Thursday, 22 November 2012


If you followed the links in my previous post you will have heard the clever wrens singing. 

A clever wren

In human music, what they are doing is called hocketing. Here's a snappy definition from Oxford Music Online:

"(Lat. hoquetus, (h)oketus, (h)ochetus; from Fr. hoquet, Old Fr. hoquet, hoket, ocquet, etc., related to English hickock, hicket, hiccup, and similar onomatopoeic word formations in Celtic, Breton, Dutch etc., meaning bump, knock, shock, hitch, hiccup; attempts at etymological derivation from the Arabic must be regarded as unsuccessful).

The medieval term for a contrapuntal technique of manipulating silence as a precise mensural value in the 13th and 14th centuries. It occurs in a single voice or, most commonly, in two or more voices, which display the dovetailing of sounds and silences by means of the staggered arrangement of rests; a ‘mutual stop-and-go device’ (F.Ll. Harrison). Medieval authors.... mentioned the existence of this practice in popular music."

If you have a library card, you can access Oxford Music Online to discover more obfuscatory explanations and listen to some examples. And please desist from any attempts to prove etymological derivation from the Arabic - you will only be ridiculed.

Here's a clip of the Dirty Projectors demonstrating it very beautifully. Feel free to watch the whole video - I couldn't manage more than 10 seconds of the incoherent young man (there seems to be something about hocketing which encourages over-elaboration) and fast-forwarded to the singers, who start at 7.17 ish.

And here's Meredith Monk and Theo Bleckmann with a longer and more complex example.

Hocketing happens all over the world - the panpipes of the Southern Andes are played that way, although the panpipes of Ecuador (where the wrens were recorded (blimey, try saying that with your teeth out)) are not.

My initial research has not revealed the originator of the practice in humans and I suspect that is unknowable, as it is so old. I like to think that whoever it was, or they were, the inspiration came from listening to the birds.

Thanks for popping in - the salon is always open.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


No, not the Sebastian Faulks novel. I tried to read it once, but it failed to engage me, as indeed have other works by Mr Faulks, apart from Human Traces. And possibly Engleby, although I remember not a jot of it.

This is a wren. Check out what
its South American cousins do.
Anyhoo, I meant the song of birds. I've touched on birds before, but without aural reference. Birds are very quiet this time of year and I miss them.

Let's all sing like the birdies sing? Well, we can't necessarily. We produce sound through a larynx; a bird produces sound through a syrinx, which is a very different kettle of fish, anatomy-wise and means they can do all kinds of clever things.

That fact notwithstanding, the artist Marcus Coates did something wonderful a few years ago. He asked people to learn and reproduce birdsong. He did this by recording the birdsongs, slowing down the recordings and giving these to the participants. He then filmed them singing at the same speed and then altered that film to bird speed - sound and vision. The speeded-up movements are eerily birdlike. Here is a montage and here you can see more of "Yellowhammer" and hear a recording of the person at normal speed.

There is a song called The End of The World. My favourite version of it is by Andy Mackay, but it is instrumental so if you don't know the words, you wouldn't get the reference. It's on YouTube though. It's on a sublime album called In Search Of Eddie Riff, to which I lost access in The Great Music Division of 1989. I mourn it still. Well - there's a thing. I had looked for it online before and found it commanded fabulous prices. I've just looked again and there are some more reasonably priced so I've just snapped one up as an early birthday present to myself. Hurrah! Their idea of "very good" quality in vinyl had better coincide with mine...

Anyhoo, here is a version with words. It's the most well-known version, I think, although I didn't know until today that the singer was called Skeeter. In the clip, she displays curious head-bobbing behaviour (perhaps due to the weight of her hair) which is rather birdlike. It's a funny old world. As further evidence of this, here is a picture which came up when I searched Google Images for "birds". Is it me?

Thanks for popping in. The salon is now open for musings.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Gosh, that was a busy week. Can catch breath now.

While I was looking out at the garden during the two minutes silence, a montage was playing in mind and I realised how much of my knowledge and feeling about WW1 is due to art, not education. Formal education, I mean. I did History at O-level and by Christ it was dull. Not only that, it finished with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. So I might remember Arkwright's Spinning Jenny and the repeal of the Corn Laws, but nothing much else.  And it was taught by an absolutely terrifying person, tweed-clad and heavily-moustached. She had a slight speech thing and couldn't manage "r". There was a story that she once reprimanded an unfortunate (reprimand was her favourite teaching method) by saying "Really, Rosemary, you write reams and reams of rubbish" and the entire class had to endure the rest of the lesson with blood trickling from their lips in their efforts not to laugh. (Apart from the wretched Rosemary, who was in a pool on the floor) It was also solemnly reported that she had no home of her own and slept in one of the attics, with only the ghost of Lady Cornwallis for company. (Lady Cornwallis being a previous incumbent of the building, not an old flame...) I remember a particularly hysterical conversation where we speculated about how she spent her time - "And..and...I bet she only ever listens to the NEWS on the radio.." and I worked out how she could station-hop to arrange this newsfest.
Although the passage of time has brought me more understanding of the human condition, I remain let down by both her teaching methods and the curriculum.

Luckily there is art - mostly poems, books, films for me. Oh and songs. So when I stand on Armistice Day I hear the poetry of Owen, Sassoon, Graves; the songs of Novello and Weston and Lee.  I see the books of Vera Brittain, the splendid BBC dramatisation of Testament of Youth and the final scenes from Blackadder Goes Forth

and I remember

Sunday, 4 November 2012


I love fire. Who doesn't? We had a wonderful one last night. In case you think I am an arsonist, may I point out it was a bonfire in the garden in honour of the forthcoming fifth of November.

When I was growing up, we had a bonfire with a guy, although we would not have been allowed to drag it round the streets requesting pennies for it. Not that I wanted to - it always struck me as a peculiar thing to do. (Especially when the guy is question was sub-standard - a bit like claiming that shouting one line of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and knocking on someone's door constitutes carol singing. Standards!) We also had potatoes cooked in the fire (although these were disappointingly hard and tasted of ash) fireworks let off at a sensible distance by An Adult - and best of all, sparklers! Nothing to beat tracing your name in the air with a sparkler when you can hardly move your arm for the layers of clothes you were wearing. One year, I took hold of the wrong end of a sparkler and by Jiminy, that hurt. (I told you about the accident rate.)

This isn't ours, but I thought you
might like to be reminded
of what a fire looks like
We didn't have a guy last night (does anyone, these days?) but we did have fireworks, courtesy of a neighbour who thoughtfully let them off in his garden, to be admired by those of us sitting round the fire, before taking his place with us. We talked of books and new ventures but mostly looked at the flames and the embers. We went to bed with it still burning (no need to alert the authorities, all was made safe) and it was still smoking this frosty morning.

Here's dear old Arthur Brown. Those were the days. I love reading Wikipedia's po-faced descriptions of songs. Allow me to quote from the entry for this one "The song ends with the sound of a wind from hell." Really?

And here is Josef Locke, with an excellent example of maintaining-sang-froid-whilst-forgetting-one's-words-on-live-television. I suspect the Guinness was one of many...

Thanks for popping in. The salon is now open...