This December

Kalossie in the Mountain, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I took this photograph of a Kalossie (Ixia scillaris) swaying in the breeze whilst exploring a mountain slope.

I wandered upon a mountain slope

Although December is the beginning of the South African summer, it is yet spring on the mountain slopes with scores of wild flowers in bloom. I had the pleasure—nay the joy—of wandering upon just such a mountain slope late one afternoon, discovering to my amazement even more species I had not encountered before! Most notable among these were the pink Kalossie (Ixia scillaris)1 and Wild Hibiscus (Hibiscus aethiopicus). I saw a number of the former scattered about the slope and one of the latter in the middle of the track!

I took precisely one hundred and thirty photographs, some of which I have included in this piece. Of the utterly delightful Kalossie, I could not get enough. New to me, I dubbed it the “Field Ballerina” for its little pink tutu-like flower and its light sway in the breeze. So enchanted was I by everything I saw that I resorted to poetry, composing three new sketches praising the red Bergpypie2 (Tritoniopsis antholyza), the violet Fine-stalked Lobelia (Lobelia chamaepitys)3 and the pink Kalossie. I grouped these under the title “Wild Flower Trio”.

I had also the pleasure of encountering a Toktokkie4, a Darkling beetle that knocks its rear end on the ground in order to attract a mate. To demonstrate this, I made a video recording5 of it doing just so in response to my knocking on the ground with a knuckle. I could have sat there on the ground watching it forever, so engrossed was I by the creature and my silly little knocking trick! As I wrote this paragraph, I conceived of a little poetic sketch—“Tock-tocky”—which I have since added to my list6 of poems for the collection.

Wild Hibiscus, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The Wild Hibiscus (Hibiscus aethiopicus) standing its ground in the middle of the track.
Toktokkie, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The Toktokkie!

I completed “Boy in the Field”

In the “Boy in the Field” poem, I recount a sighting of a Paradise Crane7 last November. The graceful pale-blue animal is the national bird of South Africa, indigenous to this region. I have photographed it on a number of occasions before, usually in a group of two or three, or as a herd on a hillside; but here was a solitary bird, quietly watching me from a short distance. The moment was dreamlike: the world about me vanished, and the crane was to me the very embodiment of Nature’s every virtue—in its presence, I beheld the divine.

How I would express the experience in poetry—or any other art form, for that matter—I had no idea. The initial draft I sketched at the time seemed unworthy; I was beset with the fear that I may have to abandon the poem! Then, a breakthrough came—as it often does, whilst out in the fields—in the form of a single line: “The hills were brushed with gold, early in November, / No more the vivid green it was in September.” It was clumsy, but nonetheless the catalyst for the first verse around which I could then construct the rest of the poem.

Four verses were the result, together describing the scene and what it evoked within me—and surely any other moved by the loveliness of nature—in a musing lyrical ballad. Where I thought grandiloquence would be necessary to convey the sublime, modest language sufficed—with a flourish here and there—and the poem is now complete. As it evolved, so did its title, changing from “Boy in the Field” to “The Boy and the Crane” (inspired by the couplet composed for The Zephyr and the Swallow8), to the final “A Crane at Eventide”.

Bergpypie Diptych, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The lovely Bergpypie (Tritoniopsis antholyza) before and after its flowers open. What a display!

I realised the value of veracity

One of my favourite Afrikaans poems is “In die Hoëveld”9 by Toon van den Heever10. Confined in the mines and suffering from consumption, the poet longs for the expanse of the highveld. So convincingly does he lament his lot that I assumed the poem must be autobiographical. It was not. The poet was no miner, he was a magistrate! His poetic brilliance notwithstanding, I was outraged to deduce—with no evidence to the contrary—that the scenario that so captivated me was nothing more than the most eloquent of inventions.

I felt, however irrational it may be, that I was somehow deceived by the poet—I say “irrationally” because there is, of course, in poetry every liberty and encouragement to indulge the imagination—but it is precisely because the poem had struck such a chord within me that I felt so, dare I say, betrayed. In poetry, it has always been my intention to be true to life, to capture scenarios as they were, emotions as I experienced them. “In die Hoëveld” strengthened my resolve in this regard: factuality is more precious to me now than ever!

At first, this approach was a subconscious one. It became deliberate a few months ago whilst composing a sketch titled “A Pear Tree”. In it, I was tempted to place the tree in question on a hill for dramatic effect. I checked myself immediately: the tree is not in fact on a hill but in a valley, the last that remains of what once was an orchard. However much the image of a solitary tree on a hill appealed to the Romanticist within me, I realised that it was infinitely better—for me—to look for the wonderful in fact rather than fabrication.

Kalossie Up Close, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The exquisite Kalossie (Ixia scillaris), its blossoms about a centimetre (0,39 inches) wide.
Wild Lobelia on the Mountain Slope, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The dainty Thin-stalked Lobelia (Lobelia chamaepitys).

I did a little reflection

This year, I isolated myself on social media by unfollowing everyone. There were a number of reasons for doing so, but a deciding factor was the need to escape the incredible reaction of artists to the political events of 2016. Two years later, it still echoes through timelines like an untuned string11. It was particularly tiresome to me—if The Political Compass12 is to be believed—a “Centrist” with a slight leaning towards the “Libertarian Right”13 (somewhat of an oddity in the artistic community, if there can be such a thing).

Regardless of this isolation, I enjoyed posting to social media14 and also to this blog. They are invaluable tools of clarification and crystallisation. When I share a thought or any part of my work, it may be scrutinised by all. This helps me view what I have shared from the perspective of those I imagine are scrutinising it, and gives me a deeper understanding of the thing than I would otherwise attain. It is especially enlightening when I share something in which I am invested, and so it performs an important function in my creative process.

Copyright politicalcompass.org 2004-2018 All rights reserved.
The result of my “political compass” test, showing my position with the red dot amongst exemplars in the various quadrants.

Therefore, in the year to come, I shall continue to post to social media and write monthly digests on this blog. It is of great benefit to me to reflect periodically upon my work and the essays allow me to do just that: to consolidate my ideas, discuss my process, evaluate what I create and document my progress—in fine, to diarise my artistic endeavours. Whether this has any value to a reader, I do not know—the kind of person who takes an interest in my work is unlikely to be forthcoming on the subject—but I must proceed regardless.

I take great care to produce what is meaningful to others: whether inspirations, ideas or the results of these. Were I to fail in this quest, nothing would displease me more. That notwithstanding, the goal of this project remains unchanged. It is still an expression of everything I have come to value and a task I find deeply fulfilling. Its purpose is not to generate wealth, accolades or fame, but something nobler: to celebrate Beauty. And what better way to celebrate than with others? Grant me then the honour of celebrating with you.

Footnotes

  1. Afrikaans vernacular for a “klossie” (“little skullcap”), which the flowers resemble. In some dialects, there is a brief gap between the “k” and the “l” in “klossie” (pronounced “kh-lossy” with a short version of the “o” in “or”) and “kalossie” (pronounced “kah-lossy”) is the result.
  2. Afrikaans for “little mountain pipe” (pronounced “b-eh-R-CH pay-pi” with a trilled “R” and “CH” the guttural “kccch” sound in “loch”, that is, not the “ck” in “lock”, and the “i” in “did”).
  3. It is possible I am confusing this with Lobelia tomentosa, they are incredibly similar.
  4. Afrikaans for “knockety-knock” or literally, “little knock-knock” (pronounced “tock-tocky” with a short version of the “o” in “or”).
  5. The knocking Toktokkie video is here (Twitter).
  6. I periodically post a “Poetry Publication Progress” list to social media, this being the most recent (Twitter).
  7. Grus paradisea, also known as a Blue Crane or a Stanley Crane and colloquially as the Vyf-sent Voël (pronounced “feyf-sent foo-wil”, Afrikaans for “five-cent bird”) since it appeared on the now obsolete five-cent coin (ZAR).
  8. “The Zephyr and the Swallow” couplet is the poetic concept around which the titular EP (Bandcamp) is built.
  9. Afrikaans for “in the highveld” (pronounced “ihn di hoo-uh-felt” with the “ih” in “sit”, the second “i” that in “did” and the “e” in “felt”).
  10. In “This November” and on social media, I referred to this poet incorrectly as Toon van der (not “den”) Heever. Toon van den Heever (pronounced “toowin fun dihn yih-fihR” with the “ih” in “sit”, the “y” in “year” and a trilled “R”) is not his real name. Toon is a nickname attached to him when an annoyed rugby teammate, whom he had nicknamed Duimpie (Afrikaans for “little thumb”, pronounced “duhimpi”), snapped at him with “Ag jou groottoon, man” (which literally translates to “Oh your big toe, man”, pronounced “ah-CH yo CH-R-oowuht-toowin, munn” with “CH” the guttural “kccch” sound in “loch”, not the “ck” in “lock”, and a trilled “R”, an Afrikaans retort taking the form of “oh your [insert relevant epithet, typically a bodily reference], man”, used either affectionately, teasingly or derisively). Toon’s real name is François Petrus van den Heever (Petrus is pronounced “peeyuh-tR-uhs” with a trilled “R”). Whilst I knew that Toon must be a nickname, I thought it was short for either Anton or Antoon (respectively pronounced “ahn-tonn” with a short version of the “o” in “or” and “ahn-toowin”), both Afrikaans for Anthony.
  11. Manifesting itself in every smug, patronising, self-righteous (and outright petulant) affectation bourgeois pietism can muster.
  12. A test designed to determine one’s political leaning. It can be taken at The Political Compass.
  13. According to this analysis on the aforementioned site, in the excellent company of Frédéric Chopin, Antonín Dvořák and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
  14. Both Google+ and Apple Music Connect have announced the discontinuation of their services and so I no longer post there.

This October

A Malachite Sunbird, 10 October 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I photographed this exquisite Malachite Sunbird, one of two males who visit the Cape honeysuckle daily. I recognise this one by the marks on his lower neck.

I revised and revisited poems

Every poem I complete leaves me at once exhausted and invigorated. The former for the mental and emotional exertion of wrestling with poetic lines and the latter for the joy and newfound enthusiasm success in these endeavours, however modest, brings. “A Dream of Summertime”, three verses recalling pastoral details from my childhood, is now complete. Its final title, “Of a Summertime”, is the last line of the poem.

I began revising “Give Me the Fields!” on 13 October, fortuitously exactly one year after composing it as a spontaneous tweet1 in 2017. I enjoyed the verse so much that I added a second, third and fourth! It is now in that dabbling phase where I explore different ways of expressing the ideas behind the poem in rhyming verse. This eventually produces a range of poetic possibilities which I refine into a final composition.

“A Sunbird” is an earlier poem I had completed but since edited in parts, altering its structure somewhat and rendering it unfinished once more. I returned to it unexpectedly in October to fully implement the adjustments. As a result, the poem is more vivid, flowing and succinct. This is why I think it worthwhile to live with one’s work for a protracted period, returning to it anew with a better understanding of its essence.

My Favourite Field, 25 October 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Where the valley between the Babilonstoringberge and Kleinriviersberge (of which I wrote in “This September”) spills inland, my part of the Overberg region begins. You see above the Babilonstoringberge with clouds at their feet looming in the distance.

I bought an atlas

In my last post2, I wrote about the two years I spent in the valley between the Babilonstoringberge3 (Tower of Babel Mountains) and Kleinriviersberge (Small River Mountains)4. There I attended a small farm school where I was taught by my mother, a school teacher. Naturally, she cultivated in me a love for her favourite subjects, Afrikaans and Geography. My love of poetry comes from the former and of maps from the latter.

I remember drawing copies of my atlas, poring over the markings and lines, and inventing maps of my own! A few weeks ago, I purchased a Reader’s Digest Atlas of Southern Africa published in 1984, the very year I entered my mother’s class. It shows South Africa as it was when I was a boy with the provinces and names as they were then. The purchase was a nod to my eight and nine-year-old self, who is, of course, thrilled!

Atlas Detail, 28 October 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A detail from the atlas. The photograph preceding this one was taken from the spot marked by the yellow dot looking westward.
Aandpypie (Gladiolus liliaceus), 19 October 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A single Gladiolus liliaceus by the wayside.

I admired a lily

We are in the midst of the South African spring and the countryside is in bloom, from the common Limonium perezii with its purply papery blossoms to the rare and unusual Gladiolus liliaceus. It was the latter I hoped to find a week ago and was delighted to discover by the wayside! Gladiolus liliaceus is a protected indigenous plant, know to us as the Aandpypie (Afrikaans for “little evening pipe”, pronounced “aah-nd-pay-pee”).

It opens at sunset and perfumes the air with an intoxicating (and unmistakeable) scent, an event that causes the lily to change its earthy daytime hues (when it is closed) to purple at night. The purpose of this transformation is to attract nocturnal insects but also, I fancy, to delight its human admirers. The lily is another connection to the time I spent in the Babilonstoringberge valley where I was introduced to it by my mother.

It is one of her favourite wildflowers. Watching sheep as a child, the Aandpypie, then still abundant, was her companion in the pastures, growing in the mountains and marshes in flocks of their own. It was there she learned to revere Nature, a virtue she passed to me. As I knelt to admire my wayside discovery, I felt it was a transgression even to behold it… Compelled to capture its beauty, I took my photographs reluctantly.

I wept before a poem

My mother was recently a surprise guest during a television interview with my youngest sister about her ventures in the South African wine industry5. Thinking she might be asked about this region, my mother resolved to include in her answer two lines from “In die Hoëveld”6, a poem by the Afrikaans poet Toon van der Heever7 (1894–1956): “[W]aar dit oop is en die hemel wyd daarbo, / Waar kuddes waaigras huppel oor die veld…”

The Afrikaans translates roughly thus: “Where it is open and heaven wide above, / Where herds of grass skip across the field…” Only once before have I encountered a description so vivid of a sight so sublime—one that lies at the heart of my poetry and music—that of Eugène Marais (1871–1936) in “Winternag”8 where he likens the windblown waving grass to beckoning hands. I loved Toon van der Heever’s poem instantly.

I had not encountered it before my mother told me of it some days after her interview. I read the whole poem the next day. In the verses, Toon van der Heever longs for his beloved fields… There he played as a child, there his little house awaits him, there the wind makes waves of the grass… Ah! It was as if every string inside me was suddenly plucked! I was that boy! I am that man! I wept as I read because I understood every word9.

October Interests and Inspirations

I thought I would include here some of the things that interested and inspired me during the month:

  • The House of Small Cubes (2008), an outstanding short animated film by Kunio Kato exploring the unstoppable advance of time;
  • Calluna (2015) by Andrew Chalk and Tom James Scott, a delicate and meandering album with fleeting melodic fragments;
  • The term of venery “a loveliness of ladybirds”, which delighted me no end;
  • Carles Viarnes’ handwritten notation for his contemporary classical piano album Schematismus (2016) which I purchased; and
  • An insightful review by Doug Thomas of Origins by Affan, the inaugural release of Lonely Swallow, my micro label.

Footnotes

  1. I posted it first to Twitter here and the day after to other social media platforms.
  2. “This September”
  3. Babilonstoringberge is pronounced “bah-bee-lons-twuh-Ruh-ng-beR-guh” (the “o” in “or”, the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s).
  4. Kleinriviersberge is pronounced “clayn-Ruh-fee-Rs-beR-guh” (the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s).
  5. Under the aegis of a local wine farm, she owns a wine brand named after the hamlet in which we grew up and where I live now.
  6. Afrikaans, pronounced “ihn di hoo-uh-feld” (the “ih” in “sit”, the second “i” as in “did” and the “e” in “meld”), meaning “in the highveld”.
  7. Pronounced “toowin fun dihR yih-fihR” (a trilled “R”, the “y” in “year” and the “ih” in “sit”).
  8. Marais is pronounced “mah-R-ai” (a trilled “R” and the “ai” in “air”). “Winternag” is Afrikaans for “winter night”, pronounced “vihn-teR-nah-ch” (the “ih” in “sit”, a trilled “R” and the “ch” in “loch”).
  9. I wrote briefly of my own longing for the fields in “My Pastoral Romance”, which goes some way to explain why Toon van der Heever’s lines affected me so!

New Year, New Music

“The Early Ploughman”, circa 1860, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: Tate
“The Early Ploughman”, circa 1860, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: Tate

Story

Whilst it is possible to enjoy ambient music without any context, an album concept can transform the way one experiences the music. Depending on the objectives of the musician, the concept will lie somewhere between elegantly explained and deliberately obscured. My approach is nearer to the former. I enjoy telling stories and music allows me to do so in words, pictures and sound. This year, I want to give context to my music using words in the form of poetry and pictures in the form of unique album artwork.

Poetry

To me, words are inextricable from music, whether they are the lyrics to a song or the title of an instrumental track. On my first album, I experimented with this word-music relationship, adding lyrics (to be sung by the listener) to “Silently You Sail”, and I want to further explore this idea by using poetry as an integral part of new music. There are currently two projects in pre-production which will be built around poetry. They draw inspiration from many poems but two stand out as being most influential in developing the concepts behind the music: the untitled verses for the rabbit Silverweed by Richard Adams in Watership Down chapter 16 and “Winternag” (Afrikaans, “winter’s night”) by Eugène Marais. Richard Adams captures the wistfulness and Eugène Marais the melancholy I want to express in my own poetry and music.

This is the first stanza of the Richard Adams poem containing my favourite opening line in poetry:

The wind is blowing, blowing over the grass.
It shakes the willow catkins; the leaves shine silver.
Where are you going, wind? Far, far away
Over the hills, over the edge of the world.
Take me with you, wind, high over the sky.
I will go with you, I will be rabbit-of-the-wind,
Into the sky, the feathery sky and the rabbit.

And this is the first stanza of the Eugène Marais poem describing a landscape scorched by fire:

O koud is die windjie (O cold is the slight wind)
en skraal (and spare).
En blink in die dof-lig (And bright in the dim light)
en kaal (and bare),
so wyd as die Heer se genade (as vast as the grace of the Lord),
lê die velde in sterlig en skade (lie the fields in starlight and ruin).
En hoog in die rande (And high in the ridges),
versprei in die brande (scattered in the fires),
is die grassaad aan roere (are the grasses astir)
soos winkende hande (like beckoning hands).

“The Weary Ploughman”, circa 1860, the companion piece to “The Early Ploughman”, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: The British Museum
“The Weary Ploughman”, circa 1860, the companion piece to “The Early Ploughman”, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: The British Museum

Artwork

It may seem premature to think of artwork this early in pre-production but it is a defining feature of an album and one of the chief ways in which an ambient musician can communicate the main theme of his music. I want to use artwork to augment the overall concepts of my new projects, so I think it makes sense to develop the artwork in tandem with the music. This is how I approached the artwork for my first album. By making it part of the process from the outset, the result feels like a natural outcome of the process rather than an arbitrary afterthought.

I have approached a number of artists about developing artwork for upcoming projects. I am particularly interested in the idea of presenting machine-made music in a handmade medium. It introduces an element of contrast in the production process, which I like for its complementary quality. This is why I am investigating traditional methods of creating artwork. Etching is one possibility—the highly atmospheric prints of Samuel Palmer are great examples of what it can produce—but whatever the final method, this will be its underlying philosophy.

Music

The music will build on the idea of repeating musical phrases but will incorporate new elements. My tracks typically start out as piano sketches which I then reinterpret digitally, adding elements that suit the theme of the music. On my first album, this included a combination of digital keyboards and synthesised classical instruments, such as the French horn in “Airship” and the bassoon in “Giant in the Sky”. This really appeals to me and hence all the tracks currently in pre-production will make use of this combination in some form.

In addition to the solo material, I will also work on two separate collaborations with Krzyzis and Astoria Sound. (There may be one other collaboration with Ghost Signs but nothing has been decided.) I am planning a two-track EP with Krzyzis as a kind of preview of what is to come but in collaborative form; and my work with Astoria Sound will be for a dedicated collaborative album of theirs. I am excited to see how these projects influence my solo music and I am truly grateful for this opportunity to work with these very talented musicians:

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

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