Vodka and Cigarettes

Olga’s rose garden is rectangular, about as long as a man standing.  Her man is lying down.  She brings him a glass of water, a glass of vodka, a cup of hot coffee, and she lights his cigarette.  The smoke curls up into the shady corner of the Armenian cemetery.  She pours water all over the flowering plants that clothe the concept of him, and she wails – what a beautiful love we had! 50 years together, so much love… a good man, such a good man.  He passed on the 8th of January.  New Year was wonderful.  So much joy.  But we didn’t know it would be THE LAST new year.  Oh, milichka!  You are crying with me!?

And yes, I am crying.  So we cry.  A warm salty flow, arms around each other’s shoulders, two women who have just met, in the middle – the place where we are all the same.  Two women, gazing at the smoke from that cigarette, stuck upright in the fresh earth, a steaming coffee cup, decorated with flowers, in amongst the real flowers, on a young grave, and that morning sun, glinting off the water, into the vodka.  They came to escape the war.  And now she is here.  And he is there.  I leave her to speak with him.

_Olga Platcha 1

After strolling in this cemetery for quite some time, I come away feeling like I have met a whole collection of extraordinary, ordinary beings.  Having gazed into their eyes.  Through the veil of time.  Having mused over their absence/presence.  Potent people.  Each life.  All of us, perfectly mortal.  The power of ephemeral beauty – the living lichen, the cracked resin, the fading details, replaced by new detail.  This girl falling in love with strangers she will never meet, but somehow already knows…

Anonymous portraits from the Armenian Cemetery, Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

_Woman 1

_Woman 3

_Boy

 

_Woman 2_Man 1

 

_Young Man_Baba

THE

Gutter 1Quoting Roots Manuva:

“You’ll be nothing – you’ll end up sweeping the streets, Rodney! Well, what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t I sweep the road if I want to? A teacher should have no right to say anything like that. What’s more important – a judge or a road-sweeper? We need both! Every other person wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer – shouldn’t we just want every person on earth to be educated? Then everything else should take care of itself…”



Street-sweepers are an important part of the calm here in Plovdiv. They grace each morning with their fluorescent vests, always too big, over colorful gypsy clothes. The sound of the brooms is soothing compared to the hideous leaf-blowing machines we get in NZ. Skrp, skrp, skrp… they don’t look up. But neither do others. Crossing eyes for the sake of a silent hello is not something you do here. The leaves, the berries, the cigarette butts – all disappear before breakfast.

Drawing parallels between assigned values in society and assigned values in music. Singing in a language that you don’t (at first) understand, gives each vowel, consonant, syllable, word, phrase… equal value. That is part of the attraction – it is just music! All of it.

When I write lyrics myself and come to sing them, however, I tend to prioritize some words, at the cost others. For example, ‘the’.  An untapped sound potential?  Or a hair stuck on your tongue, followed by a sort of guttural grunt? (Particularly if we are allowing ourselves to sing with a Kiwi accent…)

Actually, this incarnation of the vowel ‘e’ is not so far removed from the ‘ъ’ (er-golyam) in Bulgarian language – which I have had to learn to sing with beauty, as there is no discrimination upon which vowel you might be landed with, to ornament properly.  The focus remains on bringing beauty and flow to ALL the vowels, treating them as the precious flesh of the music that they are.

A vowel isolation exercise I use – (sing your song without consonants) – reveals the color, placement, density and direction of each unique vowel. Things, that in the consonant clutter, would go by unnoticed. With this lucidity in hand, we are able to remedy hiccups in the flow, un-obstruct the vowels and ultimately, bring more joy through the music.

Intrigued by the THE train of thought, I decided to have a jam on it – Listen to it here

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SERIOUS FUN

ON THE THEME OF EASE in singing, life and other creative processes.  Should it be easy? Should it FEEL easy?  And if yes, is there a certain quantity of ‘hard’ work required before the sense, sight and sound of ease, appears?  Or is it, in fact, a WAY of learning? Flow. EASE. An experiment on a group of dancers with the Alexander Technique observed feedback from participants missing the sensation of EFFORT, feeling that it was TOO EASY to be right… Too easy. An addiction to strain, to the position of “I can’t”, to the feeling of being inadequate, can be a real thing of real consequence, as we see humorously depicted in the film What the Bleep do we know.

ON BEING PUNISHED FOR PLEASURE. For those of us freshly issued from Christian (?) heritage – though be it into Atheist or Pagan families – we may find internalized, secreted agents of judgement, tracking our pleasure and marking it down as SIN.  Suffering earns you a place in heaven, work hard, be humble and you shall be rewarded.  Do we ever hear “work supple”? If we are a ninja, we do!  As women, the added red flag on sensuality can have us curbing childhood delights, the deep sense of fun or intuitive pleasures. I realized recently that I take my art very seriously. Or rather, because I WANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY, I have put a whole lot of SERIOUS into my creative processes, at the expense of my FUN.  A 3 minute slot appeared in my daily practice for pure vocal whatever (fun) recently. I spend it with glee… 3 minutes? That’s quite enough. Snap back to something proper – by golly – we can’t have this whole frolic situation getting out of control! Wow. Stay tuned on that minute rationing…

ADMIRATION is a double edged sword. It guides us towards our chosen stars. It shows us qualities we wish to embody, things we could grow into, but it can also keep us separated from them. By lifting someone else so high in our mind’s eye, we can find ourselves belittled, crushed beneath the weight of the impossibility, apologizing for our insufficiency, as we slouch to keep them above us, when we come face to face. This relieves us of the responsibility for maturing the work in real time, real place. It can be comfortable to be a victim. It can be comfortable to be small, when memories of our brilliance as children, come swathed in the shame we were given for being so fresh, fearless, bright and original. Whoever has worked with Julia Cameron’s Artist Way, can hear her in my words.

GOING NOWHERE because I am already there/here. Charisma is presence, is about being actually present. Bert van Dijk, theater pedagogue, runs fantastic workshops on this theme. Coaches on stage-fright speak of bringing your attention down into the lower back or the feet. Side effects include enhanced communication with your audience/community.  This is about lowering and anchoring our center of gravity, which, anyone working with martial arts, Tai-chi or Chikung will know, is an absolutely timeless treasure. Simon Barker and Carl Dewhurst run barefoot and are experiencing a deep influence on their performance as musicians. They speak of bringing our consciousness down into the body and so, altering the default to be one of continual release and reset. On running.

AN INVITATION TO THE FUTURE. Being a split second ahead. Hearing it before it happens. Is it possible to be in two places at once? In the present and in the future? Yes, it is. The conductor Valery Gergiev shows us that it is. You cannot start without me. Whether we are conducting, improvising, composing a new piece or delivering a traditional song in all its specific modalities, we must be both utterly present – releasing the past like a ninja – and already hearing the future. LOVE IT.

Treva 3

Cunt to Cosmos

Flight of the cuntsI need to write about the sexuality of singing. More precisely, and from a woman’s perspective, about the communication between the cunt and the cosmos. Within the trajectory of my life-long vocal research (in progress), this chapter – accompanied by the brilliant containment and potent focus of traditional Bulgarian singing techniques – is about integration and revelation.

Integration meaning anchoring yourself, your intention and your sound in a living, active, welling source (the pelvic floor). Then, allowing this energy to travel up, unobstructed, to a delicious (revealing) mouth. What? Yes. “Delicious” implies accessibility, vulnerability, visibility, taste-ability. Allowing the joy (sound) to flow is like allowing an orgasm; you can’t make it happen, but you can create favorable circumstances, favorable balances of tension and release, and favorable alternations in rhythm.

Revelation implies an unlocked jaw, an active (often visible) tongue, pert and willing cheeks and present eyes (even when they are closed). From source to the surface, from cunt to cosmos, in a blink, in a lift, in a breath…

And so, breath is now available to carry the song, to carry lines, shapes, densities, colors, textures, but the flow, the flow, must be unobstructed. This is a concept reflected and verified in so many singing traditions, I know, but I needed to talk about it today, because I feel that the cunt is still vilified in our freshly patriarchal societies. The deep power of the cunt, in music, art and life (both personal and social), is feared and hushed, and this is a loss for us singers. We do it in secret. We lift and flow and cum, musically, spiritually, but we are shamed for our beauty, or used. We are diva-fied, shallowed, stuck out in front of bands in sexy attire, reduced to singing a few lyrics in amongst the musical fabric, the playground of spirit that a voice could so honour…

Someone like Tina Turner takes it to a whole other level – that lioness power. She has made more than friends with this particular feminine mojo, in a glorious earthy way. I deplore the absence of ground in a lot of the sexy singers we see in this era, both in the west and the east. It is a diluted, tamed corruption of the concept. The tits, ass and supplicant lips are often given an eery childlike (powerless) quality. Those who ground the feminine power, who earth it, however, are wanted now. I want them. To be. Watch out.

Cunt power is fearsome, awesome, slow and will alter things. I cannot get a clear sound without my cunt. People fall in love with singers, and hate on them, because of it. It is a flow we must all claim. In a music industry dominated by men and machines, there is a lack of reverence for this power. This is why I am so grateful to be working with more acoustic and acapella collaborations at this time, dare I call them cunt collectives… (This includes all those sensitive male musos, who connect with earth and water in their matrix!)

Thanks for listening!

NOTE: For anyone who was shocked or delighted by my use of the word ‘cunt’ follow the link below to discover amazing diverse stories concerning the etymology of this currently debased word…

Origins of the word ‘Cunt’.

Follow

Upon my arrival to Bulgaria this time, I was whisked away from Sofia airport, straight to a tiny mountain village, complete with wolves, strawberries, sheep’s cheese and scandals, cold torrents and a million flowers, with a million bees to suit…

A lilting eternity tune came down from the long dark weight of clouds, jealously guarding the Pirin peak, pure and snowy, above us. When the weather cleared – an old mountain road, riddled with flowers… I wanted to LIVE inside their immensity. So I made us THiS SONG…

First smile of the morning
Do you know which one I mean?
Long lined horizons
This heart is following
Itself home

Last sigh of the evening
Do you know which one I mean?
Long lined horizons
This heart is following
Itself home

Praises, from dawn till sundown
Prayers through the dark…    

First smile of the evening
Do you know which one I mean?
Long lined horizons
This heart is following
Itself home

WANTED

Choosing a life of self-structure. Choosing a rhythm that allows for deep plunges into self-organizing chaos, meaning: music that rides in on tides of trust, tunes helmed by blindfolded graces – those that don’t need to see, but that know already, the undoing of all certainties, and the brilliance that can be embodied at the cusp of willingness… WTF?

This means large portions of empty calendar. Like a whole two months to write. This means stashing nuts when they come. Not spending. This means living on the fringe in ways. It means opting out of some things I used to know, like rent rhythms and lush laurels. Being at the flight deck of how much I work is fabulously surreal. I’ve come to feel that the vertigo of “how will it all possibly come together?” is just a page of the book flipping over in the wind. That book, long abandoned in the wild grasses of the olive grove. Dragonflies have led the eye and mind elsewhere. How frivolous of one! To live so close to the edge of love. (Meaning gratitude).

Faced with the impossibility of planning. Sure, there’s fishing… there’s casting out the wishes, the bios, photos, the recordings – those imperfect recordings – traces of the mojo that serve to perpetuate the flow. YES. I have been following the ‘yes’. After the void of yesteryear, it came about as an experiment: what if I just go where I am wanted?  WANTED.

wantedposterAnd so came emails out of the blue, people asking me to come to you. And the whole thing began to look like a farce / a trick of the eye, as the evidence of self-surrender rose about me, in a tide of gurgling, giggling, why not’s! Turn up. Flank yourself. As close as you can to your bliss. Damn! The pain of separations are like the night and day, giving way, not nearly as overwhelming as they appear, when on the great wheel of stars, a voice so clear, calls out your YES.

(So in practical terms that means I am in Bulgaria, writing new songs toward this album of mine, and being extended on a daily basis, because I can hear things that I can’t yet play… Love it!)

Koprivshtitsa

Koprivshtitsa National Folklore Festival happens only every 5 years!  Named after the potent Kopriva (nettle), this seriously charming cluster of stone and wooden houses is nestled in the Sredna Gora mountains, in central Bulgaria.  Renowned for its role in the 1876 uprising, Koprivshtitsa  now opens its valley arms for 3 days and nights, to travelers from all around the country and the globe…

Fleeting impressions for me – in the bustle, in the heat… bus loads of singers, players and dancers from all over the country, come and go. Impressive army tents house these humble magicians, in the fields beneath the village.  Fancifully-retro dressed by day, plain-clothe ninja’s by night.  The best parties happen in the dark, long after the official program has finished, and yet, in broad daylight, flanked by beer sponsored parasols and busy promotional banners, swamped by folk-thirsty admirers in garish modern attire, they always seem to protect and carry the mysterious presence of their ancestors, both in their sound and movement.  Powerful voices break through mediocre PAs, elegant feet fly in bewitching unison over plain concrete slabs, all beneath a heavy blue sky, between the tall pines.

The most beautiful old women you have ever seen, brandish brilliant smiles with single teeth, wear showers of golden coins on their bosom, carry plump roses in their hair, and make their painstaking way up and down the mountain every day, from forest stages to cobbled streets, all in good time, laughing at us travelers, for a reason or two…

 WATCH & LISTEN HERE

hearts 1



















Flying

Flying by the seat of one’s pants!!

I learn of the final exam the day before it (my tutor forgot to tell me!?)

Enjoy the perks of lost-in-translation: “see you at 10:30, warmed up” is not “see you at 10:30, to warm up”.  I swoop in, sweaty from the walk, and the panel asks – are you ready?  Why, YES, of course!  Something good told me to warm up at home…

A rocky first verse or two with that husky morning voice – vocal chords a little too loose for the bright timbre required.  Then, I sing my heart out, soaring to the mountains beyond the leaves, through arching phrases, sexy ornaments and cheeky rhythms, through lush floating vowels and cutting consonants, endeavoring to apply everything I have learned this year… all in a few moments, a few couplets, AND with feeling, please!

Today’s offering, offered.

Some tunes require such a delicious balance of strength and suppleness, such a blend of light and dark, that I feel like I am on a tightrope, and in love.  I get that this ‘search’ will last all my life – like ‘the search’ for the perfect wave that surfers devote themselves to, without expecting to, or needing to, actually ever find it… the process itself is the magic.

The luminous smile on my teachers face says she is proud enough.

What a crazy experience.  A whole year singing old folk songs in Bulgarian dialects!  Why does this music and language grow on me like this?  My love and admiration has only deepened… and I feel, somehow, carried by the daily challenge.

Spring Snow

Mother Spoke To The Sun

My first impressions of this voice were mineral: A native copper resonance driving through space. The sedimentary influence of centuries of song. The inner core of a purifying ore, reversing the corrosion of our spirits. A high density alkaline substance with an electrical conductivity that reaches the intelligence of my skin…

If my ears were eyes, they would see flint, glinting on the stream bed. If my ears were hands, they would feel raw ochre, crumbling with gold dusts. And if my ears were tongues, they would taste iron, kale and honey.

Though we work with scores and all these songs are written down for some form of posterity, the living treasure and actual significance comes through only in the human transmission. Week after week, Svetla Stanilova offers her voice, her mana-wahine and her patience – to transmit the tone, the phrasing and the ornaments that will carry our stories, be they of love or war.

Working in the old ochre building (The Yellow School) with its peeling facade and sunny outlook, is a treat. Our gazes plunge down over the roman amphitheater like birds, then out to the Rhodope Mountains beyond, as she sings me Mama na Slwncho Govori (Mother Spoke to the Sun) from nearby Pazardjik… LISTEN HERE

The Yellow School

Conversations with Dora Hristova

I want to share with you some moments gleaned from my conversations with Prof. Dora Hristova, choir conductor of “Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares”. This is the very choir who’s recordings I heard as a child and who’s phenomenal sound planted in my being the dream of one day coming to this land.

The privilege it is for me to study now with Dora H. in her last year at the music academy in Plovdiv, is doubled with a deep gratitude for her willingness to allow me to sit-in on LMVB choir rehearsals in Sofia, every now and again. There, I get to experience the visceral, pungent timbre of these women’s voices first hand, in process, embodied, as it is today. The generations interweave, the political movements are felt. Amongst trials and triumphs, struggles and successes, the single binding factor is this mysterious magnetic vocal style, and when the women sing, everything else falls away…

Dora Hristova BW med

http://www.themysteryofthebulgarianvoices.com/conductor/

– from conversations at Nikolay Haytov Chitalishte and Dora Hristova’s home in March 2015. Features samples from LMVB rehearsals + extracts of the songs “Dva Shopska Dueta” & “Kalimankou Denkou”.

By the Yantra River

A time of change. Though some would say it is always the time of change. The illusion of shapes. The imprint they have on a mind. Pathways worn deep.  Grooves of the assumed – until a landslide, an earthquake, a breakup, occurs. And so we are blessed with the task of release. The lights flashing up off the water already know this. We get to hug trees that stand crooked with their wounds and ever reaching stillness. We get to watch cascades of rubbish mingle with sweet wide waters. We get to see the open plan of a fisherman’s face, the space it has learned from watching water flow. And we get to notice the absence of water, in fact, in the stiff mugs of the city folk. But music is water…

On tour with Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs.  We get to bring loud dense sound, sensual rhythm and calls from the cosmos to underground bars, where youth and youth at heart, throb and drink. We get to drive and drive, and watch winter trees passing by like paper cutouts against the affectionate pressing in of a low sun. We get to forget and remember, and forget again, the people we thought we were, the people we thought we needed. Just the sun now, the thistles, and the wind. The wind, caressing the land, the wind picking the foam up off the waves, the wind coursing through the instruments, that breath moving from mouth to mouth, and back alone.

And through this thing, this music, that passes, we get to die, all together, and we love each other better for it.  One morning, in the old, old town of Veliko Tarnovo, I sang to the Yantra River…

Yantra River

 

Kukeri

In a small village not too far from Plovdiv, a motley carnival crowd gathers beneath the cold cloud to soak up the transformative energy of the Kukeri.

The men of the village, costumed and masked, wear a belt of clanging copper bells and carry wooden swords, symbols of fertility, with which they may bless your shoulder. Beautiful black hessian hoods in pyramid form are carried high and sometimes come down to shroud the men. They have already been through the houses to chase the evil spirits away and to bring good health, abundant harvest and happiness. Now they dance-walk, encircling the driving solar rhythms of the ‘tapan’ drums and the hypnotic melodies of the ‘zurna’ wind instrument, played by local Romani musicians.

Kukeri

Traditionally performed only by men, today it is a young woman in hidden-heel-bling-sneakers who carries the leading phallus of the parade. Incongruous rubber gorilla masks mingle with the more traditional woolley-horned spirits and some beautifully hand-made colourful cloth masks…

A ritual that was forbidden during the totalitarian years here exudes a rough kind of gusto – tattooed muscle smokes in the back-line, but there is always time for that energetic whacking of peoples backs with an inflated sheep’s stomach, to chase out evil spirits and bring good health!

Further…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQKFnFAUdHE
https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=459170877522636&theater

Gyuro, Dobwr Yunak

Of the dozen songs thrown at me in my individual lessons so far, one particularly strikes my gong – Гюро Добър Юнак (Gyuro Dobwr Yunak) from Trakiya region, as arranged by Stoyan Paurov.

Our protagonist lays in a prison tower, a hawk chick in hand. He breaks his own fingers to pieces to feed the bird, he gathers his own tears to water it, to raise it to be able to fly, on his behalf, to get news of his family… the grown bird does fly, but brings back only word of overgrown yards, empty houses and a single dead tree.

This epic piece is travelling me. The ornaments, designed to flip and tumble from steady arching phrases, are like running your fingertips through the longing of calm water, and watching the light break up, flash and ripple out into eternity…

I thought it fitting to sing you some of it in the bathroom of a friend’s atelier, located on the 15th floor of a soviet style block in the Sofia suburbs… a tower indeed. A tower where you will hear the water pipes grinding against the weight of time, as I croon in this language that is not mine, but that teaches me so much about making sound!

LISTEN to “Gyuro in the Tower” HERE

Though scored, the timing of this piece is completely elastic, dictated by the story itself – a breathable rather than beatable meter, meticulously coached by my vocal tutor Svetla Stanilova, and lovely piano accompanist, Maria Akrabova.

For me as a vocalist and as a person, this song is like a supreme challenge to be powerful yet tender, broken yet whole, active yet still, ahead yet present, vast yet concise… A piece I believe I will be working with for years! I sang it for the class, accompanied by Maria, for our end of semester sharing on Wednesday:

LISTEN to “Gyuro for AMTII” HERE

And for the vocal geeks:

Something I am finding particularly interesting is learning how to apply the right impulse and pressure of a particular ornament onto different vowels (depending on the lyric). For example the “ko” from sokolovo that you hear in these recordings, is a particularly loving sound (round yet contained), to apply this pattern to. Later in the song (there are two more cycles), a “te” from da te dwrja, risks splaying and hardening, and requires particular attention to keeping the tongue active, yet lower jaw relaxed and throat open, thus allowing the ornament to percuss freely in the larynx…

My favorite pattern looks like this on the page:

Sokolovo Pattern

Listen to this, and more, on my sound-cloud below… (ps – that luminous bird you see just appeared in my motion photo experiments… What happens when you dance and click?  Sometimes magic!!)

Blur Bird square

What a song can do…

Tzigani Street

As living bones are steeped in a damp cold and Koleda (Christmas) lights deployed, Plovdiv pedestrian center takes on a new kind of fast-footed, steaming-breath hush… the furtive cats still own the open rubbish bins, glossy people bustle to buy shiny things, while the matt-finish homeless are less visible, hunkering down somewhere else… fake furs speak with real furs, bling boots insult colored berets, and you learn which paving stones you must not step on lest your weight elicit that mini-mud-geyser up your own leg…

One night, in the soft rain, the gravity of a familiar melody drew me around a street corner to encounter two beautifully weathered Tzigani street musicians: teeth missing, bright eyes and all. On accordion and fiddle, fingerless gloves take on a whole new meaning…

Click here to listen!

Bachkovo Lovin’

When the ache to get out of the city grew too large in my heart, I stuffed a backpack full of warm things and put myself on the bus to Bachkovo – so close and yet a world away. Arriving for sundown – steep slopes still green through the autumn rust, peaks wearing just a sprinkling of snow – I wandered through the village… wood-fire smoke, over-ripe grapes, exposed brick, barking dogs, and the powerful constant roar of the mountain torrent. Across it, the path up to the Monastery…

As the stalls close and day-visitors file out, I sign in and am shown to my room. Prepared for a “monks” night, with sleeping bag, best socks, thermos and all, I am shown into a warm space with linen, towels, blankets, heater, bathroom… umm!? Then ushered down to the dining room – a cosmic art-deco chapel with star studded blue sky and angels flitting about in the clouds. I eat alone, it being barely past 5pm, and note that all the food is mushy. I think of tooth-less jaws masticating beneath great white beards. Roast pepper paste, chicken broth and sweet semolina.

Called outside by sung prayers, standing still for ages in the courtyard beside the laden persimmon tree, listening, imagining a circle of monks, a private ritual echoing out into the weight of the now moonlit valley… I eventually realize that the chants are amplified throughout the complex and that the ceremony happening just inside the chapel is open to all. I take my cue and light a couple of candles for the dead as it happens to be Arhangelova Zadushnitsa, All Souls Day. Plain clothes mingle with robed monks (yes, bearing great white beards) and relay, prayer upon prayer, in beautiful earthy voices, of which I understand nothing. Soul to soul, then!

Dawn, and the cluster of white doves sleeping on the chapel roof stirs. Still no one out as I fill my gourd with icy spring water and begin the ascent towards… the awesome. (Not without take-away coffee from the machine by the hotel to wash down my walnuts and goji berries mind you!) A lone man and his dog reflect my morning contentment. We soak in the colors together, already amplified by a potent blue sky. Ground frozen hard, boots crunch over white grass to reach latent blackberries, swollen with autumn rain and eternally tart. The valley below is golden, the ridges above, abrupt and crumbly. Cold knees. Wide eyes. Happy heart.

I scaled the flank of a mountain in search of some sun. Found some. Nested there for hours, in the wild thyme and sang with the birds. It’s called Bachkovo Lovin’

Taste

As I eat my breakfast each morning, I love to watch the wall. The wall of the abandoned building across the street, that is.

It is in the stillness, the sameness, the repetition of my attendance, that my sight deepens.

southwing869web

One morning, I suddenly perceive the weathered shoe on the windowsill of the 17th window, till now a chameleon, in its perfect lime off-white. The following morning the word QUEEN appears – delicately scratched into the alcove of the once-was-mint-green rusted over door.

Time shows, and the interplay of tags are genuine – a fine blood-red scribe mid-wall is echoed further down in bold block letters, standing like elephants feet on the mossy footpath. The peeling wallpaper inside the 23rd room runs in waves with sharp crests, mimicking the broken glass, still in the grip of the window-frame. The variations of ochre on this wall are infinite – a surface many a painter would be proud to claim as his work.  The human stories have evaporated. Now it is the dust that speaks to the pigeons, while the dead-end wires dance with their own shadows.

Before we are taught what is beautiful, the sight of a river-rat being devoured by a dog is fascinating. Before we are taught what is delicious, a fistful of sand is a feast like any other.  Acquired tastes and sense of value…

The първи глас (soprano) hits a high C# at full open throated velocity – the sound of a banshee. Satisfied ripples on my skin. It surprised me last year to note how many of my World Choir participants initially disliked, or should I say – hated with a vengeance, the sound of one of the songs I proposed. Because I have listened to this music and admired it for years, it never occurred to me that it could be disliked. That very night, on National Radio, was discussed the nature of taste and how we can only love what we know. And yet, some souls are struck like a gong, while others, not.  The mysterious currents of music continue to move…

shoe872webqueen878web

northwing864webwires876web

ARRIVAL

26/9/14

The distinct sensation of being a jellyfish – carried by the currents, tumbled by the waves, exhibiting a generally transparent personality, with not a word to say. I have become an ambivalent witness of the lights passing through me and frequently quiver with salty emotion.  My dear partner returned to Aotearoa/NZ yesterday. This singular year begins…

7/10/14

Stepping out from my school, each turn is a cobbled cross-country exercise. Large, irregular and ancient stones carry high-heeled women, walking as if they were crossing a river ford (romance is augmented when there is a man’s arm to hold onto…) Aside from this riveting spectacle, the narrow streets, misty today, lead into gardens, churches, galleries, houses for music and their courtyards, where roses hang their heads, heavy with rain, where words emerge triumphantly from a child’s mouth, “o, чадър! как се казваш?” (Oh, umbrella! What’s your name?) And so, a grandfather chuckles, while the milk-bearing mother cat streaks across the way, furtively seizing her moment…

Plovdiv AmphitheaterFilip-Kutev-EnsembleThe roman amphitheater, onto which the academy opens, is home to grand performances, two of which I have been lucky enough to catch. The famous Trakia and Filip Kutev Ensembles spread their brilliant wares even though it rained. My favorite acappella quartet, Eva Quartet, will sing in a music-house at end of the month. Classical music is also in high regard and I am learning to sort my outings by preference as the West European classics ‘à la Bulgare’ have markedly less spine-chilling watts for me, than the gripping arrangements of local polyphony.

With Plovdiv vying for some “cultural capital of the year” European title in 2019, council money is lavished on swish ruin illuminations, stars beneath our feet, and plenty of concerts / presentations, in what seems to be an extra long warm up, while just a street or two back, large old houses are in ruin and graffiti reigns…

My-VistaFacadeNevertheless, praise to the muted sound of the main pedestrian street at night – how calm a city can be with the sweet absence of cars! I’ve only been in one since I am here. The intercity buses are brilliant.

I am renting a room in a house built at the beginning of last century. Sharing no language with my landlady, I discovered after some time that I was not flatting with a fiery artist, but with her nifty mother. With the pension being but 200lev per month (not enough to live on) pennies are pinched: cold-water dishes and shower water heated just enough for one at a time, menus consisting mostly of potatoes, beans and tomatoes, as they are in season. Cigarettes are cheap, so those don’t count. I’m keeping up with a little more than spuds myself, and feasting on olives, goats cheese, dark bread, walnuts, honey…

The floorboards are pretty wild to say the least, some windows don’t open and each door has its own voice. The bathroom and kitchen are like caves that you climb into, built hugging the shape of the mountain. Because yes, the charm is that I am at the foot of one of Plovdiv’s 5 hills, each rising abruptly out of the pure plain.

West-from-SahatThese rockin’ bumps are home to roman ruins, minarets from the Ottoman time turned bell-tower, humongous soviet style statues left over from socialist times, clusters of satellite dishes, prolific graffiti on rock, kissing youth, pre-teens having their first cider out of school on a Tuesday, dogs walking their masters, the occasional lost soul – monologuing, and many scratchy bushes and trees that I don’t know the name of…

I made my first geranium cuttings and, lo and behold, despite it being autumn, they are budding on my windowsill.  I practice yoga facing the south window (where the warmth is!) and have already lost count of the yellow leaves falling. They are swept away, daily, by the Roma sweepers… Yes, all the sweeper women, with their brush brooms, are darker eyed, darker skinned, and have experienced the weather… I have been shocked by more than one vehement comment on the subject of this unofficial ethnic hierarchy.

My anticipated health sacrifice – to spend a year in a place where they smoke madly indoors, in search of music – is null and void.  Three years ago the Bulgarian people passed the no-smoking-indoors law, which is a total blessing, considering that they are 2nd in the world (smokers per capita) just after Greece and just before Serbia… one can sense the Philip Morris mantel sweeping steadily across the landscape.

10/10/14

There has been more than one administrative riddle and it has taken a good two weeks to understand my timetable and attend the right classes as the right time! The road was not paved – so to speak, and the phenomenal ability humans have to misunderstand each other in normal life, was visibly augmented by our language/cultural barriers. But school is beautiful – see one of the back doors and the steps of the singer’s building below…

School-DoorSingers-BuildingNow with a whole 8 afternoons of language class under my belt, I forage into conversation and just try to keep “спокоино” (calm) when it goes over my head – which is usually by the 2nd or 3rd sentence. There are some angels undercover here, who take the time to smile into my eyes, listen patiently and find words in their broken English to help.

The all female Folklore Choir makes a sound you wouldn’t believe. This, being the main attraction for me, ironically, was the class I wasn’t given information about for two weeks. I could hear them down the corridors but didn’t dare barge in, mid-rehearsal. All is well that ends (or continues) well. I got my dose of shivers today and have a pile of scores to catch up on, with the double task of learning text that doesn’t mean anything to me… yet! I am a sponge, I am sponge, I am sponge…  Here is a short sample of their rehearsal today in Plovdiv. Those of you who know me will understand why I am in pure bliss at the notion of soaking in this for a year.

Otherwise, the dear Prof. Dora Hristova welcomes me into her vocal ensembles on Thursdays – singing in trio to quintet formation. Such a blessing to study intimately with this experienced woman, the conductor of the LMVB (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares) choir itself! She is bright, generous and inclusive.

The third strand of my study, individual Folklore singing, has opened up its share of tasks with 5 songs already – lavishly ornamented, of various odd-meters, I am encouraged to maintain a particularly clear and forward vowel resonance, and to use short percussive consonants – which is extra funny when there are 4 of them in a row! The 7 distinct regions of Folklore song in Bulgaria will be revealed to me as we go. For now I have 3 tunes from Trakia and 2 from Rodopi on the boiler…

Places where you can hear your breath

Pilgrimage to Bidarray, Vallee du Baztan and up to Col d’Ezpalza, one of my favourite places on the planet… It turns out my guardian tree – an ample chestnut with bowed mossing arms and broad green leaves – was entirely ravished by the 4th July rains. In its place, a gigantic gouge in the mountainside, an open casket of raw red earth. And I thought my ashes would go to its feet! Turns out I lived longer. Reactive and vigorous climb through the heat, shelter from the sun beneath out-crops of slate rock like a land toad, wet your hat in a trickle of moisture -say the armpit of the land, then, climb some more. Reaching ridge-lines, breathe with the vultures, feel their 2m+ wingspan brushing the space above your lonely head in broad strokes of pure glide. A place where you can hear your breath.

CHANGEABILITY

I feel a real fondness for Aotearoa/NZ weather. I feel akin to the constant shifting of skies, close clouds swift and the distant ones, still. The hush of the coastline today – is that water to sand or wind to leaf? The glossy wink of Pohutukawa foliage along cliff-tops echoes that of the sea-skin, ruffled this afternoon by the fingers of a tender northerly.  And the sharp cry of gulls deepens the sky… how much does this inform I? Do these moods, shifting over the land and sea of me, form in communion with my surroundings? I look forward to observing what changes in me and what stays constant, while immersed in a different land… soon Bulgaria.

Words can only go so far, so I sang us a sun-shower…

How to start a day

If I read the news first I am paralyzed by sorrow. If I sing first I am awakened to gratitude and wonder.

If I read the news second, this gratitude and wonder encounters a gripping distortion, a confusion in the face of such energetic hate and myriad manifestations of cruelty and violence.

If I look out the window at that moment, I am further disorientated by the stunning blue expanse, the gentle flight of the birds, the peacefulness offered by the clear view of the islands in their perfect paper cut-out silhouettes…

Turning back to my screen, I cannot bring myself to comment, to agree or disagree, to condemn or support, to reconcile perspectives or hope for understanding.

If at this moment, I sing?

– but who am I to sing, to create, to love, when others are suffering!?

I am not sure about it, but I am trying this out: give song/life to your surroundings.

And tell me how you go?

Offering

 

Resonate

A gallery space, an artist who sang to himself in it and who wondered what it would be like to gather here a bouquet of voices, an audience. Diversity came to the George Fraser Gallery. The line up promised intimacy and surprise. Promises were delivered, were mainlined into ears, mouths, hearts and beyond.

I felt so nourished as a vocalist, part of an intricate web of cross-pollinations, as if we had all been transformed, biologically.

In fact, the world had opened, like a pod of ripe seeds. When it came to an end, I strolled into the biting cold with a warm mind. I spoke to an unusual number of strangers that night and had the distinct sensation of actually conversing, of actually exchanging ideas.

In a rather frolic mood I crashed a party, which turned out to be the annual gathering of NZ art teachers. In the electrified cacophony of the gallery dance hall, I came face to face with a woman I hadn’t seen for 20 years, then with my favorite high school teacher – someone who has influenced my creative approach to the core. I was able to tell him how much it meant to me, how much he had given me.

I handed him copy number 51/100 of the hand-sewn Acapollinations EP, which a friend calls aural wasabi. We discussed the fact that it contained my extensions on socialist state arrangements of Bulgarian folk music. We decided to call it post-post-modern-folk.

Last night was proof that magic exists, and likes it when you explore.

Acapollinate_web

 

 

 

 

Rainy Day

The thing I love most about singing is that it teaches me to be present and whole, while embracing duality. I have to be both the support and the surrender. The death, the birthing, and the moments between. It all ties in with the flight of birds by the cliffs, on a stormy day:

Sculpt the torso to be upright and open, like a cliff face. Set in motion a constant upward stream of energy, like the rising air currents. Allow yourself to be carried with all the tenderness and surrender of the bird. This tenderness can first be felt in the heart, then on the lips, and finally you will hear it reflected as such, resonating into the world.

In between, inhale as an actual release. Release everything you have known, built, achieved, and surrender to this entirely new moment. It will bring you shivers, and a sense of belonging like no other.

Rainy-Day

Opening

On the opening day of my 35th year on earth, it is my pleasure to launch a fun-raising campaign in honor of the heart-felt adventure I am about to embark on…

I will leave NZ early August, abandoning the subtle frosts and beautiful low sunlight of a South Pacific winter, and by steel bird, join the tail of an East European summer, for a year of song.

Visit A TUI IN BULGARIA