Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Serious Skiing

On a trip to the library yesterday I was delighted to discover a little volume called Heroes, Villains and Ghosts: Folklore of Old California by Hector Lee (Capra, 1984). The stories in the book have been passed around the state for quite some time and, as Lee writes in the forward: "In their survival, legends tend to drift away from the actual facts in order to convey an "essential truth" which may be more interesting than the historical truth." I'm about halfway through it at present, and have a most interesting cast of characters, who may or may not be entirely historical, running about in my head. One of these, Snowshoe Thompson, proved of particular interest since he was a bit of a local boy. That is to say, he used to take the mail from Placerville over the Sierras to Genoa, Nevada--on homemade skiis. The route he followed, according to Lee was "more or less. . .the old Carson trail," which, these days, makes up part of stunning Highway 88. I had the great luck to ride over 88 back in June, and the view still sticks in my mind as one of widest and most wonderful the state (and possibly the world) has to offer. Then again, with Thompson, it was winter, and he was alone and on skiis. It was a very wide and white view, I've no doubt, and the mountains which fold, one into another off to the horizon might take on a slightly different light from that perspective. All the same, they say he carried the winter mails over the mountains for thirteen years. Though no doubt embellishments have crept into the stories they tell of him, to see those mountains and to think of that record is quite enough to make him a legend.

Here's a little piece from a 1910 book called Heroes of California, complete with a photograph of the man, and one of the terrain he crossed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coming Soon to a CD Player Near You

Another good news sort of day--Julie Fowlis will be releasing a new album on October 26! It looks nothing but promising, considering it includes "Bothan Airigh am Braigh Raithneach" *and* lists Allan MacDonald in the credits! Julie sang the lovely "Bothan Airigh am Braigh Raithneach" on one of BBC's Transatlantic Sessions a while back, so a version of the song was available as part of that collection, but who's to complain of more of a good thing? I think it's among her best.

If you go over to her MySpace page, the first three songs there are from the new album. And for those of us who don't speak Gaelic, there is the luxury of lyrics and translations here.

P.S. "Lon Dubh," also on the MySpace page (I think it was released as a single) might be familiar to those of you who are better at your pop culture than am I. Embarassingly, the title is one of the few Gaelic words I actually know, and yet for the longest time I couldn't figure out why the tune was so familiar!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Views

Here are a few shots from the last couple of weeks, all from Sacramento and the environs.
First off, a shot from inside the State Capitol, on the third floor, just because I liked the lights, and the clock (which didn't show up so well) and the arches. Historically, it is likely of little note; it is the view from just outside the bathrooms.
A comfortable shot looking up to the second and third landings in the capitol.
And a very uncomfortable shot, looking down from the third floor. That checkered bit to the left of the centre is the ground floor. It isn't all that far, as heights go, but it is the one thing about the capitol which has impressed me from an early age. Artistically, I have always loved the view. Altitude-wise. . .let's all move along now, eh?
The motor and prop of a biplane, from the Capitol City Airshow.
And the tail of a much larger plane. . .
Which has propellers like this:
Sunset shadows on the side of a Rite-Aid somewhere downtown.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stirling Head Tune, II

That article I linked to exactly a month ago on the supposed musical shorthand surrounding one of the Stirling Heads mentioned the piobaireachd scholar Barnaby Brown. I can't say why it never occured to me to see whether he himself had written down anything on the matter, than again, it made for a pleasant surprise when I stumbled across it this afternoon. He goes into more depth on the musical structure, gives an example of the harpers' shorthand, which it somewhat resembles, and brings up some questions of his own. Here you go.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Sleeping Tune

From Session A9; here's an arrangement of Gordon Duncan's "Sleeping Tune" that verges on the orchestral in places. Man, that's a grand tune!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Old Things of Great Beauty

My email service thinks it is being kind in offering me the latest headlines whenever I sign out of my inbox. I'll hand it to them tonight--for once in a million years (or at least since the squid tried to invade San Diego a couple of months ago) there really is something new and wonderful to read about. Well, okay, wonderful, yes, new, not so much. The Staffordshire Hoard is a recently uncovered archaeological find dating from the 8th century or thereabouts. They are saying it is bigger and better than the famous Sutton Hoo treasure that most of us lucky young things met as photos in our high school literature books, punctuating excerpts from Beowulf. So much surfaced in this single dig that predictions are flying that it will considerably influence Anglo Saxon studies, perhaps even rewrite them, to an extent.

(The website above is nicely set up and very extensive and, yes, it includes pictures--oh! such pictures!)

Deep Matters

I've been really wanting to try the "poll" feature on the blog, and last night I found the perfect excuse. In a book at work, I found a phrase that ran something like this: "Music of this period strived to be more noble." Thus the poll over there to the right. Does "strived" sound odd to you, or not?

EDIT: Yes, I do have other things to do, why do you ask?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Wild Grey Yonder

My old roomie came to visit last week, and one of the things we did was take in the Capitol City Airshow out at Mather Field. They called it an airshow, but I think it was actually an elaborate ceremony meant to guarantee rain. We had a blazing, painfully unclouded summer here, until the week of the airshow, when it began to get grey, and the wind began to kick up. As far as I know, however, none of it was so inclement as to warrant an interruption of the flying, so in a way we had our cake and ate it too.

There were plenty of photo opportunities, but the best of them required a fast-draw style that I have not yet acquired with the camera. I managed to catch some airborne acrobatics faintly here, above the tail of the plane on the ground.

There were a few old warbirds there, including a P-38, which was very exciting to see, however the pictures I got of that in flight might as well have been the Loch Ness Monster for all you could tell what they were ("It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a. . .spot on the lense!")

When we first arrived, there was an F-22 Raptor running through some of its tricks. I don't know that I've ever seen anything that was both so graceful, and so powerful. It commanded your attention, and drew you right along with it, so you were, at the same time, more conscious than usual of your feet, planted firmly on the ground, while it seemed your heart and soul were spiraling off into the sun. Again, no good pictures on my part, but I found something better on YouTube--here's a short video clip of an F-22 in action at Nellis AFB.

Of course, the top billing of the day was the Air Force's Thunderbirds in their F-16's. Precision flying is pretty neat to begin with; when you see it done in graceful little crafts that are going upwards of 400 miles an hour, it leaves you quite bereft of any words to describe it. I hadn't been to an airshow in at least ten years, and in that time my mind had acquired a new simile for that kind of perfect flying. I was a little unnerved when the thought crept in, "They're like SFU!" Which is like comparing apples and oranges (or worse, comparing Naills and F-22's) but there is a certain something that sort of precision has in common, a single-minded pursuit of excellence that leaves one much the better for having seen it.

Then add to such excellence, the breathtaking (an overused word, but honest, I don't think I was doing much breathing at the time) sight of a trim aircraft carrying the impossible cargo of a single human soul straight up for miles, dwindling until, at last it is swallowed by the huge, silent grey desert of sky. An astronomer might tell you that the pilot has not even scratched the surface of the universe, but a fact like that does nothing to banish the phrase that is running through your mind, and probably many of the minds around you: "I have. . .put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
On the walk back to the car, your legs feel a little odd, as if you weren't entirely earthbound the whole time you were watching the flight, and your feet need to get used to the asphalt all over again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fine Fiddling

Take a moment and go over to listen to Bruce MacGregor. He is, as you may have already acertained, the MacGregor of MacGregor, Brechin and O hEadhra, who I mentioned last week. More of an emphasis on slower, mellower tunes here than what I've run across lately--very nice indeed, but it makes picking a slow air of the week difficult. (If you forced me into it, I might say that "Nameless Clan" is it.)
And here is a video that has been knocking about in my computer for a month or so, something I found on Comhaltas' YouTube channel. It is the reel "Farewell to Ireland," played by Aidan O'Neill. I stand (or sit, rather) in much awe of the fluidity of Irish bowing. Here is a lot of it:

And, speaking of fluid bowing, Jamie McClennan just came out with a solo album. I saw this video some time ago and had a little trouble trying to figure out exactly where he hails from. He plays with Emily Smith (Scots singer), very smooth, Irishy bowing, or is that smooth, bluegrassy bowing?

Anyway, come to find out, he's from New Zealand!

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's Green and Photogenic?

I was at my grandma's house yesterday, having a terrible time getting in and out of the front door because she had accidentally acquired a vicious attack mantis (I made that part up just now) which perched on her wall and stared at folks as they walked by. Like this: The part about having a hard time getting in and out the door is quite true, because I couldn't get by the thing without trying to get one more ("No, really just one more, this time") picture of the creature. I came home and found that I had upwards of 40 shots dedicated to the little green alien on the wall.
Here the mantis does "The Mantis."
When I left, the original mantis was a little higher up the wall, and the porch light had drawn another.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

One of These Things is Different (or, Recipe for Disaster)

I found this alarming arrangement on my kitchen counter the other day. Just because it says 'seasoning' on it, probably does not mean it should be equated with basil and cayenne.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mighty Fine

Here's a most enjoyable singer I found last week: Brian O hEadhra (there is a fada over the O, but my computer isn't letting me paste in the right character this afternoon). He's Irish, as the name suggests, but lives in Inverness, and sings in Scots Gaelic, Irish and English--and makes all of it sound quite good. He offers a whole seven songs on that MySpace page, so you get a fair sampling, to say the least. In case that isn't enough, he also performs with the trio MacGregor, Brechin & O hEadhra (yes, there's a fada in that too) and with the band Anam.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And That's All She Could Come Up With?

Again, I must apologise for a long absence. In the interest of keeping it from being an even longer absence, I post this highly momentous news: "Tommy MacDonald of Barguillean," has been stuck in my head all summer. It is a very catchy little 2/4 march by a composer named Bruce Thompson. Meantime included a grand, laid-back version of the tune in one of the sets on their album Blue Men of the Minch (which I purchased back in June, a clear indication of how the tune got stuck in my head in the first place) and Shotts & Dykehead used it in last year's famous medley, where it is the first tune :

So there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Good Read

Don't necessarily take this as a recommendation of the site as a whole--I haven't had time to go through it. But I found a mention of this short essay on another blog this morning and thought it a shame not to pass it along. Should you take the time to read it? Probably. It involves a butterfly, a small child, and some very vivid prose.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

You Never Can Have Too Many Jellyfish

Today's link is a BBC gallery of arctic jellyfish, no less! Cool. Very cool.