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: 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

A circle in 12 parts: Aries

This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my first guest for Aries is Rowan O’Neill:

“When first asked to take part in this project my immedate thought was to interrogate Jacob’s record databases looking for songs and music related to sheep or defaid.  This resulted in a selection of records that juxtaposed ram and lamb; safe grazing or being rounded up and counting your blessings instead of sheep.


Jacob was also keen to include some kind of live intervention in the mix.  I was not sure what this would be but as aries season got under way in March I began reading Allen Raine’s novel A Welsh Singer (1897).  I have been looking at the work of Allen Raine as part of a mentored Research and Development Project with creative agency Addo.    The novel charts the rise of the heroine from a poor orphan to local eistedddfod winner, then circus performer in London and finally an opera singer on the European stage.  The first sentence of the novel references a March morning and a sheep that has fallen off a cliff to its death where it now lies at the bottom, ‘as dead as a red herring’.  


My original idea for my Allen Raine project had been to base an opera on her later novel, Queen of the Rushes, set during the 1904 Welsh Revival.  Though I had read the novel some years ago I had quite forgotten that the central character of this work is in fact, for most of the novel, mute.  She does however eventually regain her speech and at this moment, overcome with emotion, she breathes a, ‘prayer of gratitude, in words that no longer died upon her tongue, but reached her ears in the music of the human voice.’


As a young girl I competed at an Eisteddfod in Aberporth performing a song called Y Ddafad Gorniog. The opening lyrics are etched in my memory but I do not completely recall the tune.  I have sung the tune as I remember it with a simple piano accompaniment. Working it out I started singing Baa Baa Black Sheep too and recorded this with concertina which I began learning to play last year.  


I worked with Jacob in 2020 on a music project working with young carers using an app called Loopy HD.  For this aries mix I made a couple of vocal pieces with Loopy HD that riff on both the folk tunes/songs and the, ‘music of the human voice’.  The twelve loops mirror perhaps the twelve parts of the zodiac circle and the loops of Jacob’s records.
The horned ram’s head is a souvenir from the farm I grew up on, Rhos-y-Gadair Uchaf, at the end of a lane in Felinwynt.”
https://www.rowanoneill.com/

Vinyl records used in the mix were Holst’s ‘Mars’ played by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & the L.A. Philharmonic, as well as reinterpretations by Tomita and by Kevin Peek on ‘Beyond the Planets’.
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

Records chosen by Rowan: London Symphony Orchestra – Sheep May Safely Graze; Hogia Llandegai – Defaid William Morgan; Jac a Wil – Y Ddafad Golledig; Roy Buchanan – I’m a Ram; Stories of Larry the Lamb in Toytown; Bing Crosby – Count Your Blessings instead of Sheep;

Other contributions from Rowan included readings of text:

Allen Raine, Queen of the Rushes (1906), Chapter 8 ‘Maldraeth’
Allen Raine, A Welsh Singer (1897), Chapter 1, Abersethin Slopes

folk songs:
Bah Bah Black Sheep
Mae gen i ddafad gorniog