Celebrate Canada Day! 15 uniquely Canadian words

How-Canuck

For many new students in BCIT’s Technical Writing Certificate program, I am the first instructor they meet. They usually show up slightly nervous about their writing with all its rules for grammar and style. Sensing their nervousness I’ve devised a fun game to get them to think about the English language and its many variants.

Canada is long in geography but short in history so the fact that our country sports uniquely Canadian English spelling variants is a point of pride among many Canadians. For Canada Day, test your Canadian-ness with these 15 spine-tinglingly unique Canadian spellings.

Bard’s Merry Wives a Basketful of Summer Mischief

Bard’s Merry Wives a Basketful of Summer Mischief

Have you ever walked into a bar—say a blue-collar sort of bar—only to hear someone abruptly say something, strangely Shakespearean? “Argh. The bar wench has cut me off. Forsooth, I am undone.” It’s funny just for being so incongruous, but now imagine three hours of this sort of banter and you have set the stage for this year’s Bard on the Beach production of The Merry Wives of WindsorOntario.

Windsor, Ontario? Yes, Ontario although poor drab Windsor is not, has never been, nor will ever likely be quite so electrifying as you’ll find it here. Director Johnna Wright’s Merry Wives effectively transforms Windsor into a wild Wurlitzer of a town, pulling out all the stops of nostalgia to help you remember (or not, if you were there) the Sixties. It’s one part Shakespeare, one part Hairspray, a little of the old Cheers camaraderie mixed in with enough period Canadiana to rival The Beachcombers (although the writing’s much, much better).

The Merry Wives of Windsor follows the misadventures of one Sir John Falstaff, whom Shakespeare reprised from Henry IV by popular demand. This production (also a reprise from the Bard’s sold-out 2012 production) features all the dramatis personæ you’d expect from a 60’s sitcom: desperate housewives, a jealous alpha male husband, flower children, a toffee-nosed British expat dispatched to the Colonies, beatniks, a foppish Frenchman (though sadly not Québécois), the skipper, Mary Ann…no wait. But it’s the music, ah, cue the music.

As the line between actor and musician faded into irrelevance, the players traded soliloquys for guitars, grabbed a fiddle (naturally the Garter Inn had a house band), and even ponied up to the microphone to croon out a Patsy Cline torch song. All the singing and dancing had the audience clapping along too, even with the never-you-no-mind your Shakespearean iambic pentameters delivered occasionally in Fonsie voice. It was all in good fun. The show grabbed us out of our seats, whirled us ‘round the dance floor (in some cases literally) and didn’t let go until its shit-kickin’ epilogue.

Just as the TUTS production of Hairspray was acknowledged as last summer’s hit, you can wonder no further which production has it in the bag (or basket) for this year. Merry Wives is a basketful of mischief. So lace up your farthingale, brush off your 60’s Canadiana, and make haste thither to the Bard’s Merry Wives of Windsor before it sells out. It’s going to be a runaway hit.

Photo courtesy David Blue

Was Marx Right? — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

In “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, English journalist and broadcaster Paul Mason sets out in the third chapter to build on the theories of waves and cycles, and how Marxists leaned heavily on the idea of that capitalism was inevitability doomed to collapse. He starts in the near present (2008) with the resurgent popularity of Karl Marx, or “Marx-mania” as he puts it, and then works his way back bringing in the entire panoply of Marxist dramatis personnæ — many of whom were unknown to me.

According to Karl Marx, capitalism is beset by crises and breakdowns making it inherently unstable. While classical economists Adam Smith and Malthus explored the limits to capital as “barriers to expansion, decline of profit, and the fragility of stable growth”, Marxist theorists Rudolf Hilferding and Rosa Luxembourg by contrast awaited its doom.

My own curiosity had previously led me to Richard D. Wolff, an economics professor turned Marxist rock star in the wake of society’s disillusionment with the current state of capitalism. Among his followers he’s best known for the quip, “If you lived with a roommate as unstable as capitalism, you would have moved out long ago.”

Listen to Professor Richard D. Wolff’s widely popular monthly updates (May 2016):

Mason focuses on the theorists and activists of the early twentieth century and how their interpretations influenced the inter-war years and the rise of the Soviet Union. Luxemburg, who was critical of Lenin (but who was embraced by later communist acolytes), asked questions that we’re asking again today: “What happens when the whole world is industrialised?” and “What happens if it can’t create new markets within the existing economy?” She proposed that capitalism is not cyclical, but is in fact fatally flawed (a conceit held by Wolff and many others today). Observing the increasing financialisation of the economy, Hilferding concurred that “finance-dominated capitalism was proof of the system’s imminent doom”. Mason both praises these theorists when they moved toward concrete facts and criticizes them for their abstractions, particularly for ignoring the adaptive nature of capitalism.

Here’s Noam Chomsky on Rosa Luxemburg and Revolution (2013)

Mason ends the chapter describing the “perfect wave”, aka the typical wave structure of capitalism (I paraphrase here):

  1. The start of a wave is usually preceded by the build-up of capital in the finance system
  2. Once new technologies, business models and market structures, capital rushes in.
  3. In each up cycle, the economy has no trouble absorbing new workers into the workforce.
  4. When the ‘golden age’ stalls, there is a traumatic break point.
  5. Now the adaptations: attacks on wages, redistribution projects; and recessions become more frequent.
  6. If adaptation fails, capital retreats from the productive sector and into finance systems (as we’re seeing right now).

All of this of course is to pave the way for the premise of the book: “That there is a different route beyond capitalism”.

 

The Seventh Wave — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

Seventh-Wave

In Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, the book I’m serial reviewing chapter by chapter, I’ve come upon some of his most colourful writing. Writing that also completes a gap in my understanding of Marxist economic theory.

In the second chapter, Mason sets out rhapsodically to describe the discovery of sine waves, from their natural origin to Classical Indian mathematics to harmonics in music and even with the presence of “waves within waves” that surfers rely on. It takes Mason less than a page to bring this metaphor back to his dissection of capitalist economics and from there he launches into market long cycle theory and crisis theory.

He starts by describing the sad demise of Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, whose assertion that Capitalism wasn’t ultimately doomed but was instead cyclical in nature. This caused Stalin and the Bolshevik boys to go all aggro on him as Communist orthodoxy at the time could only tolerate the tenet of Capitalism’s imminent collapse. So poor old Kondratieff finished his own earthly cycles in 1938 at the receiving end of a firing squad.

Mason defines some important concepts to Kondratieff’s capitalist theory – the theory of fifty-year cycles or long waves. Or in Kondratieff’s words,

During roughly the first two decades before the beginning of the rising wave of a long cycle, we observe an invigoration of technical inventions. Before and during the beginning of the rising wave, we observe the broad application of these inventions in industrial practice, due to the re-organisation of production relations…

Mason neatly translates this for modern internet-conditioned readers:

  • The rollout of new technologies
  • The rise of new business models
  • New countries dragged into the global market
  • A rise in the quantity and availability of money.

This chapter reminded me of the intellectual rigour and liveliness among thinkers and theorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in Soviet Russia. In the era we’re presently leaving, it seemed there has been no debate to be had about Capitalism and Socialism. As neoliberal Maggie Thatcher put it, “There is no alternative.” Now the question is—a question I suspect Mason is working up to answering—is Capitalism coming to the end of one of its fifty-year long cycles, or is this really it?

Neoliberalism is Broken — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

NeoliberalismisBroken

As I continue to rip my way through Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, I realise that Mason’s fluid writing style is what makes this book such captivating reading. That and his descriptions of the shenanigans of modern economics, concepts I’ve struggled to understand for years, which Mason quickly renders into facile waves of concise prose.

In the first chapter, Mason identifies for the four horsemen (my edit) of neoliberalism which have created the modern world (circa 1988) and are now destroying it: Fiat money, financialization, global imbalances, and information technology. In a single paragraph, he clarified my hazy understanding of what’s meant by fiat money, “The Latin word ‘fiat’ means the same as it does in the biblical phrase fiat lux – let there be light; it means ‘let there be money’ created out of nowhere. In Texas, there was land, cattle and trade – but not enough of them to warrant printing $4 million and incurring a public debt of $10 million. The paper money collapse and ultimately the Texan Republic disappeared.”

The gradual move away from pegging money to real value (such as the gold standard) and the tendency of banks to deregulate has paved the wave for “gaming the system” or what others call casino banking. Since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, “Banking became an ever-changing tactical game focused on skimming money off your competitors, your customers and your business clients. This created the third basic reflex of neoliberalism: the widespread illusion that you can generate money out of money alone.”

Here’s Bernie Sanders back in 1999 denouncing the Financial Services Modernization Act – a repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking protections.

Mason describes the tendency of our economy to rely increasingly on financialization (such as the pre-2008 US housing bubble), even to hallucinatory levels, which ominously portents the final stages of decay in other societies ranging from the Genoese Rupublic in the late Middle Ages, to the Netherlands in the 17th Century, and London in the late British Empire.

Most astounding for me, Mason goes back to the real beginnings of trade and disputes the common assumption that money arose out of the difficulties with barter. He quotes David Graeber who found no evidence that early human societites used barter, or that money emerged from it. Instead, Mason underlines the most fundamental necessity for trade and commerce to work: “They used trust.”

Hear Paul Mason speaking on Postcapitalism: Envisaging a Shared Future at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Reading Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

Postcapitalism

Writers like Seth Godin giddily describe the “new economy” as if still buffeted and buoyed by Mid-Century optimism. Seth credits the Internet for decentralizing work, “Technology has enabled the transition to the new economy, but connections in the new economy are fueled by a focus on two specific aspects of humanity – generosity and art.” But Paul Mason goes deeper. Much deeper.

Paul Mason tears at the heart of the beast—Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism—that system of endless growth, deregulation, high finance—is The Matrix, “It’s everywhere, it is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Neoliberalism has been so normalized as how things are run that we constantly have to review our understanding of it to remember what it is.

Reading Mason’s “Postcapitalism” also gives credence to Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges’s refusal to endorse Bernie Sanders on the grounds that he’s thrown his lot in with the Democratic party (although Hedges’s hedges his bets with Sanders based on his stand vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestine question). They know that America’s two leading political parties are no more than two flavours of vanilla—two near identical facets of the same same system.

Mason contrasts the revolts and uprisings following the collapse of 2008 and the Establishment’s attempts to suppress them with a different path opening up, “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy, between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”

Listen to Paul Mason’s talk at Google Recorded in December 2015, London.

Lori Freedman, “Can I take you to all of my concerts?”

LoriFreedman-side

YOU

ARE

WONDERFUL!!!

Just read this article and want to share it widely. It’s to me perfect journalism – it describes and reports and provokes in a way that allows the reader to vamp on your ideas without having necessarily attended the event themselves…it seems entirely organic, almost subconscious!!! Can I take you to all of my concerts?

And by the way, thanks jason. You are boss!!!!

A Tale of Two Tárogatós

The tárogató is considered a Hungarian cultural treasure, and it has traditionally bridged the gap between Classical concert music (favoured by nobility) and folk music (popular with the country folk).

Despite the tárogató’s rareness outside Hungary and surrounding Eastern European countries, the tárogató now boasts two players in Vancouver—me and Milan Milosevic (with whom I’ve previously collaborated). While having two tárogató players in Vancouver may be considered enough to constitute a school of tárogató playing, what’s really needed is some distinct concert repertoire to bring attention to both the instrument locally and to put British Columbia on the map with those interested in incorporating ethnic and non-traditional instruments onto the concert stage.

Here are two recordings—both recorded in Vancouver—of Zóltan Kodály’s serene Esti Dal (Evening Song):

Milan Milosevic, tárogató and Bogdan Dulu, organ (recorded at UBC’s Roy Barnett Hall)

Jason Hall, tárogató and Michael Murray, organ (recorded at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Dunbar)

Standing Wave’s “Acousmatic” – a Synæsthesiac’s Feast

Synaesthesiac

Adventurous. Uncompromising. Inimitable. Sought-after. How great to hear so many superlatives in Vancouver—that are justified. As violinist Rebecca Whitling welcomed us to their “Acousmatic” concert at the Orpheum Annex last Sunday, she seemed to tear up at the prospect of finding even more superlatives with which to thank her fellow musicians. Standing Wave has been around for a long time—long enough to have either earned those superlatives legitimately or to have them dashed on the rocks of hyperbole—but tonight they were well warranted.

Evanescence

The first work, Gordon Fitzell’s Evanescence, was presented as but an amuse-bouche for the ears (amuse-oreille?). This was perfect as my ears needed time to adjust. I’ve been to enough electro-acoustic concerts to know that the batting average for electro-acoustic music isn’t that good—either it fizzles out due to technical glitches or the two media never quite reconcile leading to a cage match. But thanks to some excellent planning and artistic leadership from Giorgio Magnanensi and others, Evanescence proved how satisfying electro-acoustic can be. Surrounded by waves of intriguing sound and my ears sufficiently amused, I was ready for more.

Red Arc / Blue Veil

Although I missed the promised palindrome in John Luther Adams’s Red Arc / Blue Veil, I revelled in all the visuals implied by the work’s title. For the record, synæsthesia had once been my friend until the day I discovered that I was alone in the assumption that each of the four Brahms symphonies had its inherent colour (Number 1 is blue, 2 is yellow, 3 is a dusty pink, and 4 is avocado-green). So it was gratifying for Adams to permit me to let my ears once again see colour.

John Luther Adams is to music what Edward Burtynsky is to photography. To convey the enormity of the landscapes of his native Alaska and his concerns over the deterioration of our natural world, Adams is now writing music intended for performance out-of-doors. To get a sense of the titanic forces Adams wrestles with, listen to his riveting talk, “Music in the Anthropocene” (given last year at the Banff Centre), in which he described the role of the artist in a world of Climate Change. Against such a canvas, Red Arc / Blue Veil was a comparatively small and intimate meditation on “those inner sounds that are the life of the colours” to quote Kandinsky.

Subject / Object

Foreshadowing the physical comedy that was to come in his music, James O’Callaghan slunk onto the stage nervously for his talk about Subject / Object. Percussionist Vern Griffiths was quick (and classy) to put O’Callaghan at ease allowing us to get in touch with his kinesthetic approach to sound. Not at all a grammar lesson as its title implied, O’Callaghan’s Subject / Object was an attempt to “rationalize the irrational” by turning objects into subjects. It’s as if Standing Wave’s Pierrot-plus instrumentation wasn’t quite enough for O’Callaghan, so he poked and prodded about the stage looking looking for more stuff to play with—usually to great comic effect.

While the players diligently performed their parts, an array of surreal theatrics ensued. Balloons popped inside the piano, a kitchen chair was dragged dramatically across the stage and then subjected to other indignities from the percussionist’s toolkit, and we all squirmed as a bucket of “water” was tipped into the open piano (although electronics came to the rescue just in time with appropriately watery sounds). Nothing overlooked, even the click of flutist Christie Reside’s high-heeled shoes was employed as musical counterpoint (I’m not sure if a composer who’s comfortable referencing Ren & Stimpy would be aware of this, but Reside’s transit across the stage was a perfect homage to Michael Snow’s Walking Women). Bravo to that.

O Superman

The featured work of the evening was an electro-acoustic adaption of Laurie Anderson’s 1981 art rock hit O Superman set for Standing Wave by Vancouver composer Alfredo Santa Ana.

I suspected that some form of calculated risk was involved in casting Veda Hille to sing this role (and I don’t mean a box office calculated risk, although that may have accounted for fifty percent of the audience), but why substitute Anderson’s deadly accurate chops for Hille’s folksy peeping except to avoid, as Santa Ana put it, casting “one of those Art Song singers”?

While her vocal range may comprise the full octave the song demands, vocal quality and diction were moot as she leaned heavily on the FX processor, intended in the original as an expressive device. Veda Hille, O Veda Hille. It’s like walking into the room in time for the laughter but too late for the punch line.  Still, Santa Ana artfully exchanged phrases from violin to flute to bass clarinet and onward giving the art rock original an air of chamber music without sacrificing the sensibility of the source material.

Finale

Even if Standing Wave had lower standards or were perhaps more weird, they would still retain their hold as Vancouver’s premier new music ensemble with their ability to seamlessly integrate solid musicianship with glitchless electronics.

In addition to all the gear and high production values, their kitchen-party warmth—whether the informal extemporizing of Vern Griffiths or pianist Allen Stiles’s comic timing—helped ensure that they could programme pretty much whatever they please and still come across as refreshingly accessible.

The Tárogató Project – How it started…

It all started almost immediately after the last concert, Generations, which I had organized at St. Philip’s Church. That concert played on the theme of intergenerational connections featuring the Jeffrey Ryan piece, Timepieces, I’d commissioned (but never performed) ten years earlier.

Following the concert, I invited Jeffrey over for dinner and it was he who goaded, no encouraged, no challenged me to submit a BC Arts Council grant application to get funding to commission some new works for the tárogató.

I guess the timing was good, because the three weeks left before the deadline turned out to be three weeks I had with no structured plans. I wrote the grant.

The way these things work is you write the grant and then forget about it for months and months before you hear anything. So come August and much to my surprise, I was awarded the grant and The Tárogató Project was born.

The Tárogató Project is designed in two phases:

  • Phase one – Commission two compositions for the tárogató by BC composers. I chose Jeffrey Ryan and Adam Hill.
  • Phase two – A public performance of both works on a concert marking the 60th anniversary of the arrival of refugees from the Hungarian Revolution to British Columbia. By telling the story of the one group of Hungarian refugees to Vancouver, the concert seeks to provide insights into the positive cultural impacts of refugees and immigrants to life in Vancouver.

View the The Tárogató Project Timeline