Monthly Archives: June 2012

Hungarian trad in Warsaw

On the first morning I spent in Warsaw, I set out with Doppler to go and explore the city. We had a nice ride through the old town, down to the Vistula river then back up and through the capital. After lunch, whilst cycling through a little road close to the central station we heard some music.  As we progressed down the road we came across what looked like a nice little parc from where the music seemed to be coming from. We approached and found the parc to be fenced off but from there we could see two musicians and children dancing and playing around them. 

So I stayed by the fence listening to the music. Turned out that what looked like a parc was actually part of a kindergarden which explained why the women looking after the children kept looking at me in a strange way… Anyways, the musicians finished playing, packed their stuff up and as they were walking out I went up to talk to them. The teachers, relieved to see I was after the musicians, finally smiled at me as I asked the duo if they wanted to record something for the project. They did.

They are from Hungary and were on their way to a small province in Russia to perform at a folk festival. They play traditional Hungarian dance music and had come into Warsaw for a few hours in between two flight just to visit. They’d been looking for a parc to sit down and play and, just like me, had thought the kindergarden was one. Luckily they were spontaneously invited to play for the children. The kids loved it and were jumping up and down fascinated by what they were hearing!
They were playing a large variety of tunes issued from the peasant folk tradition which in the 1970s resurfaced in popular culture. This revival is know as the Hungarian Dance House Mouvement. During the same period, many other cultures were exploring their folk cultural background but the Hungarian revival had a particularity as it also revived many traditional dances. (If you are interested in the movement I found this great article which is an cool read)

They performed their pieces on a Cobza (Koboz in Hungarian) and several different forms of Kavals and overtone flutes. Several centuries ago the Cobza was the poor mans luth and had spread from the Turkish empire across to central Europe. By the 20th century it had almost entirely disappeared and was only surviving in poor countries like Romania. With the folk revival of the 70s, it resurfaced through dance house music.

Anyways, this what I understood from our conversation and being frightened of talking nonsense I’ll let the music speak:

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Traditional Polish singing from the sewer to the bedroom.

In Warsaw I was staying with Anastazja Bernad and her sister Zosia. I arrived by train and Anastazja picked me up from the station with her bike. She showed another cyclist I met on the train the way out of the station and then we took of into the busy street of the capital of Poland. The cycle ride that followed my arrival felt fantastically crazy: we raced down big streets lit up by neons and headlights, zig zagging through cars on roads not designed for bicycles – Anastazja and a friend in front, then me trying to keep up with my heavy bags and excitement. We finally got to her appartement not far from the football stadium where a couples of days later I was to see a horde of fans march back up into the center.

Upon arrival I didn’t realise that Anastazja sang or that she lived with her sister who’s also a singer – I was staying with her as she was friend of a friend. I discovered her beautiful and powerful voice in some sort of tunnel used for draining overflow from the city’s sewers into the Vistula river (the longest river in Poland flowing through several major cities). You might be wandering what we were doing in such an unappealing place? The answer is quite obvious – we were looking for interesting acoustic spaces! and this tunnel most certainly was one! It had a really cool complex reverb. It started with the usual diffuse reverb as the sound bounced around and, down the oval shaped structure, then it seemed to hit something in the far distance creating a distinct echo a few seconds after the initial impulse. Finally, the vibrations seemed to travel back up through the walls creating some weird wooshy sound! very weird. Also, this tunnel has a particular historical background as it was used by the Polish resistance during the Warsaw uprise in 1944-1945. It allowed them to access the old town from the river banks!

These traditional songs have different origins. For many of them, the melodies are older that the words and are written for rituals, ceremonies or are love songs. Unfortunately, Anastazja didn’t have much time to explain to me what each song meant or tell me much about this traditional music – after getting too excited by the reverb she was late for work! Most of what she told me was exchanged during a cycle ride going from the sewers back up into the periphery of the old town and across to her workplace. She told me that the songs she sang were mostly of the later category and were often about men leaving their pregnant women…

Zosia is also a singer of traditional Polish music. We recorded in a less exciting location, Anastazja’s bedroom, but had a little more time to talk about the meaning of the songs. She sang three songs and this is what they’re about:

Siwy Koniu is about a man talking to his horse asking it to leed him to his woman. He gets to her and asks her to come with him, she refuses because people from the village are talking about them. He answer that he doesn’t care what anyone is saying about them because he loves her (in the song he calls her ‘my rose’)

– Ktòrztam po kumorze is about a girl going to get married and is talking to the voice of her dead mother. The girl asks for her mother’s blessing but the mother’s voice answers that she can’t give it to her because of three locks imprisoning her: the Wood from the coffin, the Sand/Earth and the green Grass. 

– Nie jadzty do mnie is a women pleading her boyfriend to no come to her because she has another love. The man thinks she is so beautiful and can’t resist. The women then prays for the mountains and the plains to level so she can get to her love…

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Pause-none and call for artists!

It’s now been nearly 3 months I’ve been on the road. I must admit I’m getting a bit tired. I’m realising how much I cherish having people I feel close to. Although I’m meeting amazing people everyday, I don’t have time to develop strong relationships with them. I feel like the project is loosing a bit of momentum and, thus, I am too.. (or maybe it’s the other way round…) However, I’m sure this is only ephemere!

So I wouldn’t mind a bit of help. I’m heading towards Israel going through Krakow or Wroclaw, then probably Prague, Vienna and Slovenia/Croatia. Once I get to Croatia I’m confident my knee will have fully recovered – it’s already feeling a lot better. Thus, I’m planning to cycle from then on down to Greece then Istambul (I’m might cheat a last time and cross Greece by train – I’ve been told it’s not a particularly nice cycle). If you want to help, please share the project with your friends and if you or them know anyone in those abouts, invite them to get in contact with me.

In the meantime, in Poznan (pause-none… 🙂 ) I met a crazy pianist called Monika. She is studying music and more specifically rhythm in Poznan’s Akademia Muzyczna (Academy of music!). Sharing a similar sense of humour the recording session turned into an awkward  not-quite-understanding-each-other’s-sarcasm-in-our-respective-language session. The room we were recording in was in her university and we had it booked for an hour. The hour went past very quickly and was mostly just improvised bits and pieces! It was brief but fun and here are the recordings!

From what I understood, in polish you say ‘eggs’ if someone makes a joke, probably mainly for bad jokes – thus, the titles.

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Experimenting in Berlin is like hanging between two flying saucers.

Finally! Last Berlin post and I promise I’ve got some cool stuff coming from Poland – be patient!

Berlin is a flat city with an incredibly rich and tumultuous 20th century history. What I find amazing about the capital is that its history is still very present and visible. At the end of WW2, just like many other German cities, Berlin was in ruins. Not knowing what to do with all the rumble it was decided to pile it all up creating 6 hills around the city disrupting its flatness. Then as the Cold War developed, the American teamed up with the English and built a huge observation post on top of one of these hills: Teufelsberg.

The station supported satellite dishes that where sheltered in four big golf-ball-like structures. Aaron, a sound engineer from Berlin, took us all the way up to the highest golf ball. The structure being empty and only composed of very reflective material you get a ridiculous acoustic phenomena – endless echoes. As the structure is round, all the reflections are redirected to the center of the dome, if you stand there for more than a few minutes I think you’d go mad! You’re madness might be cured by appreciating the spectacular view you have over the Berlin and all its surrounding.

We went there as party of five: Jack (a friend from London), Aaron, Christina (my wonderful Berlin) host, Stephan (Saxophonist I randomly met in Berlin)  and me (me). We took loads of instruments and  played around with the space pretty much all day. Unfortunately, I was so excited by the space I spent most of the time playing rather than recording, so most of what we did isn’t recorded and I made a few misjudgements of mic placement – sorry… Anyways, we recorded a selection of Jack’s songs and covers with improvised sketchy accompaniment. The most exciting thing we did was stand all around the space and singing different notes while individually searching for a resonant pitch. When a point of resonance is found we slowly start increasingly the volume. The corresponding recording is Teufelsberg by Impromptu collective.

A few days later, on the same market I recorded Sirte Trio I met Adam a crazy percussionist who played along to some Gypsy Jazz musicians (whom I recorded but have lost the files… I’m sure I’ll find them at some point, I have to! they were really good!) in a perfectly inappropriate manner that I thought was great! So I asked him if he played stuff on his own or played with a band. He said he could play some hangdrum for the project and invited me to go and record at his place the next day. After a brief chat, he told me he needed to warm up and started playing. 4-5 minutes passed and he didn’t look as if he were about to stop, thus I hit record and he went on for another 35minutes of nearly nonstop playing. So I separated the performance in 3 parts for you and then you have a piece that sounded as if it had a prepared idea (Berlin). Unfortunately, I was so absorbed by the performance I forgot to take any photos… So you’ll have to imagine him! 🙂

That’s it for Berlin! Unless I find those Gypsy Jazz recordings!

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Poetry on a bag and Winter music as summer arrives.

As I mentioned before, Berlin was a very busy and exciting episode! Now that I’m in Poznan I’ve had little bit of time (just a little bit more…) to sit down and go through some more of the recordings but I expect there will be yet another ‘Capital-of-Germany-Post’ in the next couple of days…

During the first few days after my arrival in the capital, I met up with Julia de Boor for a chat and some nice Chai Tea. Julia does musical theatre where she improvises as an actress and as a cellist, generally, with and, for children. In parallel, she writes poetry. She has written a five chapter book of her poetry called Funkenspuren (which translates as ‘Tracks of sparks’). Also, once a year she gets together with a photographer to make beautiful calendars combining his photos and her words; she writes a poem for each month of the year inspired by the selected picture. So a few days after our meeting we arranged to meet at her house to record some of her poetry and then record a band in which she plays cello: The Gosia Winter Band.

First things first, here are poems taken from her Book. Being from Germany, Julia’s poems are in German so for those who cannot speak the language, like myself, she gave me a bit of information for each piece:

Mein Weg ( My way ) – The longing for a relationship and the feeling of not wanting to be alone anymore. 

Nah am Abhang  (Close to a cliff) – Sad and desperate, a man looks down from the edge of a cliff only to reinforce his sorrow. It’s only when he looks up to the horizon that he sees the beauty of the immensity of what lies before him and sees light.

Flut/Ebbe (High-tide/Low-tide) – Originally two separate poems but it made sense to perform them together one after the other. The first relates the feeling of wrath and the second its after feeling of emptiness. 

Wege (Ways) – Love poem. 

Ach Bitte (Hey! please) – This poem is written on 15000 paper bags that a shop hands out to clients and is about begging a child to share his courage and dreams. 

Die Kleinen tone (A small sound) – Written after waking up early in the Alps and is about all the small sounds that we don’t hear if we don’t pay attention to them. 

The Gosia Winter Band is a trio named after the front woman Gosia Winter with Julia on cello and Jess Braverman on double bass . From what I understood, they hadn’t played as a trio for quite a while and got back together to record for this project! and I am glad they did! Again I was blessed with a great intimate little concert I shared with one of Gosia’s friend visiting Australia and am now sharing with you. If you like what you hear please visit:

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Quick update

Yesterday, I arrived in Poznan after a fairly eventful cycle ride! The sun is shinning and I don’t feel like being in front of a computer! So I’ll update the website sometime in the next couple of days – I’ve loads of interesting stuff to share!

Also, I’ve decided to take a bit of break from cycling. I feel that my body needs a bit of a break. My right knee isn’t fully recovered and was a constant worry the last few days. I don’t want to over work it  and then regret it. So I’ll be riding round Poland by train for the next week or so and resume cycling when I get to Prague or Vienna. We discussed it with Doppler and think it’s the best thing to do for the time being but we’ll definitely and are already missing  the cycling…


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Sirte Tircco a band from Argentina

Near to where I am staying in Berlin in the Neukölln area there is a market every Tuesday and Friday. There is loads of nice a food and at the end of it is a little balcony overhanging over a river. There you’ll usually find loads of performers busking or just looking to entertain. Last Tuesday, there was a particularly good  selection of them. While I was enjoying some nice african food with Jack Durtnall who came to join me for few days, a trio of Argentinians (guitar, bass, cajon and all three singing) took the front stage (more like the left side of the balcony on the side of the road and not of the river). They started to play some of their reggae songs from a band they have in Argentina adapted to a trio format. Slowly people couldn’t resist getting up and dancing and Jack couldn’t resist running home, taking his sax out and jamming along!

Once they finished their set, we went and asked them if they wanted to take part in the project. They accepted. We took them to where we were staying whilst our amazing host made them maté (the Argentinean national drink).  We set up in a narrow corridor and they started playing. Jack joined in a few of the recordings and so did I with my flute (it’s my sister’s actually…)! It was absolutely great! We had a great time. So if you’re looking for things to do in Germany, they’ll be there for a month and have a few gigs. Go and see them!  They’re awesome!
Here’s there facebook page:

ps: there’s a rumor that they’ll be playing on the same market this coming Friday and probably in Maurepark on Sunday?

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Longing for a good cup of English tea in Berlin

For today I shall keep the texts short otherwise I feel I’ll be bombarding you with information! So here are some recordings from Jeffrey Sanders an English teacher from LA. He has recently moved to Berlin with his girlfriend who’s from the UK. They kindly invited me for lunch and we had a great  conversation about cultural traditions that are missed when travelling. With two British people in the room, the conversation inevitably drifted towards tea…

Anyways, after a few cups of not quite English tea and nice homemade pizzas, the sun was begging us to go and record outside. So we set out to find a nice location. When we did, we tried to record but the wind was causing too much of a problem. Thus, we decided to head back to record in the quiet of their appartement. Recordings finished, we set out again for a great afternoon/evening of the Berlin experience – it involved a great outdoor mini festival in an abandoned factory area followed by beer in a cozy little bar that didn’t close at 11pm.

Jeffrey ended up singing a long string of songs for the project like some sort of stream of consciousness expressing itself through music (!?). Unfortunately, many of those were rendered not useable by the wind. So here are the recordings that weren’t ruined by the annoying yet great natural phenomenon that I mentioned in the previous sentence (and in two others in the above text)!


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Express update

When I arrived in Berlin last Tuesday, I cycled around doing all the touristy stuff with all my luggage. This was a stupid thing to do as I put a lot of strain in my leading  knee by having to stop and start at every other junction… My right knee was alright for a few days but then a little tingling pain arose. It didn’t worry me too much as it quickly disappeared again. However, yesterday, when it reappeared and prevented me from walking properly I started to get worried. So I was planning on leaving for Poznan today but instead I’m going to give my whole body a good days rest.
I’ll set out tomorrow and will compensate by taking the train for part of the way between Poznan and Warsaw.

The positive side of this day’s break is that I have an entire day to go through all the recordings I’ve been doing for the past week and share them with you!! So look out for a series of updates!


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Busy Berlin!

It’s been a week since Doppler and me arrived in Berlin! As from when I arrived, I haven’t had time to stop and update the website! So I had to put this morning aside to give you updates!

The first band I recorded last Wednesday is a newly formed duo called Volcano Victims (formerly ‘Pilvet’). The groupe is composed of Gaui from Iceland and Yuri from Japan. Both moved to Berlin to pursue their interests in music and art. They welcomed me in Yuri’s home and played two songs for the project – one original and one cover. After a nice little chat and a few drinks Yuri kindly handed me over a CD of her own stuff she recorded back in Japan. If you like the recordings I invite you to go and have a listen to her stuff:

Then on the Friday I was to meet up with Jan on the other side of town. I set out much earlier than I needed in order to wander round the streets of Berlin. Going through a market close to where I’m staying, I very unexpectedly passed two American’s playing some cool country stuff. So I hit the brakes on my bike and went to talk to them. One of them has slowly been making his way up from Greece to get to a friends wedding in Berlin, the other just arrived to join the former for the wedding and bit more of European exploration. There names were Adams and Peter.

When I finally got to you Jan’s place I parked my bike and walked into a very welcoming household of two. To get to the common room one needs to walk through Jan’s room which was dotted with weird instruments and two new speakers he’d found in the road. The shared room also homes quite a few instruments, notably two old organs and drum kit. As I was fiddling around with one of the organ’s, Jan wrote out the chords of his song and invited me to accompany him. I tried to (as you’ll here in the background of one the recordings) and wasn’t given a second chance!
Soon after Jan was joined by his music friend Hagen who wonderfully plays guitar and harmonica (I was told he plays other instruments but can’t remember which!). Together they organise an open mic night in a place called Mastul. Everyone is welcome to perform, and if one wants, can be accompanied by who ever is present! They called the event Sing Dein Ding (German for ‘Sing your thing’). So after playing some of there songs as a duo, they accompanied Jan’s housemate Swarali singing a Hindi song called ‘Yaaro Dosti’ by Leslie Lewis. The song is about friendship and love – improvising an accompaniment to it on the spot was a very nice way to accompany the songs meaning!

There is more to come! but it’ll have to wait!! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these recordings!

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