An Introduction to the Oud

Oud-cordierImage via Wikipedia
An Oud doesn't make use of frets.
The Oud is a stringed instrument similar to a European lute, but without frets. Unlike a guitar, an oud has a curved, bowl-shaped back. Between it’s fretless fingerboard and its resonant curved back, the oud is capable of sounds at once, frenetic, melodious and meditative.

According to Wikipedia the modern oud and the European lute both descend from a common ancestor.

The oud was most likely introduced to Western Europe by the Arabs who established the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula in 711.… [The] royal houses of Al-Andalus … cultivated an environment that raised the level of oud playing to greater heights and boosted the popularity of the instrument. The most famous oud player of Al-Andalus was Ziryab. He established a music school in Córdoba, enhanced playing technique and added a fifth course to the instrument. The European version of this instrument came to be known as the lute – luth in French, Laute in German, liuto in Italian, luit in Dutch, laúd in Spanish, and alaúde in Portuguese. The word "luthier", meaning stringed instrument maker, is in turn derived from the French luth. Unlike the oud, the European lute utilizes frets (usually tied gut).

Wikipedia continues in relation to the the later evolution of the European lute:

“[An] important point of transfer of the lute from Arabian to European culture might have been in Sicily, where it was brought either by Byzantine or later by Saracen musicians. There were singer-lutenists at the court in Palermo following the Norman conquest of the island, and the lute is depicted extensively in the ceiling paintings in the Palermo’s royal Cappella Palatina, dedicated by the Norman King Roger II in 1140.

My first introduction to the oud came from the Egyptian-born Australian Joseph Tawadros, whose love of the oud has popularised the instrument amongst many an Australian who previously might never have heard of the instrument. Joseph Tawadros is a player and composer of the oud who plays with passion and whose music can jump from at once deliriously frenetic thrumming to the sudden sublime contemplative melodies one usually only associates with the violin.

Joseph Tawadros’ has recently collaborated with Jazz musicians Jack DeJohnette, John Abercrombie and John Patitucci as well as his younger brother James Tawadros for his latest album “The Hour of Seperation”. The title comes from a line in a poem from Kahlil Gibran that says “Love knows not it's depth until the hour of separation”.

The Hour of Seperation can be found at and on iTunes.

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Sydney First Fleet Cataraman Ferry - Scarborou...Image via Wikipedia
The "Scarborough" - it's not actually my ferry!
Catching the ferry into the city on Friday I noticed something that’s becoming more and more ubiquitous and really bugs me. The use of the word “my” in advertising speak. As I went to the machine to buy my ferry ticket I was given four options on the touch-screen, I could buy “MyFerry ticket single”, “MyFerry concession single”, or “MyFerry” ticket or concession return. What on earth is the point of throwing the word “my” in front of “ferry ticket”? But this marketing is being used more and more, I checked previous train and bus tickets as well (these can live in my wallet for weeks before they’re all thrown-out in one big purge of accumulated wallet-junk!) and sure enough “MyBus” and “MyTrain”. As an aside, I also dislike the way that a space (“ ”) is omitted when the word “My” is tacked onto the name of a product. Back in my University days, I also remember having “My Student Log-in” and likewise working at the NSW Department of Education and Training I have to access “Our Intranet” through “My Portal” log-in page where I can access “My Applications”, “My Training”, “My Websites” and “My Profile”.

You may note that it seems government bodies are particular culprits in this type of language bastardisation (should that be a surprise?). But I first noticed the trend when working at “My Store Myer” back in my student days. Myer may well have begun the awful fad with their, “My fashion must-haves”, “my store for electrical” and “mystyle”, “mytoys”, “myhome” and “mychristmas” catch-phrases and catalogue titles. I’ve recently changed phone companies for my mobile phone and I’ve noticed that when checking my account balance with Optus my new phone provider a computerised voice will say to me in that stilting stop-start way that computers have when they mix and match different snippets of a prerecorded message:

Your Optus Prepaid balance is one hundred and thirty dollars. Which is made up of twenty-eight dollars worth of MyCredit and one hundred and two dollars worth of MyBonus.”

What do you mean my balance is made-up of twenty eight dollars of your credit? So whose credit is it then? Yours or mine? Surely it would just be simpler to drop the redundant “my” and tell me that I have $28 credit and $102 bonus.

Doesn’t this gratuitous use of the word “my” just grate on everyone’s nerves when they hear it? It’s ugly from a language point of view and I think it’s ugly from a societal point of view too.

Incorporating an unnecessary determiner (in this case “my”) into the proper nouns for different products and services, a determiner which is devoid of all meaning in its new home, is ugly from a language point of view because unlike adjectives, determiners (such as articles, the, a, etc.; demonstratives, these, those etc.) are meant to carry a specific contextual meaning which can differ in different sentences notwithstanding the fact that the determiner might be preceding the exact same object. For example is it you referring to the object or me? Is it one of a kind or one of many? Do you own it, do I own it or does someone else own it?

MX advertisement - Myer Spring Racing EveningImage by avlxyz via Flickr
An advertisement in the
publication mX for the department
store "Myer"
But I also think it is an ugly use of language because it reveals a “me, me, me” society. A society that glorifies in its own self-obsession and encourages a strident careerism and selfishness with no-regard to other people. It’s not “our” ferry, or “our Christmas” and it’s certainly not somebody else’s. With the possible exception of fragrances, which in a concession to the sanctity of marriage, or perhaps the sanctity of the designer couple, are labelled “his” and “hers”. The “his” and “hers” designation isn’t nearly so annoying, because generally, the fragrance labelled “his” will in fact belong to a “him” and the fragrance labelled “hers” will generally belong to a “her” - although it still creates confusion if it happens to be my “his” fragrance, or yours, or if it’s just “some” “his” fragrance, still sitting on the shelf in the department store.

“What cologne is that? I might take it.”
“That’s His?”
“Whose? Oh, sorry, if I knew it belonged to someone else I wouldn’t have taken it?”
“No, it’s His - that’s the name of the fragrance.”
“It’s His by Calvin Klein.”
“Now that sentence has only one grammatically sensible meaning and it implies either two men achieving something which I’m certain is biologically impossible or that Calvin Klein is in fact a woman!”

But I’m getting side-tracked. The real point that I want to make is that this horrible trend of tacking a “my” onto the name of all sorts of products and services is ugly and stupid because despite the best efforts of advertising executives we’ll still have to recognise the sad fact that not everything in the world belongs to us. And thus, if we spoke as admen and marketing types would have us speak, then we’d be forced to add another determiner in front of theirs. Just so we know that it’s my MyPetpeeve and not your MyPetpeeve - if you have any MyPetpeeve that is, or if you were going to get some MyPetpeeve for your sister, even if she didn’t want any of the MyPetpeeve because then with our extra determiner we would be sure it was her MyPetpeeve and not think that everyone else was stealing what I thought was my pet peeve!
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Sculpture by the Sea 2010

Image via Tom Häkkinen
From the 2008 Sculpture by the Sea :
Kozo Nishino's "Harmony with the Breeze"
Transfield Holdings Kinetic Art Prize winner
This weekend Esther and I finally got around to having a look at the annual “Sculpture by the Sea” sculpture exhibition between Bondi and Tamarama Beaches.

The event, which began in 1996, has been getting and better - with perhaps only 1 or 2 pieces of sculpture that looked like rubbish that hadn’t been cleaned-up. There were at least 3 that I found outstanding. Which for me seems incredible, a contemporary sculpture exhibition where the good pieces of art outnumber the cobbled-together pieces of rubbish. To be sure, there were a few sculptures that couldn’t help but elicit a silent “I could do better than that” in my head, but only 1 real stinker. Unfortunately I didn’t buy the exhibition catalogue so I can’t name and shame the artist for who contributed the plastic cups tied with string and dripping water, but if you went you’d remember who I’m referring to. The other sculpture that I didn’t like, actually looked like it might have taken quite a lot of effort, but unfortunately, the end-result looked like a suburban backyard where the kids hadn’t tidied-away their toys (I think this is a real risk that sculptors are running when they use either bright colours or plastic materials in an outdoor exhibition). Unfortunately I forgot to charge my camera beforehand as well, so no pictures - I'll try to see what I can find on the internet and put some links down the bottom.

My favourite artist, whose work is so distinctive you will immediately know it is his without having to refer to the catalogue, is Kaoru Matsumoto. He generally creates kinetic pieces that move in the wind, this year’s entrance was “Cycle 90º A Premonition of Wind III”. It was a sublime piece of art, which moved slowly yet unpredictably in the wind. I have no idea how Matsumoto must have figured out the centre of gravity of all the different moving parts to make its movements so counter-intuitive, but when you look at it, “gravity-defying” and “weightless” are the first words to enter your head, such is the effortlessness of the sculpture’s lazy movements in the sky. The best thing about Sculpture by the Sea, especially on a sunny day like Saturday was, is to lie on the grass and watch a sculpture like “Cycle 90º” against the slow-moving clouds. A great, shiny construction of polished stainless steel - moving in as if it were a part of nature. The other great thing about this work of art is that although it must be quite heavy and is made of steel, it moves completely silently and its polished surfaces are so seamlessly-perfect that it is very difficult to find where the actual moving parts are joined.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Moseholmian figures: "Project" by Danish
artist Keld Moseholm, on display during the
2008 Sculpture by the Sea
The $60,000 Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Prize however went to another artist whose work is equally distinctive. As I explained to Esther on the way to the exhibition:

“You know the guy who does the little fat men”
“He won it this year”

Mirroring 1995” by Danish artist Keld Moseholm can be immediately recognised for its distinctively rotund Moseholmian bronze figures. It’s good to see Moseholm winning this year, because his little fat men have always been something to look forward to - especially if some of the other sculptures have been a little less than exciting.


Gary Hayes' photo of “Cycle 90º A Premonition of Wind III” on Flickr

Gary Hayes' photos of Sculpture by the Sea on Flickr

Designboom - some website that also has some photos of this year's Sculpture by the Sea

French is our heritage too!

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Château de Langeais in France, once the home of King
Richard the Lion Heart, destroyed by the English in the
Hundred Years' War and rebuilt by Louis XI in 1465.
Last week I commented on why Australians flock to London in droves and about the cultural heritage that brings so many Australians to the British Isles. But, whilst Australians seem well able to appreciate the cultural significance of Britain, I feel that they don’t share the same enthusiasm for the country on the other side of the channel, which I think is equally as significant. My own contention as an English teacher, is that all speakers of English who actually take an interest in the language or have a love for the language should try to acquaint themselves with French. Because French makes up an important part of our heritage too - I think far more so than Latin or Greek - Samuel Johnson in the preface to his, the original English dictionary, explains that he preferred French spellings to Latin ones where the etymology was uncertain because as he put it “the French generally supplied us.” And when more than half of the words in the English language have either French or Latin origins that makes a big deal.

One thing that I noticed whilst travelling about in Europe is the line that you can draw across the continent dividing the two biggest cultural influences on almost every country, that is, the line between the Latin, and the Teutonic, and there exist a heap of cultural stereotypes and attitudes that seem to accompany the divide. (In terms of language Finland, Greece, Ireland and the Slavic countries all have very different languages, but if only in cultural stereotypes if in nothing else, they still seem to conform to their side of the dividing line). In Switzerland this line actually has a name: the Röstigraben or Rosti ditch after a popular form of mashed potatoes eaten in the German half of Switzerland. Maybe in other parts of Europe the demarcation isn’t so clear as in Switzerland, but you’ll know on which side you’re on when you sample the food in the North (or when you’re in Oslo and you have to barter one of your own limbs just to pay for the meal!). Or, likewise, you’ll know you’re in a Latin country when notwithstanding the tasty food your holiday experience is somewhat lessened when you have to learn to use your elbows to queue-up for a bus in Nîmes after your train has been inexplicably cancelled.

But I can’t help feeling that England and subsequently the United Kingdom occupy a bit of grey area. No-one would ever say that the UK is a Latin country - but at the same time, it’s not quite one-hundred-percent Northern either. The language itself is an odd mix, Germanic origins and an underlying Germanic grammar but with Latin words making-up more than half the vocabulary.

English stereotypes are likewise mixed: the English have somehow managed to acquire the dour puritan work ethic of Northern Europe without the famous German efficiency or Scandinavian inventiveness. Don’t think I’m just knocking the Brits either - Australians have a “she’ll be right” attitude to not doing a job properly without the joie de vivre or work-life balance of the Latin countries.

Hmmm, best of both worlds really.

But, actually these are just facile national stereotypes. The point that I really want to make is that too often the French heritage in English is forgotten. Whilst 20th century English writers like Thomas Hardy and J.R.R. Tolkien rejoiced in digging-up old English and Anglo-Saxon words, with their homely and honest connotations (consider Thomas Hardy’s “Hap”), only advertising executives and the worst types of academia have taken an interest in the French and Latin words in English.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Bordeaux, capital of Aquitaine,  was ruled by the King
of England for 300 years, or was it that for 300 years the
Kings of England were from Anjou or Aquitaine?
But there are fantastic words derived from French too. As well as almost all the words relating gouvernance and justice, also the words that have connotations that are Royal and Grand, there are Anglo-Saxon equivalents for these words but Kingly and Great take-on a whole new level of meaning when said in French. French gives us glorious words - like Glory, as well as the pompous like importune and impostor (and yes - pompous also came to Middle English via the Old French pompeux).

But I might leave you with a favourite for rich connotations and a lovely etymology: consider “journey” from journée as in bonne journée, it originally only meant a day’s travel or a day’s work but in English the word seems to have exemplified Bilbo’s attitude to a going out for the day - which says a lot about the English:

Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.
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An Australian in England

Australian cricket batsman Bill Woodfull faces...Image via Wikipedia
The Fourth Test match between Australia and England in
Brisbane 1933 during the height of the "Bodyline" scandal.
I returned to Australia on Thursday. Which means I’m gonna have to change the name of my blog. But on the plus-side, I can throw-out my tie and slacks - you don’t need them in Australian schools! I’ll no longer be getting paid in monopoly money either (during the last Ashes series the Barmy Army could chant “we’re fat, we’re round, 3 dollars to the pound!” now the Great British Pound buys a mere $1.60 but English and Australian teachers are still getting paid the same as during the last Ashes series). The real biggie though is that I can finally enjoy the positive energy of that great big fusion-reactor that sits in the middle of our solar system seeing as it’s no longer perpetually covered by clouds.

(Ok maybe that last point was a bit unfair).

But, readers might wonder, if there’s so much going for Australia - then why did I, among so many other Australians - determine to move to live and work in merry ol’ England for 2010? And how do you explain the army of young Aussies that descend upon London, year after year, rain, hail or shine? (It’s mostly rain by the way) Why also, is there a near permanent population of just-off-the-boat Aussies in west London suburbs such as Earl’s Court, Acton Town and Shepherd’s Bush?

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Thistles, Poppies and Hedgerows in a Hertfordshire field.
I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think that most British don’t really get just how attached Aussies feel to the United Kingdom - notwithstanding that it’s quite literally on the other side of the world. I remember being really shocked fielding this question from one of my students during a detention this year:

“Sir? Do you have a King or Queen over in Australia?”

To which my response, “Yes, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second.” Elicited some surprise.

“You mean, the Queen of England is also the Queen of Australia?”

But other than being mutual subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, which by the way, doesn’t actually get you through passport control faster than a citizen of the Republic of Estonia, a lot of Australian culture comes from the United Kingdom as well. Most Australian celebrities are also British celebrities, and sometimes won’t become famous in Australia until first “making it” in England. Think of the Kylie and Dannii Minogue, Peter André and Rolf Harris for example, who all live in the UK, and watching BBC Morning in London, one wouldn’t be particularly surprised to see actor Ray Meagher chatting on the couch about doing a West-End Show (ok, maybe I was a little surprised trying to picture “strike-me”, “flamin’”, “pack of galas” Alf in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”). But also most Australian intellectuals find themselves housed in London as well, if only to escape Australia’s oppressively ignorant “matey” culture: Germaine Greer for one, but also Barry Humphries and Geoffrey Robertson.

For me, the biggest tie to the British Isles was my upbringing in an essentially British, not just Anglo-Saxon, culture. Which may sound strange coming from a Finnish Australian, with a father born in the Keski-Suomi region of Finland and a Scottish mother who had few nice things to say about those “perfidious Albions”. Maybe it was Jo, Bessie and Fanny from Enid Blyton’s “Magic Faraway Tree”, or those Pevensie kids, or Badger, Rat, Mole and Toad of Toad Hall, but I think I have been imbibing English culture from before I was even old enough to know that I didn’t actually live in England.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A country path in southern England.
You can imagine then, the excitement that I got, notwithstanding that I was 21, when I first got to witness the marks on the window that were evidence of Jack Frost having been during the night - when I was growing-up Jack Frost was as elusive as the Sandman - who I’d try stay-up for but never catch! Or when I went on a tour of the Cotswolds and got to spot Gloucester - a place hitherto only associated with showers of rain and puddles able to swallow-up any passing Doctors. Or seeing, Foxes, or Hedgehogs, or hedgerows between fields, or aerial views of the country that had that “patchwork quilt” division of land. For an Australian, England is almost like Narnia, some fantasy-land that you’ve read and heard so much about but never seen (other than on the television) and for better or for worse THIS has become an integral part of Australia’s heritage, this: “This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle... this happy breed of men... this precious stone set in the silver sea... this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.
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