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Wednesday 27 February 2013

Words on Wednesday: Rereading The Hobbit

This is the edition that I own. The front cover of Smaug is by John Howe.

I also owned (and loved) this version, a fully illustrated 'graphic novel' edition from 1990.

This is the illustration on the front cover of JJ's copy that we read. It's Rivendell by Ted Nasmith.

I recently had the pleasure of rereading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit after a gap of many years. It was also the first time that I had read the book out loud to someone. I read the book to JJ, mostly in bed, but not always, and, of course, with a variety of different voices (I decided that the Rivendell elves were Welsh for example). Indeed, my Gandalf voice drew some praise I'm proud to admit.

Now, obviously, this reread was prompted by our recent viewing of the new Peter Jackson film:

'The HOBBIT: Part One: The Unexpected Journey: The Extended Saga: In HD 3-D HFM super-dooper-plus: Now with more Goblins!' 

A film that I have a mixture of emotions about, but this isn't going to be a film review (not yet, I withhold my final judgement until I've seen the series completed).

However, as we tended to view the book through the eyes of film-goers, i.e. what we saw and how it related to the story, what we read and how we expected Jackson to insert thirty extra minutes of action, this book review will often make reference of the differences in approach and style.

Obviously, the film is the film and the book the book, one could not work as the other... actually, that's not strictly true. One could write a book based on the film that was based on the book, interestingly it would be totally different in many ways (pacing especially) and would spend a great deal of time explaining action scenes. Anyway I'm diverting myself... We are all agreed (I hope) that there is no way whatsoever that P. Jackson &co would make a film that was an exact recreation of the original book. For those doubters that remain to ask "Why?" I hope this suffices as an answer: Quite simply because it does not fulfill standard action film criteria  and that is precisely what Jackson has done and has been doing to Tolkien's work all this time. Making them action films. Now, this is not a complaint, I love Jackson's Lord of the Rings, because it's made by someone who so obviously loves the work and surrounds himself with people that also love this world that Tolkien made.
People like Alan Lee especially. Amazing work.

Enough waffle, on with the review proper. When people talk about The Hobbit they tend to dismiss it as the lesser children's book to the 'epic' Lord of the Rings, or else that it is merely fantastical nonsense with no connection to reality (and thus, if we take a line from Plato, harmful to the young).

It is true that The Hobbit was originally meant as a bedtime story for Tolkien's own children, but even then it's more like a classical myth or traditional fairy tale than what we would now consider a children's story. One of the things that are different; if this were a modern children's story then the main character would also be a child (easier to identify with) and not a fifty-something hobbit who is a bit of a lazy academic and recluse, rather than a carefree child or heroic adventurer. This brings up another incongruity, for us the modern reader, it is the lack of heroism in the main character(s). Certainly Bilbo, when he has no other option, 'steps up' and is courageous (both with the spiders and again with the elves) but we are told many times that he'd really rather not. Indeed, he spends most of the adventure wishing he was back in his comfortable hobbit hole. He is simply not naturally heroic and never thought of in that way, but it is a trope of Tolkien to show that in hard times even the smallest can show true bravery (something that doesn't just come from duty but from friendship).

What of the dwarves? They are the main reason for the adventure happening and although most remain uncharacteristed (there are thirteen of them) we do get to know a few of them quite well (Thorin, as their leader, especially), surely, we might wonder to ourselves, aren't they heroic? If you'd seen the film or knew of dwarves from D&D or WoW you'd expect them to be capable doughty warriors, but the dwarves in The Hobbit really aren't very effective. It's true that Thorin and a few of the others (Balin and Dwalin, Oin and Gloin, Kili and Fili) are descended from the Royal Dwarven line of Durin, but they're really not that brave, driven instead by thoughts of revenge and lust for gold, and they're not overly effective warriors or well-armed, although Thorin finds Orcrist the sword, he later loses it and the dwarves are repeatedly overpowered by; trolls, goblins, spiders, and elves. Only with the help of Gandalf and later Bilbo do they manage to escape at all. Indeed, the one heroic action of Thorin, his charge from the gate in the battle of five armies, leads to his death. 

Sure, Gandalf is heroic, he is after all a wizard, but he is absent for large portions of the story and even so, for all that, he's not invincible. We're told that were he to have rushed the goblins and wargs when the group is trapped up the fir trees, with seemingly no way out, that he would have died. Other characters that could be considered brave (like Bard) are only secondary characters and even then they are not especially heroic, merely fortunate to have gained the knowledge needed to kill the dragon (in Bard's case). This is because The Hobbit, no less than the Lord of the Rings, is fundamentally anti-action as we have come to understand it.

The idea of the heroic individual bravely (and justly) standing alone against a horde of enemies, brilliantly captured in the 1988 genre-classic Die Hard, is precisely the sort of contemporary notion that Tolkien's work stand in opposition to. Why is this? To me, it seems like writing styles have their day. In Tolkien's day (possibly due to post-war pessimism, but let's not go into pop-psychological reasons) there was a general theme for a slow narrative build and negativity towards heroes. After a few generations people got sick of that 'old fashioned style' and writing tended to be faster paced, with an emphasis on the power of the individual hero (this itself a recycling of even older ideals, but then what else is new?). 

For Tolkien no matter how great or brave you are, if outnumbered (like Gandalf) you will fall. It is not simply a matter of having enough heart (a recurrent theme in American films that I'd like to fully describe one day, cf. James Cameron's Avatar) and a strong belief in the goodness or correctness or justness of your actions that will allow an individual to prevail. It is only by our working together in friendship that we can hope to achieve anything. The dismissal that it is a simple story only meant for children in that it tells the adventures of a "happy little hobbit" fails to properly understand this undercurrent that runs through The Hobbit. 

One might argue that it is anti-exceptionalism and I suppose in some ways it is, but this is mainly due to the suspicion that such affectations lead to a violent nationalism or a ruling elite that has no care for those they rule. It's not that the individual isn't important, it's just that alone (or with only a unity of vision) we cannot hope to accomplish anything as great as we can together (Frodo needs Sam...).

A great deal of these creative decisions can be put down to Tolkien's amateurism when it comes to novel writing. At least, that is how it is commonly described (although I can't point to an academic work, it's how Tolkien is described by his 'experts' in the documentary on the Lord of the Rings DVD extras disc). What would make one a novelist? Writing in an expected way? Doing a Creative Writing MA? Although the second may be popular today, it wasn't an option for Tolkien and he certainly wasn't trying to write a typical children's adventure story. Instead, both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are not only thematically but stylistically influenced by Norse myth and traditional fairy tales. However, even if we attribute Tolkien's narrative 'errors' to a structure borrowed from ancient myth, rather than modern writing, I believe it is an excellent choice of Tolkien's to have the supposed climax of the novel (the death of Smaug) happen sooner and in an unexpected manner. An altogether unanticipated climax (the battle of five armies) then brings the adventure to an end. A modern audience might baulk at Smaug's death being told in retrospect or Thorin's death happening 'off-camera', but these stylistic choices of Tolkien's can either be put down to his inexperience, or his love of myths that fearlessly kill off heroes - this is because the hero isn't as important as the mythical tale being told - either that or it's just good judgement.

In many ways The Hobbit is obviously a simpler tale than the Lord of the Rings, being more of an adventure from point A to B - a 'road movie' - than the much darker apocalyptic salvation theme that pervades Lord of the Rings. However, it has a deeper thread running through the story, one that rewards a more critical reading. As a child one remembers the excitement and danger, as an adult we see glimpses of Tolkien's larger world and themes. If you'd not read The Hobbit (or had it read to you) when you were a child I'd not recommend reading it first as an entry into the Lord of the Rings, just read that instead, the benefit of The Hobbit is as a nostalgic rereading preferably as a bedtime story or as a unique combination of fairy tale and Norse myth meant for a younger audience, just don't go expecting the 'prequel' to the Lord of the Rings. Unlike the claims of Peter Jackson, in a recent BBC radio 5 interview (on Youtube), The Hobbit does not simply fit alongside it's larger sibling and nor is it meant to. Both are doing different things, albeit within the same world and with some of the same characters, to try and drag the film of The Hobbit into the action-packed world of Jackson's Lord of the Rings is to miss the charm, warmth, and simplicity of the book. It is a story that has always stuck with me and probably always will. Sharing it with someone else just multiplied the joy.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

TV on Tuesday: Revisiting Ultraviolet

Starting a wee bit of a theme this week of going back to old films, books, or tv series that I once enjoyed.

Series Link (Note: You must be in the UK and registered on 4OD, which is FREE):

The opening credits show a vampire-bitten body under UV light

ULTRAVIOLET was a six-part supernatural detective series that aired on channel four in the UK in 1998, which I have some very fond memories of. Thanks to the online archive 4oD I was able to watch it again last week, actually the thanks should also go to JJ who searched it out.

Anyway, there's always a double apprehension watching something that one has 'fond memories of' with someone who is new to it. Firstly, that they will find it (and by extension you) reprehensibly bad/boring/stupid and secondly that you yourself will find that your memories were misplaced and that it has aged especially badly or that your earlier judgements were wrong or, at least, are now outdated and that it wasn't nearly as good as you've been giving it credit for.

(L-R) Philip Quast as Father Pearse J Harman, Idris Elba as Vaughn Rice,
Susannah Harker as Dr Angela Marsh, and Jack Davenport as Michael Colefield.

Thankfully Ultraviolet mostly escaped these concerns. Mostly. I'll return to the problems later, but first what made Ultraviolet enjoyable before still works now.

Despite being a TV series about vampires it is not campy, brooding, angst-ridden (at least, not with teenage angst) or over-the-top. Instead it is a very clever modern reinterpretation of the various vampire myths and gives a serious 'what if' explanation to the problems these myths create when faced with our contemporary understanding. For example: If vampires don't show up in mirrors, what about CCTV recording? Although, to be honest, I can't really think of a scientific reason why vampires can't be finger printed, which is a later consequence of this 'leeches cannot be recorded' policy. Still, it's a commitment and interpretation of the myths that is at least consistent.

That Ultraviolet represents the work of one person, the writer and director Joe Ahearne, means that it has a unity and consistancy of vision that is perhaps sometimes lost in productions with several or many writers. A comparison for further elucidation. To return to Utopia, a recent six-part channel four conspiracy thriller, which was billed as having a single writer, Dennis Kelly, but if one looks at the credits there are in fact many more contributors; based on original concept ideas by, script editors and supervisors, additional writing credits and so forth, all this means that it is not one script by one person, but a script that probably had multiple versions, many rewrites, and was subject to last minute changes, ongoing things that directors and producers would change. The Ultraviolet script, in contrast, seems as if it was much more settled and that each episode held its own story and linked to ongoing narrative points, shows something structured and well understood, that there is no danger of something or someone being mentioned then forgotten about and accidentally dropped. A possible failing to this unity if view is that minor inconsistencies or narrative mistakes that one person might overlook due to their closeness with the work would have been spotted by working with others. At any rate, this is pretty rare, but it does ask one to absolutely accept the artistic vision of the writer/director.

This is because Ultraviolet plays its supernatural elements totally straight. Indeed, the entire series is almost completely humourless (except accidentally, the nineties hair) and asks you, the viewer, to take it all very seriously. Something I'm not overly capable of. Still, it is the seriousness and thought to the medical and scientific (if not the social) aspects that help one accept this otherwise absurd logic. Indeed, it must be one of the only vampire-based series that doesn't actually call them vampires and treats the situation as 'normally' as possible. In this regard the programme plays much like a standard detective story, albeit with supernatural elements, with the main characters spending each episode tracking the activities of the code five's (code V, their name for vampires) and their willing, and no so willing, human servants in an attempt to reveal the wider conspiracy (i.e. what are the leeches up to?)

As the story is so simple and straightforward, it is the characters that must provide the main interest, with their various interactions, developments, and failings being vitally important. Thankfully, for the most part, there is a very strong cast. For example: Idris Elba's portrayal of the ex-army agent Vaughn is as a stock tough guy, and he has the least developed character, but he's so captivating on screen that it hardly matters.

Jack Davenport play Michael, who is the programme's main character. He is our way into the story and we stay with him as he tries to resolve the problem that got him connected with the shadowy CIB and their fight against the leeches in the first place. With such a central role, Jack must carry almost the entire weight of the series and thus it is with him that any blame usually stops. JJ's own critique of Davenport's performance was pretty damning, but she wasn't alone. A brief bit of internet research will normally show reservations about Jack Davenport's casting, usually describing it as one of the main problems with the show and perhaps they're right, but then perhaps this is because how the character is written rather than the fault of the actor.

My own opinion is that Jack Davenport's character must be too many different types throughout the programme. He is linked to to every main and secondary character, he is both loyal and contrary towards CIB, ambivolent and protective to his 'women'. In short he has mixed reactions to everything about him and everything in the show is related to him. Although mixed emotions are realistic, they don't play especially well for a central character that must carry the show. He is at one moment absolutely driven by duty and willing to risk his life, in another moment, he is oppositional to the authoritarian structure of the CIB and protective of his outside friends. Is he maverick or hero? It is this uncertainty (from the writer) that unsettles. Finally, for someone so conflicted and apparently so moved by emotion, Jack Davenport plays it very downbeat. This must be a directorial choice. We could blame the casting, but as Joe Ahearne had experience of working with Jack Davenport on 'This Life' I'd expect it was this that led to Ahearne building the role for Davenport.

It becomes apparent that Joe Ahearne means the character to be a maverick who is nonetheless also driven by his duty to the 'greater good'. Thus, a policemen seems a good choice. This character is better described in the other supernatural detective series that Ahearne wrote and directed, Apparitions, which starred Martin Shaw as a maverick catholic priest/witch-hunter. An actor who is well known for playing mavericks (Judge John Deed is almost the same character) and it's fair to say that Jack Davenport is not so renowned.

In closing, it was really great to revisit a TV show that I had such fond memories of and had not seen for at least ten years. I was pleased to see it has aged well (despite the hair and amusing mobile phones). Some good writing and a well structured script means that a production will always age very well. It's amusing to think how this show, if suggested for broadcast today, would be received by Twilight influenced producers. I'd expect they'd be horrified by the ordinariness of the vampires and lack of simmering sexual tension. I for one, however, am glad of that.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Thoughts on Thursday: Philosophers of fear

Two people I know, good friends and otherwise very intelligent men, have what I consider irrational fears about two different groups. 

It's more surprising that they are both philosophers and you'd expect them to know better. Instead they use their philosophical training to further cement their arguments against rather than investigation into. The groups they despise aren't unusual or unexpected, indeed, it seems that they are good products of media fear-mongering.

Perhaps I'm wrong and perhaps these two groups do represent a new and dangerous type of evil in the world. Perhaps I'm just being too 'right on' and it's precisely this sort of laissez faire attitude that allows them to go on causing so much (potential) trouble.

I'll admit that some aspects of their bugbears are worrying, some aspects in isolation, and that given an inch some people will take a yard, but I still feel that they are failing as philosophers if they are to take this attitude (one's personal feeling of what philosophy is, is something I've talked about before).

They're acting more like Rhetoricians, like journalists or politicians, playing at being philosophers and using their training to stir up anxiety and create arguments, but perhaps that's exactly what philosophers should be doing more of. Certainly in the UK there is a complete lack of the 'Social Philosopher' such as exists in France for example. The only public intellectuals we have in this country are scientists and most of them too facile to even bother with.

Pay no attention to this man.

Anyway, it's not that I don't think philosophers should not concern themselves with politics (and retreat to their lofty caves) because, quite obviously, they must. I'd expect a philosopher's response to, I don't know, be a little more thought out? To have at least tried to see both sides (or more) of the arguments, to investigate their own prejudices and their culture's. I suppose, fundamentally, I'm just disappointed with their eager aggression.

Quotes Worth Saving (12) Joseph Conrad

He was no man of action; he was not even an orator of torrential eloquence, sweeping the masses along in the rushing noise and foam of a great enthusiasm. With a more subtle intention, he took the part of an insolent and venomous evoker of sinister impulses which lurk in the blind envy and misery of poverty, in all the hopeful and noble illusions of righteous anger, pity, and revolt… The way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds.

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Television on Tuesday: Utopia - a quick review

Utopia is a soon to be finishing six-part British series that aired on Channel Four. I've just watched the first two episodes last night online and was moved to write this little review about my immediate thoughts.

At first impressions, it seems like it should have all the qualities that would make it, if not universally popular, then at least the sort of thing that is normally popular with me. I do like a twisting plot, characters that have a bit of substance about them (and are well acted), a bit of conspiracy, and some good old thrills and shocks. Now, while Utopia does have all these things, it still left me feeling rather empty. I wondered why?

The plot of the series seems like it is a homage to various British comic book series (the likes of Warren Ellis and Alan Moore spring to mind) and visually it seems setup in mind of large comic book panels with lots of one colour repeatedly being used (yellow, blue, purple, etc). That the entire programme begins in a comic book store (above, and note the name! very Alan I thought) and is about, indirectly, an 'insane' comic book artist is also no surprise.

So, it's got all this going for it. I thought the main protagonists extremely well-developed and well acted (especially enjoyed Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), but after watching the two episodes I had very little that really stuck with me. It all seemed very derivative and manipulative. 

Indeed, perhaps due to its relation with so many other similar conspiracy thrillers (of various formats) I was able to predict most of the major events in both episodes (and minor, I called the 'mission accomplished' line five minutes beforehand) and not that I normally watch a programme trying to 'figure it out'. I enjoy a good film noir and let it take me along for the ride, I don't analytically observe and try and solve the mystery as if a type of puzzle. Anyway, that I fell into this mode with Utopia and was almost always correct in my guesses, I took for my boredom with the not-so-twisting plot. I'm really not one for mysterious all-powerful ex-government organisations that can kill indiscriminately and operate beyond the law (bored by Bourne).

Mostly what annoyed me was the predictably graphic, but not very graphic, violence. Violence used merely as a titillating shock is extremely repugnant to me. I'm not offended or disturbed by it (perhaps I should be... just another desensitised adult...) I just find it really rather lazy.

Would I watch any more? Probably not, but I wouldn't go out of my way to avoid it either. Could have been so much better.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Songs on Sunday: Martyn Bennett

Martyn Bennett (1971 - 2005)

1. An introduction

As I've mentioned before, Martyn Bennett is a musician that has a deeply personal impact upon me. His music was introduced to me in the same year that Bennett died and at the time I felt that I'd missed something, it had passed me by without my awareness and, as someone who grew up in Scotland and purported to like folk music and electronica, I felt a wee bit ashamed of myself for not knowing of him while he lived. The friend who introduced me to Bennett's music was also a multi-talented individual and also died at a young age. It is he that I keep referring to obliquely in my recent posts. That Bennett also died of the same type of cancer that killed my dad is another connection, albeit a tenuous one, but yet I feel a connection for these reasons to the music of Martyn. It also helps that I really like the music and the ethos behind the music.

However, this isn't just going to be a piece about the personal nature of my relationship to Bennett's music. His music also represents, for me, something important for the future of Scotland. Often an artist can offer a mirror upon the culture they are part of and thus display something of a commentary. Bennett's attempt to fuse the old traditional sounds with the new modern techno scene, and incorporate world music in a different manner, offers something like a description of a more liberal, but rooted, sense of Scottishness.

2. A short biography

Bennett was born in a Gaelic-speaking community in Newfoundland, Canada. He moved to Scotland aged six with his mother, when his parents separated. He moved several times while growing up in Scotland,  seeing all types of communities, from the remote small towns to the busy cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow (where he eventually went to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama). He was a young talent with the bagpipes winning various prizes in junior piping competitions around Scotland. As well as the Great Highland Bagpipes, Bennett was also trained in classical violin and piano, something he immersed himself in the study of during his teenage years (in the Edinburgh City School of Music).After leaving the RSAMD in Glasgow (since 2011 it is now known as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), Bennett decided to leave the world of classical music behind, primarily because of the lack of freedom such a living would entail. Around this time he began experimenting with free-jazz and fusion, as well as learning the DJ skills of recording, sampling, looping, in short using the new technology.

Here is his obituary from the Guardian newspaper.

3. The music (foreground)

Martyn Bennett made five albums and contributed to several more during his music career. Here are my own impressions of those five main works and some sample videos lifted from Youtube. 

His first album, the self-titled 'Martyn Bennett' was released in 1996.

Martyn Bennett describes his own album, "Recorded and mixed in just seven days, I listen to this album now with a hidden smile. Yes, I can hear the limitations of my knowledge of electronics and the small amount of equipment I had at my disposal, but this album, for me, is like a child. It’s full of fun and abandon. It does not care about the 'correctness' of the sounds or complexity of arrangement, it only cares about energy and light." (Link here)

Like many artists he has a obvious attachment to this fledgling work, as it possesses an energy and free play that his illness would later damage and make creating music much harder. Indeed, illness or no, this is a common complaint of artists, were one's initial projects seem to come much easier, but as time progresses one loses touch with what motivated you in the early days. 

As an early work it is obviously less crafted and more ragged than all his later productions, but it does carry and air of excited experimentation and an enthusiasm for the sound that is infectious. Also, it's easy to spot Bennett as someone with a background in the traditional, but with a love for all the new technology in music.

In his second album, 'Bothy Culture', Martyn Bennett was able to craft a much more professional work and this only a short time later. 'Bothy Culture' was released on Rykodisc records in 1998. It is quite possibly his best critically received work, certainly in Scotland, and remains one of his best selling albums (either first or second to 'Grit' based on sales on Amazon and iTunes). 

It's actually my least favourite album of Bennett's, but that isn't to say I dislike it, I just find myself less likely to listen to this album. Perhaps it's because out of all his albums, this seems the most categorisable as 'Celtic Fusion' and sounds very much like other bands of a similar nature, that is; Peatbog Faeries, Shooglenifty, and so forth. There's still a recognisable element of Martyn here though, his use of certain samples and his sense of humour that runs through all his work. It also allows him to reference the variety of Scottish and World influences, which includes the excellent track 'Hallaig' that features the verse of the Scottish poet Sorley MacLean.

For all that, perhaps the thing that I do find objectionable about Bothy Culture and why I consider it the least 'like Martyn', is the lack of risk, the safety and almost ordinariness of the sounds he creates. Don't get me wrong they are still an enjoyable listen and worthy of the album's attention that it gathered at the time.It's still quality Celtic Fusion and the equal of all other World music. It is liable to be the most accessible album for people coming from the folk music side and except for perhaps the later album Grit it is also probably the best known. 

It is with his third album, the excellent 'Hardland', that really sees Martyn Bennett setting out to create his unique and personal statement. Hardland was recorded in collaboration with Martin Low in 2000, when Martyn and his wife had moved out to a more remote part of Scotland.

The move of location is something that I'd suggest helped with the creation of this more personal statement. Unlike his previous two albums, Hardland is not an album meant to be played quietly, nor is it comtemplative or introspective, it takes its influence directly from the underground party scene and fuses it with traditional Scottish music. It wasn't overly well received at the time, as the folkies didn't like the hard abrasive techno sounds and the clubbers couldn't really get on with the traditional sounds of the bagpipes and so forth. It probably would have found more of a home in underground dance venues, but it's also hard to break into this scene as it's very faddish, led by group fashion, and word of mouth. Indeed, none of this would translate into anything like mainstream success. Additionally those critics that lauded the previous album (who were many) now were also the sort who were unlikely to appreciate this sort of musical experimentalism. It is however, for my tastes, the best album Martyn Bennett made. The ceilidh need not be a place of maintaining ancient traditions, but it is simply a mega dance party, albeit a Scottish one. This is what the album Hardland is, an exuberant celebration of modern Scottish culture with all its flaws and problems.

The vocal seemingly saying, "Evil, evil..." is actually "Eubhal," which is Gaelic for a small hill on a remote Hebridean island.

Bennett's fourth album, 'Glen Lyon: A Song Cycle', is quite a radical departure from Hardland but counter-balances it well. Glen Lyon seems like something of a personal project, while this is true of the majority of Martyn's work, this is especially true about this album.

It is a series of songs sung almost entirely by Martyn's mother Margaret in Gaelic, indeed, the only other vocals come from Bennett's great-great-grandfather Peter Stewart on the opening track. It is quite a spare, minimal album, but it is very beautiful, and it is a work that feels to be harking back to the past. Not just Scotland's, but Martyn Bennett's as well. Musical nostalgia might be an appropriate description.

As a companion piece to Hardland, Glen Lyon works extremely well. Whereas one highlights the vibrancy, energy, and 'hardness' of a new Scotland, the other tells us of remoteness, closeness with nature (the excellent gentle mixing of ambient natural noises throughout the album), historical connections with old traditions, and lyrical beauty. It's the ambient 'come down' album after a hard partying to Hardland.. Absolutely love it.

GRIT is Martyn Bennett's final album (although he did write a piece of music that was recorded shortly after his death, 'Mackays Memoirs', which is counted as his last work).

At the time of recording GRIT (in 2003) Martyn Bennett was very ill with cancer and no longer able to play, or rather he was no longer able to play and get the sound from the instruments in the way he had before. Thus GRIT utilises many samples from Scottish folk singers from the 1950's, as well as more contemporary sounds. In describing the title of the album Bennett has said several things, first from his own blog:
The obscure title means many things to me personally, however it is tied up in my ideas of where Scottish culture lies: GRIT can be seen on road signs anywhere in the world, it is an expression of determination, an onomatopoeic word: it reflects the contrasts found in its music both course and fine. There is an old intonation (tuning) throughout the album that I hope the listener can appreciate, because far from being 'out-of-tune', this flavour not only touches true grit in terms of tradition, but also exposes technique born of passion.
Secondly, and more pointedly, from his obituary:

"Cancer is a piece of grit inside your soul which you can't get out, so you have to try and make something of it. But grit is also rock salt, an old medicine. I also see it as representative of cultures trying to survive."

GRIT was the first album of Bennett's that I heard and as someone coming more from dance music than folk music, I found it easier to get along with. Not that I don't appreciate Scottish folk music, I certainly do, it's just that I feel more comfortable with, I have more knowledge of, electronic music. So, upon hearing GRIT it reminded me of Moby's album Play (something Bennett acknowledges) and other musicians who have sampled older musical styles and fused them with contemporary electronic sounds.


Melancholy Mornings: this crappy time of year

So, it's not a Monday and I'm beginning this year in blogging with a complaint. Hardly a sign of any great emotional growth. Still, you should know your limits I suppose.

There has been a reason for my dropping off the blogging habit recently and it's the same reason as before, "the same procedure as every year."

Many people have good reasons for disliking winter and the 'holiday season' in particular, for myself, that whole period and especially January are times that seemingly take so much effort to live through that I find very little time for anything other than basic work functions and generally surviving.  Basically put, I'm not great company at this time of year.

Still, it's well into February now and I'm feeling much better about myself, so I don't feel the need to go on about these problems of mine, which is partially the reason they never get solved. Firstly, because I'm not sure there is such a thing as a solution, but mainly it's because when I'm suffering under them I don't want to talk about it and once I'm feeling better I feel like such a different person there seems no need to revisit it.

I suppose that emotionally hibernating or shutting down over this darker colder time of year might be explained quite simply by the physical causes, but it's also a time of year tied to stressful family meetings, remembrances, and other things that bring on bad thoughts.

I'd like to say, the sun is in the blue sky and all this right with the world, but it isn't. It is, however, now something I can actively deal with again and have enough energy left over to waste on little projects like this one.

So, hello again, happy new year, happy year of the snake, happy 2013.

Not a stellar year for fiction, it really doesn't have the ring of a 2012 or 2020. Indeed, I can only think of one film set in this year and it ain't good...

Let's hope it's better than this.