Asni: harps and imagination - newsletter #16 - August 2008
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Hello, kia ora and welcome to the sixteenth Asni: harps & imagination newsletter!

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THE DAY I SHOT MYSELF

In this newsletter:
THE DAY I SHOT MYSELF * REHEARSALS * TAHU * TRAFFIC DETAILS

Travels in Middle-earth CD launch on 16 September at Happy in Wellington - more information
order CD *** listen *** Travelguide to Middle-earth now updated

Asni on radio! 16 September at 11 am on RadioActive (Wellington region, or catch me on the internet)

THAT GORGEOUS TRIPLE HARP IS STILL FOR SALE! - click here for more information

THE DAY I SHOT MYSELF

Ha! That got your attention. But it’s not what you think. It’s just that I seem to be taking the idea of “independent artist” to ever new levels.

So, ok, I do most everything that goes into the business of being a musician myself. I organize my own gigs, do my own tax returns, answer my own email, build and maintain my own website, produce my own CDs and sell them myself too (I even put them into envelopes most personally). I design my own publicity material and posters and CD booklets, take my own photos and do my own artwork to use on my posters and in my CD booklets, write my own liner notes and short bios and media releases (there’s people who seem to think that this is morally reprehensible – as if paying someone to make you look good in the press is somehow more modest and virtuous. But I can tell you, it’s hard work and can easily lead to mild degrees of schizophrenia. It’s also a good reason, in and of itself, to adopt a stage name – it makes the process a little less painful somehow). I’ve learned how to do my own music videos and set them up on DVD myself, and have even started to write my own music (yeah ok, that’s not really all that special but where I come from, it’s thought of as possible even more immodest and morally reprehensible than writing your own bio) – and I still actually perform it myself, too. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been running up and down Wellington posting my own posters and distributing my own flyers.

There are a few things, though, that I always thought I needed another person for. Getting your publicity photos done used to be one of them – if you’re in the shot, how are you supposed to operate the camera? Tricky. In fact this is the main reason why, up to now, I have still been using an “official” shot that, though classy and very flattering, really *is* about 15 years old by now. And I tell you, people notice. ;-)

So, thought I, for the new CD launch I really need some up to date photos. Not wanting to stretch my budget unduly, I called an ex fellow student from Natcoll who has a bit of an eye with the camera – and I thought, if she’s good with video she’ll be fine with still photos. She was all enthusiastic and willing to help, but unfortunately she belongs to that mobile phone implanted generation which appears to have lost all ability to plan their future more than an hour in advance. So, after trying for two consecutive weekends to coordinate her schedule, my sleep rhythm, and the weather, I figured what the heck, I’ll take a tripod out to Rimutaka Forest Park and do it myself. At least that way I can find some nice surroundings for a backdrop and spend as much time on the shoot as I want to, without having to worry that I am stretching someone’s generosity past the limit.

Tricky? Yes, but not impossible. It took me three sessions – one trial session on my veranda, and two trips out to the park – until I had figured out how to set up the timer, and trick the automatic zoom and exposure meter, and how to hold my head so I don’t look too silly and my double chin doesn’t show, and how to get all of my harp into frame – but I have to say, with the aid of a little Photoshop, I am quite pleased with the results (I also do my own praise myself). Have a look here.

REHEARSALS

Now that my official CD launch at Happy in Wellington on 16 September is only just over a week away, preparations are well under way, and believe it or not, they don’t only include publicity, media releases and poster posting – we have actually done some rehearsing, too! Alistair has had to cancel after all, because of other commitments (so he says, at least, but I suspect he’s just nervous about that baby which is due one week later. Well, I can’t blame him – I’d be nervous too). Henare Walmsley of Tahu has kindly offered to take over, and we’ve spent a couple of weekends working not only on the pieces that feature taonga puoro on the CD, but some extras as well. And he’ll bring his didgeridoo! I have *always* wanted to play with a didgeridoo.

So, there is something that I’m not doing all alone by myself. Which is very nice for a change.

Actually, come to think of it – just about a week after my photo self-shoot session, I had a brainwave and put an ad of my own on The Big Idea – that’s the brilliant artist networking site where I can follow current job ads in the industry, events, workshops, the latest news, and calls for film crew or final cut editors and such, all in one place. Last newsletter, I talked about that little film shoot I helped out with – I found the gig through that site. Well, thought I, what others can do I can do too. So I put up an ad for “work experience in music promotion”, promising to feed anyone who might reply, and lo! Two days later I had an email from Dominika, an aspiring photographer, who offered to help me out with my posters and flyers in return for a couple of CDs and the opportunity to take photos at the gig.

I did feed her the other day, when she came to take photos at the rehearsal and brought a friend along, and it occurred to me how long ago it is that I’ve simply sat around a kitchen table sharing some food and some stories with some like-minded people. Not since I used to live in Bremen, it almost seems! I have rather missed that.

check here for: news updates * new art & multimedia work * upcoming concerts * workshops and courses

TAHU

It is about time that I corrected my misspelling from the last newsletter and properly introduced Tahu – that is, Alistair Fraser, Henare Walmsley and Mike Hogan. Alistair, as you know, contributed some of his otherworldly taonga puoro sounds on my CD, although unfortunately he won’t be able to support me on 16 September. Henare and Mike, however, will be there – call it “Tahu redux” if you like. Mike is a rather brilliant classical guitar player, who co-writes a lot of Tahu’s repertory. Alistair and Henare are two of the younger generation people who follow in the footsteps of Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne, reviving the lost traditions of the musical instruments of the Maori people. Taonga puoro, in fact, literally means “musical treasure” or “treasure of music” – “treasure” in a spiritual rather than a material sense, as something that is precious and needs careful tending and looking after.

I had been hoping for quite a while that I’d have an opportunity to get involved with some of the people who are working on reviving taonga puoro, so I am really really pleased not only to have Alistair on my CD, but to have this opportunity to work with Tahu live. It seems like their concerns are quite similar in a lot of ways to the early music movement in Europe that I used to part of, back when it was still fresh and adventurous. Just like we did at that time, the people who build and play taonga puoro nowadays also have to dig after a lost tradition – they have only the artefacts to go by, and some traces of memories from their old people, or perhaps the odd written account from the first Europeans who came to this country – although chances are they would have perceived these sounds as disorganized noise and not as “music” in the European sense.

Besides, the sounds are absolutely magical. I am not using that word lightly – magic, enchantment, otherworldly - elvish, even - really are the words that first come to mind when I try to describe the sounds these instruments produce. Perhaps that is unfair, because in some ways the sounds are very this-wordly. They seem to occupy some space between nature noises – wind, bird calls, crickets, falling water – and structured music in the European sense. Some are explicitly imitating the call of certain birds in order to lure them, others were apparently used mainly for signalling – such as the pukaea, a long tube you blow into, rather like an alphorn. Some of the instruments are very simple – with an ancestry, in some cases, all the way back to the Stone Ages. Bone flutes, simple percussion instruments made from bone or stone, bullroarers, or just a strip of harakeke, the New Zealand flax plant. Others are elaborately carved pieces of art – especially the smaller flutes, koauau and nguru, or the larger putorino, but also the different types of bullroarers and spinning disks, porotiti and purerehua, and the trumpet-like pukaea and putatara (a conch trumpet). There are gongs that are large slabs of precious greenstone.

Most instruments produce a, by European standards, very limited range of notes. The enchantment lies in the subtlety and richness of the single sounds. Have you ever wondered just how many different pitches there are between one note and the next? How many harmonics a tone can have, and how that spectrum can flitter and change? What a piece of greenstone sounds like, or a handful of pebbles rubbed against each other, or a shell from the beach when you blow in it? A strip of flax when you tense it? A thin slab of wood or stone when you spin it?

I remember when I was a school kid I used to have this old fashioned desk lamp that consisted of a frame of hollow square metal tubes, and a couple of big metal springs that held them in place. You could produce the most eerie sounds on that contraption, by tapping the tubing or running a pen along the outside of the springs, and I’d spend half hours composing my own pieces of music for desk lamp, fascinated by all the different sounds and rhythms. It was just like a soundtrack to a horror movie! Later, I found a similar sense of playfulness and wonder at pure sound in some of the pieces by Edgar Varèse. But Varèse was a man from the Industrial Age, and his sound worlds reflect that. The old Maori must have been a people who would spend an awful lot of time just listening, listening to all the little noises in the night, the birds, the wind, the leaves, the bubbling mud pools, the trickling of rain, the sea waves.

Tahu has recently released their first CD, and I like it so much that I have decided to sell it in my shop. It will be a limited number to begin with, just to see how the demand is, but it does come highly recommended. If you've gotten curious, please go here for some Mp3 files and to order your very own copy. You’ll be supporting several good causes all at once – helping a bunch of hard working independent musicians make an income, both me and the guys from Tahu, and doing your bit towards preserving one of the rarest and strangest musical traditions on this planet.

Besides, I swear the stuff has healing powers! I went to their CD release gig a few months ago - and I wasn't feeling well, stressed or upset about something or other. There's something about these sounds - soft and subtle as they are - that is really, almost painfully penetrating. Remember that feeling when some muscle that has been cramped up for ages finally relaxes and the blood starts flowing through? Well, imagine that happening to your psyche, and you might get the idea of how their performance made me feel that night. I also had their CD on constant rotation while I was sick in bed with the flu last week (yes, it got me at last, just now that winter is practically over!) - and it made me feel all nice and relaxed, rather than incredibly stressed out that I was going to run a week late with the preparations for my CD launch (including, ahem, this newsletter).

TRAFFIC DETAILS

I was very pleased and flattered the other day to find that my media release made the front page at TheOneRing.net – complete with self-shot brand new press photo! This sort of thing tends to reflect itself immediately in my CD sales. I even sold a photo print! My photo shop has been languishing a little, and I am not quite sure what I should do to make it more attractive and boost my sales there, so I was especially pleased with that. If someone had told me, when I was a Tolkien-obsessed teenager, that one day it would be part of earning my living to sell my own photos of the real existing Middle-earth to addicts in other parts of the world, I would have thought that I would grow into a very fortunate adult indeed.

I have spent the last couple of months reading up on E-Commerce and all things internet – one of my aims is to expand my shop to include CDs and music by other people, so in that sense Tahu is playing guinea pig, to see how that goes. In the course of my reading and research, I have recently discovered Alexa.com, where I can make myself feel good about myself by comparing the traffic that my website (allegedly) gets to the traffic that other people’s websites are (not) getting. Well, ya know, ex boyfriends and such... :P

The strange thing is that according to Alexa.com, in the last couple of weeks my website has suddenly shot up from being in the top three million sites on the whole internet (which on the whole is probably not even half bad) – to being in the top 100,000, and getting my own little traffic graph! (I’m not quite sure how exactly that “top 100,000” works out though since as of today, my official traffic rank is 857 376, Which according to me makes it the top million, but not 100 000 … with an increase of 336% in the last three months, which seems pretty massive. But however that may be, I do get my own little graph and that makes me happy.)

Apparently about 90% of that traffic comes from China. There very strange thing is, none of that massive extra traffic shows up in my own web stats! The additional traffic from TheOneRing.net on the other hand I can see very clearly. It is all very, very mysterious, and I do so wonder what all those Chinese people try to find on my site? Although it could just be that I have found my lucrative market niche: I did discover a link from this page, where my site is listed under “Christmas Karaoke Songs”.

The internet can be a very, very strange place sometimes. But I guess that’s why we love it!

Arohanui, from Asni

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