Sunday, 23 January 2011

I dare not say I've nipped this illness in the bud, because that's tempting fate, but after a few days of nothing I went skating again yesterday and am getting ready to go again now in this crisp, sunny, proper winter weather we've been having.

This morning I played alto trombone in one of the local Catholic churches: a Haydn organ mass to which was added trombones to double and support the choir parts. The mass being already a bit of a marathon, with lots of high notes and lots of bits without rests, I doubled the soprano part of the last verse of the last hymn as a little sprint to the finish line. Fun and, ok, a bit narcissistic. I looked at the music director afterward to see if doing that had been ok, and he was pleased and a bit surprised I think - did he not realize that it was actually lower than the alto part I'd just played...? Aural illusions, very good.

Sometimes I wish I played a slightly less athletic instrument though, so when the other day I was in the Schola trying to conjure a non-existant transcript and spied a room that was empty except for a copy of a 17th-c French harpsichord, I ran in and shut the door. Both doors. I'm not a very good keyboard player, but I do love to sit at a resonant harpsichord and play full harmonies by myself now and again.

Until two days ago I was wondering if I'd done in my career by leaving Basel for a whole 7 1/2 months last year: I had just been booked for one concert in February and had one in March and then things would only start up again mid-November. I reckoned I'd been forgotten. I had only just begun to worry - things do take a while to start rolling after Christmas after all. But suddenly they came: since my last post I've received four texts, calls and emails, adding - if they all actually happen - eleven concerts to my diary. Five lovely projects, filling out February, March, and April and starting to add July and August to my diary. So I do have a career after all.

We trombones do tend to be booked late in general - a bit more notice for chamber music, but around two months before is unfortunately quite normal for orchestra projects. Singers and cornettists know their schedules much further in advance because the concerts really can't happen without them, whereas there will always be a trombonist free somewhere. As a result, I have to choose arbitrary days for family to come and visit in April and June when in fact it's very likely that whatever concerts might get offered to me for that time are already being advertised in brochures and on posters. Also, I now have to change a plane ticket at my own expense because the new project in March leaves me in the wrong city on the night of my flight. It's better than an outright conflict though I suppose. The music for my next playing project, February's Bach Cantata, has arrived and couldn't possibly be in a better key for my slide trumpet - yey!

Speaking of flights, my couchsurfers are on the same flight with me to Edinburgh tomorrow - what a very small world...

Friday, 21 January 2011

I'm definitely fighting something off - my whole body is stiff for no reason, my throat is still slightly sore, and I woke up after a long sleep still quite exhausted. But, no fever and I'm not stuffed up. Maybe it's related to the massive life decisions looming closer and closer... Or is it just because the monocloud is back?

I woke up in a slight state this morning after a very stressful dream of losing objects while changing from buses to trains on the way to a concert (perhaps because I lost my new hat last week on the five trains it took to get home from the I Fedeli concert in Bremgarten - have a new new hat now). It annoys me when I have to relax again after waking up - morning is normally my most productive time of day. The usual distractions of Facebook and CBC news weren't doing it for me so I read up on the present state of space elevator design, and then decided that it was a pity I didn't understand calculus.

In high school I spent my last few years spurning the arts and sciences because I wanted to become a musician. Of course I don't see any conflict there anymore, but at the time I remember feeling strongly that my over-analytical mind was getting in the way of playing. It was, to be fair, but I'm not sure that becoming ignorant of calculus and biology was the way to develop trust in my intuition. I also remember thinking that if I found later on in life that I really needed to know these things, I could learn them auto-didactically - and this in the era that my Internet exposure consisted of an email account and Trombone-L...

Finally, after limited success at coming to grips with Bernoulli's Equation in December - the crucial equation in the mathematical modeling of wind instruments - I began to revisit the question. Now being unable to read about the weight/tension/distance relationship on a cord of carbon nanotubes (or will they use the less conductive boron nitride nanoribbons?) is finally getting me to the point that I've decided calculus, both differential and integral, is something I need to know. And maybe a bit more chemistry so that I can appreciate why elongated bucky balls of 1 mm thickness can suspend over 6400 kg, instead of just being extremely impressed

Now that the Internet has come of age, it didn't take a lot of digging to find this video, the first in a series, by Gerald Strang. Many kudos to him. An MIT professor, his explanations are brilliant, and he's just awkward enough to make me absolutely sure he's teaching the world calculus as a labour of love. I think that draws me in much more than if an actor were to present this lesson from a script. I'll let you know if I stick with it.

Incidentally I'm both more awake and more relaxed now. Perhaps both neural and cardiovascular exercise are useful in combating the ill effects of monocloud.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

January is a funny month - it usually starts hungover and takes a long time to recover. In the case of my circle of friends it at least has a few birthdays to carry it through. Helen wants to move back to England this summer so 25 of us pitched in and raised enough pounds to buy a small used car - the gift of being able to go home again after evening gigs. Here you can see a symbolic 1915 Ford model being driven out of it's garage by a sheep, carrying a bag of chocolate coins, and under the car is a red envelope with the notes.

Happy Birthday, Helen!

Car, dosh, card, sheep, chocolate, beer, friends

The 31st birthday of my friend and neighbour Alex was marked by some very festive Bach Cantatas, after which his daughter, the three-year old Sophia, spontaneously ran up and joined him on the stage for the bows, doing her best curtsy in her pink birthday dress. Then we all went back and ate an amazing Pavlova that David Blunden had prepared.

Another cheery item besides birthdays is that I've been pulled from the CNC lathe at the back of the Egger shop to my desk, with a view over the hills, where I get to make sheet-brass tubes all afternoon. This involves folding sheet brass around a rod and then hammering so that the seam is clean and flat, ready to be soldered. It is very Zen and quiet in itself - only the banter of the instrument makers in the background and the whistled tunes being passed about compete with the gentle tap of the hammer in just the right place (except when it's not). I hear there's lots more of this work to do so I'm trying to get good at it as fast as I can.

Hammering in a sunbeam

The Egger Workshop

View out the window

The first week of January was relatively unproductive though: the rain meant very little exercise and grey weather makes me quite miserable. I do own a medical-grade sun lamp, but the fact that I find it quite easy to get up and start achieving on sunny days despite having no window in view from my high bed makes me think it has much less to do with light and more to do with pressure, perhaps also ions. Will investigate further. The first weekend of January was quite possibly the most unproductive I've had since last spring or so: I did almost nothing at all (almost). On Saturday, this was fine, but on Sunday I got a bit sick of the colour of the wall and took up Caroline's invitation to go out on a walk in the Allschwil Forest.

Wet Walking

Watching Compost Compost

One thing I like about Switzerland is that farm shops are run on the honour system. Caroline and I went to a nearby shop, open on Sunday since no one was required to manage the till. We picked out some nice vegetables and apples, weighed them, put some coins in the cash box and were on our way. The only odd thing was that, for not having to pay any employees, the prices weren't any lower than in the supermarket. But everything was fresh and I suppose they have to fund the few times that people will inevitably abuse the system. I'm glad that's rare enough that the shops are still there.

Honour System Vegetable Shop

The walk proved once again that, indeed, the only sure way to beat winter blues is exercise - it worked very well. The next week it started to cool off again and stop raining and I started skating again too. And practising. And finished my taxes, wrote an abstract for the upcoming MedRen conference, and started organizing my Glasgow University application. That's better. I've been skating regularly now, with the hopes of keeping up the achievement levels.

Skating is quite amazing - I can't believe I let so many years go by without going. The rinks here are a bit soft and chip easily because of the warm temperatures, but at the right times of day I can get a good surface of ice to myself. My first time on the ice, I was surprised at how wobbly and unbalanced I felt - I thought it would be more like riding a bike but it's not. Inspired by some of the more serious figure skaters on the ice, I started practising throwing my weight around though, finding my balance slowly. What's very encouraging is that I seem to have transferred some of this feeling of using my whole body into playing the trombone, which feels like an excellent way forwards after having lost that feeling a bit last summer playing little sound bites at the Globe.

Last weekend I played with a slightly smaller I Fedeli quartet, including some pieces with saxophone and percussion. The modern music on the programme was pretty good (if sometimes a bit conservative for my tastes), and we also got to play some Senfl that I'd never heard before - what an underrated composer!

There have been also many social occasions since the birthday extravaganzas - having all guest rooms being filled in the house has been lovely if slightly exhausting. Basel also had a festival day - Vogel Gryff: As always I missed the mid-day boat ritual, presided over this year by the Wilde Mann, but I did run across him on Clarastrasse while walking home from the trumpet class recital that night:

Wilde Mann

There were also some pipe (in this case piccolo) and drum bands out - the carnival kind but in this case very good and very together.



Today I've taken the day off work - coming down with something and trying to nip it in the bud by drinking more water, tea and juice than is really comfortable - on my 3rd litre now and it's only noon. If I don't get any worse, I will haul myself of to the Schola in time to hear a talk on 17th-c proportions - the issue of how quickly to take threes comes up in far too many rehearsals to consider missing out on a well-read explanation.

I just discovered that blogger is also keeping track of who has visited this page, so the missing counter is not such a tragedy after all. It's counting hits, not visits, though, so it just passed the 3000 mark - yey! The most traffic from referrals comes from here - thanks!, with the second from, um, here?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Of the links I keep at the top of my browser, my link to the IMSLP (or "Petrucci") has been lately very fruitful. After having unsuccessfully browsed the Ottawa Folklore Centre's for a Ukulele method, I stumbled across this today:

Perfect! I did notice that it was uploaded by - if I can assume by the username - the only follower of this blog who I've never met - thank you! It's not the first contribution of yours I've taken off the IMSLP and definitely won't be the last. In fact, given this week's weather forecast (as of last night) it could be quite useful:

No Comment

Did I mention I just bought a skating rink subscription? And today some cross-country skiis (at the Brocki). As both these things will be utterly useless in the next week I think I might try to organize the singing-through of some very silly Ravenscroft. As for winter, I do hope it comes back soon. In the mean time, if I need to remember what snow and ice feel like, at least I can always click here.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Yesterday morning I was cycling to work when the light and haze reminded me of being in smoky New Delhi - it was dark and grey, but oddly a bit yellow too. Grumpily acknowledging the return of the Basel monocloud™, I looked up at sky... only to see through the thin clouds that the sun was half-eclipsed by the moon. Oh, that's alright then.

Work has started again at the Egger shop, where I work at varying tasks ranging from mundane to extremely interesting in times when there aren't a lot of concerts - January and February I tend to be at the shop a lot.

The past two days I've been working with Edward. I don't like to make a habit of anthropomorphizing, but as the one of two CNC lathes that has a rotating head of blades (it's great fun to clean at the end of the day) I refer to it affectionately as Edward after the Tim Burton film of 1990. The machine is fascinating, controlling tools at the precision of around 1/100th of a millimetre (it says even finer and I'm sure that it's true in a vaccuum), following a long line of simple commands on an early 1980's computer. Running it involves loading the piece in and listening out for any irregularities - you can't see much once there's coolant everywhere (yuck) but from learning the machine's "song" for every program, I can hear if something is off. Over the course of a long day I can hear the knives getting a bit duller, if the coolant is not spraying in the right place, and of course if something very bad happens like the piece not spinning (if it's too loosely held, for intance) then there's a half-second of thudding before the knife breaks - possible to avoid by pressing the Big Red Stop Button.

The really interesting part of my work is of course when I am a musician-consultant - helping in designs and improvements, giving my reactions to new instruments as they're being made. Both musician and computer feedback influence the design of new instruments, and this past autumn I did some translation work which involved finally getting my head around the computerized acoustical modeling of brasswinds. We don't model the instruments to achieve acoustical "perfection" - that feels strange and sounds extremely dull and cold - but rather to see which instruments might be interesting to copy and to fix difficult intonation or unstable notes without losing character or warmth. We constantly check what the computer says how an instrument should feel with how musicians react to the instrument - in my experience they usually line up pretty well too.

I try to keep as steep a learning curve as I can at the shop, for the purposes of my own fulfillment and sense of progress, since I don't think I'll ever become an instrument maker. This I do by asking lots of questions: learning about the properties of brass and other metals, about historical production techniques, most often about the intricacies of the German language. When Gerd refused to explain to me why the mixture of lead, tin, cadmium and bismuth melted at only 80 °C, I took the next morning off and read about eutectic alloys myself. It turns it's a lot like adding salt to water to make it melt at a lower temperature than 0: the molecules (or ions) of the salt get in the way of the water bonding into solid form. You can learn more here if you're interested. That morning I also learned that steel is harder than either carbon or iron because those molecules nestle into each other more efficiently than with themselves, making for more bonds in the same space.

I need to try to go skating today, having bought a subscription to the local rinks after skating on Sunday morning with Alison - we had the rink to ourselves for the first half hour, which was very lovely indeed. Yesterday I also found some decent cross-country skiis and boots in a Brocki (second-hand shop) and bought them, either as my own pair or a second pair so that I don't have to go skiing alone. I suppose it depends a bit how much my visit to the dentist in Germany costs this afternoon.

I'm a bit miffed to see the counter gone from the bottom of this page, the website that ran it seems to have shut down. Not only did I give a little cheer when it hit 1000 visits (and over 2000 hits) but it was fascinating to see how people came to the site, which links they followed, and from what countries they clicked: Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Netherlands, Australia, and India. I suppose I'll just have to start again with a new one soon.

Last night's impromptu festivities (the Bar du Nord was closed so we popped back to mine for a "quick pint" (... and the rest of the curry and then a wee dram)) and around ten-thirty finally had a go at improvising 4-part renaissance polyphony from a single tenor... I guess I'm back in Basel!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year!

I've marked this New Year quite fittingly by moving back into my flat - I moved out just before this blog started, and I can't tell you how lovely it feels to write my first blog entry from my kitchen table. My subletter left things in a pretty good state altogether - the dishes are intact and the plants, especially the herbs on the windowsill, are flourishing whereas when I'm living here they are usually dead by now. But, he did suddenly decide once the cold weather hit a few weeks ago that it was ok to smoke in here. When I mention this to people they always ask me if I'd put it in the contract, and it is true that it's a preference that I had stated only verbally. Somehow I'd believed that, just as "Do not leave the flat smelling of rotting fish," is a bit of a given, so might be "Do not leave the flat wreaking of a 70's hotel room with yellow tar stuck to every surface." Apparently not. As a smoker, he does not smell it at all of course. But can he not see that my little blue Rajasthani wall-hanging now has a yellow tinge? Can he not feel that the sugar bowl and toaster are sticky, or that the dust everywhere doesn't come away when you wipe it with your finger? It wasn't going to feel like home until the smell was out, so I've spent the last 3 days with the windows open, the mattress and rug outside. Rejecting advice to simply cover up the smell with incense (which makes me feel as though I'm in a Catholic church), I've laundered the sofa and chair upholstery, and the curtains, and with his help wiped down the main surfaces with chlorine and soap. It still smells a little bit, so the last step is that my friends are going to come around this afternoon and we're going to make some curries - if I must cover up the smell, then fresh ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom beat out smoky sandalwood a thousand to one.

Last night I went to a little celebration in France, where we played "Siedler von Catan" before heading outside into a scene which made me wonder less what the London air raids of WWII must have felt like - shots and explosions on all sides from the many scattered drunken, inept but excited and a bit too well-outfitted pyromaniacs of Huningue. Apparently they are inspired by Napoleon, who placed his cannons there to fire at Basel. Did he fire? I do not know.

I have finally been skating in Basel, twice. It seems criminal to have to pay to skate after living in Ottawa with its 200+ free rinks, but here we are. The first time was a bit of a disaster, as I took little 3-year old Sophia along. Never take a child to do a new and exciting activity if they've missed their nap. The first scream was that the rental skates were black ("pink!") and then before we even got to the rink "Don't Like It! Too Slippery!" So I went the next day on my own. I think I've mentioned some goings on in my left knee and foot. It was very clear while skating that my left foot turns in slightly - skating it simply runs into my right foot. Aha. Any maneuver using the outer edge was also very trippy. It got easier as I went along though, so I'm pondering going quite regularly to try and train it back to a normal position.

I'm also pondering squandering the Euros that Lufthansa gave me for flying a day later on a nice new set of cross-country skiis....

Christmas day in Basel was quite nice though a bit sad not to have my luggage yet at that point (it took a week for them to send it along) - my neighbours presents are still undelivered as they're away. But on Christmas morning I was woken up at 7 very gently by a choir singing outside the window in the gentle snowfall. I turned on the light and unwrapped my presents and cards which I'd put on the bed the night before. After playing a Mozart mass in the Catholic church (lots of incense), I headed off to go and cook with friends. This is how turkeys come if you buy them at the market in France.

Nate and a turkey with all but feathers

Despite the fact that they've always turned out pretty well, I've always been a bit worried cooking turkeys in my old gas oven, so I was quite excited at the new possibilities of the state-of-the-art oven we had chez Ann. Soon into the process, I realized the sound coming from the oven meant that it was a convection oven, but as the temperature was already on the low side of what the Internet recommended, we left it alone. Somehow, after 3 and a half hours of desert air blowing across the Turkey, it was the driest bird I'd ever had anything to do with. Convection ovens suck. Gas ovens rule. There. I said it.

Nevertheless, it was a pretty good meal, you just had to get the meat from right next to the bone.

Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Gravy, Bread Sauce,
Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Parsnips,
Salad, Squash with Walnuts and Maple Syrup

For dessert, I was quite pleased that, it being one of the heaviest items bringing my suitcase above the 23.9 kg limit, I'd put the small pudding in my coat pocket, so it hadn't been lost with the rest of the luggage.

When asked what I wanted for Christmas a year ago, I said without hesitation "a large and fluffy bath towel." I didn't get it last year, but this year it came and it's amazing. So, for my next trick, I'm going to go and have a shower that will make Greenpeace cringe, then wrap myself up in it with a cup of tea.