Friday 30 January 2009

Corporate Life


You know this thing?


Which thing?


THE Thing.


There are so many THE Things in my little life.


My thing.


Oh, your thing.


Yes, the thing is ...



... the thing is, nobody wants to pay for it.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Oooh fun

Photographer David Bergman has made a giant panoramic photo of the new US President being inaugurated.

The detail is stupendous. If you read down in the comments, there are people playing "Where's Wally", spotting everybody who is anybody, plus themselves. Politicians and TV stars, Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo Ma taking a picture on his iPhone, the disembodied heads or legs where the pictures were stitched together, the sniper team, the reader and his Mom, and so on.

Monday 26 January 2009

Functional Requirement

Every device worked by a remote control should have on it a button that, when pressed, causes the thingummy that works it to beep or buzz, softly, repeatedly, and frequently, till found.

Especially this blasted DVD player, which is all smooth-faced, with no buttons of its own. Completely inoperable. Where is it? Is it underneath the washing in the bottom of the basket? Has it gone down the back of the books? Slipped off the messy table into the wastepaper bin? Is it camouflaged in my stash of organically-produced undyed and naturally striped Welsh wool? Have I absentmindedly put it in the fridge? Where is the Widget?

Bhimpalasi Fast Tintal

While we're on music, I think this is awe-inspiring. It's a practice session, preparing for a competition.

Sitar: Andrew Mendelson. Tabla: Gulam Fareed. Story: A Cricket in the Court of Akbar.

The sitar is one of those instruments, like the bandoneón, that is a pocket orchestra in the hands of a master. I think this piece they're playing has a wonderful drive to it. Once I start watching, it's difficult to look away.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Joaquín Amenábar - post list

I've written a lot about Joaquín Amenábar's workshops on tango music for dancers, so here is a housekeeping post with a list of everything else. It's worth reading the comments on each, especially the first one.

[Update 4th April 09: you can now buy the book-DVD set here.]

Joaquín teaches Bandoneón at the University in Buenos Aires and another conservatoire, and he also dances in the milongas. His classes are very carefully designed for the nine out of ten dancers who have no music education at all.

Music for dancers
Why tango music is like it is
Modern Tango
[Update 04/04/09] Book available - and a note about it

But even if you do have some musical education (mine is not much, but more than most - I can sing my part in a madrigal, with practice) I'd still very much recommend them. They're fascinating.

What what these classes did for me was raise the problems of musical understanding from the level of the animal or child, and expose them to the firepower of adult human intellect. This is an effective way to get improvement quickly. It's like letting an elephant solve a problem with its trunk.

The three classes I took were also great fun, and so are the exercises in the book/DVD set (which should become available, eventually, from here). They are much fun as being three and doing Music and Movement, or sitting crosslegged on the floor and watching Playschool with Floella Benjamin, or Life On Earth. I love it.

Friday 23 January 2009

The Bezzle

Not the angle of the edges of a stone - that's bevel - but this:

“To the economist embezzlement is the most interesting of crimes. Alone among the various forms of larceny it has a time parameter. Weeks, months, or years may elapse between the commission of the crime and its discovery. (This is a period, incidentally, when the embezzler has his gain and the man who has been embezzled, oddly enough, feels no loss. There is a net increase in psychic wealth.) At any given time there exists an inventory of undiscovered embezzlement in — or more precisely not in — the country's businesses and banks. This inventory — it should perhaps be called the bezzle — amounts at any moment to many millions of dollars. It also varies in size with the business cycle ...

... Just as the boom accelerated the rate of growth, so the crash enormously advanced the rate of discovery. ... Audits were ordered. Strained or preoccupied behaviour was noticed. Most important the collapse in stock values made irredeemable the position of the employee who had embezzled to play the market. He now confessed.”
John Kenneth Galbraith — the Great Crash 1929

Or, looking at it from another angle, a financial crisis makes a lot of people look very silly.

From the desk of B. Ramalinga Raju - Glad I'm not the auditors.
Santander Praised ‘Impeccable’ Madoff.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Hunt the Economist

The Financial Times is offering a free T-Shirt if you can be the first to spot Nouriel Roubini in London.

The Economist: Roubini Right, Kind of a Jerk.

I have no idea whether any of the rumours about the décor of his flat are true. Do Your Own Research.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Joaquín Amenábar on Modern Tango

This was a very educational class and I'm just going to summarise what I remember, because it's so interesting I can't shut up. To make sense of it all, you really need example recordings. I don't think this topic is directly covered in the book, so I can only suggest taking the class if you have the opportunity.

The topic was “modern tango”, with special reference to the musical relationships between Pugilese, Piazzolla and what is called nuevo tango. Modern, then, meant broadly “after 1945”.


During the period of dictatorship where there was no tango dancing in Argentina at all, Pugilese's band played concert tango, for people to listen to, not dance. Passages of strong rhythm are contrasted with passages where the melody stretches and wanders and does its own thing, abandoning the rhythm, which disappears completely. You can dance to the melody when the rhythm goes missing, but you can't rely on your internal clock to predict where melodic accents will come, and you won't be in time when the accompaniment returns. If you want to improvise to this stuff, and represent it exactly with your body, you really have to know the recording by heart. Or you can use it for choreography. (Non-concert Pugilese, however, is fully danceable — I think that means pre-1945).

At this point I think we practiced hearing and understanding the different rhythms and melodies, and walking to them, especially not mechanically. That meant not stepping if the accent isn't sounded. Surprisingly difficult, and an interesting thing to try at home.


Piazzolla took a different direction. Contrasts are provided not between rhythm and melody, but by different melodies and their accompanying rhythms, arranged in an overall structure characteristic of tango (the structure was explained in the class I missed, but is in the book). The melody is in charge, just as it is with Pugilese, but it respects whatever rhythm was chosen to suit it, and you don't need to know the piece to dance to it. If the rhythmic accompaniment disappears and you only hear melody, the melody accents you are dancing to will still be in time. You can use your internal clock, and you will be in time when the accompaniment returns.

I may have confused two classes, but I think it was at this point that we spent quite a lot of time learning to recognise and move to the 3-3-2 rhythm used in a lot of later Piazzola, the one that goes namanamabanamanamaba. We looked at its structure in relation to the underlying four beats, and Joaqín's ingenious visual aids involving the velcro spots with little shoes on them were very helpful here. He mentioned that because Piazzolla uses the 3-3-2 a lot, some people suppose he invented it. In fact, it is ancient and universal and can be heard in the earliest tango recordings. [Another rhythm from the repertoire of the Ur-Busker — examples from flamenco and Arabian music are on the DVD. And in the café where I have my lunch and the Iranian Kurdish family play their favourite music.]

In dancing to either of the above, he said, your challenge as a dancer is to adapt and choose from your vocabulary to represent a rich, varying rhythm or melody or combination of the two. In both cases, the music is giving you lots of lead and lots of different things to do. If you know how to hear these things, and dance to what is there (not mechancially to a beat that may or may not actually be sounded), you're dancing in a way that is very satisfying to the couple. For this kind of dancing you need a vocabulary of fairly simple units, not longer than four to eight steps, the length of a musical phrase. And you need to understand them in rhythmic terms, so you can use them.

I'll note just there that the chapter in the book on teaching explains in detail one possible way that they might be taught in rhythmic terms. It assumes access to a reasonably good multimedia computer and moderate skill in using it, some sort of percussion instrument like a claves, and some equivalent of a box of Velcro Spots.


It's really too early, in Joaquín's opinion, to make any broad musicological statements about the Nuevo tango. There are only a few groups and it hasn't been around long, so there's hardly any material to look at. Asking us to put aside our personal tastes, and promising to do the same himself*, he played an example (I think it was Gotan) and asked us to listen carefully and consider what was happening musically, in the light of what we'd learned so far.

What was going on, he said, appears to be this: An extremely steady, unvarying and continuous rhythm all the way through the recording, with passages of melody and various sounds whose function is not thematic, but ornamental. They're not in charge.

He remarked that this makes a lot of sense in terms of the history of tango and the kind of dance done by younger dancers in Argentina.

‘Nuevo Tango’ the dance, he said, usually refers to the kind of thing developed by Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne, and pupils, since the 80s. At this point, [“and people will kill me for saying this, but it's true,” he added] tango had been entirely dead in Argentina for many years, effectively killed off by a determined government that regarded it as a threat. But it survived abroad, with foreigners who prized it, and with performers who toured mostly abroad**. And with the end of the military dictatorship, people in Argentina wanted to recreate it at home. Naturally, the people best placed to do the spadework on this were professional dancers who came to it with artistic and technical interests in dance for itself, not just as a means to a social or musical end.

For this, such music is ideal. It gives you unlimited scope to experiment and develop the technique, pushing it as far as it can go to see what you can do with it in terms of dance. You have total freedom to improvise whatever*** your imagination suggests and your body can deliver, with highly creative and complex variations, and the music isn't going to stop you. Here the music is artistically subordinate to the dance, not the other way around. The music is not dictating what you do.

Musically speaking, he saw it as a giant leap backwards, all the way to the 19th century — a return to a dance with a fixed rhythm, just like dance music generally has, as discussed in a previous class. Proto-Tango rather than Nuevo-Tango, musically speaking. [I'm not sure whether he actually said “Proto-Tango” or it's just what I understood and wrote down in my notes.]

People argue about whether it's really ‘tango’ or not, but Joaquín wasn't interested in going there, and nor am I, and I ask you not to go there in the comments, either (This Means You). I also ask you not to meta-comment about the fact that you're not going there.

As well as dancers, I think this class would be a help to DJs who aren't also musicians. I think it was new in the programme this year; and perhaps one day Joaquín might design a class with DJs in mind. And I'd be fascinated to hear whatever he said on that subject.

* His band is called Orquesta Típica de la Guardia Vieja — “Traditional Old Guard Band”.
** I think I remember reading what must have been an interview with one of these in a newspaper on a train in the eighties. I remember a mad woman saying passionately “It is with the legs. There is nothing with the head, nothing! It is the legs!!”.
*** Or indeed whatever else(!).

The power of dance

Munster vs. All Blacks, 18th November 2008.

Munster's Kiwis: Doug Howlett (62 caps for NZ), Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi and Jeremy Manning. With: 26,000 screaming Irish rugby fans.
Followed by: The All Blacks.

Anyway, it's the Munster crowd and their collective sense of drama that make this electric. In some of the other videos on YouTube you can hear them more clearly shussshing each other so they can hear the All Blacks. [Edit - the video was deleted and it's very clear in the one I've replaced it with.] Limerick has what you need to know about the match. Unaccountably, he didn't mention this.

Although not exactly sung, I think we can call Ka Mate, Ka Mate a great piece of music. Occasionally the All Blacks use a different one, but I prefer this.

As far as I know, and surely some Kiwi will comment if I am wrong, "haka" is in general a poem composed for dancing, and also the performance as a whole. This particular poem refers to how the poet escapes danger with the help of the Hairy Man, to fight or make peace another day. As I understand it, it is technically a ceremonial haka meant to motivate and unify the team, rather than a war dance mainly directed at the opponent. Same as this. I've read both that "the Hairy Man" refers to a specific historical man who was very hairy, and that it refers metaphorically to a team or tribe as a unit, the hairs representing collective strength. Either seems plausible.

Monday 19 January 2009

American Rhetoric

From one of the masters, via Brad DeLong:

I think it's an advantage of a presidential system - the kind with a relatively powerful president, apparently derived from French and Classical models - that you get to throw a coronation party every four to eight years.

Not to be sneezed at. I hope it is a good party.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Joaquín Amenábar on why tango music is like it is

Here's a point in last week's classes that was a revelation to me, and might interest you as well. I was vaguely aware that tango music was like this, but because I've never personally learned any other dance, or had any education about dance in general, I didn't understand why it was important.

The factual content of this is what Joaquín said, but the way of putting it is mostly mine. He's much more dignified and didn't mention buckets or buskers. It's all in the book as well, so you can check there. Anyway, here it is.

Music that is dance music has a consistent, fixed rhythm: a basic count, and then a rhythmic pattern that divides the beats up in a fixed way. The accents are always in the same place. The pattern continues all the way through, and it's the distinctive element of each dance. That's what allows you to hear a piece of music and say it is a waltz, or a salsa, or a rhumba, or whatever it is.

This is true of milonga, which is the ancestor of tango. Milonga has a rhythm called habañera, which goes POM pa-pom pom, POM pa-pom pom. It's very old - you'll find it in the middle east and Africa. It came to Argentina directly from medieval Spain. If you hear that rhythm, you can say it's a milonga and dance milonga to it.

A digression: I hadn't noticed until he named it habañera that this is the same rhythm over which Carmen sings L'amour est un oiseau rebelle, que nul ne peut apprivoiser .... Not just reminiscent of it, but the same. Of course this rhythm, as Joaquín said, is old. I listened for it this week in the café where I have my lunch, and the family play middle-eastern pop songs - they're Iranian Kurds, I think. And sure enough, there it was. You'd probably have heard it from the buskers of Ur.

Tango isn't like this. It varies.

Traditional tango music developed by taking milonga and throwing it in a giant bucket of Late-Romantic-Classical mostly-Italian immigrant musicians. Think Puccini meets the Ur-busker and they start jamming while they compete for the girls. You can't play Neapolitan folk songs or bel canto or German or French art songs to a habañera rhythm without very distressing results, so if these musicians wanted to dance to their own kind of music, the rhythms had to change to fit the melody. It so happened that the dance technique could accommodate this.

Consequently, in traditional tango there's no rule about how the beats are divided up, no rule about where the accents are, so no fixed rule about which beat you step on. It frequently changes within the same piece. The melody leads - the rhythms are chosen for the melody, the leader has to follow both, and the follower has to follow all of them. That gives you an extremely rich and satisfying dance.

On the other hand, [this is partly me, now] there's no need for much imagination in the figures. Anything longer than four to eight normal-time steps has a very good chance of being torpedoed by a change in the rhythm, so there's not much point. So if you're going to improvise well to this music, you want simple little modular bits of dance that you can adapt whether it's POM pom POM pom, or POM pom-ty pom pom, or POM pom pom-ty pom, or PánamaPánamaba, or POMPOM pom POM pom, or even pom POM pom POM or whatever they throw at you. Whether you dance well or not is entirely about how well you manage to stick with the music. And that means [said Joaquín], it's best to teach figures rhythmically, with the rhythm as a starting point, so that dancers understand where they can use them and where they won't work. (The chapter at the end of the book, on teaching, sets out one way that might be done.)

The next part of the classes covered the larger-scale structure of tango music, and how you can tell that a change in the rhythm is coming, and when. For that bit, buy the book. The exercises and examples take you through it, and you can go through them in lessons with Jill. (One of her assistants is Audrey Pattison, whose YouTube debut I posted here).

A second class discussed the later history of tango music and what's going on, musically, in 'Nuevo'. I thought that was really interesting too and deserves a post to itself, so I'll come back to that.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Joaquín Amenábar - music for dancers

I took three of Joaquín's classes last weekend, and there is so much to say about them I just haven't been able to start. But I have just heard that he's giving the same course in Cheshire this weekend; so this is just to say, if you can still get into those, or he is coming to a town near you, GO if you possibly can.

The book and DVD that he's done cover much of the same material, and I've bought two copies because I just know I'll lend one and not get it back.

If you're in London, they'll have some copies of the book and DVD set behind the desk at Carablanca until they run out. It's £33, and included on the DVD - apparently just for completeness, since extracts from them are used in the exercises and demonstrations - are more than forty full-length tracks of tango, milonga, and vals in high quality MP3 format which you'd have to spend a lot more money to collect for yourself. At the end of the book are special chapters on choreography and teaching, and how to make the music the centre of both.

The rest of the book (with DVD in the back cover) is a teach-yourself course for tango dancers who want to hear and understand tango music, but have no musical training whatsoever. Joaquín starts by explaining and showing you what a rhythm is, then how to find it in the music; he shows you how the rhythm in tango music varies, and explains the overall form so that you understand when to expect changes and how to deal with them. He walks you through lots of carefully-structured examples, with exercises to do by yourself or with a partner, and videos of a couple doing them for you to watch. He covers vals and milonga, sets out the history and relationships, and explains why tango music is the way it is. Even for someone with lots of dance experience and musical training, it would still be illuminating. And the exercises are just plain fun.

In the classes - not sure about the book - there's also a discussion of what's happening, musically, in 'nuevo' music. But anyway, the skills you learn would be equally applicable to whatever music you personally like.

I'd recommend the course and the book for anyone who wants to understand what “dancing to the music” really means, and how to do it. Plus DJs.

Why am I saying all this - it would really make me happy if lots and lots of British dancers took the classes and read the book. They'll dance better.

[Read the comments on this one - it's not just me. Also more about the book and experience of using it here, and a list of all relevant posts here.]

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Lion with Hyperbolic Mane - in action

The new Mum sends me this video (or you should see a picture if it hasn't uploaded yet), and says:

“He is fascinated by the texture of the mane here. I think this is one of the earliest occasions that he saw something he wanted and was able to consciously grip and feel it. I've often felt the same curiosity about eyelash yarns myself!”

Saturday 10 January 2009

Fire and Flame chic

Dress Code: Chic and elegant No jeans No trainers

The Fire and Flame Ball (31st Jan, near Marble Arch, see website) has an actual dress code.

In the tango scene, there's quite a lot of scope for signalling what kind of dance you prefer by how you choose to dress. The signals are not very reliable, and do not have fixed meanings, but they're there. The same approach might work for a milonga.

I'm full of curiosity about the relationship between who turns up and what they wear. Will anyone who always wears jeans, suddenly appear in a proper pair of trousers? Will bandanas be discarded, and in favour of what? Will T-shirts disappear, and if so, what will replace them? Who will, and who will not, brush his hair? Or will anyone who'd have to change his usual appearance, simply stay away? And what will be my own reaction to changes?

I did have my outfit clearly in mind, but I think I'll have to change it because of the cold. Not every dress delivers at a sub-zero bus stop. We'll see.

Anyway, if you want a ticket you can pay online, and it's cheaper if you book this week. Scroll down for the paypal thing to pay online, or you can send a cheque if you're quick. There might also be places at the workshops, but for those you'd better ring or email Brigitte, whose number is on the site. Adrian and Amanda are great, I've posted videos of them before (here's one). And there will be shoes.


I did two fascinating workshops today, which I will tell you about, and my legs ache, so I'm not going out tonight. And it's freezing out there anyway. I'm going to sit at home and keep warm, and possibly rub myself with menthol-smelling goo.

That means I'm allowed to eat smelly food on what would otherwise be a milonga night.

Hummus - the upside of tired legs.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Vaccination against bad taste

... and against quite a lot of bad dancing, for women at least.

José Garofalo in the heels, Carlos Stasi leading. Hat tip to TangoCommuter, who adds a bit of context at the link.

In case you feel that your permanent immunity requires a booster shot, José Garofalo does another version here.

I think the parody is stronger in the one with Carlos Stasi, because it's closer to common experience with a man leading, and truth is always funnier. But the second one, with Veronica Alvarenga, is better lit.

(I don't know where he got the shoes.)

Monday 5 January 2009

Contradicting myself

A counter-example. Although I whinge sometimes about specific moves, and I really do experience them as ‘eww’-some or frightening or tiresome on the whole, the truth is that all of them are all right ...


... you're good at them.

I dance now and then with just one person who does all that stuff, and I have huge fun. I'm never scared, and I don't go “eww”. I do raise an eyebrow sometimes, it's a conversation, but I feel that I'm dancing with him to the music, having an adventure, not acting as a conjourer's assistant or his audience. We do all the gizmos - inside-outs, wacky sacadas, colgadas (which I like anyway, when I remember how to follow them before it's too late), things I shouldn't wear a wraparound dress for, I even remember a lift - it's musical, it's joyous, it's pointful, and it's a hoot. Last time he got away with a leg rub. (Admittedly, I was wearing trousers.)

But those feelings of perfect balance, gentleness, stability, safety, confidence, and play, that he delivers — those make all the difference.

So, I was oversimplifying things. If I'm looking at it from a safe distance, so that I can see all the dancers of all talents and skill levels, I don't really think it's right to whinge about the moves themselves. It isn't their fault.

If I look at it from far enough away.

Friday 2 January 2009

Vintage gauge

I have a couple of lovely vintage patterns from Vintage Purls, and I was also hoping to make something from A Stitch in Time.

They'd take a lot of time, but I want to do it, so I was doing a little feasibility study by making swatches over Christmas. I bought some Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift, which I was hoping would be a fair equivalent to the the 3-ply used in the patterns. I also got some 2mm Addi circulars, very fast, and suitable for magic loop.

Here's the problem:

I couldn't get close.

The Jamieson's ball band says 3.25mm needles should give 30 stitches to 10cm/4in, which would be 5 7½ stitches per inch. The pattern I was looking at suggests 3.75mm needles, and 7½ stitches per inch, which is the loosest gauge on any of the Vintage Purls patterns. And if I used 2mm needles, which are the smallest usually sold, and I and yanked the wool so tight it was difficult to knit at all, I could just arguably get to 7½ per inch, at the price of aching hands.

After blocking with a steam iron, it's maybe 7.

So how did they manage to knit that tightly? Should I try laceweight?

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do this. Apparently, it's technically beyond me. How distressing. Maybe I should just adapt the patterns, it's not as though I was ever likely to follow them very closely.

I can't spell gauge, either. No matter what I do, or how many times I type it, it looks wrong.

Thursday 1 January 2009

Happy New Year

The blog is one year old, plus a month or so. Your comments make it much more interesting and fun. Whyever you're here, it's nice to have you.

Happy New Year, everybody.