Saturday, February 24, 2018

BOOK REVIEW ~ Natsume Soseki ~ Kusamakura

Kusamakura means literally 'Pillow Grass' and in Japanese this has intimations of travel, often with an underlying spiritual purpose. Soseki uses it as a reference to Basho's book -Narrow Road to the Interior, which is a similar journey accompanied by philosophical and poetic discourse. Kusa grass is also traditionally what the Buddha made his meditation seat out of before he became enlightened. So the novel's title has many inferences that hint at what Soeseki's intent is.

The central character is a nameless young artist and poet who escapes the rapidly urbanising Tokyo to embark on a journey through rural Japan. He has set himself the task of viewing whatever he sees with dispassion, to observe the world simply as it is. He believes this requires him to be 'nonemotional', which is not the same as 'unemotional'. Though he tries to be this dispassionate calm observer he is unable to find a subject matter he wants to paint, or be satisfied he can capture the mood of a moment in a haiku.

Then he starts to hear about a woman through local gossip, and then encounters that woman, Nami, a name meaning beauty in Japanese. She appears as a uniquely independent free spirit, whom the artist becomes increasingly intrigued by. There is something about her that he's looking for, something in the way she chooses to live that he also wants. What he seeks is not sex or her love, but the solution to an existential longing.  He frequently encounters her by accident, such as one time where they end up discussing what the best way to read a book is. The artist thinks its following the storyline, to connect with the characters triumphs and dilemmas from the start of the book in sequence through to the end. Nami, however, reads novels by opening them at random in a different place everyday, entering into the scene in the book and responding cleanly to whatever is happening. Being able to make something of it that's not completely bound by an author's narrative diktat.

Soseki wrote Kusamakura in 1906, as the Westernisation of Japan proceeded at a pace and the older style culture of Japan was rapidly disappearing. This rupture in Japanese society appears, from my limited reading of Japanese authors, to be like a festering wound in the countries psyche, that even now they are still searching for a way to heal. For Soseki his reaction was the desire to write a truly Japanese form of literature, drawn from its own cultural traditions. With Kusamakura he set out with the aim of producing a 'haiku' style novel. Whilst its arguable that he didn't entirely succeed in this, plus he never wrote in this style again, it is nevertheless a lyrically compelling and beautifully imagined book. The storyline though minimal is never what this novel is about. It frequently, and at length, enters into philosophical ruminations on the role of beauty, the artist, aesthetics, the nature of objective and subjective experience, and how these help one live a purposeful meaningful life. I found it thoroughly engaging, thought provoking and a joy to read.

Few books capture your attention right from their first few paragraphs. Once I read the first page I immediately planned to set aside time for reading it, I didn't want to skimp and risk missing something. Soseki writes with such precision and insight he holds you simply through the eloquence of his ( abeit translated ) sentences. So just as a taster to wet your appetite, here are the first two opening paragraphs.

' As I climb the mountain path, I ponder ~

If you work by reason, you grow rough-edged; if you choose to dip your oar into sentiment's stream, it will sweep you away. Demanding your own way only serves to constrain you. However you look at it, the human world is not an easy place to live.

And when its difficulties intensify, you find yourself longing to leave that world and dwell in some easier one - and then, when you understand at last that difficulties will dog you wherever you may live, this is when poetry and art are born.'

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

FEATURE 142 - Four Moments When I Loved The Fall

Say what you may about the late Mark E Smith he was something of a one off.  Repeated reputation has it that he was a bit of a git, but a genius, which makes being a git synonymous with genius, which simply cannot be always so. Mark E Smith was, however, one of a bunch of single minded poetic northerners along with John Copper Clarke, Morrissey and Ian Curtis, who were sparked into creative life by punk arriving in Manchester in the mid 70's. What marks out Smith as different is that he resolutely continued to maintain his independence and pursue his own muse, even when that led him close to penury. You have to admire someone for sticking unflinchingly to his guns for thirty years of creative output, and sixty band members!

On one day I could find The Fall's jangly amateurism, delightful, with Smith's traditional mode of vocal delivery; half mangling vowels and half one spit away from derision, emitting a rebellious charm. On another day I could find The Fall abrasive and whingeing, with Smith's writing and delivery sounding like an incomprehensible mess, all of which made for uneasy listening. As he got older, the drink and drugs did take their toll. Smith became the sort of person you'd avoid in a pub, sitting glowering in a corner, occasionally shouting out an addled obscenity. So, though you could like and often feel admiration, even a sort of vicarious pride in the fact that Mark E Smith ever existed, rarely was he or The Fall lovable. But even I have had my moments where I succumbed, and here are four of them.

The Fall in their naive earliest incarnation had a ramshackle spirit, declaring 'fuck 'em if they don't like this,we don't care.'  There are musical moments here to treasure that achieve greatness, by sheer accident. I heard Rowche Rumble first, unsurprisingly, on the John Peel Show, and I was so taken with it I went out and bought it. More than likely recorded in one take, it has this zestful burst of enthusiastic but inept instrument playing that sounds thin and tinny, but it catches your attention from the marching drum beat of its opening bars. Then come the jangly guitars only just on the beat. Its all basic and embellished with the puny sound of a child's organ tinkling tunelessly over the top. This is a joyful few minutes of earnestly left field pop, about chemical addiction! Prophetically Smith sings 'now I've tried crazy things, abusing my body to a great end, but I'll never never never do it again.' , except of course the latter never did happen.

THE SECOND MOMENT I LOVED THE FALL ~  Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul ~ 1981
An almost traditional rock drum opening, quickly becomes perverted into a fast paced demented hand jive. Smith's more confident vocalising is now going at full tilt, his lyrics depicting a grim picture of the seedier run down aspects of urban life, and the northern casino soul scene is painted as a fantasy escapade  ~ ' went home to my slum canyon, on my way I looked up, I saw turrets of Victorian wealth, I saw John the ex-fox, sleeping in some outside bogs, there's a silent rumble, in the buildings of the night council'. Going on behind this rather cracking little number, are off key guitars and keyboards fighting like cats for dominance with those relentless drums.

I first heard this at Sadlers Wells, when it was played behind a lewdly extravagant performance by The Micheal Clark Dance Company. There is something about that plodding bass line with its downtrodden air, as a jarring keyboard stabs repeatedly into it like a knife, that I love. Over the top Smith intones 'Crows feet are on my face, and I'm living too late, try to wash the black off my face, and I'm living too late'  He's writing about a universal melancholic feeling of being out of sync with your life and  times. Though Smith is often characterised as dour, he's never been averse to a bit of lyrical dry humour, something he's rarely credited with ' Sometimes life is like a bar, plastic seats, beer below par, food with no taste, music grates, I'm living too late'  For me this is The Fall's finest moment.

We are still in the Brix Smith era of The Fall, where the band is, lets say, more professional and on the case. They also sound distinctly poppy with an accessible danceable edge to it. However, one look at the cryptic lyrics I think you'd be hard put to find one iota of sense in them. they are more like a series of dissociated abstracted images that paint a picture, albeit a very out of focus one ~ ' In the reflected mirror of delirium, Eastender and Victorian lager, the induced call, mysterious, come forth ~ Hit the North!  
Still, its a great rallying cry, with a very addictive sax riff.

After this, though I've probably missed out on some great music, I lost interest as they seemed to be becoming part of the familiar well worn furniture.  I fell out of love, with The Fall, you might say.

Monday, February 12, 2018

FEATURE 141 - Perfume Genius ~ No Shape

No Shape is Perfume Genius's fourth album, and its a defiant confirmation of his talent, giving fuller flesh to his idiosynchratic imagination. Visually there's always been something about him that's of the 1920's, slight of build, fey and winsome, but with a harder queenly eye that says don't mess with me. His voice has little basso profundo, though he utilises and enhances his voice's qualities well. So vocally, though slight, breathy and light in tone, on No Shape he gives it the most exotic, sensuous and dramatic of musical settings to frame it with. There is probably no pop artist working at the moment who ponders on his place in queerdom and the world at large, as this man.

The album's opener Slipaway which starts with an aboriginal tribal electro beat, that then explodes out into this dramaticly wide panorama, is an exhilerating flourish. 'don't look back, I want to break free, if you never see what's coming, there's no reason to hide'  he sings. Capturing the feeling of how falling in love can take you by suprise when it arrives. There has always a mode of transgressiveness surrounding Perfume Genius and his music. He wants to break out of limitations, personal, social and musical conventions of all kinds. We all may feel from time to time, that.our views of ourselves are self-limiting and witholding of our potential. Which is probably why its taken four albums for Perfume Genius to reach this level of achievement, it has been hard won.

There are many musical peaks on No Shape but Die 4 You is a truly beautiful thing. One that is hard to quite put into words. Exploiting PG's hushed vocal qualities, its a sinuous and heartfelt peaon to attraction and longing for a loved one. The video is a wonderful accompanyment to this song, like a surreal dream, full of wishfulfillment and a nebulous physical sense of the love object. Its artfully contrived, but somehow evoking the loneliness in longing, of waiting, the perilous febrile qualities of desire, how muscular intimacy and emotionally tenderness are fed by the precognition of our imaginations

In many ways just picking out a handful of tracks from an album that has such a cohesive feel and theme woven through it, leaves an incorrect impression of it. However, you have to attempt from giving snapshots to paint what the complete picture maybe like. With Wreath, there's a life giving urgency to it that propells it forward. As he sings 'I see the sun go down I see the sun come up, I'm moving just beyond the frame' it could seem like that urgency is to do with making the most of life, because who knows where the end of it is, just beyond the frame of it? 'I want to hover with no shape'. would indicate another reading, of the need to keep dying to yourself, to not stay the same out of habit, but to constantly shift shape, to keep breaking through to another way of being, 'to put a wreath upon the grave'. The video is joyous, an edited selection of  videos from people around the world miming or dancing in their own individual way to this track, it has a universality to it, encapsulating audi-visually what the words life affirming is meant to discribe.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 9 ~ The Unravelling Thread Of My Daily Doings

2018 has turned up like a pre-pubescent teenager, all idealistic, scruffy and naive. Christmas and New Year feel like friends who've left for a long vacation, whilst the arrival of Spring has yet to be glimpsed. In the middle of the month, after one too many cold grey skies and a working week that for a variety of reasons turned the nightmare stress setting way up high, we both of us hit emotional overload and developed a bad case of the January Blues.

There's a huge amount that's really good about our new life here in Upper Sheringham, don't get me wrong. This month, after all the costs of moving and setting up home here and buying a car,.we've saved enough to return us to the financial position we were in before moving. Neither of us, however, came here with the express purpose of doing the sort of employment we are now doing. Over the last nine months we've tended to find ourselves so busy getting things together that our real aim, the craft cafe project, has been perpetually on hold.  Leading to mental and physical strain, frustration and quite a bit of weariness.

So we've decided that whether we feel like it or not we just have to give attention to our project, or it will stay forever a nice idea. We now convene in a local cafe on Sundays for a weekly meeting to discuss, clarify issues and set aims for the following week. Our views abour Cottonwood have changed so a revamp is required to our website, our photography, and our site on Etsy. Though our main priority is deciding what type of business and premises we're looking for and where that might be. Working out set up budgets for the different options and what the pros and cons are of them. Over a number of weeks I envisage this will bring what we are striving towards back into sharper focus.

Jnanasalin's work for  has picked up momentum. He's in the process of doubling the size of the chain in the next three months, from three to six shops. The first refit was carried out by proffesional shopfitters who did the whole thing in 24 hrs at a special rate for the charity, but that's still at half the cost it would have taken to refit an Evolution shop, which often took a week or more to complete. So what with staff interviews, inductions, and seeing that the other shops stay at the top of their game, plus stuff he's doing to sweep up the last remaining crumbs of Windhorse Trading, he's got a lot on at the moment.

My cleaning at the Mental Health Care Homes, on a day to day basis stays the same, as does the residents breadth of conversation.They remain ghostly pale shadows of their former selves, stuck in a mental glitch that holds their lives in a self-perpetuating loop. Each day I step once more into a House Of Ghosts. Whoa! here comes the disgruntled lady always informing me 'there's a carpet in my room, but I always make sure I lock my door', Whoa! round this corner is the woman who'll say disconcerting things, informing me ' her dildo has broken'.  Though amusing to recount after the event, these encounters can unnerve the psyche as I travel round expunging slarts of excrement from toilet porcelain, or on rare occasions ( thankfully) scraping out shit from a shower drain.

January has then tested my ability to internally maintain stillness and calm in the midst of my daily doings. There's the daily doings and my wanting, or not wanting, to do the daily doings.  I've been reflecting on and endeavouring to practise the implications of a Japanese phrase 'fude ni shitagau' -'follow the brush'. Its about staying with and responding to one's surroundings, encouraging greater mindfulness and a sense of presence - 'following the brush' instead of 'following the mind & emotions'. Bringing yourself back to the purposeful activity of what you're doing and where you're doing it, rather than thinking about other things you'd prefer to be doing and other places you'd rather be.

During these daily doings, following the direction of mind and emotions can drag my sense of well-being all over the place. Most of the time doubts, resentments and negativity are at cross purposes with 'follow the brush'. My practice frequently is one of attempting to extract myself from resistances to just do the cleaning. Life for most people, including myself, involves striving to find what meaning, gratification and purpose you can in the unreliable fallible external world of work. I've always had a strong tendency to day dream, but there is a qualitative difference in expression and outcome between dreaming, striving and following the unravelling thread of my daily doings.

This year appears, so far, to have developed a distinctly Japanese inflection to it. Jnanasalin and I have been talking about plans for our small patio area at the back of the house. Buying a garden arbour seat, diamond trellis and planters for an area thats not at present an aesthetic delight. We inherited a bamboo that we've repotted, which we've accompanied with two pots of grasses. So this area has already the beginnings of a Japanese feel, which we'd like to further embellish with Japanese plants, lanterns and fabric covered cushions etc. Don't worry, it wont become a Nippon theme park.

Japan is also flavouring my reading, first there's been a novel by Haruki Murakami - Norwegian Wood, which reads like a series of intimate revealing conversations on love, lust and suicide. Though it made his name internationally it didn't seem to me to be his best or most original work. But it has led me to consider devoting most of my reading this year to Japanese novels and Japan related subject matter. With this in mind I...........

Revisited Junichiro Tanizaki's In Praise Of Shadows. It's his ode to aspects of Japanese traditional culture that at the time were disappearing, if not drowning, in the oncoming neon glare of modern technology. Its strongly tinged with melancholy for a world already fading.from memory and experience. This short essay is a love poem praising the effect of shadows cast by candlelight, and how darkness changes our perceptions of interiors and objects. He vividly paints pictures of interiors, laquerware, gold objects and brightly embroidered 'No 'costumes, and how what is garish under electric light, takes on a more suggestive subtlety when half consumed in shadows cast by the flicker of candlelight. It beautifully highlights the aesthetic influence of shadows in our everyday existence.

I've just started reading A Monk's Guide to A Clean House & Mind by Shoukei Matsumoto. I encountered it via a Guardian article that was satirising and ridiculing it, but it mentioned cleaning in the title, and he's a Japanese Buddhist Monk, so I was interested anyway. Essentially he's pointing out an obvious thing, that how we inhabit and care for the spaces we live in to some extent affects our mental well being. Being both Japanese and a monk, he's quite big on setting up simple routines. Nonetheless I'm finding it is encouraging me to look at,my daily routine and unhelpful habits that I've slumbered in for too long. I 've realised how dispiriting I find coming down in the morning to a sink full of last nights washing up and a living room with the half desiccated remnants of last nights tuck. Its not a good set up for the day ahead. So I've taken on Matsumoto's suggestion to tidy up before I go to bed. This book wouldn't be to everyone's cup of tea, but it is mine.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

1970's German Experimental Rock ~ Kraftwerk ( Their Early Years )

The boys from Dusseldorf, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schnieder were both in a group called Organisation before they formed Kraftwerk in 1969. But the electronic pioneers that we now know and love were quite a different beast in the early 1970's, and its not just in their haircuts and choice of clothes. Hutter appears now to acknowledges this difference by refusing to allow the re-release of their first three albums, or even include them in Kraftwerk's discography. So if you want to hear their early work it can only be found in bootleg versions and the ubiquitous You Tube videos.

What you find if you venture your ears into these albums is a treasure trove of  exploratory music struggling to find its true form. Kraftwerk in 1970 fit into a style of progressive rock performance common in the twilight of the hippie era. A loose collective of individuals hang out and play long semi-improvised pieces, probably in abandoned buildings taken over for the event. However, there is also something out of the musical ordinary going on here. First, its purely instrumental no vocals, no lyrics, no musical warmth to embrace. They play real instruments:flutes, Hammond Organs and guitars, but these are electronically adjusted and phase sounds and drones weave into the overall sound they make. Kraftwerk appear to never have been too concerned with returning back to nature or averse to technological advances, they've always idealised, embraced and celebrated the modern world as it is, or as it could be re-imagined

Here's a live performance recorded in 1970 of Ruck Zuck the opening track of Kraftwerk's first album. Schnieder plays a  muti-tracked flute which lends it a folky air of 'Jethro Tull' . Every now and then you'll recognise a particular music cadence or rising tone sequence on the flute that you realise gets re-used in later Kraftwerk. The band also features Klaus Dinger on drums who is the originator of  German 'motorik' drum beat.

On first hearing they are hard to define This isn't really trad rock but neither is it avante garde modernism. The final track on Kraftwerk 1 is Vom Himmel Hoch its an altogether darker doom laden affair that bears comparison with the bleak industrial sound of early Cluster.

By the time Kraftwerk 2 (1971) arrived the band personel had been through seismic change. For some reason Ralf Hutter leaves the band. Schnieder and Klaus Dinger remain and are joined by Micheal Rother on guitar. You Tube videos are all that's left to record this short lived triumvirate. Before Kraftwerk 2 was recorded, Dinger and Rother leave Kraftwerk to form Neu! Whether this is what prompts Hutter to return is unknown. but all this joining, leaving and returning perhaps indicates there may have been some sort of conflicts over personality or musical direction. However, Kraftwerk is re-conceived and will never be quite the same again. Hutter, so myth reports, had seen an exhibition of Gilbert & George and something about these two identically besuited gentleman with their working premise of making peoples art accessible to all, lodges in his mind. For the next two albums it will be just the dynamic duo of Hutter and Schneider playing everything.

As a second album it is admittedly a strange one.  It opens with the track KingKlang ( later to be the name of their studio) which starts with an oblique percussive overture of ringing bell noises similar to a Stockhausen piece, which then it settles into a groove that has hints of the future Kraftwerk, but its sparser and often veers closer to minimalism than a piece of pure pop music.

The album comes across as though its a series of exercises in paring down musical structures. Its all getting rather arid and conceptual, even down to re-referencing the Warhol inspired road cone on the cover, this time in green. They use no pure synthesiser sound, every sound continues to be generated from actual instruments electronically treated. No rhythms from conventional drums and still no vocals.  On this album Hutter & Schnieder sound like two men in search of a fresh direction, but not finding it.

But then comes their third album Ralf & Florian (1973) and from the cover you can sense something of the Kraftwerk visual and musical style is beginning to click into place.  Here they are photographed like people from the 1950's. Schnieder in a suit, tie and slicked back hair. Hutter, still with long hair, but parted and pulled back, and wearing a strange half repaired pair of spectacles. In a way it provides a visual metaphor for a band that can almost, but not quite, see its way forward yet. There are still a few more indiosyncrasies to iron out. Like the Kraftwerk road cone that still remains, though  much smaller, on the record cover.

The album is though full of rather delightful informal gems, and with these they begin to catch the attention and influencing of other musicians. David Bowie citied R & F as one of the influences he drew on for his Berlin trilogy. Brian Eno borrows ideas from it, on Discreet Music, made two years later, he uses a very similar taped looped tonal sequenc as Heimatklange the fourth track on the album. They remain just Hutter & Schnieder, they still don't have a drummer and often settle for flicking the rhythm switch of an electric organ on. However, the album does feature on Ananas Symphonie their first use of a proto-type voice vocoder.  It is with the fifth track Tanzmusik that you get the first appearance of a piece of music that can be considered the genuine progenitor of the future classic Kraftwerk sound. Slightly sloppier in its rhythm section, with wobbly ethereal backing vocals, but a real charmer nonetheless.

Its unusual in popular music for a band to find their signature sound so late. A third album is usually where they achieve their most fully realised and polished version of it, which they struggle thereafter to quite match or exceed. Kraftwerk seemed to have to get all their hippie and arty pretensions out of their system before they were able to create that definitive album. Autobahn (1974) is a record that is really worthy of being called groundbreaking and proved to be the starting gun for a whole new chapter in popular music.

So what happened to resolve all those conflicting ideas and bring this accelerated rate of change about? No one really knows except Hutter & Schnieder I guess, and they're not saying much that is enlightening about this period. Hutter does appear to be in control of everything now, the past and future of Kraftwerk, and everyone else are just 'music workers'. If, however, you're looking for external influences I'll point you in the direction of the track Hallogallo from 1971 by Neu! who are Klaus Dinger & Micheal Rother remember, both ex-Kraftwerk collaborators. that's been featured on a previous post.

Even on Autobahn there is still the odd bit of fluffy flute around, but the direction was now set. Here is a music with a distinct individual vision behind it. Gone are most of their self-indulgent exercises in arty farty notions. Kraftwerk's sound becomes more and more stylistically and electronically pure, with its simple, almost Bach like, melodies gliding over a backing track that is crystal clear with not one single note out of place. Plus vocals ' Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der autobahn' with lyrics. But then words were never their strong point.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

1970's German Experimental Rock ~ Faust

Faust emerged from the late sixties Hamburg music scene and consisted of Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, Hans Joachim Irmler, Arnulf Meifert, Jean-Hervé Péron, Rudolf Sosna and Gunther Wüsthoff, This lineup lasted from its founding in 1971 to 1975. After a period of being disbanded, Diermaier & Peron reformed Faust with a fluctuating collective of musicians from 1996 onwards.

If any band existed to scotch the notion of 'krautrock' as a cohesive genre of music it is Faust. Though the idea of non-musicians who nevertheless make music is often found to be the working premise of many bands as stylistically distant from Faust as Kraftwerk. The sound world that Faust inhabited was filled with a relentless search for new sounds by mangling conventional instruments or innovating cruder instruments out of salvaged machinery, pipes and industrial tools.

Though often called a rock band, these early albums rarely fully or consistently conform to any tradition without consistently veering wildly and chaotically away from its cliches or standard form. Theirs is an anarchic rag bag of influences from Syd Barrett, Velvet Underground to Stockhausen as if  processed through a cement mixer.  Hippie without being trippy or dippy, but not beyond being whimsical whilst being hard core deadly ernest experimenters, they defy categorisation, subvert styles and expectations more than any other band of this or any period. They're the very epitome of what an indie underground band was at that time.

Their first two albums  Faust and So Far were released on Polydor and these laid down the template for the Faust musical approach. Here's a distinctly abrasive track from So Far called Mamie Is Blue.

Eager to ride the wave of new bands emerging from Germany a fledgling Virgin Records signed Faust in 1973. They attempted to open up a market for this distinctly non-conformist music, by releasing a budget album The Faust Tapes, renowned for being sold for the price of a single at 48p. The album though essentially a series of experiments and outtakes roughly edited together, probably  captures the spirit of the Faust musical zeitgeist better than their more considerd albums. Having failed with their sales strategy, Virgin dropped them two years later.

This is one of the most famous tracks from The Faust Tapes , J'ai Mai Aux Dents. Just when you think you've understood the groove they inexplicably take a jazz break before returning to it. The vocals and style are reminiscent of the Velvet Underground's Sister Ray though with substantially more avant-garde slabs of noise and meaningless lyrics, there being no room for laconic streetwise sasseyness in Faust world

Nevertheless they did produce Faust IV in 1973 whilst signed to Virgin. Now recognised as a classic 'must hear' album of the period it showcases an admittedly more refined version of their trademark mash up of styles. On the album's opening track Faust fully embrace the cliche of the by then recognisable new German sound as espoused by the likes of Neu!,taking it and leaving it somewhere it doesn't normally go, a track they've called rather toungue in cheek - Krautrock.

Here's another track from Faust IV, called Just A Second ( Starts Like That ), which starts off with what seems a very conventional riff based piece,which half way through slips into a rolling stream of tweeting cacophony. Apologies for the arty video but it was the only one I could find with this track on.

Faust IV proved divisive, whilst it attracted new fans, older ones thought they'd lost their edge and sold out by producing,what was for Faust, a relatively accessible album. The original band that was Faust parted ways in 1975, Whilst the reformed band carries on in the spirit of what the first Faust band stood for, their early work still stands head and shoulders above their subsequent albums.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

1970's German Experimental Rock ~ Cluster & Harmonia

For any nascent music movement finding a place where you are left free to perform. experiment and refine your ideas is central.  For experimental rock in Germany this was the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in West Berlin. The Lab was a late sixties hippie happening performance venue through whose doors passed Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schultze and Tangerine Dream.  Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Konrad Schnitzler were two of the founding members of the Lab. There they met Dieter Mobius and formed a band called Kluster, producing three albums, independently released in limited 300 pressings. When Schnitzler left, Roedelius and Mobius carried on but changed one letter of the name to Cluster.

Their present day reputation is based upon Cluster and Harmonia's work in the 1970's period. The music they made was spontaneous and of the moment, they improvised as they went along, following any idea to see how far they could take it, with little self-censoring. A legacy of their Arts Lab days is that Cluster's work feels to have a natural and organic evolution to it, whilst it is largely electronic or electronically modulated sound. Over the seventies their music slowly shifts from longer avant garde industrial noise improvisations to shorter melodic vignettes, similar to painting an abstract portrait or landscape in miniature.

On Cluster 71, there first album each track has no name, each piece is denoted only by the length of time it runs for. The tracks have no melody, no rhythmic beat and the soundscapes they evoke prompt feelings, that are often rather bleak and darkly modulated. They explore the aural shadows with intimidating walls of screeching noises, that shift and fade in and out. It can be a distinctly unnerving listening experience that grabs your ears and refuses to let you go. Though harsh and austere you can detect from the long sustains and tangled interweaving of sound where their gentler sound would eventually evolve. This track, 7.42, starts very quietly and builds to create the effect of entering an aural nightmare.

Cluster 2 followed in 1975, this time all the tracks have a name. The music pieces are generally shorter in length, and sonically the sound is more inviting, slightly less angular and bleak, they include moments of rhythm ,small harmonic loops and flourishes.  Its a truth of any musical form that starts off being so resolutely extreme, that this leaves you with nowhere else to progress to but back in the direction of rhythm, melody and harmonic conventions. This track, Live in der fabrik, is a recording of 14.42 minute live improvised performance at The Fabrik in Hamburg.

In 1973 they started a side project, joining forces with Micheal Rother from Neu! to form Harmonia. This new conjunction of personalities and talents shifted the Cluster sound further away from industrial technik noise. Their first and second album Musik von Harmonia (1974) and Deluxe (1975) found them firmly established in a more recognisable world, each short piece having its own sense of place and dynamism. This piece Sonnenschein rattles along like some off kilter medieval barrel organ.

These albums were hugely influential. Brian Eno's enthusiasm and collaboration brought them to the attention of a much wider music buying public. The albums he made with Cluster ie Cluster & Eno (1977) and After The Heat (1978) plus a previously unreleased album of work with Harmonia called Tracks & Traces recorded in 1976 but released in 1997, all show what a huge influence Cluster had upon Eno's own musical ideas and future direction. Cluster's work never became ambient, they were never purists and more anarchic free spirits, but nonetheless you can hear in them the sources for it. The music is becoming more minimal and tightly structured, this track from Tracks & Traces called Vamos Companeros has a fabulous rhythm like a steam train powering up a mountain side.

I'm sure there are plenty of other gems yet to be unearthed from Cluster's or Roedelius and Mobius's individual back catalogue.  Enjoy your research.

Monday, January 01, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 8 ~ Pickles, Cakes & Stable Work.

Over the last few months, Jnanasalin has become an enthusiast for making Jams, Preserves & Pickles. This has its origins in a Cucumber & Dill Pickle he successfully made in the early Autumn. since then its progressed rapidly through making Mint Sauce, Marmalade, Red Cabbage Pickle, Chilly Jam, Raspberry & Plum Jam, Mincemeat and Cranberry Preserve. These now have a designated shelf plus our Xmas Pudding and Cake all to themselves in the Pantry.  I'll keep you updated on new additions as and when they arrive.

Having survived his heart attack and breaking his leg near his hip, my Father, aged 91, has also survived the perilous operation to pin his leg. At present he's in a care home at least until the New Year, my Sister and I hope this will become a permanent arrangement. There's no one to keep a close enough eye on him when he's in his own home. Anyway this is still uncertain. What my Father will say should social services ask him whether he'd prefer his own home or a care home, is lets say, unpredictable. If he does stay in care then there will be the sorting through of his possessions to do, etc etc.

The Hebden Valley

Jnanasalin and I have done a lot of long car journeys over a weekend during the last month. Driving up to see my Father in hospital, in case he didn't survive the operation. It was worth it for the conversation I had with him. My Father laid flat in bed, me holding his hand, as he told me about how beautiful it was standing at the top and looking out over the Hebden Valley and how in the distance it was all bright sunlight, I found this quite moving. A couple of weeks later we did the exact same journey again to see my Father in his new care home, when he was far less talkative.  The weekend after we travelled to Nottingham to see Jnanasalin's family. After three weekends spent travelling and visiting, we were needless to say a bit 'car lagged' and looking forward to a relatively quiet and relaxing Christmas at home

JS & his Mum + polar bear (no relation)

My new work, has quickly transcended its novelty and attained the status of a predictable routine. It can feel like being in a cyclical dream where you go over the same ground again and again, but never finish or escape. When I'm handling this well, the work is smooth and easily executed, when I don't, the back pain tends to get worse and makes it tedious and hard going. Though these are typical emotional fluctuations inherent to me and any repetitive task. Nonetheless it is stable steady cleaning work, it doesn't completely drain me, and can leave a modicum of energy for more creative pursuits, such as Cottonwood Workshop. Though adjusting my mode of orientation from 'cleaning head' to 'creative head' does appear to frequently misfire.

The care homes I clean for are half way houses for people with a mental, behavioural or social handicap that requires a degree of supervision or medication. From my daily cleaning routine I know some residents have, to put it politely, 'poor toilet etiquette'. I can only take a guess at what debilitating mental realm they live in. They can be abrupt, rude, paranoid, neurotic or just generally unpredictable, but then that could describe one or two apparently 'sane' acquaintances of mine. The hardworking staff do tend to look a bit weighed down by the nature of the environment they work within.

One resident is permanently fed up, always complains about not having any money, that the food is crap, and the staff care more about her not smoking in her room then they do about her. She wanders in a lonely patter around the home with an unlit roll up in hand, constantly in search of a cuppa tea,. Her mood fluctuates, one day she'll be quite friendly and chatty in a toothless sort of way, on another she'll be abusively calling me a prat, a cunt and that I ought to be sacked. Though she did apologise to me once, confessing that it was her who was 'telling you to fuck off from behind my door' as I was in the process of cleaning it.

There's an elderly lady who, in the complaining tone of a small child, is always whining 'But I don't like cabbage'. Initially the first thing she'd asked me was 'Who are you?' , I'd tell her my name, and after this she'd say 'I don't like beards', 'Why do you have a beard?' Nowadays, the first thing she says when she sees me is 'I don't like beards' so I'm taking this is a form of recognition a bit like saying 'Hello, its you again'. Someone mentioned Christmas was coming, to which she said ''I don't like my brother, he doesn't bring any presents' I found out that in her past life she'd once been to university to study French, so where that intelligent and intelligible woman has disappeared too is anyones guess.

Another woman can be quiet and withdrawn, but then has periods where she sings, chants or rants loudly and raucously from her room, often day and night. The other day, unusually, she was publicly ranting incoherently in Reception, whilst I'm keeping my head down mopping the floor around her. It was all rather bizarre and a tad unnerving. So I've gone from unstable work with relatively stable people at The Two Lifeboats, to stable work with relatively unstable people here. Life? its amazing what you end up doing.

Our Xmas Cake made by JS

Its was our first Christmas in Sheringham and our first Christmas after living in a Buddhist community for eight years. So this year we've been completely free to celebrate however we wanted and when we wanted.  We've decorated the house and it looked really beautiful with a much larger tree than we've had before, a mantelpiece garland, lights, door wreath etc. Our Christmas meal was well planned and executed, as you might expect. For the first time we took a walk along Sheringham's wind swept beach promemade on Christmas Day. We also entertained for the first time when we had our friends Sam & Pete over for a meal on Boxing Day. Its all been quite lovely and civilised.

Now 2018 is here, we are just a tax return and three months away from having lived in Sheringham a year.  The past year was filled with many firsts, finding somewhere to live, moving, settling in, finding work, JS learning to drive, plus general adjusting to how things work on the North Norfolk Coast. Who knows what the New Year will bring? Wishing you all the very best for 2018.

Monday, December 18, 2017

1970's German Experimental Rock ~ Neu!

In the sixties German musicians wished to put some aspects of their cultural past behind them, so they actively cultivated new forms of music. Many took to exploring embrionic forms of electronic music because it carried fewer cultural antecedents. Emerging out of post war, post hippy politics, they often had left wing or anarchic backgrounds, and their musical approaches often echoed that. Nonetheless you can spot influences, such as the Velvet Undeground, Stockhausen, free improvisation, jazz, and a certain stream of consciousness word association psycho-babble. What emerged along with the German Economic Miracle, was a mercurial adventurousness across a broad range of types of music and people. In the UK the xenophobic music press bunched them all together and named them 'krautrock' but they were never musically that homogeneous group, as I hope this series of blogposts will demonstrate.


The quintissential band of this era was Neu! aka Michael Rother & Klaus Dinger. The influence they had on punk, post punk and electronic bands in the UK in the Eighties is clear, without even mentioning Eno and Bowie. Rother & Dinger were involved in the making of Kraftwerk's first album when they were still a loosely formed collective, making experimental electronic music with classical influences, and little trace of the beautiful clean electro pop they became famous for.

Rother & Dinger left Kraftwerk in 1971 and formed Neu!. On their first album you can see what they'd learnt from, as well as given to, Kraftwerk. But Neu! were venturing a lot further than Kraftwerk would ever do, experimenting with a rawer minimal rock using electronics and sound distortion. Often by messing around with playing backward guitar loops and sheer out of control screaming noise.

On Negativland you can see what they musically gave to the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, Test Department and Einisturzende Neubauten.

Hallogallo is classic Neu! with electronic embellishments fading in and out of the mix over a steady rock riff and beat that goes on for ten minutes or more. Kraftwerk appear to have taken this idea and given it a purer electronic setting.

In 1971 Neu! could sound as though they are like a proto-Kraftwerk. Though Kraftwerks's stylistic breakthrough album Autobahn wasn't to be released until November 1974, Neu's seminal influence on them is pretty obvious.  Kraftwerk went on refining and refining these ideas until they ended up with their pure inimitable electronic sound. Neu! would, however, keep tearing up their own rule books, which explains why few have heard of them these days.

As for others they've influenced, well there's far too many to mention them all. Listen to Hero and you could be forgiven for thinking Jonnie Rotton derived his whole vocal delivery from this one track.

This opening track from Neu 75 is five minutes of pure joy, and if you think it reminds you of someone from the 1980's then look no further than OMD.

If you want to hear more from their run of three great albums, seek them out.

The 1971 Album ~ Neu!

The 1973 Album ~ Neu! 2

The 1975 Album ~ Neu! 75

They attempted a come back in 1986 to mixed reviews. Your ground breaking days are past when the best thing someone can say of you is that 'its very 1980's'.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

FEATURE 140 ~ Here, Have 6 more of my ear-worms from 2017

Here are 6 more of favourites tracks from 2017, in no particular order.
Susanne Sundfor ~ Accelerate
An addictive dance track, I love the way it opens with that punchy fast drum sound, and then her fabulous voice.

Susanne Sundfor ft John Grant - Mountaineers 
A glorious song, grandly rising from out of the echoing depths swooping up to its thrilling zenith.

Fever Ray ~ To The Moon & Back
The brilliant return of the unhinged dark maiden of electro~indie.

St Vincent ~ Los Ageless
A great song, arty, angular, lyrically cutting, prescient in both style and substance.

Leonard Cohen ~ You want it darker
I just loved the gravelly truth-telling quality of Cohen's voice on this track


Toddrick Hall ft Ru Paul ~ Low
Sassy drag update of The Wizard of OZ, written with wry wit and so many hooks I never tire of hearing it.

Monday, December 11, 2017

FEATURE 139 ~ Here, Have 6 of my ear-worms from 2017

Here's 6 favourites I've played a lot throughout the last year, in no particular order.

Bellowhead ~ Crosseyed & Chinless
Exemplifying what was so good about Bellowhead confidently mixing other musical genres into the folk melting pot whilst getting your feet tapping.

Sparks ~ Giddy Giddy Giddy
This for me is pure enjoyment for its barmy vision, musical insistence and lyrical acuteness.

Arcade Fire ~ Creature Comfort
A catchy dance song about an attempted suicide, and how we pursue fame in order to hide our pain.

Laura Marling ~ Soothing
Sparse, sophisticated and erotically charged, plus the sensuous wonder of Laura Marling's voice..

Elbow ~ Little Fictions
Orchestrated masterfully to build on a stuttering rhythm pattern. The peak point of a consistently excellent album

Beyonce ft Jack White ~ Don't Hurt Yourself
The mistress of any styles she attempts,. Catchy, vengeful, political and very impressive.

6 more favourite tracks to follow soon.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

FEATURE 138 ~ Twinkle 12 to Sparkle 1

As we are away both weekends before Christmas we've been sorting our Christmas Decorations out. Having collected a range of tree decorations over a few weeks on a theme of wood and emerald, we've been out and bought our tree. As we now live in a house rather than one largish room in a house we've gone for a size upgrade.

The more diminutive Twinkles, having reached year twelve, have now concluded and in 2017 we launch a new Christmas Tree sequence with Sparkle 1.

The lounge is quite festive looking, with the tree, LED's in new vases we just bought.

We bought a cheap basic garland and embellished it with baubles and fir cones for our mantelpiece.

After buying a natural Christmas wreath from Tesco, ripped off most of its cheap decorations and put on our own. It now graces the door of our house.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

FEATURE 137 ~ Fever Ray ~ To The Moon & Back.

To The Moon & Back is the first single released from Fever Ray's second album Plunge. It's been a long wait. Many wondered whether Karin Dreijer Andersson's eponymous debut album in 2009 was indeed just a one off experiment. All the elements in that outstanding debut remain in the new album, the desolate sonic landscape, the edgy chill, freakishness, alienated tenderness, lyrically explicit, and bearing all with an honest queerness.

Circumstances have changed for Dreijer. In 2009 she was married with two children, the sense of isolation from the rest of the world, from living in a nuclear family, and motherhood in particular, suffused the atmosphere of that album with a snowbound sombre loneliness.  By 2017 she's definitely gone non-nuclear, now divorced, the sexual politics that scorched through the final album from The Knife ~ Shaking The Habitual, reappears here in a more personal guise.

The sound remains indie-electro, but this time it's edge is as hard as nails, the background tone is no longer a melancholic drone. It has a drive that is rawer and sounds actively assertive, thrusting its oddity and experimentation defiantly out and at you. So, at the end of To The Moon & Back, she does indeed sing 'I want to put my finger up your pussy'. Its what puts the words 'explicit' in brackets by the side of her album.

In many ways the new album carries on musically from where the final The Knife album left off. Rhythmically and structurally complex, Dreijer rarely resorts to a lazy pop cliche, unless for reasons of twisted parody. She appears still to be inordinately fond of vaguely Oriental sounding tune riffs, that first appeared on We Share Our Mother's Health, from the Silent Shout album. Fever Ray maintains The Knife tradition of producing visually discomforting pop videos. They rarely appeared as themselves, and if they did they were usually wearing masks. Subverting the conventions of the pop video by staging complete unknowns miming to their songs.

For Fever Ray the visuals here are much more vivid, lurid and garish, this video has the aesthetic of some trashy lesbian schlock horror movie trailer. Dreijer as Fever Ray, conceals herself now, not behind other people, but behind heavy dramatic face make up, if indeed this is really her, it is hard to know. In terms of how far out there she's prepared to go, this is definitely out there on the fringes of the land of Bjork. Watch the video, but be warned its not holy water she's being anointed with.

Oh, whilst it is all the above, its also damned catchy too.

Monday, November 13, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 7 ~ Gone With The Wind

The propelling wind that brought and settled us into Sheringham, has now passed or blown itself out. There are signs of fresh winds gaining in strength but where that weather vane will finally end up pointing us, is anyone's guess . After our six month watershed, Jnanasalin and I seem more able to think about what's next for Cottonwood Workshop? We still intend to source materials from second hand or be hand made by us  Imaginatively we've revived an idea for a range inspired by a New England aesthetic, all muted whites, subtle greys and sludgy blues.

We spent a really lovely autumn day out in Norwich a few weeks ago. It was our first visit in four months, and one of the places we just happened to walk into was an interior decor shop.  Finding ourselves  gazing at a wall full of Farrow & Ball paint swatches, we quickly sifted out three colours ~ Pointing, an off white, Pavilion Grey, a light warm grey, and Siffkey Blue, a soft but darkish blue. As Stiffkey is on the North Norfolk coast, this felt a bit  like 'a fortuitous sign.' So with tester pots in hand I've begun painting a small crate, which eventually will have a padded lid and linen fabric lining. Pictures next month, maybe!


I recently completed refurbishing a chest of drawers that feels as though I've been working on it for almost a millennia. After half a year of painting and vanishing furniture for the house, I am, unsurprisingly, more than ready to take a break.

Another thing that has shifted, is that I was called to interview recently and I've started a new job. Having applied for other types of work with no joy. I re-focused my efforts on finding cleaning work that doesn't fluctuate according to season, has regular set hours and income. I'm cleaning communal areas in two Sheringham residential homes that are half way houses for people with mental health problems. So far the job is going OK, I'm still settling in and finding out how best to pace the work and myself.

My last few weeks of housekeeping work at The Two Lifeboats  were easier to manage physically. Its  now off season, so the really manic period is over, thank goodness. October half-term was the very last hurrah for local tourism in Sheringham until Spring 2018. Chip shops and ice cream parlours, have already laid off workers, and closed until March. In my last week, I worked five days in a row, so my fellow housekeeper could have a break after a year with no holiday leave. I have been attempting to leave The Two Lifeboats as well as I can.

I've spent decades living and working around Buddhists, some of whom can be self-preoccupied in quite a unique way, but you could broach most issues you might have with them. In work outside of a Buddhist context, you have to be much more actively forgiving of people's dodgy views, faulty behaviour, crude speech and inability to think or act beyond their own feelings. Without any supportive context or other way to process things, letting off steam by going on and on about what they believe someone has or hasn't done, or getting drunk every day, all become a way of coping or diffusing tension. The degree to which you can actively challenge people is limited.  I've just got better at distracting them, often by using humour to lighten the mood.

People wherever I  work notice I don't tend to behave in quite the way they do. Not easily ruffled, quietly getting on with the task, don't complain much, and remaining calm, outwardly at least, under pressure. Eventually they put two and two together and rumble I'm a Buddhist. I only tell them more about this should they ask. I may occasionally sneak Buddhism in under the radar, disguised in ordinary simple language and from the perspective of personal experience. Nonetheless, there are times when I do feel the absence of close Buddhist friends,.of having easier, more substantial conversations that don't just skim superficially across the surface of what is often a rolling boil underneath.

After a Summer of working frenetically for Two Lifeboats I find my physical stamina is depleted, and I'm probably a tad run down. Neither Jnanasalin nor I have had a substantial break since our holiday in the Lake District last October. As things stand getting a few days off to visit family before Christmas might be all either of us can manage before 2018 arrives. This has its consequences for both of us, in that we both can feel overstretched when additional demands emerge. We've had a few car related crises this month, provoking stress-filled anxiety as the companion to the egregious expense. Testing how attached we've already become to things working well at the turn of an ignition key.

Jnanasalin's Father has become quite seriously ill, his liver is teetering on the edge of packing in after years of excessive, and anger inducing, alcohol consumption, It could be days, weeks, months or longer, but the future prognosis appears not to be good.  My own Father is 91, and had been relatively alert and coherent for a man of his age. That was until l last week when he had a heart attack, fell on the floor breaking his leg near the hip. He is now in hospital. and we went up last weekend to see him. They intend to operate on the breakage today as they can't leave it any longer. They've made us aware that such a major operation may be too much for him in his current state. We await further news.

Over the last few months you may have noticed the number of articles I post on this blog has increased. Writing I find   challenging, because what I'm trying to express tends to form itself during the process of composition. A lot of the time this takes quite a messy convoluted route to a sort of clarity, entailing a lot of editing and re-writing. Interesting ideas often emerging unexpectedly out of making simple changes to grammar or sentence construction. I've just completed the final part of a four part series about 'everyday beauty' that I've found really engaging to get to grips with. Without writing my thinking and views tends to exist in a  cloud of unknowing, like a slightly foggy dawn with drizzle.

The other day I had the lyrics from a Sparks song going through my head all day. The person in the song is a stunt double on the film Gone With The Wind, who appears not to know how what he's doing contributes to the story line. One line that turned into a bit of an 'ear-worm' goes:~

'Gone with the wind, there's a lot to be said for it, but I don't know just what, they don't tell my type the plot'.

It doesn't take much intuition to guess what this is about. We all try to operate as if we are in full control of our life's direction, we know the plot and how things are supposed to unfold. In fact we know very little. We can always take action, though whether this makes things change to match our desired outcome can be unpredictable. It often comes down to circumstances emerging that make apparent where progress can be made.

Hard as it is, present conditions do not make clear what Jnanasalin and I's future direction looks like. We'll have to cultivate patience a little while longer. What we hope for may of course never arrive, or do so in an unexpected way, offering us something we hadn't envisaged. Perhaps forcing us to rethink what exactly it is we want to start up in North Norfolk. We continue travelling hopeful that in the end we will be doing something. This is a period that asks us to surrender ourselves to the unfolding of time.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Everyday Beauty 4 ~ The World Is Full Of Hidden Beauty

In Japan, awareness of 'the aesthetics of everything' is very sensitively attuned. It owes its origins to the nature animism of Shinto, aspects of which became indistinguishably blended with nascent Zen Buddhism. These descriptions of aesthetic feeling are comprehensive and finely modulated. Here are just a few examples:~

Aware ~ a sensitivity for the beauty intrinsic to the ephemeral and impermanent nature of the world
Fuga ~ an elegant and sublime aesthetic
Hade ~ a loud and showy but not necessarily garish aesthetic
Hie ~ a chilling sense of beauty
Iki ~ an urbane, chic, bourgeois beauty, with sensual undertones
Karumi ~ the beauty of unadorned simplicity
Sabi ~ an aesthetically bleak quality suggestive of aging, deterioration and time passing
Wabi ~ an aesthetic that finds beauty in simple impoverished rusticity.

There are dozens of terms, but these few give you an idea of the subtleties these aesthetic terms are delineating. If you are familiar with the last two terms, Sabi and Wabi, this owes a great deal to the work of Soetsu Yanagri. In the 20th Century, he revived appreciation of their own art and craft traditions within Japan, and more broadly through his friendship with Bernard Leach. After his death, a compendium of his writings was published called The Unknown Craftsman. This covers his views on art, craft, the process of creativity, and at the same time plunges bravely into the metaphysical impulses that lurk beneath these activities.  Reading it certainly awoke something within me, in a jubilant mixture of recognition and inspiration.

In the middle centuries of the last millennium the Japanese had an encounter with Korean ceramics. It came via a set of roughly finished, imperfectly formed little cups, handmade in a village pottery in as un-self-conscious an act of craft making you could possibly imagine. Japanese culture, became obsessed with their unaffected spontaneity, devoid of artistic individualism. Once arrived in Japan, they became prototypes for the style and form of tea sets, and an elaborate tea ceremony complete with its spiritual gestures and aromas, emerged around their use. These original cups became the source for their broader love for flawed forms, the imperfect perfection, irregularities within regularity, and lines of asymmetry.

'They are regular yet not irregular, irregular yet not regular, in a subtle way that no deliberate effort could achieve - the kind of wondrous effect only attainable by someone in a state of "non-conceptualisation" *

In the west we tend not to appreciate roughly finished or flawed objects, for us they denote a lack of skill and finish, of being cobbled together by an inexpert hand. A roughly finished thing seen from this point of view cannot possess beauty. It does, however, leave us dissatisfied and frustrated with our inability to locate that perfect vision of eternal beauty.  We might purchase a flawed item if it were going cheap, because being a bargain makes one forgiving of them. We tend to prefer neatly conceived work, honouring the fine craft in an artist's execution. The cleverer the artifice is, the better.

' a certain love of roughness is involved, behind which lurks a hidden beauty.' *

I remember an occasion when I was working in a gift shop, a woman came in bearing a mirror sold to her the day before. It had a hair line crack in the surface of one of its small mosaic pieces. We got out a fresh copy from the store, but its a truth of retail that once someone is aware there maybe flaws they become a 'fault finder general', they discover them everywhere. The mirrors were all handmade, we pointed out that a degree of irregularity reflected its unique character, and its retail cost. She appeared not to hear this. After looking through twenty three versions of the mirror, she grudgingly settled on one. In approaching 'the aesthetics of everything' we should remain aware of our culturally based 'aesthetic prejudices, particularly towards seeing and seeking beauty only in the perfect, the regular, the flawless.

Yanagiri believed how something is made conditioned its aesthetic qualities, whether it be handmade or machine made. An object imagined and made by an individual perhaps pounds to a gentle heartbeat, it feels loved even before we encounter it. By comparison, the machine made, has a diffused process of creation, and hence feels more emotionally neutral. Its far too intellectually neat, to say that machine made objects are heartless and hence unlovable. This would tend to prejudge what our response should be, rather than feeling what our response actually is. Machine made objects can possess Hie, a colder more austere sense of aesthetics and beauty, which has its own attractive allure. The machine made can glory in its consistency and multiplicity of form. Its the beauty that relishes pattern, repeating itself over and over again. The relentless power of objects being pressed, stamped and cut out like rows of gingerbread soldiers, with infinite precision.

'Why should one reject the perfect in favour of the imperfect? The precise and perfect carries no overtones, admits no freedom; the perfect is static and regulated, cold and hard. We in our human imperfections are repelled by the perfect, since everything is apparent from the start and there is no suggestion of the infinite. beauty must have some room, must be associated with freedom. Freedom, indeed, is beauty. The love of the irregular is a sign of the basic quest for freedom.'*

The pure and perfect in form can provoke such a mixed response. We laud perfection, but at the same time feel dwarfed and intimidated by it. Its similar to when someone loves you, but too much, it feels far too possessive or imprisoning. Humanity can respond to cleanly executed efficient forms as an existential rejection, because they lack the space to allow us to be mortal when in proximity to them. We scrawl graffiti over them, we break and vandalise there smooth finishes. We don't appear to like the smooth clean cut heroes of old, preferring anti-heroes who don't play things by the book, don't fit into institutions, and generally have fucked up lives. We like our heroes to be less than perfect and messy around the edges, we believe its more real, more human.

There appears to be a thin line for between sleekly perfect beauty and bleakly perfect sterility. Each object possesses its own aesthetic, with its own intuited sense of imaginative restraint or freedom. Everything asks us to find our own way to interact and engage with it, whether its an object, environment or person. We tend to surround ourselves only with objects and people we resonate with, revere, or have fallen in love with. To an extent we choose them because they mirror or compliment aesthetic feelings about ourselves.

'A beautiful artifact may be defined as one that reposes peacefully where it aspires to be.'*

Yanagiri points out, that you cannot do consciously what you previously did unconsciously. Its impact would be different, because its meaning and value come via entirely different aesthetic impulses. The Japanese spent centuries perfecting and refining the design of tea sets, but none could replicate the qualities of the Korean originals, because the creative process was far too deliberate and imitative. A modern example might be 'vintage furniture' where they are consciously designed with imperfections and irregular aspects into them, using artificial cracks, fake woodworm trails, aging effects or inauthentic signs of wear and tear. All these exist in the comfort realm of aesthetic artifice, a place where contrived antiquity, the finely executed fake can be nonetheless loved because of its sentimental aura, its aesthetic nostalgia for a past era that has meaning to us.

The original Korean potters made pots without concern for whether they were perfect or not. They never signed their pottery, they appeared unconcerned, content to remain 'the unknown craftsman'. Yanagri believed modern craft makers were betraying something byn signing their pots. They were turning themselves into 'the known craftsman' placing their ego, praise and reputation as primary concerns. Distorting how we should view and value their a work.  Free of aesthetic, conceptual or intellectual justifications, any object should be free to speak for, and to be, itself. Even the fake and imitative should be worthy of aesthetic appreciation on its own level, just where it aspires to be.

'There are many ways of seeing, but the truest and best is with the intuition, for it takes in the whole, whereas the intellect only takes in a part.......  the sharp edge of intuition is blunted by failure to see with the naked mind. To be naked-minded means to be unrestricted by the eyes that see. When this is achieved, even the dust that spoils the vision will have vanished.'

Seeing with 'the naked mind' epitomises a Zen approach to 'the aesthetics of everything'. With a mind stripped naked of artifice, expectation or pre-judgement of experience. If we were capable of seeing the world in this way what sort of hidden beauties might be revealed? This is the role a true artist can play, they are the advance search party, returning with their sense impressions and aesthetic discoveries. This means they should challenge us to look again, to look here, here where hidden beauty can now be seen.  Hidden beauty becomes hidden because it rarely conforms strictly to human conventions of classical beauty. So pioneering artists might find their work takes time to be properly appreciated. Broader society being slow to adopt the new, initially rejecting what artists unearth, because they see it as coming from the realm of ugliness, from a darkly perverted discomforting vision of the beautiful.

Dogen once met a cook from a near bye monastery, who told him that

'Nothing in the whole world is hidden'**

This brief sentence had a huge insightful effect upon his future beliefs and philosophy. So, to borrow Dogen's style of discourse for a while ~ what is it that is hidden?, everything is hidden, hidden by what?, hidden by the word 'beauty', hidden by the word by, hidden by the word 'hidden', hidden within its hiddeness. Things are hidden not just by words, but the words behind words. So when we hear that:

'The world is full of hidden beauty'*

This is both true and not true, though ultimately beyond two ways. True, in that, for the present, we cannot experience aesthetically the beauty in everything. Not True, in that the aesthetic experience of the beauty of everything, is nonetheless present however unseen it maybe. It isn't locked away in a cupboard that we have to find the key to open, though it may sometimes feels like that. Dogen says in his Genjo Koan:~

'When one side is realised the other side is dark'**

If we believe something to be hidden, it will remain hidden, because belief will conceal it from us, even though actually it isn't hidden at all. The light of belief shines so brightly that it casts dark impenetrable shadows.

Because of the human need to see, we tend to be drawn to, and value the light. It brings us comfort and a sense for being secure. We avoid the dark, because it makes us fearful and vulnerable.  The beneficent Gods, and what is good, occupy the light of heavenly realms. The demonic Gods, and what is evil, occupy the darkness of hell realms. Our imaginations and perceptions tend to be clothed by the light, and made naked by the dark. Beauty, however, exists equally in both realms.

I once had an urge to go out one night, out into a dark autumnal evening. It was raining. All the visible signs said stay in, stay home, don't get cold and wet. I put on warm clothes, boots and waterproofs and went out regardless. The roads were glistening with shifting blue reflections of car headlamps and the sulfurous orbs of streetlamps. Across the road was an unlit woodland park, as I ventured in, my sense of knowing where I was changed. The light diminished, everything became shadowy and suggestible of form. My eyes adjusted. I became aware that my hearing was more acute; to the distant swish of cars on wet roads; to the rain falling erratically off branches and slapping on wet leaves decaying on the ground. From out of the blackness I heard a three dimensional sonic landscape. I smelt the pungency of mould and earthy decay. Pushing my hood back allowed small raindrops to splash upon my face, tiny beads of light falling from out of the darkness. It was an exhilarating and rejuvenating experience, that I didn't want to leave. There's much that is hidden from us because it resides in nightlight, a velvety dark beauty buried in the undergrowth and shadows.

A child's or artist's imagination would not be content to leave rocks lying upon the earth, without lifting them up to see what is beneath them. Our perceptions can be like this, a stone strewn surface, where even our eyes have developed hard unyielding cataracts. Beneath the fixed, solidity of our views, habits and misperceptions, lies a clearer more piercing way of seeing the world. The 'naked mind' is when our eye sight is stripped bare of obscurations. It is, nevertheless, an ongoing effort to stay open and receptive to whatever strikes our senses. Inevitably we will keep finding ourselves getting stuck in habitual ways of seeing things. This is why intuition maybe more helpful for sensing the aesthetic qualities of everything. Keeping ourselves awake, alert for when an unexpected surprise might lift our perceptions out of the ordinary.

Off the coast at Sheringham are three large wind farm shoals. They're actually way way beyond the horizon but nevertheless hover there magnified by air density. When they first were built I really resented them, this series of regimented white lollypop sticks parading across the far sea. They interrupted the wide uninterrupted horizon that I loved. I felt the loss of an open expanse untainted by human intervention. However, one evening we took a walk by torchlight along the promenade. The light had dimmed, the winter air cold, as a strong wind blew in the sounds and smells of the North Sea. On the horizon, each individual wind turbine had its red safety lights lit up. My views of the wind farm shoal were instantly transformed, the darkness had revealed it as a captivating thing. It was a magical lost city, a dream palace on the horizon, inhabited by strange sea angels, flickering their luminescent wings as they rotated on the horizon. By showing me another way to imaginatively look at them, not only was my perception  altered but my feelings too, moving from loathe to love.

'Most beauty is related to laws that transcend the individual'*

Our usual manner of seeing, limits what we are able to perceive.  We become used to reading certain things into situations, objects and people. We judge people on impressions of how we see them, how they seem to be. It can be really hard to remove these initial gut feelings, even if we later receive evidence to the contrary. Often we don't understand why we feel the way we do, its too hard wired into our psyche to consciously extract. In my own experience such responses are rarely to do with the person before you. Emotional echoes from the past have been re-awoken in you, triggered by meeting them. One day you may see them do a kind, caring,beautiful thing, you hear about the details of their life, or they confide in you and you find yourself being touched.  Then its as though a dream bubble has been pricked and you no longer see them as you did previously. Those views obscuring your ability to truly see them, have been seen through, diminished or vanished.

How we relate to and interpret other people functions on the level of aesthetics. Occasionally this  can provides a beautiful experience of aesthetic feeling for all humankind, if not all sentient life. In the light of which our petty individual carping will suddenly seem trite or trivial. 'The aesthetics of everything' includes everyone, every being. That feeling of transcending the limitations of individualised perception happens when we truly see people, just as they are and from a more interconnected perspective. We access this experience more easily via our relationship with nature, but with effort and awareness we can reveal that its everywhere. Endeavouring to proceed through life keeping our mind, eyes and heart as open and wide as we can, on the basis that you wouldn't want to miss anything, would you?  Because:~

 'The world is full of hidden beauty'*

I don't believe I could compose a better list of practices to help expand awareness of 'the aesthetics of everything' than Yanagri's own.

' First, put aside the desire to judge immediately; acquire the habit of just looking. 

  Second, do not treat the object as an object for the intellect. 
  Third, just be ready to receive, passively, without interposing yourself.  If you can void your    mind of intellectualisation,  like a clear mirror that simply reflects,  all the better.' *

* These quotations come from chapters in The Unknown Craftsman, by Soetsu Yanagri,           published  by Kodansha America, Inc.

** Quotations from Dogen, a 13th century Japanese monk, founder of Soto Zen Buddhism