Thursday, August 29, 2013

on a bootstring

An old UK pal, and geography teacher, took a year-long trip around the world a little before I joined his band. The trip sounded great. Apparently, for a long time afterwards students would draw him aside, and ask if it was OK to ask him a Personal Question. They wanted to know... how much the trip cost (the answer: just squeaking into five-figures).

Money is boring, but relevant. I'm doing the LT hike on a "bootstring" budget, definitely. For anyone interested in doing a similar trek, I'll share my budget details. I'm trying to strike a balance between thriftiness and not compromising on safety.

So far, I have spent $240.47 towards the trip. Just under $20 of this was on four flowerpots and skewers/glue to make mallets. The rest: ramen, ziploc bags, Dollar General generic poptarts (a band name if ever I heard one), Country Time pink lemonade, 3 DEET-sprays for $10, dollar baby wipes, dollar hand sanitizer, $4 for a tube of NuSkin (I've not tried it, but want all the blister-weapons in my arsenal after a very blistery Coast/Coast hike last year), $1 laundry sheets for repelling purposes, various toiletries and some spare-tyre antibiotics. Hooray for current health insurance and a kind PCP.

I spent $174.42 in CostCo -- more than I'd usually lay out on food in a month. That's 150-odd servings of instant oatmeal, two big cheese bricks, Fiber One bars (at $2 apiece and 1-2/day, my preferred MetRX bars are out of budget), 12 pounds of peanut butter, and intimidating sackfuls of raisins, trail mix, dried blueberries, coconut strips, and enough cod-liver oil to keep the levels topped up through the month. I felt a bit tired just carrying all this in from the car.

Still have to buy some camping stuff. For example, a stove. Thinking I'll go with one of those tiny solid-fuel burners that apparently makes everything taste like mothballs.

My dear mum sent 2kg of chocolate and Kendal Mint Cake from the UK. Plus a chick that apparently needs to come with:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The road may be rough / but don't you, don't you, ever get stuck

“Slithery and powerful”. That’s how my other half describes the feeling of operating a chainsaw while wearing an all-spandex outfit. It’s also the feeling I go for when I’m playing rocksteady music on the drumkit. Coming from a rock background, I’ve had to reverse the beat and layer my approach differently.

Your basic rock beat: kick-snare-kick-snare, fast and heavy. Closed, muffled “kick” sound with heel-up pedal technique and mashing the beater into the head. Snares on, striking right in the centre of the snare and toms. 2B drumsticks, or even the Ralph Hardimon signatures for fast and hard tom beats. Articulating on the front side of the beat as I’m naturally wont to do.

Your basic one-drop as used in rocksteady: walking left-right-left-right, steady and soulful. A lot of it is like a basic swing beat with the order of the feet reversed. The bass drum open, heel-down and “pitchy”. Snare drum a stick-butt rim-click, or a timbale sound. Slithering on the hats and cymbals – I call it “bothering” the hi-hat -- with AJ2 sticks that keep the momentum back a little from the stick tip. Asymmetrical ratamacues with one tip, one butt. Using the edge of the drumhead for a ringing and pitchy tone. Dropping the occasional powerful stick-butt bomb on the floor tom or rack.

Distance running turns out to be a lot more like rocksteady than rock. “Light and right” works as a mantra for both; on a pre-gig 10K this weekend I enjoyed the distance by slithering along in the mid-to-back of the beat-bubble (and the “pack”). A “rock” approach to road running – slamming into the surfaces really fast and hard – doesn’t work.

not my feet.

I’ll bear this in mind on the Long Trail – try to hike in the centre of the beat, take it easy for a smoother “flow”, and keep it slithery yet powerful.

Meantime, I have a 3-hour gig tonight with 7-piece rocksteady crew Steady Betty. Burlington, Vermont, 7-10pm at Red Square. Hopefully out of doors. 

Steady Betty

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Permanent Waves

Here's the archive of What's Next on WGDR from August 20th. I chatted with Jim Cross and played snippets of some of my portable percussion rep.


LT Lit: 'SAS Survival Guide' by John 'Lofty' Wiseman

“How to survive in the wild, in any climate, on land or at sea”, so it says. This book’s in the genre of pocket-sized guides written by earnest ex-military gents who start a majority of sentences with “well, in a survival situation”…

For a while I had this book confused with its series-mate SAS Self-Defence. I loved that book's enthusiastic, completely impractical advice (eg: make a handy cosh out of your sock and some coins! I’m still kind of hoping for an opportunity to use this one, but have yet to be under attack from anyone patient enough to wait for me to take my shoe and sock off before hitting back. It also seems you’d need rather a lot of coins to make a cosh – perhaps you could ask the patient aggressor for change while you’re fiddling with footwear).

Anyway, the SAS Survival Guide doesn’t cover improvised monetary coshes. It does have a good definition of survival skills: “a pyramid, built on the foundation of the will to survive. The next layer of the pyramid is knowledge. It breeds confidence and dispels fears. The third layer is training…To cap the pyramid, add your kit” (p.13).

I learned that – in a survival situation – you can suck water from the eyeballs of a fish. There’s also a water reservoir along the spine of larger fish. Water can be squeezed from desert frogs (p.35). I hope not to use this knowledge.

I like this book for its compactness, but there’s too much jungle-Arctic-SAS stuff I don’t think is LT-relevant. The medical section’s good, though. Instead, I’m going to take the annoyingly heavy Outdoor Medical Emergency Handbook:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

how soon is now

Wah! Two weeks from today I will be on the trail.

Had a lovely afternoon playing some portable-percussion on WGDR radio yesterday. Performed bits and excerpts of ‘To The Earth’ by Rzewski, ‘Woods Talk’ by Jacob Mashak, and ‘The Forest at South Field’ by Dennis Bathory-Kitsz. Talked about isorhythms, synaesthesia, the light-up drumkit in my brain … and other general thinkies.

I’m working the repertoire. Chunking and colour-coding sections for memorization. Working on my own little compositions that (after James Tenney’s ‘Postal Pieces’) will be notated on one side of a postcard and performed with/without electronics from field recordings. A similar idea to me playing drums with the San Francisco sealions here:

I’m maintaining my training. Mostly, this is 4-10 miles, most days, running or biking. The occasional wild swim when it’s warm enough and I feel safe (I have a relative-risk flowchart for making the decision whether to swim in any given situation). Receiving very serious unsolicited advice about poison ivy from a little lad on the trail this week (“it’ll poison you real quick!”). Proving that non-DEET bug repellent just doesn’t work. Seeing centipedes and big frogs and irritable woodpeckers and inevitably getting startled – leaping with balled fists at chin height, an impractical startle response -- by chipmunks.

I need to do a day-hike with the gear I’m taking on the trail. I found my old, big, Eurohike backpack in the basement, and I think – if I can replace the missing buckle-side on the waist strap, and get a rain cover – that this will do. I need to get a stove.

Any questions? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

ducks in a row

I'll be on the radio later today (1-3pm Eastern time), previewing snippets of my portable repertoire and chatting with Jim at WGDR. 


Still waiting on one or two confirmations, but I've got my concert and clinic dates lined out for the Long Trail tour: 

  1. Tuesday September 10th: Johnson State College, Johnson VT (noon, open to public)
  2. Wednesday September 18th: University of Vermont, Burlington VT
  3. Thursday September 19th: Lincoln, VT house concert (7.30pm)
  4. Tuesday September 24th: Middlebury College, Middlebury VT
  5. Friday October 4th: 119 Gallery, Lowell MA
  6. Saturday October 5th (time TBA): house concert, Moretown VT
  7. Sunday October 6th (TBA): public concert in Burlington VT
  • email in advance if you are interested in attending either of the house concerts. 

Please be in touch if you have any suggestions for portable-percussionist venues in southern VT in the last week of September/first days of October. I have enquiries in with Bennington College and the Museum of the Creative Process already, but need to lock in dates asap. 

Thanks, amigos!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

To Stoically Go

Hanging with Boro 

My friend Boro thought everything I did was hilariously inept, and he made sure I knew this.  His sense of humour was sharp and dry, and I looked forward to seeing him each morning at the school where he lived. Boro had the aura of an old man, chuckling at his own latest joke. Once he saw me trying to run up a hill, and “FUGIT, SANEY FUGIT!” (run Janey, run – the kiddos called me Saney) was the next few days’ joke.

Boro, and the other kids at the school, had been adopted from the state orphanage across the road. The orphanage was still full of 2- to 17-year-olds; at 18 they’d transfer to care homes for the elderly. Summers 2001 and 2002 I worked mostly in the orphanage, helping look after a dozen younger kids who rarely left the single room where they ate, slept, and lined up, rocking, on potties for hours at a time.  The nurses tied the most disruptive kids to the radiators. Most were not technically “orphans”, but had been taken into, or left in, state care. Often, because of medical problems or disability, or a harelip, or because siblings were starving and the orphanage fed kids daily, or because of life-threatening domestic violence (doll play in the orphanage sometimes involved some harrowing re-enactments).

Institutionalisation can cause symptoms of autism, rendering kids non-verbal, self-stimulatory, unable to communicate. In 2001, I worked so hard to coax words from the kiddos, sometimes hearing a heartbreaking “mama” after several weeks.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Functional Discomfort

I was locking up the house to go for a bike ride yesterday, and a wasp rudely stung me on the neck. I jumped, swatted, yelled “OWWWW!” and – from the other side of the door – my dog started up a loud round of “someone-hurt-you-no-no-no-let-me-at-them-and-I-will-show-them-what-I-think-about-someone-hurting-MY-LADY” barking.

Fidgeting and swelling, I fumbled with the door, told the dog “I appreciate your concern, but I really need you to shut up NOW”, looked for a stinger in the bathroom mirror and melted an ice-cube into my neck while thumb-googling “wasp sting first aid”. I didn’t think I was allergic, but in all fairness I haven’t been stung by a wasp since, probably, the 1980s. My 2013 body reacts to a lot of things very differently than my 1980s body did, so I thought it wisest to wait a bit, instead of hopping on my bike to collapse, hive-covered, in a ditch somewhere. A somewhat recent incident with a pal steadily itching then ballooning after a bee-sting (I ended up chauffeuring her to the emergency room for her first Epipen) was fresh enough in my mind that I wanted to play it safe.

Of course my metronome was handy, so I measured my pulse (at 63 bpm, elevated by my usual standards). I cleaned out the sting and smeared some Sudocrem under a soft plaster. I texted my love, on the offchance I was mysteriously unconscious when he came home. Things were fine. I went out for 10ish miles.

I’m actually grateful for the sting, because figuring out I’m not allergic was a lot easier and less stressful at home than it would be on the trail.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Carry-On Baggage

Just finished the last uphill of the Coast-to-Coast -- that's the Irish Sea I'm kind of kicking. 

I love my backpack, but it's clearly too small for the LT. In the pic above, the rain cover is pregnant with my waterproof trousers, because they wouldn’t fit inside the pack. So…I’m looking for a backpack. I want to use the smallest functional pack. From percussion-gigging, I know that extra gear/weight slows you down. It’s why I now have three marimbas – 3, 4, and 5-octave ranges – and take the smallest/lightest instrument that will work for the gig.

Gerard’s cake, camp-chair, radio and harmonica apparently got him in scoffing internet-trouble with Ultralighters… It seems some hikers REALLY CARE what other people carry. There’s a lot of judgment, bullying, oneup(wo)manship and smugness. Why?

I presume it’s a combination of jealousy (Gerard’s cake!), insecurity (ultralight gear’s expensive) and wanting to control/dominate others. In other circles, this is called “taking another person’s inventory”. In hiking, it’s literal – inventory-judging what another person carries on their back. I see the same behaviour, less literally, in music, in relationships, even in "competitive" feminism. Bossy-bullying ultralighters are saying more about what they carry in their own hearts than in their backpacks.

I think of this when others tell me, with forceful certainty, what I should or shouldn’t wear-say-play on stage. What drumsticks are best. Why wives shouldn’t tour. How much I should weigh. Whenever someone belittles, heckles or bullies me (or a friend), I wonder why they care what we’re carrying. 

I don’t give a crap what anyone else carries on the trail. I’m just trying to find my own balance -- I’m probably going to take some novels. Does anyone care?  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Portable and Potable: What (not) to Drink

Wondering about wilderness water.

Confession: in my LT day-hikes, I’ve not bothered with water purification. Worked on the assumption that if it was high-elevation, clear and running it was probably alright. But after day-hikes, I return to my bathroom-furnished, drinking-water-supplied abode. Hoping for the best is a high-stakes policy on a thru-hike.

few and far between. 

It seems that either iodine or chlorine dioxide are the most compact, reliable and cheap options. I’ll order one of each -- iodine-based and ClO2-based – and test them. Daily iodine seems unlikely to cause problems under 6 weeks of continuous use?

I’m also wondering about caffeine. I don’t want caffeine headaches/withdrawal migraines on the trail, but I think limited caffeine could certainly help my focus/endurance. Seems I have two options -- find a way to caffeinate on the LT, or go caffeine-free before the trip.  Typically, I have 2-3 cups of coffee in the morning and black tea throughout afternoon practice sessions. If I have a tricky bit of music to work on, a cuppa in my mug from The Drum Exchange is my purposeful-power beverage of choice (yes, I attach emotional meaning to mugs).

I’m thinking I’ll compromise – stop drinking coffee tomorrow, taper to tea only, then down to 1-2 teas a day pre-trail. Then I’ll take some low-caffeine powdered drinks on the trail in case I badly want them. Question for you all: is there anything similar to the caffeinated versions of Crystal Light that does not contain aspartame?

Aspartame sucks. 

Talking of wild water, here’s a trailer for a new “wild swimming” chamber opera by lovely composer/singer Kerry Andrew. Looks great. Check it out, UK friends.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

LT list: Why?

In Appalachian Trials, Zach Davis says that a prospective thru-hiker should write lists ahead of time. The first – why (the …) are you doing this? Here’s Zach’s own list, with the points that also apply to yours truly in green.

·         "I need some time to re-evaluate the direction of my career
·         I am craving an adventure larger than life
·         Life is short, do awesome shit, stupid
·         Postponing happiness until retirement is a flawed life approach
·         I have the rest of my life to sit in front of a computer
·         I want to expose myself to a new environment
·         I need a change of pace
·         What I’m currently doing isn’t working
·         I suck at backpacking" (Davis p.28).


I am concert-tour-through-hiking the Long Trail because:

·         I love music  
·         I love hiking
·         Because any kind of adventure is good.
·         Because the Vermont winter is around the corner, and spending September almost entirely outdoors will be good for my muscles, head and heart.
·         I can help bring some brand-new music into the world, while seeing things I’ve never seen before.
·         A month off freelance writing/away from the computer would be really nice. The trip will give me something interesting to write about in future.
·         The hiking-concert-tour makes me stand out professionally.
·         These concerts will have the easiest load-in… ever.
·         A little bit of true freedom. I spend a lot of my time doing things I have to do, this is something I want to do.
·         All these will get stronger: my hearing eye, my seeing ear, my ability to practice anywhere, all my physical components.

So I’ll remember this list when I’m blistery, tired and noxious. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

What (not) to Eat

Time to start thinking about the logistics. What am I going to EAT?

Generally, I try to eat high-protein, low-fat and relatively-low-carb. I did the Dukan Diet for a while, and certainly lost weight. However, the almost-no-carb aspect of the Dukan turned out not to work so well for distance running -- I’d flop out, cranky and dizzy, after only about 6 miles. So for the LT I’ll need to just eat. On the C2C, my sis and I ate every 2-4 hours. With intense hiking, that’s probably a refill every ~1,200 calories?

At first, I thought I wouldn’t take a stove – I’m notoriously rubbish at cooking (my pal LJF, correctly, says I’m the only person who can screw up pasta) and I don’t want to carry anything unnecessary. Here are foods I’m thinking of taking that don’t need cooking (or a can opener):

1)      Met-RX bars

2)      Cabot Extra Light Sharp Cheddar (well, any kind of cheese)

3)      Jerky

4)      Peanut Butter

5)      Tortillas (wheat)

6)      Various Nuts

7)      Some kind of flapjacky delight
ideally, freshly baked by an Enid Blytonesque farmer whose property I happen across

8)      For the peaks: special motivational sugar-treats from my dear mum: Kendal mint cake and Fruit&Nut (on the C2C, this got me back on my feet after a 20-odd mile day through deep snow).

Sorry America, when it comes to choc you are no superpower. 

Then a friend mentioned that, with a stove, I could make oatmeal. In a situation where I’m denying myself almost every other creature comfort – electricity, plumbing, marimba, drumkit, the Internet, laundry facilities – the difference between cosy oats and cold slimy PB-on-cheese could make all the difference.

Potential stove-foods:

1)      Instant Oatmeal

2)      Ramen

already feeling pretty bored just looking at this.

3)      Help me out, internet pals. That’s all I got. [comment below, email suggestions using the "contact" form to the right, or direct to].

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Ambulatory Ambivert

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Neither? Both? Shy?

I’m reading about“Ambiverts”. I’ve always felt a binary introvert-extrovert definition doesn’t really work for most people. Most things in life are not binary – I think of almost everything as spectrum-based, from gender to personality to race to mental health. Of course, on any spectrum there can be a tipping-point or marker beyond which a person can identify themselves as, say, male. Or a medical diagnosis can be made. But there’s a whole, often fluid, space between “0” and “1”. A composer friend said that, professionally, she uses a male personality (with her own feminine name/identity). As a lady drummer, sometimes I’ve used a traditionally-masculine persona, stance, mode of speech and clothing, to feel more comfortable performing in public.

What does all this wittering have to do with the Long Trail hike? Well, I think the hike-tour combines introversion/solitude (practice, training, walking) and extraversion (performance, collaboration and connection with composers and audiences). As a soloist, there’s sharp contrast between days shut in the practice-room and walking out on stage, vulnerable, to share something. The Bulletproof Musician discusses how shyness interacts with performance.

Myers-Briggs calls me INFJ, but the Ambivert label fits me better. My shyness score: 52/65 (very shy). But I’ve developed what TBM calls “positive coping styles” in performance – focusing on the moment and the task. Watching the score-map. Being present – this didn’t come naturally, or quickly. I hope the LT will help sharpen this focus-presence, and help me find a way to turn the discomfort of shyness into something positive in performance.  Kristeen Young says “comfort is never a goal”: 

Friday, August 9, 2013

LT lit: ‘Appalachian Trials’ by Zach Davis

The tag-line is “a psychological and emotional guide to successfully thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail”; Davis promises strategies for “unshakable mental endurance” – I’ll take some of that, please (though the AT is about 9x longer than Vermont, AT/LT in VT is known as one of the AT’s toughest parts).

Making lists of why you want to thru-hike is a big part of mental preparation (p.28), as is public announcement of the thru-hike – “it makes your plan more real. Seeing the reactions in others will help to put into perspective how badass you really are! …more importantly, it makes you accountable…  you’ll have a lot of people to answer to” (p.31). Hence this blog.

Davis recommends meditation before and during the hike (p.88-89). I’ve been trying to be more meditative, but struggle with not naturally being a very still, quiet or immediately-present person (fidgety; drummer; forward-looking). One thing I’ve liked about my time already on the LT is how it slows me down physically and makes me focus on the now. According to Davis (p.90), “[practicing] meditation while hiking … requires a conscious shifting of focus out of your head and into your body and/or breath.” OK!

As I’m also planning the LT hike as a way to complete the weight-loss I started a couple of years ago (the last pesky ~10 pounds) , I’m also interested in Davis’ discussion of on-trail weight-loss and post-trail weight-gain. Apparently the keys to avoiding post-hike bulking up are an emphasis on lean protein, avoidance of sugar-carbs, and continuing to be very active in daily life (p.112-113). I can do this. 

The Portable Percussionist: Long Trail concert tour


The Portable Percussionist: Long Trail concert tour

What? This September/early October, I’m going to be thru-hiking the Long Trail --272 miles running the length of Vermont – from the Canadian border down to Massachusetts. Along the way, I’ll stop off and give solo concerts/clinics, for “portable” percussion. That means found objects, bits of wood, stones, ceramic flowerpots, etc. I’ll be playing some pieces from the Frog Peak ‘Rock Music’ collection (you can guess the instrumentation), Rzewski’s ‘To The Earth’, and first performances of works by Jacob Mashak and Dennis Báthory-Kitsz. The concert schedule will be announced very soon (I’m still looking for a few venues/schools/barns/houses/galleries to play in Central and Southern Vermont), and each day I’ll share up to 272 words about the project. There’s a lot to plan, from scheduling to repertoire to sleeping options to percussion mallets to food to blister control.

Why? Because I love music and I love hiking. Because any kind of adventure is good. Because the Vermont winter is around the corner, and spending September almost entirely outdoors will be good for my muscles, head and heart. Because (thanks to a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation), I can help bring some brand-new music into the world, while seeing things I’ve never seen before.

How? Have you gone completely mad? On balance, I don’t think a thru-hike is intrinsically more dangerous than a regular road commute. I’ve already solo-hiked two of the LT’s 12 divisions, and last year I thru-hiked the UK’s Coast-to-Coast trail. I’m planning and prepping the Long Trail tour carefully, and hope to have friends join me for sections of the hike. 

Vermont Community Foundation

Rzewski 'To The Earth' excerpt

One of the pieces I'm really excited about playing on the Portable Percussionist tour is 'To The Earth' by Frederic Rzewski. Here's a little backyard excerpt:

Composed in 1985, this piece is for speaking percussionist and four flowerpots. I'll use different pots at each venue -- I won't be carrying these shiny pots on the trail.

The text comes from a Homeric hymn:

To the Earth, Mother of all,
I will sing the well established, the oldest,
Who nourishes on her surface everything that lives.
Those things that walk upon the holy ground,
And those that swim in the sea,
And those that fly in the air,
All these are nourished by your abundance.

It is thanks to you if we humans have healthy children,
And rich harvests.
Great Earth, you have the power to give life to,
And to take it away from creatures that must die.
Happy are the ones whom you honor with your kindness and gifts. What they have built will not vanish,

Their fields are fertile. Their herds prosper.
And their houses are full of good things.
Their cities are governed with just laws. Their women are beautiful.
Good fortune and wealth follow them.
Their children of radiant with the joys of youth.
The young women play in the flowery meadows,
Dancing with happiness in their hearts.

Holy Earth, undying Spirit,
So it is with those whom you honor:
Hail to you, Mother of life,
You who are loved by the starry sky,
Be generous and give me a happy life in return for my song,
So that I can continue to praise you with my music.