Christmas Restocking

My jewellery-making has been rather lax of late, while burlesque consumed my time and soul, but since it will now be a few months before I can be in another show (*cue sad sniffle*) and since Christmas is just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to get busy again, so there are finally new pieces over at Persephone’s Pendants, including for the first time earring sets (making my shop name faintly dishonest, but I think I would sooner lie than spoil the nice alliteration) …

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Please let me know if you would like more or closer images of any of these pieces (including the ones not yet listed), and also I am of course happy to make custom pieces as long as the stone is one I can source locally. The price of custom pieces will depend upon the value of the stone.

These pieces will be available on Facebook for one week, then it is high time I moved the remainder over to Etsy and launched my shop there: a plunge I have been putting back for some time, since a local shop – Crystals and Clocks – very kindly offered to display various pieces from my first batch among their stock. Alas, sales there have also been very quiet (and while I am quite certain I am getting better at this craft, it would be nice to have some positive reinforcement … not to mention cash to restock materials, so it is more than high time I took things properly online).

Prices: pendants are £8-£12 depending on complexity of wrap, earrings alone are £12, pendant and earring sets are £20 (though open to near offers on all).

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Extended Halloween …

How curious. Halloween has never figured too heavily on my calender until this year, which – between various horror-themed burlesque shows and alt-80s nights – may have been the Gothiest year of my life, and the extended Halloween is not quite over yet …


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Yes, I am still a writer, even if I have rather let it slide in favour of dancing this year. I am hoping to get another novel out before long: a steampunk fantasy affair called “Gloriana’s Masque,” currently in the pipeline to be published but with no date set. I have done very little to promote “Wolves of Dacia,” though – marketing and “selling myself” are so not in my comfort zone – so it feels only right to give it a little nudge before concentrating my efforts on fresh material.

Only a week away now, and I doubt many people reading this blog are local to Cardiff, but anyone who can make it would be very welcome. 🙂 Likewise any general good wishes and blessings that I will do a decent job with the reading of it and not choke hopelessly. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, and all that jazz.

Fan-tom of the Opera

Quicker than I had supposed, the videos of last Saturday’s burlesque gig are on YouTube, including my solo debut … (all rather risqué, I should stress, just in case you happen to be reading this post in the office)



I cannot overemphasise how wonderful if surreal it is finally getting to see this. I remember watching this very YouTube channel years ago, admiring the elegance, creativity, and bravery of the Cardiff Burlesque (now Cardiff Cabaret Club) performers rather wistfully, as I never thought it possible I would ever be able to do anything like that. However, that definitely appears to be me up on that stage. Who’d a thunk it?

One thing that is a bit lost in this clip, sadly, is the face make-up, as I did use liquid latex and red lip balm to “mangle” one side of my face (hence all the business with the mirror). On one level, this was also an interpretation of the progression of my own feelings at being transgender, which burlesque has been a big part of helping me to come to terms with. Seeing “Phantom” on Broadway years ago was very moving for that reason, as the antihero’s physical self-loathing issues had a particular resonance … though I must admit, the Lloyd Webber music is also a guilty pleasure (Our emcee, bless her, was clearly not a fan). Hope you enjoy, anyway. All going well, one of these days I shall have enough of these clips that I need to set aside a whole new page to showcase them …

Matrix Consolations

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(In the dressing room with fellow newbie soloist Schnitzel Von Krumpet. Lovely chap, wonderful performer, and hopefully now as permanent a fixture of the Cardiff burlesque scene as I intend to be …)


In the latest chapter of what has been, on many levels, the most challenging, fulfilling, scary, and exciting year of my life, I have just ticked another dream off the “seemingly impossible fantasies” list and danced my first ever burlesque solo. Having only started with Cardiff Cabaret Club less than a year ago this may seem somewhat less than patient of me, and I did wonder whether or not I had enough technique, polish, and confidence to carry it off. Still, even allowing for the very supportive nature of the burlesque scene (audiences included), the fact that our emcee very kindly bigged me up to high heaven, the good personal friends of mine who were in the audience … at any rate, second-guessing myself is one of my main hobbies, alas, and that is never likely to change completely, but even I must concede that the response I got was, in a word, overwhelming.

Technically undeserved, I suspect, but definitely overwhelming. 😉 Well, there will be a video of it out before long, then you can judge for yourselves, as long as you are not in your workplace at the time. It is my attempt at a classic fan dance, with a Phantom of the Opera theme, set to the eerie Gothic strains of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” and I am mostly naked by the end of it save for the occasional rhinestone … Anyway, I gave it my best, I was fully prepared to fail dismally, and I somehow ended up getting a standing ovation.

Actually, could someone just let me out of the Matrix now? On second thoughts, scratch that request. Things making sense is so overrated, anyway.

On a more down-to-earth note, though, I want to thank the whole of Cardiff Cabaret Club for their emotional support and a few in particular for having helped me though the practical steps to take this plunge: our amazing teacher Foo Foo Labelle (who has long been an inspiration, and thankfully is very patient with awestruck irritating groupies …), Yvonne Evie McCracken (another inspiration, and also a huge support as an LGBT+ member of the group, who really encouraged me to ride with this idea), and last but not at all least Hadria Hellbound (seriously badass Goth member of the troupe who has been a wonderful support to me in developing the routine in studio sessions). I have rarely found clubs and groups I wanted to stick with in my dilettantish life (I’ve tried my share, usually very briefly), but I cannot see myself ever wanting to lose the combination of friendship, thrills, challenges, and self-worth that this one supplies. The next set of classes cannot come soon enough (I believe they are in two days from posting this. I guess I can just about wait that long …).

 

Brains, or words to that effect …

It is late in the day to be sharing this and probably pointless (few of my followers being local, or even UK-based), but just on the off-chance, or in case any of you are interested in my burlesquey misadventures, Cardiff Cabaret Club has a new show on the horizon with a deliciously macabre theme …

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Rather excitingly – for me, at all events – I will be doing my debut solo act at this show … and possibly also my final solo act if it turns out to be an unmitigated disaster (Do feel free to send prayers, blessings, general good vibes, etc). Hopefully not, though, as this is likely to be the last show I am able to do this year, so it would be nice to go out on a big positive note. I will continue to take my classes, however, as I have lots of ideas for future routines, and just need more polish and a better range of techniques to do them justice.

And just in case I do have any local followers and have managed to pique their curiosity, I would heartily recommend those classes (and there are quite a range of them for the coming term). The shows, the classes, and simply being part of this group has been a real blessing to me in what I can safely describe as one of the most stressful – albeit very worthwhile and defining – years of my life. It has given me a wonderful new creative outlet, exciting and challenging experiences, exercise that is actually enormous fun, a significantly improved sense of body positivity, and the friendship of some truly amazing, accepting, and supportive people. Even if I were never to perform again (not at all my preferred scenario, but even so) I would hate not to be a part of it.

Happy Halloween, and wish me luck, broken legs, and all that jazz … xxx

Album Review: “Party on, Papillon!”

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Having hugely enjoyed Anna Secret Poet’s earlier album “Tits of Steel” (as hilarious as it sounds, and a great antidote to a depressing workplace where listening to offbeat deadpan punk-poetry ought to be mandatory for mental health), I was eager to hear her latest offering, and was thoroughly entertained, amused, and really very impressed (especially as, by her own admission, recording sessions typically took place in her bedroom). This is not to to categorise it as a mere collection of comic songs – if anything, it is less overtly comical than its predecessor; darker and edgier – although fans will be pleased to know it retains the sharp, laconic wit of her earlier offerings.

Musically, the emphasis is towards a harder, more rock-oriented sound, with some particularly stunning guitar work which it is very hard to believe was mastered in a home studio (although that may account for my one criticism: as with the previous album, the lyrics can occasionally be overwhelmed by music or distortion on the heavier tracks). Anna’s singing is also very impressive, and in spite of her self-deprecation in “Limited Appeal” – a rock and roll pastiche in which she talks of having a “manly voice” – she demonstrates a remarkable vocal range on this album (especially in “The Cat That Got the Dream” – another of the album’s strong rock offerings).

Acoustic offerings are fewer on this album, although the intro and outro both take that form, and have the playful, whimsical humour that characterised much of “Tits of Steel.” Humour on the rest of this album tends to the dark side, especially with “Aunty Semitic and Uncle Adolf” (which one can’t help but feel is written very much for our current times of frightening but absurd resurgent far-right movements) and “Still Ragin’ After All These Years,” which deals with the poet’s existential crises in an ironically bouncy, happy-go-lucky arrangement that owes more than a bit to Paul McCartney (as she hilariously acknowledges, but to say more would be a spoiler). Also on the softer side of arrangements is “Anna vs The Festival” which delightfully recounts the pleasures and pains of being an itinerant performance poet and drag artist at a muddy festival.

Powerfully performed and wittily composed, testimony to its creator’s dual talent as poet and musician, “Party on, Papillon!” is a very worthy follow-up to its predecessor, and worth many listenings.

Music Review – “Arboles Lloran Por Lluvia” (Helena Tulve, 2014)

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I first encountered Helena Tulve’s work by accident, while searching through my local library’s depressingly small collection of female classical composers. A copy of her 2008 album “Lijnen” was all that this search yielded, although it justified the effort with its starkly beautiful, free-form works: part audio poetry or storytelling, part sound-scapes, each piece feeling like a journey through some compelling yet dangerous wilderness.

Her second collection is similar insofar as it builds on this style, yet an overall richer experience in texture and composition than its predecessor, as becomes quickly apparent from the first track, “Reyah hadas ‘ala” with both complex instrumentals and several vocalists (“Lijnen”, by contrast, had only one voiced track, with a haunting solo by Ariana Savall. “Arboles …” has vocals on most of its tracks, and several vocalists besides Savall). While this makes for a less tense experience than the eerie simplicities of “Lijnen”, the mood is no less haunting, yet in a more introspective way. If “Lijnen” often felt like a dangerous journey through frozen, treacherous landscapes, “Arboles …” feels like the dangerous journey into the multifaceted, treacherous psyche.

The piece opens with mournful strings, instantly reminiscent of Tulve’s earlier work, then staccato bursts of flute enter the scene like bird cries (The translated title of the piece, “The perfume of the myrtle rises”, already seems to set the scene in some mystic garden). The piece is dominated by a recurring Gregorian chant motif, with male vocalists in solemn harmony, seeming to offer the hope of serenity yet ghostly and unsettling. Flutes strike dissonant notes, and harmony between instruments and vocals is only ever achieved in uneasy, fleeting moments (The motif of complex yet competing, or somehow irreconcilable harmonies occurs throughout this album). A female vocalist then offers a new chant, heralding a change of mood: a new calmness in the instrumentals (though still with ominous undertones), with lighter melodies and trills suggestive of birdsong and dance. One could almost imagine competing tutelary spirits of this strange “psychic garden” vying for control. Ultimately, the chants loosely harmonise, and peace descends on this otherworldly space as the piece closes, although inconclusively, its troubled notes unresolved. There are no easy solutions in Tulve’s work.

The second piece, “Silences / larmes” (silences / tears), makes liberal use of silences as a device (as you might expect) and begins on a protracted one, before giving way to strings and a single oboe. These instruments are presently joined by a female vocalist (the aforementioned and inimitable Ariana Savall) whose ethereal chants interweave with the oboe melody yet do not strictly harmonise. The effect becomes of a swirling dance between the two, an elusive search for unity, reinforced by some suggestive lyrics (imagery of moths, leaves, and the strange solace of a single chime highlighting the themes of transience and mutability throughout these works). Intermittent silences break in upon the piece, while percussion effects could almost suggest waves breaking upon the shoreline, as the piece draws to a melancholy close. The effect is of exquisite vulnerability, the performers again seeming like spirits or personifications of nature, yet themselves prey to the greater forces of chaos and entropy, threatening to silence them at any given moment, perhaps eternally.

The third piece, “L’Équinoxe de l’âme” (The equinox of the soul) continues and deepens the strong metaphysical themes, taking as its basis a Sufi poem that characterises the soul as a phoenix-like entity. Its opening, in contrast to the serenity of the earlier works, is shrill and energetic, and this sense of tumult builds, with many instrumental voices seemingly vying for dominance. One could imagine it to be the psyche at is most turbulent, raw and unfocused. The faint hint of a female vocal (Savall again) enters, then builds in significance, exerting a calming and harmonising influence, strings forming around its melody. Perhaps this signifies the “dawning” spirituality bringing peace and enlightenment, or an alchemical transformation of formless elements, but (as is characteristic in Tulve’s work) the epiphany is transient, chaos and randomness returning before the piece draws to its close (although the vocal nevertheless continues to soar, phoenix-like, suggesting its influence may yet return).

Track four is the title track, “Arboles lloran por lluvia” (Trees cry for rain), and is another reflective, serene, yet melancholy piece. A silent opening tentatively gives way to strings and vocals, male and female voices echoing each other’s plaintive lyrics yet (as ever) unable to synchronise easily, overlapping yet constantly separated. The tone becomes more desperate, the lovers’ longed-for union only more elusive for its fleeting moments of harmony. It feels like a ghostly, two-way chase that will never find a lasting resolution. A simple, wistful, repeated string motif closes the work, seeming to signal a sad acceptance of the inevitable.

As an appropriate climax, the final piece, “Extinction des choses vues” (The extinction of the things seen) utilises the full orchestra and its sense of scale to dramatic effect. From a subtle opening, energy and volume soon increase as several instrumental voices build simultaneously in a long-drawn crescendo (curiously reminiscent of the orchestral bridge in the Beatles’ 1967 track “A Day in the Life”, and not dissimilar to it in terms of the effect achieved). Incompatible yet not formless, the various voices reach a peak of unbearable intensity, then tail off with high-pitched strings into near-silence. Shrill, formless notes linger in the void, until the piece finally closes on a two-note string motif (not unlike the “Jaws” hook, though eerie rather than urgent), reduced to starkest simplicity in its final moments. It is, like so much of Tulve’s work, a piece open to any number of interpretations, although the title offers provocative hints. Ultimately, it leaves the feeling either of a musical “Road to Damascus” moment – some blinding revelation that eclipses all that came before – or a musical mental breakdown, the psyche overwhelmed and laid low by its inability to find peace and reconciliation (or possibly both).

Overall, then, “Arboles …” emerges as both a logical development from Helena Tulve’s earlier work, and a hugely rewarding collection in its own right. It is far from ‘easy listening’ – its loose, constantly-evolving structures absolutely demand attention – but for those who allow themselves to be lost in its liminal, Gothic spaces, it is a beautiful if often unsettling experience.

Persephone’s Pendants

Writing, modelling, dancing, and game designing have all been uneventful subjects of late, alas, and since transitioning is pretty well done and dusted (other than ongoing speech therapy classes) there won’t be much news on that score either. However, I haven’t been a complete layabout, and here is the evidence …

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(Some examples of my work, resting on my altar.)

Persephone’s Pendants* (currently based over on Facebook) began life as another of my myriad hobbies that got out of hand. A friend of mine introduced me to various witchcrafty arts last year, including Tarot reading (which I also adore) and spellwork involving crystals. I started making pendants such as these when I was looking for a way to wear some of the crystals I had used in my spellwork. My first idea was to buy plain spiral cages, but only finding these for sale in a high street shop for six pounds apiece, I decided it would cheaper and more fun buy some wire and teach myself. Having thus made a few for my own personal use, I then decided to keep on doing it as a very small business venture.

My original intention was to start an Etsy shop, but after half of my first batch sold to friends and friends of friends within a day of being announced, I have put that on hold until I have more stock made up, and I will just be keeping in touch with potential customers through my Facebook page and possibly this blog for now. Please look out for updates there. My typical price range is £8-£10 (based on the size of stone used, and complexity of design).

I also take requests for specific stones, design types, wire types, etc. Bespoke pendants need to be priced a little higher, though, to cover the cost of sourcing specific stones (I tend to buy in batches, so I may or may not have a particular stone free to work with at any given time).

Incidentally, In case anyone else buys these for magical purposes, all stones are cleared vibrationally in my Tibetan singing bowl.


* Named less for the Greek Goddess of the Underworld and more for my burlesque stage persona

 

Two small achievements …

The ten weeks of my mandatory sick leave are now exhausted – more’s the pity, as I was getting quite used to being a lady of leisure – and I am now back at work, albeit on reduced hours: for the present, only my weekend shifts, which I can just about manage on. Still, it was a tiresome first weekend back: the workplace has never been uplifting, the job itself is repetitive and undemanding, and the only challenge is sheer physical stamina, which I am currently short on (ten weeks of mostly inertia have not left me in the best of shape). It was thus with a somewhat downbeat mood I commenced this week, and having to get a very early start on Tuesday to take a 6AM bus to London for my post-op check-up did not help matters. All I could think of was what complications the surgeon might find: I knew beforehand that I was not quite fully healed, and the prospect of further sick leave was a very slender silver lining under the circumstances. I am so ready for this all to be over and done with so I can really start to move forward with my life.

Thankfully, before 12AM that day, it was. The surgeon examined me, declared my little bit of unhealed tissue to be a very minor complication that would fix itself, and gave me the all-clear. Cue one very big sigh of relief … followed by some hours of boredom, as the coach back to Cardiff was not until 4PM, and it was too hot and humid a day to want to go sightseeing in London. For want of any better activity, I camped out in a nearby coffee shop with a couple of iced soya milk lattes and idled away the time on the internet, thus discovering that my C64 game “Valkyrie 3 – The Night Witch” which I had programmed earlier this year and submitted for an annual competition had won said competition. This was obviously my day for good news …

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So, how best to use the current state of feeling inspired before it drains away? Resuming job-hunting, for one thing. Grateful as I am to my current employer for having seen me through this far, I am not even good value for money any more in that environment, and would be better suited in a more cerebrally-oriented job (and probably happier). In any case, the weekend-heavy hours are not good for burlesque performing, which I plan to do a lot of in the future.

While I am looking for the ideal job, though, I am also planning to start an Etsy shop as soon as possible to sell handmade jewellery, and possibly even start doing Tarot readings via this blog for anyone interested, although that will be donation only. I would be very reluctant to put a price on that, and the practice itself would be valuable for me (and I’m not sure I’m that gifted a reader in any case, but we live and learn).

Having got this far, I do for once feel equal to these challenges, and convinced if I want these changes enough they will materialise. Still, all positive vibes, prayers, and blessings appreciated … xxx

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