Birdbrain Musician #2 — “Please, Kind Sir”

It’s been a long time since I’ve made a video. I really missed it! It takes hours, but probably because I go on wild goose chases (ex. finding the perfect picture of Helen of Troy). Coordinating the visual with the soundtrack is my favorite part. If I were going to do this one over again, I would make sure that the background was the right size (so there’s no black border), and that the background didn’t have a pattern that’s slanted! I could have gone back and cropped all the black out, but that would have meant re-doing the captions, and it was 3 am, so…

This semester I have found out that I have health issues that have become chronic. I’m on a new medication, which may help, but it takes a long time to act. In the meantime, I can work on lifestyle changes that minimize symptoms. Getting good sleep is very important. Does that mean no more artists’ life for me? But…there’s already so many things I’ve had to eliminate. Coffee, tea, dairy, tomatoes (no pizza! no lasagna!). Do I have to give up my late night sessions, too? Working on a creative project — riding out the wave of inspiration til 3 am — is one of the great pleasures in my life. I hope my body will let me get away with it… once a week?


The Brand New Testament

Watched a strange little movie this evening called The Brand New Testament. It’s a Belgian film, a surreal comedy with beautiful music.

One of the strangest and most beautiful parts of the movie is when a lonely young girl has a dream about the hand that she lost in an accident years ago.

The music used here is “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo”. The lyrics mean “Let me weep over my cruel fate, and let me sigh for liberty. May sorrow shatter these chains for my torments, just out of pity”.

I found another version of this aria by a French soprano named Patricia Petibon…

…which made me curious about her. Yes, she really does have red hair! Here she is singing the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. I loved watching her facial expressions and the movements of the conductor.

The Queen of the Night is like an over-the-top comic book villain. This version features soprano Diana Damrau. She appears to be laser-beaming her daughter with those high F’s.

“Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,
Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!”

The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart,
Death and despair flame about me!


Sunday, Week 1

I’m still scrubbing bird-poop stains off my keyboards. There’s 2 knobs that have been missing for several years — Quark pulled them off and flew away with them. Maybe someday I’ll find them…

I dusted off a book I’ve had in my library, Keyboard Musician for the Adult Beginner. It’s a little confusing. What are the numbers over certain notes? Do they want me to play RH or LH depending on if stems are up or down? I guess these questions will be answered in Keyboard Lab!

My husband was out of the house for about 1.5 hrs, so I used the alone time to do some improvising. I set up my digi recorder and used the Korg Karma (play a chord and it just burbles away). I used my simple system flutes in G, D, and C. My tone is best on the G; I can’t hit the lowest notes on the C yet. Then I  tried the Boehm flute. I don’t know the fingering so I was just messing around, and came up with something based on a whole-tone scale. Also did some singing, clapping and stomping.

Something I really like about the bamboo flutes is, say you start an improvisation on “re” or “mi” (and set up the Karma to use that note as a drone), right away you’re off in modal territory (Dorian, Phrygian).

Now I have the craving to buy a new bamboo flute in the hideous key of C# / Db. Patrick Olwell isn’t making bamboo flutes anymore (because he is so far behind on his blackwood ones), but supposedly there is someone now who is following in his footsteps. I think he has a booth at the Renn Fest. I HATE the key of C# — getting a flute in that key might help me to get over my resistance. Playing the flute in its home key would be easy enough, it’s improvising along on the keyboard that would be horrible.

I also played around with my Dixon pennywhistle and my 2 ocarinas. All of those would be good for making bird calls. I think my “Home Planet” piece could start off with slightly off-key bird calls and wind rushing through the grass. Then this could solidify into a theme. Maybe this is being too literal, but the next thing that happened in the game was Neochadwickia (and the Lunatoucans) were destroyed; then I wandered around a while and eventually found a new home planet. No birds on that one, but it did have Gervays. So could overlay the Gervay theme on the Lunatoucan theme (or develop the one into the other)?

Thinking out loud. So, I guess LOT300W will have a storyline.


(Travel — first voyage)
Empty Planet (peaceful, simple)
Ice Planet (more complex, sparkly)
Home Planet 1 (birds, folk tune-like)

(Travel — second voyage)
Toxic Planet (discordant, weird, funny)
Desert Planet (austere, awe-inspiring)
Gervays (comical, charming)
Home Planet + Death

(Travel — third voyage)
Broken Planet (unpleasant, spare)
Paradise Planet (complete opposite)
Ocean Planet (simple, waves)
Home Planet 2
includes oceans, home, Paradise, gervays

Home Planet 2 + Death
Might be able to indicate in some way — death all the things?*
Gervay death, ocean death, toxic death, broken death, empty death
fragments, hints of all the previous themes
as if you are remembering your travels
intro / extro


*”death all the things”


What’s that sound?

I was in the house and noticed a new, strange sound coming from the back yard. It sounded like a cicada, but more metallic. I picked up my digital recorder and went to check it out. It was our neighbor, Josh, in his shed working with a  rotary blade sharpener. It reminded me of a circular saw, but was scraping at a lawnmower blade rather than cutting through wood. I got Josh’s attention and asked him if I could record the sound for a music project. He said “Certainly!!” with such enthusiasm and good humor that I was taken aback.


It is a distinctive sound that is mildly caustic and unpleasant. Could definitely use it for the Broken World. I want to have a collection of more-or-less atonal sounds for that one, almost like a flower arrangement of them — some more spare and some more thick. This particular sound is “thick”, with a lot of harmonics, and a repeating rhythmic structure. It did have a recognizable pitch buried in the noise.

To extend the metaphor — not so much a “flower arrangement” as one of those dried arrangements that my mother-in-law used to make, with the bulky bulgy milkweed pods, spiky teazel, cylindrical cattails, and the airy skeletal remains of flowers such as baby’s breath, chamomile and asters. Dry, crunchy, stiff, unbending, fragile, and relatively monochromatic.


Si bheag si mhor

Today I was thinking that I could ask fellow students at HCC to participate in the “Last of the 300 Worlds” project (LOT300W). For certain planets I could ask them for guided improvisation. (If the other students help me come up with themes, how do I give them proper credit? Ask Prof. )

I was thinking about which planets I would want guided improvisation, and which ones would I want to be mine, all mine. There are three — the intro / outro (because this is a story that I am telling, a story from my point of view), the Gervays (because they are my buddies, my favorites) and my Home Planet. Note that I have a Home, it is destroyed unexpectedly, and I find a Second Home which is in some ways more beautiful. But this time I know that the destruction is coming, and then both that home and the rest of the universe are lost.

I talked somewhere else about for me (and unlike Lisbeth Scott), music is a form of building rather than a form of self-revelation. But in the case of the Home Planet theme, I will be expressing something personal.

So I was worrying. How in the world will I be able to come up with a theme that is so beautiful and yet so heartrending? I could just picture being at the end of the school year with ONE more theme to do and it is THAT one, and I am stuck. Painted myself into a corner! Argh!!

Then the thought came “Si Bheag Si Mhor”. Pronounced “she beg she more”, this is an Irish tune, probably the first one I learned — on my first bamboo flute. If I’m remembering right,  I was working my way through “100 Best Tunes for the Pennywhistle” — and I came to that one. I heard the first phrase and suddenly it was as if I had known the tune from another life. I didn’t recognize it, more like it fit into my heart like a key into a lock.

Maybe this would be good for my Home Planet theme. Am I allowed to use it? I suppose the copyright has elapsed? When Holst created his Planet suite, the Jupiter theme is like a folk-song. Was it his own tune or did he adapt it?

I also thought that I could use phrases from literal bird calls. I have a wonderful recording that I made of a mockingbird singing late at night. Unfortunately the recording has some traffic noise (hard to avoid here, even at 2 am), but if I was just borrowing from the mockingbird, that wouldn’t matter.

Borrowing? Stealing?

Dr. Greenberg says “If you’re going to steal, steal from the best”

Anyway — now I have some raw material for the most personal part of LOT300W. I don’t have to worry about racking my brains at 2 am during finals week.

Work in Progress

Here’s the other half of the Green Room

Cables, Tascam Audio Interface, small microphone, big microphone, flash cards of the bass clef and chord inversions, 2 computers (old and new), Korg Karma (on the new stand!). Also Bonnie the dog, and a trash can holding a colony of mealworm beetles. The art hanging on the wall is a poster of Earthsea, given to me by another musician friend. I met him during my Irish flute days at Chiff and Fipple.



New Equipment

I have some new equipment on the way. I ordered a long power strip that has the openings aligned and spaced better. Right now the pile of the cables and cords looks like a nest of snakes. I also ordered a rolling cart…


to put the Korg Karma on. That thing weighs a ton. With a cart I can roll it to where I need it — ex. to connect it to my computer and record the sounds using Audacity.

Here’s a great description of the beast. I got this one around 2003.

Another piece of equipment I have on the way is a new pair of glasses. I have been avoiding bifocals for 10 years, but because of my upcoming classes I decided it was important to be able to see things distant and close without sliding my glasses up and down my nose (which is what I do currently). The new glasses are “progressives”, which means there is a continuous gradation of focal lengths. My husband says that he likes his; you just have to tilt your chin up and down to find the right area for what you want to do. Another friend said that hers made her nauseated at first. Walking up stairs was especially freaky.

Earlier this summer I went on a trip to Florida and we took a charter boat to go snorkeling. I am very nearsighted (can’t see the E on the eye chart) and would not have been able to see any fish unless they were close enough to bite me. So I took apart one of my old pairs of glasses and super-glued the lenses into the scuba mask. That is how I’m picturing these new progressive glasses. A scuba mask for classes and reading music.


Setting the keyboards up

I made good progress setting my keyboards up yesterday. Earlier this year we had all our aviary birds living in my office (the Green Room) while we made renovations in the aviary (a remodeled garage). When I brought the birds in, I packed away all my instruments, cables, power cords, user’s guides, music interface, etc. We moved the birds back out to the aviary in June and the Green Room was cleaned up and ready for our house-sitters to use. But I didn’t unpack the boxes of music equipment til now.

I tried connecting the Fatar 88 key controller to my newest Korg, the Microarranger. This has a wonderful array of patches and “band in a box” type accompaniment settings, and so lightweight you can sit it on your lap, but has very small keys.

When I connected them, sound came out, but I was unable to change the patch. No matter how I manipulated the Microarranger, midi signals from the Fatar only produced sounds from the piano patch. However if I played the Microarranger directly, the different patches were available as usual. This is annoying, but not a big deal. I guess I don’t have the midi input set up properly on the Microarranger.

Next I connected the Fatar to my oldest Korg, a little sound module called the 05R/W.


It is a half-size rackmount and we purchased this (and the Fatar) with money we received after my husband’s mom passed away. This was right after I graduated from college (1995) but before my son was born. When I plugged it in and turned everything on, the sounds took me back 23 years.

Cool, part synth part Tardis.

Getting set up

My first day of classes at HCC is on August 27, about 2 weeks from now. I spent time today getting more things set up in my office. I thought of a clever way of displaying my bamboo and PVC flutes that will keep them right at hand and easy to pick up. They are such great instruments to improvise with. I also love my blackwood flutes, but they are very expensive and live in a special cabinet with controlled humidity. Taking them out, applying cork grease, assembling them, then carefully drying them afterward is an involved process. I also have a student model Boehm flute, but I don’t think it’s ‘healthy’ for it to be sitting out all the time either. So it’s great to have the bamboo flutes. Both of mine are by Olwell — a small one in G and a large one in C. I also have a black PVC flute that was made in Ireland, in the traditional key of D.

My blackwood flutes were made by David Copley. There is one headpiece and two bodies. One body is the traditional keyless flute in the key of D; the other is a fully-keyed flute in C. Unfortunately the material under the keys has broken down (eaten by dermestid beetles?) and the keys don’t seal. I need to send the flute back to meet its Maker!

I still have to set up the “piano” in my office. I have an 88 key, weighted keyboard that is more than 20 yrs old. It’s a bit stiff and squeaky but functional. There’s several sound sources I could connect it to using midi cables. The original is a rack mount Korg 05R/W (also 20+ yrs old!). Other options are the Korg Karma and Korg Microarranger.

I also need to clear the random boxes out of here so that I can sit at the piano without tripping on things!

Mixed feelings

I’m beginning to have mixed feelings about taking “composition” for credit. If I understand right, Dr. Composition hasn’t been in charge of an independent study student before, and doesn’t know if he has time for me in his schedule. I don’t want to put him on the spot. Better to work on my own, and meanwhile scope out the environment this fall semester, see if there’s any faculty who are willing / able to help me.

The areas I will need help are

1) someone who will note that I did, indeed, submit X amount of work this week and

2) someone who can help me write things out in standard notation. I get so far on my own and then get stuck.

3) Critiques of the compositions (“Hey, you might want to think twice about putting parallel 5ths in the baseline”) would be great, too.


By Donovan Govan. – Image taken by me using a Canon PowerShot G3 (reference 7877)., CC BY-SA 3.0,