“A Poison Tree” (William Blake)

Here is my second recording in the Romantic Poets series. It is “A Poison Tree” by William Blake. I intend to do a few more from the “Songs of Innocence and Experience”. They are obviously intended as songs and are just the right length. Blake is a particular inspiration to me. In 2019 I went to an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London of Blake’s art and poetry. It displayed the work in it’s original context, in book form. Some of the books are tiny, which is something I wasn’t expecting. Seeing the words and pictures together, in print form, really enhanced their meaning for me. It was probably the first time in my life that I really understood these poems. It has encouraged me to undertake far more original work of my own, a real inspiration!

I was angry with my friend; 
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears: 
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

And it grew both day and night. 
Till it bore an apple bright. 
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine. 

And into my garden stole, 
When the night had veild the pole; 
In the morning glad I see; 
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Here is a remix of the song. I have taken out the drums and harpsichord and added accordion. Which do you prefer? Let me know!

“La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (John Keats)

I have started a new project setting works of the Romantic Poets to music. Here is my first attempt “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats. I visited his grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. It was a strange and spiritual experience! I recorded this at home using Cubase 9.5 and various instruments and plug-ins!

 

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
    Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
    And no birds sing.
 
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
    So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
    And the harvest’s done.
 
I see a lily on thy brow,
    With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
    Fast withereth too.
 
I met a lady in the meads,
    Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
    And her eyes were wild.
 
I made a garland for her head,
    And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
    And made sweet moan
 
I set her on my pacing steed,
    And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
    A faery’s song.
 
She found me roots of relish sweet,
    And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
    ‘I love thee true’.
 
She took me to her Elfin grot,
    And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
    With kisses four.
 
And there she lullèd me asleep,
    And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
    On the cold hill side.
 
I saw pale kings and princes too,
    Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
       Thee hath in thrall!’
 
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
    With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
    On the cold hill’s side.
 
And this is why I sojourn here,
    Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Why Am I Living (I Ask Myself) by Kenny Wilson

Here is a song I have just recorded in my home studio. An old song of mine given a new treatment. All existential angst and swirling accordion, mandolin and guitars. I wrote it when I was 23 and it was a breakthrough for me. Previously my songs had been quite restrained and rather bland. With this I made my voice higher and tried to be more expressive. I developed a kind of method of unconscious writing. I was pleased with the result. It is still capable of shocking some people with it’s raw pessimism. It was inspired by the song “Father of Day, Father of Night” from the New Morning album by Bob Dylan although the meaning of my song is almost the opposite.

Dylan’s lyrics are:

“Father of night, Father of day
Father, who taketh the darkness away
Father, who teacheth the birds to fly
Builder of rainbows up in the sky”.

I kind of reversed it. My favourite verse in my song is:

“Father of Nightmares, Father of Dreams,
Show me an answer, say what it means.
I have been searching, I could not find,
I have been living deep in my mind”

This verse still speaks to me from my subconscious mind.

Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Man with a Movie Camera[1] (Russian: Человек с кино-аппаратом, romanizedChelovek s kino-apparatom) is an experimental 1929 Soviet silent documentary film, directed by Dziga Vertov and edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova.

Vertov’s feature film, produced by the film studio VUFKU, presents urban life in the Soviet cities of KievKharkovMoscow and Odessa.[2] It has no actors.[3] From dawn to dusk Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life. To the extent that it can be said to have “characters”, they are the cameramen of the title, the film editor, and the modern Soviet Union they discover and present in the film.

Man with a Movie Camera is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invented, employed or developed, such as multiple exposurefast motionslow motionfreeze framesmatch cutsjump cutssplit screensDutch angles, extreme close-upstracking shots, reversed footage, stop motion animations and self-reflexive visuals (at one point it features a split-screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles).

Man with a Movie Camera was largely dismissed upon its initial release; the work’s quick-cut editingself-reflexivity, and emphasis on form over content were all subjects of criticism. In the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound poll, however, film critics voted it the eighth greatest film ever made,[4] and the work was later named the best documentary of all time in the same magazine.[5]

Dimitri Kirsanoff: Ménilmontant (1926)

Dimitri Kirsanoff, born in Estonia but operating mostly in Paris, was heavily influenced by the theories of Soviet Montage. In his most famous short film, Ménilmontant (1926) – still frightfully obscure in most circles – he adheres to this style strictly, almost obsessively. His preference towards a brisk editing pace carries a unique vitality that is also seen in the work of Soviet masters Eisenstein and Vertov, who pioneered and perfected the technique of montage in the mid-to-late 1920s. But, nevertheless, I don’t think it works quite as well here. The Battleship Potemkin (1925) and The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) – perhaps the two most recognised works of Soviet montage – utilise their chosen editing style to full effect precisely because they place greater emphasis on the collective over the individual, in accordance with traditional Communist ideology. There is deliberately no emotional connection attempted nor made between the viewer and any individual movie character, for that would be contrary to the filmmaker’s intentions (interestingly, however, the montage fell out of preference from the 1930s in favour of Soviet realism).

Ménilmontant falters because it strives to create an emotional connection with the characters (particularly the younger sister, played by Nadia Sibirskaïa), but Kirsanoff’s chosen editing style continually keeps the audience at an arm’s length. The closest he comes to true pathos is with the park-bench sequence, when an old man offers some bread and meat to the famished woman, delicately avoiding eye contact to preserve her dignity. Even in this scene, the montage style intrudes. A director like Chaplin (and I’m a romantic at heart, so he’s naturally one of favourite filmmakers) would have placed the camera at a distance, framing the profiles of both the woman and the old man within the same shot, thus capturing the subtle emotions and inflections of both parties simultaneously. Kirsanoff somewhat confuses the scene, cutting sequentially between the woman, the man and the food in a manner that reduces a simple, poignant act of kindness into a technical exercise in film editing. It works adequately, of course, a precise demonstration of the Kuleshov Effect, but there’s relatively little heart in it.
But we’ll cease with my complaints hereafter. I know my own film tastes well enough to recognise that what I disliked about the film – its emotional distance, for example – represents precisely what others love about it. There’s no doubting that the photography (when it’s kept on screen long enough) is breathtakingly spectacular, making accomplished use of lighting, shadows and in-camera optical effects such as dissolves, irises and superimpositions. There are touches of the surreal. Kirsanoff cuts non-discriminately forwards in time, backwards and into his characters’ dreams, fragmenting time and reality into a series of shattered images, their individual meanings obscure until considered sequentially as in the pieces of a puzzle. Most impressive, I thought, was how several shots captured the linear perspective of roads and alleys, watching his characters gradually depart into the distance as though merely following the predetermined pathways of their future. The film ends exactly as it begins – with a bloody and unexplained murder – suggesting the inevitable cycle of human suffering, its causes unknown and forever incomprehensible.