Happy St Cuthbert’s Day with Chris Watson

Today is St Cuthbert’s Day. I must admit he wasn’t a saint I’d heard of before coming across Chris Watson’s work. 

Watson has had an interesting and highly varied career. Formerly a member of the post punk group Cabaret Voltaire, he turned to recording the natural world.  Many of the bird songs on the RSPB website are recorded by him. He also has created soundscape recordings.  Like Gordon Hempton his work both documents vulnerable soundscapes and draws our attention to what we are losing.

A few years back he released In St Cuthbert’s Time, an attempt at sonic archaeology to reconstruct what the Holy Island of Lindisfarne might have sounded like at the time of St Cuthbert. From Boomkat.com:

Celebrating the exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels at Durham Cathedral, Chris Watson has researched the sonic environment of the Holy Island as it might have been experienced by St Cuthbert in 700 A.D. ‘The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels’ manifests a remarkable tapestry of location recordings made on and around the small island off the Northumbrian coast – a place of pilgrimage for Christians and familiar to busloads of schoolkids across the North East – where Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne wrote and illustrated the titular Gospels during the late 7th C. and early 8th C. Each part reflects a particular season – ‘Winter’ is defined by cold, hard, constant North Sea winds and the sound of migratory flocks; ‘Lechten’ by busy bird calls and a strange unidentified, almost human-like woop and sploshing waters; ‘Sumor’ is a panorama of crickets, deep moos, bees, and cuckoos surrounded by water; ‘Haefest’ again by cornucopia of bird calls, and swooshing, almost industrial/industrious textures. You’ll have to use your imagination, but we’d reckon he’s vividly succeeded his aim to “reflect upon the daily and seasonal aspects of the evolving variety of ambient sounds that accompanied life and work during that period of exceptional thought and creativity”. It’s a blissful, evocative, thought-provoking listen – so typical of Watson at his very best


Play That Funky Classical Music White Boy

Raiding the vast (and out of copyright) canon of classical music has been a recurrent theme in popular music, from Frank Sinatra to The Farm to Eric Carmen (though Carmen’s All By Myself was the subject of a neat twist – Rachmaninov’s music was out of copyright in the U.S. but not the rest of the world, so his estate did end up receiving a share of royalties)

From the later 1960s, parallel with the rise of electronic music more generally, a subgenre of funky, synth-y arrangements of classical pieces developed. I’m not totally sure what to call this. The playlist above is intended to draw in a range of artists and approaches. Lamb’s Gorecki and William Orbit’s work are the most recent. I must admit while these seem respectful and true to the original, there is a kind of excess reverence and I rather prefer the more of-their-time versions of the late 60s and 70s.

The most prominent example of this kind of thing is Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, not available on Spotify so not on the playlist above. For me, the most characteristic example of this kind of thing is Deodato’s version of opening theme from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Deodato manages to make an already bombastic piece even more bombastic, and also much much longer. The road of excess leads to the palace of … well, something, but probably not wisdom:

As the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is one of the biggest selling albums of all time, it is reasonable to suppose that the most prominent exposure of the work of Ludwig van Beethoven’s ever was in Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven, a disco version of probably the most recognisable bars of music of all time the opening theme of the Fifth Symphony:

Perhaps understandably, pop/electronic musicians seem particularly drawn to reworking the dramatic, impressionistic pieces of late Romanticism. Mussogorsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a perfect example, and Isao Tomita’s reworking of the Great Gate of Kiev doesn’t disappoint:

Finally, in case all the above seems a little snarky and sneery, this kind of music does create some genuine magic. I’ll end with Deodato’s version of Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunté”, which takes the already fine original and makes something both respectful and new out of it:

“Be Still”, Agnes Hunt RHSM – poem in Glencomeragh, Co Waterford.

“Be Still”, Agnes Hunt RHSM – poem in Glencomeragh, Co Waterford.

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I have posted photos of Glencomeragh in February and photos of Glencomeragh in August. Glencomeragh was a Rosminian retreat centre near Kilsheelan (which is in Tipperary, but Glencomeragh is across the Suir in Waterford) which has more recently been home to the Holy Family Mission.

This poem is on a slightly faded board near Glen Falls, at the end of a boardwalk. On the other side of the board there is another poem I will perhaps post sometimes. The slideshow above shows each stanza as it is laid out on the board. This is just beside Glen Falls:


Agnes Hunt is the winner of the 2012 Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award for her work for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas:

The grounds for the Award were quoted as follows: Agnes was the first woman to be appointed to the chaplaincy in a male prison in England, 34 years ago; she continues to keep contact with long term prisoners up to the present time and she was nominated due to her commitment and empathy towards prisoners abroad and their families at home.


Anyhow, here is the poem:


Be still –

In fair Glencomeragh

where mighty oaks

from tiny acorns grow.

Majestic trees

Whose silent roots

Nourish with sap

The life of branch and shoot.


Be still – where willows droop

to kiss their image

in a shady pool

and water lilies

raise their heads

to glimpse the playful petals

on a dappled bed.


Be still –

where mountain streams

cascading from the heights

glint gold and silver,

as the rising sun,

lights up their daybreak dance

and with a sunkist blessing

sends them on their way

to dance their mirthful dance.


Be still –

where pond on pond

pour out their waters

in a joyful bond.

And passing pilgrims

on their earthbound way

atop a footbridge

are inspired to pray


Be still –

where standing stones

rise stately from the earth,

statue-like and solid

as the rocks

that gave them birth.

Keeping vigil night

and morn

firm ‘gainst sun and wind and storm.


Be still-

Praise God

For lordly oak

For drooping willow

For stately standing stones

For dappled ponds

For blessed abundance.

Be still,

in fair Glencomeragh.

For the heart of God

is beating all around.

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báisteach, fearthainn, ceobhrán,brádán,ceathanna, múrtha, scrabhanna báistí, aimsir cheathach,aimsir spairniúil, craobhmhúr (agus neart eile) – Irish words for Irish rain

Often it is said that “Eskimos” have fifty, or a hundred, or hundreds, of words for snow. I had vaguely picked up that this was discredited … although it turns out that only the “strong version” of this is debunked.

A recent tweet by Peter Reason asked:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>.<a href=”https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@RobGMacfarlane</a&gt; and others, is there a word for that lovely soft sound the rain makes as it falls on vegetation? Not really a patter, not a hiss, not really a murmur. Or do words fail us here?</p>&mdash; Peter Reason (@peterreason) <a href=”https://twitter.com/peterreason/status/1023490831821561859?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 29, 2018</a></blockquote>

The twitter exchange that followed didn’t establish an English word, but it did lead me to this Irish Times letter from 2006:

A chara, – Although I enjoyed Frank McNally’s discussion of the Irish language and rainfall (An Irishman’s Diary, May 25th), I feel he seriously underestimates the accuracy with which Irish can reflect “meteorological reality”. He mentions that Eskimos may have up to 49 different words for snow and feels that the Irish should have accumulated a similar number of words or expressions describing rain from “centuries of sodden experience”.

A perusal of Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla reveals that we Irish have no shortage of expressions when it comes to describing precipitation. Rain may simply be described as “báisteach” or “fearthainn” but the story does not end there. The words “ceobhrán” and “brádán”, of course, describe drizzle or misty rain and one might also say: “Tá sé ag draonán báistí” The expression “tá sé ag dríodarnach báistí”, although not contained in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, also describes this type of light rain. “Ceathanna”, “múrtha” or “scrabhanna báistí” describe showers of rain while “aimsir cheathach” or “aimsir spairniúil” describes showery weather. The word “craobhmhúr” is also useful in describing scattered rain or a light shower.

“Breacbháisteach” describes occasional rain (presumably of the type that causes difficulties with windscreen wipers) while rain blown on the wind (of the type that gets your trousers wet no matter which way you point your umbrella) might be described by “seadbháisteach” and, come to think of it, “seadbhraonta” might also cause problems for those wipers.

Unfortunately, the type of rain described by “spréachbhraon fearthainne” (a sprinkle of rain) was not that experienced by most of the country during the past month and the following may be utilised instead to describe this heavy, torrential rain: “batharnach”, “clagairt”, “clagarnach”, “dallcairt”, “forlacht”, “gleidearnach”, “stealladh”, “tuile” or “tabhairt mhaith báistí”.

Or why not “péatar”, “liagarnach”, “ragáille or “bús báistí”? In Munster Irish “ag cur foirc agus sceana” corresponds to “raining cats and dogs”, while in Connemara this might be expressed as “ag cur sceana gréasaí”. “Ag cur balc báistí” might also be heard in Ulster. “Ag cáitheadh báistí”, “tuile liag”, “caidhleadh”, “clascairt” or “léidearnach báistí” would also useful here. It may in fact be the case that we more than match those Eskimos and their snow

Finally, although Ó Dónaill translates “báisteach leatromach” as “local rain” this is almost certainly the kind of rain “meant for the guy beside you at a football match but deflected on to you by his golf umbrella”.- Is mise,

BREANDÁN Ó CRÓINÍN, Roinn na Gaeilge, Coláiste Mhuire gan Smál, Ollscoil Luimnigh.


Piano minimalism from 1880 – Liszt’s “Via Crucis”, Reinbert de Leeuw

Liszt’s piano setting of his late work Via Crucis (originally for  choir, soloists and organ) has many passages that sound extraordinarily like Satie or other much later exponents of minimalism. Wikipedia has this to say:

The work is a special case in the oeuvre of Liszt, especially because it is a work of great serenity. The work is also special because it reaches the limits of the till then prevailing tonality. The work combines unison songs (Stations I and XIV) with Lutheran chorales (Stations IV and XII), and chorales inspired by Bach‘s chorales (Station VI), whereas other stations consist of solo organ (or piano). Liszt self wanted to perform the work in the Colosseum, with accompaniment by harmonium.

Here is the Dutch conductor and pianist Reinbert de Leeuw:

Allmusic :

Known for its flashy virtuosity and high emotionalism, the keyboard music of Franz Liszt’s youth and early adulthood is easily recognized, though his somber, quasi-atonal late works have only gradually entered the piano repertoire. Instrumental in promoting the visionary compositions of Liszt’s last years is Reinbert de Leeuw, who has performed the Via Crucis regularly, and more generally has made the final works known to a growing audience. Via Crucis exists not only in the version for solo piano heard here, but also in arrangements for choir and organ, choir and harmonium, choir and piano, and piano duet. The work preoccupied Liszt for several years, and it was a breakthrough, insofar as Liszt had made a bold statement in his newly developed harmonic language, which had only been half-formed in his shorter pieces. De Leeuw immerses himself wholly in the music and maintains a nearly transcendental calm through its long passages of chant-like melodies and labored chromatic transitions. This work demands absolute concentration, which is evident in de Leeuw’s impeccable control and smooth gradations of timbres and dynamics.https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/4jzNkCw0kakdwKhcuA4oZ2

The lost world of Enno Aare

(edit 22nd August 2018 – readers may also be interested in the careers of Ana Olgica and Amity Cadet)


Continuing from my profiles of the work of Amity Cadet and Ana Olgica , I thought I would focus on another artist, once legendary, now only known by a fraction of their life’s work.
Unlike Amity Cadet, there exist some non-Spotify online traces of Aare’s existence, an interview in which he refutes the absurd and insulting thesis that he does not exist, that he is some kind of “fake artist.” Aare articulates a purist approach to a musical career in the age of streaming playlists:

So the excess trappings of the music industry are social media, websites, CDs, records, and live performances? You take a hard line on this.

EA: I see some of these guys at the farmer’s market selling CDs out of their cars, and I’m like, pfff, this guy is a sellout, a complete fraud. I knew this one guy in college who made a tape and spent, I don’t know, an hour designing a cover for it? With a band photograph and a logo? And he listed his email address on the back? Like, ooh, I’m so important I think people should email me. Man, I just shake my head. What a waste of energy.

CP: And so the only appropriate venue for music is a Spotify playlist?

EA: Basically. Yeah, when you get down to it. Put me on a playlist, and that’s all I need. That’s music in its purest form. I never even considered putting my music online anywhere, but these Spotify curators are just relentless in their pursuit of creating the best playlists. I was so stupid I didn’t even know you could “curate” music – I thought that was like an art thing. But when they told me my four songs could exist in a free-floating, context-less, non-corporeal environment for the benefit of people falling asleep with their earbuds in, I couldn’t say no. I told them, “This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is my moment. Sign me up.”

Unlike Amity Cadet, however, Enno Aare is represeneted on Spotify by not one, but four works. On YouTube we find three:

In my previous posts I showed how Amity Cadet and Ana Olgica were both profound, emblematic artists, whose presence on playlists entitled “Classical Chillout” and such may mask their visionary artistrry. A hint to the importance of Eeno Aare comes in the interview linked to above – the phrase “for the benefit of people falling asleep with their earbuds in.” For Eeno Aare was a psychonaut, a surfer of the extreme waves of human consciousness, whose surfboard was a piano, and whose Jaws was that most secret, most  private act, sleep. 

Enno Aare, born in Estonia in 1960, emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel with his parents in 1975 . They were in Israel only a few months before relocated to Rochester, New York. There Aare’s parents took up roles in The University of Rochester’s Medical School; his mother as a clinical lecturer in anaesthetics, his father as an associate professor in physiology. The Aares both had an academic interest in sleep. They associated themselves with the radical sleep researcher Pietro Corriola. Corriola is one of those figures ignored by the internet , who were highly influential in their day.


Corriola, born in Ravenna, was based in the Northeast Ohio Medical University   Here he devoted himself to whole-hearted opposition to the work of William C Dement and his creation, The American Sleep Disorders Association. Corriola was implacably opposed to Dement’s focus on REM and classifying sleep stages with electroencephalography.  Corriola was not opposed to the physical investigation of sleep per se. Indeed, he proudly identified himself as one of the “Moruzzi school of physiology”. , having trained under the Italian neurophysiologist who connected sleep and wakefulness to the reticular activating system



Despite this, for Corriola,sleep was to be considered metaphysiocally as much as physiologically. Sleep was not to be considered some kind of pathological deviation from normality, but an arena in which the mind floated free of the tyranny of wakefulness. Corriola was horrified by the reductionist approach to dreams and dreaming. For him, the prevalence of sleep disorders was a mass revolt against the medicalisation of sleep.

The Aares enthusiastically took up this cause. In a series of pamphlets, papers, monographs, letters to journals and book chapters they argued for a metaphysical science of sleep which would move beyond a merely neuroscientific paradigm. Corriola, following years of intellectual isolation in the USA (although his ideas had a warmer reception in Europe) was delighted with this sudden upsurge in interest. AS the 1980s dawned, and Corriola’s career entered its twilight, it seemed his legacy was secure. On a April 23rd 1980, this changed.

That day’s edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle revealed that the Aare parents were not in fact doctors of either medicine or physiology. It was implied that their credentials were Soviet forgeries, and the possibility of KGB infiltration was left hanging unspoken

This was officially discounted, although questions were also asked about the rapidity of the Aare’s move from Israel to the USA. In any case, their careers at Rochester were over. Suddenly, 21 year old Enno, freshly graduated Eastman School of Music, was the provider for his parents. He played piano in hotel bars, in wine bars, in cocktail bars, in piano bars, in leather bars, in singles bars, in racetrack bars. He played piano in what non-bar venues he could find work in. He did some work as a session musician. He played on jingles and on children’s TV shows. He played weddings, funerals, Bar Mitzvahs and any other ceremony in which a pianist could conceivably be required.

The 1980s wore on. Enno Aare played piano every day of every week, with no break. He began to despise the world of music, the so called “industry” but also the so called “art.” He began to despise the egotism, the narcissism, the celebration of the self. He recalled his parents’ lofty, idealistic work on sleep – the entry into a purer world, one without the stifling, corroding influence of the ego.

He despised the studio, despised the production of physical recorded music. He dreamt of a way his music could be untethered from the apparatus of the logistics of the industry he despised. He also began working with his parents on ways of using music to ease the passage into the blissful world of sleep. His parents were now spending 20 to 23 hours asleep a day, waking only for some nutrition, hydration, and relief of bodily functions. In a few snatched moments he would show them his music, written in a notation of the family’s own devising, for their approval.

When, years later, the MP3 file ruptured the link between a piece of music and a definite, physical object, Aare took note. This was not quite his dream, as there still was a physical infrastructure required for the file, to be “downloaded” and “shared”, words which captured the inherent physical nature of the file. But it was a start.

It could not be said that Spotify is the complete realisation of Aare’s dream of a pure music untethered by any physical reality, lulling the listener into the world of sleep. For one thing, a physical instrument is still required, and physical apparatus still required to stream the song. It was, however, a significant advance. And, sadly, the day Spotify was launched in Sweden – 23rd April 2006, the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story which changed their lives for ever – Eeno Aare’s parents died in their sleep.