Saturday, 29 August 2015

Solvitur Ambulando: Great Philosophers and Walking (Editorial)


Since the dawn of time, man has used his bipedal faculties to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Even in the modern world, so often profaned by the fumes and visuals of mechanical monoliths, the humble domain of walking remains relatively unperturbed. Indeed, even after decades of technological advancement, we are all still blessed to inherit the same simple pleasure afforded to the greats of far-off antiquity; Socrates' divine capability resides gracefully within us to this very day.   

Given this rich heritage, it is of no surprise that the power of walking is enshrined within the suitably eloquent Latin phrase, Solvitur Ambulando (simply translated as 'it is solved by walking'). I recently stumbled (metaphorically) across the adage in a sublime article by the Art of Manliness (see here), which details the main benefits of walking accompanied by thoughtful quotes on the subject.

Now my regular readers (if any such exist) will hopefully have some inkling of my affection for philosophy. Indeed, as the blog has developed, I have attempted to intertwine the philosophical in proportion to the musical, hashing out a more unique resource for myself and readers alike. 

It was due to this affection that I started to wonder which of the great philosophers utilised walking in their own lives, and if so, to what end? I have forever been curious about the routines of history's great men, but was greatly disappointed to see no such literature collated the walking habits of any of the prominent philosophers.

It is in this vein I have chosen to compose this article, hoping to remedy the aforementioned disappointment whilst also inspiring the men of today. I have written of five philosopher's bipedal endeavours here, but may return to complete more if supply proves sufficient.

Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC)

Depiction of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David painted in 1787
Indisputably one of the most important thinkers of the entire Western canon (and otherwise for that matter), Socrates is a name universally recognised. The indefatigable questioner was mentor to Plato and Xenophon, and marked the formal beginning of rational discussion. The once distinguished solider of the Peloponnesian War was also said to be a fervent rambler. Some say he would walk around Athens questioning the day-to-day beliefs of his fellow citizens. Indeed, in many of Plato's dialogues, such as Republic, the pupil of Socrates chooses to show his teacher ambling through the streets as he discusses ground-breaking concepts and ideas. Ironically, it is thought in the course of his being officially executed by the state of Athens for corrupting the Athenian youth, Socrates consumed poisonous hemlock and proceeded to walk around until he felt heavy, laying down to die.

Immanuel Kant (22 April, 1724 – 12 February, 1804 AD)

Immanuel Kant painted on an unknown date
Another monumental figure of Western thought, Immanuel Kant became a giant of 18th century thought when his works revolutionised philosophical thinking and turned once-cherished concepts and notions upside down. However, despite the explosiveness of his thinking, Kant actually lead a rather ordinary, orderly existence in the other aspects of his life. For instance, he would get his servant to wake him at 5:00 am everyday without fail, even though he was self-confessedly bad early riser. Regardless, it is in this strict routine we find Kant took a regular walk each day at around 1:00 pm, after working on his most famous and compelling philosophical works. Thus showing that even one of the most sophisticated and brilliant philosophers of all time still indulged in the fantastically simple pleasures of walking, perhaps even if it was just to blow off steam.

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862 AD)

Henry David Thoreau in 1861
These next two philosophers come as a sort of duo set, and are amongst some of my favourite thinkers of all time. Thoreau is revered for his infinitely insightful naturalistic and political works, which have gone onto influence and embolden a huge range of people: socialists, liberals, anarchists, libertarians, conservatives, and more. Given Thoreau's fondness for wildness, it is of no surprise he had a huge admiration for the act of walking. Indeed, one of his most delivered public lectures was simply titled 'Walking'. Moreover, Thoreau's most famous work, Walden, is an even greater ode to walking. In the book, the thinker recounts how he opted to do away with the technologies of the train and cart, in turn for the simple act of travelling afoot - it not only saved him money, but provided him with a more priceless kind of felicity. Thoreau loved nothing more than a simple stroll through his native Massachusetts woodland, famously remarking "If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen". Watch out for our upcoming review series on Walden (more infor-mation here).

Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882)

Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1857
Friend and (debatably) mentor of Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson pursued many of the same objectives as the previous philosopher, becoming one of the main pioneers of the transcendental movement with his ground-breaking philosophy and literature. Similarly to Thoreau, Emerson was enthused by what he saw as the sublimity of nature. Indeed, his essay of the same name is forever rooted in the annals of history, his superb prose only matched by the profundity of his account of the interconnectedness of humans with the rest of Creation. Unsurprisingly, infatuation of this kind and degree inevitably led Emerson towards ambulphilia ('love of walking'), and he often expressed it within his works. He had this to say on the topic:  “Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humour, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much”. Another quote of Emerson's on walking that is a particular favourite of mine, quoted in the previously linked Art of Manliness article, follows thus:  "A vain talker profanes the river and the forest, and is nothing like so good company as a dog". Both of the above lines come from Emerson's essay “Country Life”, published in 1857.

Friedrich Nietzsche (15 October, 1844 – 25 August, 1900)

The date of this photo is unknown
There are few people currently alive in the West who wouldn't be familiar with at least one of Nietzsche's popularised sayings. Most intellectually-minded people, no matter where they live, should undoubtedly be familiar with the man. Although on par with Kant in terms of his momentous insight and influence, Nietzsche employed a much more ferocious zeal in his writings, at odds with the mild-mannered Prussian philosopher. However, despite this revolutionary vigour, the philosopher still involved himself in the same quotidian walking as Kant himself, and was a known admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose books still remain in Nietzsche's personal library in Weimar, Germany, available for public viewing. Of all on this list, we know Nietzsche to have regularly walked by far the furthest: 
"After working until 11:00 each morning, he would go for a "brisk, two-hour walk through the nearby forest or along the edge of Lake Silvaplana (to the north-east) or of Lake Sils (to the south-west), stopping every now and then to jot down his latest thoughts in the notebook he always carried with him" 
And then: 
"After luncheon, usually dressed in a long and somewhat threadbare brown jacket, and armed as usual with notebook, pencil, and a large grey-green parasol to shade his eyes, he would stride off again on an even longer walk, which sometimes took him up the Fextal as far as its majestic glacier. Returning ‘home’ between four and five o’clock."
I hope you have enjoyed this article on the walking habits of great philosophers. Do you know of any more? Please feel free to email or comment below.

Written by Daniel Luke Sharman

Title picture credit: Winslow Homer

Nietzsche biography quotes credit: Friedrich Nietzsche by Curtis Cate

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Bird People Interview with Ulrich Rois!

The Forward Path, closing song of the Myrrors' latest Arena Negra LP. A mesmerising desert rock slow-burn lasting a fully-realised 20 minutes and 42 seconds. Although I loved the track, it left a deep yearning for more sonic odysseys cut from this same drone-based cloth. Well, in accidentally stumbling upon the brilliant music of Bird People, this hunger was immediately satisfied, and to this day they sustain me in a state of wilderness folk satiety. I caught up with the multi-instrumentalistic, organically-reared mastermind of the project, Ulrich Rois, to find out more. - Daniel Luke Sharman.     

Q.) When it comes to musicians on the current scene, Austria isn't always the first 
place people think of. Can you tell us a bit more about where you from, and who is in 
the band/plays what?

A.) I'm originally from Waidhofen, a small town about two hours southwest of Vienna but I moved here in 2001. Not so easy to answer who's in the band as we have a rather loose and fluid line-up. It's usually me and a number of other people, who exactly changes from show to show. Open door policy, if you dig. Some local regulars are Roy Culbertson III, Themsen, Eric Arn, Steffi Neuhuber and Lucas Henao Serna but I also consider friends in other places, who we sometimes jam with on tour as being part of the Bird People tribe. Some players usually stick with one instrument while others tend to switch around a lot. Between us we play banjo, cello, fiddle, shruti box, sitar, esraj, alto sax, bass recorder, organ, guitar, bansuri, conch shells, Tibetan bowls, gongs and whatever else is around.

Well, actually there is quite a lot going on in Vienna and I guess there always has been, it's just that the scene here might come across as a little closed off at times but I think it has really opened up in recent years, there are a lot of good people doing cool stuff. I can't really speak for the situation in other Austrian cities.

Q.) Bird People is a undeniably unique project. How did such an esoteric group manage to about?

A.) I've started the project in 2010 but it was more song-based at first. We also had kind of an open band structure back then but it mostly involved other people then now. Then I did it as a solo project for a number of years, toured and released a lot and had some good times but last year I realized that both the music and myself really need the input of other people to go any further. So now it's pretty wide open and I'm diggin' the ride. This open band structure allows us to do  a lot of stuff that’s not so easy with a regular band. We can play way more shows this way because not everybody has to have time for all of them. Nobody needs to feel any obligation, the only thing that’s important to me is that when you’re there, you’re REALLY there.

Q.) From the various photographs and suchlike I've seen, it's clear you're an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. What do you think has driven/drives you to partake in such a wide range of instruments, and what is the total you can actually play?

A.) I enjoy playing a range of instruments, yes, but I'm far from an accomplished player on most of them. Learning to play an instrument is one of the most rewarding experiences for me, so I don't think I'll stop any time soon. I originally learned guitar and later had some sax lessons but at the moment I consider banjo, fiddle and esraj my main instruments. I'm definitely more of a stringman than anything else. The total of instruments I use is hard to tell. Whatever is around will be played.

Q.) Much of your work, including with Bird People, favours long, droning instrumentals (only clocking in at around 30 minutes). What leads to chasing these forms over more conventional, shorter structures?

A.) Oh, basically I just love this sort of music and enjoy making it. A lot has been said about the musical and spiritual properties of drone music by people like La Monte-Young, which I don't need to repeat here but anyway I agree with some of it but not all. I definitely like the fact that this kind of music can really mess with your temporal sense. Then on a quite simple level, some things just take time to develop. You can't cook a gumbo in five minutes, you know? And I also think that in this super-fast world of instant gratification that we live in, it can be quite nice to just sit and listen to one or two fluctuating notes for an hour or so. Playing or listening to drone music can be a grounding, calming experience, if you can get into it.

Q.) In the past, DYEP? has published articles exploring the links between the natural, wild world and psychedelic music. What links would say your music shares with natural wilderness?

A.) Well, I love to be in nature, it's a big source of inspiration for me. Playing music outside, jamming along with the sounds of the wind and the birds, crickets, etc - that's one of my favorite things in life. But we humans are a part of nature too and a lot of us happen to live in cities, so I think there shouldn't be this dichotomy. They're just different environments like the jungle is different from the desert. For me, what we do with Bird People is all about vibing with different places and people, so I see a similarity to natural processes there ... try to adept, keep it sustainable and so on.

Q.) Due to the rough and wild nature of your sound, your albums are usually less-polished than usual studio fare. What do the recording sessions of your LPs usually entail?

A.) I actually think a lot about how I want things to sound and I've gone through many different phases of how I approach studio work. There were times when I was really into overdubs and studio trickery while right now it's all about recording live without any overdubs or edits. So both with Bird People and for my solo stuff the sessions usually just involve setting up some mics and pressing "record". Then in the mixing stage I only use a little bit of compression, EQ and limiting. The recording process is pretty much straightforward documentation. Most " studio" sessions happen at my place but we're mobile. I just don't like to be in too sterile studio environments because, as I've said, the space where we play has a big impact on how we play, I think.

Q.) Arguably, some of the best drone comes about when natural instruments meet with the technological tools we have at our disposal today. What are some your favourite music-creating gadgets?

A.) Actually both with Bird People and solo I'm predominantly focused on using acoustic instruments without any sound processing right now. But I've also gone through phases of pedal overkill. A Boss looper and some EHX pedals like the Memory Man Deluxe and the Superego were some of my go-to tools. With recording I'm pretty pragmatic and tend to use what's available. At home I use a Focusrite audio interface and record in Logic using some condenser mics of wildly varying quality but I also use handheld devices, tape decks, etc for recording. Would love to get my hands on a reel-to-reel! We had a 16-track Fostex with an earlier band but sold it.

Q.) DYEP? readers often tell me how they enjoy hearing about various gear specifications. Can you tell us a bit about some of your favourite instruments? 

A.) At the moment I mostly use a Fender 5 string banjo, a shruti box without any visible manufacturer's name, a really cheap fiddle made by Menzel, some singing bowls and gongs.  Concerning  guitars I've used several different ones on Bird People albums including a Fender 60s Stratocaster, a Gibson SG a Flying V and a Firebird VII. Sometimes I also use a Doepfer Dark Energy synth, mostly just for a bass drone.

Q.) I'm of the understanding that the brilliant Feathered Coyote Records is of your making. Can you tell us a bit more about the label? 

A.) Thanks for the kind words! I've started the label in 2011, at first just to put out my own music in a DIY way. Then friends started to ask if I'd like to release their music and it kind of snowballed from there. I switched from CDs to tapes in 2012 and that has continued until now. I'm slowing down the release frequency of the label a little bit, just to be able to work more spontaneously again but I'm still enjoying doing it a lot.

Q.) DYEP? recently reviewed your latest solo single, Sunrise in the Valley. Can you tell us more about the upcoming album.

A.) Yes, thanks for the review! The solo album will come out sometime this fall, I reckon. Like the current Bird People stuff it is completely acoustic and recorded live, no overdubs. It's mostly solo banjo, one fiddle tune and some shruti/gong drones as segues. The album was recorded in my home studio (The Burrow) in Vienna and at my mom's house in Waidhofen/Ybbs. Those two places also informed the vibe of the album, I'd say. A lot of it was recorded with the windows open, so you can hear the sounds of the environment and they become part of the music - or the other way round.

Q.) Lastly, you have the Constellations tour planned to seen in the new record. Can you tell us about the tour, and what else is next for you and Bird People?

A.) Yes, we're about to hit the road for two weeks, very psyched about that! We'll be a core trio with Roy and Themsen coming along for the whole ride but we'll be joined by other Bird People at most of the shows. Let's see how that open door policy works out on the road, ha! Really looking forward to meet a lot of old and new friends and explore different musical constellations. We also have a new album coming out on Was Ist Das?. It's called "Constellations" too and should be ready in a few weeks. Hope to see you at one of the shows. Thanks for the conversation, Dan!

Do You Even Psychedelic? would like to thank Ulrich Rois (and Bird People) for taking the time to complete this interview.

Make sure to like the band's Facebook page here.

You can learn more about the dates of the current Constellations tour here.

Listen to a full discography of Bird People's work here (Bandcamp).

Find our review of Ulrich's single here.

By Daniel Luke Sharman