the sound of the sea

written somewhere in the ionian sea, may 19, 2013: 

well, it doesn’t happen very often, but once in a blue moon, even pureambient gets “away from it all” as every family must try to do now and then. and I would be the very first to admit, being somewhere new, somewhere unfamiliar, puts a whole new perspective on the familiar.

just to set the scene then, we are sitting on our balcony aboard the cruise ship norwegian jade, steaming from venice to our first greek island destination, corfu – where we arrive tomorrow morning. sitting here typing this, on our own private balcony, with the sound and the sight of the sea – is absolutely blissful.

corfu is a place I’ve long wanted to visit, ever since reading ‘my family and other animals’ by naturalist gerald durrell.  I must have been about twelve years old when I read that book, and the colourful, indeed vivid picture durrell paints of this sleepy greek island, with it’s quaint and kind inhabitants, has stuck in my mind all this time. part of me still can’t quite believe that tomorrow morning, I will actually set foot on corfu after wanting to for more than forty years…that is amazing!!

for myself, this getaway is actually a return, when I was a young person, I went on a short cruise of the mediterranean, and ever since then, I have wanted to go again.  for the last five years, the work has pretty much taken up all of our time; we did manage to get away for a few days in london back in 2011, but beyond that, this ten-day trip is the first real ‘vacation’ we’ve managed within that five year period.  five years, two holidays – I think we need to get away more often!

so it feels pretty damn good to just stop, and have no responsibilities or cares in the world, and just enjoy your surroundings. I would also be the very first to acknowledge that I am not very good at relaxing, I am a bit…driven, and I always feel like I have to be working, creating, mixing, recording, filming…

must…keep…busy.

this is the curse of the artist, of the musician, of the sculptor, of the creator of any kind of art, the relentless, unstoppable desire to create…so it’s very nice to stop, and to spend time not creating, but instead, just enjoying the little things in life.  with the regular schedule, that’s pretty hard to do, but outwith that schedule, I am finding it’s very, very easy to do.  so now, my priority is not getting an album done, or a video made…but, deciding if I want another amazing italian cappuccino, or maybe something like a rum runner tropical cocktail…or two – this is a much easier choice to make – the answer is, both, please 🙂

back to the very beginning of our cruise, which was prefaced by time spent in venice, italy:

the first thing I would say is, if you are disabled, or if you are in a wheelchair, that venice is NOT the most wheelchair-friendly place on earth.  our trip started with three days in venice (although really just two days, because of the travelling) and while we managed to get around, this was very difficult for myself, but even more difficult for my partner, who spent a good deal of her time lifting the wheelchair up and down many unavoidable sets of stairs – mostly in museums! museum staff were mostly not helpful, and it was hard work for both of us.

we stayed in nearby mestre, and travelled into venice both days, with most of our activities centred around the famous san marco square.  the first day was very nearly an unmitigated disaster:  a horrific storm descending on venice, alternately soaking us with rain or lashing us with rain-filled wind – it was some of the worst weather imaginable.  somehow, with wheelchair and gear, we managed to get onto the bus, to the bus station, picked up our tickets, got to the vaporetto (water taxis) and began our travels into venice. we were both soaked through, before the day even began…not an auspicious start.

day one had the worst weather, and our first stop was the gallerie dell’ accademia, which, after struggling with the torrential downpour and water taxis, we very nearly did not get into…and once the staff relented and deigned to allow us entry, well, I have to be honest, we were very disappointed – both with the gallery itself (containing almost exclusively, paintings, and, almost exclusively, paintings depicting the more horrific side of christianity) – not a pleasant place, but a dark, gloomy place full of stairs and nothing but religious objects.

so, back out into the rain, we boarded the vaporetto again, and made our way to the giardini reali stop at san marcos square (I loved the small garden area by the water) and then we made our way over to the square.  by this time, we were even wetter, our paperwork was soaked, we were just unbelievably wet, cold and miserable.  my partner parked me, in the wheelchair, into a sheltered spot, and went in search of sustenance.  this day was utterly unforgettable if only for the worst imaginable weather, very similar to a pretty bad day at home in scotland !! two lovely small cheese pizzas later, we were ready to re-commence our battle with the elements…

at this point, we were really just trying to get to 2:30 p.m. because we had booked a tour of murano, torcello, and burano – of course, a tour on the water, when the weather is at it’s very worst – how lucky were we?  but, we were determined, so, after some window shopping, photography and general hanging  about, we set off to the pick up point, and boarded yet another sort of water taxi for the special tour of the islands.

it’s really such a shame that the weather was so, so horrific this day, because under normal circumstances, this would have been a really lovely tour.  murano was the first stop, with it’s world-famous glass blowing and glass artisans, and it really was truly remarkable, but first, we had to deal with the task of getting off the boat, which was not made easy by the heaving seas and lashing winds.  this feat accomplished, we visited one of the glass factories, where we witnessed an age-old family tradition – using furnaces and manual glass-blowing techniques, and two different artists created two different objects in front of our eyes, including a delicate, rearing-on-it’s-hind-legs glass horse – really beautiful work.

the shop on the island was full of amazing glass objects, absolutely astonishing  glass artefacts of every possible description.  in fact, all over venice you could find murano glass, including in the buildings and museums – often, the chandeliers would be murano, and it is ever-present in this region – and its world-famous for a reason, it’s simply a thing of real beauty, manufactured basically by hand, which is something you do not see much of in this world any more.

I admire the skill that it takes to create something like this, because it’s really a similar process to one person making music using the tools that they have, the only difference being that glass-blowing is the manufacture of a tangible physical object, while the musician creates something slightly more abstract…but no less “real”.

we saw little else of murano, the weather was so awful, that we unanimously wanted to get back onto the boat and move on to our next stop, torcello. now, torcello is completely different, much less sparsely populated than many other italian islands, it’s much greener, and we had a lovely walk along a canal towards the centre of the island.  we stopped off for coffee and tea, and “cake”, which in this instance was simply the most incredible, massive portion of tiramisu I’ve ever seen or eaten…which was absolutely delicious.

strangely, despite the fact that we didn’t actually “do” or “see” anything on torcello, it was perhaps my favourite part of the islands tour, I just liked the island and we really enjoyed the walk along the canal, with it’s curved bridges (such as the ponte del diavolo)  and lovely greenery – a really nice, relaxing island spot.

the weather at this point was still pretty bad, although it had relented a little bit during our time on torcello, it was still working hard to make us all miserable.

our final stop, burano, was another yet-again different environment, a much larger village square with a church / steeple (whose bells rung obligingly while we were there – a lovely sound) – we both spent time happily snapping photos, including panoramic views of the square, and shopping in the local shops…

and then it was time for the long return journey to venice, 45 minutes of backtracking, the way we had just come; which was a bit dreary given that the weather was still horrible and the seas were still stormy and the wind was still blasting – the wind so strong that it was pushing lots of water underneath the glass doors of the boat’s main cabin – there was simply water *everywhere* !!!

but, as I said, if the weather had been nice – this would have been an absolutely fantastic tour, and I do recommend it highly – the tour guides were really polite and helpful, and the amount of history and culture to be absorbed is extremely high, a really good experience, and a great way to spend an afternoon in venice.  beware – the murano, torcello and burano tour is four and a half hours long, but, totally worth it given what you get to see and experience.

at this point, we then had to disembark from the island tour boat, and return to the vaporetto water taxi; make our way back to the bus station; find the right bus back to mestre…the whole outbound journey, wheelchair still in tow, in reverse.

back to the hotel, we then went to check out a restaurant that we had read about, called “hostaria”, which was literally two streets away from the hotel, but as we could see what seemed to be a massive queue, we decided that there would be too long of a wait, so we decided to give it a miss.  little did we realise – we found out the next night, that it wasn’t a queue – it was simply the overspill from the bar!!  and you had 20 or 30 people out on the sidewalk, drinking and smoking and laughing – which from a distance, appeared to be a queue. but what a relaxed and happy atmosphere as the patrons spilled out into the streets with their drinks…

in any case, we found a small restaurant also quite close by, where we had a lovely meal, followed by a couple of cappuccinos to go, which we took back to our hotel.

day two: the storm starts to recede.  still not completely gone, the weather nonetheless begins to improve on our second day in venice.  starting out again from our hotel in mestre, we by now had mastered the bus and vaporetto systems, so getting around, even with the wheelchair, was considerably easier (although still not easy!) on the second day – we had it all worked out now.

we returned again via bus, then vaporetto, to the lovely gardens at the square of san marco, this time to explore the museums in and around the square itself, beginning with the palazzo ducale. I would say that once again, as with the gallerie dell’ accademia, we were underwhelmed both by what was on offer, which was once again, almost solely devoted to painting, and once again, almost solely devoted to the darker side of christianity, and by the “ease” with which we could get around. another impossible venture…

while there was a lift, we spent a long, long time finding it, having to wait for various people with various sets of keys to open various doors to find this tiny, backstage service lift, and even then, once up on the museum floor, we still ended up being confronted again and again by stairs, stairs and more stairs.

I would say that this is possibly the most un-wheelchair friendly museum we have ever visited anywhere, in one of the most un-wheelchair friendly cities in the world.  it’s a shame to have to say that, but it’s true.  we even got temporarily trapped in an endless series of unending hallways, with, of course, stairs, stairs and more stairs, until we eventually escaped. a more physically exhausting and emotionally draining than culturally profitable experience, I don’t recommend a visit to the palazzo ducale unless you are ready for a very physically challenging experience!

our second day was now half over, and it took some detective work, but we finally worked out that the archaeological museum that we had planned to visit, had been absorbed and moved inside of another museum, the “museo correr” which is actually first, the private collection of one teodoro correr, and two, the archaeological museum, and three, a library – all  merged into one museum.

this, out of all of the museum visits, was by far and away the best.  instead of endless dreary paintings of strictly religious subjects – we went into the real world, with real objects from history ranging from whole libraries of ancient books, to statues, to weapons, to day to day objects, everything – and it was an absolutely fascinating journey.

from the very beginning of the museum, you could tell it was going to be something special: massive ancient globes of the world, some depicting what was recognisably our modern world, others with fanciful drawings of animals with the sort of “lions be here” motif – but what globes they were, some of them perhaps six feet in diameter!

rooms full of the most remarkable coin collections, coins dating back to hundreds of years before christ, made from every imaginable material; the tools and tooling used to stamp out the coins…

each room contained a different treasure, and one set of the rooms tried to capture all of the most important art of the time (correr was an obsessive collector) in a sort of themed way, so some rooms contained a fantastic array of truly beautiful and unique items that I cannot describe with mere words.

a gentleman named “grimani” donated his collection of over 150 statues to the collection, and some of these statues were impressive indeed, and most of the rooms boasted a few or many “grimani”-donated statues.

this just adds still more to this amazing collection of art objects, and beyond all other museums in the square, I recommend the museo correr – what a fantastic place.  it was also the most wheelchair-friendly of the museums, although we still had to go through the arcane tiny-service-elevator behind locked doors scene to get us onto the museum floor.  but, compared to our experience at the palazzo ducale, the staff at museo correr did a spectacular job taking care of us – which also made a pleasant change to the indifference or even downright rudeness of some of the other staff at some of the other museums.

we were both so, so glad that we had made the extra effort to determine where this particular museum was, and the very positive experience we had there helped to erase some of the frustration and disappointment we’d felt with our first three museum visits in venice – it was so good, that it almost “made up” for the more negative experiences in the other museums. almost…but not quite.

so – when in venice – visit the museo correr, without fail – it’s very, very much worth it, and, it’s more wheelchair/disabled friendly than most.

day three – well, that brings us up to the moment – may 19th, 2013, on the balcony at the palazzo dell’ pureambient aboard the norwegian jade, steaming towards corfu – the first of four greek islands we will be visiting over the next four days…

sitting here with only the sound of the waves to accompany my typing (via bluetooth keyboard, the height of luxury!) – you want to talk about ambient music?  I could listen to this sound, the sound of the sea (and nothing else) for the whole week, and feel incredibly happy.  it’s both a joyous sound and a soothing sound, a restless, questing sound and a peaceful, sleepy sound.  it’s the best ambient music there is, it’s why the sound of the waves have appeared on every cheesy, crappy “new age” album ever made – because it is such a great sound, it really is.  and while it’s often been used badly, I still think there is hope for it’s use in ambient music. it’s possible, that someone could make really beautiful ambient music using the sound of the sea as it’s basis.

but it depends, like all sounds, on what you do with it.  if you blend it, windham hill style, with quiet, jazz-based with mellow-synth-pad, obvious “new age” music – then it’s going to sound pretty bad.  my thought would be that if I was going to use the sound of waves (which I have done in short form, back in 1994 – with my unreleased CD “the sea, the sea”), that I would need to do it in a very different way, to avoid the cliche that unfortunately, like another area of sonic new age crime, bird song used badly in new age music, that ocean sounds used in new age music, have become.

like the very real experience I am having of this sound right now, hours on end of unbroken sound of ocean waves, I would think it best that art imitate life, and any composition I might try would and should involve long, long stretches of ocean sound with no added music, with short sections of very ambient, ethereal music added – in real moderation – and, with not a single electric piano or muted windham hill trumpet or smooth synth pad in sight.  mostly just the sea, with very lightly mixed in music that very closely merges with the natural sound.  I think it can be done…and maybe one day, I will give it a try.

I am sure it can be done tastefully, and it really should be, because it’s one of the most amazing ambient sounds that I’ve ever heard – because its directly from nature, not man-made in any way – and I heartily recommend it – get yourself out onto the ocean, and plug into endless hours of the most beautiful “ambient record” there is (better than anything eno ever did!!) – the pure sound of the pure waves of the pure ocean, filling your ears and your consciousness with their never-ending sound of pulsing waves – it’s pure bliss.

it’s all around us, and it permeates everything – the sound of the sea.

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2 responses to “the sound of the sea

    • Hello

      Thanks for saying so, it’s not been heavily customised, it’s just a “preset” theme in the WordPress menus, when you set up a wordpress blog – I believe it’s called “piano black” theme.

      I hope this helps you…

      all the best,

      dave

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