Kyoto Sounds I

Posted on Sunday, January 22, 2012, under ,

The other week I bought this thing called IC Recorder, a very useful gadget for recording sounds and noises in the immediate surroundings. So I recorded some, just outside my building. Now you can listen to three sound extracts off the streets of Kyoto, typical for this time of year. Given they were recorded from the fourth-floor balcony the resulting mp3s are of a very respectable quality.
The first snippet contains a pre-recorded song coming off the truck distributing oil to households which use kerosene stoves, an effective and relatively inexpensive way for heating your home (there is no such thing as central heating system in Japan, and only recently there are radiator-shaped heaters on sale which still work on electricity).

Listen to this lovely sound of a ‘ishiyaki imo’ truck selling hot sweet potatoes for those frozen passers-by willing to pay handsomely for this little delicacy – a single yam will cost you 600 yen, which is about €6! The chant is so resonant that imagination immediately transports me to those times when life used to be slow and simple.

The last sound-bite is of a procession of Shinto monks who occasionally walk the streets in the early morning hours doing their alms-rounds, ‘droning like hornets’ as someone put it. This was my first ever recording done on a very windy day.

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Happy Dinoyear

Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2012, under ,

“Why won't they let a year die without bringing in a new one on the instant, can't they use birth control on time?  I want an interregnum.” – said John Dos Passos in 1917. Indeed, why don’t we decide to have an intermission between two years – a few unaccounted for, ‘dead’ days ­– something like a still screen-caption in the early days of television, with soft background music, as a space to pause and reflect, or simply stop altogether, relinquishing even reflection.

But this question sounds close to absurd in this day and age. How can it have any merit when our lifestyles and social trends are pulling us in just the opposite direction, as many services and businesses are open round the clock (we need warmer shoes and cooler clothes), as people put in more working hours (more money to buy the above), hell even footballers play games on New Year’s Eve nowadays and, what’s worse, many of us are watching (humans get bored easily). On New Year’s Eve we pick a talking head, out of hundreds to pick from, to wish us a prosperous year (humans will talk, no matter what you do to them). On Facebook , we cc the NY cards to hundreds of ‘friends’ we never met (take away their warm houses and comfy chairs and humans will perish). The calendar pages must keep turning over. That’s our lot. We are the prisoners of our own misplaced imagination. And so, the New Year hols are here to stay, for now, each year’s end affording us less and less time to notice it.

Being one of the lucky ones to actually have holidays, I’ve been watching documentaries and pondering DINOSAURS lately. Yes, dinos, those losers. Except they are not, not really. They were simply terribly unlucky with that meteor that’s all. Dinosaurs are the most successful species ever. Not only were they dominant for the staggering 160 million years (compared with the paltry 200,000 years of the existence of Homo sapiens) but they still live on this planet today in the form of birds – the direct descendants of a certain type of dinosaur.

Dinosaur Revolution aired recently on Discovery Channel in Japan (and perhaps worldwide?), is a dino show with a difference: most creatures are given a 'private', commentary-free treatment, with personal dramas and challenges to contend with. The monsters, big and small, are still roaring and thudding about, like in, say, ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’, but much less cartoonishly so. The following scene shows the last hours of one of the last dinosaurs ever - troodon. The troodon gradually realizes that his days are numbered as he seeks shelter from the ubiquitous permafrost. Finally he finds one - inside the giant jaws of another long-dead dinosaur! The symbolism is obvious, yet thoroughly poignant. 



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