Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
Travel Tales, part II
ASNI GOES DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3
Now also on iTunes! Search for "Asni the Harper"
: Middle Earth New Zealand photo calendar 2012
Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography
- In this newsletter:
- *** Catching Up
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Cool Things Friends Do: Saksagan
- *** Travel Tales: Yorkshire & Cardiff
After last month's lengthy ramble on Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, I promise to keep this newsletter short(-ish). Here in the Wairarapa, it's all been buckling down to work, trying to catch up with all the things that have been left lying about while I was away traveling. My furniture and boxes of books and sound recordings have arrived from Germany – meaning, my place is a mess and I need to find a space for all the stuff I've been quite happily living without for the past eight and a half years. Even though the shipment included some much-missed Ikea shelves (bless them), still the shelf space somehow never seems enough. And I'd hate for this place to start feeling cluttered.
The two things I am really happy to have back, are my dear old custom-built bike – now that spring has sprung! – and my Spanish cross-strung harp. To my relief, it did arrive all in one piece, and I even have found a few minutes here and there to start tuning it back up to pitch. Seeing that I've also been busy getting my hands on every Bob Dylan and Joan Baez song book in the library (there are quite a few), I can't wait to wrap my fingers around those songs. I bet they will work just fine – turns out old man Dylan is quite a fan of that old descending tetrachord, sometimes known as the chacona or passacaglia … most familiar territory, that.
I'm also running behind with showing off all those images I took in Europe, so I'll take the liberty to skip right to the end of the trip, and post some pictures from in and around Berlin. Coming back to Germany after all those years, was weird. The place has become virtually unrecognizable. There was a rather uncommonly *friendly* vibe from most people I had to deal with – including the dread bureaucrats at the dread Office for Retirement Matters (yes, one is getting on in age)! Even the fact that I was able, in the one week I had available, to not only organize the shipment of my boxes and things, but also sort out what needed to be sorted out about my future retirement claims, tells me that something must have changed.
Then, there are wind turbines everywhere. And listening to the radio one day, I heard it casually mentioned that there now is no compulsory military service any more. Feels like every item we had on our agendas when my 16 year old self was active in the peace movement and marching in the streets for disarmament, and the shutting down of nuclear power plants, has meanwhile been addressed. One might almost think that one could have stayed there. Well, if they'd also clean up all the air and all the water … and get rid of a lot of those cars and several of those Autobahnen … and finally allow people who have lived there for three generations to become citizens without having to sever the bond with their family's countries … Still, it's nice to feel that whatever minuscule influence my own involvement might have had, it hasn't been all for nothing. Makes me go all weepy just to think of it. One tends to forget the constant presence of fear that the world might end any minute at the touch of a button, which I and the people my age all grew up with.
My mother's 75th birthday was pretty low key: We drove downtown to where one can walk along the river Spree through the newly built government quarters – the part of the inner city that used to the barren wasteland on both sides of the Wall. The plan was to catch a boat ride, but somehow that didn't happen, so we just went for a walk from the Tiergarten round by Friedrichstrasse and back through the Brandenburg gate. I hadn't seen any of the new government quarter buildings they've put up where the Death Strip used to be. It's all very futuristic, but in a light, airy way, with lots of glass and mirrors – buildings that camouflage their imposing massiveness by reflecting the sky and surroundings. Much preferable, I think, to the deliberately oppressive architecture of power and money one can see, for instance, in the London Docklands. Looks like the city is finally beginning to heal, after all those years.
Given all the traveling around, and organizing of stuff, I was doing, there was precious little time to just do things in Berlin. One afternoon, I met my online friend Cathy Hiley (Margaret's sister), who just happened to be in Berlin, for a very cultivated cup of tea at a specialty tea place near our mutual former homes in Schöneberg, and afterwards went for a long walk through the old familiar streets taking photos of things and people that caught my eye. I eventually wound up at Potsdamer Platz, but that's when either my battery or my memory stick ran out, so I had a cocktail at Billy Wilder's instead, downstairs from the Filmakademie and opposite the Berlinale head offices, for old time's sake. Then I went to admire Berlin's very own spanking new Boulevard of the Stars, and was delighted to spot Asta Nielsen there, among a few other more or less well known names and signatures – I hadn't been aware that she'd had a connection to the city, too. She, and Marlene, of course.
My favourite day in (or around) Berlin was the day my parents and I drove out to the weavery in Geltow, which my parents had discovered some time ago, and bought things from on and off – some of the linen fabrics you can see in my still life paintings came from there. They'd sent me a link to their website, and I'd read about the history of the place, which is quite fascinating, so I was curious to see it with mine own eyes. I thought perhaps I might learn a thing, too. What I learned was that attitudes toward customer service are slow in changing … but my mother, who really wanted to buy me a present, bought me a beautiful hand woven linen shirt for a ridiculous amount of money, but then again, if there was a chance I'd ever have grandchildren, they would probably still be able to wear it. No "made in a sweat shop in China" stuff, this.
Afterwards, we had lunch at the Fährhaus in Caputh. Caputh is a place I had long been curious about, because it is the home of some White Lady or Water Woman who figures in a favourite local tale I had read as a child – but for the longest time I lived in Berlin, it was just out of reach behind that Wall. The Fährhaus was an all around success: The summer tables are on a sunny verandah right by the waterside, and their menu is all traditional local foods, which turned out to be generous portions of very well prepared food. I had chanterelles. I don't know how long it has been since I've had chanterelles. I don't know how long it will be until I will have chanterelles again. But I'll survive. Somehow.
Before driving home, we went for a stroll along the arm of the river Havel which links the Templiner See and Schwielowsee. This is very much the landscape of my childhood weekends, when we used to go kayaking on those parts of the river Havel which were inside West Berlin. It was my last day – we'd sent my shipment of boxes and things on its way the day before, and I was going to take the plane back to New Zealand next morning – but as perfect days go, this came pretty close.
News & Current Projects
Asni the Harper is going digital download, and is looking for reviewers! Have you bought (or been given), listened to and liked my Travels in Middle-earth CD, recently or in the past? Would you be interested in submitting a customer review? That would be a *great* way for you to support this starving artist, and much appreciated! You can submit a review to Amazon.com or any of the other Amazon sites in the region and language of your preference (search for "Asni Travels in Middle Earth") – or to CD Baby (this requires having, or opening an account there). The complete album, as well as each individual track, are now also available on iTunes. Yay! Search for "Asni the Harper" or "Travels in Middle-earth", that'll get you there.
When I signed my Travels in Middle-earth album up on CD Baby for digital distribution, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew there is some groundswell of awareness and interest out there, from the number of people who follow my Facebook page or play songs on my Myspace profile – ok, the numbers may not be terribly impressive compared to some better known artists, but bear in mind that I have been completely out of the performance circuit for the last five years or so, and am hiding away on an island at the edge of the known world. It wouldn't be surprising if my page views and song plays were verging toward zero. They don't.
As far as sales go, I just got my second payment of 20 odd US $ from CD Baby, which may not seem like a lot, but it's actually working out better than I expected. I was going to hold back signing up my 700 Years of Pop CD until I had recouped the signup fee for the first album, but seeing that at this stage, I am only some 10 dollars short, I might actually go ahead and do it in time for the holiday season. I'm still working on earning back the production costs for the Travels in Middle-earth CD, three years later, so I'm relieved to find that this time, it looks like it won't take quite so long to break even. Interestingly enought, the most popular track (by quite a margins) was the theme tune from "The Piano", not any of the Lord of the Rings related tracks – though my own piece Elvish Hymn was among the individual tracks that people bought. I even got a "Best Seller rating" on Amazon! #182 839. Well, you know … at least I have a rating! :D
One person bought a physical copy of the album from Amazon. I know that because a) they're "currently out of stock" (they only ever had one copy), and b), the German guy who bought it sent me an email to say how he thought it was awesome, and if there was some sheet music available for those songs. I have written back to say that yes, I am thinking of publishing more sheet music, and to ask if he would like to submit a customer review? – Do I hear someone mumbling something about a "paradigm shift in the music industry" or something? Well, looks like I've had my nose in the wind all along – just shouldn't have listened to any of those idiots who think that there is money in being a secretary. :S
If I needed any more proof that the business of digital downloads, or physical products distributed via online stores on the basis of content provided by artists such as myself (be it music or artwork), is where things are heading these days: Some weeks ago I had an email from some people in Berlin (of all places), who are setting up a new artist print-on-demand service, and invited me to join up. They'd seen and liked my DeviantArt portfolio, they said. Evidently, it is good enough business for them to go and actively hunt down the people who can provide the content without which they would not have a business (take that, snotty so-called business advisor people). I'm currently in the process of setting up my profile there – I'll report on how that goes!
I've also got a new shop product to announce: the series of still life watercolour paintings I did over the last year, is now available as a greeting card box set: "Four Seasons" can be ordered here. I have also put the original of the Autumn Still Life up for sale, it is available through my Etsy shop. Calendars and CDs are also available there, or through my online shop. And I've just broken even on this year's Middle Earth New Zealand calendar production! That's way earlier than previous years.
I've been doing quite a bit of programming this month, setting up an image gallery and content management system for the website I am currently working on. I'm also working on a new digital illustration, which isn't quire ready to show yet, and I've recorded some music, which needs to be cut and processed – all things I am looking forward to working on next month, and hopefully show off in the next newsletter.
The one painting I did manage to complete this month, is a quick photoshop sketch of one of the beautiful spring flowers in my garden. Spring is sprung, after all, and that means the garden work has started up again, too. I have been pruning my peach tree, cleaning up my hedge, and digging new beds for the new spring planting. And it's time to mow the lawns again! The first of the lettuce is in the growing, and I am looking forward very much to change back to fresh greens, after a winter of pickled vegetables, sauerkraut and chutney, and several gallons of deep frozen apple sauce … and whatever I could trade my remaining walnuts for at the Featherston local veggie swap, which I have been credited with instigating. I didn't feel it was such a big deal suggesting it on the Featherston Facebook page, but it seems to have caught on well, and if they want to credit me for it, hey! I don't mind being a local hero. :D
Cool Things Friends Do: Melih Sangöl, aka Saksagan
Time I started up my series of art features again! — I stumbled across Saksagan's gallery one day quite by accident, while browsing DeviantArt – and quickly became a huge fan of his work. It's truly unique in its combination of 20th century abstract art – Paul Klee comes to mind! – with the ancient traditions of oriental miniature painting, and a hint of Japanese woodcuts. Very different from most of the things that get posted on that website!
I was surprised to learn that Saksagan – or Melih Sangöl, his real life name – is not an art student or practising professional. His art is easily up there in terms of quality and originality, as well as sheer beauty. He tells me he is a mechanical engineer, and I can see the influence of his day job in his subject matter: the infrastructure of our daily lives, powerlines and washing lines, houses and roads, bridges and ships. Lately, he has done some great pieces based on maps. His work is hovering between the abstract and the representational in a really interesting way – did I say that his work reminds me of Paul Klee? – but he never comes across as an imitator. His older paintings show clear influences of early 20th century European art, but his more recent pieces remind me, most of all, of woven tapestries, in their repetitive motives and rich monochrome colours. Or perhaps they remind me of music.
In his own words: "Why do I paint has no abstract answer - because I get lost in it easily? I dunno - but moreover I feel like the paintings are becoming visible through me - so I am not the one to blame." – "My influences are ancient miniatures, traditional Japanese painting mixed in the modern chaos we live everyday. Watercolour can flow into the scene via smooth transmission - that's what I like about it - but also on some walls acrilic is present."
Some painters he cites as influences are Mehmet Siyah Kalem (an "ancient painter of the demons from shamanistic times of Middle Asia"), the 19th century Japanese woodcut artist Hokusai, modern Turkish artists Abidin Dino and Fikret Mualla, as well as Northern European painters Hieronymus Bosch, Vincent van Gogh and Egon Schiele ("and many others").
Asked if the city we see in so many of his paintings is Istanbul, where he lives, he says: "Yes, Istanbul had been haunting me all the time - inevitably some pieces of the city I am born in are popping out to the surface - but the perception of landspace as layers is developed in Bulgaria I think - thanks to my travels".
Saksagan has no personal website, and I am not sure if his work is for sale – if you are interested in his work, best contact him through his DeviantArt gallery, saksagan.deviantart.com
Yorkshire and Cardiff: photo diary, part II
Trying to decide which places north of Cambridge to go in the UK, in the four days I had available after my visit to Margaret in Rutland, was not an easy choice. In the end, I decided that the two places I did not want to die without having seen, were the home of the Brontë sisters in Yorkshire, and Cardiff, of Torchwood and Doctor Who fame. Yeah, I am that way.
So I took the train from tiny Oakham station in Rutland, to Leicester, where I had just enough time to walk across the city center and inspect the cathedral from the outside (I've seen more fascinating cathedrals), then find the bus station and figure out which of these coaches was going to take me to Bradford (a bit of a mission!), where I then hopped on the local bus service to Haworth and found the youth hostel. To my delight, they put me up in a tiny little attic room all for myself. Luxury, as shoestring travel goes!
By the time I got there, the sun was preparing to set, and I realized that I had completely forgotten about the matter of eating, so I coaxed the youth hostel staff into cooking me up some fish and chips half an hour after kitchen closing time (bless them!), and tested the local ale. Then I went out for a hike to check the surroundings and see if I could find the parsonage (without a map) – which I completely failed to do, but I did manage to wind up standing outside closed doors when I got back to the hostel a couple of hours later, and had to bellring the poor put-upon staff out of their tv chair. Haworth ain' t London. I had forgot.
It was a nice walk anyway, and at least it saved me wandering off in the wrong direction the next morning. Having learned my lesson the previous evening, I prioritised the matter of breakfast – turned out that last night, I had given up just short of hitting the Haworth downtown eateries, so I randomly picked one of the joints offering breakfast. The "small" breakfast turned out to be a solid plate full of egg, bacon, sausage and baked beans, which would keep me going for a good long while. When I remarked to the friendly shop keeper (everyone in Yorkshire calls each other "love"), that I wondered what his "big" breakfast would be like, he proudly patted his substantial belly and told me: "you don't get that size by eating small portions, love." The day was definitely coming off to a promising start. :D
If you want to understand what the Brontë sisters are all about, do go and visit Haworth. I'd read about their father's parsonage, where they spent most of their lives, and about the nearby graveyard. But nothing can give you a sense of the oppressiveness of the place, like actually being there. These girls grew up and lived *in* a graveyard – graves encroach right up to the house, and it's not your peaceful blossomy graveyard either. Haworth in the 19th century was very much a working people's parish, a coal mining district with an unhealthy water supply, and the graveyard, in the Brontë's time, was busy. It's still evident today that the place is completely overcrowded. Apparently at the time, the bodies didn't decompose fast enough to put new graves on top. It must have stunk.
Imagine what living in such oppressive surroundings would do to a bunch of highly sensitive and imaginative kids. No wonder they ran off to the freedom and clean windy air of the surrounding moorlands every possible occasion! I was put in mind of the episode of the "red room" at the beginning of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, and the senseless childhood terror Jane feels. It all suddenly made so much more sense – and so did the morbid obsessions of Emily Brontë's Heathcliff.
After a rest at one of the Haworth pubs which used to be frequented by the Brontë men (I tested some more local ale, and did a sketch), a hike took e to some of the moorland places the sisters used to visit. After walking through and along bright green sheep pastures for a while, eventually the cultivated land gives way to heather and bracken – just they way you've read about in their books. The path descends into a river gorge, to a place where a brook falls down a small waterfall and joins the larger stream. There is a chair-shaped boulder right at the confluence, which reputedly was where Emily Brontë liked to sit and think, or dream.
If there are fairies still around in those parts, this is where I would go looking for them. The hollow, invisible from the surrounding hills until one descends into it, is filled with fluttering green and the sound of water, far away from the village and its awful graveyard. But most of all, it put me in mind of Tolkien's Rivendell – there even is one of those railless stone bridges crossing the stream. Did he know the place? Did he have it in mind, or something similar? One wonders what the connection might be. Gondal and Gondor, Angria and Arnor always seemed too much of an alliteration to be entirely coincidental.
Continuing on, back up the hill on the other side, the hike finishes at a deserted homestead which may have provided some of the inspiration for Emily's Wuthering Heights – not so much the building itself or what is left of it, but its situation, isolated on the moorlands near a hilltop, a few miles from the nearest village and only accessible on foot. I had a belated lunch there of some pies and a curd tart, a local specialty I had bought earlier at the bakery.
I had taken my time coming there, taking lots of photos along the way, so now the afternoon was getting late, and compared to the summer heat in London, it was quite chill to sit outside in the draft with my sweaty clothes on. I kept a steadier pace on the way back – though I still managed to squeeze in another quick sketch of the moorlands – but by the time I got back to Haworth, I was walking on the flesh of my teeth, as the saying goes. I managed to locate a supermarket to buy me cheap dinner, but perhaps caving in to the temptation of a "special offer" to buy some more of the excellent local ale to test, wasn't the best of all ideas I've ever had …
The next morning, I had an early start to catch the local bus back to Bradford, where I would catch the local train to Leeds, where I would catch the express train to Manchester, where I would change to the long distance service to Wales (good thing I'd been able to leave most of my luggage behind in London!). I got up a little too early even, and wound up on earlier trains than I had booked, and got into an argument with one of the conductors, who said he had to fine me for being on the wrong train from Leeds to Manchester. After my firm protestations that I had asked at the station, and been told my ticket was ok to use on the earlier service, he somehow found out that the fine was zero pounds zero. :rolls eyes:
The train trip from Manchester to Cardiff takes you down along the Welsh border, through some of the prettiest of the English counties: Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire – before crossing into foreign country just before Newport. Among other things, the train line goes right past the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, some way out of Manchester. That was a treat!
By the time I got to Cardiff, I was feeling somewhat under the weather. Between the long plane trip from New Zealand, lack of time for jetlag in London, the abrupt chill of the Yorkshire highlands and the exertions of the previous day (and perhaps a *little* too much of the good ale), and the extremely chill air condition on the train, I was beginning to come down with one of those dread colds.
I wasn't going to have it spoil my late afternoon in Cardiff though – after dropping my things off at the (very tidy and friendly) backpacker's reasonably close to the station, I took the bus down to Cardiff Bay to see with mine own eyes the site of the "Torchwood Hub" and the "Rift" in space in time that supposedly makes Cardiff such a hotspot for "alien activity". First, though, I went in search of the Doctor Who exhibition supposedly to be found at the Red Dragon Centre, hoping to catch it just in time before closing time, but either it had shut down, or I didn't find it.
Instead, I dropped in at Craft in the Bay and had a look around, which was probably time better spent anyway. The place is run by the Maker's Guild in Wales – looks like the Arts & Crafts movement is a strong tradition there, much like it is in New Zealand. Then I proceed to the Millennium center and the square in front of it, famous to millions of sci-fi fans. The "Rift" is actually there: it's a tall column of mirrors which dominates the centre of the square, reflecting and distorting whatever goes on around it, and it's easy to see why they would locate their "Torchwood Hub" at the feet of it (I think I did see some people looking for the pavement stone that conceals the elevator, but by the time I got there they had gone).
Cardiff is a port town with a friendly vibe, not unlike Wellington – at least on a sunny early summer day! I ambled through the foyer of the concert hall extravaganza which is the Millennium Centre, and on down to the seaside, where I found the only explicit evidence of Torchwood fandom: a memorial to Ianto Jones, where fans from all over the world have left their mementoes, expressions of grief, and protests against the "random killing of fictional characters". I love this fandom thing. If people use this as an outlet to be subversively absurd and creative, then hey, we need more of that. Way more of that, and less of art *business* cramming stuff down our throats, if you ask me. We also need a lot more coffee making male secretaries (whether they be gay or not) on public television – if you ask me!!! So yes, I'm all for resurrecting Ianto, whatever it takes. :D
Cardiff: Ianto Jones memorial and waterfront
The next day, it became evident that I was getting really sick, so I had to forego the pleasure of checking out the Pre-Raffaelite art and other 19th century historicizing extravaganza which I had been promised to find at Cardiff Castle – more the pity. From the travel guide I consulted, it sounded like Cardiff would be very much my kind of place! Still, I've seen enough to know that if BBC Wales ever happens to offer me a job, I would definitely consider relocating there. Not least because the bus fare to London is only 6 £! The people at the backpacker's let me lie on the sofa in the common room until it was time to catch the bus at 5 pm, and I stocked up on vitamins and Lemsip on the way there. Once in London, fortunately all I had to do was free my suitcase from its locker in the basement of the hostel I was staying at, do some re-packing, beg the café staff downstairs for some hot water to brew my healthy tea, and collapse into bed to catch the 7.30 am Eurostar to Belgium the next morning. But more of that in the next newsletter!
Arohanui, from Asni