syncategorematic: (guitar)
( Apr. 17th, 2014 03:01 pm)
A marvellous piece of music journalism, even for someone like me who knows almost nothing about the blues: The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie, the story of seeking out the story of two brilliant African-American women blues musicians of 1930.

A must-read; the twists and turns of this history just keep building up.
I don't think I've translated a Yuri Vizbor song before; he has a somewhat more mainstream-bard temperament than the songwriters I usually translate, as he has somewhat less sophisticated melodies. But this song is kind of stuck in my head today. I'm not sure why, but the last four lines make me tear up a little. 

I am teaching to play the guitar now,
To a guy on an icebreaker crew.
As the ice shatters under the bow,
Sasha grips the frets tighter anew.
I have gotten a stubborn apprentice,
He is tugging the strings with his soul:
On his table a telegram sent is:
"I've stopped loving you. Bye. And don't call."

Right along among bergs rolling ramming,
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see:
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

My guitar skills are not very mighty, 
And the frets send me fretting at times - 
I had learned from the local teen fighters 
In Moscow yards lined with poplars and limes. 
But to Sasha I'm god, as I'm claiming:
Without music he's now a lost man. 
Vizbor Yosich*, he weirdly named me, 
Showing me his respect as he can. 

Right along among bergs rolling ramming, 
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see: 
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am, 
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

Oh, the iceman's harpoon so long-ranging 
Has a treacherous stroke to be sure. 
And the seven worn strings that need changing 
Are now left as protection and cure. 
He says, "Nitpicking, this, anyhow, 
So she made a mistake in her mind..." 
I go teach folks to play the guitar now, 
And I'm learning from folks to be kind. 

Right along among bergs rolling ramming, 
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see: 
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am, 
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

- Yuri Vizbor

*the proper respectful title for Vizbor would have been Yuri Yosifovich, or Yuri Yosich in short - Sasha using his last name as a first name does make for a weird name.

Video, as always:
syncategorematic: (guitar)
( Jul. 17th, 2011 10:49 pm)
I had to go out in the evening to hang a towel on the chair of my balcony, and just stopped, looking and listening and smelling the dark summer stillness, watching the trees quiver against the velvety sky, a rabbit dart by on its way to the lawn, random late-night headlights adding yellow eyes to the orange sodium glow of the streetlights.

Moved by the idea that I've taken too little advantage of my balcony in the two and a half years I will lose it, I went and grabbed my guitar and fingerpicked for a while, softly, moving through chords, they sounding clearer with no voice to mask them. Minor, major, seventh, suspended second, add 9th...

Among the things I find...enchanting, magical, sexy, call it what you will, playing music softly on a summer's night will be in the top ten. It makes me long to live in a place where every night is a summer night like this, where all year round you can sit on your balcony and strum chords quietly to yourself, to someone else, to the streetlights and the cats, with not even the late-night dogwalker below noticing you. Make music. To the sky and the air. Maybe it is sexiness. Maybe it is worship.

But I've got to get up early in the morning.
 Since I seem to continue to be on a kick of journalling in verse...

In an abandoned bandstand
By a freshwater inland sea,
Three teenage boys and two guitars
Sang a song in a minor key.
They were backlit by the sundown,
And no one else came near,
But they sang in open harmony,
And I had to stop to hear.

Backlit by the sundown,
A bass root and a chord.
Backlit by the sundown,
No matter that no one heard.
Backlit by the sundown,
The shadows hid their face,
But their voices lit the sunset
In that time and in that place.

A quarter of a world away
And seven years before,
Three other boys and another guitar
By another inland sea shore,
It was already past sundown,
And stars had lit above,
But they sang in open harmony,
In a song in a key I love.

Backlit by the darkness,
They had sung as I passed there,
And I never saw their faces,
But they brought me out of despair,
And so whenever chords will ring
By the shores of any sea,
I'll stop and I will listen,
And add a harmony.

And once upon some sundown,
By some other sea or star,
I may be the one who sits there
With a song or a guitar,
Unable to see the faces
Of listeners who came,
Just knowing the ones who'd sung for me,
And hoping I'll do the same.

Backlit by the sundown
Reflected in waves below,
Backlit by the sundown,
However the words may go,
Backlit by the sundown, 
Whatever chords are right,
Backlit by the sundown,
Singing against the night.

(Incidentally, these ones played a cover of something whose lines now escapes me; then when I made my presence known, they played "Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green (but got lost at the bridge) and switched to Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee", which is the first time I heard it. Wikipedia now says that the melody has a middle-Eastern flavour, which did not come across in that cover with guitar and unplugged bass. It's too late in the evening for me to listen to the original.

The lads by the Black Sea in Odessa, whom I've told about before, had sung "Autumn" by DDT, and I had joined in. Lake Michigan-Huron is an inland sea for all practical purposes.)

I answered to [ profile] kayshapero  :

1. If you'd like to play along, reply to this post and I'll assign you a letter.
2. You then list (and upload or link to the video, if you feel like it) 5 songs that start with that letter.
3. Then, as I'm doing here, you'll post the list to your journal with the instructions. Easy peasy!

My letter is "T."

And my list is:

"Take This Waltz" by Leonard Cohen. I was just thinking of it while thinking of Vienna in various ways. I've tried playing it, but keeping the rhythm dead on in waltz time rather than triplet time, especially under such a spoken-word song, is harder than I thought. By the way, Juniperus introduced me to someone doing with Photoshop what I desperately want to do with my imagination whenever I am in cities, Vienna included (I've seen this corner!).

"Taking a Chance on Love" performed by Janice Hagan on the track I have. Which is kind of how I feel, actually.

"Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" (Bach) - I have three versions, by Vanessa Mae, Paul Mauriat, and by Exeption. Apparently no actual orchestral arrangement. If you don't like the classics being 'bastardized' creating what to me is an entirely new derivative work with its own merit --- too damn bad, I do.

Temnota vperedi by Vysotsky. Because I have a translation here! (It needs polish, but meh, some parts are good.) I feel that way too.

Thirty-Three by the Smashing Pumpkins. Because I have a partiality for any song that begins, "Speak to me in a language I can hear." For obvious and non-obvious reasons.

No, that doesn't even hint at the eclecticity of my iTunes playlist.

So on a lark of sorts I auditioned for Canadian Idol today.

Lead sentence to stop you dying of suspense: no, I didn't make it past the first cut. So you will not vote for me on TV singing songs that I have never heard of before, nor do you stand a chance of seeing me on TV, period; my likelihood of getting on Jeopardy! still remains theoretically better than of getting on Canadian Idol. None of us in our group made it past, so I did not see what the producers, or at least that particular producer auditioning us, was looking for.

However, looking back on it, the strongest genuine feeling I have about the experience is that it was fun. That was what I came for, that was what I got. True, I would have been somewhat more proud of myself if I had made it up a couple of levels, although I definitely did not entertain dreams of Sony recording contracts or even trying to garner votes from the fickle Canadian public every week while singing songs I have never heard of before. I know that this is not in me, this trying to be all things to all people; I would rather have a niche cult following that slowly grows bigger and bigger and bigger over the years. However, looking back on auditioning, I can say plainly: if I get the chance to do it again, even with foresight that I would be cut in the first round, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Today, due to a messup of my own making, I let a dream die. I think my visualizing something, picturing what words I would use, how the other person would react, how I would react, how I would feel, is cursed; never, ever have things come out exactly the way I've visualized them. Picturing getting such and such a result may work for pro athletes and for readers of The Secret, or so I am told; for me, visualizing a scenario in my head is almost guaranteed to destroy it. It may be that I actually get the words I've planned out, which happens far from often; it may be that they even sound the way I wanted them to, which is even rarer; in that case, any other person is guaranteed not to react the way I expected/wished for them to react. For that reason, learning from almost-bitter experience, I do not visualize my first novel publication very much, or meeting the love of my life and knowing he is thus, or receiving a Hugo Award. I tell life, "I want a Hugo Award; I want love in my life; I want people to read what I've written and laugh and cry and look at the world with new eyes, and I want libraries to rank my books among the most frequently stolen; now I'll leave the details up to you, because when I start specifying the details, I mess them up. Guaranteed."

And it works, actually (well, it hasn't worked for the Hugo Award, yet, but like heck I'm going to get a Hugo when I haven't yet finished something to submit!) Often when I want a conversation on a particular topic with some person particularly important to me, the conversation happens, not the way I imagined it to, but in many ways, better. And I still manage to get in the good jokes I made up, especially if it's by email (probably one chief reason I like turn-based communications better than real-time ones; the dreams live just a little, breathe just enough to see the sunrise, before they die forever as my playing them ahead of time had doomed them).

It's like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: you can either have the chief purpose of some action, or the details of it. If you want the chief purpose achieved, you give up on the details; and if you are going to stick your guns and stick to the details, sure, they are wonderfully clear. In your head, not in reality. And you don't get a chief purpose neither.

I tell myself that there are reasons for false dreams to die, that they die to make way for more beautiful realities.

But sometimes I still want to weep over them, silly as that is.

On other topics: Conversation with a coworker:

It comes from listening to Ottmar Liebert's Nouveau Flamenco CD. We've had that CD for many, many years (actually, what I was listening to was ripped tracks, anyway) and it has formed a great many instant-recognition triggers with me. As I've probably mentioned before, years and years of violin have taken their toll; I have very good relative pitch (I can't say I have perfect pitch, though) and I compulsively analyze music when I hear it.

And among the other things I have learned about myself in the last six to eight months, and the other resolutions I have made for things I am long overdue to do, but have held back from because of lack of --- courage? Money? Let's just throw these together under the blanket term of "resources" not available to the child I was --- is that one of the things I want to do this year is to start learning to play a stringed plucked instrument.

Well, my ultimate dream would be to play the seven-string guitar. That is one way my bloody heritage murmurs at me (there are a bunch of others, but in case inattentive readers haven't noticed, most of them have to do with poetry and music). But I would be interested in pretty much any stringed instrument with a neck, such that the fingering coordination of the violin would be a transferable skill. A place I babysat had a small banjo, which I would tune to violin tuning as best I was able, and strum stuff on. I loved that, quietly.

There is a problem, however. In grade nine, I asked Lady Toscanini if I could play the cello. "No.:" The viola? "No," she replied, taking a second look at my hands. My hands are stretchy, true, but the fact remains that they are small, with small palms and fingers probably even on the short side of the average in proportion (according to palmistry, that means I am not punctilious about small details, I like to see the big picture and tend to make leaps of intuition. Which is true. Except when I'm a copy editor.)  I've picked up guitars before, common run-of-the-mill acoustics as far as I know, and had tried fingering them, and my wrist and the tendons in my palm and fingers throbbed from trying only a few fingerings. Last time that happened, a friend and I had gone into Toronto's endlessly amusing Active Surplus store, and they had a guitar, and I played around with it; I think; my memory is starting to be quirky with me as to whether it had been a guitar or a banjo; I do remember strumming it, and my heart ached with longing as my hands ached with the stress of not being able to handle its size, and my friend laughed at me. Hmph!

We have a guitar lying around; some friends had passed it along. It was made in Samara in 1994, according to the inside label, but is six-stringed rather than seven-stringed. I just spent a productive half-hour getting it somewhat tuned, from strings that were slack enough to vibrate somewhere in the single-digit Hertz frequencies. is big. Big even for a guitar. I look like a ridiculous child holding it, and arranging my hands and it into playing position is darned near impossible. And just from holding it up to turn the pegs, my wrists moan and complain. I am a determined woman, but I must play with the chessboard before me.

Once upon a time, the lovely yellowrose did send me a private message on that point, advising me that there were parlour guitars in existence, and other guitars sized for smaller people (and probably tuned higher too; my violin experience has unfortunately left me with great glaring lacunae where anything below Helmholtz g is concerned; I'd rather work in a range a bit closer to what I am used to listening for; trying to tune that big guitar drove this home, that without a reference point like a bass-range tuning fork, I am nothing). Alas, we lost touch soon after that. I hope yellowrose comes back one of these days.

But I am going to go looking for something small and relatively inexpensive to learn on. I wanna learn about chords. I wanna accompany my singing, darnit.

Build a bridge or go below
Tunnel under the river bed
And then fearlessly go
Here for wine and meat and bread
And bring a guitar as well,
Tuning up its pegs to play,
And --- your sharp fangs, if I dare tell ---
Will you dull them, if you may?

And when you figure out
That Rome is where all roads end ---
Then come here and chat about
Then you'll come and be a friend!
Your sharp knives, why don't you throw
Then away with the stones you took,
Why don't you build a bridge, you know?
Even a pole across a brook?

-- V. Vysotsky, 1972, and I know that somewhere on the Internet I can find the chording for this song, on the seven-string guitar.