31 July 2015

Synapse: the electronic music magazine

I recently discovered the Synapse Electronic Music magazine, and it's making for some really interesting reading. What a shame that it only lasted from 1976 till 1979! The music reviews and book reviews have both brought me out onto some really cool stuff already. For example, who knew that a book called Electronic Music for Young People existed? I certainly didn't. What a front cover that is. Also --- it's strangely tempting to fill in the forms for all the giveaways and send them in 40 years too late...

All the issues of Synapse are available here.

23 July 2015

Finchcocks Musical Museum

Finchcocks Musical Museum in Kent (England) is a one-of-a-kind place -- visitors get to play authentic 17th, 18th and 19th-century keyboard instruments. And I don't mean being allowed a sly prod at one of the keys while none of the staff are looking, I mean actually getting to play a piece of music. The great thing is that there's nobody prowling about, vulture-like,  watching your every move with a look of profound distrust (something you'd expect since these instruments are each 300 years old at least). The atmosphere is remarkably laid back. To tell the truth my visit was in 2008, so I'm not 100% sure that the policies are the same now, but they can't have changed much since then.  The museum's got slightly awkward opening times too (they're all here) but that can be overcome with a bit of planning, obviously.

As well as being able to play, visitors can stay for talks and recitals which feature the instruments themselves, but usually the repertoire is baroque and classical music, so if that's not your thing then don't stick around and head straight to the gardens surrounding the house. They're wonderful.

12 July 2015

The Scottish Highlands

British people often say to me that over the summer, they just want to get out of the UK. For those who think summer was made for scorching heat, beaches, tanning, crowds, a surfeit of alcohol and idleness, Britain's not the best bet for an ideal holiday. But the adventurous, and those who are willing to put up with inconsistent weather patterns, are in for a treat if they take a trip in Blighty (a colloquial term for Britain). It's true, the weather here really is as unstable as it's made out to be. Every time I return to England from abroad, it always rains, and I'm not exaggerating. "Welcome back to rainy Britain" is what Brits like to say at the end of their holiday abroad, climbing out of their plane to face a blast of drizzle and hastily covering their sunburnt shoulders.
But despite all this, despite the assumption of most Brits that summer on our drizzly island is not an option, Britain is one of the best places to spend the summer. At least, that was my impression after I spent a week in Scotland last August. We stayed in an Edinburgh flat, and from there we took trips to the Scottish Highlands, which I'd recommend for people looking to see some of the capital as well as the countryside. Otherwise, staying in the Scottish Highlands is more practical. I'll probably post separately about Edinburgh at some point; it's worth a post of its own!

I'll admit that at first I was reluctant about going for long walks in the Highlands. Though I am an outdoors-y person, my stamina is awful, and my family was never one of those sporty ones that takes bikes on holiday and goes for 10k walks. But I was so wrong in my initial reluctance, because the Scottish Highlands in August really is the place to be. You just feel so completely isolated from the rest of the world, like the whole landscape is there just for you to explore. That's the great thing about the Highlands -- it's incredibly popular and hundreds of people go there but you hardly meet anyone because they're all scattered across an enormous territory. 

Our first destination was Glencoe, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Edinburgh. A more picturesque road is scarcely imaginable; ruins of castles are visible in the distance, and every so often an old crumbling viaduct over a silvery thread of river. But only half the beauty can be seen from inside the car. It's not easy to explain, but somehow, when you toil up a winding mountain path for a few hours, the overwhelming impression imposed by the beauty around becomes all the more strong. Maybe it's part of the feeling that you've reached a place that few have seen - a spot of untouched wild beauty that was waiting for you all this time. But that's an extremely naive view, as Glencoe is hardly lacking in tourists. Last year, around 7.3 million trips were made to Eastern Scotland alone (which includes Glencoe).

Roaming the landscape is enough of an impression in itself. But seeing the ruins of a medieval castle up close against that landscape makes for something perhaps even more unforgettable. We paid a visit to Dunnottar castle, located on an island joined by a strip of land to the north east coast of Scotland. The jagged ruins jut out into the sky while below is a 250-feet drop down to the raging North Sea. The view from afar is spectacular enough, but getting closer to the ruins, feeling the primeval rocks, breathing in the salty air and hearing a solitary seagull's cry just above your head as it lands on the peak of a half-crumbled tower is something else entirely. The ephemeral clashes bizzarely with the eternal; even the 500-year-old stone remains seem transient against the landscape. It's a humbling experience...

Before you take the trip that maybe won't change your life, but will definitely leave you feeling as though you've taken away a piece of eternity in your heart, be sure to grab some suitable CDs for the drive. Recommended tracks include anything by Enya and anything from the soundtrack of BraveheartLord of the RingsWillow, etc. And everything in between.


3 July 2015

Soviet animations vol.1

One thing that never gets old is the cartoon adaptation of a story called The Little Witch by the Swedish author Otfried Preu├čler. It almost never fails to put me in a good mood, and there's almost nothing that so effectively transports me into my childhood. As with lots of Soviet cartoons, no English subtitled or dubbed version is available, but thankfully the music's been put on YouTube by the composer, Philipp Koltsov. He's also got a pretty detailed description of his setup on his website and copious photos of his studio

 My favourite bit in the recording below has got to be the interlude of madness at 1:40...