Saturday, March 14, 2020

WOMADELAIDE 2020 - A VIEW FROM THE SMALL STAGES (Days 3 and 4)

 Company Archibald Caramantran 


Day 3


I began my Womad day 3 later in the day with a reprise of Spanish medieval music from the masterful Artefactum. Such a pleasure to hear once more, and observe them having fun with each other as they attempted to translate their jokes into English. As a fellow reviewer from another publication said, “they just make medieval music so accessible.”
The Kids Zone was at its busiest this afternoon with an incredible array of activities – face painting, dancing, dress-up parades, craft activities, building huts – the place was packed with active children and content looking parents.
I was tempted to stop by a larger stage when I heard the female mariachi tones of Flor de Toloache from Mexico resonating from  Stage 2 but headed for a smaller stage to hear Tami Neilson from NZ. This may have been a rare programming logistics error. She was way too popular for the small Moreton Bay stage – it was the biggest crowd I’d ever seen there. She was just a speck in the distance but she sounded wonderful. She has a loud and soulful voice that belted out a mix of soul and country with ease. Commercial, but really catchy, slick and solid. As Simon Hackett, one of Womad’s founders said in a recent interview, “One of the joys of this event is … walking up to a random stage and being blown away by some artist you’ve never heard of.”
I was curious to see if the Woshop still just sold CDs of performing artists. It’s getting harder and harder to play CDs as CD players disappear from computers and car stereo systems. The vast majority of the music available was only in CD format. Just one artist had a digital version available. It kind of hurts to say this it but it’s time for Womad artists to sell their music in digital format.

KermesK a L’est


Day 4

Pakistan’s Ustad Saami called his 2019 album, God is Not a Terrorist. He is clearly on a mission to promote the music of his region as an instrument of piece. His performance with his 4 sons consisted of one 75 minute meditative piece. Based on the twin drones of harmonium and tanpura, it built ever so slowly to a fully vocalised musical conversation between him and his sons and we the audience. I’m sure many were expecting it to eventually reach the frenetic heights of another Pakistani singer, the legendary Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan but this music is much less theatrical. Though, like other forms of Pakistani devotional music (Qawwali, Sufi) much is expressed using the hands as they dance and weave with the vocals to convey extra meaning. This piece was dedicated to the lapsing of summer into autumn and with plenty of grey cloud in the sky it felt appropriate.
As daylight faded down by stage 3, a group of mad Belgians took the stage. Looking like punks and ratbags, KermesK a L’est filed on stage through a back curtain and launched into a strange and infectious brand of brass based Balkan music. With no one band member having a fixed on stage position they wandered around constantly – even their two drummers were forever on parade around the stage.  A great sound and a totally original presentation. The giant puppets from Company Archibald Caramantran enjoyed it too and enthralled the crowd with their giant dance steps.
France seems particularly blessed with a range of these bizarre and lovable festival acts. For several years now Womad has featured a quirky French act as part of the roaming program, and they add as much value to the whole spectacle as the music.
I spent 10 minutes or so in the Taste the World tent enjoying the laughs associated with cooking in public from Gelareh Pour and friends, before spending my last musical moments listening to some dreamy slow dance tunes from local act Oisima. They followed me as I slipped away through the Frome gate back into the real world.
It was a great decision to just focus on the small stages this year. It took the pressure off feeling like you had to see everything. I think there has been a welcome change in the program direction. Maybe it was because I only attended the small stage events but without counting up and comparing with recent years there did seem to be fewer big bands based around big percussion and the ubiquitous and overused concept of ‘fusion’. A majority of the acts were quieter and stayed closer to their ethnic roots, and in the process Womad reclaimed something of its original identity and purpose.


WOMADELAIDE 2020 – A VIEW FROM THE SMALL STAGES

Artefactum (Spain)


Day 1

Womadelaide’s small stages have always hosted the more niche like acts. They’re more intimate, quieter, and tend to feature more ethnically pure music of the kind that was much more prevalent in Womad's early days.
So I spent my first evening going from Ghana (Moreton Bay stage) to Reunion (stage 7) to Rumania (Frome Park Pavilion), and finally to medieval Spain (back at the Moreton Bay stage).
King Ayisoba and his band hail from Ghana. The band is a 6 piece and 5 of them play percussion – draw your own conclusions! The only non-percussive instrument, which King himself plays is the kologo, has just 2 strings and is played mostly as a percussive instrument as well so the primary effect is rhythmic.
King has a growling and gruff vocal style that at times feels quite intimidating but the rhythms are strong and the crowd is up dancing and there is mercifully no electronica interfering with the traditional rhythms.
Down the other end of the park on stage 7 Destyn Maloya from Reunion was offering a more varied repertoire of melody and rhythm.  Reunion is not far from Madagascar and Womadelaide has previously hosted the beautiful polyphonic melodies of Justin Vali, and some of their material had that similar feel. But like so many African groups their happy place is rhythm based and Destyn Maloya soon had the malleable crowd jumping like rabbits and joining in a Conga line.
Nearby in one of Womadelaide’s newer venues an Australian based group who play Romanian music and who curiously call themselves SuperRats gathered around their featured instrument, the cimbalom. The cimbalom is large dulcimer with 145 strings and sounds like a cross between a piano and a xylophone. Apparently the pronunciation of the words Super Rats sounds like ‘the irritated ones’ in the Romanian language. This music is relatively low brow in its original context – played in bars and cafes where people drink and do shady deals - but in the context of a Womadelaide performance there is nothing shady about this music. The pieces are tight, rhythmically complex and driven by a dominant double bass. Accordion and fiddle are great accompaniment for the cimbalom in these entertaining traditional dance tunes.
So then back in time to the Middle Ages. Artefactum (pictured above) play Spanish music from the 12th -14th centuries and it is exquisite. Led by the drone like sounds of one of the strangest instruments ever made, the hurdy-gurdy, this music is full of delicate melodies and intricate vocal harmonies. Music from Medieval times has such a beautiful melodious quality. It’s almost as if music was breaking free from the confines of a restricted past and celebrating a wondrous joy,

A perfect end to the day. It seems there may have been a drift away from the ubiquitous ‘global funk’ that has tended to dominate the Womadelaide program in the last few years, but it’s early days….

Iberi (Georgia)


Day 2

Day 2 dawned sunny and gentle. The Planet Talks venue has gratefully moved into a larger location – a tent called the Frome Park pavilion. The first session for the day focused on the Wreck of Tech and was insightful and depressing. All 3 speakers, Julia Powles, Peter Lewis, and Robert Elliott Smith, have written books or papers questioning the role and authority of the tech giants in our daily lives, and there was fairly solid agreement that they have not made our lives better. They reflected on the fact that rather than bring us together the new technologies have collapsed any notion of collective or commons where we might come together to solve problems. Google and Facebook’s business models serving personal echo chambers have actually driven us apart. I left the session close to tears.
L Subramaniam gets the tag ‘the Paganini of Indian classical music'. After some short information about the structure of the music they were about to play Subramaniam and his group, together with the help of some very audible bats (it was good to see they survived the summer heat) launched into what he called a ‘short’ raga – a beautiful slow building piece of musical meditation that was 30 minutes long!
Gelareh Pour is an Iranian now living in Australia. Her high-pitched dreamy vocals (it was hard not to think of Kate Bush) floated towards you as you approached the Zoo stage. Accompanied by traditional instruments (Iranian versions of fiddle and lute, plus more conventional drums and electric guitar) her songs had a plaintively beautiful tone and slowly pulsating beats that were quite alluring.
One of Luisa Sobral’s songs won Eurovision in 2017. In my view that does not nothing for your musical credibility but this Portuguese singer-composer is something special.  Her singing is classy and smooth as silk, and her original songs are full of passion and sophisticated melodies. Unlike many Womad performers from lands where English is not the first language, she chatted away confidently about her life and how she was not going to let the Corona virus stop her from achieving her lifelong goal of coming to Australia. The arrangements of her material matched the quality of her songwriting. She was accompanied on guitar by her ‘Portuguese musician’, and a trio of fine local musicians on cello, woodwind and brass. Just gorgeous music and as great original music so often is – very hard to categorise.
Iberi (see above) are from Georgia in the former Soviet Union, and appeared in monk-like costumes with daggers. Their music now apparently drifts around in space on board Voyager 2 as an example of the beauty of the human voice.  Their material is mostly acapella, and sounds quite monastic. Intricate harmonies and a stylised vocal style from old Georgian folk tunes may make this music an acquired taste for some. I was reminded of the deep resonant tones of the Sardinian Tenors many Womads back.
Every Womad festival has a Celtic group to lead the fiddle and pipe charge and this year the responsibility falls to Rura from Scotland. Their frantic and frenetic start drew the flock like Celtic lemmings to front of stage but I stuck to my guns and went to the next offering on the smaller stages – Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita down on stage 7.
It was only a matter of time before a kora (or chora) player hooked up with a traditional harpist, and it has happened in this wonderful partnership between Senegal and Wales. Kora music has  enchanted Womad audiences from the very early days and that has not changed. Seckou Keita is a griot, someone who has inherited his musical tradition through his family, and he plays with flare and joy. It’s a little harder to be physically engaged when you’re stuck behind a harp but Catrin Finch does a lot of smiling at Seckou’s antics and the wonderful sounds these 2 multiple stringed instruments make together. It’s a perfect harmonic blend with some entertaining rhythmic interplay between the two musical cultures they represent.  Again the bats, just waking up now after a day hanging around upside down, joined in and it seemed entirely appropriate.
Such is Womadelaide 😊                                     




Monday, March 02, 2020

Scraping Photos




Dog and Fisherman

I’m writing this because I received this curious email from a stranger:
I am writing to inform you that your image "Dog and Fishermen" was used as part of the public COCO image dataset. I found it here: cocodataset.org/#explore?id=504697. COCO is a collection of 328,000 images scraped from Flickr without the knowledge or consent of the photographers such as yourself. This dataset was originally created by Microsoft and is commonly used to build algorithms and computer programs that can detect objects and people, to be used for surveillance cameras and other detection purposes. I thought it was important that you know your image was used in these efforts.

Now that you are aware of this, I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about the photo. Where and why did you take it? What was the context for it being taken? If there is any backstory, I’d love to hear it.

Additionally, I would love to know your opinions on your image being used in this regards, without your knowledge or consent.”

Further enquiries revealed that this person is working on a thesis which “looks at image datasets and the ways they are created, organized, and implemented. I am specifically looking at the COCO dataset which uses hundreds of thousands of images scraped from flickr without the knowledge or consent of the image owners, such as yourself. I'm interested in re-contextualizing these images in their original contexts and juxtaposing that with the labels and organizational aspects that the COCO researchers assigned to each image.’

CONTEXT/BACKSTORY

This photo was taken at dusk on my local beach in Adelaide, South Australia. It’s in April so getting cooler in the southern hemisphere. One of the two fishermen is completely covered, but it can’t be too cold because the other is wearing shorts.
Adelaide faces west so we routinely get magnificent sunsets. This photo is taken on an evening with pastel skies – an extra treat when atmospheric conditions are just right.
I walk along this stretch of beach several times a month, always with camera in hand. I don’t know how fruitful it is to do this kind of shore fishing – most people locally choose to fish from the nearby jetty - but in non-swimming seasons it is not an uncommon sight to see people from the shore.
I often take photographs of shore fishermen at this time of the day because they and their rods and lines often present intriguing silhouettes in the fading light.
The dog is a bonus here. As it says in the comments beneath the photo:
What was funny when I took this photo was the fact that this dog decided to stop and look like he was with 2 guys fishing. He actually belonged to someone else and wandered off to them after I took the pic!”
The sea, as is often the case here In Adelaide, is dead calm. Adelaide is on a gulf so does not face open ocean and never gets what you’d call ‘surf’.

How do I feel about my photos being used like this?

As all my photos have the least restrictive Creative Commons license I accept that they can end up almost anywhere. Really the only condition is that however and wherever my photos are used there should be some visible attribution/acknowledgement of me as the creator of the image somewhere. There is no obligation on the part of the end user to notify the owner of the image, nor ask for permission to use it, though many people do so out of courtesy – something I always appreciate. I would receive at least one email per fortnight asking permission to use a photo of mine in a book, website, newsletter, etc
I guess it would be nice if the people behind the dataset at cocodataset.org/#explore?id=504697 did notify Flickr users that their photos were being used in this way, but ultimately I’m more intrigued than annoyed that one of my images has turned up on this site

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Acoustic Tull's First Review


After going live 9 months ago Acoustic Tull finally have our first independent review – 4 stars from The Upside Review. Quite pleasing actually. I’d been thinking that if I was reviewing our show I’d give us 4 stars!
It’s been a wonderful musical ride thus far. There are many wonderful moments but I think for me it’s when I hear that flute fluttering at the beginning of The Witches Promise or that signature melodic motif in Thick as a Brick I just feel a smile inside in recognition of how good it sounds and feels. These wonderful flute sounds are courtesy of Kerryn Schofield – how lucky we were to find her!
You can read more about the group and how it came about over at our website. There are some videos there as well. There’s also an interview I did that talks more about who we are. There are a few photos on our Facebook site but if you search HERE you should find several photos of us performing.
We have about 30 songs in our repertoire now. Our next gig with our full repertoire will be at current ‘home’ – the Duke of Brunswick hotel on May 23rd.
We have just concluded two sell out shows at the AdelaideFringe – quite an achievement as many shows/venues are reporting lower attendance figures this year. Our Fringe show was much shorter (75 mins) and included some cabaret style elements to make it more Fringe suitable.
Jethro Tull have often included mythical characters in their songs and live performances and we decided to feature one of our own for our Fringe show. We had a friend dressed as an old homeless guy wander through the crowd as we played Aqualung and sit himself down on a bench in front of the stage and read the Thick as a Brick album cover (newspaper) as we played our version of this classic..
The idea was for this old Aqualung character to be totally anonymous and unacknowledged, as homeless people often are, and so we completely ignored him and played on as if he wasn’t there. It seemed this little theatrical cameo was a successful complement to our show but it did raise interesting questions about why we did it.
The questions that were asked with brief answers:

W
 
here did this idea come from?

Tull has a history of using mythical characters in song, on stage and in videos. Reference to the vulnerable and disenfranchised is a recurring theme in Ian Anderson's writing. So the old man character was to reflect what Tull have done for years.

·         Is it merely for visual accompaniment to the song? NO
·         Is it meant to confront the audience with their own prejudices and stereotype notions of the homeless and destitute? YES
·         Is is designed to elicit emotions of sympathy - YES
·         Do you want the audience to be chuckling and sniggering, or squirming in their seats with discomfort?- NEITHER; JUST WONDERING WHY
·         How many of the audience I wonder would have gone away with a different (sympathetic) attitude to the homeless? MOST HOPEFULLY
·         Would the song be better served by a shocking slide show that portrays the injustice of the poor and abandoned? NO. THAT WAS NOT TULL’S WAY. TOO DIDACTIC
·         Was this just playing a practical joke at the expense of the disenfranchised? DEFINITELY NO

Greg Champion Review

Perhaps Greg Champion’s biggest claim to fame is being part of an ABC radio show that has been running for 40 years - the Coodabeen Champions. Author of one of many contenders for what couldabeen the national anthem – I Made A 100 In The Backyard At Mum’s – he’s a very funny man. Raised on the Hectorville tablelands (que?), he left Adelaide sometime in the distant past to seek fame and fortune with Adelaide band The Fabulaires, but somehow stumbled into the growing new field of musical sport comedy and has been there ever since. Or actually, he might have invented it!
40 years of live performance on radio and stage has yielded a performer very much in command of his quirky genre. His forte is writing satirical lyrics to well-known tunes – whether it be poking fun at Port Adelaide fans (something he does quite a lot of!), or the clichés coaches use in talks to their players. Another odd but considerable talent is the ability to play with the sounds of language in song – tongue-twisting Australian place names for example, or stringing together French words and phrases stolen by English.
Though he’s been living in Victoria for decades he says he still calls South Australia home and of course he has a song about it! Lots of wonderful local content that wouldabeen useless performing in any other state. He draws material from some of the more whacky listeners to Coodabeen Champions over the years that sometimes have better memories of songs he has done in the past than he does, and have also provided snippets of wisdom that occasionally made sense, or even if they didn’t were funny anyway.
This was a delightful show. Despite what he said, there were several people in the audience under 85 and we all laughed a lot. I don’t know why there weren’t more people there – there shouldabeen. Maybe they’re too old to get out? Or dead? Perhaps the audience for someone who makes jokes about football is too small? No matter – their loss.
And besides, it’s not just about football. The finale featuring several alternative versions of the National Anthem didn’t mention football once and was still hilarious. No couldabeen about it, he’s a comic champion.

(This review also published on The Clothesline)

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