Uwe Schumacher’s last Klangspielraum concert in October 2018 (with him on bass, percussion, and vocals; Sue Schlotte on cello; and me on guitars) happened to fall on Halloween.
We weren’t costumed and neither was anyone from the audience but I had brought my little screaming gorilla toy and pressed its button now and then. Its hair raising screams filled the church.
I had not met Sue before but I immediately knew she was a professional musician, and very open to experimental music. There weren’t any plans, any preconceived ideas. We hardly talked before the concert. We played for an hour (plus a short more melodic encore), only led by intuition.
The wonderful audience was very attentive, even though the music was completely unpredictable. There were dynamic and intense passages and extremely quiet moments – the presence generated by music and audience was palpable.
Sue had to leave quickly after the concert, so we never got to talk much. Uwe and I had played two or three duo improvisations before together. We both found that it had made a huge difference to have a third musician with us, especially one like this. We were very happy with the music that had visited us, and so was the audience.
The gorilla liked it too and wants to do another gig.
Here is a short teaser video, and underneath, the complete thing if anyone wants to see it. But you had to be there – seeing this on a small screen doesn’t do it justice.
On the last day of September 2017, shortly after my trusty old Mercedes had died an unexpected death while on a music meeting in Czechia, I loaded a rental car with my gear and headed for Solingen, a town 40km north of here that is world famous for its cutlery industry.
The Solingen culture office had invited me to perform at this year’s “Viertelklang” (quarter sound) festival. Two dozen very different musical acts performed during one evening in five places in the beautiful old “Wald” quarter of town – a school, a church, a bookshop, an old factory, all in walking distance of each other. Visitors could come and go and experience many kinds of music during that evening.
I was the only act who had a location for myself for the whole evening: an abandoned radio/television shop (Radio Schippers), empty except for the electrical installation, the wall panels, and some old tables. This was possibly the strangest location I’ve ever performed in.
My partner in crime was Florian Zeitler, a musician and prolific video artist whom I had not met before. He created beautiful improvised abstract computer video projections, midi-synced to my improvised music. Before we started, he even programmed sequences that highlighted the white vertical rack mounts on the wall that he projected his images on – we couldn’t take them off that wall, so he turned them into a feature.
There was no real stage – I sat in one corner, Florian sat in another corner, and visitors could walk around the room while we performed. It was dark, the room was lit up by the video projection. It did not really feel like a concert – more like a light and sound installation involving live music. I think we managed to turn the abandoned and somewhat sad location into a magical place for an evening.
The music that I played mostly consisted of experimental sound collages, involving some of my field recordings, ambient, psychedelic, and minimalist livelooping music, guitar, synthesizers, granular synthesis, artificial voices, speech fragments (some of my dear friend Rick Walker, I used them without asking him, oops). I had set up four speakers for a quadrophonic setup and could make all sounds move around the room in various ways. This was a new experience for me and one that I quite enjoyed.
We played three 30 minute sets with 30 minute intermissions. Not a lot of people showed up unfortunately – the shop was a little further away from the other locations, and maybe the experimental/avantgarde description in the flyer did not attract as many people as the jazz, blues, folk, and classical music that was performed in the other locations (which seemed to be much more popular). But Florian and I quite enjoyed ourselves, and as usual, several more adventurous people showed up and told us afterwards how much they had liked this.
I wish I could do things like this more often!
Here is a 36 minute mix of the evening. My cheap camcorder does not do Florian’s videos justice but maybe you get an idea what it was like. Lean back and listen loud.
Late October, driving from Arcos de la Frontera to El Bosque and Grazalema where we hiked in the Andalucian mountains. The beauty of this place instantly put me into a Jon-Hassell-Mati-Klarwein mode, like beautiful mediterranean places often do.
The music is a Fourth-World-style harmonized guitar improvisation that I played a couple of years ago.
The livelooping tour that some of my friends did this spring (concerts and workshops in Paris, Florence, Brescia, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin) ended in Berlin, with the fourth Berlin International Livelooping Festival, organized by Leander Reininghaus.
I was supposed to play another [mi,mi] guitar duo here with my friend Michael Frank but unfortunately he had to stay home because of health problems in his family, so I had to play alone.
Somehow the idea of looping with stomp boxes, as we do with [mi,mi], stuck in my head and that’s what I found myself doing … although I could also have done the digital loop thing, playing alone. Musically it was big fun to use stomp boxes, but my suitcase that I took on the train – containing my little red guitar and lots of metal pedals – was so heavy when I had to carry it up and down the stairs in the Cologne train station (some parts of which doesn’t feature lifts) that I felt very sorry for this decision quickly.
Luckily, I was picked up by my friend Volker in Berlin, we did a beautiful walk through the parks in Kreuzberg, and had fabulous Indian food.
And I could stay for the two nights with my old pal Markus Reuter. Here he enjoys our first breakfast together:
On the day of the festival I visited Berlin’s music instrument museum which showed a special exhibition about the history of electronic music. There was a local website with more information but I wish the exhibits had had headphones with sound examples or even videos. So it was all a bit sparse, but seeing all those magical pieces of gear was wonderful anyway. Theremin, Ondes Martenot, Trautonium, Hugh LeCain’s tape recorder keyboard, Fairlight CMI, Synclavier … and many classical synthesizers were there, plus the first drum computers … there is something about old analog equipment that is utterly fascinating for some reason.
The livelooping evening was opened by none other than Gary Hall who happened to be in town on that day for the Superbooth synthesizer fair. Gary was the inventor of the legendary Lexicon PCM42, one of the first groundbreaking digital livelooping devices.
Bodo Orejuela’s quite wonderful cymatics light show (of water vibrating with the sound) accompanied the livelooping acts, of which there were so many that everyone could perform for only 20 minutes – but that made it all even more entertaining.
My own set featured my trusty red Hohner GT2 guitar and various sound manglers. Livelooping was done by the relatively new Montreal Assembly “Count To 5” pedal which does amazing tricks that are very addictive, followed by a 20 year old Digitech PDS-8000. I used three different distortion/fuzz boxes, sometimes all at once, so the sound was raw, even a bit brutal at times. Wonderful 🙂
As usual, I had only thought about (not even “planned”) the first 30 seconds of my improvisation. Often when I plan to do something on stage, I find that it doesn’t quite work the way I thought it would, and instead, it develops into something completely different. This has happened so often that have given in now, instead only trusting my momentary impulses and my intuition. That feels just right to me. During the recent livelooping gigs I did in Paris and now in Berlin, it worked out well enough to be interesting or even beautiful to the audience. It makes me trust this when people come to me afterwards and tell me how great it was (of course, people who didn’t like it usually don’t come to me to tell me). After my sets, I usually have almost no memory of what I did. Something about this is very funny.
Nelly Meunier tried to videotape my set but of course it was too dark for my cheap camera. The sound was recorded with a microphone, including pedal clicks and audience noise.
On the next morning, we all met again for the traditional loopers brunch before we said goodbye to each other. A core group of five loopers will spend the night in my house on their way back from Berlin to Paris (for three of them the trip will continue to California and Japan). Then this particular adventure ends. I feel very privileged and happy to have been part of it.
“Paris Spring Loops” was the title of this year’s international livelooping festival, organized by Nelly Meunier and Emmanuel Reveneau. The festival lasted for a week and contained several loop workshops and concerts in several venues (and the logistics were complex).
Nelly and Manu had scheduled me for a workshop or two (I showed the students some of what can be done with the 25 year old Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro) and for four concerts – three solo shows and one duo with my “The Absurd” band colleague Michael Frank (who also did a wonderful solo set).
I was very happy during this week, although there was little sleep and lots of standing in traffic jams, and not much time for tourism, except for one little trip to Pigalle and Montmartre. The Paris spring sun was warming my body, and meeting my old friends again (and getting to know a few new ones), and spending lots of time with them, was heartwarming. The concerts were all interesting, some of them mouth-open breathtaking, and my own (completely improvised) concerts all came out nicely – people liked them and I was quite happy with them – so happy that I put the three solo loops on this Bandcamp album without any edits:
Cover photograph: Olivier Malhomme
The first show was based on my digital setup: Plogue Bidule with various plugins, this time controlled by a Novation Launchcontrol which felt much more stable than the pair of Nanokontrols I had been using for years. You can see me controlling loops and effects on this video of the show:
I also videotaped the second and third solo shows but hadn’t chosen a good camera position (my head is cut off on the videos) 🙂 but you can listen to them on the Bandcamp album. Both featured the “Frippertronics” tape delay instead of the computer, plus various stomp box delays.
photograph: Joel Gilardini
The 50+ year old tape technique (more about it here) produces some amount of hiss but several people told me that they actually liked that hiss – something about it being analogue and warm. Not sure about this, but it is a package deal I guess, and people loved this thing.
It sure looks awesome, especially during the final concert where I put it into the center stage and it looked like an altar – a loop altar. Which made my colleague John Connell fall on his knees and pray to it 🙂
The international livelooping scene, organized around the festivals that were started 17 years ago by Rick Walker (purple-haired this time) in California and have since spread to many cities, consists of a very friendly bunch of people. There is no competitiveness at all, and everyone is totally respected with their individual way of expressing themselves with loop music, regardless of the level of professionality (which varies wildly of course). The “newbies” who learned about livelooping during our workshops and did a few sets themselves probably felt safe on stage because of this friendliness.
I’m getting used to improvise on stage more and more but while I learn to trust the unknown, and show my not-knowing without safety net, I still quite enjoyed the friendly feedback and encouragement that I got during this week. Sometimes I’m still surprised at how much some people love what I do 🙂
Some people even liked this relentlessly adventurous guitar duo with Michael Frank:
A week that made me happy … while I write this, I think of 8 of my looper friends who got themselves squeezed into a van, with all their suitcases and gear, and continue a little tour of Europe – today, they are in Florence, then later in other places in Italy, then in Prague, Dresden and finally Berlin where I will meet them again. After that, the van will travel through Cologne back to Paris. What an adventure! I’m glad though that I can sleep in my own bed again, life on the road is too hard for me 🙂
Photos by Laure Sornique, Olivier In-Mobile Malhomme, Joel Gilardini and me:
Another wonderful new year’s concert by The Absurd at Cologne’s LOFT.
On this saturday, the streets were so icy in Cologne that I saw several people slip and fall during the few minutes I was out to have some food after soundcheck. Police issued a level 3 ice warning (I had no idea that there are levels of this): people should stay at home if possible, so we were afraid that we would play in front of an empty room. But apparently, our fans love us so much that they risk their bones! the room was almost as full as usual when we started to play.
My favorite tune of the night was a new piece called ‘Reykjavík 2004’. It was based on an improvisation recorded in 2004 with guitarist Michael Frank on bass and me on guitar, plus Manfred Meurer on drums. ‘Manni’ had been the Absurd drummer during their beginning, more than 30 years ago, and he was supposed to play drums at this gig but sadly, he couldn’t come. Göttin Gala replaced him on drums and did a great job.
Why have I never before composed anything for The Absurd? I should do that, it is so much fun hearing your ideas played by a bunch of great musicians.
This composition was a collaboration between Michael Frank (who came up with the bass line and the strange somewhat Magmaesque trills, and who had the idea for the furioso end of the piece) and me (chords and melody). I am grateful that Michael insisted that our seemingly sparse 2004 ideas were interesting enough to turn them into a piece, and that I could see how effortlessly he structured them. He is a music educator and knows what he is doing. There is still so much to learn for me! Although I strongly believe in the value of not knowing in music making, I see that knowing is of great value as well 🙂
People liked this piece a lot, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it as well.
Gernot Bogumil – tr
Michael Frank – g, voc
Vera P. Frank – voc
Göttin Gala – dr, voc
Michael Hausmann – vibes, dr
Max Höfler – g, voc
Kim Jovy – reeds
Marcus Jovy – b
Sercan Özökten – voc, perc
Michael Peters – g
Hans Salz – dr, vibes, perc
Andreas Wagner – reeds
Norbert Zajac – voc
Martin Ziegler – p
Today’s walk: Unterbersten-Frangenberg-Müllersommer, starting near Landhaus Fuchs and to the left into the deep forest, then along the long path through Müllersommer and up back through the fields towards the car. It took an hour or two but I walked slow, as I do when I’m alone, often sitting somewhere and enjoying. It was cold and blue but I had my hardcore winter coat and felt comfortable. The beauty of the frosty meadows and the wide vistas, and the deep silence eventually brought my mind to a stop. And there were these guys in the rusty car.
A late December morning with a cold blue sky and sunshine. Computer work waits for me but there is enough time for a little meditating and a walk. My soul felt different afterwards, thankful and quiet. I seem to get the hang of this more and more as I get older. There is this image of an old man sitting in the sun with his cat, content, quiet, at peace with himself, not having to save the world any more. I would like to be like that. Getting closer to it already.
Binaryminds is a software company that I sometimes work for. For the 2016 winter holiday season, they sent greeting cards to their customers – but not ordinary cards! The packages contained Google Cardboard sets – virtual reality headset kits made out of cardboard. You need to put your smartphone into them to watch 3D scenes.
The 3D scene that the binaryminds customers were pointed to contained season’s greetings – “keep calm and holiday on” – set in a computer generated winter landscape. And there is sound, done by me, a six minute ambient winter soundscape. I am totally in love with the sights and sounds of this.
If you watch this in a browser on your desktop computer, you can move around using your mouse. If you use a tablet or mobile phone (it needs a gyroscope/compass to work), just move around. Of course, the best version is a virtual reality headset. (If you only see two parallel static images, your device doesn’t support the 3D view)
Of course the soundtrack was done with a nod to mastermind Brian Eno, inventor of this kind of musical aesthetic. Eno was the one who came up with the term “ambient music” in the 70s, and some of his ambient soundscapes evoked a sense of place, an inner landscape. He often used this music as an acoustic backdrop to his visual art exhibitions. The result was always pure magic.
When multiinstrumentalist and livelooper Rick Walker started doing the first international livelooping festivals in California 15 years ago, he probably had no idea that this thing would eventually spread like wildfire. We are doing several such festivals per year now, in many countries, and more are added to the list every year.
There is a growing scene of livelooping artists some of which travel around the world to perform on the various festivals. Unless there are sponsors, the artists usually pay for everything out of their own pockets, because this is not a commercially successful enterprise – it is just about the love for music. And the audience is fascinated every time by the wide range of styles and ideas, the musical quality, the surprising creativity they get to see.
Steve Moyes, a livelooping guitarist/cellist from Wales (who had performed on my 3rd festival in Cologne), had organized such a festival in November 2016. Eight musicians from the UK, France, and Germany met in Cardigan, a little town at the southwestern coast of Wales, for a very enjoyable afternoon/evening of livelooping music.
Most of us stayed for several days. Steve cooked for us, and we were hosted by Maggie Nicols, a singer from the UK improvised music / free jazz scene. I remembered Maggie’s voice from early 1970s Keith Tippett projects such as Centipede, and I was thrilled that I could stay in her large house, an old mill building, and get to know her.
My Wales trip started with some technical problems, including a faulty Midi controller, and an expensive laptop that suddenly refused to boot (update: after the UK trip when I came home, it was suddenly alive again as if nothing had happened – my computer technician has no explanation except that it maybe didn’t want to travel to Wales). Instead of the laptop, which is usually a central item in my livelooping setup, I used my iPad with a combination of livelooping, effect, and granular synthesis apps, all of this to create textural loops, plus an oldfashioned but still amazing Gibson Echoplex for shorter loops. Also, Steve gave me his Line6 DL-4, a workhorse for delays and looping.
One day before the concert, I put new strings on the guitar, and one of the tuning pegs broke – I could no longer tune the A string, but after some experimenting, I fixed it, sort of, by squeezing a clothes peg under the string. I could have borrowed another guitar but I felt stubborn at this point. After all, my cheap trusty Höfner Shorty is something special, with its integrated amplifier/speaker which allows for wild feedback orgies.
The evening was beautiful, even breathtaking at times. I loved Steve Moyes’s cello loops and his abstract, sculptural approach. Heather Summers played beautiful pieces with her warm violin sound in the middle of things, and David Cooper Orton delivered a number of his masterful guitar pieces. Nelly Meunier’s ‘prehistoric’ sounds from stones, bones, leaves and other beautiful little objects were a quiet sonic meditation, and ecnegrU’s skillful reggae/dub explorations blew my mind and made me dance. Julia Kotowski’s songs (as ‘Entertainment for the Braindead’) have become even more perfect since I saw her in California, 7 years ago, and Emmanuel Reveneau (‘Lucid Brain Integrative Project’) was as lucid and amazing as always. What a great group of musicians! I felt thrilled that I could be one of them on this evening.
Somehow my technical problems led me to play more radically, much more in the noise department, and I quite enjoyed it (and so did a number of people in the audience – never before so many people came and told me how much they had liked my set).
On the next evening, we staged a mini festival with short sets personally for Maggie Nicols because she had performed in Austria on the festival day, and missed it. I played even more radically this time and enjoyed it even more (Emmanuel found it ‘supercool’). What has happened? I feel that while I am open to many kinds of styles, including ambient and psychedelic which would typically focus on ‘beautiful’ sounds, I suddenly feel much more drawn to experimental sounds and structures, to noise, to uncertainty, to go beyond all borders. It was almost like a little epiphany. Playing freely like this felt so natural, so clearly like me. And I feel a little bit like a newborn, I still have to learn so much.
After our little mini-festival for Maggie, we did a collective improvisation. It was wild and ecstatic at times, and hearing Maggie’s voice soaring above it just like it did 45 years ago (with Centipede on their immortal ‘Septober Energy’ album) really gave me the goosebumps big time! I played like never before, sometimes including granular synthesis. I discovered that I could put my unconnected iPad on top of the guitar, feeding its speaker output through the guitar picks and the guitar signal chain with its effects and loops. Wow!
Looking forward now to how my music wants to develop. I let it do that by itself, as always. It will take care of itself.
“Das Hertz” was a free-improvisation, jazz/rock/experimental band that existed between 2006 and 2009:
Martin Ziegler – keyboards
Michael Peters – guitar
Guido Erfen – bass
Wolfgang Dieckmann – drums
We only did one or two gigs but we recorded lots of sessions in the rehearsal room – not in a real professional way, we just put a stereo digital recorder somewhere to document our efforts.
Sometimes we kept searching for the muse, but very often, the music really took off. Too bad the audience was so small, it really was a great band at times! There is 1970s Jazzrock in the mix … a healthy dose of Krautrock … the sounds of Progressive Rock sprinkled all over … and very often, a main ingredient is sheer madness.
We usually played as a quartet, occasionally with some guests, but some of the albums/podcasts were recorded on days without Martin, our genius piano player – we were in power trio territory then, and that was always a very special experience for me.
Luckily Guido, our bass player, spent a considerable amount of work turning these recordings into two albums (“initial” and “electric gentry”) and after that, into quasi-albums that he called ‘podcasts’. He edited the recordings, did lots of mixing and mastering, he invented track titles, and he created artwork (being a painter, he did a very creative job). And as a programmer, he created the official Das Hertz website, putting all the recordings on archive.org, under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike-Licence.
I recently listened to some of the recordings on archive.org and for some reason, the site had problems streaming on that day. So I decided, being a fan of Bandcamp, to put everything on Bandcamp as well. So now, you can listen to the complete archive of Das Hertz on Bandcamp if you wish.
And I made a selection of my favorite tracks. I called it “M-Theory“. You know, guitar strings, string theory, and my first name. Some of the tracks still really amaze me. My own playing amazes me, it is often something I couldn’t reproduce, something that I couldn’t do on my own – I need a great band like this to catalyse my muse into coming out and doing this.
The first track (“Hunting the Drama Waltz”, whatever that means) is a lengthy improvisation that features the power trio – Guido and Wolli, the rhythm group, laying out a fast relentless harmonically open groove for me to take off in whichever direction I wanted to fly. On this piece I play guitar but also guitar-midi-driven virtual keyboards.
My loop guitar colleague Gerd Weyhing had invited a few musicians to spend five days in a castle in the Bohemian mountains in the northern Czech Republic, in a remote village called Trebušín, to make music together. So we met in August 2016 in Castle Kalich, eight musicians and one self-declared non-musician, and spent these days musicking, talking, cooking, walking.
To me, these days felt almost like what I imagine a late sixties Krautrock hippie music commune must have felt, for a few days, complete with a quiet idyllic countryside, an old castle just for ourselves, a campfire every evening, and absolutely no plans, only music. House master Pavel took good care of us and even showed us around his beautiful nearby hometown Litoměřice.
I had brought two guitars, various analog and digital gear, and my tape loop system that I had used for a concert a week before in Berlin. My little workstation looked like this:
We recorded hours of improvisations, some of which were quite inspired. Sadly, my own contributions (some of which felt really great when I played them) were not recorded due to some glitch. Bummer! but then, we did it for the moment, not so much to create recordings. There will be an official CD release, and I will be listed I think, however … next time, we’ll be more careful with the recording.
We all loved these fun days and the company of very diverse and interesting musicians, and human beings. We look forward to another week together, maybe next year.
I am in Berlin now for a week, on my way to the “Bohemian Polyphony” event – more of this later. Of course I met my old friends Leander Reininghaus and Markus Reuter who both live in Berlin now.
I had met Leander and Markus on a Guitar Craft course with Robert Fripp in … 1991 I think, anyway, about 25 years ago. We played together as “Trio Gitarristik” for a few years during the mid-1990s, performing various Guitar Craft tunes plus our own compositions, and also ambient soundscapes.
This week, because I came to Berlin, Leander had organized a livelooping concert for us at the Galiläa church, a beautiful abandoned-church-turned-into-performance-space, and we performed together again for the first time in about 20 years.
Leander framed the evening with a number of beautiful short pieces by Erik Satie (from “Musique d’ameublement” – the first time I ever heard this music) and Philip Glass (“North Star”).
I used analog vintage gear and my “Frippertronics” setup based on tape delay. Even though my energy had been low during the day, it went up as soon as I was on stage, and I was pretty happy with my 20 minute solo set! As often, I had no idea what I would do until I started with the first note, and I felt carried and led by the music that slowly developed. How this works never ceases to amaze me.
I heard from someone in the audience afterwards that my music sounded autumnal to him, and at the same time, he sensed a dry kind of humour. I liked that. Interesting how the same piece of music can elicit such a wide range of responses in the performer and in everyone in the audience.
Markus created one of his amazing ethereal soundscapes on Touch Guitar and Ableton Live. I had occasionally seen him on stage over the years but this piece felt especially intimate and personal to me.
At the end, we improvised together on the chords of Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)”. Leander had chosen this beautiful piece (that, incidentally, I had played on my mother’s funeral four years ago) to finish this thoroughly enjoyable “Berlin Livelooping Session”.
Thank you to everyone from the venue who made this evening possible!
Here is a piece I improvised in Letchworth (north of London) on Nov 1st, 2014. Maybe you like it
My mini-England-tour was big fun. Thank you so much to Georgina for organizing the concerts in Letchworth and London, and for spending time with me (especially on Halloween evening), to the ladies at Dot to Dot in Letchworth, to Michael Bearpark and his family for hosting us, to Roger Harmar for spending a lovely day with me in Brighton, to Darren Sangita for a lovely spontaneous party, to Mathura Das for letting me be his cooking assistant.
(some photos were shot by Michael Bearpark)
The music that I played and the music that I had recorded during rehearsals before the tour ended up in this album, a very heterogenous collection of musical sounds, voices on the streets, and field recordings that is almost like a diary to me. The days in England were intense and surreal at times, and you can hear it. Listen loud.
My grandma (mother of my mother) was born in 1900 and died more than 90 years later. She raised her five children more or less alone and was an independent and strong woman. She got furious about politics sometimes when she got older, fantasizing about shooting them all with a laser gun. I liked her.
Aunt Lori, grandma Charlotte, and my mother (also called Charlotte)
She was a gifted painter (I would say) but apparently she only painted flowers.
When I emptied my parents’ house after they had died, there were a number of flower paintings hanging on the wall, and several jugs, jars, trays, boxes and such everywhere over the house, all covered with flowers. I don’t want to keep it all (not sure who would want to have this stuff) but I took it home with me, and took photographs (or scans) of everything. Then I uploaded them all to flickr, a popular photo community that has lots of groups, some of them about flower painting. My grandma’s work will get a little bit of digital immortality.
Here are some of her pictures. Go to flickr if you want to see them all.
(This is the writing on the back side of one of the postcard sized paintings, from the 1960s like most of her work. Funny how the writing style has changed – I have a hard time deciphering this)
October 23, a few warm days, almost like summer. I stopped working in the afternoon to drive up one of my favorite hills near my house, took a few photos, and spent half an hour lying on the meadow under the deep blue sky, visited by this summer’s last crickets
Maybe it was the last warm summer day of 2012. I took a longer walk up and around my favorite hill, enjoying the warmth and the silence – nobody was around and sometimes I need to be completely alone to find myself.
There was no wind and it was very quiet, except for some faraway birds and some crickets. I stood and scanned the far horizon when I became aware of a very quiet, almost inaudible high drone – and of a cloud of several dozen tiny insects that circled around and above my head.
I don’t know why these insects flew around me – they didn’t settle on my skin and they seemed completely harmless. They liked me for some reason, and they stayed with me for about 15 minutes. They were very small and very fast, tiny dots, barely visible against the blue sky. I couldn’t believe my ears – I don’t think I have ever heard something like this before. Unexpected and magical!
I found that the swarm of insects reacted to my movements – I could raise a hand, and they would back up a little bit. For some reason, the pitch was higher when they were close, and it went down immediately when they went further away. Eventually, they flew away, and the sound vanished into silence.
I did not have a recorder with me to record the sound, and the insects were very quiet, almost inaudible, the recorder wouldn’t have recorded much. Here is a recording of a swarm of insects inside of a hedge behind my house, recorded in 2007. I sped the recording up to give it a pitch that was like what I heard today. It sounds a bit different (that sound was much more steady and quiet), but you can get an idea.
a sip of wine from my wife’s glass
late evening at the pond with the neighbours.
they are back, the tiny wandering lights
of pure magic. bats whizzing by very closely.
between the clouds: summer stars
fireflies stay home on the next night
they couldn’t compete with that
fantastic moon rising, almost full
making moon shadows
early sunday morning, sun and
warm enough for a breakfast outside.
It is quiet first, then it gets even quieter.
The stillness is palpable, a dense presence
sparrows chirping, emphasizing the silence
stars twinkling, emphasizing the black velvet emptiness
thoughts thinking, emphasizing this presence.
a quiet fire of happiness
our birthright, our natural state
When I was a kid, it was customary to have a special kind of book (called “Poesiealbum”), empty at first, that was given to parents and teachers and school friends, and everyone wrote some sort of inspiration quote, small poem, or short text into it, meant as an advice for life. Is this a phenomenon specific for Germany or do other cultures have this as well?
I recently found my own Poesiealbum – apparently I got it in 1964 when I was ten. The first four pages were autographed by my parents and my grandparents (mother’s parents). Later, after some empty pages, they are followed by pages by two or three teachers and just two or three friends, but their quotes aren’t really interesting. I am surprised to what degree I can agree today with what my parents wrote, even if the whole thing seems pretentious, even kitschy to me today.
“Who relies on others will live in a shaky world. Who relies on himself, stands well”
This sentence, written (as I googled) by Paul Heyse, was actually my father’s own motto for life I think. He hated to be dependent on others. During most of his working life, he was the boss of a small print shop, and he managed to keep the family alive and fed.
“Don’t destroy your peace of mind by looking back, worrying about the past. Live in the present; enjoy the present”
This one, contributed by my mother, really surprised me – I googled it and it turned out to be by Henry David Thoreau. I don’t believe she was actually familiar with Thoreau’s work, she probably found it in some collection of dictums, but nonetheless a remarkable choice – the modern mystics such as Eckhart Tolle couldn’t have put it better (although there is far more to living in the moment than most people realize).
“Let yourself be guided – but not in your feeling and your thinking”
This one, suggested by my grandma (who had a rebellious spirit and raised her five children without religion), was originally written by Friedrich von Sallet, a German writer from the early 19th century who was critical of religion and the military. Not bad, grandma!
“Making others happy makes you happy”
Don’t remember much of my grandpa. And I don’t know who wrote this line – but the German wording can be found back into the mid-19th century, according to Google. Not sure what to think of this but I see the source of happiness somewhere else. Too bad I can’t discuss this with my grandpa! he died when I was a child.
What would I write in a boy’s Poesiealbum book? something like a motto of my life? What is that motto? I can’t seem to put it into words at the moment. The simple insight into reality can’t be put into words.