A journey following the music and movement of Roma people.
I am currently working on ceramics based on various landscapes. One of the sites I have been looking at are the ‘Diomede Islands‘, in the Bering Strait. The two islands, one ‘Big’ and the other ‘Little Diomede’ are known in Russia as the Gvozdev Islands. The are literally the closest point between the USA and Russia – the larger island being Russian, the smaller American, and a distance of 2.4 miles lies between them, but 21 hours in international time. In 1987 Lynne Cox travelled through space, time and political waters by swimming between the two islands.
The islands are/were also known by their indigenous names ‘Imaqliq’ and ‘Ignaluk’ – the indigenous people were moved off the islands, ‘relocated’ in Russia, never to return, while Little Diomede has a small Inupiat Inuit population. Big Diomede now seems to have only Russian military units of some sort. On Google Earth, altitude information normally shows up wherever you go, but over Big Diomede, there is no information, just an inexplicable straight edged ridge running along the eastern side of the island (this doesn’t correspond to photos of the islands). I have managed to find out contour information elsewhere though. The islands were ‘rediscovered’ (?) by a Danish navigator, in Russian service on the 16th August 1728, ‘St Diomede’s’ Day in Orthdox Russian Christianity. St. Diomedes is a ‘Holy Unmercenary‘ saint – amongst others are Damien and Cosmas who I posted last month about.
He was a physician, who when he was beheaded, caused those around his body to go blind. Only when the head was restored to the body was their sight in turn restored. The Holy Unmercanaries were saints who did not accept payment for good deeds, though I would have thought all saints should have been like that.
Around 9 miles south-east of the islands, lies a small islet called ‘Fairway Rock‘ a lump of granite providing nesting ground for various birds.
In 1966, the US Navy put a strontium powered RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) on the island to power an oceanographic station which monitored detectors on the ocean floor looking for submarine traffic heading north. The RTG’s were seen as a useful way of using nuclear waste, and another two were added to the island. In 1995, all three were removed and taken to Hanford Nuclear Reservation for disposal.
RTG’s (if I’ve understood correctly…) convert heat released by the decay of radioactive material into electricity. Strontium, plutonium, polonium, americium… there are apparently thousands of RTG’s rotting away all over Russia.
“…discussing the issue of safe and secure use of isotope products in the “global”
sense, we must admit the obvious: this is an issue of urgency due to a number of reasons.One of them is the threat posed by different terrorist organizations in the world, disintegration
of the former Soviet territory, that led to the loss of control over sources, and in some cases to the loss
of sources as such. For example, unsanctioned opening of RITEGs by local populace in Kazakhstan
and Georgia to obtain non-ferrous metals. For some, the dose that they have been exposed to turned
out to be too high.” (Report by Minister of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy Mr. A. Yu. Rumyantsev at the IAEA Conference on the Security of Radioactive Sources Vienna, Austria, March 11 2003)
Interestingly, there are 5 plutonium powered RTG’s on the moon, having been left their to power experimental equipment. There are also a number of ‘lost’ RTG’s including one which Apollo 13 was carrying when it reentered Earths atmosphere – it was lost somewhere near Fiji in the ‘Tonga Trench‘.
Tests have apparently shown that the plutonium therein has not escaped, and the cask containing the plutonium is expected to last around 870 years. The failed Russian Mars mission of 1996 brought back 2 RTG’s containing 200g of plutonium plummeting to earth, somewhere to the east of Chile.
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the Fairway Rock RTG’s were taken for disposal, is part of the ‘Hanford Site‘, an enormous decommissioned nuclear production complex in Washington state (where apparently there is a leak which is getting worse). It was established as part of the Manhattan Project, and plutonium manufactured there was used in the first nuclear bomb, and the bomb which destroyed Nagasaki. Looking at the site on Google Earth is quite unnerving. I will put another post up of some images later.
Very close to the Hanford Site, is Hanford Reach National Monument, a 195,000 acre, untouched since 1943, (when the nuclear site was built) kind of reservation park. The site was, unsurprisingly, once a hunting ground for Native Americans. There are a number of rare, threatened or endangered species of animals and plants there, including elk and Chinook Salmon, which spawn in the Columbia River there.
The Diomede Islands, separated by a couple of miles, but 21 hours and conflicting ideologies. The Hanford Site and the Hanford Reach National Monument, separated by the Columbia River and conflicting approaches to the management and engagement of the environments we choose to shape. I’d be interested to know if the plant and animal life on one side of the river is able to inhabit the other side, and vice versa – whether there is some kind of microbial version of Lynne Cox.
We’re sailing at the edges of time
We’re drifting at the waterline
Oh we’re floating in the coastal waters
You and me and the porter’s daughters
Ooh what to do not a sausage to do
And the shorter of the porter’s daughters
Dips her hand in the deadly waters
Ooh what to do in a tiny canoe
There were six of us but now we are five
We’re all talking
To keep the conversation alive
There was a senator from Ecuador
Who talked about a meteor
That crashed on a hill in the south of Peru
And was found by a conquistador
Who took it to the emperor
And he passed it on to a Turkish guru
Was slated for becoming divine
He taught her
He taught her how to split and define
But if you study the logistics
And heuristics of the mystics
You will find that their minds rarely move in a line
So it’s much more realistic
To abandon such ballistics
And resign to be trapped on a leaf in a vine
This review is over a year late for some reason – anyway, its a big fat
YES. Simply put – It’s about family, music, place and its about pibroch, and is written in the style of pibroch. Sometimes this can be tiring, particularly with repetition of the footnotes, as things are literally repeated a lot. But overall it is ambitious, and works as far as I’m concerned. I read it just before making “The Drummer & The Drone”
Craig, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. You have a new Randan Discotheque single out, perhaps you could tell us a little about it?
Sure, it’s a double a-side 7” single, with “Ring the Bell” and “National Geographic (2012)”, and it’s a very limited edition of 20, plus a digital download. It also comes with a limited edition riso print, with the song lyrics
I’ve noticed the lyrics aren’t so clear on the print, is that deliberate?
So people have to listen harder.
Why is it released in such low numbers?
Well, after I/we made “Sonderweg” our last full length album I became a little despondent about the amount of time and effort, not to mention money that went into it, without much reward. I pressed 300 copies of it, and I still have at least two-thirds of them left. I wanted to release something that wasn’t going to end up losing me more money.
Have you lost a lot of money?
I wouldn’t say a lot, but I’ve never really made much from Randan Discotheque. With Sonderweg, there was the recording studio, mastering, pressing, promotion etc, not to mention the time I spent on videos and design. I decided I would try a crowd funded approach for the next thing I released. Thanks to the generosity of some friends, fans and family, I was able to raise enough to make a very short run of vinyl. I thought that if I could get them produced for a reasonable amount, and get the money up front, I would maybe end up at least breaking even, and not have boxes of left over vinyl sitting around. I wanted to make something quickly, with music I was still in the process of writing, and hopefully give the funders a sense of helping me along with the creative process. Each of the records is hand painted, and has a personalised message on the back. I felt it was more important to make a personal connection with a few people, than no connection with a lot of people.
That sounds a bit pompous, and an excuse for not having a lot of fans.
Perhaps you’re right.
Tell me a bit about that creative process
The songs were both sketchily written a couple of years ago, but I’ve developed a way of writing now whereby if I have an idea, but the circumstances aren’t right for recording it yet, I can hold off until the time is right. A kind of tantric-writing. Both these songs were written during a week in Kilconquhar in Fife, and I waited until I knew I was going to release something before actually recording and producing them, which is done in my living room
Tantric writing? That sounds like bollocks. What are the songs about?
National Geographic (2012) is a kind of revisiting of the approach I had to the single “Daily Record May 18th 1993” – I subscribe to National Geographic, and sometimes find it hard to retain any knowledge I have gained from reading it. There is too much stuff going on everywhere, and I end up not taking anything in. The song is a list of some of the subjects along the spines of the magazine from 2012. “Ring the Bell” came about during a walk in Elie & Earlsferry, and visiting the ‘Lady Tower’ by the beach there. Apparently Lady Jane Anstruther had the tower built as a kind of changing room when she went swimming. She would have her maids ring a bell so anyone else on the beach would have to leave. I started humming the tune when I first visited, and it developed from there. She had her portrait painted by Joshua Reynolds.
Is it historically accurate?
I have no idea – I imagined Lady Jane as a very sexually confident woman who would go skinny dipping, and maybe had a certain hold over men, including Reynolds, and the locals. There’s a lot of not very subtle innuendo in the song, and ‘ringing a bell’ is an example of that.
You don’t seem to have done a lot of promoting, or gigging in advance of this release, is that deliberate?
I haven’t played a gig in 4 years or so. Although I enjoy it a lot, circumstances change, and its not really something that is practical at the moment. Jobs, life, health, other projects, things happen. Promotion in general makes me feel a little sick. When we were gigging and getting a bit of press and radio play in the past, I thought perhaps this could be a career, but then it kind of petered out, and promotion was depressing. I thought it would be much better to just record as and when I wanted.
Have you done any promotion?
I’ve posted it on facebook and twitter.
That’s not very much
No. I reckon a few people will see it and then it’ll disappear without a trace, much like a lot of creative endeavour nowadays. I’ll send some emails out too.
To friends and family, and people who already know you?
That’s not going to get you much attention.
Or sales. The thing with facebook etc is, you can have 100’s of friends, but very few of them are likely to even see your posts and videos, unless you start ‘boosting’ or ‘promoting’ them. I can’t be arsed with that. And even then, some of them don’t like what you do, and then the ones that do sometimes forget, and then others don’t think anything.
How do you expect anyone new to hear your music?
I’ve no idea, I don’t know if I do.
That sounds a bit pathetic, shouldn’t you put more effort in? You can’t rely on friends to support your creative work?
No, you can’t. I realise that. I think I just want to make something, and move on to the next thing.
What about people who work really hard to build a fanbase, go on tour, to reach the people that are looking for that particular thing? It sounds a little like your making it for yourself, a little self centred and egotistical?
Yes, it is. Most creative work is though isn’t it?
Not everything is
Well, everything I do seems to be. Musicians, artists, most of them have big ego’s or pretend they don’t.
Really? What about Moondog?
Yeah, ok, maybe not, but I’ve never met him because he’s dead. He might have had a massive ego for all you know.
How are sales going?
Well, up to now, I made 20 copies, and kept one to myself, 12 went to funders, and 3 have been sold. There’s 4 left.
So you haven’t even managed to sell those?
No, not yet.
Do you ever think to yourself “maybe the reason I don’t sell is because I don’t do promotion or gigs”?
Yes, maybe. This is promotion though?
An interview with yourself, by yourself, is promotion?
I think so. We’re always told “you’ve got to do it yourself, no-ones going to do it for you”
I guess so. Ok, have you ever thought the reason you don’t sell much is because the music just isn’t very good?
You’ve never thought that?
No, I have absolutely never thought that.
Never ever ever?
No, not once ever. I’m surprised you keep pushing the point.
Have you ever thought about just giving it up?
Yes, I have. But I realise now that it does me more harm to not indulge myself in this way, than if I do. Like masturbation.
Your’re saying Randan Discotheque is like masturbation?
You don’t think it’s possible for music to be more than that? Something that moves people?
Yes absolutely, music can change your life.
What music changed your life?
I would say “Graceland” by Paul Simon. I first heard it when I must have been 5 or 6, and my parents had a tape of the album. I was interested in the rhythms, and the complexity of the words. The images that were conjured up listening to it are still with me now. As I got older, I began to understand more about what was being sung, and then older still to understand more about the conditions the record was made in, with the South African musicians, and the zydeco etc – it retained my interest, and it still does. I like singing “Joseph’s face was as black as the night, and the pale yellow moon shone in his eyes”. The image in my brain when I sing it, is the same as when I heard it as a boy. It wasn’t religious or anything – just a simple image of dark skin with yellow moonlight. I always skip through “Homeless” though.
So what are your plans now?
I have about two albums of ideas sketched out, I’m just waiting for the right moment to develop them.
When can we expect that then?
I have no idea, I was 9 months late with this release, so it may be a while, but I hope not.
Well, thanks for the interview, it was moderately interesting. I wish you the best of luck for the future.
And I to you.
“Ring the Bell/National Geographic (2012)” is available now on limited edition 7” single, and digital download from Randan Discotheque’s bandcamp page
“I captured many troops alive: from time to time I cut off their arms and hands; from others I cut off their noses, ears, extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living and one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city” King Ashurnasirpal II, ruler of Nimrud from 883 – 859 BC.