Eisteddfod #2

IMG_20170812_194222

I picked up some Czech hitchhikers on their holidays on my way to the Eisteddfod this year and was asked where I was headed: ‘What is the National Eisteddfod?’ It isn’t an easy question to answer, because the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol is so much more than simply a cultural festival. This was my second proper Eisteddfod. So having having learnt about the Eisteddfod last year and done it a little more knowledgeably this year, it’s time I should teach someone else how to do it.

It is important to tell people about the Eisteddfod, as so many people in Wales, previously myself included, don’t go to the Eisteddfod or follow it in the media because of this strange phenomenon of being ‘intimidated by the language [Cymraeg/ Welsh]. I know, my very first Eisteddfod experience was when I was fifteen and got a job as a plate scrubber on the Maes when it came to my area and  I was like ‘I don’t speak Welsh, people will expect me to speak Welsh, arghhh!’ This is really just plain silly, so many people are missing out on quite a wonderful event, which can be enjoyed whether you speak Welsh or not. So, I hope the following guide will help people overcome any feelings of intimidation about going next year.

Cystadlaethau / Competitions

Eisteddfodau are essentially a collection of competitions in various art forms, predominantly cerddoriaeth [Music and poetry, which are essentially the same thing]. The grand poetry prize of the Eisteddfod is the Chair [Eistedd = to sit, on the cadair [chair]] The competitions are the very serious bit  at the National Eisteddfod. Personally I used to have a problem with competition in art, because it’s an oxymoron, you don’t do creative things to win things, that isn’t the point. However after two Eisteddfodau [Eisteddfods] I have been convinced. I have heard so many hugely talented young musicians at the Eisteddfod, who just completely push themselves to give their very best at the Eisteddfod and I have been blown away so many times by their performances. There are so many competitions to enjoy, particularly if you love the sound of the telyn [Harp] as much as I do. You do not need to understand Welsh to appreciate the music.

I’m sure there are many people who have a blissful week, just listening to the competitions, yet there are also people who spend the entire week not listening to a single competition, there is so much else going on.

Gwyl Cerddoriaeth/ Music Festival

Outside the competitions, the Eisteddfod is also a celebration of Welsh language culture. So, the Eisteddfod is also a regular music festival, with the best of Welsh language bands and singers on lots of different stages giving performances throughout the day and into the evening, so you can treat the Eisteddfod as just another music festival. So yes, expensive beer and food stands a plenty! Yet again, there is no need to speak Welsh to enjoy music is there? This is my favourite part of it because I love Welsh popular [?] music, yet, liking classical music as well sometimes a competitive performance will win me over! Yet there is still more.

Theatr / Theatre

There are a couple of theatres at the Eisteddfod giving performances of plays and other things by established Welsh theatre companies. The great thing about theatrical performances is that you can follow the story through actions and tone of voice and can really enjoy a show without understanding a single word, which I’ve often done whilst travelling, which is actually a really good primeval way to watch a drama unfold.

There are also actors who wander around in bizarre costumes looking for members of the public to interact and do silly things with. This year some ladies  with lampshade heads were dancing with me.

Y Babell Len a Pabell Cymdeithas/ The ‘Curtain Tent’? [ I am still learning Welsh I’m not sure of this translation!] and the Societies Tent

I know there are some people who don’t like music. I don’t understand these strange folk, but they do exist, maybe you are one of them? So in these tents there are a host of lectures and discussions about all manner of topics. They are in Welsh of course and even I, after eighteen months of learning Welsh, only understand about half of what is said. So, there is this mini Welsh Hay festival going on too.

It is worth going just to experience simultaneous translation. Basically the translator listens to the Welsh and then instantly translates it into English to you via headphones. These people are amazing, to be able to keep listening in one language, translate and  speak in another language, while continuing to listen in another language, without going completely mad is such a high level skill and so impressive.

Y Stondin / The Stands

All of the above can be overwhelming and far too exciting, so you may need a break,  angen paned o goffi [need a cup of coffee]  and the opportunity to stretch your legs for a bit. So head to the stands. The stands are essentially trade stands , but so much more. There are squillions of book shops to stock up on Welsh language books, because, sadly, most bookshops don’t stock books in Welsh, I understand there are some books in English too, lots of other shops to browse/ buy cakes from, but also the stands of various organisations in Wales, where you can find out about what they do, have a nice chat in whichever language you fancy, a paned and often these stands hold their own musical performances and programmes of discussions too. Sometimes you will stumble on some very strange yet wonderful things:

IMG_20170810_151454

‘Classifieds y Farmers Guardian’ gan y Welsh Whisperer

 

Pethau eraill / Other Things

As if all that wasn’t enough there is also an art gallery, a history museum, a science and technology tent (well this tent seems to largely cater to keeping children entertained with fun things to do, but worth a going as an adult too).

If you are Welsh you will also meet random people from your childhood/ earlier life, which is always nice. So there is so much to enjoy and do and I haven’t even mentioned Y Gorsedd, who wear strange robes and perform strange rituals at various points of the week and carry around a very large sword; it’s ok, mae’n heddwch [there is peace]. I have no idea what happens if there isn’t peace…

There is so much to do and enjoy at the Eisteddfod. I went for just three days this year and didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to and wished I could have had more time. And you really don’t need to speak any Welsh at all, a simple  ‘Dw i ddim yn siarad Cymraeg’ / ‘I don’t speak Welsh’ is all that is required if someone seems to be speaking Welsh at you.

Of course if you are learning Welsh, the Eisteddfod is an amazing playground to practice speaking and listening and the more Welsh you know, the more a part of the Eisteddfod you will become. Personally I did indeed enjoy the Eisteddfod even more with another year of Welsh under my belt. However even if you have zero Welsh, timetables and maps are provided in English to help non-Welsh speakers navigate their way around the Eisteddfod, it’s very accessible and very friendly, there is no need to feel intimidated at all.

Just cofio [remember] that Welsh speakers have to speak in English all the time, every day, so really appreciate the Maes as a place where they can speak in Welsh all day yn gyntaf [firstly], yet are happy to speak English with anyone who hasn’t learnt to speak Welsh yet. Speaking in Welsh isn’t being rude and neither is speaking in English rude as long as you are willing to listen and communicate as you can. It’s ridiculous that this non-issue comes up so often. Rant over

Amgylch y Maes / Around the Maes

Y Maes / The Maes / The ‘field’ is where all the action described above takes place. I and others are not sure how this is going to work next year when the Eisteddfod will be in the centre of Cardiff, the Welsh capital, but the concept of the Maes is quite important I think. However there are other ‘Maeses’ which can confuse the uninitiated:

Maes B

Maes B is usually located outside the main Maes. It contains an adult campsite (the cheapest place to stay at the Eisteddfod!) it is generally full of young Welsh speakers. Indeed spending a week at Maes B is regarded as a rite of passage for young Welsh speaking adults, to chill and make new friends. Also, for the last four nights of the Eisteddfod the big names of Welsh rock perform late night concerts on the Maes B stage in front of the aforementioned young and now often quite drunk people. It is quite an experience, though there are usually a few old fogies like me bopping away ar y cefn [at the back]

IMG_20170810_015553.jpg

Helo Maes B!

Maes C

Maes C ( Maes Carafannau a Campio) isn’t very exciting, it is simply the camp site next to the Maes where families stay, it’s quite pricey and books up early.

Maes D

Confusingly, Maes D, Maes y Dysgwr [Learners Maes] isn’t really a Maes as it’s part of the main Maes itself, it is found next to the Mynedfa (Entrance) and is the Welsh learners tent. I think the  idea is that you pop in to learn some Welsh over a paned to prepare you for entry to the Maes proper.  A place if you lack confidence in your Welsh, or somewhere supportive to ymarfer siarad [practice speaking], want to learn a few phrases or to start the day with a reasonably priced coffee, give Maes D a visit. Maes D also has it’s own stage, for Welsh lessons, discussions and a few musical performances tailored to those not yet rhugl [fluent]

Maes E

There is no Maes E. Well there is the song ‘Maes E‘ by Datblygu about the Eisteddfod experience. Incidentally , the song which I heard them perform at my very first Eisteddfod when I was fifteen! However, there is usually an Eisteddfod ‘fringe’ of competitions, discussions, gigs etc held at venues close to the Maes, but not ‘officially’ part of the Eisteddfod.

So there you are then, a guide to the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol. Just by reading this article you probably have enough Welsh to enjoy the Eisteddfod.

Edrych ymlaen i weli di ar y maes flwyddyn nesaf [Looking forward to seeing you on the Maes next year]!

Advertisements

Welsh Country Rap

Moving back to Wales and finally getting around to learning the Welsh language has made me look again at my native culture in a new light. As a younger man I did wonder why so many people don’t have as ‘eclectic’ or wide ranging musical tastes as I do.

I grew up in rural Wales and like many rural cultures is deeply conservative and that is part of me. The culture promotes self-reliance, because services are usually far away and difficult to access. So there is a tendency to take personal responsibility for your daily needs. For example, I have ingrained the idea of keeping enough food in my kitchen to survive a week, in case of bad weather and inability to access food shops for a period (such as heavy snow or flooding). Rural folk tend to seek support from their family and neighbours should they hit trouble and wider statewide structures are seen as unreliable as they don’t cater for the specific needs of the community.

In contrast, the urban dweller tends to rely on easily accessible services, such as using public transport and tend not to have the space to have all their needs on hand, the need to pool and share resources more widely. Large towns and cities don’t get their electricity cut off for days or the internet going down for extended periods which rural people are more used to. The town person has to be more reliant on public services and hence strangers, than the country person. There is also the issue of space, the country person has more space and in consequence can store tools and supplies to an extent that the urban dweller cannot

Music is about cultures, in particular folk music, describing the trials and tribulations of life within cultures. There is a tendency of different genres of music  to be associated with different cultures. The example that comes to mind is that of Rap music being of the city and Country of the countryside.

I like all genres of music, but sometimes they don’t quite fit in with our surroundings. When listening to some Rap in the countryside it doesn’t fit, the beats do not chime with the wide open spaces, whereas Country does seem to blend in more with the landscape. However even if the music doesn’t fit it can still be enjoyed and appreciated. It is possible to enjoy a song about the hot summers day in the cold and damp of winter.

It’s not merely the music, it’s the lyrics, the words. Songs from rural areas are about life in the country and songs from the urban areas are about life in the town or from the perspective of the town. So, if you listen to a song from an artist from your own culture and locality, then there is a greater likelihood that the song will resonate with your own experience, to touch your soul in a profound way. However music from other cultures and traditions can still be enjoyed, indeed some feelings, such as emotional joy or loss are universal. However, some ways of viewing the world are culturally based, so resonate more deeply.

There is a tendency for people to predominantly listen to music from their own culture, certainly in the case of my parents and grandparents generation. I could never understand why people seemed not to be open to hearing about other cultures and different ways of  being. Perhaps a certain exercise of the imagination is required, to suspend reality to temporarily immerse yourself in another culture to appreciate what they are saying. Or it may simply be that the resonance with our own perspectives of the world, our own culture is such a warm, life-affirming feeling compared to that of the relatively weaker emotions of listening to songs from other places, that many people never make the leap to being able to really appreciate the music for what it is.

Furthermore in a conservative rural culture, that is more physically separated from interactions with other cultures in daily life and one that ascribes value to its own culture, the opportunities for such immersion are rarer. This, to such an extent that a concert by a visiting artist, may simply be an enjoyable experience but not be enough for the music to resonate in daily life.

Rural Wales is still much more limited in it’s exposure to other cultures than for more urban populations. Yet in my experience the rural conservatism of Wales is much more open minded, and less judgemental of other cultures, for example in comparison with the Southern United States, the home of Country music. There is an appreciation that things are different a few miles down the road and more so further afield, that we shouldn’t expect to be able to judge other cultures without understanding them better.

Perhaps the principle reasons for this difference between Welsh rural cultures and those found in England and America, may be due to their relation with the state they are a part of. British and American culture has sprung from the imperialist expansive culture of a world power. Such cultures where preservation of native cultures are not seen as of value or important. For example the scant regard of the British for the Welsh language and culture and historically a lack of respect for Native American culture by the American state.

Whereas Wales has lived beside the giant power of England for all of modern history, yet many in Wales have passionately defended Welsh culture and our language from the ignorance of lack of regard from the centralised British elite. As such there is a tendency for the people of Wales to understand the feelings of oppressed minorities everywhere, for example the people of the deprived projects of America that gave birth to Rap music. Or it may be just that Wales is small and minority groups within our culture are less easily ignored.

As both the power of influence of Britain and America decline, there is perhaps an understandable realisation of the perils of a culture under threat, particularly if it’s built on foundations of dominance. As such we see crises in these cultures and a desire to preserve them. Associated with this is a reduction in valuing cultural diversity as this suggests itself as a way to preserve a culture. We can see evidence for this in Brexit and the language of Donald Trump. These cultures are new to feeling their culture threatened, whereas in Wales we have a very long history of feeling our way of life threatened. You don’t get anywhere by being fearful of diversity or trying to escape your own culture, the best way is to embrace both, embracing who you are as a person and embracing everyone around you.

As I keep harking on, binary choices are a false choice. You can like Country music and Rap music, You can be a conservative and a socialist. Understanding other cultures only deepens your love and connection with your own culture, in music and perhaps everything else. My perception of people ignoring diversity, wasn’t a conscious choice, but merely a example of a the false tendency to fear the unknown, rather than find more out about it. To conserve a culture by defending it through fighting against other cultures doesn’t work. Conserving a culture comes from an appreciation of other cultures and using that energy to enrich and grow our own cultures. You

 

For some examples, listen to some: Welsh Rap, Dafydd Iwan’s anthem”Yma o hyd” [“Still here”], or even Welsh Country. Mwynhewch/ Enjoy.

 

Working Relationships and Compromise

Often, when we talk about relationships we consider our interrelations with other people and perhaps we usually neglect to think about our intrarelations. Sometimes, we have easy, good relationships because the intrarelationship is almost intuitive and requires no effort, in other relationships the intrarelations are difficult and often are the real cause of a relationship to break down. People fail to recognise their need to help others and instead prioritise their personal ambitions.

So, what are intrarelations? These are the decisions we reach that occur outside of communication. Indeed in long term relationships they are discussed, but this is something we only engage with with those closest to us, or when things are not working out. A large part of these decisions are about what we do as people to achieve a balance in our lives. This balance is between our own inner lives and our social lives.

I don’t believe in altruism, the idea of acting for no personal gain. If we do something for the benefit of others we also gain, from fulfilling our needs to play a role socially and be useful, so helping others helps ourselves and our society.

There are things we really want to do and there are things people want to do with us. Sometimes we are really lucky and what we really want to do will also be what our loved ones also want to do; these are often the very best times in our lives. Often we choose something we quite like doing with a group of friends to something we want to do more by ourselves because doing things together socially has it’s own rewards and adds enjoyment. However, most of the time we have to make decisions about whether to do what we want to do or engage in a social activity. Often we prefer to do something involving other people to something by ourselves, because we are social animals and we thrive from social activities. However over time we start to get increasingly niggly about doing the thing at the top of our list that we never seem to get around to doing and start prioritising it. conversely, after some time doing what we really want we may then desire to something we are not terribly keen on, just to be with a particular person or group or to experience something different. So interrelations are perhaps all those decisions about balancing our individual priorities.

Occasionally there are conflicts, we are all different and have different needs. For example introverts tend to need more time by themselves, whilst extroverts need more social time. So, it is easy to understand how an introvert and an extrovert may have conflicts. Having said that some very strong bonds can form between these two opposites, when each party is prepared to listen and compromise and find a way for both of them to be happy.

So in a relationship there needs to be some way of ascertaining what the others persons feelings are. Usually we ask indirectly and gauge the answer, for example “Do you fancy coming to the pub with me tonight?”. Possible answers are:

1- “Yes, I would love to go out with you tonight” [Highly affirmative]

2- “Yes, why not, but I probably shouldn’t stay too long” [Affirmative, but not the others priority]

3- “No, I have other things to do tonight, do you need me to come?” [Negative, but will do so as a favour]

4- “No, I don’t fancy it tonight” [Highly negative]

Another spectrum! , the answers 2 and 3, in effect ask a further question of the other person’s priority in doing the activity and their need for social activity.

Such a system is open to abuse and manipulation and often this causes friction in a relationship. It is easy for the person wanting to go to the pub to encourage the other to join them, however repeatedly forcing the other will eventually go beyond their desire to compromise. Sometimes people will inflict their own personal priority systems on others, for example an extrovert may feel that the introvert would be better off socialising more, rather than staying at home, but this is wrong and dangerous. However there are times, when a person will be better off for doing something that are not inspired themselves to do, but you need to know each other well to do this.

Essentially, a good strong relationship, is where both parties have a healthy balance between their social and private desires.

It is possible to explore wider types of relationships from the standpoint of achieving this balance. When community relationships are explored, as the social net becomes wider, the intra-relationship is at risk of not being maintained by social convention.

Markets

In Wales, as in much of Europe, we used to do most of our everyday trading locally, I was lucky to grow up in such a community. We would know personally our local ‘butcher, baker and candlestick maker’, we would meet and form friendships within our communities as we wandered the market doing our shopping. Traders, would learn what our preferences were, indeed such relationships were good for trade. However this gentle manipulation was appreciated, for example often the butchers recommended cuts, would mean we enjoyed our meat more. The relationship was maintained as the trader wouldn’t want to rip-off or off load bad meat onto a customer, who they would then lose future trade with. Hence mutually supportive relations were established between customers and traders. Often people lament that such economic relationships don’t happen anymore. Indeed, so many of us no longer even have a local butcher, baker or local market. Instead we travel, often long distances,  to large multi-national supermarkets, where we have practically no relationship with the seller of our goods. The effect of this change is that shopping becomes more of a chore and we lose out on social interaction within our communities.

In place of this social interaction we have the phenomenon of marketing. Rarely nowadays, do retailers provide for the needs of their customers. Vast amounts of research and study of numbers have been done, simply to find ways of maximising profits. These ways of maximising profits have little to do with satisfying peoples needs and wants, but generally work to increase profits, essentially by manipulation and finding artificial ways of making people feel satisfied with their shopping. Having worked for a supermarket myself, I appreciate how easy it is to become institutionalised and  of serving the commercial needs at the expense of the staff and customers, it is so easy to allow the compromises of the job to become a new normal and accepted.

Romantic Relationships

A desire most people have is to find a partner, someone to share most of their life with. This usually isn’t easy, indeed we invest a lot of time in wishing for such successful fulfilling partnerships. However, like in marketing, a plethora of research has been done and people have found ways to manipulate generalities to increase their success in finding partnerships where the relationship can be exploited to maximise an individuals priorities at the expense of doing things for the other person. However where manipulation doesn’t occur and true compromises are reached is often the recipe for a successful relationship.

It isn’t hard to find people who are game players, who have worked out how to have relationships that satisfy their personal ambitions, to use general rules at the expense of establishing truly mutually beneficial relationships or fulfill their need to support someone else. It isn’t hard either to find doormats either, who only want to make their partner happy at the expense of their personal needs. True fulfilling relationships perhaps does only come from achieving a good balance.

Disc Jockeys

In this age of on demand digital media, the demise of the traditional radio Disc jockey (DJ) has been predicted. There is the idea that we don’t need someone to sit in a studio playing records for us, when we can do it ourselves and choose the music we like. Yet, arguably now is a golden era of the DJ. A good DJ will not merely play records they like, though this   is what they do, they create programmes. Radio programmes are an attempt to collate things we are interested in in interesting ways, they enhance our listening to music. A good DJ achieves this in a number of ways. Firstly curation, a good DJ will spend a lot of time discovering music for themselves and their listeners and becoming highly skilled at this. Indeed searching for music on the internet, or even developing a decent algorithm for  selecting an internet stream isn’t easy, so having a professional helps. The music is then blended together, so pieces of music flow and provide interest and a story through the order in which they are selected. Finally a good DJ will chat with the listener, creating warm feelings and making the whole process of listening a lot more personal. A good DJ does their job for other people, and may even play a piece they don’t like, but feel that their listeners will find it interesting in it’s context. A DJ listens and makes compromises with their audience. Really, the good DJ fulfills their personal needs and their social needs.

In contrast, there continues to be a plethora of commercial radio, which is truly awful. Many radio stations simply use the model of playing the most popular pieces of music of the day and the aim of the game is not to provide good programming, but manipulate their audience in to staying tuned in for the next set of advertisements. It is often so soulless.

Politics

It is perhaps in the arena of party politics, where the this disconnect demonstrating the failure of modern relationships to achieve healthy balances occurs.

The job of a politician is simply to make good decisions. In a democracy, the politicians are elected, so should demonstrate to the electorate that they are good decision makers by making it clear what they base their decision making on.

A politician is also someone whom is interested in politics, so will have personal goals they wish to achieve in helping create the kind of thriving society they want to see. However, they are entering into a relationship with their electors, so compromises are required, to find solutions that work for the community.

Really it doesn’t matter if a politician is of the left or the right-wing as long as they make good decisions and achieve a good balance with their own ideals and the good of the society they serve, for then good decisions are made.

However as the political sphere becomes ever more centralised, the direct relationship with the electors is lost and the role stops being about serving the community. In consequence being a politician becomes more about personal achievements at the expense of social achievements.

Being a member of political party and having done some canvassing for elections (Plaid Cymru), I have become interested in the welfare of the party, rather than the society it aims to serve. These days, party politics is notorious for rules for saying and doing what works to help the party gain votes and win elections, often at the expense of losing sight of improving the economy and society. I was with a candidate who was asked a question on the street and they gave a very grod ‘politicians’ answer of not saying anything. I knew he had good answers, but was concerned about saying something that would be misinterpreted by a potential opponent at the end of a long tiring canvassing session (Remember you have been saying very similar things to lots of people for several hours, so your brain starts turning to cardboard by the end!).

The famous example being Tony Blair’s government, where the government became a slave to focus groups and engineering policy to win elections, rather than doing the right thing. Winning elections became more important than improving the economy. Blair was good at compromising, he was a master at it, he was a failure in my eyes because he didn’t really make any progress his own convictions to improve  society, I don’t even know if he had any, he seemed merely to want to win the game.

I recently read ‘The Greasy Poll’ by Mike Parker who stood for my party in the Ceredigion UK general election of 2015. In this diary of an election from the candidates view, a world was revealed of his words (that there are racists in Ceredigion) being taken out of context by the press (‘he said that all incomers are Nazis!’), which seemed to have led to him failing to win the seat. It seemed to him that ordinary people can’t succeed in politics because they can’t be themselves, for if they are, they are crucified. Perhaps only a slick politician who is very careful to say nothing that could be misinterpreted is successful.

However now we are in the Brexit/Trump era, where people have got fed up with politicians not being honest with their views and opinions, that mavericks such as Trump and Farage get the votes, by appealing to this discontent but just using a different set of words to do it. Instead of the glib “We are going to make things better, don’t listen to the other lot as they want to make things worse!”, this new breed say “The other politicians don’t say anything, so listen to my populist rhetoric of finding scapegoats for our problems instead” What a politician says has become far more important than what they do. It seems we live in a world where a soundbite that resonates is more important than a deed that actually helps improve something. Where are the politicians who have sound personal ambitions and the ability to make decisions that work for the whole of society?

Take the current leaders of the two largest political parties in the UK. On one side we have Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist campaigner, who has thus far failed to convince the population as a whole that he is able to listen and find a workable compromise with those who are socialists. On the other side we have Teresa May, a right-wing authoritarian, who only seems to serve her ideological ambitions and in real terms has yet to do anything to genuinely serve society. She is able to say that she cares, even when she does nothing at all to act on these cares.

It seems that you have to play the game to be proficient at succeeding in the party political game, to rise to senior position where you can actually achieve something, yet by that point they are so distorted by the game to be unable to do anything positive at all. So perhaps all politicians have a broken relationship with the the people in their society. Such politicians do not help society, nor make progress in advancing their individual cause, they only win the game of of politics. In the same way as the ladies man may rack up lots of partners, but never achieve a deep meaningful relationship. An executive business person, may achieve success for their company. career, but not any real tangible benefit to society, or any real achievement, outside of the corporate game.  A popular DJ, may rack up millions of listeners listening to them in the background, whereas the good DJ can seriously touch peoples lives and change people’s thinking with their selection of music.

I wrote last time about what is an achievement. I do just believe that making a real difference to society, or forming a mutually beneficial relationship is an achievement. Whereas winning an artificial game is much no achievement at all, in any game someone has to win and someone has to lose, the winner has not really achieved anything. Perhaps interrelationships are passing fun, but intrarelations are where true success can be achieved.

My first day on the Maes

Having spent six months or so learning to speak Welsh, I was keen to go to this years National Eisteddfod. The Eisteddfod is essentially a celebration of the Welsh language and culture. It’s primary purpose is for artists to perform in competition in front of a panel of judges. In many ways it is much like any other outdoor festival, there are various stages and venues hosting a wide variety of events: music, literature and Welsh culture. So, the usual lots of fun in a muddy field, portable toilets, food and drink stalls and other commercial stands promoting their wares.

It was an amazing day out and is just very Welsh. Welsh celebrities are everywhere and are approachable and happy to talk to people. Indeed the main point of the festival, like any other festival is to chat to people and enjoy yourself. Having learnt just about enough Welsh to be able to converse in Welsh, it was even more fun to be part of this language theme park.

I enjoyed a political discussion, listened to a storyteller, listened to bands perform, bumped into so many people I know and seen more harps in a day than I have ever seen in my life and went to a harp playing competition. As the Welsh language predominates, Welsh speakers are a culture of around 500,000 people + learners, so has a vibe of inclusivity and friendliness that I haven’t experienced at any other festival, you just feel welcomed by the huge ‘Croeso’ [Welcome] in large red friendly letters. I love the harp, I think it’s an astounding musical instrument and the performer who won the competition I sat through was simply overflowing with talent and musicality.

Anyway, I’ll keep this blog entry short, as I’m going back again tomorrow to meet up with a group of fellow Welsh learners. I’m on a positive vibe, away from the all the politics and Brexit nonsense for a change!

Radio Gaga

Radio has undergone many development in recent decades, however I still have the same love/ hate relationship with radio I have had since my teenage years. The principal development is the move from broadcast media, to on-demand streaming over the internet. Yet, radio still performs the same function of a background noise to other tasks, then your attentions gets drawn into it for a while before returning to the background. Perhaps the major change is that there is so much more choice now, so we are perhaps more inclined to find really good radio, rather than tolerate whatever is available over analogue broadcast.

I love radio because, for me it is a way of keeping abreast of ideas and especially music, without having to actively select music on a track by track basis. I hate radio because it so often fails to provide music or content I want to listen to.

I don’t feel as though I’m asking for much. I simply want to listen to a general selection of the latest music, from a nice mixture of genres, with the occasional old classic thrown in. Ideally with good music coming to the fore, based on popularity with peers. I do also like genre specific radio, but mostly I prefer a little bit of everything.

The idea of personalised internet radio, which throws up a selection of music based on your past preferences, was hugely appealing to me. I am very frustrated that it doesn’t work terribly well. It tries to pigeon hole my preferences and I get stuck in very limited sub genres. I feel I have to actively do whatever I can to maximise the randomness. So I am left with the problem of it no longer being radio as I have to actively control what it plays too much. These problems I have found with services such as LastFM or Spotify.

So, there is perhaps still very much a place for curated content, the traditional DJ (Disc Jockey), selecting the music that they like and that which they think listeners will find interesting. I believe this is true, I was a massive fan of the late John Peel, because he was a true DJ. However the vast majority of radio DJs don’t follow this philosophy, commonly selecting music from a list, someone else has generated, so, really, what is the point of having a DJ?

My major problem with commercial radio and a large chunk of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), or the BBC, in UK terms, is that music is selected for non-musical reasons. Music may be selected to ‘appeal’ to a certain demographic, for example young people or old people. Does anyone really think that their taste in music is determined by where they live, their socio-economic status, their age? No, music is music!

I can understand why commercial radio does this, there role is to maximise the number of listeners all the time to attract the advertising revenue, but this means that no-one is truly happy with such radio. PBS does sometimes do better, because instead it strives to provide content that some people will like and through a wide diversity in content, aiming to provide something that everyone likes at some point. It is this reason why PBS trumps commercial radio, it is something for everyone. however even the BBC don’t do this quite enough, particularly Radio 1 and 2. I struggle to find many DJs I like enough to make a point of regularly listening to them.

Sometimes, great things happen when you are not searching for them. I wrote on this blog recently that I am learning Welsh. To help with my Welsh, I’ve been listening to Welsh language radio, to improve my listening skills and pick up some vocabulary. I found a DJ I really love on the BBC Radio Cymru, in Georgia Ruth Williams, someone who plays an interesting selection of music, old and new, from Wales and around the world. Her programme is fantastic, exactly how radio should be, teh DJ putting some effort in to select a programme of music. Yes there is a focus on Welsh music on this radio show, but there is nothing wrong with that in my view! I just like hearing strange electronic noise, followed by beautiful classical music. Good music over trying to make an appeal to people for non-musical reasons.

I should also plug WFMU here, this New Jersey, USA based radio station is especially wonderful, with several excellent DJs.

 

 

‘Starman’ 1947-2016 RIP

Let the children lose it

I was very sad to hear of the passing of David Bowie this morning, an artist I love whom has helped me understand this crazy world that little bit better. Listening to his music helps me feel that it okay to be perturbed by the world, that it is positive to let go and get angry at the world sometimes. Bowie was perhaps the most popular artist for all the outsiders of the world.

Let the children use it

I have also been heartened today by the outpourings of admiration and mourning of Bowie, by so many people. I simply wasn’t aware quite how many people’s lives Bowie has touched with his music. Bowie wasn’t a simple artist, he commented thoughtfully on so many aspects of life and he has helped lots of people use those reflections to make sense of their own lives. Bowie was, for an outsider, immensely popular, because the majority of people are outsiders in many various ways, so people used his music to help them understand that it was okay to be different and more importantly to openly express those differences. Really, it’s been a wonderful where all the fans and appreciate just how many of us there are of his music have been able to share their thoughts

Let all the children boogie

Of course, it wasn’t just the artistic expression of facets of life that made Bowie one of the true greats of rock music, it was the music itself. Bowie’s music whilst innovative still had great tunes, great bass lines and is music one can return to again and again and feel free to dance and fully embrace the music. Like how as people after reflection upon ourselves, confirming that we are ok as people, we can let those troubles go and have a good old boogie.

I was very lucky to see Bowie in concert in Seattle, USA, to dance to the music I grew up with on the other side of the world, in another country where their were many other people who shared in the Bowie magic.

 

Listening Styles

I have often wondered about how other people listen to music, what drives what music people like. As a teenager the top 40 singles seemed important, as was my confusion about how great tracks faired less well that rubbish singles.

There is a considerable amount of research focused on these very questions. I stumbled upon research being conducted by David Greenberg and his theory of musical taste styles here. This theory is that people have a preference for listening in an empathetic music,  systemising music or a combination of both. Empathisers focus is on the artists thoughts and emotions, Systemisers focus on patterns and rules, whilst combiners balance these two styles.

My initial thought was combining is how I listen and I kind of assumed everyone did this. On the other hand I listen to music from a wide range of genres and have been described as having eclectic taste in music, most people don’t generally have this broad taste.

This musical preference theory isn’t entirely straight forward as all music contains emotional content and systemic content, great music merges this two facets seamlessly. Music is an amazing, richly complex art form and i would argue very difficult to assign content between these two styles as everyone listens differently.

Having said that, I do get the idea behind this theory. However what perhaps distinguishes the serious music listener from the casual listener is flexibility. Listening to music is cognitively a complex process and one that develops the more music is listened to. Empathetic music, in perhaps it’s purest form, is the singer songwriter, singing about there personal experience of life with a simple chord based guitar accompaniment. This form of music I very much enjoy. In listening to this form, I reduce my focus on looking for systemic patterns and increase my focus on the emotional content of the words, I change how I listen to suit the musical form. On the other hand, a complex piece of instrumental music is perhaps the pure form of systemic music, however it is from listening to the patterns, where rules are broken that the sense of the composers and performers emotional content emerges.

Whilst people listen to music in different ways, simply concentrating 100% on the music in a full open way, is not the only way music is listened to. for example the playing of a church organ before a religious service , some people will be listening intently, for others it will help set there mood in preparation for the service. most of the time, people rarely listen to music fully intently. Music is often the backdrop at a party, sets the mood during a scene in a film, something in the background whilst we are working or driving a car. some music suits these less intense listening moments better, sometimes concentration is expended on expressing the music through dance, where listening is only a part of the enjoyment of the music.

The experience of music is how it is heard, rather than solely the artistic output of it’s creator. The composer is important, it is there musical expression that forms the statement of the music. For some musicians the lyrical content is there main focus, for others it is the structure of the music. It is up to the listener to appreciate where the composers focus lies, to focus on that. I like great songwriters where the musical content is quite simple, here the song is important. I like bands who play with the musical content and have poor lyrics, here the music is important.  My point is that listening is an active process, it is flexible to the style of the music, sometimes the quality of an aspect of piece overwhelms any personal preference for musical style.

The question is whether there is actually a preference spectrum here. My music collection in comparison to others may place me somewhere on a spectrum line between emotion and system. However it is more complex than that, i listen to different styles of music depending on the time of day, my mood, what else is going on in my life etc. such lifestyle issues may influence where I appear on such a spectrum, for example, I love classical music, but don’t tend to listen to it whilst driving because the high level of background noise from the engine, means that changes in volume, which form an integral part of the music are lost, so the more time i spend driving changes where on such a spectrum I would be. Another example is that peopel may be pushed towards emotional content due to poor speakers, where gross musical effects are more important than subtle ones.

 

Lick that Pop Lolly

For me, growing up Japanese pop music used to occasionally threw up something interesting, such as a high energy rock take on ‘Thundercats are loose’ sung in Cantonese. In seemed that Japanese pop artists seemed to simply try and emulate Western pop and rock music, and sometimes something interesting appeared as a by product.

What happened since was the explosion of J-POP. For a Westerner it is quite hard to get ones head around, to make sense of it, it seems creepy, yet kind of wonderful at the same time. Wonderful, because it has become it’s very own genre.

The definition of ‘pop music’ has always been a shifting, new pop acts often attempt to re-define pop to carve out a niche for themselves. Pop retains the ‘popular music’ idoim as it is perhaps where music meets marketing, things that sell are popular. In pop, marketing has become the increasingly dominant force.

In the west the influence of marketing and sales promotion, has traditionally been viewed as an anti-musical force. Music was what real musicians did, this was rock music,  marketing was ‘selling out’. This left those more comfortable about marketing being regarded as pop acts and not perhaps to be taken seriously. There were always interesting cross overs of rock musicians playing with the pop genre and pop acts taking elements from contemporary rock music.

The late 1980s saw the rise of the manufactured pop band, whose careers were intensely managed, though still interesting as social phenomenons nontheless. These early performers desired a ring of credibility, a creative input, for example the likes of Kylie Minogue started writing their own material. Then came the boy and girl groups, where factors such as image, dance routines became more important than the music.

Basically, my understanding is that, J-POP looked at these manufactured pop acts and ran with it, unconstrained by any notion of musical and political credibility, or the need to appeal to a specific demographic, such as teenaged girls. to this is added what i can only describe as ‘cuteness’, cuteness simply seems an aim in itself, rather than a by-product. Well, J-pop does appeal widely to teenage girls, but it has become bigger than that. Each j-pop act strives to take a new direction, strike a new image. For example, Babymetal, do j-POP to a backdrop of high energy metal chords. Or Orange Caramel, dressing up as raw fish packed as Sushi; it is hard to imagine a European pop act pulling this off!

I stated above that it seems creepy. Creepy because perhaps to a Western European, the existence of young girls on a stage playing with very sexual imagery seems wrong, the first thought who is exploiting these girls. Really, though this is pop, there are many other aspects of the modern world reflecting in these acts and young people have always played with the ideas of world they are growing into as a way to learn to understand them. The imagery is done in a cute way, it’s not blatant, it is more to do with playing with sexual imagery rather than sex itself, sexual imagery is so prevalent in modern society. In Western music, outside of pop, there is a reluctance to play with such imagery as rock music is liberal in focus, looking towards new ways of thinking. However, this liberalism is perhaps shackled by political direction, held back by the desire to get across the message of promoting gender equality. There are other issues such as open discussion of the performers weight, which make me re-coil, but Western media is equally cursed in this regard, at least the J-POP world seems more open about it.

Japanese culture has traditionally been more conservative than the liberal West. however J-POP seems to be embracing the new globalised world culture of the internet, rather than viewing the reduction in importance of native culture as being such an issue.

Pop has always been about more than just music, music often takes a back seat. Rock and other genres take on the mantle on progressing musical ideas. That isn’t to say that J-POP doesn’t take on elements found in other genres.

J-POP, K-POP [Korea] or indeed any genre has it’s merits and issues to which require mental processing for the uninitiated. In many ways it is pure pop music, in the way the music scene in the West has always kind of wanted to fully embrace in all it’s wonderful crassness. Aqua have always been one of my favourite pop acts, yet as always been regarded disdainfully in UK at least. In a multi-cultural world, it is quite possible and indeed a good thing that there is both good music and art forms that have stemmed from music, for which music is merely a part of the package. Long live J-POP!

 

 

 

Self-Monitoring

Recently, I read ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain, it isn’t the sort of book I usually read but it was recommended to me. The book is somewhat a guidebook, it gives a whistle stop tour through many of the specific issues faced by introverts and real-life examples of situations where introverts overcome the problems. I wish someone had given me such a book to read as a teenager, it would have made my life much easier!

Personally the most interesting issue is the concept of ‘self-monitoring’. Self monitoring seems to be the process by which people change their behaviour to suit the social situation and the people they meet in these situations. The book suggests that people are on a spectra for this trait, from low to high. Low self-monitors don’t adapt their behaviour very much, whereas high self-monitors can be different people in different social situations. It is suggested that introverts tend to also be low self-monitors. This seems to fit and helps explain many of the difficulties I have had.

The difficulty for me, as with examples in the book, is authenticity. I think it is important to be honest with myself as with other people. I do adapt my behaviour to suit social situations, to be polite and respectful of the occasion, however sometimes I seem very close to a line where I begin purely acting a character and stop being myself, this I find very uncomfortable and it just seems wrong to do in real life.

When I was a teenager, my escape was in a youth theatre group, in this group we spent a lot of time improvising. I love both acting and particularly improvisation, I have been on the stage many times, we even did a sponsored 24 hour non-stop improvisation (rolling with breaks), which was marvellous. People have often been confused by my ability to act with such energy, busy interacting with a large number of people for long periods of time, but am unable to do it in ‘real life’. Real life social situations make me much more nervous than going out to perform in front of hundreds of people, because they aren’t judging me, if they do judge it is my performance rather than my inner self that they judge. Then I am not acting for myself but for the good of the cast and theatre in general.

Confidence, plays it’s part. In social situations I know well, i have learned how to be myself in those situations, so am more confident being myself as I’ve worked out how to be myself in that situation. For example I know what kinds of music concerts it is acceptable to get and up and dance and when it isn’t, I am happy to make the compromise not to dance when others generally find it distracting, at a first concert of an unfamiliar genre I may have wanted to dance but not known if it was ‘allowed’. I’ve ‘got good’ at this, and am often the first person to start dancing at a gig.

The other correlation identified in the book is between introversion and having a preference for low levels of stimulation. It is adaptable though. I never used to like heavy metal, because perhaps I found the genre over stimulating. Then one day, i got into Heavy Metal, i had learned to focus in on the music in a similar way, learning to cut out the ‘noise’. I found a way into it, to begin by appreciating elements of the music and then work up to enjoying the whole thing. This was much the same methodology of gettign into classical music, one element sparks the interest and over time you learn about the other elements until you appreciate the whole. Really it is perhaps learning how to cut out unfocussed on elements. Perhaps introverts simply need to learn to work up to high stimulation situations, whereas perhaps extraverts learn to work down to low stimulation activities.

It is, I think, the authenticity issue. I enjoy acting, because the whole point is not to be yourself, to experiment being other people, to try and get into other ways of thinking and act accordingly, it’s very interesting to do and a lot of fun. I am happy to portray flawed characters, but I don’t wish to do this in ‘real life’. The thing is that I really don’t want to do bad things, I don’t want to be part of a problem. Of course, I know that I make mistakes and will always make mistakes, it is impossible to be perfect. The real issue is perhaps not being wrong, when you know that you are in the wrong, I don’t want to act that way in real life.

I began overcoming my real life anxiety about eight years ago. I had this irrational idea that there was something wrong with me. For example my ‘ ethically sourced’ diet was something adopted by <1% of the population, the music I like is obscure, generally, it is the case that whatever is popular or the social norm is something I will be uncomfortable with. Being a minority does predispose oneself to question you it is yourself that is wrong and not wider society, however, wider society and popular opinion is often wrong. I simply accepted that I was different, and wasn’t prepared to compromise my own lifestyle and beliefs, unless someone can make it very clear to me I’m wrong, I’m always open and listening for that, it usually never comes. I am now much happier to be myself and not be concerned about it’s affect on other people, I always thought it affected other people more than it actually does. I can now happily say to people such things as “I can’t stay as I’m going to a concert of Renaissance Polyphony, you are more than welcome to come along, but really I am more than happy to go by myself in preference to company.” I no longer feel a social pariah for doing so.

Music for Old People

20150526_214820

When I was a sprightly teenager I yearned to be able to attend gigs by the bands I enjoyed. This didn’t happen because I grew up in rural Wales, several hours travel from the towns and cities on the bands tours. Indeed i didn’t go to gigs until I was able to drive myself to them.

So, twenty five years later I was intriqued and excited that one of the bands of my teenage years had reformed and was touring again.  The band are ‘Babes in Toyland’, my favourites from the early 90s grunge/ riot grrl scene. so, I went down to London to see them this week.

It was a really great gig, the band have lost little of the energy that characterised them all those years ago, despite the members now being in their 50s and neither had the audience.

I was curious about the audience, would they be entirely people of my generation, re-connecting with a band of our youth? Whilst my generation were out in force i was surprised by the diversity of the crowd. There were an older generation who had discovered the band as mature adults themselves as well as younger people who had discovered the sound at various points, indeed it is a musical style that never really goes away and periodically re-emerges. It is so nice to be in such a freindly cosmopolitan audience spanning generations, this doesn’t happen often enough.