Half a circle

At this point I realise that I haven’t written on the process of creating this body of work, if indeed that’s what it is…I am reminded of a Don Van Vliet quote “I’m interested in playing, not working”, gotta love the captain!

I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity and engagement of my invited guests over the last 6 months and feel a need to pause and thank them all for the time and effort given to this unfunded, personal project.

It’s been such an interesting process working with the artists through the last 6 months, each bringing their own interpretation and understanding of their zodiac sign and how to engage with the project. As the series has progressed there is a sense that each sign is intrinsically connected to the last, potential methods of interaction and engagement increase with every iteration.

How appropriate at this point in the cycle to be challenged by a Virgo to ‘Do something you haven’t done before‘, I decided to take that principle beyond the improvised audio and break the visual format established in the previous videos too, breaking down the individual video components and creating new visual options for future participants to explore.

I am looking forward to working with my next half circle of guests and hope they will embrace the project as fully as the first half circle and be bold in their suggestions and participation.

“It’s only music when you’re playing it, if you’re not playing it, it’s not music” John Leidecker aka Wobbly

A circle in 12 parts: Virgo

This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my guest for Virgo is Jay Hodges:

“I know you’ve seen the note. I know you know what it says. How did it come to this? It’s not my fault, I’m innocent! I didn’t want to do it! I’M A PERFECTIONIST!”.

Ok, ok, back to the beginning and how or why I got involved in all this despicable, unholy behavior. It all started quite innocently in ‘The Before Time’. A couple of visits to the pub and this guy invites me to take part in his New Musick project, I’m a little sceptical but I think ‘hey, just Roll With It‘. He’d found a brewery with extra special ales, delivered free, that we could drink in his home. What a process! Order beer, deliver beer, drink! True explorers, finding random new hops whenever they arose – FOUND HOPS, what an amazing project, I’m fully on board, totally committed. Then he starts drawing circles and all manner of shit happens.

The soundtrack was the start of it all, if we had just used my suggestion of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, her ‘magnum opus’, none of this would have happened. I tried telling him of her integrity, originality and dedication to her art, and the deep emotional content of such a seminal track, but all did was ramble, speaking in tongues, muttering things like; “commodification of music”, “corporate whore”, “selling sex”, strange meaningless sentences. For him the soundtrack would be a live performance, Analogous to the project, something to “sample the Hops and Skip the Juice“. Performance! Sampling! Things were beginning to get weird, his fluid performance was about to become binary and there were way too many binaries in this world; Love and Hate, Life And Death, Analog and Digital.

The Separation and the outlawing of performance should have put and end to this absurdity, but it just fueled his madness, A Perfect Storm, he was to take things to a new level – a full circle with 12 co-conspirators, he had a crew and they could remote. Why he decided to convince me to join up I don’t know, perhaps he felt sorry for me but I was in way over my head. I should have ran there and then but I was committed and guys like me when we commit, WE COMMIT! My part in this demonstrable ritual was to use our original sample plan to create a circle (again with the circles), analog to digital – an improvisation. Improvisation! How could I? It’s against my nature, I’M A PERFECTIONIST! But all he could say was “Hey man, let the computer do the work, this ‘aint no job, it’s a Vocation“. I was reeling, Twisted Sour, my mind recoiled back to simpler times and the Double IPA‘s of FOUND HOPS. Thats it! I would double down, Madonna to the power of 6. I would lure him into unfamiliar territory – a first – and from there bring him back from the brink. However I would also be in virgin territory.

It was during the performance as I was about to unleash the power of the prickly pop princess that he finally revealed himself, amid Wave After Wave of expertly crafted crushing reverberation and modulation – a transformation, a digital wizard, the circle complete, my plan was in tatters, I was lost, the madonna had fallen, there was no going back, BUT I’M A PERFECTIONIST!  That’s when I found the note, carefully placed only to be discovered at exactly the right moment, as the last fragments of reality dissolve. You’ve seen it, you know what it says! Those Dark, Stout, ominous letters rendering themselves onto my being

LIFES A PITCH THEN YOU DELAY

I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway and I know I can never go back but all I want to do is return to the pub where it all started and begin again, “like a virgin…Hey!… Fucked for the very first time”.

A circle in 12 parts: Cancer

This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my guest for Cancer is Kathryn Campbell Dodd:

Home is where the haunt is

These days I’m pretty sceptical about astrology, but, in my younger years, I enthusiastically learned and absorbed the traits of my star sign. I think, perhaps, the quasi-scientific nature of astrology satisfies a deep desire within us to see ourselves objectively reflected and to catch a glimpse of our ‘true’ self. Sometimes I wonder whether we are so taken with this mirror to our character that we accept the reflection as the real. We confuse the given traits of our star sign with our own, ’Well, I’m a Cancer so of course I’m a nurturing, slightly over sensitive home lover’.

As above, so below is the credo of astrology. My celestial companion is the moon and I’ve been looking for her reflection in the stuff of my every day.

The ‘typical’ Cancerian feature that seems to have chimed with me consistently throughout my life is a preoccupation with home, and the things of the home. I’m particularly interested in the unhomely and the haunted home, the disturbance of the unfamiliar becoming manifest within our most intimate environment; the way that small disruptions in atmosphere and perception can make the familiar suddenly uncomfortable and alien.

I decided to choose just one record from Jacob’s collection to build sound for the piece, Ghosts by Japan, a piece that cultural theorist Mark Fisher cites in the title of his book Ghosts of My Life: writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures in which he describes its “…sense of enervated foreboding…”:

When the room is quiet, the daylight almost gone, it seems there’s something I should know….

Whilst I’ve been thinking about the work I wanted to make for this project, there have been disturbances at the threshold of my home. For a couple of months, a crow has been coming to knock the windows with its beak and ‘caw’ on the windowsills. Sometimes it comes with a companion who sits on the roof, sometimes it comes alone, but it always follows the same routine, four or five times a day, landing on the same two windowsills and performing specific routines. It’s the kind of encounter that is freighted with folklore and superstition. Whatever its intention, it feels portentous and significant.

During the timeframe of these avian encounters, I’ve also stepped into the last year of my fifth decade. I’m adjusting to a new sense of identity. What does it mean to be an old(er) woman in our culture? The hag, the wise woman, the grandmother, the elder…the overlooked, the unheard, the vulnerable, the marginalised. Where do I fit and who are my allies?

When the room is quiet, the crow and the crone are tapping at my windows in the moonlight.

“The word ‘haunt’ and all the derivations thereof may be one of the closest English words to the German ‘unheimlich’, whose polysemic connotations and etymological echoes Freud so assiduously, and so famously, unravelled in his essay on ‘The Uncanny’. Just as ‘German usage allows the familiar (das Heimliche, the’ homely’) to switch to its opposite, the uncanny (das Unheimliche, the ‘unhomely’)’ (Freud), so ‘haunt’ signifies both the dwelling-place, the domestic scene and that which invades or disturbs it. The OED lists one of the earliest meanings of the word ‘haunt’ as ‘to provide with a home, house.” Mark Fisher, k-punk.abstractdynamics.org

KCD July 2021

A circle in 12 parts: Gemini

This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my guest for Gemini is Ceri Owen-Jones:

“When Jake asked me to take part in this project, the first thing I looked into were the origins and myths of Gemini. At my friend Sue’s suggestion, I went from Latin to Greek (Castor & Pollux) and back to Gemini’s Babylonian origins in the Great Horse Twins, and the parallel Vedic tradition of the Twins, the Ashvins, which means the ‘possessors of Horse’. According to Joseph Campbell, the mastery of the Horse brought a new energy and vitality to the dawn of the Iron Age and its symbolism replaced that of the Bull.

There are many horse songs in traditional Welsh music. I chose to play & record a Ceredigion melody, Y Dau Farch. Y Dau Farch is a conversation between two horses, one old, one young, about their past and future, which feels perfect for Gemini, a sign with an emphasis on duality and communication. Keeping Gemini communication in mind, the albums that leapt out at me in Jake’s vinyl library catalogue were the Welsh language learning albums. I wanted to explore communication in a second language, the difficulties of learning and expressing oneself, how comprehension in certain registers and subtle expression can be problematic.

With what I now know is classic Gemini superficiality, I mis-read Jake’s guide to album choices. Once figured out, I was glad to see that amongst his base-line choices was The Planets by Holst and from this I liked an arrangement of ‘Mercury’ (ruling planet of Gemini) by Tomita, a fuzzy soft Moog version. Jake also pointed out that one of his Gemini readings by Melvin J Gunton and Brian Skinner was made in Canada, a great choice for a Canadian in Wales / a Cymro who grew up in Canada. The constant idea in my life is duality.

My birthchart has seven planets in Air signs as well as my Midheaven (I’m Air heavy!). To represent Air, I chose the tracks Air and Listening Wind by Talking Heads, Walking in the Air sung by Aled Jones, and The Dragon by Vangelis (the Dragon, especially in Chinese myth, being a creature of clouds and air and a potent symbol in Wales). I saw that Jake has two copies of this last record in his listing – found at Emlyn Antiques – one with a cover, and one without.

I added a Miles Davis album as we share a birthday. It was a choice between Dr. Jekyll and Decoy. Although the title Dr Jekyll seems appropriate to describe the duality of Gemini, I veered off with the Decoy as the feel of the music seemed good for the flightiness of the ruling planet Mercury. This album was given to Jake by our great friend Peter Stevenson.

In medieval music, each modal scale was associated with a planet. Mercury was hypo-phrygian and as one of Gemini’s characteristics is the enjoyment of improvisation and the ability to adapt easily, I thought I would improvise variations on this mode based on the Welsh melodies Y March Glas and Triban y Cathreiwr (for the Ox in me).

Thinking of form: moving from calm to frenetic is the two parts, yin and yang, of Gemini. This will be based on feel, and collaborating with Jake. It’ll just have to happen as it happens.

Dragons swirl amongst the clouds. The heartsease, Viola tricolor, with its zygomorphic flowers, are like the Twins. A Tibetan singing bowl to clear the space and air, along with gifts given to me and Elsa (musical Twins) from Jake, completes the Circle.

I paired this with Taliesin of the Shining Brow: Canu y Gwynt; a riddle of the Wind.”

Ceri’s record selection: Talking Heads – Air; Talking Heads – Listening Wind; Aled Jones – Walking in the Air; Disciau Dysgu Difyr – Adar; Miles Davis – Decoy; BBC Radio – Welsh for Beginners; Cwrs Cymraeg llafar;

A circle in 12 parts: Taurus

This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my guest for Taurus is Rhowan Alleyne:

“The playlist started by looking up people who I share my birthday with. I remembered Grace Jones already but I had forgotten about Malcolm X. I was somewhat alarmed by Pol Pot.

Then I saw Ho Chi Minh. So this is where the idea of doing something ‘revolutionary’ arose. I looked up the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s film, Malcolm X, which is where several of the vinyl choices came from. I’ve always loved The Planets suite since I played in a youth orchestra many years ago so I was really happy that Jake has that as one of his ‘base’ records. Venus transports me every time to a place of calm and beauty. 

Being a swimmer, naturally I’m interested in the mermaid side of my planetary ruler. There’s an oceanic turn happening in some parts of the humanities.   A paradigm shift towards a more watery understanding of the world that has huge value for the ecological and environmental movements. And our well-being.

My affinity with the ‘blue humanities’ comes from embodied immersion in the seas around the coast of west Wales. It tunes me in to the seasons and heightens environmental consciousness.

In prehistoric times sea levels were lower and the larger wild mammals were not yet extinct. Swimming at Whitesands I took my GoPro into the sea and recalled the horn of the wild bull that was found on the beach after a storm one winter. The poem about it is kind of a layering of time and experience. But it’s also about Venus, about knowledge that comes from the sea and about the only thing that’s worth doing when all else is lost, and that is to love the world and love each other unreservedly. 

Sea monsters I don’t see as villains anymore but as the ultimate disrupters of human hypocrisies and vanities.”

Rhowan’s vinyl record selection: China Crisis – Performing Seals; Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ bout a revolution; Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues; Ariel Ramirez – La Peregrinacion; Lionel Hampton – Flying Home; Herb Alpert – Surfin Senorita; Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs; Public Enemy – Revolutionary Generation; Grace Jones – Pull up to the Bumper; KLF – Justified and Ancient; Panic Allstars – Change is gonna come; Holst – Venus.

Venutian Revolution

Tracklist:

  1. Born in the Foam 
  2. Vibrant Earth 
  3. Sinking and Extinction 
  4. Revolutionary Bodies 
  5. Big Pink Bells 
  6. Selkies aren’t the Enemy 

Born in the Foam

How do the ocean born love?
As though we’re the last ones 
left alive on Earth 

or like aurochs swimming
through flooded forests 
whose lush understories swish and sway
in the undercurrents

or like navigators 
who chart course 
by memory of shearwaters flocking
and shoals of silvery herrings
that fly across 
the darkest night skies

without fear of the depths
or turning tides

Vibrant Earth

At the beach, on the shore, in the sea

is where I am most in touch 

with the Earth’s 

sensory vibrancy. 

In spray hanging in the air 

above waves peaking on an offshore wind, 

sunlight splits and rainbows flash fleetingly,

just inches away. 

Time is layered 

in the sediments that rise slowly above sea level, 

and in the sand that is building around the marram grass. 

One night a storm surge will slice through it all 

and in the morning we’ll marvel at the cliff falls, 

the strata, the root systems tangled and dangling. 

The river in spate loosens a dinghy from its tether, 

pushing it to the black rocks 

where the sand sucks it down 

but its red and blue stern juts out, 

just like one of the jagged stones.

A tree trunk that’s drifted down the estuary 

is dragged from the tideline and burnt 

on the edge of the dune, 

its smoke seeping into the clothes 

of dancers bopping to simple minds on a bluetooth speaker 

whilst waiting for a comet’s tail to fan itself 

like a swan’s wing across the northern sky

Each thing it’s own thing 

in time and space, 

its own momentum, trajectory and tangled relationships with others, and us. 

Each day, 

shifting winds, tides, sunset and sunrise, 

cliff falls, rainfall and currents 

re-sculpt the Earth and how we know it.

Sinking and Extinction

Are sea levels rising or earth levels falling? 

Either way, we better learn to swim. 

The skills we need for the future 

work with the ebbs and flows, 

ripples, eddies, 

swipes of tail flukes, 

racing fins, rips, drifts and seal snorts 

of a more watery world. 

Of letting go of solid ground. 

Of humility and fearlessness. 

Of sinking into, or out of, extinction.

Revolutionary Bodies

Walking, swimming and other things that put us back in touch with our bodies, are the times when we’re in touch with our becomings. Swimming, which combines streamlining with intentional instability and surrender of total control to the forces in the waters, disrupts our usual ways of moving and thinking. Body surfing forces adaptations to our bodies and minds through gentle and crashing action. Getting slammed and scraped, sucked out and slapped in the face, pumped and dumped are all part of the battle and the fun, if you own it. A swimmer’s language is slippery, becomes fluid and mutable. Swimming re-wilds us. We submerge and we subvert. We submerge to emerge. We’re divers and freedom fighters. Sea swimming is a radical practice in flow, with the uncertainty and heartbreak of a broken world.

Big Pink Bells

You can’t think about swimming without thinking about 

bodies 

and the sensory experience 

of touching, hosting, interacting and empathising 

with other bodies.

As water sculpts the earth, 

so it reshapes swimmers’ bodies; 

re-enchanting us to the beauty of change, 

to the thrill of connecting 

and blurring our boundaries with

cold currents, 

thumping shorebreak, 

gritty impacts, 

urchins, dorsal fins, 

winds, driftwood, 

sand eels, jellyfish, 

rope zombies, dead crabs, 

the sun, the salt. 

I’m a swarm of big pink bells, 

a mussell on the perch, 

spider crabs spawning, 

an octopus observing that it’s being observed, 

a razor clam, 

a forest of sandmasons fanning their tiny branches, 

a lugworm cast forming, 

a walrus balancing a starfish on its nose

A pebble bored by an angel wing.

My skin is as mottled as a seal pelt

as scarred as a bottle nosed dolphin’s

Crushed oyster shells, leaf mould, silt and algae cling to my wrinkles 

is a swimsuit an intertidal zone?

Selkies Aren’t the Enemy

leviathan,
atargatis,
scylla
the cracen
medusa
cthulu
godzilla
ursula
jaws
the meg

sea foam
hissing and shining, 
dissolving and reforming 
with every wave

Other records in the mix: Roger Christian – Discover yourself through Astrology; John Dankworth – The Zodiac Variations; Cosmos – Your Stars for 1968; Norrie Paramour Orchestra – The Zodiac Suite; Cannonball Adderley presents – Soul Zodiac; Cosmic Sounds – The Zodiac; Madame Francesca – Your spoken Horoscope – Taurus

Parameters of a Circle

Guests are invited to contribute by –

  • Sending an image of their birth chart – or birth data and I will draw a chart up
  • Selecting vinyl records from my collection – they can be anything*
  • Sending audio or video recordings
  • Joining live on the day via Zoom (or in person when Covid restrictions allow)
  • Sending text – some for the blog post
  • Suggesting vinyl record combinations or playlist/performance structure

*there are a number of preselected records for each sign. These include the ruling planet’s theme from the different versions of Holst’s planets, and relevant tracks from a collection Astrology records.

Audio works are created live with the guest contributions. Video is composed of recordings from the live performance, and images of both guest and my birth chart, combined with animation created from images of my mother’s crystal ball and textural videos connected to the zodiac sign’s element. The final duration will be approximately 30min.

Full Circle

Having completed a full circle I decided to continue the work and to invite artists to contribute to the live recordings each month. Invited artists are selected according to sign and can contribute in any way.

There are some staples established already that will continue through the work, the spoken word astrology records for each sign will feature as will some of the associated planet records. Other records can be selected from my database, they could be themed according to sign or planet or might just reflect the taste and zodiac sign of the guest!

Artists might also choose to contribute live via Zoom and/or send audio recordings to mix into the work. They can also introduce visual material through Zoom live or send images/video to include. The structure of the work can also be guided by my guests to some extent, there are opportunities to construct a ‘playlist’ of material, guide the overall balance of different components, to play certain combinations of recordings etc.

The final work will be made with audio and video recorded live, with other visual material combined in post production.