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 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.
- Born in the Foam
- Vibrant Earth
- Sinking and Extinction
- Revolutionary Bodies
- Big Pink Bells
- 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
At the beach, on the shore, in the sea
is where I am most in touch
with the Earth’s
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.
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,
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.
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
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
urchins, dorsal fins,
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
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
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.