Tuesday, December 27, 2011

still-sound 28. Hawk

This is the hawk that perched outside our window on Christmas day.

Our Christmas tree on Christmas night.

Monday, December 26, 2011

still-sound 27. Winter

This is the message Maya (played by Virginia Madsen) leaves for Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) after he deceived her (despite his great fondness for her) in the film Sideways:

Hello Miles.  It's Maya.  Thanks for your letter.  I would have called sooner but I think I needed some time to think about everything that happened and what you wrote to me.

Another reason I didn't call you sooner is because I wanted to finish your book, which I finally did last night, and I think it's really lovely Miles.

You're so good with words.  Who cares if it's not getting published?  There're so many beautiful and painful things about it.  Did you really go through all that?  It must have been awful.  And that sister character - Jeez - what a wreck!

But I had to say that, well, I was really confused by the ending.  I mean, did the father finally commit suicide or what?  It's driving me crazy.

Anyway, it's turned cold and rainy here lately, but I like winter.

So listen, if you ever decide to come back up here again, you should let me know.  I would say stop by the restaurant but to tell you the truth, I'm not sure how much longer I'm gonna be working there because I'm gonna graduate soon!  So I'll probably wanna relocate.  We will see...

Anyway, like I said, I really loved your novel.  Don't give up Miles.  Keep writing.

Hope you're well.  Bye

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

still-sound 26. Frankincense & Myrrh

Olibanum in a small vessel I bought to drink cold plum wine

 The lemony, coniferous scent of incense rising from a censer, swinging from a chain was by far my favorite aspect of a catholic upbringing.  Frankincense and myrrh are some of the most beautiful smells I've ever known.

People burn incense to honor those they love but who no longer roam the Earth.  Some people burn incense as offerings, like prayers streaming upward to the heavens.  Incense is burnt to create an air of sacredness; to create an otherworldliness.  I burn incense because I love smells and because a good incense helps me focus in meditation.

I wonder if the Three Wise Men hailed from modern-day Oman, the source of some of the best frankincense (aka olibanum) - a gum resin derived from the boswellia tree.  The excellent Tennendo incense makers in Japan offer sticks made from Omani frankincense.  The scent is particularly citrus-sharp and slightly sweet.  Not entirely unlike church incense yet not the same either.

Frankincense incense by Tennendo

I burn pure frankincense and myrrh (another tree-derived gum resin) on charcoals designed specifically for this purpose.  The result is slightly overwhelming; large streams of smoke billow out, filling the room and scratching my throat. Ecclesiastical censers effectively scent the large cavernous spaces of cathedrals so I suppose secular, domestic incense appreciation requires an appropriate scale-back.  I've learned to reserve the burning of gum resin to the terrace, allowing the scent to waft inside sporadically and surrounded by gusts of fresh air.  I wonder if my neighbors smell the smoke.  I wonder if Bethlehem of two thousand years ago smelled anything like Echo Park this afternoon.

Avignon perfume and incense by Comme des Garcons

The edgy and innovative fashion house Comme des Garcons produced a line of perfumes inspired by incense traditions around the world.  One of the fragrances bears the name of the 14th Century French home of the papacy, Avignon.  The scent, composed by the brillliantly talented Bertrand Duchaufour uncannily resembles the fragrant smoke filling cathedrals.  Comme des Garcons introduced candle and incense versions of these perfumes.  I thought it was funny how Japanese-style stick incenses, presumably scented with perfumed oils, simulate the smell of resin incenses. An incense to resemble another incense...  Admittedly the effect isn't entirely convincing and I suspect the true smell of frankincense and myrrh actually requires the burning of actual frankincense and myrrh.  From a terrace, somewhat far away.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

still-sound 25. December will be magic again

Scenery by Kirsten Glass, 2010, oil on canvas

I met Kirsten in 1997 when I was looking for a flat and she was looking for a roommate.  I visited her place in Bethnal Green (which was to become my place too for a few years).  I noticed her LPs on the bookshelf as we talked.  I knew we'd become soulmates when I noticed her copy of Never Forever by Kate Bush.  We shared a studio down at the end of Bethnal Green Road with our mutual friend Fiona.  There we would work, sometimes into the night, breaking up the hours with coffee, Walkers crisps and occasionally Jamaica ginger cake with warm custard.  Kate Bush was more often than not playing on the stereo. 

Kirsten always listened to Kate Bush on the inside.  She heard the personal thoughts and stories that can't be relayed in words.  They exist as fantasies floating in one's mind and sometimes they float into another's.  Kirsten makes paintings with this understanding.  I would often drag her to Liberty to smell perfume.  When she found one she liked she would go to a mirror at a cosmetics counter and watch herself spraying on the scent.

Kate Bush photographed by Anton Corbijn

There is no better Christmas song than December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush. A dark and light fantasy of icicles, huskies, candlelight, Oscar Wilde, and lovers sleeping under a dusting of snow.  Kate's voice is as weightless as a snowflake.  It's in this December that Kirsten is walking back from London Fields with her dogs, thinking about sipping a glass of bubbly upon her return to a warm flat.

''ooooh I'm starting to sparkle the dark up...''

Monday, December 12, 2011

still-sound 24. Indigo

An indigo-colored vase I recently made.

I found that when I glaze objects in transparent then black, they combine in the firing to produce a deep indigo color.

There's an episode of At Home With Venetia in Kyoto where Venetia visits a textile artist with her grandson Joe.  They crush indigo leaves and create patterns on fabric with that and other plant dyes.  Venetia and Joe later sing a song about colors.  Funnily an echo effect is applied to the song so it sounds as though they're singing in a grand, empty hall.*

While watching Venetia I wondered what the indigo dye smelled like.  I knew a guy in London named James who studied textile design in college.  He claimed that he loved the smell of indigo.  It's not a typically pleasant scent apparently, but he loved it anyway.

The Nakashima House as printed in Handcrafted Modern by Leslie Williamson

I saw photographs of the furniture maker George Nakashima's home in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  The interior is traditional Japanese crossed with the American Shaker style.  The simple cushions on the plain wooden benches looked to be indigo-dyed.  I grew up living only minutes away from this house. Now it's on the other side of the country from me.  Shame, as I would love to visit it now.

Shun-yo from Shoyeido

There's a Japanese clothing brand called 45rpm that makes jeans from hand-dyed indigo denim.  Larry Shaffer, owner of OK on 3rd Street told me that they burn Shoyeido's premium Shun-yo incense in all of the 45rpm boutiques.  He had a box of it in his own store- hidden away in a drawer.  I bought it and rushed home to light it.  The incense is kept in a beautiful silk box.  The scent can be described as a spicy sandalwood with curry overtones.  I like it but rarely burn it because Rob thinks it makes the apartment smell like I've just been cooking katsu. This isn't necessarily a bad smell, but it makes him hungry.** ***

*Since posting this I watched another episode of Venetia which happened to replay the Colors Song.  It didn't appear to have the echo effect this time.  It's strange that I distinctly remembered it to sound that wayDecember 13.
**Since posting this I have re-lit Shun-Yo.  This morning in fact, before my meditation.  I found the scent warm, spicy and beautiful with hints of helichrysum perhaps and Chinese herbal medicine.  I'll see if the apartment smells like curry tonight when I get home.  December 15.
***The apartment didn't smell of curry.  I even lit Shun-Yo again this morning.  There's something about the warmth and fullness of it that really suits this time of year.   December 16

Thursday, December 8, 2011

still-sound 23. Moustache

I started growing a moustache in October.  Aside from an unfortunate phase in the 90s when I experimented with a goatee, I've never ventured into the world of facial hair.  The moustache has been unexpectedly rewarding.  I'm used to very long, drawn-out processes like sculpture, where short-term gratification does not exist.  Even pottery requires two firings and glazing decisions (ie. weeks) before a finished object appears.

I found myself delighted by the various phases of the moustache in relatively little time.  Its appearance changed nearly every day.  There was the trim cop-moustache phase for a week.  The old Hollywood phase and then lately the handlebar.  The handlebar to me was always the destination so now it's a matter of focusing on the variations of the end curls.  Throughout the month of November multiple people asked if I grew the moustache for Movember (the campaign to raise awareness for prostate and testicular cancer).  I didn't know about Movember at first, but I was pleased that my moustache development coincided with it.

Classic men's grooming has always fascinated me, not least because of of my interest in smells.  My mother always kept a can of Pinaud's talcum on her hairdressing station.  When I lived in London I would regularly lurk around Jermyn Street inspecting combs and badger shave brushes while sniffing Bay Rum at Geo F Trumper. 

Of course I was excited to experiment with moustache waxes as my upper lip required grooming.  I started with Pinaud Clubman wax because it's the easiest to find, is the least expensive and comes with a moustache brush/comb.  The results were disappointing.  The hold was unreliable (although, admittedly there was not much moustache to hold at the time). The white flakes of dried wax that resembled dandruff led to my decision to hold off on the Clubman.  Shame, particularly because the scent is excellent, like Earl Gray Tea.

I started using Ungarische Bartwichse from Marke Golddachs.  It's apparently the wax Salvador Dali used to create his impossible hirsute surrealism. The scent is pleasant, a peppery beeswax with a vanilla creaminess, reminding me of a fragrance I wear, Poivre 23 by Le Labo.  The substance itself is less stiff than the Clubman allowing easier application and molding.

I recently acquired a tin of the Firehouse Moustache Wax.  Its stiffness allows an excellent hold and I found that it's best used on the twirly bits at the end.  The scent is a very subtle beeswax.  It's, perhaps the perfect moustache wax for my needs.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

still-sound 22. Still

Last Thursday, Thanksgiving afternoon, I walked Rosie before the sun went down.  It was deserted.  I passed two couples on the walk but otherwise saw no one.  No cars either.  All the views seemed equally still.  Dodgers Stadium was lifeless.  It's funny to me that it's empty for half of the year but I'm grateful for its hibernation (it's easier finding a parking space).  When the walk was over I started cooking.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

still-sound 21. Stars

Neb 06, 2009

Neb 07, 2009

This morning I must have listened to a track named Stars by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois at least five times, maybe more. It's essentially an abstract soundscape taken from an album from 1983 called Apollo: Atmospheres and Sountracks.  Beautifully amorphous and peaceful - it's music that doesn't come to a point, no progressions or counterpoint. It's music that simply is, more spatial than narrative.  This is a quality I also love about some traditional Asian musical genres like gagaku. 

For a few years I made drawings inspired by nebulae.  I lightly touched black paper with colored pencils until hazes started to appear.  Some hazes started to concentrate in areas and formed saturated points.  I named all of these drawings neb.

Heian Koh from Kunmeido

I started to meditate while listening to Stars this morning.  I rarely listen to music when I meditate, I find it distracting but formless soundscapes sometimes help me.  I burned the Heian Koh incense from Kunmeido.  A very dry smell that reminds me of the pine incense I used to buy at the Bread and Circus Health food store in Providence when I was in college.  Rosie jumped on my lap while I meditated.  One would think that perhaps she was seeking comfort while the intense Santa Ana winds dramatically bended the trees outside.  But she often jumps into my lap when I meditate, wind or no wind. 

I understand that historically pugs were raised to keep Buddhist monks company.  At this point their brains are hardwired into thinking 'if I see someone meditating, sit on him'.