Dance binge


Dot writes: how much dance can you watch before your brain melts? On Saturday I came pretty close to finding out, but fortunately came away feeling thrilled and inspired instead (phew). I took part in the Fast Track Express programme of Dublin Dance Festival: a group of twelve people were treated to four different shows (three of them double bills, so that was seven different dance pieces), interspersed with meetings with some of the dancers and festival staff, plus group discussions. I went because…well, I love dance, I love talking intensely about things, and I couldn’t make up my mind what to see otherwise. I was one of only two members of the group who didn’t work in the arts or theatre world him/herself. It was a lovely group of people, ably shepherded by Lynette Moran and Niamh McCann (of Live Collision).

This is what we saw: Continue reading “Dance binge”

Why I hate “mansplaining”

Dot writes: this is a feminist rant, but not the rant you think it is. Well, maybe it is because maybe you’re my soul-mate or some sort of creepy mind-reader or something. Anyway. I’d like to ban “mansplaining”. Not the thing, the term (thus the quotation marks – they’re real quotes, not scare quotes).

These days I’m on Twitter quite a lot. As is well known, Twitter is full of cat pictures, witty jokes, political aphorisms, and trolls, but it’s also full of people striking poses over how extremely correct they are, and one of the ways they do it is by identifying other people as being offensive in previously unguessed ways. “Mansplaining” is a stick I see used to beat men with, for saying something factual or argumentative while being a man. And I do not think this helps the sisterhood.

My problem with the concept of “mansplaining” is that it teaches women to suspect men of talking down to them when there is often no good reason to think they are. It defines this practice as a characteristically male one, and it encourages women to search out occasions to be offended, and to be validated by their own anger (because the oppressed person is, of course, in the right). But this is the sort of behaviour that makes feminism look bad and that drives men into the ridiculous arms of men’s rights groups. Feminism has more important jobs to do than getting cross with perfectly decent men when they temporarily fail to read their interlocutor’s mind. Ending FGM, getting society to value caring work, abortion rights – those are all fights worth having.

I don’t deny that sometimes people, including men, are patronising to each other. Nor do I deny that sometimes people, including men, may wrongly assume someone doesn’t know much about a topic because of their gender, age, race, class etc, and I’ve heard of some pretty awful examples e.g. a male academic recommending to a woman that she read a particular book, naming its male co-editor, when she was the main editor. But I do think that it’s very unfair to jump to the conclusion that someone who says something you consider faintly obvious is doing it because they think you’re thick. Perhaps the point isn’t so obvious to them, and that’s why they think it’s worth saying? Does everyone have to be profound all the time? Doesn’t much friendly conversation progress through the producing of relatively unstartling arguments around a topic? Moreover, a concept that splices the idea of being patronising with maleness is, well, sexist. Which seems like an own-goal for a movement opposed to sexism.

Anyway, I like men. They are sexy and nice and they fix bicycles. I hate fixing bicycles.

Get lost

Damn, that road to the left must have been the one he wanted. He’s been driving for eight hours and he’s going 130kph in the wrong direction as the sun starts to sink. He needs to make a u-turn. He slows, then slows even more, because a girl is coming round the corner on a horse. She catches his eye, she waves. He can’t u-turn now. She’ll think he’s following her. So he drives a bit further, seeing no good place to turn around, and he keeps going on as the dusk gathers, till he finds himself at the end of his energy in a town so small it’s no more than a whistle-stop, but with one hotel that must serve as bar and shop and emergency roadhouse for the whole empty country for miles around. And then

the locals are unfriendly, he’s a city boy, his car is vandalised, he goes for a walk unwisely, sees things he shouldn’t, horrible stains, guns and chainsaws, they’re after him, heart pumping panic in the dark

heard it before, try something else Continue reading “Get lost”

Recorders in pop music

Dot writes: I’m an out-and-proud recorder player. I’m a member of my local branch of the Society of Recorder Players (in fact the only branch in Ireland – there are advantages to living in the capital), I take part in fortnightly group lessons, and I regularly tweet about my recorder playing, to resounding silence from the twittersphere. It is my secret mission, delivered to me anonymously on paper that spontaneously combusted ten minutes later (not really), to promote the use of recorders by everybody in contemporary music that I like, which is to say lots of pop and electronic artists who aren’t interested. And don’t know me. And don’t follow me on Twitter. Fortunately there are enlightened souls in the contemporary music world who have already noticed that recorders need not only be for renaissance buffs (not that I’m knocking renaissance music: in fact I love it, and I love playing it).

So, here are some recent pieces in which recorders escape from their ghetto and mingle happily with contemporary instruments and production styles. For some less recent but better known examples, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9”, plus a rejoinder to the stereotype of the recorder as a horrid shrill instrument played badly by schoolchildren, see this Guardian piece. I’m vaguely amazed it doesn’t mention “The Fool on the Hill”, but then that’s a song that trades precisely on the association of the recorder with naivety and childhood.

Marika Hackman, “Monday Afternoon”, from her 2015 album We Slept At Last. This is a dark, spooky, folk-inflected album full of pale bodies lying in forests, and the recorders here give a touch of both formality and pastness, contributing to the general air of maidenly doom.

Shugo Tokomaru, “Vektor”. I came across this a few days ago through the new music section in Nialler9’s enormously comprehensive website. Tokomaru is described as a folk musician, but this seems to me wonderfully unclassifiable, drawing on an incredibly eclectic range of instruments of which the recorder is one. The video celebrates the instruments and is a joy in itself.

Floex, “On the Roof of the Yellow Psychedelic Mushroom”, from the soundtrack to Samorost 3 (2016). In contrast to the busy Tokomaru piece, this is a serene unfolding of shimmering, spacious textures, against which the recorders, entering at 2:23, are clearly foregrounded with their questioning phrase. Floex (Tomáš Dvořák) is principally a clarinettist but plays the recorder very expressively too. He has written about the piece on Facebook.

My final example is a different sort of thing. Recorder arrangements of pop and rock songs can often be embarrassingly twee, but this is a triumphant exception: Daniel Mantey’s Recorder Quintet version of Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix (with a bit of help from guitar, organ and bongos) (posted to YouTube in 2014). It sounds like mad druids. It’s great.

P.S. After I posted this a twitter friend (wow, someone responded to a recorder tweet!) told me about this clever and funny cover by Georgia Fields of Guns’n’Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”, including a recorder solo. You can hear the whole thing on Bandcamp. (Thanks, Shane!)

The Songman

Once there was a man who wrote a song so powerful it came to life and moved into his house. He was proud of its success: it won awards and earned money which it shared with him. However, unfortunately it was very promiscuous and kept bringing home women. He would meet them in the kitchen in the morning, looking dazed and eating his cornflakes. He worried that his song was better in bed than he was, and also he felt grumpy at constantly running out of cornflakes. To make matters worse, the song resembled him physically and they were often confused with each other. The world was suddenly full of people convinced he had had deep, tender conversations with them. He took to hugging absolutely everyone he met in order not to risk offence. He could only wonder how the song coped when his own friends assumed it could talk to them about Monty Python or graphic novels. Continue reading “The Songman”



She’s become a connoisseur of fine gradations of heat. The different shades of cool on the hotel stairs. On the pavement, the glare of sun, then dappled shadow under leaves; crossing the road, reflected heat from tarmac. At the beach the white sand is almost too hot to scamper over. The sea is first a shock of cold, then perfect, the water subtly varied, warmer at the surface, cool swells from underneath. She’s swimming alone in the summer crowd under a fierce blue sky.

She’s come here on a last minute deal, to clear her head. It seems to be working; there’s not a thought in it. Or, rather, just the one, like a great bell that chimes every time her mind moves: baby. Baby. There’s one inside her now, about nine weeks along. It doesn’t show yet but she’s already gone up a bra size and her breasts tingle and ache. She falls asleep, face down, at eight o’clock each evening. Her body doesn’t need her; she can sleep and it will grow the baby without her. She ought to tell someone. The father – what a strange word to use of him, he’s a friend, he was lonely and so was she – he ought to know. But she floats suspended between the blazing sun and the sea. Continue reading “Heat”

Mortal City


Dot writes: on Something More on Tuesday Tim Shiel played a track by Domhnall called ‘Lucy Hates Her Life in the Big City’. I was reminded, by the title more than by the piece itself, of Dar Williams’ song ‘Mortal City’, from her 1996 album of the same name (this is a link to Spotify so you can listen to the song; it’s the last track). It also seemed appropriate because it’s a piano-led track and the episode was themed around Piano Day.

It’s one of those songs that hovers between the rhythms of ordinary speech and lyric. The lines are long and prosy, too many syllables. At the start, the accompaniment is hardly there, just the odd unresolved piano chord.

She never should have rented this apartment in the mortal city
The cold comes through every gap she puts her hand up to
The radiator doesn’t work, she has to use electric heat

But as it progresses more instrumentation is added, strings and guitar, melancholy and wistful. I love this gradual coalescence of the music, the emergence of something that sounds more like a song. The prose rhythms of the vocal start to be tugged into the lyricism of the melody. The song tells a story about a woman who’s isolated and unhappy in the city and who on her first date with a man is trapped with him in her flat during a severe storm; they turn off the power because there’s an appeal to save power for the hospital. She tells him of what a cold, dead place the city seems to her, but he talks about how people enjoy the city’s bustle, and how they are acting together to help the hospital. It’s a song that tries to say something quite serious about human loneliness, mortality, the atomisation of modern living, but also the capacity of humans to love and care for each other. It could easily be sentimental and it almost is, but on Tuesday I listened to it after the radio show had finished and I found the tears were running down my cheeks. I suppose I was feeling a bit over-wrought.

We are not lost in the mortal city
We are not lost in the mortal city