I totally forgot to tell you about this!

Last Saturday I took a breather from studying for Gamma’s (ultimately catastrophic) math test and went to an exhibition of new old instruments (mostly new instruments built by luthiers in the style of old instruments) with my cello teacher and several other cello students at Vienna’s Konzerthaus.

It was full of instruments, and of people, many who appeared to be your old-instrument geek type, which is one of my favorite types. They were all trying out the instruments, which include a lot of recorders, various string instruments (baroque cellos, violins, violas, various gambes, lutes, harps, and i think i saw a theorbe, among others) wooden flutes, guitars, and so on. There is no word to describe the aural experience, especially if you have tinnitus.

Well, except maybe for cacaphony. Or din.

Or racket. Or jarring dissonance.

I wasn’t even going to touch an instrument, not even get close, in the higher rent (I assumed) area near the entrance. Cool-looking stuff, though. I just have a phobia of messing up a priceless instrument.

We went downstairs, where the acoustics were even worse and looked at more stuff and my teacher explained the baroque cello. We even tried one out at a stand. Basic differences to a modern cello: no spike, less tension on the gut strings so it has a different sound. Softer, I assume – and more open, if the other baroque celli i have heard are typical. Unfortunately, there was a guy selling bagpipes at the next stand so we couldn’t actually hear any of the sounds we made on this cello, we just sat there and ran the bow over the strings.

Afterwards, I found out that the cello was originally made in the 1700s, then later converted to a modern style cello ( as many were) and then restored to its original condition by this particular luthier. I was glad I hadn’t known the cello’s age when I was playing it or I would have been all uptight.

After that our little group broke up and we went our seperate ways. I wandered over to the gambe stand and talked to the luthier, a big Hungarian guy from Budapest. I asked him about gambes (he also makes celli) and he let me try one out, which I have for years wanted to do. It was a neat experience but I’ll stick to cello. First of all, you’d think gambes are easier to play because they have frets, but in fact they’re 50% harder to play because they have 6 strings instead of 4, plus extra difficulty from having less of an arc in the bridge, meaning when you press down one string it gets pressed down even with, or even below, the strings next to it so you’re playing chords all the time instead of single notes.

But, man, beautiful instruments. All of them were – so nice to wander around.

The red wire, or the blue wire?

The scene: a villain’s hide out. One wall is covered with monitors (salvaged b/w TV sets dating from the late 1960s/early 1970s) showing things going haywire around the globe. One wall is made of glass, beyond which hammerhead sharks circle in a tank of saltwater. A shoe containing a foot rests in the sand on the floor of the tank.

Villain: [running around looking flustered] OMG. Where’s that panic button? Is this the panic button, or the self-destruct button? OMG.

[Sound effect: a ringing telephone]

Villain: Hello?

Girl: Hi, dad.

Villain: Hi, kid.

Girl: How do I plug in the microphone?

Villain: Wut?

Girl: I want to play around with your new microphone. I’m sitting here at home in the cellar with the speaker, the mixer (I have the mic plugged in already) and all these cords and cables.

[Sound effect: klaxon signalling security breach, or re-entry of warheads, or both]

Villain: Eh, what?

Girl: No sound is coming out. What do I need to do? I’m just going to plug stuff in at random until it works, then I’ll know I got it right.

Villain: Er. That’s not so good. If you short something out, that would be bad, because I have a theremin performance tomorrow and need some of that gear.

[Sound effects: explosions, small-arms fire]

Villain: Listen. The mixer and the speaker must be plugged into a power source. Their cords are in a white plastic bag in a black cloth bag beside the speaker. Got it?

Girl: There’s only a blue bag.

[Sound effects: henchmen falling into shark tank, splash, snap]

Villain: Listen, okay, blue bag. Full of a mess of cables. The speaker cord is in there. The mixer cord is either in there or loose in the black bag.

Girl: What’s it look like?

Villain: Heavy small black cube with cords coming out two sides. One has a round end that plugs into the back of the mixer,the other end is a normal electrical plug.

Computer voice: Lair will self-destruct in four minutes.

Villain: Sorry if I’m short, honey, I’m a little distracted right now.

Girl: Okay.

Villain: After you get the power sources hooked up, you then need to connect the mixer output to the speaker input.

Girl: I have a cable in the speaker already. Which hole does it go into in the mixer?

Computer voice: Self-destruct in three minutes, thirty seconds.

Villain: Um, what do they say? They should be labeled. Not control room or headphones. Output or line out or something.

[Sound effects: Lasers. Pew-pew-pew!]

[Sound effects: cutting torch]

Girl: Main out?

Villain: Yes, sounds good. L or R should both work for the mic.

Girl: Okay, thanks, dad!

Villain: Have fun, honey. Bye.

[Sound effect: Dial tone.]

Computer voice: Self-destruct in two minutes, thirty seconds.

Villain: [Slaps forehead] Gah! I forgot to tell her to turn on the speaker. She’ll figure that out, right?

15 albums in 15 minutes

I got tagged to do this on Facebook, but I mostly use Facebook just to spy on my kids, so I’ll do it here.

The idea is to list 15 albums that have been meaningful to you for whatever reason without wasting too much time on the exercise.

1. Paul Revere and the Raiders – the one with the guys sitting on the tank. First album I ever bought.

2. Neil Diamond – Some Neil Diamond album. Oh, yeah: Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Part of a set of what, a dozen? albums received at considerable discount from Columbia House, if you know what I mean. If not for this album, the next album would be the most embarrassing album I ever bought.

3. Elton John – Goodby Yellow Brick Road. This got a lot of play. And yet, my parents didn’t beat me to death. Why not, I will never know.

4. Ramones – Ramones. Thank God for punk music. 1976 was a good year. I found out about the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley.

5. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks.

6. Bob Marley and the Wailers – Rastaman Vibration

7. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

8. Jimi Hendrix – I never owned a Hendrix album when I was a kid, for some reason. And whenever I hear the Doors “Rider on the Storm” I think about picking raspberries one rainy day (one of my first jobs), when that song was on the radio. Funny how the memory works.

9. Devo – Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo!

10. Kraftwerk – Autobahn I don’t think I owned this album, but it was a big deal

11. Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy

12. Elvis Costello – My Aim is True. I saw Mr. MacManus in concert for a buck in Seattle back in college and he was great.

13. Sigur Rós – Saeglopur (or any other album of theirs)

14. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers This also brings back memories.

15. Stephen Isserlis – Bach Cello Suites

Boy, any list of 15 isn’t going to do it, is it?

Still alive and well

Last night friends made me go see Carolyn Wonderland at the Mojo Blues Club, a divey little club (in the best possible sense) in a run down (in a good way) wine cellar five miles from my house, for which I will be forever grateful.

What is it with the world where lame musicians get so internationally famous and someone like Ms. Wonderland didn’t make it onto my radar until last night? Last night’s concert changed my life forever. Ms Wonderland and her (great) band were so good my wife was naked when I got home. I was going to say she sings not *like* Janis Joplin but with similar power *and* plays like, well, my guitarist friend who was there compared her guitar playing to Stevie Ray Vaughn -and she is doing this singing and playing simultaneously – I was going to say that, but first of all it seemed to me like sort of an easy and shallow comparison, and then I just googled her and a real critic already said that, which sort of confirmed my reservations.

So I will not say that. I will say instead I now know what a moth feels like when it watches a Tesla coil. I will say that Carolyn Wonderland is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I bought her CD, which is good, but live she is something else entirely. Listen to this: mosquitoes have been really bad this summer here. And they were especially bad at the show last night. And Carolyn Wonderland was performing a song, playing the guitar, and singing, and right at her big finish, ZAP her tongue shot out three feet and she gulped down a mosquito. And she didn’t miss a beat.

The mosquitoes all left us alone after that.

Not even Stevie Ray Vaughn can do that.  Janis Joplin maybe could have, but not while playing the guitar at the same time.

Reading music

Girl: “Dad are you just lying there on the sofa reading music?”

Man: “Mm-hm.”

Girl: [Shakes head]

The kind person who helped me shop for cello music had to sing the music to me to give me an impression of what it sounded like, because I had been convinced it was impossible for me to, you know, just look at it and know what it sounded like. But then, as she sang it, I tried to sing along (very quietly) and it actually worked, somewhat.

And I remembered how Beta would 1.)sit down and read a new piece of music and then 2.) play it on the harp, more or less just like that. I had been impressed by how she could read a piece of music the way you might read a story.

So there I was with a bunch of new music, so I decided to try that myself. I curled up on the sofa with Gabrielli‘s Ricercari. I read the accompanying foreword and I hummed along with the music the way a child sounds out the words as he or she learns to read. It was a start. I guess a phobia of one kind or another had prevented me from trying that before. Or a failure to imagine that it might be possible.

Gabrielli’s Ricercari (I haven’t tried to play them yet) are interesting because they are among the first tunes composed for solo cello. According to the second article linked above, these compositions were also influenced by the recent (at that time – late 1600s) invention of wire-wrapped strings which made them more responsive and enabled cellists to play faster, more or less.

I can’t wait to try it. But right now I’m working on “Impromptu” by Alexander Arutunian. It has sort of this Armenian folky feel to it which is kind of neat. So far so good.


I don’t want to jinx anything, but I have been somewhat happy lately. The German word for happiness is the same as that for luck: Glück. That feels right.

Not sure why. Maybe I’m sleeping better.

Maybe it’s the phase of the moon. Austrians are strongly affected by lunar phases. The moon is currently full, and the road to work was full of crazy asshats this morning. Either the full moon turns about 25% of Austrians into really bad drivers, or it makes me cranky, impatient and hypercritical.

I think it’s sleep, though. I have a phobia of going senile. After observing the process in two relatives, I have the feeling that there are aspects of the onset of senility that one notices about oneself and either accepts or denies, and there are (and this is maybe worse) aspects that one does not perceive. And I have noticed myself forgetting words and names. I tell myself that I have done this all my life and it is just the fact that I am 50 that I connect it with senile dementia, but one still worries. And I did get all flustered at the music store recently and buy a stack of sheet music that I had eliminated, and neglected to buy the notes I wanted, and had to go back the next day and exchange, but that can happen to anyone, right?

And now that I am sleeping, I feel less confused. So there’s that. And there is also the thought that maybe part of my problem is that I’m surrounded by so many sharp people. There are all you smart people reading this. There are all my smart friends. Many of you belong to both groups, of course. There are the women in my family who have been kicking ass lately. Gamma, who turns 13 in a few days, was at the doctor recently for a checkup with her sister and her mother, where the following conversation ensued:

Doctor: Und was hast du für Beschwerden, Gamma? (What complaints (symptoms) do you have, Gamma?)

Gamma: Ich kriege viel zu wenig Taschengeld! (My allowance is way too low!)

Anyhow. Maybe I need to watch Fox News for awhile until I start feeling smarter.

Raptor reloaded

RAPTOR is a sound system designed to scare birds out of your vineyard with recordings of raptors etc. Raptor Reloaded is a  project by alien productions in which contemporary composers provide other sounds to keep starlings out of your grapes. You can listen to a sample here. This is the coolest thing. I hope they do this again next year.