he belonged, and he had no need to consider such things as creating the right image. Theirs was a happy life, and yet when Dan had asked her if she would consider giving up the prospects of the job she was training for and marry him, she had not even thought of it as a choice. She wanted to live in a town with all the excitement of constant entertainment, clever, smart friends and all that the best in the world of culture and arts could offer. Foolish girl that she had been, she had thought then that the big cities held everything the world could give. Foolish, self-pitying old woman that I am now, she thought, at least I know that the heart finds its own happiness regardless of material matters.

I did live in a beautiful city when I set out on my career, and I was so lucky with my work and my colleagues. The creative side of the work satisfied me, and the promise of being useful to others as well as enjoying the necessary routine. Why did I give it up, why did I leave the house where I was living as one of the family, but free to go my own way, why did I abandon my hopes of making my own life as I had planned? My choice again, she thought, to leave so much for so little. I was not swept off my feet by the handsome hero of the story books, I had no illusions about him; I expected no treats or surprises. Oh yes, I was flattered by his attentions, the promise of his devotion, and I made my own decision.

“Another chocolate, dear?” “No thankyou”. He didn’t even notice that she hadn’t taken one before—perhaps he no longer cared any more than she did. Was he too, perhaps, thinking back over the choices in his all to predictable life? The limited finance of the early years when he had chosen to buy a house that would be in the “right” area for one in his position, the child he had never wanted although they had decided together that the time had come when they could afford to start a family. Now that had been a wrong choice. Before that, she had been young enough to make a new life of her own without him, without a child to consider, and still able to make use of her training and experience. Did he remember that as a turning point too, one which had kept him in his dull job, paying the bills, gardening, decorating, listening to her nagging, the child’s grizzling—and for what? She remembered the years of shared misery, the endless arguments, the countless times when she had chosen to stay on, but in reality she had not had the guts to stand up to the recriminations of both families, to his concern about what people would think, how it would affect his career.

Perhaps just once she had rejected the choice to return to living in the country. Had it really been a choice? During one of her husband’s business trips she had taken her son back to the countryside of her youth, and seen again through his eyes the beauty of her native county. A picnic on the farm where she had so often ridden home with the harvest was a must, and it seemed natural that Dan would still be there, natural that she should show the boy the ducks, take him to the milling shed, lift him onto the back of the old horse, now out to grass, who had pulled so many hay carts. They had slipped so easily into their old friendly ways, and he had taken her hand gently, sensing her unhappiness, and said, “I’m still here if you want me, my lovely”.

Her husband was dozing now, and she looked across at him, tired, grey, lined, but still with the determination that was his hallmark. They were alone now; their son had done well, with his degree which had led to a successful career. But they rarely saw him, and when he did visit he was always in a hurry. She looked round the room and thought of the house they were in now. She had intended to leave when her son left, go her own way, at last be free to live her own life, independent of parents, husband, child, forget the bad times and make the most of what was left. But he had had a trick up his sleeve. Did he tempt her with that offer of a fresh start, the move to a new house? Did he really want to please her, make her happy, share with her the fruits of his dreary years? She looked at the room now, gleaming in the lamplight, carefully chosen by him, put together with patience, every detail meticulously stage-managed, taken out of her hands, and ending up like the magazine impression of an “Ideal Home”. The kitchen should be the heart of the home, like the farmhouse kitchen of long ago, but how easily hers had become not the heart but the powerhouse, full of all the latest and smartest equipment, an impressive showpiece.

Now she no longer had any real choice in anything that mattered, no choice whatsoever. Here in this lovely house, which could have been a bribe, in the suburbia to which she had never truly belonged, which had rendered her incapable of belonging to the countryside where her roots lay. “It hasn’t all been bad,” she thought, “there have been happy times, and I have much to be thankful for.” She looked at the helpless figure in the wheelchair, caught his glance as he awoke searching for her presence; shared with him the resignation to the crippling illness which two years ago had trapped him but would not give him a swift or easy release. No choice, she thought as she smiled at him and reached for a chocolate.

MM, 23rd March 1980.


* For more family vignettes, see A modest literary pedigree, Wisdom of the elders, and From the archives.

When the iron bird flies

*Another instalment in my education on the history of modern Tibet*

Iron bird cover

The independent scholar Jianglin Li—evidently no longer based in China—has a useful website War on Tibet, working with Matthew Akester. I’ve been reading her book

  • When the iron bird flies: China’s secret war in Tibet
    (Chinese original, Taiwan 2012; English translation by Stacy Mosher of the revised version, 2022, 550 pages).

After her 2010 book Tibet in agony: Lhasa 1959 (English version 2016), When the iron bird flies describes the brutal military conflict in Tibetan regions from 1956 to 1962, which has long remained a closely guarded secret. It supplements chapters in Tsering Shakya, The dragon in the land of snows (1999) (see his review of Li’s book) and vols 3 and 4 of Melvyn Goldstein’s magnum opus A history of modern Tibet (2013, 2019), as well as recent volumes like Conflicting memories.

The main focus of When the iron bird flies is the regions of Kham and Amdo (for some sources on the latter, click here), whose chiefdoms had always been resistant to external political power. Li’s account is based both on Tibetan accounts and classified Chinese documents within the PRC, as well as interviews with Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal.

map
Traditional Tibet, comprised of the three provinces of Kham, Ü-Tsang, and Amdo,
in current Chinese administrative divisions. Source: Marvin Cao.

For several years after occupying minority regions the Communists moved slowly; but the trigger for the convulsions of the late 1950s was “democratic reform”—their euphemism for coercive land reform and expropriations. It was launched over several stages in different provinces: in Yunnan in 1955, Sichuan in 1956, Gansu and Qinghai in 1958, and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in 1959. Revolts broke out widely as the reforms were being imposed. Li introduces the system that soon became routine: work teams, struggle sessions, the fixing of class statuses, taxation, confiscation of grain and guns, assaults on monasteries. Even Tibetan activists groomed to the Communist cause were shocked to see the disastrous effects of reform when they returned to their localities.

The “first shot in the Khampa armed rebellion” came at Sertar county in Garzê. In response the Sichuan Party bosses only escalated the situation.

By the end of March 1956, eighteen of Garzê Prefecture’s twenty counties and forty-five of its seventy-seven townships had experienced full-scale or localised insurrections involving a total of 16,000 people and more than 8,000 firearms. During this time, fourteen land reform work teams came under attack, and ten county seats were besieged or encircled. More than 200 land reform cadres were killed, and the PLA suffered more than 300 casualties.

Reform was not invariably met by resistance:

In Middle Village and Lower Village in Ngawa’s Trokyab county, land reform was completed in about three months without conflict. But when the work team proceeded under order to Upper Village to launch land reform, it came under attack, and almost all of the thirty land reform work team members were killed.

But heavy taxation and grain confiscations led to food shortages.

Resistance by the Hor Drango (Shouling) monastery in Drango county was suppressed in March 1956. After Communist troops “annihilated more than 700 people,” “the Shouling temple’s eighty-member council sent representatives to the county’s Work Committee to deliver a written assurance that they would not resist taxation again”. This indicates that taxation was the direct reason for the Drango monks’ resistance.

As both Chinese and Tibetan sources show, with many of the most influential monks and laypeople having been recruited to official positions in the CCP system, resistance came mainly from the lower middle classes, including farmers, herders, monks, and traders. Li studies the class composition of areas, with tralpa (who leased land and cultivated their own crops) and gepa (who cultivated land or worked as servants for landowners, headmen, or monasteries):

The vast majority of peasants in these regions cultivated their own fields. Tralpa were not necessarily poor, and families with surplus labourers could engage in trade or hire themselves out. As a result, when the Tibetan regions were divided into class categories, the landlords, rich peasants, and middle peasants were mainly tralpa, whom the CCP classified as “serfs.”

As in Han Chinese regions, class classification was arbitrary and variable by locality. With land that had previously been communally owned now becoming state property,

a district designating 10 to 20% of its people as “landlords and rich peasants” meant that a relatively large portion of the middle stratum had their assets confiscated; this caused many of them to join in uprisings. [….]

 Every stage of the land reform process in Kham, from its preparations to its implementation, demonstrated the arrogance and high-handedness of the CCP regime, as well as the ignorance and brutality of its cadres.

Numerous problems in the “redistribution” of resources were intractable. Resistance to land reform was inevitable. In response the Party requested military reinforcements while mobilising Tibetans into the army—who, hastily trained, suffered the heaviest casualties. The first battle, over nine days in March 1956, was in Lithang in southwest Garzê (cf. this post).

Lithang 1957.1

Lithang 1957.2

In a series of battles, both sides suffered heavy casualties. Determined to crush all resistance, on 29th March the air force dispatched two Tupolev Tu-4 aircrafts (a gift from Stalin to Mao) to strafe and bomb the monastery. Next day the PLA made their final assault.

This battle being the PLA’s first major military operation in the Tibetan region, its shock wave was felt by both the Chinese and the Tibetans. Tibetans were shocked by the “iron bird,” a powerful modern weapon they had never before seen or heard of, while the Chinese commanders were surprised by the willpower of the Tibetan resistance. In the following years, Tibetan willpower and Chinese modern weaponry would clash over and over again.

Lithang1957.3

Southwest of Lithang, the people of Chatreng were also fiercely independent. Again, the early years of Chinese occupation were relatively mild, but in mid-February 1956,

Chatreng’s two main monasteries received a document from the work team. As Tibetans recall it, the document included seven points:

1) Lamas and monks have to be eliminated; 2) monasteries and their contents have to be eliminated; 3) worship and ritual are prohibited; 4) the wealthy and eminent members of the community have to be eliminated; 5) all land will be appropriated by the state; 6) all property will be appropriated by the state; 7) everyone has to obey the Liberation Army and serve them. If you do not agree to this, we will bomb you from the air and send troops on the ground and wipe you out. […]

The Tibetan leaders of Chatreng secretly held a meeting to discuss the document and then sent a messenger to deliver a strongly worded reply:

You officers, district heads, and soldiers are here in our land without the slightest justification, and have no business imposing these seven points, which are completely unacceptable. You had better leave immediately, otherwise we have also made our war preparations, and there is no doubt that we will fight.

From 20th March county government bases were besieged by the local Tibetans. When the surrounded Chinese finally managed to send word to Zhou Enlai, reinforcements were dispatched. On 2nd April bombers were again deployed, destroying large areas of Sampeling monastery and killing over two hundred monks and laypeople. Three monasteries in the region were bombed over nearly a month. Chatreng was destroyed.

Among the land reform work teams were many Tibetan activists trained by the Chinese. In Nyarong (yet another region long resistant to external power), 185 out of 257 members were Tibetan. The rebellion there began in February 1956, as land reform teams came under attack, with insurrections breaking out in 78% of rural townships. Again, PLA reinforcements were sent. Coercive reforms continued throughout the year.

In Ngawa prefecture, Sichuan province (focus of Barbara Demick’s Eat the Buddha), uprisings broke out from March 1956, again prompting Chinese military intervention. As elsewhere, “goodwill troupes” occasionally sought (vainly and cynically) to mollify a furious population even while persisting in reforms.

The following chapters turn to what became the TAR, where reforms were delayed, with a useful survey of the early years under occupation. But by 1956 news of the violence in Kham was causing great alarm in Lhasa among the Tibetan leadership and public. Li describes the intense diplomatic intrigue in 1956–57 surrounding the Dalai Lama’s visit to India, involving Zhou Enlai, Nehru, and the USA—as Zhou emptily promised the Dalai Lama that there would be no reforms for six years. The Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa on 1st April to find the situation increasingly tense. Meanwhile the CIA-trained Chushi Gangdruk (“Four Rivers and Six Ranges”) volunteer army prepared to resist Chinese occupation.

The “socialist transformation” continued, with forced collectivization around Golok Prefecture in 1958, as the Great Leap Backward (my apt term) caused untold suffering right across China. By August,

resistance among the Qinghai Tibetans had spread to five autonomous prefectures, 24 counties, 240 tribes, and 307 monasteries, involving more than 90,000 people. The Chinese government sent in five army divisions and 30 regiments of various kinds, plus 25 companies of armed police and local militia, for a total armed force of more than 50,000, including air force, artillery, infantry, cavalry, armoured troops, and others. […]

In Chikdril County, 1,050 people, nearly 10% of its total population, were arrested within three years. More than half of these captives died in prison over the next five years, and some were in jail until the early 1980s. Of the hundreds of herdsmen arrested from the Khangsar clan, only about twenty of them ever made it home again.

At least 9,262 people were arrested in Golok Prefecture, the vast majority of them males in the prime of life; in some places the proportion of young men to young women was one to ten.

As the military campaign shifted north from Sichuan and Yunnan to Qinghai and Gansu, Li documents the horrific “Yellow River massacre” at what later became Khosin Township (Yulgen county) on 1st June 1958—as ever, carefully assessing the conflicting sources.

After a Chinese convoy was ambushed in Yulshul, rebellions broke out at monasteries, with bombers again deployed. Over a third of the population of Yulshul died in these years. Many survivors were imprisoned in labour reform camps, where they died or suffered for long years. With food shortages worsening, in May 1958 the PLA murdered monks at the Drakar Drelzong monastery in Tsikorthang, Tsolho Prefecture; in September there was a bloodbath at Drongthil Gulch. A second wave of assaults took place from June to September 1959.

As the Chinese military administration was convulsed by Rectification and Anti-rightist campaigns, Tibetan resistance to reform was widespread—though what Chinese sources portray as rebellion (thus creating a pretext for massacres) was sometimes a mere exodus of herders fleeing collectivization. Refugees were described as “bandits” if they were killed, or “liberated masses” if they were captured. Resistance continued in 1959, met by massive troop deployments, with further major battles.

In 1958 a major arrest and denunciation rally took place at Kumbum monastery in Rusar county, Qinghai. The monastery then has 1,615 monks—remarkable in itself, we might suppose. Tibetan Buddhist life had been relatively unscathed through the early years of occupation; but now the CCP initiated a secret “religious reform movement”, in which Buddhist activity was specifically targeted, notably the monasteries. A document from the period noted the scale of the issue:

more than 5,000 monasteries of various sizes, and 450,000 religious personnel, among which there are more than 3,000 lamaist temples and 250,000 lamas in Tibet; 20,000 lamas in Mongolia and Xinjiang; and a total of 2,000–3,000 lama temples and more than 170,000 lamas in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, and other provinces.

Apart from ideology, the monasteries possessed substantial assets, in land and precious material artefacts—Li gives regional instances of the assets confiscated, metal statues and religious implements. Labrang monastery (in Gansu), with its 4,000 monks, was surrounded in April 1958; after “reform” began in June, over 1,600 people there were arrested, imprisoned, or executed. Many monasteries were now destroyed. In Qinghai province,

223 monasteries in the pastoral areas have been disbanded, 51.98% of the total, and 17,685 religious personnel have returned to secular life, composing 36.56% of the total. Among these, 97.5% of the monasteries in Huangnan prefecture have been disbanded, and 55.1% of religious personnel have returned to secular life; adding in those arrested or sent to group training brings it to around 95% of the total. In Hainan prefecture, 91.8% of the monasteries have been disbanded, and 87.9% of religious personnel have returned to secular life. In Haibei and Haixi prefectures, more than 80% of the monasteries have been disbanded, and more than 70% of the religious personnel have returned to secular life. The emergence of these new scenarios shows that religion is on the brink of total collapse.

The Anti-rightist campaign gave another pretext to denounce religious figures. As a Qinghai document declared:

After a large number of religious monasteries have been destroyed and a large number of religious personnel have returned to secular life, all localities must rapidly launch religious systemic reform work in the monasteries that have been purposely retained. […] The monasteries that remain must be controlled by progressive elements and must be completely controlled under the party’s leadership.

Another Party document explained:

In order to look after the religious beliefs of the masses, block rumours and provocations by counterrevolutionaries inside and outside of China, and facilitate the centralised management of lamas who have not returned to secular life, preserving some temples is essential. As to the appropriate number to retain, this should be according to the influence of the temple and the views of the masses. Rank the temples; in principle it is undesirable to retain too few. […] In terms of retaining temples, it is advantageous at present to retain more rather than less.

By the beginning of 1959, the vast majority of monasteries in Amdo and Kham had been closed down, occupied, or destroyed. I note that whereas in post-reform China the Cultural Revolution makes a scapegoat for a far more protracted range of abuses, in the vast heartland of the Han Chinese, the Communists began destroying temples from the early 1950s—in some areas as soon as they took power, even before the national “Liberation”. I’m also reminded that food shortages there predated the 1959–61 famine by several years, following collectivization. Yet Tibetan religious faith was not extinguished: it went underground.

Sera
Struggle meeting against monk officials in Sera monastery.

Lhasa
Struggle meeting against a Tibetan government official in Lhasa.

Lhasa was “the last hope”, where activists and ordinary people from Kham sought refuge in ever larger numbers. Li surveys the fateful events leading to the Dalai Lama’s escape to India—described in greater detail elsewhere, including her own earlier book. But as resistance continued, fierce battles took place in Lhoka, Namtso, and Mitikha. 1960 saw further campaigns. She looks in more detail at the covert activities of the CIA Tibet Task Force. The extended resistance in Chamdo from 1959 to 1962 was yet again ruthlessly suppressed with annihilation campaigns and aerial bombing.

Finally Li attempts to collate the conflicting statistics over the whole region—deaths in conflict, arrests, Chinese troop numbers, confiscated assets, and so on. Just the figures suggesting population decrease are staggering.

From 1956 to 1962, the iron horse galloped wildly across the plateau. Wherever its iron heels trod, the flames of war were ignited, monasteries collapsed, scriptures were burned, people were killed, and leaders fled into exile. The political system, economy, military, culture, and society of the Tibetan people were completely destroyed.

And again she reminds us of the tragic personal experiences buried beneath such statistics.

In an Afterword, Li considers the “rehabilitation” of the early 1980s, further evidence of the grievous losses of the secret war. She notes the Panchen Lama’s 1962 petition; and she hints at the further wave of destruction that was to follow with the Cultural Revolution, observing the ironic fates of some of the worst central and regional Chinese masterminds of the holocaust, purged and humiliated.

* * *

So much for the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”—the succession of atrocities reminds one of the genocide of Native America, or the wartime devastation of the Bloodlands. While we should take into account the grievous wounds inflicted by Maoism in the Han Chinese heartland through the period, this doesn’t diminish the horror of the Tibetan case.

After the individual memoirs that I reviewed recently (here and here), the broader canvas and more dispassionate tone of this volume are no less affecting; Tibetan and Chinese documents are interwoven with personal stories, some recounted by ageing exiles in India. Whereas in the 1950s the Chinese presence in Tibet was novel and tenuous, by the 1970s, following the violence of the Cultural Revolution there, it became a fait accompli, with the suppression of public memory seeking to bury the story of the appalling brutality of the late 1950s. But the imprint of the period clearly remains deep in people’s hearts, making a backdrop to the sporadic unrest that continues to erupt around Amdo, Kham, and the TAR.

For those studying expressive culture, all this makes an important reminder that the much-vaunted “singing and dancing of minority peoples” could hardly be maintained during such a traumatic period of social disruption. Yet, remarkably, after the downfall of Maoism in the 1980s, people pieced together the fragments of cultural life with alacrity, while adapting to new social changes (see e.g. Some folk ritual performers).

Andrea Motis in London!!!

Motis gig

Andrea Motis is one of the most gifted young musicians nurtured under the aegis of Joan Chamorro’s Sant Andreu Jazz Band project in Barcelona (click here, and here). How very wonderful to hear her live last weekend, performing at the London Jazz Festival on vocals and trumpet at Pizza Express Holborn—an intimate venue conducive to attentive listening—in trio with the splendid Josep Traver on guitar (a Sant Andreu veteran) and the Sicilian bass-player Giuseppe Campisi.

Her alternation of vocals and trumpet recalls Chet Baker, but whereas Chet constantly reproduced a mood that he had discovered in his youth, Andrea is constantly developing—creating her own magic of the voice, ever deeper in her personal dream.With her growing superstar status, she’s not becoming a diva: her manner remains unassuming.

Here’s an upbeat number (the colour palette not doing justice to the Mediterranean warmth of her Almodóvar-esque dress!):

Between imaginative reworkings of standards like My favorite things and Someone to watch over me, a highlight of her Latin-tinged set was her entrancing transformation of Majorcan/Catalan band Antònia Font’s song Alegria, with its “gentle shower of stardust”—here she is performing it in 2020, with Josep Traver and Joan Chamorro:

Going back to her London debut in 2014 (also at Pizza Express), here’s her creative cover of Amy’s You know I’m no good:

More on Andrea’s website, and her YouTube topic! Note her recent quintet album Loopholes, borrowing from electric jazz, funk, and neo-soul—here’s Heat, live: *

Click here for her 2010 version of the gorgeous Dream a little dream of me. See also under A jazz medley, including New British jazz and Two women vocalists, as well as a Turkish gig in the London Jazz Festival.

 


* BTL comment (HUH—Discuss):

If Andrea had stayed with her four-piece jazz backup band of Juan and Josep etc., and done original versions of jazz standards, she could have been the European version of Diana Krall and found huge success. With that small jazz band, she was getting hundreds of thousands of views and hundreds of comments on YouTube. With her new band led by her husband and the experimental style, she is fading from view. I find this unfortunate.

Cf. the LA traffic cop’s unwitting put-down of Eric Leinsdorf

Beethoven retorts:

Ich wäre nicht, wo ich heute bin, hätte ich nur gemütliche Lieder geschrieben!

Coltrane too could have stuck to playing cute little ballads…

A grand slam

Bridge

Just for a change from Daoists, Mahler, and Turkish culture, here’s a delightful bridge challenge!

As you see in my note to Perfection is NOT the word for it, my skills on the baize are rudimentary, having been only modestly maintained on orchestral tours on the back of a bus, suitably lubricated by alcohol. By now I’m even more out of practice than usual, but among a wealth of such problems I find this one particularly charming. Like the abstract beauty of dhrupad, it’s an infinite world.

I can’t see the solution online, but after the opening spade lead from West (almost inevitable, one would think, though it’s the only lead that makes the grand slam possible!) all thirteen tricks must be won in dummy—to which end, declarer must first discard the ❤️A and K on the two opening spade tricks, and then discard all the top diamonds on dummy’s four heart tricks!

Wonderful, eh—pour me another gin…

A Tibetan childhood

*Part of my education in the history of modern Tibet*

Nulo cover

Since I reviewed Shawo Tsering’s “auto-narrative”, I’ve been reading

  • Naktsang Nulo, My Tibetan childhood: when ice shattered stone (English translation 2014, by Angus Cargill and Sonam Lhamo).

Nulo Tibetan cover Another account of the catastrophe that befell the Tibetan region of Amdo, it contains harrowing material of a kind only hinted at by Shawo Tsering (cf. When the iron bird flies).

Remarkably, the original, in Amdo Tibetan (title translated as “Joys and sorrows of the Naktsang boy“), was published in China “for internal distribution” in 2007, near the end of a relatively relaxed period in the region. It was soon pirated widely; versions were published in standard Tibetan by Tibetan exiles in India in 2008 and, in Chinese, in Taiwan three years later—by which time it had apparently been banned in the PRC.

As Robbie Barnett observes in his substantial and typically wise introduction,

As the first uncensored recollection published within Tibet of events erased by a half century of enforced forgetfulness, it epitomised the process of collective remembering that appears to have transformed and energised Tibetan cultural life at this time, fuelling a reemergent and potent sense of nationhood.

Outsiders had little access to the voices of ordinary Tibetans (especially those from the eastern regions) until the 1990s, when accounts of Amdo history since the 1950 Chinese occupation began to surface, led by Charlene Makley, Li Jianglin with Matthew Akester, and later by scholars such as Benno Weiner. Robbie also refers to other Tibetan accounts from the period when Naktsang Nulo’s memoir was published.

Amdo map
Northeastern Tibet, showing places and territories mentioned in the text,
with routes taken by the author to Lhasa, fleeing the Chinese army, and on march to prison.

It’s always important to bear in mind the usages of the word “Tibet”—as ever, Robbie gives a cogent account:

Today, in the era of nation-states, single terms for the whole area are much more in vogue, and the northeastern part of the Tibetan plateau is now referred to by Tibetans most frequently as Amdo, while the name Kham is used for the eastern and southeastern areas. Amdo and much of Kham were not consistently ruled by Lhasa after about 1700, although in brief periods up until the 1930s the Tibetan army was able to regain control of one or other border zone in Kham. In this period most of the numerous localities, chiefdoms, and so on within Amdo and Kham fell under the administration of the western Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan. But Chinese rule in these Tibetan areas was largely nominal until sometime in the late 1950s, as Naktsang demonstrates in his book.

As he explains, exiles and their supporters now commonly use the word “Tibet” to refer to the entire Tibetan snow-land as a political unit, one that was ruled in the past by a single administration. Ironically, by the late 1950s, “facing the experience of invasion, many eastern Tibetans reverted to a probably half-forgotten or perhaps half-invented memory of political unity”.

There are thus at least three Tibets—one recognised by China as the administrative area ruled by the Dalai Lamas until 1950 and limited to the western and central parts of the plateau, another referring to the common cultural and historic heritage found throughout the plateau, and a third implying a single political entity covering all the Tibetan areas. […]

Whether intended or not, the moral logic of his memoir implies a sense of common purpose among Tibetans, irrespective of their location on the plateau, fuelled by their similar experience of Chinese policies in the 1950s.

Robbie reminds us of the seminal importance of Amdo in Tibetan religion, economy, and literature (see e.g. chapters in Conflicting memories).

Born in 1949 in Chugama village in Machu county, Ganlho Prefecture, just east of the Golok region in south Gansu, Naktsang Nulo spent most of his childhood in nearby Chumarleb county, in Yushu (Jyekundo) prefecture of Qinghai province. The memoir describes his early life until he entered school in 1959. For most of his later career he was based in Chumarleb, serving until his retirement in 1993 as an official in the Chinese government, with successive positions as schoolteacher, police officer, judge, prison official, and county leader.

Robbie identifies the significance of the book—in particular the impact of the PLA’s arrival in the area, “the first time that Tibetans there had experienced administration by outsiders at the grassroots level”.

It reinserts long-erased memories into the knowledge bank of younger generations in his community, who until now have had severely limited access to information about their past. And it gives an account, in all senses, of the costs of China’s initial state-building project in Tibetan areas a half century ago: with little comment or condemnation, it records the price paid in lives and lifestyles by the author’s family and community for their incorporation into modern China. It also serves for outsiders as a vivid reminder that events, even those involving widespread atrocities and occurring at pivotal moments in a nation’s history, can be removed from the record in the aftermath of nation-building, lost in the waves of deliberate erasure, ideological preference, and state-driven selectivity that take place at such times.

He contrasts exile Tibetan and Chinese historiography:

The Tibetan version involved much eliding of their complex relations with China in the past, as well as of stark inequities in their social system, while the Chinese narrative involved overlooking Tibet’s history of separate governance, its largely autochthonous cultural and social evolution, and earlier forms of obvious national spirit and belief. These forms of forgetfulness were not equivalent: the Tibetan exiles promoted their version through propaganda and persuasion, often with endorsement from the work of foreign scholars, while the Chinese version of history was implemented more or less coercively. […]

Naktsang Nulo’s memoir provided an account of history that undermined to some extent the versions told by both sides. It did this not by making any statements about Tibet’s political status in the past but by telling that story with some degree of nuance and complexity.

And he elaborates:

My Tibetan Childhood thus represents a moment of coalition between two generations. The older Tibetans, schooled in the necessary arts of silence by their witnessing of numerous state-inflicted deaths and punishments in earlier years, looked across Naktsang’s narrative toward the younger generation, already energised by a growing awareness of a distinctive cultural and religious heritage that seemed to them endangered. The story that it told seemed to say, though not in so many words, that there was a substantive historical basis for the sense of loss and deprivation, and for the feeling that a future had been denied, implicit in the dissatisfactions expressed among Tibetans in the Amdo area, as in Lhasa too, after the turn of the millennium. Before Naktsang’s book appeared, the only knowledge that could have given substantial basis for such ideas would probably have been largely limited to private conversations, smuggled exile propaganda, and ambiguous pop songs about unity, long-lost friends, and separation from one’s homeland. With its patient, detailed, uneditorialised accounting of historical atrocities, seemingly inflicted without reason or explanation by an outside force fifty years earlier, Naktsang’s book provided an intellectual foundation for thoughts and emotions already circulating within his community, a story of the past that made sense of those emotions. […]

In many senses, it is a naive story, the chronicle of a world seen through a child’s eyes. But to readers within Tibet, it was a revelation. It told of epochal events that had rarely if ever been described before in print, and it used a style and approach that ignored the conventions and requirements of history writing in China, let alone in its Tibetan regions.

Thus his child’s perspective is “free of the rituals and requirements of socialist writing practices”. Presented as a story about a boy’s wish to return to his home, the book seems to downplay political messages.

The words “China,” “the Party,” “Communism,” and “policy” are not found in the text. Even the place-names Gansu and Qinghai do not appear, although the action takes place within those provinces; it is as if they have no meaning or significance for the author. There is no reference to class, local lords are not described as feudal, the Tibetan administration in Lhasa is not referred to as a “local government,” exploitation and abuse are criticised in moral terms but not politically, and the concepts of oppression and liberation are not invoked. […]

The teacher in charge of the “Joyful Home” tells the author, “Thanks to our leader, Mao Zedong, we have enough to eat and drink,” just before the famine starts, and again, after the famine has concluded, when the same teacher announces to those who have survived, “Thanks to Chairman Mao Zedong, we will have rice soup to drink, starting tomorrow”. There is no hint as to whether these profoundly grotesque statements should be considered ironic, innocent, forced, or tragic, or even if they should be judged at all. Political terminology has been removed from the text along with judgment, separating it from the body of public writing about history in China. This is thus a book in which what is not said about the past is as important as what is declared.

For more, note Xénia de Heering, “Re-remembering the day ‘times turned around’: the arrival of ‘Chinese soldiers’ at Chukhama in 1958”, Chapter 10 of Barnett, Weiner, and Robin (eds), Conflicting memories: Tibetan history under Mao retold (2020).

* * *

As Robbie notes,

There was clearly little if any presence of Chinese or Hui forces in the author’s area before 1958, even though the PLA had taken over Qinghai nine years earlier, and in most ways people in the nomad areas still ruled themselves.

Naktsang’s early life in his nomad community was permeated by encounters with Buddhist monasteries and lamas. As the family made a 1,500-mile pilgrimage over six months to and from Lhasa, Naktsang gives

an unusually frank impression of life in Lhasa and central Tibet, where the Golok pilgrims are shocked by scenes of utter destitution and by forms of corporal punishment that even they, no strangers to punitive violence, appear to consider extraordinarily brutal.

But on their return, just as he was becoming a monk at the Chugama monastery, his father was arrested by the vindictive head of discipline there and subjected to 1,500 lashes “for what seems to have been a breach of etiquette”.

Until around 1956 the PLA troops were still considered “relatively benign”; when Naktsang was taken to see the Panchen Lama on another pilgrimage to Labrang monastery, it was a PLA soldier who helped him receive a blessing (this was the very Panchen Lama who in 1962 denounced the desperate circumstances of Tibetans in his native Amdo).

But by 1958 tensions were escalating rapidly, and the story becomes ever more harrowing. Back in Chuguma again, a local army was formed to protect the community from the PLA. As Naktsang’s father told him:

Everyone in our chiefdom went to the army as the chiefs ordered. Men over 15 and under 60 have been sent to Sogpo. Our army has already driven out the Chinese land surveyors and killed at least 100 soldiers. But a few days ago all the lamas and chiefs in Tsu were arrested secretly by the Chinese. All the monasteries in the Achong Lhade chiefdom have been destroyed. I heard that about 500 Chinese troops are marching to attack us, and they’ll probably be here tomorrow.”

Recalling his experiences at Labrang, young Naktsang can’t envisage the threat:

I had seen the Liberation Army many times before, when we were staying at Labrang monastery. They had given us beans and candy, and smiled at us as they marched past. Because of that, I had no fear of walking near the soldiers. When the troops arrived at the line of monks, all of them were given darkhas. They applauded in return and handed the darkhas back to the tulkus and lamas.

But as the PLA occupied Chugama, arresting the principal lamas and tulkus, people realised how grave the situation was. As resistance was crushed, in detailed chapters Naktsang tells how the locals were intimidated into destroying their own precious monastery. He now embarked with his father in a group of twelve monks and laymen, including several teenagers (Naktsang was only 10), on another pilgrimage to Lhasa—this time in search of refuge from the Chinese invaders. On their perilous journey they learned of further Chinese atrocities, and were fearful that Lhasa might be in the midst of similar destruction. Along the way they fought off PLA troops; but Naktsang’s father died after being wounded, and the others were forced to surrender.

The final section, “Torture and imprisonment, starvation and survival”, tells of the consequences of that failed flight over the following year, as Naktsang and those around him were integrated into the dominance of the Chinese state.

Nulo Chumarleb

In captivity he was taken under the wing of the kindly lamas Ganden Wula and Sera Lama (“Ganden Wula is respected by the Chinese. He’ll be able to chant rituals—they’ll let him.”). They were taken back to Chumarleb in a group of about 300 prisoners, roped together in lines of six. On the way, in reprisal, Chinese troops cajoled the local crowd into beating the two lamas to death along with four of their followers.

When they arrived at Chumarleb they were thrown into a hole in the prison yard—one of nine such holes, each containing about four hundred prisoners. Five or six died every day. As famine further intensified their desperation (for the appalling devastation in the PRC, see this roundup), after 18 hellish days Naktsang and his older brother were released, staying briefly in the nearby town before starting school, consisting of large tents housing around a thousand children—most of whose parents had been arrested.

The school still apparently functioned quite normally over Chinese [sic] New Year, but three months later food supplies dwindled severely; as they resorted to eating leather and sheepskin, people began to die. Those from erstwhile wealthy families succumbed more quickly; poor children like Naktsang, more capable of fending for themselves, had to dispose of the corpses. Within three months, only fifty-three children remained from over a thousand, and only ten old people from six hundred.

Nulo 1959
This is the book’s only image from the period described in the memoir;
other illustrations show archive photos of Amdo and Lhasa from before the Chinese occupation.

As the famine eased, Naktsang found some of his recently-released fellow prisoners, who took him to herd sheep and calves at the grazing commune where they had been released. On 30th December 1959 he became a student at Chumarleb County School. He ends the book innocuously and astutely:

Now we have grown up and are able to practice our religion and dedicate prayers to him. We are also certain that we will have the chance to return to our native land, and all our relatives will greet us.

Nulo and brother 2012
Naktsang Nulo (right) with his older brother Japé, 2012. Photo: Xénia de Heering.

* * *

In his introduction Robbie Barnett updates the story:

In 2013, five years after his book was published, [Naktsang] wrote a column that spoke out for the first time about the wave of immolations that had swept across Tibet. It was unprecedented in its explicitness. […] We can now see him not as an autobiographer who dared to speak about the past or an intellectual who speaks truth to power but as a strategic communicator and conciliator, an ex-official who pioneered unique pathways by which to negotiate the contours and crevices of the state system in the quest to widen public debate and understanding on topics never previously allowed. Where he had used the convention of childish innocence to enable the act of public recollection, he now uses concession to others’ values to plead for moderation in policy. A project that began as a handing down of the past to coming generations has become a quiet search for ways to nurture a thinking Tibetan public, rich with knowledge of its history as well as of its responsibilities and limitations.

Mahler 9 live!!!

*For an introduction to my whole series on Mahler, with links, click here!*

Mahler 9 concert

Mahler 9 is always deeply moving in concert (I’ve just revised my original post). Last weekend I went to hear the Concertgebouw orchestra playing it under Daniel Harding at the Barbican (reviewed here).

I’ve eventually got used to the Barbican: having negotiated the surrounding concrete jungle, the layout of the hall (at least from the stalls) has a personal feel. And rather than being subjected to the crass materialism of an expensive programme booklet with its glossy ads, we can consult notes online. Better still, just listen

The Concertgebouw has a venerable tradition of performing Mahler; they gave the Dutch premiere of the 9th with Mengelberg in 1918, and it was a core part of their repertoire with Haitink. The relationship continues under Daniel Harding.

Mahler’s most monumental symphonies often stand alone, but some conductors such as S-Simon and Salonen (see under The art of conducting) like to precede them with a suitably challenging overture. So the concert opened with the UK premiere of Rick van Velhuizen’s mais le corps taché d’ombres for harp and strings.

In Mahler 9 the orchestra sounded just fabulous, a perfectly blended ensemble. Though, remarkably, there were a few empty seats (I mean, I love Strictly, but really…), after a long, reverent silence the performance inevitably got a standing ovation. Never miss an opportunity to hear the symphony!

Mahler 9 end

Lest you suppose I’m carried away by Western Art Music (as indeed I am), it’s still worth consulting What is serious music?!.

More gems from Cambridge sinology

CHC

Apart from feeling mildly guilty at defecting from Tang history, another spinoff of my current decluttering is rediscovering random notes from my time editing and indexing volumes of The Cambridge History of China. I’ve already listed some jocular citations from Han and Tang history, so here’s a sequel with gems that I may not have sneaked into the indexes.

Vol.1:

derivative ideas 693
gibberish 692–3
no-ado 693
nudism 833
Other, A.N., as consort of Wu-ti 174
pedantry, academic 758
reality: Hsün Yue criticises 806
supreme nothing, spiritual nothing 839

Vol. 3:

An Lushan the Man
beauty, no harem
cleavage
climax, early
horse-dung
Liang, Later dynasty; Liang, Even Later dynasty
nincompoop, feckless
nonentity, pliant
obsequiousness
riff-raff
wife, monopoly tax

* * *

Maspero

Meanwhile, here are some out-takes from my index to the 1981 English translation of Henri Maspero’s Taoism and Chinese religion:

Divine Man
euhemerism, naïve
Eating Filthy Things
forgetting the body
hairdressers
Heavenly Kitchen
heavy breathing
ho-ho
hot breath
knitting, spontaneous
latrines
massage
orgies
Purple Dame
pustules
sitting down and losing consciousness
Transcendent Pig
vermin, buried in

* * *

I also discovered some more drôle pronouncements on Tang music—we can probably hazard a guess at their author:

“Secular, amnesic, notational dyslexia in the reading of post-13th century flute notations of Tōgaku pieces”

—apparently “people forgetting how to play old scores”:

Perhaps this was a piece in which interest was quickly lost, a piece picked up as an item of temporary fashionable interest, but for which no interest remained after the Chinese court itself had lost interest following the An Lushan rebellion.

Giggle we may, but this was just the kind of analytical detail on the Tang repertoire that I found so fruitful—in the days before my epiphany among the peasants of dusty north China villages.

Nature makes regular guest appearances:

The process occurs, however, no matter what the fermented vegetable substrata may be; and the title is not to be regarded necessarily as referring to wine from fermented grape-juice.

And

There can be no gainsaying the powerful atropaeic significance of the wild duck in East Asian folk belief.

On my penchant for wacky indexes, see The joys of indexing; Lexicon of musical invective; and my draft index to Nicolas Robertson’s outstanding series of anagram tales. For my early spoofs on Tang poetry (“precocious signs of the pointless inanity that was to distinguish my later writings”), click here. And do read Denis Twitchett’s informed spoof on An Lushan, and the faqu series (under A Tang mélange).

Some recent *MUST READ* posts

Cetegories

The *MUST READ* category in the sidebar directs you to some of my more worthwhile posts whose topics deserve to be savoured and shared.

Here’s a selection from recent entries, on a variety of themes:

  • The sceptical feminist, Janet Radcliffe Richards’ 1980 masterpiece, argued with dispassionate philosophical clarity, and still highly relevant despite some period features
  • Some Kurdish bards: politics, gender, and heritagification—epic tales of love and war, plangent kilam laments, with some fine recordings, archive and recent
  • Ogonek and Til—for fans of language, tennis, and fado! Wacky diacritics and nasal vowels in Polish and Portuguese—with matching limericks, and a bonus entry for Gran visits York….

  • Bach in an empty forest: a mesmerising mile-long xylophone in a Japanese forest, the wonders of a Bach cantata, Myra Hess’s wartime National Gallery concerts, and Takemitsu’s early alienation from Japanese musical traditions
  • Dream a little dream: interesting as it is to listen to earlier and later renditions, Cass Elliott’s 1968 version is enthralling—with the most radiant modulation ever!

  • The kiosk in Turkey and Europe: late-Ottoman mansions in Istanbul—the ancien régime, a haunted house, women’s changing status under the Republic, and shanty-town migrants; followed by some European kiosks, with cameos from The fast show and The third man
  • Mahler: a roundup!!! The definitive voice of our age—the symphonies, as well as chamber versions, and piano rolls; quintuplets and major 7ths; Alma and Anna
  • Ray Man, pioneer of Chinese musicking in London: social and musical change in the UK, Hong Kong, and mainland China—with homages to the Cantonese music scene and the early days of Ronnie Scott’s in Gerard street.

I’ve grouped these posts in the form 3+2+3, in the hope of encouraging you to revisit my post on aksak additive metres!

For an earlier list, click here.

Tickety-boo

India
Source.

While emojis like 👍 and ❤️ have partly relieved us of the necessity to create new verbal expressions for approval, one may feel a certain nostalgia for bygone expressions like spiffing, ripping, top-notch, hunky-dory, and tickety-boo.

While the quaintness of such jovial expressions harks back to a broader class-base than the world of Jeeves and Wooster, I suppose they are now usually heard on the lips of a rather educated latter-day generation, with varying degrees of post-modern irony—including both rabid bendy-banana nostalgists and the “Guardian-reading tofu-eating wokerati”

The origin of tickety-boo is unclear. Though there doesn’t seem to be a written example before 1939, it appears to go back at least to the early 1920s—probably RAF slang, perhaps a combination of “that’s the ticket” (early 18th century) and “peek-a-boo” (or at least “boo”).

But there’s also a suggestive derivation from Hindi ṭhīk hai, bābūit’s all right, sir. * This would make it one of a whole host of words adapted from Indian languages, popularised by way of the British empire (cf. Hidden heritage).

This elliptical first draft for a film script conjures up a picturesque gathering, setting the scene before introducing the host and his guests, their sporting pastimes followed by a sumptuous buffet:

Dinghy and catamaran on atoll; loot thug in choky. Cushy veranda of jungle bungalow (lacquered teak, calico palanquin, juggernaut; chintz cot, patchouli): Blighty mogul (mandarin) in pukka cashmere pyjamas.
[The guests arrive:]
Lilac cummerbunds (doolally!), khaki dungarees, pashmina (shawl), bangles with bandanas. Jodhpurs for polo and cheetah gymkhana.
Tiffin (kedgeree with chutney) and tank of punch; candy and cheroot—tickety-boo!

Cf. the Venetian language, Some unlikely Turkish vocabulary, and The kiosk in Turkey and Europe. And do relish Nicolas Robertson’s remarkable anagram tales! The linguistic reversals of Armstrong and Miller are also very drôle—see Textual scholarship, OMG.


* An alternative derivation from French, offered in the wiktionary entry, is also attractive: ce que t’es beau (“how beautiful you are”). Cf. “toodeloo”, said to be a corruption of tout a l’heure—even more quaint is toodle-pip.

Bach in an empty forest

Forest 1

Like Bach’s Air, or the Adagietto from Mahler 5, Jesu, joy of man’s desiring is another of those pieces to which we may have become somewhat inured by media  recyclings—but here it’s magically transformed on a mile-long hand-carved xylophone in an empty Japanese forest:

The video, made in the unlikely service of a 2011 advertisement for the “Touch Wood” phone of a telecom company (see e.g. here), enjoys an occasional vogue on social media, but I’ve only just clocked it.

The installation, directed by Morihiro Harano, was created by a team led by carpenter Mitsuo Tsuda and sound engineer Kenjiro Matsuo in the Daisetsu Mori-no garden, Hokkaido.

Forest 5

What makes it even more exquisite is the rubato caused by little imperfections in the design. I’d also like to hear more of the tremolo effect (from 1.04), another feat of engineering.

Forest 4

Perhaps this will lead you to the wonders of Takemitsu, the aesthetic of ma 間 “empty space”, and Noh drama (see under Some posts on Japanese culture).

* * *

Nat GallLarge queues formed for the National Gallery concerts. Source.

For senior British generations, the piano arrangement by Myra Hess remains deeply meaningful, epitomising Londoners’ spirit in maintaining morale during World War Two, with the remarkable daily weekday lunchtime concerts which she organised at the National Gallery throughout the whole war (instructive material here).

The series featured many of the leading musicians of the day, such as the Griller quartet and Dennis Brain, in a variety of repertoire that included Bach’s great keyboard works and the Brandenburg concertos; the complete chamber works of Beethoven and Brahms; Hess played the twenty-one Mozart piano concertos, and Beethoven sonatas.

That much of this “great music” was German in origin says much about the ethos of the concerts and their organiser—who came herself from Jewish stock.

As Kenneth Clark, Director of the Gallery, recalled:

What sort of people were these who felt more hungry for music than for their lunches? All sorts. Young and old, smart and shabby, Tommies in uniform with their tin hats strapped on, old ladies with ear trumpets, musical students, civil servants, office boys, busy public men, all sorts had come.

Hess’s renditions of Jesu, joy of man’s desiring may seem a minor aspect of the repertoire, but as we listen it’s worth imagining the effect it must have had on Londoners, anxiously awaiting letters from loved ones at the front while bombs were reducing their city to rubble:

So Hess’s performances of the piece have become part of modern British mythology; but as tastes changed the style was largely submerged beneath pop music (see Desert Island Discs).

While for the wartime British Jesu, joy of man’s desiring made a microcosm of civilised values and the valiant resistance to fascism, in postwar Japan it took time for Takemitsu to overcome his alienation from musical traditions there, associating them (not incorrectly) with militaristic nationalism. Such a sub-text may be intriguing, but it’s hardly legible in the forest xylophone…

* * *

Jesu joy

Bach made various settings of the 1661 Lutheran chorale Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne, such as in the Matthew Passion. The pastoral triplets familiar today are from Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, part of his magnificent first cycle of cantatas upon becoming Kantor at Leipzig in 1723; stanzas of the chorale conclude both parts of the cantata.

Just as Western Art Music was losing prestige, in post-war western Europe the niche of the early music movement brought a new aesthetic to Bach (see e.g. Taruskin, Butt, and Gardiner)—here’s the final movement directed by Ton Koopman:

Closing stanza of Part 1:

Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe,
o wie feste halt ich ihn,
daß er mir mein Herze labe,
wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
Jesum hab ich, der mich liebet
Und sich mir zu eigen gibet;
Ach drum laß ich Jesum nicht,
Wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.

Happy am I, to have my Jesus,
oh how firmly I hold on to him
so that he may refresh my heart
when I am sick and sorrowful.
I have Jesus, who loves me
and gives himself to me.
Ah therefore I shall not abandon Jesus
even if my heart breaks.

Closing stanza of Part 2:

Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
Meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
Er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
Meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
Meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
Darum laß ich Jesum nicht
Aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.

Jesus remains my joy,
my heart’s consolation and sap,
Jesus protects me from all suffering,
he is the strength of my life,
the delight and sun of my eyes,
the treasure and bliss of my soul;
therefore I do not abandon Jesus
from my heart and face.

The whole cantata is glorious. Here’s John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in the Michaeliskirche, Lüneburg, nearing the end of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000:

The exhilarating trumpet of the opening chorale, the aria for counter-tenor (Michael Chance!) with oboe d’amore, the soprano aria with violin, the recitative with oboes da caccia leading into the bass aria with trumpet… Yet again I reflect that Bach’s musicians and congregation at Leipzig can hardly have realised how blessed they were—even if they had to sit through a sermon between the two parts of the cantata (see under Bach—and Daoist ritual; cf. Passion at the Proms). For some other wondrous Bach cantatas, see under A Bach retrospective—also including Bach and the oboe.

So we’ve just heard some moments in the life of a melody as aesthetics have changed—1661, 1723, 1926, 1940, 2011 (cf. Reception history).

Tang culture: a tribute to Ren Erbei

Ren Erbei late
Ren Erbei in later life. All images here from this article.

In the course of decluttering my groaning bookshelves, I find I’m not ready to part with my little collection of the ouevre of the great

  • Ren Erbei 任二北, also known as Ren Bantang 任半塘 (1897–1991), [1]

who over his long career shone a light on sources for song, dance, and drama in the Tang dynasty (618–907) through the prism of the literature of the day (for a roundup of my posts on the Tang, click here).

At Cambridge I was introduced to his early writings by Laurence Picken and Denis Twitchett. Laurence was keen to explore such sources, but it was mainly Denis who led me deeper into the complex process of compilation of the musical material in the official Old Tang history (Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書)—notably the now-lost Taiyueling biji 太樂令壁記 [Wall inscription for the Director of the Imperial Music Office] by Liu Kuang 劉眖, a work from the early part of Xuanzong’s reign, before the An Lushan rebellion (755–63).

Denis opened “A note on the ‘Monograph on music’ in Chiu T’ang shu” (1992) with a classic sentence [I’ve converted his original Wade-Giles to pinyin]:

Almost forty years ago, when I was beginning work on my PhD dissertation, I spent many enjoyable evenings reading through the “Monograph on Finance” of the Jiu Tang shu with Piet van der Loon, attempting to relate its text with other Tang period sources, and to see what is possible to deduce about the way Jiu Tang shu was put together over a period of more than two centuries.

YAY, party time indeed! After moving to Princeton in 1980, Denis gave me occasional updates on his work by postcard:

Denis postcard 2b

 

Meanwhile, scholars were studying an extant work from the heyday of Xuanzong’s court, the Jiaofang ji 教坊記 by Cui Lingqin 崔令钦, edited by Ren Bantang in Jiaofang ji jianding 敎坊記箋訂 (1962). Such sources made important material for Laurence’s recreations of Tang court music.

I now look on all this impressive research with a mixture of deep admiration, nostalgia, and relief that I went on to find a very different kind of party. By the early 1980s I realised how the study of Tang music had long been a hot topic in mainland China, and was now reviving vigorously there. [2] So it was Tang music that made the stimulus for my first visit to China in 1986 to study at Peking University under the great Yin Falu; but as I discovered the riches of living folk ritual culture on regular forays to the countryside, I was already in the process of defecting from the silent sources of early history. Though I picked up my own copies of Ren Erbei’s books in Beijing, I soon became a Tang manqué. Still, I continued visiting Laurence to update him on my fieldwork, and Denis kept in touch so we could meet up on his occasional return visits to Blighty.

* * *

Ren Erbei was prolific; most of his later publications were based on research he began before Liberation and pursued under Maoism. Two major books (albeit far from easy reading even for the heavy-duty sinologist):

  • On Tang drama: Ren Bantang, Tang xi nong 唐戏弄 (2 vols, 1958/1982)
  • On Tang sung poems: Ren Bantang, Tang sheng shi 唐聲詩 (2 vols, 1982; see e.g. here and here).

After the end of the Cultural Revolution he finally published his book on Chinese jesters,

He also edited an important collection of lyrics from Dunhuang:

His essays are collected in

  • Ren Bantang wenji 任半塘文集 (2006).

Yet another interrupted career
Whereas before I began spending time in China I had regarded such scholarship as belonging safely in libraries, once I began visiting senior intellectuals I couldn’t help becoming engaged with their life stories and tribulations under the decades of Maoism (see e.g. Craig Clunas on Wang Shixiang, in my post on his wife Yuan Quanyou; cf. Yang Yinliu, and Li Shiyu).

Brought up in Yangzhou, Ren Erbei gained admission to Peking University at the age of 18, embarking on the study of early ci and qu lyrics. After graduating he took up posts in his home province of Jiangsu.

Ren Erbei 1921
Teachers at Yangzhou 5th Secondary School, 1921; Ren Erbei back row, centre.

Following the 1949 “Liberation”, he became professor at Sichuan University in 1951. While constantly beset by political problems, particularly after being branded a “rightist” and “historical counter-revolutionary” in 1957, he still managed to persist in his research despite spending extended periods in detention.

Rehabilitated following the downfall of the Gang of Four, after all his ordeals in Chengdu he was helped to return to his native Yangzhou, taking up a position at the Normal University there in his eighties.

Ren Erbei and wife 1984
Ren Erbei with his wife after their return to Yangzhou, 1984.

He now trained a bright young disciple, Wang Xiaodun 王小盾 (Wang Kunwu 王昆吾, b.1951) (see his tribute, and here), who went on to publish works such as Tangdai jiuling yishu 唐代酒令艺术 (1995) and Sui Tang Wudai yanyue zayan geci yanjiu 隋唐五代宴乐杂言歌辞研究 (1996, following the 1990 Sui Tang Wudai yanyue zayan geci ji 集, co-edited with Ren Erbei). [3]

Ren Erbei’s tribulations under Maoism were no less distressing for being so common, making his scholarship all the more impressive.


[1] Both were hao (“style”) names that he himself chose. His original name was Ren Na 仁吶, while his zi name (given upon maturity) was Ren Zhongmin 任中敏; both the na and min characters (the former of which I learned as nuo) alluded to Confucius’s dictum “The superior man wishes to be slow [na] in his speech and earnest [min] in his conduct”. The main Chinese baike article on Ren (written with impressive candour, with an extensive bibliography) appears under Ren Zhongmin. For further aspects of Chinese naming customs, click here.

[2] How unfortunate that Western and Chinese scholars had been unable to engage in “international cultural exchange” through the Maoist decades, and that Western sinologists had such limited access to Chinese research—rather as Robert van Gulik was largely unable to partake of the 1950s’ renaissance of the qin zither in the PRC(see my tribute to him, under “Interlude: fate and nostalgia”).

[3] While I’m here, I may list a couple of basic sources on Tang expressive culture:

  • Quan Tang shi zhongde yuewu ziliao 全唐诗中的乐舞资料 [Material on music and dance in the Complete Tang Poems] (ed. Zhongguo wudao yishu yanjiuhui 中国舞蹈艺术研究会, 1958)
  • Tangdai yinyue wudao zaji shi xuanshi 唐代音乐舞蹈杂技诗选释 [Annotated selection of poems on music, dance, and acrobatics in the Tang dynasty] (ed. Pu Zhenggu 傅正谷, 1991).

Dream a little dream

Dream

Composing and performing songs is an art—not just in Western Art Music, but in folk and popular genres around the world (cf. What is serious music?!). The songs of the Beatles deserve to be treated with the same seriousness as those of Schubert (cf. Susan McClary); and apart from pop music generally, it’s worth admiring the craft of miniatures such as cartoons, TV theme-tunes, and jingles (for the merits of “analysis”, see the introduction to my Beatles series, citing Mellers and Pollack). 

The exquisite Dream a little dream of me was composed in 1931 by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt, with lyrics by Gus Kahn. Unlike Beethoven, those guys really knew how to write a tune. A lullaby for parting lovers, it’s been revisited by many singers to different effects that reflect the changing zeitgeist.

Cass Elliott (1941–74, another sadly brief life) made the most celebrated recording with The Mamas & The Papas * in 1968—a time of revolutionary conflict when we have to remember that there was also a mood for such ballads. As she commented,

I tried to sing it like it was 1943 and somebody had just come in and said, “Here’s a new song”. I tried to sing it as if it were the first time.

And it’s magical:

Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper “I love you”
Birds singing in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me

Say nighty-night and kiss me
Just hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me
While I’m alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me

Stars fading but I linger on dear
Still craving your kiss
I’m longing to linger till dawn dear
Just saying this

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me…

Mama Cass caresses the lyrics (“Birds singing in the sycamore tree”…) with dreamy syncopations and triplets, never metronomic. The harmonic progressions into and out of the “Stars fading” section are enchanting. Whether or not listeners are consciously aware of it, various types of modulation are effectively used in pop music. Step-wise shifts are most frequent; but here, after the opening two verses in the home key of C major (with our ears perhaps prepared by the surprising chord at “whisper” in line 2), the second section modulates fluently, exhilaratingly, to A major (from 0.54)—distantly reminiscent of Mahler’s sudden revelation of alpine pastures adorned with cowbells, or an incandescent Messaien meditation suffused with ondes martenot [Steady on—Ed.].

The “Stars fading” section is a gem in itself. After the chromaticism of the opening two verses, its rather brighter mood, over layers of honky-tonk piano and wordless chorus, far from sounding brash, only enhances the song’s overall intimacy. With more lazy triplets, I relish the descending minor 7th leap (from high so to low la) at “linger on dear” and “linger till dawn dear”, framing more sensuous lingering on the last word of “Still craving your kiss“… And then, to signal the return to the home key, the harmony shifts back with “Just saying this“—first (1.13) beneath a descending semitone in the vocal line, then the second time (2.18) with dreamy wide leaps.

It’s all complemented by the arrangement, with the first bass entry slipping in for verse 2 (Cass responding with a funky rhythmic emphasis on “kiss me”), the nostalgic-pastiche piano interlude and coda, as Mama Cass becomes subtly more jazzy and energised… Every detail is perfectly calibrated to the dream.

* *  *

Going back to quirky original versions from 1931 transports us to a different era of dance music—when the singer was subsidiary, providing an interlude between the main instrumental sections. Here’s Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra:

And here’s Wayne King, introduced by some wacky chinoiserie at the very start (in homage to the organum of the sheng mouth-organ?!), with Ernie Burchill singing:

BTW, it’s fun to invert the chronology of these early recordings, imagining them as a post-modernist ironic take on Mama Cass’s song by the Michael Nyman band.

We can only hear early music with our modern ears; and how we respond to music over time depends substantially on the persona that we impute to the protagonists. Still in 1931, by contrast with those versions, Kate Smith (cf. By the Sleepy lagoon) performed the song with an impressive rhythmic freedom, and the band arrangement is also effective, already breaking out from the starched corset of the foxtrot:

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1950:

(Several YouTube uploads mistakenly attribute this to Billie Holiday, but alas she doesn’t seem to have recorded it—now that would have been amazing!)

Doris Day (1957) is even dreamier:

Now here’s a thing. For the “Stars fading” section, versions so far modulate upwards by a minor 6th—pleasantly novel, but not radiant like the major 6th modulation of The Mamas & The Papas (a stroke of genius that I surmise we can attribute to Papa John Phillips). And in earlier versions, for the first appearance of the line “Dream a little dream of me” the vocal line has risen brightly (mila–so); but as a later generation perhaps found this too soupy and saccharine, it was discarded, instead falling from a flat mi to re.

Just a few selections from numerous later covers. Anita Harris in 1968, almost contemporary with The Mamas & the Papas’ recording, sounds rather too four-square to my ears. Enzo Enzo recorded a French version, Les yeux ouverts, in 1990; Tony Bennett and k.d. lang sang it in duet in 2002; and the 2013 Robbie Williams cover (with Lily Allen) is in thrall to The Mamas & The Papas.

While there is much to savour in such renditions, the more I listen the more infatuated I am by the dreamy mood of Cass Elliott’s version, with her rhythmic variety, and all the subtle tweaks of the arrangement in timbre and harmony that make it so very enthralling.

And the song keeps inspiring younger musicians—such as Andrea Motis with the Joan Chamorro Quintet (see here, and here):

Other popular songs in similar vein that feature in my wide-ranging Playlist of songs include You’re my thrill, Moon river, I sing a little prayer, You must believe in spring, Comment te dire adieu—and a wealth of Beatles ballads. For dreams perhaps not envisaged by Gus Kahn, click e.g. here and here; see also Aboriginal dream songs. Cf. Bach as bandleader and arranger.

For Augusta!


* Pedants’ corner (cf. my notes to Morris dancing and Messiaen’s transcendent éclairs; see also Punctuation for truck drivers):
I don’t really Hold With the ampersand, which has a whiff of the corporate (the “vast emporium, one of these appalling achievements of our modern craving for the huge, the immense”, as Henry James characterised the Army and [sic] Navy Stores), but here, while curious, it’s correct… I also make a copious exception for G&T.

Some unlikely Turkish vocabulary

4

From my plethora of posts on west and central Asia over the last year, you gather I’ve been spending lengthy periods in Istanbul. However, I seem to have obstinately resisted making any effort to acquire even the most basic language skills, like a sunburned expat wolfing chips on the Costa de Sol.

Ageing Weirdo’s Hard Drive Full

Entirely unsullied by grammar, my Turkish vocabulary is not just paltry but a tad selective. These gnomic vignettes, containing virtually my entire lexicon, are unlikely to feature in a phrase-book of essential items for the traveller (cf. That is the snake that bit my foot):

fal, manav (lokma), ezan, iskele (akbil!)—köşk sema (Aşik Sucu)—zurna, kanun

This (notional) scribbled schedule reminds me that after a coffee-reading * I have to drop in at the grocer’s to pick up some fruit offerings—coinciding with the call to prayer—and not to forget to take my travel card before boarding the ferry, en route for the belvedere to attend a ritual dance led by the celebrated dervish water-seller, and then to shop for a shawm and a zither.

Yet somehow such unpromising ventures result in a two-volume magnum opus (“bawdy swaggering outrageous best-seller“—The Istanbul Bugle), a commentary to the recluse’s stammering discourse on the Divine Love of Sufi mysticism:

Inziva aşk kekelemek muhabbet (çifte kitap).

See also my roundups of Language learning (notably Nick Robertson’s ingenious exegesis of arcane anagram tales, and That is the snake that bit my foot) and Wacky headlines.

 


* Like Chinese dundian (stay at a selected grass-roots unit to help improve its work and gain firsthand experience for guiding overall work”), fal is another of those succinct words whose English definition might be somewhat laborious: “fortune-telling by means of interpreting the grounds at the bottom of a cup of coffee”…

Some non-Daoists

Daoism and Zen have long made trendy, exotic tags to subsume various activities, or non-activities.

Some volumes, like The Tao of Pooh, are pleasantly tongue-in-cheek, with a certain underlying value; and I’m partial to evoking Zen myself in the magic of Rozhdestvensky and Ronnie O’Sullivan. But nothing beats a startling recent letter to the FT:

Daoist letter

This preposterous idea had already been expounded in a 2020 review of The crown. So on behalf of the Wisdom of the Mystic East, I feel obliged to state the bleedin’ obvious: if you’re the Queen, then waving and shaking hands while wearing a hat and liking horses really doesn’t count as Being a Daoist. Just because British law prevented Queenie from wielding any influence on government, the fact that inaction was central to her “success” doesn’t make her a Daoist Sage Ruler, FFS. Like, hello?

“The sovereign must be empty of all desire, all thought, and all intentionality […]. A person without qualities, they offer no hold to others, for they are nothing but the mirror reflecting nothingness.” These precepts are oddly reminiscent of the Royal Family’s lifestyle.

OK… so we’ve been queueing overnight in the rain to pay homage to a person without qualities…

Freed from mundane worries (like affording the weekly shop, finding the rent, catching the rush-hour bus to a poorly-paid job, or struggling to book tickets for a budget holiday with the kids), One can put One’s feet up and watch Eastenders over a G&T in the knowledge that One will continue raking it in (helped by a creative accountant and valuable contacts) without having to do a day’s work in One’s entire life.

JRM
Another non-Daoist—“the physical embodiment of arrogance, entitlement,
disrespect, and contempt for our parliament”. See also Tory iniquity: a roundup.

Boris on beachSadly, we perhaps need to list some other pastimes that don’t necessarily qualify for the status of “Daoist”:

  • Hanging around on a street corner with a fag dangling from your mouth
  • Pottering around in the garden (with some noble exceptions)
  • Sunbathing on holiday (even while serving as a government minister).

Cf. “I didn’t know we ’ad a king—I thought we were an autonomous collective”. For the Brexit ideal of nothingness, see Stewart Lee.

Beethoven’s melodic gift—yeah right

Beethoven wasn’t big on tunes; but melody wasn’t really the point.

In some ways we might see him as a precursor of minimalism. Too young to know any better, I immersed myself in his music through my teens; but later I tended to steer clear of his music, with honourable exceptions like the late quartets. For the thoughtful Susan McClary, he’s the supreme perpetrator of sexual violence in music.

To be fair, the 7th symphony is exhilarating, both to play and to listen to—DO bask in Carlos Kleiber‘s performance! As I comment in a note there, it seems unlikely that Wagner’s authority for calling the symphony “the apotheosis of the dance” was based on years as a regular on the Bayreuth clubbing scene.

The 1st movement eventually gets going with a wacky motif (the mot juste) on flutes:

B7 flute
My idea of a tune, by L. Beethoven *
(aka “A stack of poppadoms”—cf. Berlioz)—
not to be confused with Taco taco taco burrito or Papa papa papa papa papapa

Beethoven clearly reckons he’s onto something here, as he wastes no opportunity to repeat it, sometimes even on a different note (YAY! And again, yes I know that’s the point…). In the coda, after the bass section treats us to ten more bars of it, against a deep pedal point on E they start grinding away on a chromatic motif (now using all of three notes—I say, steady on!) (cf. Unpromising chromaticisms), like a dog with a bone:

B7 ostinato

OK, this whole build-up is glorious…

Even in the slow movement, Beethoven holds out against giving us a Proper Tune (Viola Grade 8—cf. Viola jokes and maestro-baiting):

B7 slow

The Plain People of Ireland: Begob—this composing lark, it’s a doddle

The finale is obsessive too—without venturing too far into the art of conducting, Kleiber is exhilarating, highlighting its mechanical drive without making it seem too brutal. It opens with more minimalism from the hapless basses:

B7 finale

The violin, um, theme that it accompanies does have a lot of notes (progress), but unless conductors go to considerable lengths to adjust the balance, Beethoven’s instrumentation often drowns out the melody with manic off-beat sforzandi:

B7 finale violin

More unlikely chromaticism from the basses (another pedal point in the service of an exhilarating climax):

B7 finale bass 2

The symphony, built around ostinati, might be considered a response to the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution—returning to Wagner and clubbing, maybe it’s the apotheosis of the techno garage trance dance. But for a really funky ostinato, how about Herbie Hancock?

I must confess that my musical examples above are no more successful in encapsulating Beethoven’s genius than were the Bolton Choral Society in summarising Proust

I’m very fond of the story about the opening bar of Beethoven’s violin concerto; just as drôle are his Wimbledon debut (“the second tune, which Beethoven said on his arrest was ‘just a harmless bit of fun’…”) and Creative tribulations. And do listen to PDQ Bach’s stimulating take on the 1st movement of Beethoven 5!

For an enchanting antidote, see Dream a little dream


* On a technical note, this rhythm can easily slip from

B7 rhythm right
into

B7 rhythm wrong

In my experience, even with experienced orchestras this can catch on quite often; it’d be interesting to listen out for how often this happens in performances and recordings.

Cooking with Suella!

Obviously, my roundup of Tory iniquity was never going to be able to keep up. I was hoping to allow the revamped “government” some peace to enjoy their honeymoon, as they gaze mistily into each other’s eyes, lips spittle-flecked with venom. But as a self-confessed member of the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati™, I already find myself unable to resist outlining some aspects of the current clusterfuck.

Just when we thought the Tories couldn’t possibly make themselves look any more ridiculous, last month’s “Home Secretary” followed up her repulsive “dream and obsession” Rwanda speech (see e.g. here and here) with another unhinged meltdown—introducing an intriguing culinary theme.

SuellaShortly before Suella Braverman fell on her sword (not for being an authoritarian law-breaking racist bigot, but on a “technicality”—rather like Genghis Khan being unable to pursue the sacking of Europe due to an unpaid parking fine), in what turned out to be the last rant of her brief office she listed those responsible for the Just Stop Oil protests:

“It’s the Labour party, it’s the Lib Dems, it’s the Coalition of Chaos [Hello?], it’s the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati, dare I say, the Anti-Growth Coalition that we have to thank for the disruption that we are seeing on our roads today.”

 Good name for a band, actually:

Besides Yvette Cooper’s cogent riposte, James O’Brien unpacks Braverman’s scapegoat agenda with typical zest, asking “who they’re going to turn you against next”:

They can’t do Brussels, they can’t do unelected bureaucrats, can’t do immigrants… refugees is tricky, cos you just keep giving money to Rwanda, despite the fact that they’re not actually taking any… […] Single mothers just doesn’t work any more, the world has moved on, the nuclear family is in retreat […] Cyclists isn’t gonna work… What’s left??? Who on earth are brain-dead, Brexit-supporting Tory politicians going to pretend are your new enemies, in the hope of distracting you from the chaos and catastrophe that they continue to inflict upon your country?

Following on the heels of “PC gone mad“, the right-wing backlash against “woke” (“an awareness of injustice and the determination to do something about it”—see e.g. here and here) has been gathering steam, or hot air. Since this Sinister Cabal was exposed as the “Anti-Growth Coalition”, Twitter (“sewer of left-wing bile”) has been enjoying listing its members, such as this:

the AGC (“who are they exactly?”)
Labour
the Lib Dems
the SNP
militant unions
vested interests dressed up as think tanks (!)
talking heads
Brexit deniers
Extinction Rebellion
lefty lawyers
lefty nurses
lefty traffic wardens
lefty quantity surveyors
the Archbishop of Canterbury
all teachers
Sadiq Khan
the BBC
cyclists
anyone who criticises the Royals
Meghan bloody Markle
flexitarians
magicians
flamingos
bus drivers who change shift—but not at a terminus
Gary bloody Lineker
people who watch mini-series on Apple TV
triple-cooked chips
anyone who played recorder at school
mime artists
the Dutch
people who turn the corner of the page over when they’ve finished reading
cockapoos
anyone who’s had a temporary tattoo
owners of more than three hardback cookbooks
Pisceans
anyone who got a Blue Peter badge
the Keto diet plan
Mumford—AND Sons
people who keep the ramekins from Gu puddings
cellists
anyone who says “ooooh” when a birthday cake goes past them in a restaurant
dressage fans
smashed avocado
the Tombliboos
people who only like tennis when Wimbledon’s on
Scouts
the left-handed.

Mystifyingly, not only did Ms Braverman receive an education, but she’s a Buddhist—which sounds a bit foreign to me (and in this case is certainly dodgy).

Since she is blessed with such media-savvy charisma, we can look forward to her glossy cookbook (cf. Prick with a Fork). It will surely be a best-seller—if anyone can still afford books, or food; and the spinoff prime-time TV series will also be compulsory viewing [sic: legislation being hurried through Parliament]—if anyone still has a TV and can afford to switch it on.

lettuce

We can expect a wilting lettuce to form the basis of many recipes. But one dish that won’t be featuring is the delicious mapo tofu. Though basically white, it’s contaminated by suspicious-looking black beans and subversive Green leeks.

mapo tofu

Despite the current Tofu amnesty, * with such a ringing endorsement, sales will be soaring—outranking even hummus and avocado, traditional dog-whistles for the anti-woke brigade.

For more on cuisine, click here and here.


* Among many others, Michael Rosen has taken up Tofu-gate with a vengeance:

The worry for parents is that our children or teenage offspring might find their way to Tofu, perhaps without realising it, thinking that it was perhaps halloumi or feta. Some catering outlets serve it up in soup where it is concealed behind noodles. Please be careful out there.

and:

We need to go above and beyond Tofu-eating and consider the possibility of the Tofu-mentality: people who may not eat Tofu but have a Tofu mindset. They are a danger to the state because of their latent Tofu-ness.