face of the forest

Discoveries from the forest floor and beyond.

Musing on Words and Music Genres

by amy – December 30, 2016 in Music, Words
Music map from Music Popcorn

Music map from Music Popcorn

I was thinking the other day about the meaning of words. I’m in the middle of reading a rather old tale: the English version of The Count of Monte Cristo published in 1844. Because the book is old, and certain words are preserved in their native French or Italian, I have to look up the definitions of words now and then. I realized that words and their meanings are malleable, inconcrete things.

When you look up a word in the dictionary, a lot of times there is more than one definition listed, and these are listed for you (1, 2, 3…) so you can quickly find the meaning that applies to your situation. So words can have various shades of meaning. Through time and use, the meaning of certain words gets nudged in different directions depending on how people choose to use them. So words change as people change. They are not, as I have often thought of them, inscribed in stone since the beginning of time, with definite definitions. I guess my brain tends to think of them that way because I like categorizing things. I like languages because they adhere to a grammar; because they follow ordered systems that can be learned and memorized. My left brain adores this dependable structure of language, and I’ve always absorbed the definitions of words easily into my memory. Yet words are far from being concrete. Words are nothing more than empty symbols until people prescribe meaning to them, and these meanings can be as nuanced as people’s feelings. Words are our imperfect attempt to describe sensations that defy categorization.

And this brings me to the topic of genres in music. I’m not alone in my love of categorizing things. As people we like to categorize our art into so-called genres, and these genres are really just words we use to refer to an artificial grouping of things. When we talk about rock or jazz music, for example, we are using a simple four-letter word to contain what is really a vast history too complex to fit into such an absurdly small box. When we talk about rock, we’re referring to a roughly century-long tradition in music history that involves, well, a guitar. But a guitar is pretty much the only thing that rock musicians share in common. Every other aspect about their music can be widely different. What we try to do with music genres is take every individual musician that pertains to a particular style, at least to some degree, and shove them in a box and put a one-word label on it. But if we open the box and take a good look at the artists inside, we discover a world of differences between them.

In my last post I reviewed Seth Chapla’s music, which is a kind of instrumental rock. His style reminded me of Steve Vai, and Steve Vai was taught by Joe Satriani. There is a clear connection between the three musicians as you travel backward in time. But the connection is only clear because their style is singular and hasn’t been copied a thousand times by other musicians. And they are all fairly contemporary. One night I went even further down that path of music history. I found that Joe Satriani (born 1956) was influenced by Jeff Beck, the English guitarist who played with The Yardbirds (born 1944), and he in turn cited Les Paul as an influence (born 1915 in America), and from there I landed on Rosetta Tharpe, a black gospel singer from Alabama who played an electric guitar like nobody’s business, and who clearly made an impact on Elvis and probably a whole generation of musicians who picked up an electric guitar in the 50’s and 60’s and created what we now think of when we say “rock music.” I watched a great documentary about Rosetta, and it was great because she has a sensational biography. I highly recommend it. She blew me away because I had never heard of her. And I’m American and listen to a lot of rock music! Check out this great video of her playing “Didn’t It Rain” at a train station.

What’s also interesting is that she was never inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How can the curators of rock history not recognize that this rockin’ gal deserves a place in its annals?

Take any of the guitarists I mentioned above, and you will find that all of them play a different style of music. And you’ll find that they were influenced by not one musician, who was also unique in his/her own way, but many. So we can forget about the term “rock.” How can we really come up with a word that sums up a musician’s style when they are expressing themselves from the heart? I endeavored to learn about the history of rock music, but when I dug into it, I found that there was simply music. Genres are not particularly useful except to give a vague gesture toward a trend in music history, but in reality there are just people making music. We can’t create a word for what they create. But we can talk about how we feel when we hear it, and if we talk from the heart, then we are saying words that have meaning.

November 2016 Music Digest

by amy – November 26, 2016 in Music

During the past few months, a lot of new and varied music has been crossing my radar. I love discovering new music. It’s inspiring to be reminded that there is so much creation happening in the world; so much that it’s impossible to keep up with it all. The discovery of a new artist or sometimes an entire new genre is always invigorating, both because of my appreciation of music itself as a listening exercise but also because of the intellectual exercise of opening a new window onto a piece of culture and history. And when I say “new” music, I don’t mean new in the temporal sense, but new to my ears. Regardless of when it was created, music is my connection to people and to the world.

I tend to focus on albums more than individual tracks when it comes to music. Everyone has their own way of enjoying music. My preferred method is to put on an album and let it play from start to finish, so that I become immersed in the mood and flow of it. This way I can properly engage the work as a whole, listening to the songs in the order that the artist intended, reading the lyrics, if they exist, and looking at the cover art. I think of an album as a gift from the artist; a carefully prepared package of image and sound that you sit down and devote time to. read more

Baileys Maple Fruit Syrup

by amy – July 26, 2016 in Cooking
Pain perdu (French toast) with Maple Whiskey Syrup and greek yogurt

French toast (pain perdu) with Baileys Maple Fruit Syrup and greek yogurt.

Want to add some pizazz to your weekend breakfast/brunch? This fruit syrup is an easy concoction to take your pancakes or french toast to the next level.

Here’s a simple ratio for two servings:

  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons jam
  • 1 teaspoon Baileys Irish Cream

Nothing could be simpler; just mix together and warm up in a small pan. Pour over french toast, pancakes, or crêpes. These three flavors combine with perfection! As you might imagine, they make a super-sweet berry syrup, with a saucy punch from the whiskey. Yup, I just used saucy as an adjective for sauce. Anyway, it’s quite irresistible and highly addictive, so be forewarned!

I stumbled on this idea late last Friday evening when making breakfast for dinner for me and my man. I had tried blueberry syrup before (thank you, Canadian ex-roommate!) and since then have made my own a few times. As usual when practicing kitchen alchemy, which is my term for assembling a meal on-the-fly without knowing what it’s going to turn out like, something I do very often, I can’t help but glance around the kitchen thinking, what else can I add to this? I do this a lot. Sometimes for the worse. But sometimes for the better. And in unexpected cases like these, for the betterment of myself and all humankind.

So, intrepid chef, go forth and pour whiskey on thine pancakes. To life!

Otari-Wilton Winter Foray Part II

by amy – July 16, 2016 in Mushrooms


We were back at Otari-Wilton Bush today to see what else the trails had to offer in the way of fearless winter fungi. We’ve had a few chilly days recently, but nothing close to freezing. Today was sunny and the air was fresh.

There were only tiny mushrooms visible on the trailside. Some had caps that measured only a couple millimeters across. Here are a few of those miniscule shroomy subjects for your perusal. read more

Mushroom foray in Otari-Wilton Bush

by amy – July 10, 2016 in Mushrooms
Gills of a Cortinarius species found in Otari-Wilton Bush.

Gills of a Cortinarius species found in Otari-Wilton Bush.

I had originally intended this blog to be about discoveries “from the forest floor” – particularly mushrooms. I love photographing all kinds of mushrooms, and this developed into an interest in identifying them too. When I moved to Vancouver in 2012, I joined the mycological society (the VMS) and was a member for three years, eventually becoming a board member as well. We did annual forays which were a lot of fun and very informative. Since moving to New Zealand last year (it’s been one year to the day, today!) I haven’t done any outings specifically to hunt for mushrooms. I’ve missed it.

More recently I discovered Geoff Ridley’s blog called Spores, Moulds and Fungi where he posts frequently about fungi found in the local Wellington area. This gave me the “fungus fever” and I decided to head out to Otari-Wilton Bush for the first time, which is a botanic garden of native plants and trees just a 10-minute drive from our house. Florian joined me and we spent the better part of the afternoon walking through some beautiful forest trails. We had a great time. I got my mushroom fix and took lots of photos. There wasn’t anything too exciting out, perhaps due to it being the winter season, but there were a few finds which I’m going to share here.  read more

A Good Bread Recipe

by amy – May 6, 2016 in Cooking
Homemade Bread

One of my early attempts at making bread by hand

There’s nothing like bread made by hand. I made my first loaf about eight months ago. My partner and I liked the result so much that we stopped buying storebought bread. Bread is a staple in the house, and one loaf only lasts two or three days. Making bread about twice a week since then has given me plenty of chances to experiment with variations on the recipe that worked for me. read more

Life is in the moment

by amy – February 24, 2016 in Words

Sunrise in Victoria, British Columbia. June, 2014.

One morning I saw a ship burning in the sky. I looked up and there it was. Crimson flames engulfing it, black smoke billowing out around its sides. The ship was still sailing, slow and smooth, a dying monstrosity. It looked like it was moving in slow motion, like a giant crashing to earth after receiving a fatal blow. It was a sight that caught my breath.

The ship was, in fact, a cloud that I glimpsed at sunrise over the bay. I had climbed the ridge at dawn, inspired by the first light in the east where the sky was ablaze with fierce pinks and purples. Upon the ridge, I sat on a bench where there is a 360° view of the bay. I felt like I was at the center of an unfolding drama. A breeze carried dark clouds off the hills at my back and into the sea, and the clouds hid the sun as it rose over the wild and rugged Eastbourne slopes in the distance. For over an hour I sat there, shivering in my t-shirt despite the unusual warmth at that early hour, hoping to catch sight of the sun through the clouds and all the while guessing at its position. That was when I saw it. The clouds parted for an instant to make a window in the middle of the sky, and through that window I saw a cloud on fire, its edges glowing fiercely as they were touched by an unseen sun. Those glowing edges shone so brightly in comparison to the dull grey light in the bay. A few seconds later, the window closed. The sky would be cloudy for the rest of the morning. I realized I was the only person to have seen a magnificent sight: what looked like a burning ship in its final hour. read more