Letting my mind go with music…

I have a long and wonderful history with music. It really started while I was growing up listening to whatever my dad was playing on his HiFi. The “whatever” portion is important, as my father listens to a huge variety of music. I won’t go so far as to call him a fan of everything, but he is the ultimate musical experimenter. He’d read HiFi magazines with reviews of newly released music, compiling a list that then results in a shopping trip. I am too young to remember my Dad buying vinyl, but the CD shopping trips are the stuff of legend for me. My father owned a retail pharmacy and Mom worked with him in the business. The hours were long, leaving only Sundays for any real family time. So, once in a while, my Dad would get all four of us (me, my sister, Mom and him) in his gloriously metallic blue Jaguar XJ6 and drive to his favourite CD shop in Rosebank. We’d spend the morning, browsing for new music, tracking down stuff from his lists and ultimately end up going home with a ton of CD’s. The next few weeks would then be spent listening to all the new stuff. The genres included pop, classical, rock, female vocals etc. As I grew up, we’d spend hours discussing music and all other matters, with music on the HiFi. As I grew older, I’d also get to taste the red wine my Dad loved (resulting in my huge love for red wine today), all in front of the HiFi. This set the scene for my ongoing love affair with music, wine, electronics and cars. My dad is also a firm believer in owning a “proper” HiFi. He selected an amplifier, CD player, record player and speakers after endless reviews and auditions. The result is a system that sounds bloody brilliant, to this day.

I grew up playing piano and classical guitar as instruments. I sang in a regional youth choir, resulting in my first trip overseas when I was 17. Music and its associated equipment and activities shaped my life in a big way. When in love, I’d spend hours on the thick carpet in the HiFi room, on my back, Sennheiser headphones on while listening to soppy love songs. In times of turmoil, Nirvana would be in the CD tray. To this day, my mood can be expressed or set by music. While a man of mediocre playing and vocal talent, my love for music never faded. As I sit here, I am in front of my own HiFi, listening to a variety of classical music on the Deutsche Grammophon label, all conducted by Herbert von Karajan. My dual 10″ Tannoy’s are singing, driven by a bi-amped and bi-wired setup.

Today my love for music is as strong as ever. My instrument playing is limited to the occasional tickle of my Stratocaster guitar, and I rarely sing these days. But listening to music while thinking, writing, reading etc consumes vast amounts of my time. The way my brain can make all sorts of weird and wonderful connections, stimulated by music, is amazing. I use this to stimulate the creative side of my day job. Music transports me to a place where my mind roams freely, unencumbered by the constraints of daily life, accessing the deep regions where weird and wonderful things happen.

The way I access music has certainly changed too. With a background in electronic/computer systems engineering, I love the electronics as much as the music reproduced with them. My vinyl collection has grown at a steady pace, especially after I took over my dad’s turntable and vinyl collection. The NAD 533 turntable (an OEM version of the famous Rega Planar 2) was serviced, fitted with a new motor, cartridge and properly set-up on a heavy plinth. A Rega Phono stage connects the turntable to the rest of my HiFi. Because of the ease of access with digital music, I bought a dedicated headphone amplifier with built in Digital to Analogue converter, driven through a vintage vacuum tube (to soften the hard digital edge a bit). This is used at my desk, powering a variety of Sennheiser, Grado and JBL headphones (selected based on what I am listening too). Spotify, iTunes, Linn Records and HDTracks.com are all places where I buy my digital, high-resolution music. Finally, bringing the music to lif at home, is a set of Tannoy Saturn S10 Dual Concentric speakers. Their ability to reach low and deep is amazing. You need that ability when you listen to Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Organ and Strings in G minor, else the bottom registers of the organ simply disappear.

Today I lament the state of live music in South Africa. It seems to me that the days of being able to go and listen to a full scale, live symphony orchestra are gone. I cannot even remember the last time that I saw a symphonic orchestra live, playing pieces by Dvorak, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Beethoven and Mozart. Luckily I have vivid memories of doing that with my parents. I’ll never forget my first time, hearing the full orchestra in full cry, experiencing the full stereophonic effect with the strings and percussion bringing the music to life.

My own musical journey has brought me closer to certain types of music. As I started listening to older, classic rock bands, I moved closer and closer to Blues. As I moved closer to Blues, I started discovering Jazz (still not a favourite) and other genres. Today I firmly believe that the best stuff is not what plays to mainstream audiences via mainstream media. There is a world of music far removed from the mainstream, where true art lives and thrives. But to experience this world you need an open mind, the drive to discover and the ability to open yourself completely to new experiences. Do that and a wonderful journey of musical discovery awaits!

Thank you dad, for introducing me to this amazing world.

A boozy pleasure in Winter

I am not a guy that enjoys the cold weather, but being someone who tries to find the positive in every situation, I have found something to enjoy in Winter…

Once a year, my wife and I do a serious road trip down to the Eastern and Western Cape regions of South Africa. Allow me to elaborate. We hook a 6″ trailer behind my Subaru Outback, and we take a slow drive, doing around 300-400 km of leisurely driving per day, on the days that we drive. We visit “off the beaten track” towns, stay in guest houses and try and take in as much of the local culture, cuisine and produce as we can. Inevitably, the trailer gets gradually filled with preserves, jams, local wine, Method Cap Classique sparkling wine, potstill brandy, port, fortified wines and anything else that seems worthy of a trip home to be shared with friends (chocolate coated coffee beans anyone?). The kids love these trips, as they get to stay in a new place, with new things to discover, every two or three days, and Mari and I wandering around with no particular plan, apart from the pre-planned accommodation due to the fact that we do this in the peak holiday season.

As the cold descends, I take great pleasure in having a quiet night cap at home. Be it a glass of red wine, a port or muscadel, maybe a double shot of fine 10 year old pot-still brandy. Our brandies are really excellent, as South Africa’s fine showing in these past years in the International Wine and Spirits Challenge (www.iwsc.net) proves. In 2013 alone, no fewer than 8 of our brandies won “Gold Outstanding” awards. Our port is equally well regarded. Current favourites are the 8 year old Boplaas brandy, the Joseph Barry 10 year and the Ladismith 8 year old.

                            brandy        Joseph-Barry-10jr-Brandy  LadiSmith-Klein-Karoo-8jr

Part of the pleasure comes from the fact that I have learnt how to appreciate “the good stuff” over the last 20 years. My enjoyment today of a glass of South Africa’s finest is a world away from my downright unruly behaviour as a student. No, today the fine aromas, fruity flavours and velvet textures are what pleases me.

And yet, as much as I love a glass of wine, and truly enjoy a good brandy or whiskey, my all time favourite is beer. Not the chemically enhanced, brewed in a few days generic lager that we see advertised. No. My love is the amber ales, red ales, pale ales, the Belgian Lambic beers and so forth. My two intrepid brothers-in-law have now fired up a home brewery, but not just any old homebrew kit. No, proper temperature controlled systems with efficient wart boilers and gorgeous chillers. Proper bottling systems with the correct raw sugars for bottle conditioning of the beers.

Our weekend beer drinking has taken on a completely new angle. Each beer (there are about 6 types in various brewing stages at any point, around 25 litres per batch) is carefully tasted, and notes made. The brewing process is adjusted and the bottle condition periods extended. A veritable treasure trove of brewers notes are being produced, to be handed down from father to son 🙂 All of this happens while the other brother assists Mari in making gorgeous food (he’s an amateur chef) to pair with the various beers. Fancy a chocolate ale with desert? No problem, they made a pretty decent one.

Yes, all of life’s pleasures can be consumed and enjoyed in sensible quantities. It adds to the variety and spice of life, making sure that we enjoy and enhance the experience of sharing life and love with friends…cheers!!!

A secret blend of herbs, spices and chemicals

Let me not pretend I am something I am not. A bunny hugger I ain’t. According to me, “vegetarian” is from the Latin root that means “bad hunter”. I believe we have dominion over the animals, and I love steak. But, being a meat lover/eater (don’t worry, the red meat animals get their revenge on me, I suffer from terrible gout!) does not mean that I turn a blind eye to the rights of animals. While you won’t find me picketing the fashion stores or butcheries, a fast food store had my stomach turning this week.

Heading back to my home office earlier this week, I realized my schedule was tight. Now, I am living a healthier lifestyle than in the past, and have lost almost 15Kg’s of weight during the last year. Meaning that I actually try and make healthier eating choices. It dawned on me that a quick, fast food bite, preferably of the drive through variety would suit my schedule best. Faced with a number of bad choices, I opted for what seemed to be the lesser of a number of evils, and opted for something chickenish. Calling it “chicken” would be an absolute travesty… Now, this particular three letter acronym chain has not seen business from me in a long time, and I opted for a burger and a drink. Imagine my shock and surprise at the “fishy” smell and flavour, with something “chemical” lingering… Can it really be, have we as consumers fallen so far of the top of the food chain that this almost toxic, smelly blend of deep fried whatchamacalit passes as food in our world? One bit was enough to leave me reeling. Did I have a singular bad experience at a bad restaurant, cathing them off guard, or is this the quality and taste consumers crave nowadays?

Reason why this brand was top of mind this week, is that one of my family members doing his articles to qualify as a Chartered Accounted recalled the vast amounts of money these businesses generate. Forget about shoving your morals aside and opting to buy a franchise for pure monetary gain. You cannot buy one even if you had the money. A few companies now control the franchise ownership and new stores are allocated to these companies using some method, about I will best not speculate, lest I find a horse’s head in my bed.

Driving past these shops around meal times, you find them stuffed to the brim with customers, cash in hand and a row of cars around the building, waiting to be served. Is their marketing really that good, or are we really that oblivious and stupid? And they are not the only brand whose food I cannot stomach. A clown themed one is right up there too. What they pass off as a burger patty in a country that rears some of the best beef in the world is unfathomable. Despite this, I have a friend who confesses an almost drug like craving for their offerings. While his wife has him on every weird diet based around hormones, pills, injections and flab busting machines, he enjoys nothing more than cheating on that diet with a sneaky double burger with “cheese”. Calling the yellow goob slab on said chemically enhanced patty “cheese” is an insult to the bacteria that make the actual process of producing cheese possible.

Reading all the horror stories about these brands on the web, for a long time I dismissed these as pure disgruntled, ex-burger flippin’ employees with a vendetta hogwash. I did not see the fire where the smoke was. After sampling their wares, heed my warning, there is a fire raging…

A 5 minute excersize

The time has come for me to admit to a seriously receding hairline. While the loss of my hair is regrettable, the time saved on quick haircuts is useful. I am not quite at the point where I can place a call on hold and get a quick haircut, but I did reduce from a 7 minute task to a 5 minute task. Words like “short” and “style” have lost all haircut meaning for me. I now primarily worry about my hair being “neat”. How things have changed…If you have a lovely head full of hair, get yourself styled properly, because age will take that simple pleasure from you… On the flip side I now have more time on hand to enjoy other things. Such as the new limited edition Jack White – Lazaretto album that arrived as part of my Third Man Records Vault #20 package.

Who needs hair when your record player can spin awesome tunes?