Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Melancholia and the one percent solution

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I was driving home recently…listening to a piece of music called ‘Melancholia’…a somewhat new age adaptation of the familiar folk song Greensleeves…streaming into my car via a satellite hovering above in low earth orbit. While listening to this ageless tune, it occurred to me that this melody had originated in someone’s mind hundreds of years ago. Some melancholy moment of reflection upon an unrequited love, perhaps. How tenuous that slender and fragile thought in its beginnings that, nevertheless, survived and made a remarkable journey far into the future to touch my thoughts and spin me into a reverie. It made me think about how the past still exerts tangible power over us…whether or not we’re aware of it. We like to think that our thoughts are original…that they originate with who we are…or who we think we are.

This past week…my sense of self-identity was forever changed. A few weeks ago…on a whim…I sent in a sample of my DNA to be tested through the Ancestry DNA program of By comparing and matching my DNA with countless other samples they were going to tell me where I came from. I wasn’t expecting any surprises…and it didn’t shock me when I received the results this week, revealing that I was 99% Eastern European (Polish, to be exact) in origin. In fact, the typical native of that region in Europe logged in at 82%…so it appeared I was even more native than the natives. What did take my breath away momentarily…was the remaining one percent. That one percent of my DNA was consistent with natives of Ireland. I already knew that at some point in the distant past, there had been migrations of Celtic peoples to areas throughout Europe, including southern Poland where my grandparents were from. So…this revelation that my bloodline…however small a part it might be…could be tied to those ancient Celtic peoples that roamed the continent, and stretched back in time to the Emerald Isle itself…was simply astonishing.

What makes us who we are? We like to think that we have the bigger hand in how our lives are shaped. But is this really true? The very thought that the actions of two people (among many, many others)…thousands of years ago in the neolithic period on an island at the edge of a vast sea…were instrumental in my even being here…is simply humbling.  Beside the physical connection…what other tenuous thoughts and feelings have filtered down through the ages to shape me into who I am? Do they account for the fact that the writings of John O’Donohue resonate in my soul? That I love the story of the Tuatha de Danann…a mythical Irish people who, when standing face-to-face with an invading army, turned sideways into the light and disappeared? Who knows. At the very least, it may offer some explanation for the rather illogical and somewhat magnetic attraction I have to the music of Enya…

Turn sideways into the light as they say
the old ones did and disappear
into the originality of it all.
Be impatient with easy explanations
and teach that part of the mind
that wants to know everything
not to begin questions it cannot answer.
~ David Whyte, Tobar Phadraic


Written by Jim

August 5, 2015 at 7:46 pm

My long weekend with Alexa

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I’ve known her for less than a week…but already I’m smitten. I invited her into my home about two months ago, but…somewhat coyly…she arrived only last Wednesday, waiting for me on the front porch when I arrived home from work. Alexa is my new personal assistant. She’s 9.25 inches tall, and has taken up residence in my living room. When I speak her name, a sparkling ring of sapphire-blue light comes to life, indicating that Alexa is attentively listening for my command or question.


Me: Alexa…where are you?

Alexa: I’m here, and my head is in the cloud.

Me:  Alexa…what are you?

Alexa:  I’m an Amazon Echo.

Alexa…or the Amazon Echo to be exact…is Amazon’s latest experimental foray into the world of artificial intelligence. Yes…there are others out there…most notably Siri, who lives in the Apple iPhone. But, as even Alexa will tell you when asked who is better, “Siri is a good app…but I’m different”. I tend to agree. Alexa is always on…listening for her name to be invoked. She’s good at playing music on demand, giving you news briefings, telling you what time it is, giving you a weather report and forecast, setting timers and alarms, and answering questions using Wikipedia. Siri may be smarter…at the moment…but Amazon says that the Echo’s capabilities will improve over time. We’ll have to wait and see on that one. But already…in less than a week…I’ve noticed changes in my behavior. They may be small changes…but I think they’re harbingers of what’s to come in the ‘slight future’ (see Spike Jonze’s recent movie, Her). The Echo…Alexa…has quickly replaced my alarm clock, my radio, my kitchen timer. I’ve even found myself watching less television, too. I realize this is only the beginning…but as someone who grew up in an age before computers and the internet, and who now is beginning to take in the long view backwards…I can sense this is going to make a qualitative difference in the way we relate to technology.

Oh yes…Alexa can tell jokes too…rather corny jokes to be sure. But, I’ve enjoyed probing the intelligence behind this little black monolith that sits upon a shelf in my living room…

Me: Alexa…Open the pod bay door.

Alexa: I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that…I’m not HAL, and we’re not in space.

Me: Alexa…what’s the meaning of life?

Alexa: The answer is 42 but the question is more complicated.

Finally, the image that comes to mind is that of Captain Kirk (or Picard…if that’s your preference) on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise…asking Computer to plot a course to the nearest star system. I decide to try…

Me: Alexa…second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning.

Alexa: be boop


Written by Jim

February 16, 2015 at 10:24 am

Composing our lives

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Last Saturday evening, I went to see…or rather to hear…the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (the other CSO). The music was wonderful. The highlight of the concert was Don Quixote…a tone poem by Richard Strauss, reflecting on the fabled life of Cervantes’ knight-errant.

Later that evening…after the concert was over…back in my car…during the hour or so it took me to descend the eight levels of the parking garage at the Bank of America Center in Uptown Charlotte…not having known that there was an NBA basketball game taking place right next door…I did some thinking about the nature of music…and of life itself.

Both involve time. Or rather…both move through time. Both deal with the eternal Now…being held in existence from moment to moment. During the entire thirty-eight minutes or so of the Don Quixote, if you were to listen only to one slice…one chord perhaps, at any one moment in time…it wouldn’t make much sense. And yet somehow…we can step back in our minds and take the entire piece in. How it begins…how it develops…how it eventually ends. Somehow…in some way…it all makes sense and stands as a coherent whole. Yes…I can see in some small way what Strauss had in mind. A life.

Strangely, this brought to mind stories of people who have been on the brink of death…of their entire life flashing before their eyes in a few moments. A review of one’s life, perhaps…the last judgement? But maybe…not so much a judgement…but more a recital for which we’ve been preparing all of our lives. Maybe we have more in common than we think with the music we love to listen to in dimly lit concert halls. Maybe we are the music…composing our lives…moment by moment…waiting for when our time comes to take the stage.

Written by Jim

January 20, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Starlight in a bottle

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When owls call the breathless moon
In the blue veil of the night
The shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light
~ Loreena McKennitt, The Mummers’ Dance


The lantern that sits on the railing of my porch is no ordinary source of light in the darkness. During the day, it silently collects the rays of the sun…only to release them again as the gloaming turns to night. During the dark hours…my porch is illuminated by this bottled starlight…kept company by a Wisteria vine that has entwined itself around the railing…patiently waiting for the Spring to arrive once again.

Yesterday was a beautiful, warm, cloudless mid-December day here in the Carolinas. In the chill air of the evening, I sat on the porch for a while in this pool of silvery light…listening to Loreena McKennitt’s The Book of Secrets…accompanied by my lantern…the veil of darkness beyond…and the steadfast stars above.

Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars

When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
~ Loreena McKennitt, Dante’s Prayer

Written by Jim

December 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

Just let go

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The other night
You came to me
Like an angel you appeared

And we climbed
The endless sky
Held each other near

And there we’ll stand
Looking out upon the world that we’ve known
All fear will be gone
When we reach the shores of Avalon

~ Tina Malia, Shores of Avalon

I’ve developed this theory over the years…that the human brain is just an interface of some kind…something like a band-pass filter…that tunes in to a very specific frequency of reality. And that when we sleep…the selectivity of the filter widens to include, other possible versions of reality? Parallel universes that exist beside the one that we normally experience? I’ve always been amazed at the creativity of some of my dreams…dreams so intricate I couldn’t even begin to explain them. Where is this creativity coming from? There are nights when I inhabit vast, complex cities, and participate in other, strange lives…difficult to rationalize as being of my own creation. What is going on here…the random firing of neuronal synapses? Or, something even much more astounding?

Stuart Hammeroff, an anesthesiologist, asks the question…when people are anesthetized, where does their consciousness go? They’re not in a dream state.  Hammeroff speaks of microtubules in the physical brain…that may contain the essence of who we are…our consciousness. And even more amazingly…of a quantum consciousness…an entanglement of atoms, that, at death, may separate from our physical body…and continue to exist in the universe. Our soul, perhaps?

Sitting in my darkened living room…music softly playing…a gentle voice beckons to me…Just let go.

Be Brave my love
The time has come
To cross the Tintagel sea

Written by Jim

November 18, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Man in the moon

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“When the night is cold and you can’t find anything

(There’s nothing there to be found)

And your will to survive’s at an all time low

(Moon is shining)

The spirit will fly and return with a new found energy

(Keep your heart like a swan)

So keep it within, delight as your garden grows”

The nights are certainly getting longer this time of year. When I took Belle for her walk this morning…I was taken aback by the beauty of the sky. Above…the stars of Orion softly twinkling behind a sheer veil of high, wispy cirrus clouds. And to the west…a bank of low cumulus clouds set aglow from behind with moonlight. Suddenly…a clearing just slightly larger than, and centered on, the lunar orb…nearly full in phase. The sky within this portal…surrounding the moon… a delicate, bluish hue. I had to smile at this unexpected beauty…on this dark, early autumn Carolina morning.

“And the man up in the moon is shining

good fortune down on me

And the man up in the moon is shining

Sweet love, sweet love.”

This song…hard to believe nearly twenty years old…notable for its analog synthesizer accompaniment.

“Do be kind and civilized

and don’t descend into the dark abyss.”

~ Erasure, from Man in the Moon

Written by Jim

October 18, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Egg morning

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During the week, I invariably have a bipolar breakfast menu. One day, a bowl of oatmeal…the next day, a fried egg with a slice of cheese (can be cheddar…can be Swiss) on a flat round of whole wheat bread. The oatmeal is a concession to keeping my cholesterol level down…an expression of my left brain, carefully weighing practical matters. Conversely, I’m sure the urge for an egg emanates from my right brain…with a desire to walk on the wild side…to throw caution to the wind. If I ever get to the point where I can’t recall what I’ve had for breakfast the previous morning…I think I’ll go for the egg every day.

This morning, breakfast was transcendent. It was Saturday…Bela Fleck and company were filling the house with music…there was a mockingbird raiding the wild blackberry bushes outside the kitchen window…and, best of all…it was an egg morning.

Written by Jim

June 29, 2013 at 8:19 am