Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra – Are they Wabi Sabi?

Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic idea from Japan. Difficult to explain, as any Japanese native will tell you. But it runs through all the artistic and philosophical ideas that we associate strongly with Japanese art and culture.

The Wabi part means becoming deeply immersed in a kind of natural beauty in nature, and being separated from the superficial aspects of mass culture. It also suggests an ability to break free from preconceived cliches about beauty and seeing even apparent ugliness as containing beauty.

The Sabi shows the passing of time, seen in a single object or environment, a withered leaf or a derelict building, and being profoundly touched by this sense of transience and mortality. Imperfection in things is also deeply appreciated.

The aesthetic of beauty that includes the imperfect and the impermanent, this comes from a basically Buddhist outlook on the world. It contains a certain kind of melancholy, as we see in the Japanese relationship with the sakura cherry blossoms, but Wabi Sabi is more than that.

One friend of mine, a Japanese woman, told me that after seeing a performance concert by Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra, the only way she could think of to describe it was ‘Wabi Sabi’. Interesting.

Here are some words often used when people are struggling to describe the aesthetic centre of Wabi Sabi, especially visually.

Nostalgic. Asymmetrical. Humble. Imperfect. Marks the passing of time. Organic. Raw. Serene. Understated.

Nostalgic.. Forgotten Fish do certainly arouse this in their audiences. They play music which is definitely from the old world, ancient Europe, or ancient Asia, they often employ old fashioned technology, instruments, lights, they are hardly modern in any sense of the word.

Asymmetrical. A difficult idea to place on a music group. There is a diversity of music and forms which is not balanced, a bit all over the place.

Humble…not especially, but what performing music groups are?

Imperfect..definitely. Often musical and theatrical chaos on stage.

The passing of time…the orchestra’s repertoire is made up of music from all over space and time, from 9th Century Gagaku to 21st Century circuit bending. Old folk tunes to home made instruments and experimental sound sources. Maybe it’s mostly the passing of time but traveling backwards, or even sideways.

Organic ..only in a very generous definition of the word. They are the ultimate artificial experience. Artifice in its best sense.

Raw..always.

Serene..there are moments.

Understated ..almost never. It’s maximalism taken to the extreme.

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Mr Gaelic Punkt, Man of Many Faces.

Mr Gaelic Punkt, Man of Many Faces.

by Farid Eff.

I am sitting down with Gaelic Punkt, clarinettist extraordinaire with Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra. We are in Vienna, in the kitchen of a house once lived in by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This is a true record of our conversation.

Hi Gaelic. Thanks for taking time to talk to me.

Hi Farid, nice to meet you! Great you could make it.

Like many members of Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra you have to play many instruments, maybe some that you are absolutely not used to. Was this something that came easy for you, the band environment made it a good place to try new things, or was it a lot of work, study and discipline?

No, I really like it. It’s fun to do and kind of challenging. In my case it’s mostly wind instruments. My basic instrument is clarinet, I’m kind of familiar with them. The point is, I don’t have to play those instruments in a virtuous academic way, like the way I learned to play clarinet, it’s more about how to play a musical phrase or which kind of sound fits to the musical part we are working on.

Although… when I decided to also play bass clarinet in FFMO, I found this beautiful old instrument from Normandy at Feldmanns, in Amsterdam. I had to get used to the French system – it’s different to the one I was used to playing.

Among the many instruments we have seen you play, one is the Suona, or Chinese Oboe. I have never seen any band in Europe feature such an instrument. Did you learn this in China? I see that many band members have spent quite a bit of time in China, did you live there?

Hmmm, no. Not yet. My Qi Gong teacher lives there frequently. She was a disciple of the very famous TCM doctor and Qi Gong master Jiao Guorui in Beijing…Makmed, Milu Ling and I think also MaiQuel went to China quite many times but strange enough I have never been there. Makmed had a research tour through China with his theremin project. When he came back, he made this very funny and amazing record “14 smash Hits for Theremin”.

It’s interesting that you mention the Suona. When I think about it: I guess the Chinese oboe was the hardest thing for me to learn to play. You can’t compare it to a common western European oboe. Normally the double reeds are much shorter and you need a lot of air pressure to produce the tone, plus they are very difficult to find in Europe. So I started to play with modified reeds from oboes and even bassoons to find this flexibility in pitching and create this special range of sounds. You have to be very precise. Makmed told me about this guy from Sichuan province – I think his name was Li-Chang-Geng who was a professional funeral mourner who explained to him all the meanings of the sometimes extreme changes of sound qualities and when to use them. Makmed is just a genius in memorising this kind of things and giving it further to other band members. I learned a lot from him.

The funny thing is I got the Suona from the trombone and tuba player of my other band I played in before FFMO was founded. He bought it on a market in Timisoara when we did a tour through Romania. But he wasn’t able to play it, so he gave it to me. I really wonder how it got to Timisoara in the first place…

I think that band you are talking about was a klezmer band, wasn’t it? How was the comparison playing in your old klezmer band and playing klezmer tunes in Forgotten Fish?

Yeah, it was a kind of klezmer band. But we also played polka stuff and of course a lot of Balkan music, too. That kind of music was just around at that time. Musically there are not so many differences. The most different to FFMO is for sure the theatrical aspect. I remember once I found myself playing a klezmer song in a giant kimono costume in an old Roman amphitheatre in Pula, Croatia on traditional wooden high shoes I hardly could walk in. Also for other reasons this was one of my hardest shows ever to play. So that’s really a different piece of cake…(laughing)

Do you consider the band as a musical project primarily, or a theatre project which is about music?

The strong theatrical aspect while having the focus also on the music was quite new to me, but it became very important. We had so many possibilities what we could do… At the same time FFMO started also as a musical project right from the beginning. So for me it was always both! I guess that’s what is making this band so mysterious. As an audience you sit there and wonder: ‘Wait, what’s happening here? Which time I’m screwed into? Is it real or not? Is it because of the image and the setting or because of the music? ’ But it’s both. That’s the point. It’s just the same. It’s just this performance in right this moment. At least for those who don’t do time shifting… (laughing)

You personally have had some of the most outrageous costumes. Do you have free choice in what you wear in the band? How do you make the decision about costumes?

Well, for each performance we agree to a certain theme. For the costumes we sometimes work together in groups. I very much like to work together with Odd Banner in his atelier. Building 1.5 m high pointed red gnome hats or preparing Japanese newspaper suits listening to ancient Rembetika and Klezmer tunes, eating baklava…

We have no external designer or something. It’s all our own research, our own choice and creativity. Sometimes we are surprised by ourselves what comes out of it. All members have their own ideas and inspirations – sometimes more useful sometimes not…. (laughing). By now we have this basic resource, we call it the fish tank. Makmed had the idea to make a museum around all that wonderful strange costumes and apparently unrelated things. Maybe it already exists. Who knows?…

Can you say something about the nature of the band rehearsals and how the music is selected?

There is no rule how we do it. I mean Makmed is the musical steam engine which keeps everything going. Without him FFMO wouldn’t exist, I guess. He comes up with most of the performance ideas and is setting up the musical arrangements and recordings. But the whole project is open and even dependent on ideas from all other members. Astral Gonad brought in the idea of playing the Prokofiev’s ‘Girls dancing with Lilies’. Odd is very familiar with klezmer. Sometimes the input of strange or new instruments led to new musicals ideas, like the heavy piano harp which became a big part for our percussionist Milu in our tune The bicycle Lesson (which also became the title of our second CD). Or the water organ from Bor Berzerka. We made a piece called Hear No Evil with self-made flying drones and bamboo chimes around it. And we always changed the order of who had to play which instrument.

Is playing the water organ difficult?

Well, it’s not as easy as it may look like. It’s not just pushing and pulling the cans into the water. Like I said, Bor invented the first prototypes of this instrument. It has a double reed from an accordion in its top. So pulling and pushing it into the water is two different tones. You need to use force but at the same time you have to be quite gentle to get proper tones (and to feel when you have to stop pushing or pulling). When you play two cans at the same time you really have to concentrate.

I think outside the group you also work in stage design, theatre technics and lighting, things like that. Some Forgotten Fish shows seem to break every rule about lighting and staging. Is this very deliberate or is it being naive?

Hmm, technically speaking it feels like being a firefighter playing with fire in his other life… , but yah, it’s a deliberate choice. The places where FFMO appears are very often not proper stages, like inside a boat or grain silo or a flying wooden pyramid. Sometimes we perform in rooms for just six people and then have seven or nine shows in a row. I think a lot of people feel very gratified when they leave our show cause it was such a deep or personal experience for them. So it’s not about a great light show and a big concert with just some strange instruments. It’s more about the bead of sweat that hits you while you are blissfully (or bemused) witnessing what is taking place.

I heard a rumour, which is hard to verify, that the members of Forgotten Fish all had grandparents who were in a similar crazy band together before the second world war. Called something like L’ Ensemble Oublié. Is this true? Can you tell us something about that?

Well, there’s always a kind of truth in rumours, isn’t it? My grandpa on my mother’s side worked as a milkman in a small factory in Okmiany / Upper Silesia which is a part of Poland now. In his free time, he was playing one of these giant long alpine horns. No mountains around, nothing. Can you imagine this? The instrument got lost during the war but is was always connected to this Oublié thing. My grandpa died when I was four, so I guess it will always stay a secret…

How did you come to be playing duets with a centrifuge?

Actually, I was already working with clarinet and centrifuge before the founding of FFMO. I studied cultural science and was member of a new music improvisation workshop. Amongst others John Cage was very important for me at that time (and in general still is). It all started when I was trying to find a way to have something like a prepared clarinet. The problem is: As soon as you start to manipulate anything on a woodwind instrument, you block the whole system how the air column is built. So that was too much limitation. Then I remembered the wind sound of my grandma’s centrifuge. And it had this foot pedal to control the speed of the spinning tube which was perfect for me whilst playing the clarinet and also made this very special scratchy sound. It was like having an effect pedal like for electric guitars but just as an analogue form. And the clarinet sound was echoed and effected by the speed of the spinning tube. Of course, this led to research what would happen if I would work with a prepared centrifuge instead of modifying the clarinet. So I started to hang in metal threads and cable with discs and stuff. The tricky point is: at maximum speed the tube spins around with like 1400 rpm, so you really have to know what you are doing… (laughing)

Forgotten Fish are a bit mysterious and very secretive. Why is that? Why are they so hard to pin down?

I guess it’s just the nature of the project and its members. It’s part of the magic. I never asked myself why it is like this. It always felt natural to me. Maybe it’s because to create room for imagination. I mean there is this time travel thing. And we have this Noh Bo Code. You just asked me about this L’Ensemble Oublié phenomen. These kind of things you don’t uncover or reveal. You just don’t do it. Plus it’s a lot of fun…

Have you ever cried on stage during a performance?

To be honest yes, I have. On one of our earlier shows we played what we thought was a Mexican Funeral March, although years later it turned out that it’s a very unusual Italian tune (Pomeriggio di Dolore). We were playing at night on a wooden landing stage, surrounded by water and the audience was standing with fire torches on the edge of the sea. It was just overwhelming. I thought: “Wow, this would have been a great song on my grandmother’s funeral…” I think it was also the first time ever I played bass clarinet in a show.

There are also two other songs related to FFMO which made me cry, but that was not during a concert. One is the very special Fado song ‘Pela Morte Desta Vida’ with the unexpected and beautiful voice of OneShot Albuquerque. She usually is filming and documenting our tours and concerts. And the other one is a version of ‘Au Clair de la Lune’ with this low rough voice of Odd Banner. Guess those melancholic tunes are just catching me…

What has been your favourite Fish show, so far, and why?

Phouu, that’s hard to say. I enjoyed every show so far (except maybe the one I mentioned in Pula). I think I would choose the Ukiyo-Show which we performed in Amsterdam. It was a great venue, probably the most untypical for us because it was a kind of regular concert stage. We had those underwater projections and the concept of the whole show was to have a kind of Kabuki theatre music show. The funny thing was: most of the musical repertoire didn’t really fit in, but it didn’t matter at all.

I also liked our ‘ Anthology of Metals’ show very much. We played in a church in Gdansk. I mean the church was still in use and I thought: “Hmm, what are they gonna think about us?” So we had our show which was strongly influenced by Oscar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet with a lot of balls and disks on our black and white costumes and inconvenient hats. We performed also ‘Liquid Helium’ the piece with clarinet and spin-dryer we were talking about. It’s almost non melodic with quite some noisy parts in it. But the audience appreciated the whole thing, they understood the concept of the show. While we were leaving the stage through the audience, they were giving us standing ovations and at the same time by chance, outside started a firework display.

Finally…..Which tune out of the repertoire do you most look forward to playing live?

Hmmm, that’s not easy to say. I like to play them all. Very often it’s depending on the theme of the show. Sometimes you just get goosebumps playing certain tunes. I guess the Mexican/Italian Funeral March is one of them. But it’s also funny to play a tune like ‘Kingdom of Not’ which is originally from Sun Ra, which means jazz, and therefore is far out of our ‘usual’ repertoire… I also like to do the dancing during the tune ‘Hu Dy Da’ or to play a Klezmer song like ‘Fun der Khuppe’. So many interesting ones – I can’t decide…

Ok thanks a lot, that was very informative what you had to say.

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Baroque Dada

In a recent interview with Odd Banner, he was asked which art movement he would most closely align with the aims and aesthetics of Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra. He came up with the term ‘Baroque Dada’. That’s an interesting way to look at it.

The great Jorge Luis Borges once said ‘I would define the baroque as that style which deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and borders on self caricature. Wiki seems to think that Baroque came out of the Renaissance in Rome and was characterised by taking the usual elements of Renaissance painting and overloading them, a glut of ornamentation as a counter to the austerity of Protestant art. So there seems to be a consensus that it was about taking an aesthetic to the extreme, beyond measured good taste, an artistic maximalism. Yes, that sounds like Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra. Although the Tate Gallery in London says of Baroque, it is characterised by dynamism and a realistic approach to depiction.

Realistic? In the case of the Forgotten Fishes, surrealistic might be a better term. Which leads us conveniently to Dadaism. It was the clear antecedent from which Surrealism came. The word Dada means Yes Yes in Romanian, (and some other languages), and rocking horse in French. Obviously the perfect name for those art anarchists. It was highly political. Anti war, anti art and pro culture.

Instead of trying to analyse or define it, here are some random quotes to give you a flavour.

‘In the good times of Dada, we detested polished works, the distracted air of spiritual struggle, the titans, we rejected them with all our being.’ Jean Arp.

‘What’s the matter with everyone wanting to make a museum piece out of Dada? Dada was a bomb. Can you imagine anyone half a century after a bomb explodes wanting to collect the pieces, sticking it back together and exhibiting it?’ Max Ernst.

‘Dada is ‘Nothing’. Marcel Duchamp.

‘Dada doubts everything. Dada is an armadillo.’ Tristan Tzara.

‘Beware of Dada. Anti dadaism is a disease : selfkleptomania, man’s normal condition, is Dada. But the real dadas are against Dadaism.’ Tristan Tzara.

‘Dada kicks you in the behind, and you like it.’ Kurt Schwitters

So it seems that Odd Banner’s aesthetic description is on the money.

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Harumi, on a winter’s night….

Harumi, on a winter’s night, is walking through the narrow streets of Amsterdam. It is about 7 o’clock, the city is already dark. She is worried about being late so she quickens her step a bit, across Spui Plein, down into the narrow Voetboogstraat, past the little but famous Vleminckx fried potato place and she arrives at a cafe called De Schutter. She has been living here a while but never really noticed this old cafe before. And it is old. A two storey building, more wood than brick it seems. Harumi fumbles in her pocket for her ticket. The ticket is actually one of those Mexican fortune telling cards, on hers is a picture of an open hand and written across it in marker pen it says ‘Hear No Evil’. A friend has given her the ticket and told her that there are very few available at all. She is curious, it will be a musical concert of some kind but she doesn’t really know much about it.

She walks in the entrance. It’s quite busy for 7 o’clock and seems to be a normal Dutch bar, coffee giving way to beer. There is no sign of any music though. A group of four or five people are sitting at a table next to a wooden door. They are also holding their Mexican tickets. She joins them and says hi. After a minute the wooden door opens and a man comes out. He is dressed all in white. He has a shaved head, little rimless glasses and a turban. He is friendly in his manner while he looks to see if they have their tickets, and he also checks their names against a list. He says the concert is ready to begin and will they follow him through the door and up the rather steep rickety staircase. Harumi is a bit surprised that there are only six of them for this concert.

At the top of the stairs they pass through another door. They are met by a woman, also dressed in white, but wearing a bird mask. She has a stick of dried sage tied with string. She burns it and it gives off that special smell. She allows the smoke from the sage to waft over everybody in turn as they enter through the door into the main room.

The main room itself is not very big, the size of a Dutch living room maybe. Paint is peeling off the walls. Harumi walks into the space and the bird woman invites her to sit down on a cushion. The six guests sit down together and take in the environment around them. There is a lot to take in. Soft lights, but so many soft lights that the whole room is glowing. Scores of candles, old lamps, fairy lights. The walls are filled with what Harumi thinks are maybe altars of some kind, there are pictures of Maria with baby, but also pictures of skulls, skeletons, old photos from the turn of the last century, portraits of what might be opera singers from days gone by, there are many many jars, some filled with coloured liquid which seem to contain hard to make out objects. There are some huge bottles filled with old batteries, resistors and bits of electronica. Flowers, hundreds of flowers everywhere, real flowers mixed with plastic flowers, in vases, strewn on the floor, hanging from the ceiling. More candles, more incense, small plastic toys, sea horses, tarot cards. And then there are the babies. Plastic baby dolls everywhere. All identical, all with the same expressionless face, maybe fifty of them, hanging on the altars, sitting among the flowers, upside down, lying on the floor, perched among an assortment of musical instruments. Harumi looks at the instruments, some look familiar, a contrabass, an accordion, some mandolins, a clarinet, a big drum from a marching band, a harmonium. There is a contraption at one side which she cannot really fathom. It seems to be two big black tubs full of water. The water is full of flowers, and next to them some strange apparatus made of plastic jerry cans and tubes. A lot to think about, then the musicians come in and take up their instruments.

The musicians are also all wearing white clothes and with whitened faces, either powder or paint. They are all dressed differently from each other, but with a general aesthetic which is difficult to describe. Harumi thinks ‘ancient Mexican surgeons’. They begin to play. It is a kind of monotonous haunting drone at first, but it develops into a gentle and melodic piece of music, it could be from the far east. Harumi is Japanese, she thinks this music sounds like it’s from China. She looks more closely at the players. The man playing the contrabass is physically imposing, kind of big, like his instrument. He has a long white robe, a white cloth hat, a white face and a lone ranger mask. He is concentrating hard, serious. Next to him a tall skinny man in white pyjamas and beads around his neck is softly playing a mandolin. On one side sits another man playing a pump organ, like one of those Indian street harmoniums. It sounds by now very relaxing and seductive. At the centre at the back sits an older man. He has long black hair, although it might be a wig, a black top hat, and very dark glasses. A white peasant’s shirt and a white apron. He seems to have an array of instruments. On this occasion he is playing what Harumi correctly identifies as a Chinese pipa. Off to the right are two rather strange looking characters, (as if it didn’t look strange enough already). One looks like an old lady with big glasses and a leopard skin hat, but maybe it is in fact a man. He or she is playing a cavaquinho, a tiny guitar-like instrument, it blends very well with the pipa and the mandolin. And on one side a woman plays a violin. She has her face hidden by white cloth except for her eyes. She wears a long white apron. It is covered in blood. But if it seems scary, the music is very gentle, pleasant to the ear.

There is one further musician who Harumi hasn’t really noticed until now. He wears white pyjamas and a tall conical hat, dervish-like maybe. From the start he has been standing off in a corner, actually standing, or walking, on a walking machine, an exercise device. He walks and walks . He goes slowly up and down and goes nowhere. At a certain point during this first piece of music he steps to the front, right up close to the six audience members who are cross legged on their cushions just half a meter away from him. He has a tray full of little bottles and what appear to be test tubes and an old lamp with a candle inside. It’s hard to really see what he is doing. Is he mixing liquids with powders inside those tubes? The music is building, it is still gentle but now somehow more insistent. As it reaches a soft crescendo, the player at the front pours his concoction from the tubes into the lamp and there is an explosion of light, it lasts a second, gone before you realise it has happened. What was that? And the first tune is over. It was only five minutes but so much to absorb that it feels like longer. Harumi has heard that this musical group perform concerts that only last fifteen minutes. She is beginning to see why.

As she sits for a moment to think about that first piece of music and what she felt about it all, she is approached by the bird lady again. The bird lady has a tray, green tea in little china cups, and some baklava. The six guests all enjoy the treat. It gives them a moment to just acclimatise themselves in this unusual universe.

A minute later the concert continues. The man in the cone shaped hat together with the old lady with big glasses approach the piece of apparatus which sits to one side of the room. The two big plastic tubs full of water, which seem to have been acquired from a construction site or a factory. They drop rose petals into the water delicately and light incense. The woman with the bloody apron sneezes. It seems that this convoluted construction of large tubs of water and plastic tubes is in fact a musical instrument. As the two players plunge large plastic cans into the water they emit a droning sound. The cans seem to make a different sound depending on whether they are pushed downwards or pulled upwards, and they are all tuned differently from each other. So you have a cacophony of tones all droning in and out of sync, creating a kind of pulsating sea bed of shifting chords. Harumi can not really work out how this instrument is actually making this quite hypnotising music. Her attention now turns to the man in the black top hat. He gently brings in a cello, at first soft overtones but quite quickly it is scratchy and plaintively calling out to the big droney water instrument. The violin player is there too, high pitched, intense. Meanwhile on the other side of the room strange things are going on. The man who had previously been playing the harmonium is now pouring powder and dust into a little cloth container. He shakes it around and blows some of the contents into the air. He fans the air around him with a big fan made of chicken feathers. The remaining two players step forward to place themselves just in front of their six captive guests. (To be fair, I think the guests are enjoying it.) These two characters produce two more unusual probably never seen before musical instruments. These are constructed from thin pieces of metal, maybe tin or lead, bent into a specific shape and holding highly taut elastic bands. They whirl them in the air around their heads, or simply in front of them. The sound is sharp, a loud buzzing, the pitch changes according to in which direction the instrument is rotated, how slow or fast. Is it some old shamanistic tool to scare away wolves from the sheep? Maybe. But here it is harmonious. The music dovetails all together. It enters, sweeps, rises and falls to a tiny whisper of sound.

The second tune is over. None of the musicians have said a word so far. Quickly and without fuss they take up a more orthodox set of instruments and play a beautiful slow tune. It sounds like a funeral, maybe a wedding. Is it Mexican, Spanish, Italian? The bass player plays a slow line at a leisurely walking pace. There are mandolins, bouzouki, all singing in and out of each other in harmony. The player with the feather fan is now leading the melody on a clarinet. A melody which is gorgeous in its simplicity. The man with the cone hat is playing a rich accordion. The emotion is high now and he begins howling like a dog. Two choruses and the tune is done. Nothing is overplayed, and the show is in fact over. Twenty minutes have passed in the blink of an eye. The bird lady indicates to Harumi and the other five guests that they should leave now. As they leave to go down the rickety staircase, the musicians sit still and silent. Impassive.

As Harumi steps back into the downstairs room, the busy cafe, she has to take a moment to ‘adjust’. She sees the next group of six, as they clutch their Mexican tickets and prepare to go up the stairs for the next show. After a minute she walks outside and takes a breath. As she sets off back down the Voetboogstraat she can just make out the faint sound of the band as they begin their next show and the music leaks quietly from under the roof. It is not one of the tunes they played a few minutes ago. She recognises it. It is an old Japanese tune she remembers from her childhood. But they are playing it with all the wrong instruments and she thinks there is something amiss about the melody too. But she likes the idea that they would play that old tune. She thinks about this as she walks home.

Did this really happen, or was it a figment of Harumi’s creative imagination?

You can decide for yourself…

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– from The Book of the Dead. ‘It’s Your Funeral’.

You’ve heard of The Egyptian Book of the Dead. It doesn’t exist. What I mean by that is.. there isn’t a single definitive piece of text called The Book of the Dead. There are several, even many, old papyruses which describe, depict, explain or speculate hopefully on the nature of death, the afterlife, the land of the dead, what happens to you when you die, what happens to your body, your soul. The most famous of these is the Papyrus of Ani. It is not the oldest but it has survived and been much studied to the point that it now considered as a kind of default Egyptian Dead Book.

Ani lived in ancient Egypt in about 1250 BCE. In his time it was custom to be buried along with scrolls of papyrus on which were written ancient spells. These would protect you in your post mortal journey to ensure you would join the gods in the heavenly eternal pantheon, rather than being thrown back into the tortures of animal hell.

Ani’s scribes prepared for him and his death event, not just some written spells, but an enormous roll of papyrus containing 37 images of different and specific post death events…fighting enemies, placating gods, rituals, the recital of song-poems, encounters with heavenly spirits and dangerous deadly animals. Some of the content is based on older myths which had become part of the fabric of ancient Egyptian belief, but equally a lot of it is made up by Ani and his scribes more out of hopes for his fate and wishful thinking.

Of the 37 images only one of them takes place outside the realm of the dead, in our own ‘real’ world as it were. That is the form of the funeral itself. Since this would be based on their own experience of holding funerals at that time, we can say that it is probably the most accurate portrayal in Ani’s entire papyrus. We know that the body was mummified.When preparing a corpse for mummification, first they would insert a hook through the nose and pull out the brain. Then the sides of the torso would be cut open and the organs removed and placed in receptacles called canopic jars, which would stand next to the mummified corpse. The four jars were governed by different deities as follows…

Imset (human) contained the liver.

Hapi (the ape or baboon) contained the lungs

Duamatef (the jackal) contained the stomach

Kebechsenef (the falcon) contained the intestines.

The corpse was then dried out with natrum.

However special attention would be given to the heart which was considered to be the seat of the mind. It would be weighed against a feather in the Land of the Dead by Thoth and Anubis, and it had better not weigh more!

Here is a contemporary view of the ancient Egyptian funeral event.

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A Rare Conversation with Odd Banner

Interview with Odd Banner, founder member of Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra

by Farid Eff.

I am sitting in the Cafe Heim, in the Santos neighbourhood in Lisbon. It is a well loved unashamedly hipster establishment and I am nursing an Espresso Tonic, a shot glass of high quality tonic water with ice and then a double espresso is poured into the mix, topped with a slice of lime. It sounds a bit strange, but its perfect for this warm Portuguese afternoon.

I am waiting for Odd Banner, multi instrumentalist, performer and founder member of the Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra.

Suddenly he is there. I don’t know how old he is but he looks in good health. He sits down, orders a mineral water and we get down to business. I have a lot of questions and it is extremely rare for one of the rather mysterious, inscrutable Forgotten Fishes to put his head above the parapet for a question and answer session. So I am excited and curious. Without further ado, here are the questions and answers,

Odd, thanks for agreeing to this interview.

You have a second life outside of the Fish as a successful painter. There’s lots of questions we could ask about that. How much does visual art inform Forgotten Fish? I saw one concert that seemed to be based on the costumes of Oskar Schlemmer. If you had to identify the Fish project with one art movement which one would be the best fit, Bauhaus? Situationism? or…?

I always feel my roll in the FFMO is more about the visual than musical. I think I’m the most untrained “musician” in the group. My interests came more from the visual aspects of theatre and spectacle. I believe the visual aspects of the FFMO project are equally as important and defining as the musical. The Oscar Schlemmer inspired costumes seemed a natural choice for us. Schlemmer designed outlandish costumes for his ballet. We took the look and ran with it. But I guess if you consider all the many costume and visual choices we made over the years, I’d say the art movement which best describes the Fish is Baroque Dadaism (with a Maximalist approach).

Was it a big stretch for you personally in terms of the learning curve, musically, or in the art of stage work, performance art, theatre? There can’t be many bands where members have to take on so many disciplines.

I have definitely enjoyed a great learning curve, musically speaking. The Fish project has opened my eyes to different kinds of music from all over the world. Working together with Makmed the Miller turned me on to all sorts of music I’d never known about. And he also introduced me to the wonders of the Nobo Sprits cookie. Delicious. I’d also say that practicing regularly with Gaelic Punkt profoundly advanced my clarinet chops. Every performance is a learning curve in theatrics. I think we always make the effort to challenge ourselves in performances.

I’ve seen audience members being seriously moved emotionally at some shows, even tears. That might surprise people who think Forgotten Fish is a rather ironic dry humorous night out. What can you say about that?

Crying is just laughing upside down…. We are always trying to look at musical performance theatre from a different perspective. I think we walk a fine line between serious music and theater and ironic kitsch…. profound beauty and banal absurdity. The audience shouldn’t know exactly what to think. I can remember after one of our first performances there was a long pause before the audience reacted. Frozen in some absurd costume, I thought people just hated it. But I later realized that they were flabbergasted. What they’d experienced was so weird in a way that they couldn’t react for a while. Was it over? Was it beautiful? Was it comic? WHAT THE HELL WAS IT!? I think we get this a lot.

Apart from the time it takes away from your painting career, what do you find the most difficult aspects of putting on a FFMO performance?

Planning and preparing for FFMO shows is never anything but inspiring to me. Sitting around with other orchestra members, throwing out ideas is a collaboration I never get when I am alone painting. Fish shows are always a great foil to the solitary studio practice I normally keep. 

I suppose the difficult part would be dragging everything around for days to set up a performance that will last an hour. Then dragging it all away again. We often use 20 or 30 instruments and car loads of props, costumes, 200 broken umbrellas, bushels of decaying flowers, boxes of baby dolls and odd machine parts, crates full of theatre lights and cables and that damn unliftable piano harp. We do it all ourselves and it is always an enormous effort. But (most always) deeply satisfying.

Many shows, so many different atmospheres, looks, which one do you think has been the most successful, and which was you own personal favourite and why?

It is hard to pick one. I loved making all the costumes. I think the newspaper suits we used looked fantastic. And the tall, 2 meter gnome hats were an accomplishment. But I guess if I had to pick one, I’d say Hear No Evil was my favorite. The sort of Santeria look and feel went very well in the secret upstairs room of that old bar in Amsterdam. It really became the ritual it pretended to be. The format of the performance was also a new and interesting way to work; 9 performance of 3 songs for an audience of 6 people. Each performance had a different set and order. I believe we played very well that long night and were comfortable in our costumes (which is sometimes a problem in our performances). I think all the elements blended together extremely well on that night. 

For me,  the other topper was Ukiyo – The Floating World. We had the advantage of performing on a “real” stage in a real venue (Amsterdam’s Paradiso) with professional lights, etc. It was an ambitious and very beautiful performance. And we had those wonderful Ninjas helping out to make Kabuki theatre magic.

FFMO seems to require a very specific kind of person to join its ranks. How was the process for recruiting new musicians into the band.? Some players, (like the late Przemek Miler for example) don’t seem to be musicians at all. What are the artistic and musical requirements when recruiting?

Well, it is always a challenge to find just the right person to fill the many shoes one has to wear in the FFMO. Once, we set out to find a female accordion player (because we thought it would look good). We found one sitting on a park bench. She was lovely and quite a good musician. But she just didn’t get the project. She didn’t understand why we played anonymously (with bags over our heads or odd costumes). A while later we met another female accordionist. She was in a band made up of 7 female accordionists!! We figured that’s where they all were and gave up trying to fill that spot.

It goes without saying that musical ability, while cherished, is not the most important requirement. People have to “get it”. We ask a lot from our members; rehearsing, being roadies, making costumes, and generally being willing to look ridiculous and or/absurd to make the performances special. Somehow it also seems of great importance that we all enjoy eating baklava. 

Can you say something about the provenance of all those incredible costumes.?

A lot of work goes into the making of FFMO costumes. Once we settle on a theme for a performance, we set out to find and make costumes that would best suit (and/or contrast) the theme. From the very beginning, both Makmed and I always kept a notebook full of ideas for performances and costumes. We could always dip into that. But then sometimes other ideas would present themselves… like the Oscar Schlemmer performance. 

In general, I set time out to do research for each idea, looking into different imagery pertaining to any given theme, then develop ideas that way. Or we would just find something we want to use and make the costumes and the theme of the performance around that. For Ukiyo – The Floating World , we found a bunch of old sails (from sail boats). I gave everyone a sail and a few images of traditional Japanese kimonos and everyone came back with these fantastic kimono parodies… some more traditional looking than others. It is all very organic. Everybody has a hand in making their own look and in the entire look of the performance in the end. We all help each other with costumes and makeup and it’s a most wonderful collaboration.

Am I right in thinking that before Forgotten Fish you played in a klezmer band with the great Alec Kopyt? And your colleague Gaelic Punkt also played clarinet in klezmer band before joining. Were you the main influence for bringing Klezmer tunes into the Fish? There are a few aren’t there?

This is true. I played for a few years with Alec Kopyt. We played Klezmer, but also other gypsy music, some greek Rembetika and other gangster drinking songs from Odessa. Back then I only sang and did percussion. But I had an old great uncle in a Klezmer band back in the 1930s. After he passed away I got sent his clarinet. As soon as I opened the case, I could find a way to get music out of it. But it took a while to get anywhere near good enough to play with others. 

There was a resurgence in popularity of Klezmer music and Yiddish culture in the early 90’s. It was around. So I wouldn’t say I’m the only reason these tunes seeped in to the FFMO, but I was very comfortable with that kind of music. I knew it from my childhood as well as playing with Alec. Anyway, it is quite infectious music.

All the Fish seem to have to play many instruments, whether they have the talent for it or not. What did you have to play and how did you feel about that?

I play clarinet, penny whistle and ukulele mostly. Some percussion and other noise making (like tuning radios). I love playing any of it. The collaborative quality of making music together always thrills me. I must take my hat(s) off to Makmed who is really the musical director of the project. Makmed comes up with all the arrangements. He takes time out to sit with me when we learn a new song and sort of play my part on a saz or bouzouki. I record it, listen a few times and then could play it on whatever instrument. I can’t read music, so that’s how I get my parts.

What was the most impractical, uncomfortable costume you had to wear?

Oh boy! Well… I’d have to say it was not one costume…. but 2! In more than one performance we set ourselves the task of wearing one costume underneath another. Then, halfway through the performance we would dramatically take off the one, revealing the other. It’s hard to play and hear when you’re wearing one costume… and more so when wearing 2. I guess it was the Pest Laboratory with the giant wedding dresses and the mummy bandaged heads underneath the hazmat suits which was a huge challenge. 

I always feel that Gaelic and I have it worst. We both play blowing instruments as opposed to strings. You have to have your mouth free and clear for that so special attention has to be taken for masks with mouth holes. I thought it would be easier when we used facepaint instead of masks, like with the Pekin Opera look used in the Dome of Shang. But between nerves and the hot theatre lights, I sweat like crazy. I’m still trying to get all the grease paint out of my clarinet !

People sometimes ask me ‘Is it true the band once played an impromptu concert in a launderette one afternoon in Amsterdam? Unannounced.’ That was a crazy idea. How did that come about?

I don’t know anything about that… it may just be a rumor. At the time I was in Romania observing a strange festival of old soldiers wearing sacks over their heads and Turkish peppers for noses. Very strange. I made drawings and took notes for future FFMO performances.

Do you get nervous during gigs? Before gigs? Is it fun to play with the Fish, or hard work and the pleasure comes in the sense of achievement afterwards.?

I am sometimes nervous before a gig. But once we get going, I’m all into it. Mostly I find it very pleasurable… a lot of work and concentration, but with great reward.

So what are the pros and cons and differences between the solitary, isolated (to an extent) life of a painter, and the chaos and social whirl of putting on a Forgotten Fish show?

In my studio alone I have total creative control more or less… to a point anyway. That is to say sometimes things just happen and I like it or I don’t. Is that being in control?? It is a powerful and satisfying thing to find my own voice in a painting or drawing… but also can be quite lonely, isolating and removed. With the FFMO everything is a whirl of collaboration. It’s inspiring to be around others and creating something together. Of course there are egos and disagreements to contend with from time to time. And not everything happens the way you want or think would be best. But in the end the decision is made by the entire group.. what we all do on stage and how we interact happens somewhat organically and creates the whole. In my studio, it’s all me.

The band seem mysterious, a bit unfathomable. What is the biggest secret you would care to reveal about FFMO that would surprise people.?

I’m not sure I’m at liberty to divulge everything. Especially the more controversial “time travel” stuff. I suppose the most surprising thing to reveal is that the FFMO are actually a recreation of an orchestra that existed in the 12th, 16th and 18th centuries… there were different iterations with only a few of the same core members. When the FFMO founding members “encountered” the original members of L’Ensemble Oublié we were compelled to resurrect the ideas they were working with. Have I said too much already? I’m not sure I can really explain all this without first discussing it with the original members of L’Ensemble Oublié… and we both know how difficult that can be to do. So probably the rest is left best unsaid.

Which tunes did you most enjoy to play? When it comes up in the set list you have a feeling of eager and joyful anticipation.

I always enjoy playing the Cuban number, Aurora en Pekin. In earlier versions I play clarinet. But later we began to sing it. I love singing and have a low sonorous voice. I think it lends itself to the lower harmony. It’s magic to me when a harmony rings out.  I always enjoy that number. I also always love playing the Russian Farewell March.. I think it is our most uptempo piece and is always a raucous blast to play. But really I like all of it.

Ok Thanks a lot Odd for that insightful and profound interview.

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Gurdjieff: Further adventures in the world of music.

At the Gurdjieff Institute, the study house could hold about 300 people. It was designed in the style of a dervish ‘tekke’. There was a stage at the front. From the balcony above hung various musical instruments (but which ones ?!). In February 1923 there was an interview with Gurdjieff for the London based Daily News in which he said that he was having a special organ built, unique in Europe, with the octaves in quarter tones. Presumably this means a system similar to that used in accordions found, for example, in Cairo. The accordion contains two or more whole reed systems inside. The musician can switch from one system to another which will allow him to play music in different modes or maqam. (So far this is the only evidence I can find which relates Gurdjieff and his music to microtonal music, which I think would have been prevalent in Armenia but not in Greece. This leads me to believe that culturally the main influnece on Gurdjieff during his formative early years was Greek.)

A dichotomy around the music.

Some find the apparently simple melodies favoured by Gurdjieff on his portable harmonium to be profoundly moving. Like plainsong. Plainsong developed in early Christianity and was heavily influenced by the contemporary Greek modal system. This again leans Gurdjieffs sources more to the Greek than the Armenian. It is clear from reading the chapter in Beelzebub’s Tales on Heptaparaparshinokh that Gurdjieff had an awareness of musical ideas beyond his own culture. He mentions the building of a piece of apparatus for the study of music and vibrations which has 49 white strings (7 octaves) and within each octave 5 black strings, and further within each octave 14 red strings which represent quarter notes and in fact that large number gives the possibilities to play not only all the Persian and Arabic maqam or modes but even the microtonal music of ancient Greece. So it seems that Gurdjieff’s decision to compose music which did not use any microtonal elements was a conscious decision, absolutely not born of ignorance in any way.

Others are less than enthusiastic and feel that his music is not very imaginitive or creative and is simply firmly rooted in the late 19th Century traditon, influenced by, among others, Scriabin. It is difficut to draw a line, to make a distinction, between Thomas de Hartmann’s own taste and background, his allegiance to early Scriabin, and the hummed melodies of Gurdjieff, which de Hartmann turned into compositions.

The composer Laurence Rosenthal wrote the music for the film dramatisation of ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’. He said of Gurdjieff’s music ‘The music is all composed for the piano, although it reveals a minimum of typical figuration. The general style or idiom could be described as a particular blending of Eastern and Western elements, the oriental modes modified by the tempered scale, while the more European pieces are often infused with a degree of Near Eastern colour.’ Apart from the use of a phrase like ‘near eastern colour’ which is frankly meaningless, I think the general sense of what he says is not really accurate.

We know that Gurdjieff hummed melodies to de Hartmann, which de Hartmann transcribed and presented as piano pieces. We also know that there are some recordings of Gurdjieff himself playing harmonium. It is a harmonium tuned in the common western tempered scale. All the other Gurdjieff music we have is experienced through the filter of the mind and musical aesthetics of Thomas de Hartmann, a composer and musician fully trained and habituated in the European musical tradition. We can speculate how Gurdjieff might have tried to interpret the music he had heard in different times and places in his life, his Greek background, or his Armenian background, in the dervish tekkes, and so on, but there is no evidence to suggest that he composed any music using oriental maqam or modes. To suggest that he would have allowed inaccuracies in the music due to cultural modification, is simply ridiculous if you know anything about the man. Descriptions of the study hall at the institute suggested that the balcony was hung with all sorts of instruments, so why then would Gurdjieff have his music transcribed in a way which did less that faithful justice to his very strong ideas about music and art.?

De Hartmann’s piano compositions which arose from Gurdjieff’s musical ideas are certainly partly the product of de Hartmann’s own upbringing, sensibilty and education. The attributes of the chord structures are pure late 19th Century western music. They are often beautiful however and Gurdjieff seemed to be satisfied with them. In his own playing of the harmonium, he didn’t play strictly monophonic melodies, as has also been suggested buy some music students, which would align him with traditions from Turkey and Persia, he allows himself to ‘suggest’ chords or harmonic relationships in the music. In recent years there have been new interpretations of his music, using different instruments and musical environments. The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble founded by Levon Eskenian in 2008 has reimagined the music of Gurdjieff in a setting within Armenian folk traditions. It features instruments such as the duduk, the kamenche, the santur. Let me say first and unequivocally that the music is gorgeous and strongly expresses that particuar melancholy and profound beauty that we would recognise from the old harmonium recordings, but there is no reason to believe that this more oriental setting is any more authentic or true to Gurdjieff’s original intentions than the piano music of Thomas de Hartmann. My personal preference, aesthetically, would be for this Folk Instruments Ensemble, but as Gurdjieff might say, that is just subjective.

Once again we are struggling to grasp what are the early influences on the man, who grew up in a time and place which was full of social, cultural and political upheaval, between Greek, Armenian, and even Russian, and which of those impacted most deeply on his young formative years.

We are never going to be able to limit the origins of Gurdjieff’s philosophy, his teachings, his music, as being Armenian, or indeed coming from any one wellspring. He himself once said that his knowledge came from the Pamir mountains, east of Samarkand. There are obvious influences from Tibet as well. We will have to accept and enjoy that the man is an enigma, and hard to fathom.

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The Body of Universal Music, Vigorous and Beautiful, is not Assassinated by a Bit of Hiss

The music of Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra and the solo work of Makmed the Miller has been in the public domain for almost a quarter of a century. It exists in different formats, CD albums, vinyl, available to download on Spotify, ITunes and all the usual digital platforms. There was even an album out on minidisc, during that short window of time when minidiscs were ‘a thing’, a culturally acceptable artifact.

It is clear that in recent years the sale of CDs is declining as a popular format although I am happy and grateful that people do still request them from me on a regular basis. I have noticed that in the last four or five years there has been an increased fascination with the old analogue cassette tapes. It seemed hard to believe at first, but apart from the charm of the actual cassette mechanism, it’s true that in the way that the digital expression of a piece of music will be noticeably different from the same piece on vinyl, so a cassette recording also has its own sound, with all the pros and cons that brings.

I have decided to issue a series of music cassettes. Each cassette has been personally curated and is unique in itself, a one-off, one of a kind memento. These are the first ten, containing a variety of musical selections from all sorts of sources, some recordings from live events, some studio recordings never before released, some of the more popular tunes from our back catalogue, alongside some genuine curiosities. If you would like to avail yourself of these musical offerings please feel free to contact me at livewithoutdeadtime@yahoo.com

Goodbye to the Siamese Twins

This features some previously unreleased material..Aria for a New Born Baby, Mice and a live version of Pomeriggio de Dolore. The track YoshiToshi is from the now out of print album The Bewitched, by Makmed the Miller and Astral Gonad .

Frogs and Snails and Fishy Tales

Orange Claw Hammer (a cover of the Beefheart poem) previously unavailable. The title track Iron Shoes from the now out of stock first Forgotten Fish Memory album of the same name. Also a rare recording by the Shuafa Sisters ‘Habibi Wakes Up’.

Snow

Quite a dark and moody selection of music. Hebron Mosq Radio, Fourway Turntable and Just Intonation all not previously in the public domain.

The Buddha Machine and the Starry Dynamo

The piece Siesta is from the remix vinyl album Our Tin Tribe, as is Helium Gas ( a remix of the clarinet centrifuge sonic attack ‘Liquid Helium’.) In the Medina is from the no longer available mini CD Saouiri Fugitive with Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra.

Some Blind Girls Ask Questions of the Moon

A diverse mixture with some curate’s eggs…The Word, an intense poem by Gylan Kain (founder of The Last Poets), a cover of Roland Kirk’s Theme for the Eulipions and a brand new recording of The Forgotten Fish piece Kasbah Tadla.

Pluto is Busy in the Underworld Learning Tai Chi

Lots of unreleased music on this cassette. The minimal and ambient Paintings of Arkadi Len is one of the most interesting. The piece Deir Yassin is from the soundtrack for the film ‘From Balfour to Banksy’ recorded by Makmed the Miller.

Cloudchamber and Submarine

The tracks here which were not previously in the public domain …a live version of Hu Dy Da, a live version of Rassvet na Ural, the Gurdjieff improvisation Music for Idiots and the old Greek tune Misr Lou.

The Storyteller of Abu Dis

Abu Dissident, previously unreleased, was an out take from the soundtrack project for the film ‘From Balfour to Banksy’. The Lanterns at Dusk in Dragon Town is a small tribute to the great resilience shown by the people of Dragon Town in Cheng Du when faced with the merciless advance of ‘modern technology’.

We kill Time and then Time slaughters us.

A rare chance to hear the Shuafa Sisters ‘Taxi for Maxi’. Also the Je t’aime rework No Planets and a musical tribute to Piero della Francesca’s The Flagellation.

Wabi Sabi

A lot of Oriental based pieces of music on here. From the intensity of the fake Gagaku music to the cheesy but beautiful theme from Tokyo Story, by way of the brutal Carrying Water.

These unique cassettes are the first ten in what will be an ongoing project, to release in this charming format not only old favourites from the Forgotten Fish canon, but also other hard to find curios, remixes, live recordings and musical bric a brac.

Email if you are interested

livewithoutdeadtime@yahoo.com

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Dieter Rams.

Many contemporary art and design theorists like to postulate the old maxim ‘Perfection in Design is Not Possible’. ‘Perfection in Design is a Bad Idea’. ‘Perfectionism is like an illness that will make your design weaker’. I have actually read all those remarks in serious articles online.

But there are sometimes artists or designers who produce something so perfect and perfected that it cannot be improved upon. Think of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’, or the invention of the geodesic dome.

And of course the unique and brilliant Dieter Rams.

Dieter Rams was born in Wiesbaden and educated in Wiesbaden School of Art just after the second world war. He went on to work for the company Braun in Frankfurt which produced all sorts of consumer items from shaving equipment and clocks right up to high end stereo music apparatus and cameras.

Rams quickly stood out as a designer. His mantra ‘less is better’ was more than just a passing acknowledgement to minimalism. It was for him a core value, a way of life, a philosophical idea . Braun became one of the central elements of German industrial design and Dieter Rams was its most influential designer. He became celebrated and famous for his extreme functional approach but also managed to incorporate a severe beauty in his creations. His SK 4 Record Player was unsurpassed in both design concept and also popularity. But he also turned his attention to more modest items like calculators, coffee machines, some of which even became exhibits in the Museum of Modern Art.

In 40 years at Braun, Rams oversaw more than 500 items, most of which could be found within everyday middle class European households. He had a set of ten principles by which he worked, which he said were essential aspects of the high design of his products.

1. It is innovative.

2. It makes a product useful.

3. It is aesthetically pleasing.

4. It makes the product more easily understandable.

5. It is unobtrusive. (like a tool)

6. It is honest.

7. It is long-lasting (anti-planned obsolesence, anti-‘fashion’)

8. It is thorough down to the last detail.

9. It is environmentally friendly.

10. It involves as little design as possible.

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Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina was the first woman in space. A hero of the Soviet people. At the age of just 26, in June 1963, she orbited the earth 48 times.

In 1961 Yuri Gagarin had become the first man in space. This had stolen the thunder of the Americans who had been working on their own space programme of course, so they decided to at least have the first woman to go into orbit. When the Soviets heard about this plan they decided to beat them to that as well. Valentina was ‘expedited’ (some would say ‘rushed through’). She had been an active skydiver and this helped her to be selected as the lucky woman, but she had to undergo rigorous training, centrifuge tests, decompression chamber tests, and to learn to pilot a Mig jet fighter.

Vostok 6 was launched on 16 June 1963. There was a tradition that the cosmonauts, as they got on the bus to take them to the launch pad, they would piss on the tire of the bus. It was thought to bring luck. Gagarin had also done this. Valentina continued with that tradition and did indeed piss on the bus tire. One wonders how difficult it might have been for a woman in a space suit. Any way it did seem to bring her luck.

Shortly after the launch, which was apparently successful, there was a period of radio silence. Quite natural, but always a bit of a tense moment. Then her voice came through the ether…

“It is me. Chaika. (Chaika means ‘Seagull’ in Russian. It was the name of her capsule). I see the horizon, it is sky blue, with a dark strip. How beautiful the earth is. Everything is going well.”

It was going well, but then it wasn’t. Valentina became ill, not from the physical effects of the flight, but from some tinned fish she had eaten pre-flight. She vomited in her space suit. There was also an error in the control programme which had set the ship on a course to ascend rather than descend back to earth. Many at mission control were resigned to the fact that the mission would fail and Valentina would not survive. However with a bit of luck (probably from pissing on the tire) Valentina together with the technicians on earth were able to redirect the ship using manual over-rides. The descent and landing was very rocky in every sense. She landed in the Altai mountain region of Mongolia and suffered a bruised nose. At the behest of the Soviet authorities she kept quite about the technical error which might have killed her for decades.

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