Researching records on a medical theme
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;
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.”
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
Bah Bah Black Sheep
Mae gen i ddafad gorniog
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.
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.