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Quick Update

Alea iacta est, or words to that effect … Preliminaries and assessments are all done, and the surgery date is confirmed for April 11, and I will be admitted to Charing Cross Hospital the day before. Apprehensive as I am about my first ever trip to an operating theatre, prolonged stay on a hospital ward, after care, enema (time off work notwithstanding, you couldn’t easily sell this as a package holiday concept), the fact that everything has gone bizarrely well this year gives me faith. My transition is even running slightly ahead of what seemed a very optimistic Tarot reading that my friend did for me last year, which suggested I’d be “seen to” in the second half of 2018. Not to complain, if the Goddess sees fit to clear the schedule a bit early …

Tickets all booked, now just counting down the days. There will be some hard weeks ahead, but the future beyond is looking brighter than ever.

 

 

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Music Review – “Lijnen” (Helena Tulve, 2008)

Haunting, sonoristic contemporary classical suite.

lijnen

This subject may have come up before, and I have no wish to reignite political debates on this blog, but suffice it to say it was only after transitioning that I realised what an indifferent feminist I had been before transitioning, and set about looking for ways to amend that, both in activism and in my personal and cultural life. While my bookshelves already have quite a decent gender balance, my music collection proved to be depressingly male-heavy, and particularly my classical music collection. Female composers to this day, alas, do not seem to figure much at all in the popular image of this field, and I struggled to locate many in the classical CD section of Cardiff Library, but I did manage to locate this example.

“Lijnen” (lines) is the work of Estonian composer Helena Tulve, and I ought to perhaps stress right now that I am in no way, with my “D” grade in GCSE music, qualified to review a classical CD, but here is my laywoman’s attempt …

The comparison that most strikes me with this album is with the “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” (1960) by Penderecki, which used a free-form sonoristic style to generate a sense of pain and catastrophe fitting to the subject matter. Tulve’s work follows a similar technique, with very little percussion, and that used only to generate specific effects, emotively and dramatically, rather than to generate any sense of rhythm and form. The main sounds one will hear in this album are woodwind, strings, and a haunting vocal in the second track, generating a very ethereal mood. “Soundscapes” would be a good word for the overall effects, and the album art gives a hint to the type of audio geography in store (and possibly to the title, the skeletal winter trees composing a harsh vista of mere “lines”).

The first piece, “À travers” (through), starts the album off on a Gothic note that will be sustained throughout, seeming to conjure that desolate yet threatening landscape of the cover art, and pulling us on a journey through it. Amidst the purely atmospheric noises of strange, alarming bells and ominous bass tones, a solo clarinet plays a forlorn melody, but it meanders and seems lost in its way, confused. Strings almost seem to echo it. Do they perhaps suggest pursuers, or merely imagined threats? The piece ends harshly, as if in shock or fright.

The second, title piece, “Lijnen,” is dominated by the vocal, which maintains the ghostly mood. It is a beautiful theme, but refuses to be pinned down, with sudden shifts of volume and intensity, almost suggestive of tides, winds, or other such unpredictable forces of nature. This dissonance and capriciousness undercuts any sense of serenity, and leave the listener ill at ease. It is almost like listening in on some esoteric witchcraft taking place in the depths of this frozen wood.

This is followed by “Öö” (night), in which saxophones now take over, although anyone expecting a sudden shift to cheery jazz will be sorely disappointed … They seem to resonate from the distance, atonally, like warning foghorns or plaintive cries. That mood continues into “Abysses” where flutes and other woodwind instruments seem (fittingly) to cry out of the abyss, competing to be heard over each other, their crescendos evocative of despair.

“Cendres” (ashes) is next in line, and introduces a harsh, jangling piano to the ensemble, its staccato, minor key notes perhaps suggestive of chattering teeth, and certainly evocative of cold and danger. Music now comes in fits and starts, with bursts of energy and urgency, and scraping strings that play into the subject matter (Is the traveller attempting, but failing to sustain the fire that may keep her from freezing to death?).

Finally, “Nec Ros Nec Pluvia” (nor dew, nor rain) pays homage to the Vulgate Bible with its title (referencing 2 Samuel 1:21, where David curses the mountain after finding the body of King Saul, killed in battle), while its anguished, unpredictable strings evoke grief, despair, and confusion. Again, they will not be pinned down, but seem to follow their own wilful, emotive melodies. The arrangement (for string quartet) is raw and minimalist. Elaborate orchestration would detract from the effect of these forlorn, screeching mourners.

I am, in conclusion, very pleased to have discovered this. It is certainly not “easy listening,” (if anything, it is designed to be unsettling and disconcerting, with an overarching eeriness) but as interesting Gothic mood music goes, I can see myself coming back to it very frequently. Eschewing traditional formalities, Tulve gives her music a primal, elusive, emotional quality while retaining enough sense of internal logic and structure to hold the listener’s attention (or mine, at all events). if you are in the mood for something darkly original, I would certainly give it a whirl.

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Surgery Date

Not much to say really but the self-evident: I have been set a surgery date at the bizarrely early-seeming time of April 11, and will be coming off my hormones in only a week from now (Not especially looking forward to that, but needs must). This will be a manic month, but by June everything will be over and done with. In only three years I will have transitioned, well under the current average. I am so totally blessed, I keep wondering where the stab in the back will come from, pardon my cynicism. 😉

Thank you to all of you who have supported and encouraged me throughout this. I will probably drop off the radar briefly, but I expect to have WiFi in the hospital (and very little to do during a week on the ward), so I will certainly report on the outcome. All is looking extremely positive right now, though.

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Album Review: “Tits of Steel”

A brilliantly eclectic combination of performance poetry and punk …

I was lured to this album by C. T. Herron’s glowing review that gave me very high expectations for it, and they were not disappointed … much to my relief, as Anna has been a supporter of this blog since its early days, so it is really nice to be able to write of her work with heartfelt praise.

I should point out, though, that the title claim of Track 4, “I Don’t Know Any Funny Songs,” is a blatant lie, or at any rate unwarranted modesty, as this album is a masterpiece in ironic wit. There seems to be something about Celtic accents that lend themselves nicely to that, so that we can hardly concur when Anna sings later on the album, “I wish I was French but I’m Scottish instead.” (Track 7, “Anna en Francais”) Somehow, her combination of pithy satire and utter surrealism just wouldn’t be the same without her dry, laconic, Glaswegian tones.

Which is not to say that the album is purely an exercise in comic poetry. The musicianship is stunning right from the first, heavy rock track, and continues to show versatility throughout, seamlessly tackling hilarious pastiches of reggae, techno, and funk. The only criticism I could make is one of mastering, in that sometimes the music overwhelms the lyrics, although that would well just be the fault of my inadequate setup (so do try to listen to this on decent sound equipment, as it deserves, rather than a phone speaker or a pair of cheap Flying Tiger headphones).

The whole album was an absolute pleasure for me, but if I had to select highlights, I would probably go for “I Don’t Know Any Funny Songs” (an acoustic number and, as mentioned, a total inaccuracy), “Anna en Francais” (witty, surreal, and all-too-easy for this struggling student of French to sympathise with), and “Catch The Tiger” (which starts off as a series of bizarre self-help style affirmations to a driving, upbeat tune, then turns a corner into something downbeat and ironic, which appeals so totally to my inner cynic).

This is a stunning independent production, the skill and variety of the music perfectly complementing Anna’s wickedly amusing lyrics. The very easily offended might not care for it, but I have no hesitation recommending it to everyone else.

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Album Review: “Pesticide”

Having recently received some lovely reviews on my own work, I feel the time has come to share some of the love around, so the next few posts will be reviews of works I have recently discovered and felt were deserving of a wider audience. To commence, a punk-Goth album by an independent local (as in Welsh) band …


“Pesticide” (by Clusterfuck)

pesticide

I should state, for the sake of honesty, that the founder, drummer, and producer of this band is one of my best and oldest friends, and also one of the nicest people I know and one of the first people to support me in my transition, so pardon me if I am a little biased … That said, I can impartially state that I know few people so committed to their art, so perfectionist in their instincts (I have seen him lose faith in and abandon many a promising track, or take great persuasion to release them), and so wonderfully eclectic in their tastes, with musical influences ranging from The Sex Pistols and Daft Punk, to lesser-known 1950s Rockabilly idols, to contemporary classical composers such as Giacinto Scelsi and Arvo Pärt. This commitment and eclecticism is reflected in his latest album project, the second with this particular band following the almost-as-good “Dear Mortal,” (or visit here to listen online) but I would call this a definite artistic progression, more unified in its structure).

It opens on a epic note with “Reach Out,” with soaring vocals reminiscent of the interludes on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” although by and large this album is far ‘punkier’ than it is ‘proggy’. At any rate, though, it makes for a striking overture, and an impressive lead into the first actual song of the album; “Paranoia.” This piece is as dark as its name suggests and one of the album’s highlights, with a sinister, driving techno beat accompanying the eerie lyrics and the whispering ‘inner voices’ chorus. The Gothic mood continues in tracks such as “Death Begins” and the instrumental “We Are the Void,” the latter in particular being another highlight, its dark electronic rhythms being varied by haunting harmonica fills that seem to echo out of the void (appropriately). Also in this mood – and another of the album’s finest offerings – is their cover version of T. Rex’s “Get It On.” It somehow fits seamlessly into the group’s musical and vocal style, carried along by some beautifully haunting guitar work.

Other tracks, especially to the midsection of the album set a lighter, more relaxed mood, especially the infectiously catchy “Besties,” “Electric Distortion,” (a track on synesthesia, the vivid lyrics delivered in a comically deadpan fashion by the guest vocalist), and the wickedly satirical yet outrage-inducing “Trumped,” consisting mostly of ‘lyrics’ culled from the 45th US President’s most reprehensible statements, along with well-chosen mocking, comically-timed samples. One would love to imagine him hearing it … The satirical mood becomes much darker in the final tracks, with “Money” and “Tazer” dealing with poverty, prostitution and police brutality, but it all concludes on a mercifully upbeat track with “Death Race.”

With tremendous energy, variety, a social conscience, a wicked sense of humour, and a remarkably strong production (especially considering its humble origins, with no big studio or equivalent backing), I have no hesitation in recommending this (with the sole caveat that their language can be quite strong … as the band name itself implies). On a final note, here is me in some rather old footage (taken around 2015) being in a music video for their first album …

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Transgender trend ‘School resource pack’ – A teacher’s perspective

Much as I normally keep this blog apolitical, I will make an exception for this, as it strikes close to home. Recently, a group known as “Trangender Trend” (immediately setting off alarm bells) produced a rather slick-looking PDF brochure titled, rather disingenuously, “Supporting gender non-conforming and trans-identified students in schools“: disingenuously, as even a cursory read of the thing will quickly inform one that said “support” consists of discouraging children from socially transitioning at school, and promoting a scaremongering view that greater trans visibility is some sort of dread social epidemic and an intentional, ideological war designed to erase lesbian and gay identities (The author seems convinced that trans children would be better off being encouraged to grow up as gender nonconforming gay people, equating sexual preference and gender identity in a way that totally ignores the fact that trans people have as wide a variation of sexualities as cis people). As someone who was once a trans child in the 1990s, too scared to come out at that young age for knowing that there was no support or protection available, it is deeply harrowing to read such a supposedly well-intentioned work that aims to take us back to that time, just when it is becoming possible for trans children in school to be their true selves (and thus not waste many years of their lives trying to fit in with someone else’s idea of ‘normal’).

On the positive side, however, the responses I have seen to this document by actual teachers have thus far been less than impressed, and here is a particularly trenchant example …

via Transgender trend ‘School resource pack’ – A teacher’s perspective

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Musical Interlude

The next proper post I plan to make will be a review of albums by some friends of mine who have helped support my morale over these last three years … so these reviews will be predictably favourable, but I shall make every effort to justify that artistically. 😉 That will require some thought and careful listening of said albums, so I don’t feel quite ready to tackle that just yet. In the meantime, on the subject of music, here is some low-fidelity video of me murdering some J S Bach …

(Apologies for all the pauses: the music was on my screen, and needed scrolling on. I was feeling too cheap to buy a proper score book.)