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Fiddlin’ Around 14/08/2013

Posted by zoidion in Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: Conditions where I spent four days last week, about eighty miles northwest, were cool, alright—I wore jeans nearly the entire time, and only briefly had my arms exposed. And the sky was more cloudy than clear. But hey, no complaints.

The main thing, in the woods and among the marshes of Stearns County: I recognized the fiddle omnivore’s dilemma: the level of dissatisfaction / indigestibility that accompanies ingestion of all manner of fiddle styles. The two-day “jam camp” before the festival provided the revelation. (And in synch, I left at home the dark chocolate and took with me a big porcelain pot filled with nearly a dozen different types of leaves and a few fruits from the garden.)

The focus really was about getting back to the basics, and about concentrating on old-time music. About recognizing and accepting imitations: perhaps most of all, those of memory.

That was starkly evident in the fact that we four old-guy students were taught four tunes in a day-and-a-half, but none of us could remember any of them enough to play one at the end. We would all depend on our electronic recording devices—and our computers at home—for any chance of truly learning them.

Aside from the specifics of the tunes we were running through, I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of tuning—in the “old days” and now. It seems the standard back then was not the more recent—and, if I recall correctly, European-derived—A / 440. Lower frequencies, before the advent of recent sound-measuring technology, were typical.

And yet many current players seem to think the (few) recorded master fiddlers of yore somehow didn’t know how to properly tune their instruments. I even heard an acquaintance at the festival—an old-time fiddler and piano tuner—say so.

This seems to me an excellent (if that word may be applied) example of modernist conceit, aka the civil religion of Progress, one of whose tenets is: Newer (thus more technological) is better, or at least closer to Truth.

This issue dovetailed with my own resistance to acquiring one of those electronic tuners that seem to be forever clamped to everyone else’s instrument lately. So I found it refreshing that both of the Bigfoot fiddlers—the camp instructors—tuned their instruments by ear. That became the norm for our two-day community, though a couple of the guys couldn’t stay away from their gizmos entirely.

Another aspect of then-and-now playing that came up is the strictness of time-keeping. Fiddler Rhys Jones showed us—using his computer loaded with thousands of fiddle tune recordings—samples of the same tune played by several fiddlers over the past seventy-five years or so. The classic “Sail Away Ladies,” as played by Uncle Bunt Stephens (included in the famous Anthology of American Folk Music), has a remarkably regular, almost metronomic, rhythm to the bowing: one of the students termed it “robotic.” Not to me: The sound evoked birdsong in a dense forest. The overall point was that younger ears and fingers are inclined to integrate a looser sense of time. It goes with a more varied musical diet.

It was a delightfully charged atmosphere under that tent at El Rancho Manana. I didn’t seem to have much brain capacity to spare. Still, the time-keeping and tuning themes did bring to mind recent newsletters by David Roell that question common assumptions about the birth data used by astrologers in recent decades. Standards change, and without investigating, or at least keeping that in mind, one can easily come out looking and sounding rather silly.

The weather turns more interesting for the week that begins with this morning’s first-quarter moon. (See local chart below.)


Situations tend to become more interesting when water sign Scorpio, “ruled” by Mars, is prominent. Here, Moon and especially Saturn—both in Scorpio and at the lower meridian—bring the promise of concentrated and challenging phenomena to this longitude. And to make the weather even more interesting, the Moon is returning to the same zodiacal place as in the season chart—recall that the season began with a mini-hurricane.

I emphasized this longitude because the Moon in the week’s chart is in rather far southern declination (eighteen degrees), thereby steering the greater moisture potential to more southern latitudes. The folks at NOAA seem to agree:


In this more northern zone, where the seasonal indications are for overall drier conditions, an increase in humidity can provide the juice for localized destructive storms. (To clarify: South of Des Moines, Iowa, the Ascendant for the season chart is watery Pisces rather than airy Aquarius.)

A surge of heat and humidity is indicated by Mars’ arrival—on the 15th of August—at the place occupied by Mercury and Venus in the season chart. It had to happen sometime: The charts show when.

zoidion ->



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