Michael Flanders, Daniel Barenboim,Stravinsky

Many years ago, just after my period as a remarkably unsuccessful “antique” seller in the Camden Passage market, I joined the Little Angel Puppet Theatre and started out on what would be one of my main careers, that of a theatre technician.

My chief area of work there was as a lighting guy and scenery maker, and John Wright, the wonderful South African Puppeteer who ran the theatre with his wife, Lindy taught me all I needed to know to do that work.

John wright
John Wright

One of the true highlights of my time with them was the version of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, which we performed at the Purcell Rooms (part of the Royal Festival Hall complex on the south bank of the Thames).

This was a seriously big undertaking for the Little Angel Theatre crew, who were more used to working on the small and intimate scale of their own theatre in Islington in a setting that was totally set up for puppetry – not a description that you could apply to the Purcell Rooms, which was simply a flat stage at the end of a long and relatively narrow auditorium, and which was, reasonably enough, set up and designed for small scale classical concerts to be performed in.

But, I am happy to say, we pulled it off magnificently.

The basic idea was that we used a whole series of rod puppets (controlled from below and behind by means of rigid rods connected to their moving parts), and the puppeteers were dressed from head to foot in soft, non-reflective – black fabric, and worked on a stage that had a series of steps going across the stage from left to right, so the further upstage you went (away from the audience) the higher you were.

The stage itself was also painted matt black, and the sides and back of the stage were covered with soft black fabric.

The lighting was by means of a series of spot lights on either side of the stage, aimed across the stage horizontally, with very narrow beams.  And the idea was that the puppets would be held in one or more of these beams of light, and thus be visible to the audience, and when not held in the light, would be invisible.

The created the effect of the puppets floating in the air, but as often is the case with puppets, one quickly stopped “seeing” them as floating, but sort of invented a ground for them to be walking on.. odd how our minds do that sort of thing.

Most of the puppets were about a meter (3 foot) tall, but as there were no reference points regarding size, the audience quickly saw the puppets as normal human size.  So when at the very end of the story, the soldier crosses the frontier to be reunited with his lover, and the Devil comes to claim his soul, we used a Devil puppet which was about 8 feet tall, so it looked enormous when it loomed over the soldier puppet we used in that scene (the soldier puppet we used there was a very small one, about 30 cms tall to make the difference in size even more marked and dramatic).

John Wright with Devil puppets (thanks to Ronnie le Drew for this photo)
John Wright with Devil puppets (thanks to Ronnie le Drew for this photo)

Continue reading “Michael Flanders, Daniel Barenboim,Stravinsky”

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Pictures To Produce Ideas

The internet is a source of the most amazing and extraordinary images, many of which simply cry out to be used as starting points for short stories.   For example, if you see this photo (see below) it has to make your mind begin to wander around all manner of possible stories.

strange-bedfellows1_featured

What on earth is happening in this photo?   Why is that nonchalant young woman sitting on her bed apparently being embraced by a large and peaceful bear?  Is the bear comforting her?  Why is she apparently ignoring the bear?  What on earth is she doing, dressed only in her nightgown, with a large and amiable bear beside her?

As you can see, such an image could surely be used by your students (or yourself) as the starting point (or equally, the end point) of a short story of just about any genre.

I have long been fond of using such images to get my writing juices flowing, and the advent of the internet has been a real boon to individuals such as I in this respect.   So much easier than having to go to a library and ploughing through volumes of stuff to find that one exciting image that I need to get me going.

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More Strange Musical Instruments

As I discussed a couple of days ago in a post about odd musical instruments, the world is full of apparently totally insane individuals who feel a drive to invent weird and wonderful instruments.  This set me off in a hunt for more such inventors. and one I have come across is obviously a serial inventor of ludicrous – but fun – instruments.  A guy by the name of Len Solomon, who is responsible for such extraordinary instruments as The BellowphoneThe Oomphalopompatronium and the splendidly named The Emphatic Chromatic Callioforte.

These, and a myriad of other equally odd instruments are things he has created over the last 40 or so years, and which he uses in his performances as a solo musician in schools, festivals and other venues.

Before I entertain you with a couple of videos of him performing on some of his creations, here are a couple of photos to give you an idea of what his instruments look like……

So now you know what both he and some of his instruments look like, it is time to hear what he creates with them.  So here we go, have fun……

Continue reading “More Strange Musical Instruments”

Musical Oddities – Weird Instruments

Every so often, strange and twisted people sit down and invent a new and frequently totally insane musical instrument.  So I thought it might be fun to have a look at some of the weirder examples of this particular human quirk.

From what I can see, these seem to fall into two broad types, the first being instruments that can be played and used with other musicians playing on more traditional instruments, and the second type are those devices that are played by the wind, water or other non-human forces.

I thought I would have a look at a couple of creations that are “played” by the wind or water first, just to start us off before I head off into the truly strange world of instruments intended to be played by humans.

The Zadar Sea Organ.

So, to begin with, here is a rather beautiful concept, a sort of organ that is played by wave action. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it…

The Sea organ (Croatian: Morske orgulje) is an architectural object located in Zadar, Croatia and an experimental musical instrument, which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps.

Actually, it says rather more, but the main points are in the quote above.   Now to listen to the rather pleasing noise it makes as the waves go in and out.   I would love to hear what it sounds like in a real storm, when the waves are huge… but I can find no recordings of that, sadly.

Beautiful and haunting isn’t it?  I could happily sit on that sea-front all day simply listening to the sound of the actual waves and the sound they generate in those tubes….   What a wonderful concept!

The Singing Ringing Tree.

The next one is visually beautiful too, and the noise (music?) it makes has much the same ethereal quality as the sea organ, but yet it has a very individual voice, that is for sure.

So, for both your aural and optical pleasure, here is the Singing Ringing Tree from near Burnley in the English Pennines.

Isn’t that the most amazing and peaceful sound you have ever heard?   Can you imagine standing near to that construction, gazing out over the beautiful views of the Pennines with that calm music surrounding you….

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Cyberpunk Animations – Dark And Gloomy

Not surprisingly most cyberpunk animations I have seen are dark, gloomy and deeply depressed – which is reasonable when you consider the underlying ideas of the Gothic movement that cyberpunk seems to have arisen from to a degree.

This teaser for a festival of cyberpunk films gives a good idea of the atmosphere that seems to pervade all the films I have come across.  See what you feel.

To be honest, it is really more about Sci-Fi than what I believe cyberpunk is all about, though most cyberpunk writing (see William Gibson for example) is to a greater or lesser degree centered on Sci-Fi I suppose

All well and good I feel, but a bit of humour now and then might be pleasant I reckon.  As with many such movements, cyberpunk seems to take itself dreadfully seriously.

Also it seems that most of these films are all centred on some computer game.  There is an endless stream of references to “level 3” or “level 5” and so on.    I know it is my ignorance at play here, all true cyberpunks will know exactly what these “levels” refer to. I simply can’t be bothered to look into it.

Anyhow, the films themselves are interesting I found, in their total immersion in the depressing world of cyberpunk.. all gloom, doom and violence, both cyber and old fashioned physical.

Here is another dip into the murky mindset of the cyberpunk world – Grab your Valium.

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Amazingly Beautiful Animations

The advent of relatively easy and affordable computer animation techniques seem to have caused a wave of highly creative animation films to be made by students all over the world, all of which end up on Youtube or some similar website it seems.

Every self-respecting university or art school now seems to have a department of computer animation studies, which have produced some simply wonderful and often beautiful animations, which are a source of continual joy to me.

Generally on my blog I have looked at the more extreme forms of animated film making, Gothic, horror, weird or simply eccentric, but as I say, there is also a school of animation making that concentrates on simple, gentle and “normal” themes.

One such is this wonderfully sentimental and predictable film about a poverty stricken and lonely street musician and a stray street dog who comes into his life.   Whilst the whole story is entirely predictable, the way in which it has been done makes it gripping, moving and most enjoyable to watch – well that is my feeling about this short film.

So, without more ado, here it is for your viewing pleasure – and you will have to be a very hardened cynic not to get some degree of pleasure from this film…. If for no other reason than how beautifully the city it all plays out in has been created…..

By the way, the title of this piece is “Rubato”, a musical term with the following meaning:-

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Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – Odd Guys

Way back in the dim distant past, while I was a student at Saint Martins School of Art (studying sculpture under Tony Caro, Phillip King and other similar luminaries of the ’60 British Art Scene), I also came into contact with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, most specifically with Viv Stanshall, who we all knew as Uncle Vick (no Idea why he was called that, but that was his daily use name).

He was a very tall and remarkable figure, dressed elegantly at all times, with a very Oscar Wilde manner about him, and also in how he spoke.   Basically in anyone else it would have been considered highly affected, but he carried it off with great conviction, so it was totally acceptable – though it remained a bit disconcerting to be addressed by a guy who was the same age as me as “Dear Boy”.

vivianstanshall

In spite of his high camp way of behaving, and dressing, I am pretty sure that he was absolutely not gay in any way, it was more a case that he had invented a sort of character to present to the world in preference to the “real” Viv Stanshall.   I later gathered that his background and relations with his father were bumpy to say the least.

However, I knew nothing of this at that point, I merely knew this tall and eccentric tuba playing bloke, and in due time, also the whole group of them (the Bonzos that is).

Uncle Vic was a student at the Central School of Art at this point, as were most of the Bonzos, and their music was no more than a sort of hobby for them all.   They got together as a group and played their favourite music, which was basically dance music of the 1920’s, and only later developed their weird and insane comedy routines.  When I first saw them playing it was in a pub in Shepherds Bush in London.  They played there regularly to a more or less attentive and appreciative audience in exchange for free beer and a small amount of ready cash.

Here is Uncle Vic in typical Oscar Wilde mode……

Curiously it was in that pub during one of their gigs that I saw my first pub fight, and bloody scary it was too.  I was sitting on a high stool at the bar, the Bonzos were playing happily away, when with no warning, my stool was whipped out from under me, the guy standing next to me had a broken bottle pushed into his face, the Bonzos disappeared from the stage, and the guy next to me lay there in a large pool of blood… all in a matter of a couple of seconds.  A very scary and salutary experience.   The speed of it all astounded me.

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