Wednesday, February 11, 2009

as civilization unravels

it's soothing to chant something like the following, in which everything set backwards and upside down leads to a sense of floating rather than sinking....

I Am the Song

I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks the man.

~Charles Causley
from The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry, ed. Brian Patten

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

'and she was' to 'je vais vite': the quantification of music part 1

Becoming a math teacher has begun to take its effect on my real life. I find I have begun increasingly to think of the world in mathematical terms as well as in poetic turns, and I’m seeing patterns and trends everywhere (except in my personal finances, which I leave entirely in the capable hands of another). Let's do some numbers: In 1986 I was walking down East 84th Street towards the 1–bedroom apartment I shared with Lisa, crossing 3rd Avenue and listening for the x-hundredth time to 'Little Creatures' on my Walk-It. It was Friday afternoon and my book bag must have been light because I was swinging along; 'And She Was' came on and for the 1st time I noticed how the beat matched my stride exactly…and there I experienced simultaneously a moment of A-HA + DUH. (I believe mathematicians call this a Duh-Ha Moment.)

A-HA + DUH = A person who dislikes “working out” but who does like dancing could put together a mix of favorite songs and turn all that city walking into exercise! This meant laboriously trawling through all my cassettes and vinyl records and copying songs with the Magic Number, which was not Three but 29 beats per 15 seconds (which, as my 2nd graders cannot yet figure out, equals 116 beats per minute, but who sits counting beats for a whole minute?)

The first walking tape I made was pedestrianly titled Walkabout Mix, and it took 2 years and moving in with a man who owned better stereo equipment than I to get it done. It included 'And She Was', songs by Midnight Oil (hence the Aborigine-flavored name), New Order and Enya ('Orinoco Flow' turned out to be too slow at 28bp15s), and the song that took my listening experiences into a whole new spiritual, philosophical plane. 'Ackee 123', by the Beat (the English Beat to you folks who didn’t spend an extremely formative month in Evesham, England during 1981) led to the next tape, entitled Music for Instant Attitude Adjustment. You can hear it on this playlist, which includes "important" songs from each of the ensuing walking tapes.

Another perk, among many, of moving in with (and then getting married to) Brad with the better stereo equipment was the health club on the roof of our 46-story building in Battery Park City (BPC, not be confused with bps). There I discovered the treadmill, handy for those days when it was cold and wet and a girl really needed a dose of Instant Attitude Adjustment. There I discovered how to check my heart rate, which led in turn to discovering that while walking to all my carefully selected songs, my heart rate matched my stride matched the beat at 29bp15s. Surely the coordination of inner and outer rhythm was why this particular form of exercise felt so darn good. Keep this factoid in mind, as we will return to it later....

Those first 2 compilations lasted very well, supplemented by the likes of Deee-lite and Madonna's 'Immaculate Collection'--right through the move to London in 1991. There were other mix tapes along the way: Dancing and Kissing (What More Is There?) and Lovergirl Mixxx are the musical evidence of my split with Brad, and all of them could be filed under Mixed Feelings. By 1994, using Fiona's new Andersen-Consulting-funded stereo system, I had created walking tapes number 3 and 4, Pavement Pounder and then Pacemaker, which accompanied me on complicated London Tube commutes from West Hampstead to Camden to Haringey.

Meanwhile I was rediscovering the glories of a genre I had scorned during my long-ago "Heidi is/a punk-rocker" past (a pose which fooled no one): I bought a GBP5 cassette called "Divas of Disco" and had soon combined 'Ring My Bell' and 'Shake Your Groove Thing' with London club hits to make a new tape (45 minutes per side, approximately 22 tracks in total) called Sidewalk Groove. By the end of the London era, walking-instead-of-dancing had been joined by Actual Dancing as I took part in the Great London Gay-and-Lesbian-Ballroom&Latin-Movement. I salsaed, I rhumbaed, I East- and West-Coast-swinged, and I cha-chaed to the likes of 'Walking on Broken Glass' by Annie Lennox. Life was one permanently-adjusted attitude.

Please join us next week for Part 2 of The Quantification of Music, when we consider the short-term heart-health effects of life inside the beltway....