Tag Archives: music

Repetition kills

18 Jun piano in the cruise ship atrium

Every cruise along Norway’s coast has to feature a visit to Honningsvag, and every one of those visits features a stay over night in their harbour. Fortunately, I have fallen into disgrace with the manager, and therefore am not sent out to the excursion to the North Cape. Instead, while all the senior photographers are out in the field, complaining about terrible weather and photo-unwilling passengers, I stand in the empty gallery, to look at portraits, and reminisce about the terrible music choices of our cruise manager.

I’m not even talking about Folk Boy, and his exhausting repertoire of ten songs total, which he repeats for three sets in a row. No, my concern rather focuses on the twenty-odd pop songs that some lunatic plucked from the Portuguese charts, and is now blasting through the speakers all cruise day long.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

The live music aboard is mostly quite good, but the garbage that drips from the speaker system is purely annoying.

Being a songwriter myself, and an educated one at that, I have my squibs with badly written songs, and repetitive music. So, we are not off to a positive start anyway. But hearing the same stupid songs every day, for nearly two months – that has to get on the nerves of everyone who does not enjoy that particular selection of music. Listening to Norwegian college radio would be better than this horrible, mind-numbing phonic terrorism.

Example: Peniston’s “Finally”, with its slurred-out rhymes is barely even a song, and certainly not improved by its monotonous disco beat, rivalling any humping back yard squirrel in its annoyance and persistency. I don’t care how well you represent a subculture of R&B punkers – if you end your monotonous “song” with a thirty-second repetition of “Yea-eah”, without even the slightest change in volume, intonation, or timing, I have to question the intellect of a) the person who selected your music for the sixty-minute-repeat loop, and b) anyone who refuses to complain about said loop.

Isafjordur, Iceland

The only way to keep my mind together is by remembering the great outdoors.

At times like these I actually look forward to my twenty minutes in the exercise room. Normally the Spanish music channel that we receive via satellite is not something I would listen to willingly, but it certainly beats the quality of the music selection aboard. “eRTe eLLe, chinque due chinque” is a slogan that will ring in my head for years to come, and that won’t easily relate to happy memories. But at least the representatives of foreign commercial radio understand that no person alive can listen to one hour of bad pop music on repeat without stumbling brain-dead into the nearest speaker.

There you have it. Even Spanish pop radio hosts make better DJs than our audio-visually impaired cruise manager. I think I will add “music entertainment” to the list of arguments that speak (quite strongly) against an ongoing employment with ABC Cruises.

 

PS.: I updated the photo gallery of Honningsvag with new images from the city, and its surrounding mountains. Have a look.

Cruise Musicians – what a bore

15 May Goemon5 - The Fire Within CD cover

During the last embarkation in Hamburg we picked up a bunch of new musicians, among them one German couple who plays party music, and even one Folk man, with guitar, and tambourine, and harmonica. Being a folk musician myself his set-up actually got me really excited, but after listening to him for nearly one week I am now ready to push him overboard.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

Every evening there are some five musical acts playing aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Some are much better than others.

The Folk Boy seems to have monopolized the stage next to the Photo Gallery, so I needlessly have to audit the daily demonstrations of his rather limited repertoire. Sometimes I have the urge to just walk over before he starts playing, and tell him: “it won’t be easy. In fact, it will be pretty hard.” But I doubt that he is intelligent enough to catch my drift, and still would not leave that particularly bad song bound in his notebook.

Years ago my friend Marc announced that he wanted to become a cruise musician, and that the company required him to learn a repertoire of at least one hundred songs, in order to even apply for the position. I don’t recall which company he had in mind, but ABC Cruises seems to reject such scrutiny; Folk Boy repeats almost his exact set list three times every evening. And every single song is taken from the lists of top ten popular songs from the past three decades. Annual Top Ten Pop charts, mind you – we wouldn’t want to include a song that anyone could enjoy as refreshingly new.

I never liked commercial radio, because it only plays the charts, instead of exploring interesting music alternatives. Folk Boy is worse than radio, because he is not only playing the charts, but playing all of it in the same Rock’n’Roll voice. On first listening it sounds interesting and new, but after two tracks his Rock’n’Pop album becomes rather repetitive. Neither the tambourine taps, nor the harmonica riffs, and not even the great guitar solos can mask the fact that his music is tremendously boring. Same style, same songs, three hours. Kill me already!

Goemon5 - The Fire Within CD cover

There are more songs on my debut album “The Fire Within” than ABC’s Folk Boy has in his entire repertoire.

There are more songs on my solo album than in his standardised set list. (Fourteen beautiful songs, available now on almost any electronic music platform.) Not to mention my variation in vocalisation, and originality in style and musicianship. On top of that I can play another eighty or so cover songs and traditionals. On banjo, guitar, and ukulele. That should be plenty for an ABC Cruise musician. Once I get fired as photographer I can immediately reapply, as cruise musician. Playing three sets each night is a challenge, but if I play it soft, I should be able to manage. Most of the time the musicians only provide background music anyway, so I would not need to exhaust myself with a concert-level performance.

So there it is. Out of audiovisual necessity I have birthed plan B for my cruise career. I will be a cruise musician. Now I just need to get myself fired.

CRUISE – Irish Cobh, and facial hair

14 May Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This morning I had a lovely chat with the human resource manager (HR) of the ABC RypMeOff. It would seem that I angered the captain once too often, and manager Mihai angrily sent me to the HR, so that perhaps he “can make [me] understand the groom”. Arguably I do understand the groom (and the groove, but that is a different story). And whenever I try to enhance Mihai’s understanding, he silences my attempted explanation. Thus, I went to HR, and chatted with him instead.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This was the state of my hair when I worked as a cruise photographer.

The whole story started about a week ago, when I was standing all alone in the Plaza, waiting for unwilling passengers to not have their pictures taken. A middle-aged lad stopped some six metres away from me, and photographed me with his mobile phone. When I asked whether I could now photograph him in turn, he only replied with the word “inspector”, waving an orange-framed ID card in front of my face. Events escaladed from there.

Our photo manager received various angry phone calls from the captain, who complained about the strange figure with the obscenely long facial hair, and the way too short pants. I had the tailor fix the pants problem (once I managed to track him down), but my facial hair won’t pass as easily.

Before I agreed to take the photography job with ABC I messaged my manning agent, and inquired about the limitations of the ABC “groom policies”. I sent him one of my advertisement photos, and asked whether this appearance would meet the company standards. As it turns out the masters of ABC Cruses can be quite the sticklers when it comes to hair, even forbidding more than shoulder-long hair for female crew. In order to avoid unpleasant surprises I inquired about details, and after only two weeks I received an official reply.

According to the manning agent I needed to go through three major changes, some of them more easily met than others. 1) Cut my hair so that it would not meet my shoulders. – I opted for a 5-mm cut, because it is easy to care for. 2) A clean shave, apart from selected areas of the face. – That is already a chore, because I now have to shave every other day. But as long as it keeps people happy, I shall oblige. 3) The moustache “must not touch the upper lip”, and all “facial hair must me constrained to the plane of the face”. – This is the point where the monkey meets his banana, and realizes that it’s rotten.

Goemon5 in Calgary, via Alyssa Hanke

Around 2015 Goemon5 still had lucious hair, and paid little attention to his moustache. Photo credit: Alyssa Hanke.

In retrospect the last demand leaves considerable space for interpretation, but for the moment I felt safe enough. During my last trip to Berlin I had to visit six different shops before I found a hair gel that was thick enough to replace my dwindling supply of moustache wax. It is far from ideal, but under the given circumstances it is a good working solution. The “hair dress” keeps my moustache in line, and my goatee pointy. It comes with a commitment of about fifteen minutes for facial hair styling every day, but the visual results seem worth the effort. At the very least I can groom my beard into a two-dimensional framework that edges along the official guide lines.

However, none of this is good enough for Captain Hitler (not a name I made up), who strongly demands that my facial hair be trimmed down to meet company policies. And therefore, this very morning, when I could have been wandering through lovely Corb, I had a long discussion with HR in an attempt to diffuse the situation. I told him about the official e-mail, about my commitment to the beard, and the constant struggle with the captain. I also mentioned, not quite in passing, that I had been growing this moustache for twenty years, the goatee for six. The army didn’t get my moustache, the university didn’t get it, and ABC Cruises won’t take it from me either.

I feel that this entire conflict has grown out of proportion. But should it come to a showdown between the clean-shaven (and bold) captain, and my extravagant facial hair, the captain will not win. If I am confronted with the choice between moustache and this job, “beard” will be my preferred option.

goemon5-final-recordings-in-snow-1

The moustache always wins. Probably not the girls, but certainly the Weird Face Competition.

HR patiently listened to my reasoning, and explained that he was here to help in any way he could. And I believe him. We watched the ABC grooming video, and re-read the grooming policy. We compared those with the email, with the state of my beautiful face, and with Captain Hitler’s demands. And the beard won. Hooray! HR promised me that everything would be alright for now, and that he would deal with any future demands from the captain personally.

Today I have made one more powerful friend aboard the ABC RypMeOff, and have defended my unique facial hair against the darkness of ABC policies. It has been another victory, for all the bearded bards aboard.

Sadly, that means I won’t get disembarked any time soon, and may even have to finish this stressful contract. Well, let’s see what other trouble we can stir up. There’s gotta be a way to get me fired. In the meantime, I will enjoy a lovely walk through the scenic town of Cobh, Ireland. For some scenic photos click here.

2016 Retrospective – Why death is not the end

1 Jan Fire in Calgary

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.” Robert Jordan is long gone from this world, but with The Wheel of Time he has left the world one of the best book series that the realm of Fantasy could ever imagine. And as the Gregorian calendar turns another full year we ask again whether anything we did will pass to legend, or if all we did was to feed the squabbling turmoil of the moment.

 

Shades of Black

To many the year 2016 will be something that they would rather forget. For instance, we saw the rise of right-winged populist politics, “the end of democracy” as left-winged populists called it. The British UKIP party celebrates itself for dragging Great Britain into political isolation. A notorical liar, despised by his own party, led the conservative Republicans to victory in the USA. And Putin’s military forces helped Assat’s band of alleged war criminals to reclaim the iron throne of Syria. Now, all of that sounds horrible to the thinking one who feels. But will we remember any of it long-term? I doubt it.

Horror is not something that people try to hold on to. It is something they try to forget. Twelve days ago a Moroccan asshole stole a truck from a Pole (Oh, the irony!), and drove it into a Christmas Market in Berlin. That guy killed about a dozen people, and is widely acclaimed to be a formidable terrorist. But who will remember him for it? Who but religious extremists will see his actions as memorable?

Christmas markets continue to exist. People continue to enjoy themselves outdoors. Except for those directly involved in the attack nothing has changed. Populist spokespersons often proclaim that “once the terror is at our door, it will be too late”. However, now that the terror has smashed our neighbour’s face in we still consider it a long distance away. We refuse to be afraid of it. Hear that ISIS; you cannot prevent the Western World from being jolly!

Not even two weeks have passed since that Islamist killed a dozen shoppers, yet most Germans don’t recall the name of the attacker, or even the specific Christmas Market that he blundered into. The terror is here, and we know it is real; still we try to forget, not to remember.

 

Fire in Calgary

Photo reporters flock around catastrophes, because they generate interest. But long-term those negative images don’t hold.

Evil never prevails

That is why terror organisations such as ISIS, UKIP, or AfD (our modern German Nazi party) are bound to fail. They pull off a few media stunts, blast a hole into our political fabric, and keep themselves in recent memory. But as the years go by they degrade to another speck on the colourful tapestry of world politics. People do not remember the destroyers. They commemorate creators.

The Maya, Inca, and ancient Egyptians all believed in something bigger, and modern man remembers them, because of the things that they created to glorify their makers. Few people recall the Mormon’s “Mountain Meadows Massacre”, despite its vileness. Yet, most North Americans know about the Mormons, because they are impressed by their huge and glorious temples that seem to pop up in everybody’s neighbourhood.

 

Goemon5 CD release poster

2016 saw the release of my first album. THAT is something I will remember.

Creators that last

That is why our children won’t remember ISIS, or UKIP, or Donald Trump. Because they have not (yet) created anything of value. They have not moved the world forward and therefore won’t stand the test against time. As soon as any of them dies their remnants will quickly be ground down and carried away by the great wind that rose in the Mountains of Mist; doomed to be forgotten as Ages come and pass.

So, which memories of our recent history do we keep alive? We will remember Malala Yousafzai for her courage; for wanting an education so badly that she faced gunshots to obtain it. We hold George Michael in memory for his work towards public acceptance of homosexuality, and for that horribly overplayed Wham! song.

may-meltdown

Rollerderby rules. Enough said.

So, what of 2016?

2016 is a year of personal victories. I will remember it as the year that I released my first album, and the year I created my first professional music videos, in collaboration with multi-talented Natasha Sayer. It is the year I found Rollerderby, and watched the Calgary Allstars win Silver at the Championships. Granted, it’s a year of personal memories. But this is the kind of selfish positivity that hurts no one, and is far more encouraging than mourning over all the great musicians who are no longer with us.

Thus, I encourage you to do the same. If you can’t find any global and ground-shaking occurrences that keep the year 2016 in your positive memory, rather pick some personal ones. Come on, there has to be something about this year that you liked! Keep that one in mind. Stay positive. There is always tomorrow.

Moving “Home” – Farewell Calgary

26 Oct

Seven years ago I moved from Germany to Calgary, to acquire a doctorate degree in science. My academic journey has been full of interesting surprises, and my perspectives of life and career have changed dramatically from the youthful self that once embarked to join a four-year study program. Yet, every journey must end, and after fulfilling the requirements of my degree program I am now moving back to Europe, returning to my home town, family, and ultimately re-embracing my mother tongue. Seven years is a long time span, and now that I am finally sitting on the airplane to Germany I have time to reflect on the flow of feelings that engulfs my return.

goemon5-final-recordings-in-snow-1

Among other things Calgary is the birthplace of my music performance.

 

Firstly, I must point out that I utilise the term “home” in quite a loose sense. If “home is where the heart is”, mine usually travels with me. Home is where I make my bed and feel safe enough to leave my belongings unattended. I can make myself at home at any place that offers shelter and comfort, which allows me to build a dwelling wherever I like. (My friend Tash’s house has been a particularly comfortable den this past summer.) Having that said, there are now two places that I can call home without elaborate preparation or philosophical debate. One is that old room on the second floor of my parent’s house; the place that holds nearly three decades worth of memories for me. The room where I grew from an ignorant boy to an ignorant boy with a Masters degree. The other home is the big Western town of Calgary, a city that is full of friends and great memories, and arguably the catalyst of the biggest change in personality and perspective that I might ever experience. In this last year I have made more friends, and have gone through greater life changes than I did over decades of living in my parents’ house. Not only did I connect to people with common interests; I also discovered and developed most of those interests in Canadas’s biggest cowtown.

 

Make da Music

Starting with a vague interest in Folk music, my involvement in Calgary’s music scene has greatly expanded the scope and quality of music that I listen to. Amy Thiessen, one of Calgary’s original gems, is in many ways the reason why I became a songwriter and musician. The first time I ever sang in public was at Amy’s open mic, in Kensington’s Oolong Tea House. She was the determining factor in my decision to learn the ways of the guitar, and remains a great inspiration for the expansion of my craft. I’m not saying there is no artistic inspiration in Germany, but within thirty years in Europe it never crossed my mind to learn to play an instrument. That is an odd thought, considering that after merely six years in Calgary I now play five different string instruments, and play the piano well enough to write songs on it. My dad learned to play piano when he was a child, but since we did not have one at home, it never occurred to me that I could do the same. Calgary’s songwriter community has provided me with the will and inspiration to play and write music, a fact that, on its own, justifies a special call to friendship.

amy-thiessen-soul-fed-folk-at-wine-oh-37

Amy Thiessen continues to inspire and amaze me.

 

Visual Art

Calgary has also made me a photographer, through its motives, events, and irresistible deals on lightly used camera gear. Ever since I acquired my first digital camera (a brand-less 2 Megapixel superstore find) I have been documenting parts of my life in digital imagery, and once I started shooting music events I recognised an increase in the quality of my work. For me photography is a very organic process. I never know exactly what I am doing, but my growing experience grants me the grace and vision that is required for transforming opportunities into quality pictures.

I acquired my first digital SLR camera at the end of November last year. I had just handed in my dissertation, and was awaiting trial by examination. My friend Martin asked me for advice on a camera decision that he was about to make, and due to temporary boredom I spent my morning researching and comparing SLR cameras on Calgary’s second hand website Kijiji. One week later I had invested about $2000 into a lightly used Nikon DSLR and multiple lenses for it (worth approximately $5000). one week after that I shot my first series of portraits, for the Calgary Rollerderby team Jane Deere. One month after that I released my first professional music video (in collaboration with Calgary songwriter and rollergirl Natasha Sayer), and within those two months I had become a photographer for the Calgary Roller Derby Association.

I was conceived with a certain amount of talent, and am therefore able to achieve most of the things that I put my mind to. However, when I lived in Germany my mind was mostly occupied with video games and dinosaurs. I had never learned a craft, or aspired to create any form of art. Granted, I had been taking pictures of things for about a decade, especially in my occupation as geologists, where EVERYTHING requires visual documentation. But shooting images of people, let alone sharing those pictures with them, was nothing that featured vibrantly in my daily life. Photos merely documented the passage of time. Today I point my camera at people, and get excited when they comment on the outcome. And yes, it sounds odd that such thing did not occur to me much earlier.

natashas-cat-popo-36

Yoga Cat is just one of my many willing photo motives.

 

Sports are actually interesting

I have never been particularly interested in sports, and continue to be extremely bored by Germany’s national outdoor activity – football. My dad singed me up for practice when I was ten years old, but it only took him a few weeks to realize that it was not worth my attention. My lack of physical fitness and my unreasonable reaction time make it impossible for me to play any kind of ball game without looking like a twat. When I now ponder the massive number of ludicrously overpaid players and increasingly stupid FIFA regulations, it becomes obvious that football has not made an effort to increase its entertainment value since my youth. However, my friend Thrashin’ Tash introduced me to rollerderby, a team sport that embraces team spirit and friendship as well as athletic power and grace. And even more so a sport that nearly everyone can be part of. If you can skate, you can play; even if you don’t have the physique of a marathon runner. If you can’t skate, you can become a game official, time taker, photographer, or embrace any of the other roles that this sport creates. The instantaneous feeling of belonging and community integration that I have experienced in rollerderby continues to amaze me. Within a few months I have become personally engaged with the Calgary rollerderby league, and I was choked up and happy when I saw the photographic impressions of their great victory at the recent playoffs in Lansing. For the first time I feel personally invested and interested in a sport. Berlin has a rollerderby league as well. We’ll see how they compare …

may-meltdown

Rollerderby rules. Enough said.

 

Money maker

I enjoyed a pretty good education, all free of charge. I used that to the full, not actually knowing where my path would lead, but eager to get yet one more degree, just as long as it kept me away from making actual life decisions. When I started my Ph.D. program, I was relatively determined to pursue an academic career, as scientific research appeared to be a rewarding and engaging path to choose. Well, over these past few years I have come to realise how much of their time academics actually spend on writing proposals and reports, justifying their existence in multi-paged documents. I am not quite sure I want to do the same for the next three decades, so academia may not actually be the grand prize that I hoped for.

On the other hand the graduate student program forced me to become a teacher. Granted, there is a difference between teaching highschool kids about cell structure and teaching college students about the anatomy of the shark. But the mechanism remains the same – learn about a subject, and create a learning environment in which those knowledge bites are easily consumed. Teaching is a rewarding activity, and I can see myself doing that for a living.

 

Good Bye, for now

So now I am a photographer, musician, songwriter, and teacher. I gained all of those skills in Calgary, although I certainly had the associated talents before that. I just lacked the catalysts to develop them. In short: I have discovered a love for experiencing art, and a passion for making it, and Calgary’s various social communities have been the driving factor behind a spectrum of personal developments that are entangled in those various roles. It saddens me to leave Calgary, and I keep telling myself that it is not a farewell forever. But at the same time I cannot see myself returning any time soon, not for more than a state visit.

The wheel weaves as the wheel wills. What my role in its pattern might be remains to be seen.