Thursday, June 28, 2007

More pictures

These speak for themselves

The results of fire

I haven't had internet access at home for the past few days; I traced the problem to a faulty network card, but wasn't able to do much about it. Yesterday I was able to enter the office building at work; I extricated about eight computers so that most of the office staff could start work in a temporary office, and I also took a network card for myself. Once home (much much later in the evening) I installed the card and within a few moments I had internet access.

It's amazing considering how much damage had been done to the rest of the factory that the offices were completely untouched. When I went in, there was no electricity and the air had a bad smell to it. There have been people from the Ministry of the Environment onsite since the fire started, and they now say the air is safe to breathe.

Here are some photos, some of which appear to have been taken from a miniature helicopter. The first is a view from the kibbutz, which is higher than the factory; the photo was taken about 200 metres from my house, from which the factory can't be seen as there are trees in the way.

A huge plume of smoke:

Fire by night:

The final picture was taken the next day and shows quite clearly the extent of the damage done. The office block is the unscathed building at the bottom of the picture, and for those who care, my office is the right most window, next to the tree.

See how twisted and damaged is the roof; one can only imagine how high the temperature was in order to create such mayhem.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How one's life can change (part 2)

What I really wanted to write about this morning but didn't have time to do is to describe what it's like to wake up in the morning and know that one's life will never be the same again.

What has happened is not the same as moving to a different company and job. It's having the same job but moving to a new location. I imagine that quite a few people wondered this morning whether they still have a job, but on that score I can be quite definite. According to the plans arising from this morning's emergency meeting, everyone is carrying on. True, most of the production line workers will be on a forced holiday until further notice, but we do intend to get production back online as soon as possible.

I have got several responsibilities to discharge, primarily getting the offices working again. It doesn't seem likely that we will be allowed to work in the offices (which weren't damaged) due to the poisonous smoke still emitting from various places, but I am hoping that I will be able to enter the building, retrieve several computers and sundry equipment and set up a temporary office somewhere on the kibbutz.

More later.

How one's life can change in a minute

I went home from work yesterday at 17:20, which is about normal (we start at 7am, by the way). At about 17:45 my factory went up in flames.

From what I could see, most of the production facilities were completely destroyed, although the office block (which is where I work and so is important to me) seemed to be untouched. The police wouldn't let people get close enough to see what was going on - for obvious reasons - so it was difficult to judge last night how much damage was done. The huge plume of black smoke was a clue to the amount of damage.

The story began to be broadcast from the 7pm radio news, and from that moment on there was about an hour in which my phone was in constant use, mainly from people calling me to find out what was happening. We didn't "make" the television news as we had to compete with several, slightly more important stories.

I couldn't write about this last night as at the moment I don't have an internet connection at home, and of course I couldn't post from my office. I'm writing this on a computer in the kibbutz accounts office.

Shortly I'm going to down to investigate the ruins, and apparently we're going to have an emergency meeting to decide what can be done in the coming month. What about all our customers and the chairs which we have produced for them?

This story is somewhat dwarfed by other natural disasters, such as floods in Britain or a huge fire in California, not to mention human stories, such as a cassette from hostage Gil'ad Shalit or the summit meeting at Sharm El Sheik.

More later when I know more.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More songs with odd time signatures

With thanks to the online community, I received a pointer to a video of 1970 Fairport Convention playing "The Journeyman's Grace". This is a song written by Dave Swarbrick and Richard Thompson which was played regularly during 1970, but Richard left before it was recorded on 1971's "Angel Delight". Thus it is especially pleasing to see this video with Richard playing and singing.

Whilst the chorus of TJG is in straight 4/4, the verse is anything but. There are two bars of 5/4 followed by two bars of 4/4; two bars of 5/4, one bar of 4/4 and then one bar of 3/4 leading into the chorus. That 3/4 bar is a trick recycled from 'Now be thankful' and probably appears elsewhere as well.

Simon Nicol, then 19 years old, is blissfully unaware than in a few months he is going to become Fairport's sole guitarist as well as taking on a fair amount of vocals. In the video, he is hiding at the back, strumming away and seemingly oblivious to the peculiar rhythm.

Another song which I found on YouTube is Pentangle's "Light Flight". This was used as the theme music for a BBC drama called "Take three girls" which I remember watching, although I imagine that I was too young to appreciate fully what was going on. I have this song somewhere at home - probably a Pentangle collection - but I never listen to it as I don't find Pentangle conducive to my ears (don't know why). Anyway, this song is a masterpiece: the opening section is in 6/4. The verse alternates bars of 5/4 and 7/4, although I see this as two bars of 5/4 with a 2/4 bar thrown in to complicate matters. The middle section again is in 6/4.

I thought that I would check and see whether I have used any differing time signatures within songs. I know that somewhere I used the "3/4 leading into chorus" trick, but I think that was in some song which never received much listening time, so I can use it again without fear of sounding repetitive. I wrote a song called "Chance encounter" which has an intro in 5/4 which leads into the 3/4 verse. As it happens, this song was written in 1978 - the same year that I heard the Albion's "Lay me low" which uses the same transition - but I'm certain that I wrote my song before I heard the Albions. In fact, that intro probably derives from my discovering that Fairport's "Autopsy" was primarily in 5/4.

At the moment I'm working on a new arrangement of song which originally was called "Before noon" before transposing into "Morning man". This time round, I'm playing the song in 5/4, although somewhere a 6/4 bar crept in. The playout is in 6/4, again using that "Lay me low" trick. In order to upset the apple cart, at one point in the song there's a modulation; the bar prior to this is deliberately shortened to 3/4 whilst the rest of this section is in 5/4.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The happiness formula

Turned on the television a few minutes ago and started watching a progamme on BBC World called "The Happiness Formula" (although I didn't realise this at the time). At first I didn't pay too much attention, but when I did, I realised that it was about making people feel happier, a subject which I have had need to read about. The books which I have read were written by American pyschologist Martin Seligman, and within a minute to my surprise (or maybe I wasn't too surprised) and pleasure on screen appeared Mr Seligman himself.

The programme talked about things which can make us happier (marriage, community) and things which we might think make us happier but don't (children, money). For someone who has read Seligman's books, this wasn't too much of a relevation, but I imagine that it was for "The man in the street".

The programme finished with Seligman being offered a challenge by the Scottish government: to improve the national level of happiness (as defined presumably by the results of psychometric tests) by 15% within a few years. I intend to follow this, as I wouldn't mind my own level of happiness being increased by 15%.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Rise up like the sun

Before I get started on the real content of this entry, I just want to note that I spent about 30 minutes writing a blog entry, saved it and then ... poof! It's gone. Blogger prides itself on automatically saving entries so that if something happens during the writing process, the entry is still saved. So much for that. Anyway, as I always say to someone at work after they delete something that they've been working on for the past hour, it's always easier the second time round.

I am also going to type this in Internet Explorer. I don't like IE very much and try to avoid it. At work I use Firefox, but for some reason I was unable to install it at home, so I tried Opera. This is more like FF than IE, but has its differences. It also caused formatting problems whilst writing the blog (the previous entry shows a few lines extending too far right), and it was these problems which caused me to "save" today's entry, in the hope that saving the entry and starting anew would cause these problems to disappear. Some hope. So anyway, here we go again....

I try to vary the music to which I listen at home, instead of grinding the same few discs into dust. For example, today I was listening to June Tabor's 1996 "Anthology" compilation, which is a low-key but pleasant collection featuring a few gems (such as "Verdi cries" and "The band played waltzing Matilda"). I haven't listened to this disc in years, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Anyway, a few weeks ago in preparation for my trip up north, I loaded into my mobile mp3 player the Albion Band's quintessential 1978 album, "Rise up like the sun". I bought this shortly after its release and considered this to be second only to "Liege and Lief" in the folk-rock pantheon (an opinion which I still hold). The cd release includes four bonus tracks, only one of which - the world premiere of Richard Thompson's "Rainbow over the hill" sung by then-wife Linda - is equal to the original tracks.

At the time, I was aware of some of the metrical sophistication displayed in songs like "Lay me low", which basically is in 3/4 time. Its chorus (three repeats of the line "Lay me low") is, however, in 5/4 time, which is obtained by taking two bars of 3/4 and chopping a beat off the end. It sounds quite natural although slightly odd. It's difficult to imagine unaccompanied singing in 5/4, although Fairport play "Sir William Gower" in this time signature, as does Eliza Carthy with "Adieu, adieu" on her 1998 "Red" album.

This time around, my ear caught some games being played in the opening calling-on song, "Ragged heroes"; specifically, the bar prior to the chorus is often truncated to 2/4, whereas the song itself is in 4/4 time. Anyone looking for a precedent for this can look at John Lennon's "Bungalow Bill" which displays the same trick, although I doubt that this was the inspiration for the Albion Band.

But the real ear-opener is what was the closing track on the vinyl album, the epic "Gresford Disaster". John Tams set the words of the broadside ballad to a hymn tune, and the result, in lugubrious 4/4, is definitely reverent in memory of the 266 men who died. After several verses, a few ringing guitar notes are heard, and the song enters its contentious instrumental section. Taking the prosodic approach, this section represents the miners' families wailing at their loss, although I take a more musical approach. I write "contentious", as many people find this section exceeding long and unlistenable, primarily because of Ric Sanders' cosmic violin noodling (I can take it or leave it). Let me note the excellent drumming by Dave Mattacks, who is instantly recognisable due to his fills. When viewed as a whole, this section displays fine dynamics, starting with virtually nothing and finishing in a fine climax.

What caught my ear especially was the rhythm of this instrumental section. Two bars of 4/4 were easily identifiable, but after that came ... what? At first I was counting it as five beats (which would make each cycle in 13/4), but I wasn't sure of myself. I decided to contact Ric Sanders who is listed as the composer of this part (in one of the few composing credits on the album, an omission I find strange); at the time (about ten days ago), he was touring North America with the three piece acoustic Fairport Convention, and so communication was a bit difficult. Gracious as always, this is what Ric had to write -

I'm writing this in JFK so don't have the recording to hand, and it's a long time ago!! But I can tell you that The Gresford was put together by all of us arranging different bits - especially John Tams, Graeme Taylor, and myself. The middle (blowing) section is in fact a composition that I had written completely separately, called "Singing, Ringing", which just happily fitted. Its rhythmic cycle is 2 bars of 4/4 followed by 1 of 9/8.

Now I know what it's supposed to be, it makes it much easier to count the rhythm. What threw me was that in the 9/8 bar, the beats were played faster - obviously as they are quavers and not crotchets. This section mutates into a 3/4 portion led by Graeme Taylor's guitar, and of course it is easier to move smoothly from 9/8 to 3/4 (they're essentially the same) as opposed from 5/4 to 3/4. This section is terminated by John Tams singing two verses (starting with the one about the Lord Mayor of London collecting money) over that same 3/4 rhythm, before closing down and reverting to the initial 4/4 time.

However one wants to look at this song, it is a rhythmic tour de force.

After having deciphered all that, I thought that I would look again at "Liege and Lief" to see whether it contained any metrical sophistication. The first four songs are all in 4/4, so the first side is extremely conventional. "The deserter" is in 3/4, which brings a pleasant change. The instrumental medley starts in 12/8, moves to 3/4 and then finishes in 4/4, so that is definitely more interesting for drummers. I'm not too sure how to count this, but "Tam Lin" varies between 3/4 and 7/4; this is caused by verses having 4/4 bars inserted in the middle, whereas the instrumental sections are all in 3/4. "Crazy Man Michael" closes things down in 3/4. So yes, "Liege and Lief" is also fairly sophisticated in this respect.

"Now be thankful" is basically in 4/4, although its verse has a few 2/4 bars and the bar leading up to the chorus has been shortened, creating a 3/4 bar. A few songs on "Angel Delight" also contained some odd signatures, and of course Maartin Allcock had some great lopsided instrumentals during his tenure with Fairport - check out "The noise club" on "Red and Gold", which is basically in 5/4 with a middle section in 6/4. On the final verse, it sounds to me as if Maart is continuing to play in 5/4 whilst DM plays in 6/4. Who knew that such polyrhythms lay at the heart of such music.

Latter day Fairport is unfortunately very four square in this respect, which is one subliminal reason why I find their current output uninteresting.

OK - enough for today. Must take the dog for a walk.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Weather update

10:45 am. Outside it's over 36 degrees. Inside my head hurts slightly and I'm nauseous. It's a "yucky" migraine this time, not a "painful head" one. I go home to take a pill - I'll decide in another two hours whether to continue working at a reduced pace or go home to sleep.

19:45 update. Well, I took my pill, and by noon, there wasn't much nausea left. On the other hand, the pill had made me so sleepy that I couldn't concentrate on my work. So I went home, took another pill and slept an uneasy sleep for a few hours. Whilst asleep, I had some weird dreams, like deciding to record a version of "The Long Medley" from The Beatles' "Abbey Road"; that's how I know I was sleeping. Sometime after 3pm I awoke, but I was still zombie-like for a few hours.

Now I'm fine, but I wonder whether it's better to take these pills thus killing the migraine but causing side effects, or better not to take them and just suffer the pain. Neither route seems good, but I think that the first wins on points as it's better to be a zombie for a few hours than suffer excrutiating pain for the same length of time.

Incidentally, I think that these pills are OTC (over the counter) - one doesn't need a doctor's prescription for them. It makes one wonder that such pills with their side effects are legal, whereas marijuana is not. And again incidentally, the pills are much cheaper with a prescription; such is also the case with my stomach pills, which are three times more expensive OTC than they are with a prescription. On the other hand, paracetamol is actually cheaper OTC, although the difference is minor.

I wonder how these pills actually work. Most painkillers (to take an extreme example, morphine) work by attaching themselves to receptors on nerve cells and thus reducing the amount of 'network traffic' (to use a computer metaphor), meaning that one doesn't feel any pain. As this is their mode of action, they obviously don't have any effect on what is causing the pain.

These migraine pills also effect nerve cell receptors, but they also seem to reduce the duration of the migraine. Maybe the paracetamol has some effect on dilated blood vessels (which are what causes a certain amount of pain).

OK: enough on health matters. The next post should be about music.

Weather report

No, I don't mean the jazz-rock group from the late 1970s, I mean weather - what goes on outside of the window.

We've been receiving forecasts that today is going to be extremely hot, due to a sharav - a hot wind which apparently contains high numbers of protons sucked in from the solar wind. Days like this are extremely unpleasant and cause many people to suffer from headaches and dehydration.

At 6am, the temperature both outside and inside the house was 23 degrees Celsius. I don't know what the temperature is now (8:30am) as I'm writing this from work, but I do know that my left temple is already starting to throb, and my throat is dry. The scientist in me is interested to know what effect the sharav will have on me, whereas the person inside me would prefer not to suffer.

I do have pills for migraines which work, not too efficiently. They're composed of paracetamol, codeine and ingredient X (whose name I can never remember). Ingredient X is included in order to minimise nausea, which sometimes can be an appreciable factor in the migraine. I'm not sure whether this is a side effect or not, but this ingredient also has the tendency to put me to sleep. The advantage is that I miss most of the pain; the disadvantage is that obviously I can't take these pills and continue to work, so sometimes I have to make a decision what to do. Fortunately for me, migraines rarely start in the morning, so missing work hasn't been much of a problem.

Further updates during the day (depending on my ability to write...).

Friday, June 01, 2007

DCI Banks

Those sitting at the front of the class will remember that I like the police procedural series of books 'starring' DCI Banks, written by Peter Robinson. The other week I ordered two of his earlier books from Amazon; they arrived a few days ago, and today I finished reading them.

'The Hanging Valley' is the fourth book in the series. Whilst this starts promisingly, it soon gets bogged down and doesn't really lead anywhere. Despite including a trip to Toronto in the middle of the book (which is Robinson's adopted town), nothing very much happens, and the ending of the book is a complete anti-climax. I'm not too sure that any crime was really solved, and certainly no perpetrator was brought to justice, or even arrested.

The publishers pull a little trick on the reader; in order to disguise the fact that the story is coming to an end, the book includes a chapter from Robinson's current book at the time of printing (in this case, the excellent 'Strange Affair'). Thus the story ends before one gets to the final page of the book. Probably David Lodge wrote about this somewhere, that the reader knows that the story is coming to an end because of the dwindling number of pages. In this case, and in fact every Robinson book which I've read (except for the omnibus and his latest), there's always an extra chapter.

Anyway, 'The Hanging Valley' was without a doubt the worst Banks novel which I have read. It wasn't as good as even the first, which wasn't particularly good. 'THV' had a mixed plot, no resolution and even included in great detail the constituents of a 'full English breakfast' that someone eats.

On the other hand, 'Wednesday's Child' was very good and kept my interest right to the very end with quite a surprising finish. This book (and the two which followed it) show that Robinson was definitely improving in his craft. These belong to what I could call Robinson's second phase: not the early books which weren't too good, and not the later books which show a quantum leap in quality. It seems that the addition of Annie Cabot to the police regulars ('In a dry season') gave the series a much needed boost, and also allowed Robinson to have two separate plots going in the same book which don't necessarily converge.

'WC' has two separate plots, and Robinson has devote more 'screen time' to detectives who normally remain in the background; thus there is less Alan Banks, and the book is more about police and detection than it is about Banks. From 'IADS' onwards, the books are much longer, enabling two plots but also plenty of pages about Banks.

Ian Rankin has done something similar in his Rebus series, developing characters who were once peripheral (DS Siobhan Clarke is the prime example), allowing the books to cover more territory and multiple plots. Somehow the myriad strands of a later day Rebus novel all converge, which is not necessarily the case in a Banks novel. Strands rarely converge in real life, and I think that the Banks novels are slightly stronger because of this.

Music notes: 'THV' mentions Nick Drake twice and John Martyn. 'WC' is very light on the popular music front.