Friday, August 24, 2007

CD Review No 5- Prinzhorn Dance School

A minimalist bass lines slowly fades up into hearing, coming and going like a radar. Thirty five seconds later, after what seems like a wait of an eternity, the thwack of an unadorned drum beat enters, followed a few seconds later by the sparse twang of a simple electric guitar riff. These are then augmented by a male vocal style of characterless and studied ordinariness,as he sings ' your down in a hole, your down in the ground, its 7am and your scratching around, the moneys all gone, and your poor like the poor, your lover just called, she don't love you no more, your in the black bunker' this is further enhanced by unsophisticated screams and whelps from a back up singer who has all the vocal skill and refinement of a cheerleader standing at the side of a football pitch. You have unwittingly stumbled into the musical sound scape of Prinzhorn Dance School's first album.

There are only two people present Prinz ( Male ) and Horn ( Female ) they comprise PDS. Sometimes their sound is artfully contrived and odd in a very knowing way. Like performance art punk rock, you might like it, but you certainly can't dance to it. It does, however, possess its own peculiar delights like chocolates that have been deliberately misshapen in production. They've set the musical boundaries they're exploring, no wanton adornments like excessive use of echo, treatments or electronic embellishments of any kind, instruments are recorded so ' snare drums sound like snare drums' as they express it. There is often large volumes of space, moments of silence, gaps interspersed amongst the music like a dare - how long can you wait before you just have to make a sound. This is quite a constriction and discipline to place on yourself, even though at times the plodding drum and guitar sound does become a bit well trodden and over familiar. If this band is going to thrive they''ll need to develop more musical inventiveness within their minimalism or break out of it, otherwise they're will be no difficult third album.

Quirky and gauche could be one way to describe them. They revive a particular musical aesthetic which emerged from early eighties 'indie rock', defiantly individual, with an uncompromising distinctive vision. Comparisons aren't always useful, but at times in spirit they did remind me of The Fall, with a dash of Young Marble Giants, early Slits and Jonathan Richman ( on their song - Hansworthy Sports and Leisure Centre ) thrown into the pot. Were he still alive PDS would have been played enthusiastically by John Peel, I am sure. Their form of eccentricity frequently is too self consciously abstracted and off beat to be widely commercial, but it is curiously addictive nonetheless. You could become extremely fond of them, but beware - never fall in love with them, there is something on the edge of becoming unhinged or perverted here. They have a pretty queer imagination manifesting in their lyrics, which doesn't always stay the right side of rational coherence. Prinz intones 'I do not like change, I always walk this way,I do not like change – l like memorised fact,I like memorised fact,bible premiership stat, I like memorised fact – I got sticker book pic, you, you talk too quick, I got sticker book pic – I do not like touch, you, you talk too much, I do not like touch.' Then they will surprise you with some wry understated humour like 'do you know your butcher, DO YOU know your baker, do you know your paper comes from the big store, next to the big store.'

Yes, Prinzhorn Dance School are an acquired taste, but then a lot of very good things are.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

DIARY 41 - Welcome to the car smash

I'm barely a few minutes drive away from work,on my way to pick up David from his work. On the slip road approaching the A14 a silver car wavers impatiently behind my back bumper. As we near the motorway he indicates and begins to move out over the cross hatched area before I've reached the inside lane. I'm forced into further accelerating, I can just about see beyond him a red lorry in the outside lane and think the coast is clear for me to enter. The lorry, because my impatient pursuer lies between us, is unaware of me. I'm in his blind spot and he moves into mine. Having passed the silver car he believes it's OK to move back into the inside lane. All I could see was his left indicator light flashing as he whanged right into the side of me. The force of this propels the left side of my car straight onto the hard shoulder, ripping the front off, blowing a tyre and ironing my doors flat. This never seems to happen in car chases in movies, however, I come to a juddery halt. I sit holding my hands tightly to the top of my head I'm in shock, my breathing is panicky,sharp and shallow. All I'm thinking is how I'm going to get to the Crematorium now and to phone David. The car is obviously dead, and I am obviously not.

The lorry driver stops, phones 999, and runs back to see how I am. All doors
bar one are inoperable so I exit out the one rear door that will open. A little
dazed and I stumble out grasping a rucksack and battered Tesco bag. When the police and ambulance arrive I am still a bit stunned and can't quite take in all their saying. They seem to be speaking very fast. There was some sense of mourning for the loss and demise of the car, particularly as I watched it hauled like a crippled insect onto the accident recovery vehicle. After all the expense and effort of getting myself back into driving, in barely a few moments my circumstances seem suddenly reverted to how they were eighteen months ago. Yet I've always had a diffident relationship with driving, seeing it as a somewhat unfortunate necessity tied up with my working at the Crematorium. I don't take much interest in cars generally, my own was no exception, just so long as it worked. Though I will miss the freedom of mobility it brought, it did come at a high cost to me personally and to the environment. To be free of this seems a blessed release.

I've been very lucky, no physical injuries, no whiplash to speak of, just a stiff neck, shoulders, back , and in mild shock for a day or so. I was literally a few inches away from being crushed to death. Fortunately the lorry driver reacted quickly to his mistake in judgement or else I would have become a further statistic to add to the list of A14 fatalities. That the car has become a right off so near to my leaving working for the Crematorium seems appropriate somehow. I wouldn't need to use it much from September onwards, once I'm able to walk to work. Longer term I had been wondering what I would do about the car anyway. Now whatever money emerges from the Insurance I can use towards clearing my loan, which will be a great financial boon.

David has remarked how amazed he is with how calm and unruffled I've remained. I presume my work has had some effect on how I view the proximity of mortality. I'm in daily contact with the aftermath and consequences of death, some of which are quite tragic. So I've not felt emotionally traumatised or tearful, what has happened has happened, and fortunately I'm still alive to tell the tale. Whatever is to come, all those future things I get anxious and fret about, seem less worthy of the attention that I normally give them. The force of my desires for something other than what I currently have, often creates a whirl of suffering and discontent around it. Having been so close to death I feel more appreciative and content with the life I've got, and so grateful that I'm still alive to see that with greater clarity.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

DIARY 40 - The end of warming the universe for free

Those of you who read my blog regularly will be all too aware that I've had my struggles with working at the Crematorium. Sometimes being a Chapel Attendant can feel like you're a Stage Manager to a repertory theatre company, where every thirty minutes there's a completely new unrehearsed drama. It's vitally important that the staging and timing all go correctly and according to the script, you only get one chance to get it right. This process, as you can imagine, induces quite a bit of tension, quite apart from the strong emotional nature of the scripts contents. Though I've learned to deal with this, and gained a great amount from the last eighteen months of working there - the time to move on dawns.

I had an interview this week for the job of Customer Services Manager at Windhorse:Evolution, where I used to work before. I heard yesterday that I have got the job. Today I gave the Crematorium my months notice, so by the beginning of September I'll no longer be a Chapel Attendant/Cremation Technician ( Pay Band 3 ). The new job will not be without its fresh responsibilities and noble challenges for me to face no doubt. I'm returning to Windhorse primarily because it is an excellent context for work and practice, where I know my contributions will be valued and valuable, plus, so many of my best friends work there. Some of my best qualities can find expression and further develop, whilst they appear only to get stored away unused in my current position.Whilst my new job could indeed prove to be stressful at times, it can't be anything like as strong an experience as burning dead bodies, or being around bereaved distraught people day in day out. Hopefully this move will at the very least provide a steadier more even work/life balance. So I return home of an evening less drained emotionally, and better able to focus on creativity- on writing.

DREAM TWO - And I'm buying a stairway to heaven.

I arrive at this New Age Therapy Centre trying to source a piece of music I've heard. The woman at the Centre tells me its by Alfred Dellar, the counter-tenor, and that it's available in a full or an edited version. I decide I want the full version which she tells me I 'll find upstairs. As I climb the stairs I find they are extremely rickety and seem hardly to be supported structurally at all, but just float there. I manage to get upstairs to the mezzanine floor and find the CD I'm looking for. At this point I get drawn unwillingly into a perverse therapy process which seems to involve some form of physical violation. When this comes to an end I try to escape before I have to go through it all again, which is where the dream ended.

DREAM ONE - The Parable of Rotting Fruit.

This dream was a re-occuring one, I've been here at least twice before. I own this stock room, and two woman keep bringing me boxes of fruit to store in it, for which they pay me money. From time to time I check through the contents to see their state, taking out the bruised, rotten and moldy ones. In the dream at Padmaloka I open one of the boxes and inside are a number of large pears, all of which have been, or are in the process of being, eaten away from the inside by ants.

DIARY 39 - The path of least resistance it seems the only way.

Returning to Padmaloka Retreat Centre after an absence of about three years
obviously felt significant, as I've been on a bit of a prodigal journey. It felt very
much like meeting up with a valued friend who I hadn't seen or spoken too for a long time. The sort of acquaintance that requires no bridge building or making up of lost time, you just begin from where you left off. This has left me wondering why I was so reticent for so long,but then the whole withdrawal from Buddhist institutions was a mysterious compulsion, not wholely subject to rational explanation. It was a beneficial process and I've returned ,to Padmaloka at least, a stronger and wiser man. I have a better grasp now what exactly I have to offer. Padmaloka itself, though beautiful, has become more noticeable as rabbit and mosquito infested place this summer. I got bitten eight times despite liberally coating my limbs and extremities with repellent.

The retreat programme included four substantial meditation sits a day. For a man whose been struggling to maintain more than twenty minutes, it was quite a cranking up of my practice. I chose to throw myself into it, to do only Metta and Mindfulness practices, and no Pure Awareness. After a lengthy absence from a formal and structured meditation practice I found I loved doing them both. My prolonged adherence to Pure Awareness had the residual effect of making formal practice more receptive and relaxed, lacking the willful heady tension that I remember once being such an issue.

For the first three days or so I felt extraordinarily tired and slept at every available opportunity, I couldn't get enough of lying horizontal on a mattress. As the week progressed some fracturing of this solid sleep pattern returned me to something all too recognisable. One morning I awoke, and on thinking about getting up to meditate felt a flashback to a previously familiar response,one of resistance tinged with resentment. This was a bit of a wake up call. I do have a tendency on retreat to go to everything. It comes out of a heartfelt desire to make the most of this opportunity to meditate. This somehow can become a fixed and immovable objective. My response previously would have been to joyfully override the resistance and power on to the end of the retreat, and sometimes this was an appropriate way to proceed. On this occasion, taking into account that I'd also been experiencing on alternate days a desire to withdraw from social interaction, I suddenly realised what was happening; I just wasn't allowing myself enough space to stand back and absorb what was arising from meditation. So, for the last few days I dropped my engagement down a few gears and all was well. It was then that I had two dreams. strong and significant dreams which both happened all in one night, these I will document separately.

Padmavajra gave talks on The Dhammapada,which as usual were accessible and down to earth expositions, with some very pointed and pithy material emerging. I was part of a discussion group that was also extremely lively and engaged, in an experiential rather than theoretical way. A lot of very frank explorations of how practice feels when you are out in the world, but with no direct plugs into a supportive Buddhist context. Quite often, it seems all too easy to feel we are floundering or losing our way simply because we lack those recognisable signposts that a Buddhist institution provides. Yet,this can be so misleading, as the painter George Grosz once said :-

' All that can be said withe certainty is that every talented beginner is like a wine in ferment, filled with something he can vaguely feel but not yet express. Still, even as he flounders, he is forging ahead.'

So to Lokesvara, Dave, Rod, Miles and Nick I'd just like to say thanks for being a very significant part of an enjoyable retreat.