Spellcheck the Shell Way

I was reading this awesome book (about which I shall soon blog) and there was this moment of, “Fark! What a brilliant line!” like I actually said that ’cos it was so good, followed by, “Fark! Spelling mistake of spacecraft’s name!” And I thought wouldn’t a good way to deal with spellchecking (besides my favourite cmd-;) be to take the entire text, do something fancy command-line to it, and output all the words alphabetically by frequency. Then you could just spellcheck that file, find the weird words, go back to the original document and correct the shit out of them. So I did. Brilliant!

# take a text and output all the words alphabetically by frequency
# spaces replaced with line breaks, lowercase everything, punctuation included (apostrophe in ascii \047)
# http://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/39039/get-text-file-word-occurrence-count-of-all-words-print-output-sorted
# http://tldp.org/LDP/abs/html/textproc.html
# http://donsnotes.com/tech/charsets/ascii.html
find . -name "foo.txt" -exec cat {} \; | tr ' ' '\012' | tr A-Z a-z | tr -cd '\012[a-z][0-9]\047' | grep -v "^\s*$" | sort | uniq -c | sort -bnr

Black Metal 1: How it Started and Some Notes about Music

All this began a couple of months ago, when Isabelle Schad said, “looks like I won’t have time in April to get in the studio with you, so here’s a week for you, call it a mini-residency.” Her studio, Wiesenburg Halle in Wedding, is in a 150 year-old, abandoned former homeless people’s asylum on the Panke canal that was built on funds from the Berlin Jewish community, then appropriated by the Nazis, used as a factory for manufacturing insignia, then munitions, then bombed and shot to all crap, then quietly returning to forest while the original owner’s descendants live in the front apartment building (an entire story in itself) – and a few years ago, Isabelle and the Wiesen 55 e.V. got funds to turn one of the decrepit halls (well, mostly its walls) and neighbouring areas into a rehearsal space surrounded by gardens. Huge and airy, and with a full lighting and sound rig, plus a kitchen, mezzanine, garden full of birds and life, a lot like being in the forest and not in a big city.

So I arrived on Monday with bike (cos I was taking full advantage of being in Wedding to go morning cyclocross-ing in the forest), two bags of stuff, and one “I have no idea what I’m doing.” It’s been a long time since I was in a studio making art, and a solo … that’s something I’ve not really ever done. Solos are the present currency of performance makers of all stripes, in large part because they’re cheap to stage and tour, in part also because of the ongoing fixation on autobiographical authenticity, but I’ve always preferred the intermediary of dancers (even if I performed in my own work). Doing a solo has always been a mix of “I have nothing to say,” and “I have no idea what to do,” and inflicting one on myself … maybe now I’m capable of it cos I don’t really give a shit anymore.

Black Metal is a lot about that last bit, doing stupid stuff in my bedroom to amuse myself, not caring about potential audience (or lack of) or all the usual games of funding, producing, venue-ing. Of course watching the video of the showing it has to be ‘good’ in the sense of I myself as my own audience have to get a kick out of it and go, “fukkenyeeeaah!” which means I have to go all spectacle on my own arse – to put it another way, in choreographing and performing myself, I have to be convincing to my other self as audience, I have to be good (competent, artistic, compelling) at what I do.

Lucky I had some ideas. Not big ones, not many, only four – really only one but call it four – not very ambitious, not wanting to make something big or complicated or involved. I’ve been trying on and off for a few years to get a solo out, and kept falling into the trench of unrealisable ideas, paralysed by too bigness, things that require budget and support and all, and seeing Germany is consistently uninterested in what I do, the likelihood of making a big work with several dancers and all the rest is highly improbable, which left a solo, which kept failing when my thinking modality banged up against incommensurability with budget. So, basically bedroom stupidity. With metal.

Things I love: Heavy metal. Hoonage. Swearing.

When I was a student in Australia, SBS used to have Top Fuel drag racing on a Friday night. Fukken heaven. This isn’t a piece about that or swearing, but there’s something of the cultural displeasure at both in it, what’s acceptable and what’s not. Heavy metal – in any of its derivatives, death, speed, thrash, hair, black, folk, doom, power, and on and on – is only really palatable to an outside audience if it’s made ironic. Metal might be many things but it’s never ironic. The commitment to the theatre of the act never lets up, never gives a knowing wink at the audience, no matter how ridiculous and embarrassing it might look – listen and look at Lost Horizon, or Gorgoroth’s Kraków, brilliance all round.

There’s a close relationship between punk, goth, and metal; I’ve been all three and can say, Metal Rulez!!! In seriousness and partisanship here, I think there is a larger possibility for creativity in metal than the other two which comes in part from the—wait, must headbang to Sword in the Metal Wind for a bit—ok, back … comes in part from the theatricality (not to confuse that with playing pretend, theatricality here is the performance of image), and part from the joy of music. Listen to Sword in the Metal Wind or Gorgoroth’s Antichrist, constantly changing time signatures, rhythms, melodies, keys, even Slayer’s Raining Blood goes all over the place. It draws on the history of western classical and folk music (or for Taiwan’s Chthonic, traditional Taiwanese music), and for me there’s a lineage I can hear with say, Trelldom or Sunn O))) and Hildegard von Bingen across a thousand years. Which is maybe to say there’s a greater intellectualism (as differentiated from politicalism in punk) in metal that its theatricality doesn’t always make apparent.

Metal, yeah, I could go on about it all day. I’ve used metal music in pretty much every work I’ve made, it’s probably one of those things I should deny myself in the interests of getting over my habits and devices. This piece I wanted to go into the least-liked of subgenres, the one of church burnings, murder, neo-Nazis, Norway, corpse paint, that inadvertently made some incredible and influential music. And as I went along, Gaahl, the lead singer of Gorgoroth, and with his own project Trelldom (and others), tall Gaahl from a fjord village north of Bergen with the haunted eyes and penchant for burning churches and torturing people who cross his line, gay Gaahl, became central. I’d planned to only use music from him or in which he sung, but that didn’t work out during the residency, limited to what I had on my laptop. So, Sunn O))) which I’ve used so many times it’s a cliché, Gorgoroth from immediately before Gaahl joined (the incredible eponymous track from the Antichrist album), fucking Nazi Burzum – going to go into why I’m using Burzum and why it doesn’t seem like a bad idea right now: maybe it’s possible to appropriate his music, and maybe within the context of black metal and the history of the last millennia of northern Europe it’s apt, maybe also it elucidates without nuance the arrogant misogyny, nationalism, hetero-bro-ing, racism of black metal, and by extension all metal and most contemporary music genres.

And then there’s Hildegard von Bingen,  who you should really read about cos she was well awesome. I wanted to use some mediæval music, and obviously my proclivities and interests meant the composer should be a woman, and best if it was from 12th century-ish northern Europe. This doesn’t leave so many possibilities, but lucky my ongoing enjoyment of Mechthild von Magdeburg led to her, though they likely never met and were on opposites of Thüringen. I was trying to find some non-folk music that was instrumental, but seems like gaping yaws is the default, so her O Tu Suavissima Virga swings between too beautiful, too easy, too overbearing, too saccharine, quite a few other toos, but also might be the piece. After the showing we had plenty of talking about music, about Hildegard and soaring mediæval sacral music, and how the showing was a one-to-one relationship of music to dance. A proper sound design is one possibility, though I wonder if that might become too complicated and not crap enough. For the moment I’m not sure. Same goes for lighting, though I’d love to have Giacomo Gorini along. Either way whatever I do needs to be convincing even without sound or lights.

Inadvertently I’ve jumped from a general what I was doing and how it came about to a long blab about music. Which means I’ll have to save writing about what I was doing for next time.

On Training (Ballet Barre & Bars)

I’m gripping Louis XIV’s pole like I’m trying to strangle it. I’m not sure it’s Louis XIV’s. I’m not sure I even know what’s going on. It’s a length of wood. Hurhur. That we grip. Double hur. Not too tightly though. We let our fingers and hand glide back and forth along its length—Ok, So we’re just done with “phrasing,” right?

We use the barre to: keep our balance for, while we work our legs for, as we warm up through various exercises to prepare us for … something something. I don’t think we know why we’re using it, except out of habit. We use it because we’ve always used it, because ballet uses it, because it’s the ballet barre part of a ballet class, because it’s ballet. So we grip it and strangle it and caress it and our eyes glaze over whenever we get near the question of why we use it because that original answer is lost.

I think it’s in lieu, of a hand, of another’s hand, of another person. It’s in lieu of our partner, with whom we dance. But we no longer dance with a hand and arm and partner who moves and dances with us; we hold onto a fixed wooden pole. I’m only presuming this because I thought the question of when the barre was codified was a straightforward one, but what I found was a complete absence. Nothing in Louis XIV’s time. An early mention seems most of a century later with Gennaro Magri in the late-1700s, or Carlo Blasis or Giovanni-Léopold Adice in the early-1800s, where a chair was used for support, subsequently to be replaced by our barre.

Whatever, the barre serves another purpose now, for another kind of ballet.

Michel Serres in Genesis talks about ballet, the barre, the body thinking—one of the only philosophers to seriously and genuinely engage with dance. I may disagree with him and others now somewhat in that I do not think that ballet is unnatural, a torture. It is a poor habit to regard that which oneself is not capable of, which one does not understand, as monstrous. On the other hand, he writes that the dancer is the possible: “Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is to the subject known as I.” I would go further, and say there is no subject which thinks, outside of the body. Thinking is the domain of the body and dancing is as much thinking as thoughts which form themselves in words around a thing we think of as I.

What thoughts come when a body exercises while gripping a barre?

I had one teacher who encouraged us to hang onto the barre, use it because it’s there. This in lascivious opposition to the statements of the majority that the hand must lie delicately on the upper surface, thumb next to index finger, and not wrapped around, to slip forwards and backwards with each change of weight. I’m sure I’ve done both, and I’m not sure there’s fundamentally much of a difference. The illusion of choice, to use or not use the barre, is just that. We use it, have used it, before we even recognise we need it. At this speed, our body preempts our thinking, and the fine detail of caring for balance within a body is overthrown by the hand always getting there first. Using the barre depends on an artificiality that has nothing to do with a body standing on one or two feet.

Early last week I’d been watching Ballet Company Reality TV. Horribly awful and impossible to look away. I’d followed that with one of the most frustrating classes in a long time, and as usual when frustration and desperation meet, crazy, wild, revolutionary things happen: I took my hand off the barre. Faaark. Radical shit right there.

Seriously. I felt like a menace to society.

I’ve done it before too, recidivist that I am. When I first started dancing I experimented with it as a fast-track, quick-fix. It’s neither. And occasionally teachers mention in passing the benefits of not using the barre. Though not in a serious way, not in a, “Let’s fuck shit up right now! Take your hands off, youse!” More of a proposition no one was actually expected to commit to. Or if they do, then the barre itself, the class is changed, it’s a special “Barre without the barre” barre, and not simply doing the barre without holding onto it. If you get what I mean.

So I let go of the barre, what happened? Craaaazy shit! One of my life-long bad habits is holding superhero levels of tension in my shoulders. And I’ve had years of “Shoulders down, Frances!” blahdiblah only to work out it’s not the shoulders which are up, but my head which is down, retracted all turtle-like. Yanking on the barre only exacerbates this. The amount of tension you can put into your shoulders is only limited by how securely the barre is bolted down. You have two of the most opposite ends of your body, a hand and a foot holding on and wedge in for dear life while you wave the rest of your body around in the mad panic called ballet, and hell yes will your shoulder and neck do the job of battening the hatches.

And then you get into the centre, the bit of the class without the barre and first thing expected of your body is to do dead slow shit on one leg. Shoulder and neck are all, “We live for this shit!” But they don’t. Cos there’s nothing for them to hold on to. You’ve spent 45 minutes diligently training yourself out of your body, out of coordination, out of balance and all the rest, and now you’re gonna turn it all on? Nope. A whole body’s worth of uselessness, and simply “not doing” that isn’t going to magically transport you into the necessary physical state. And what kind of caricature is all roid-raged in their neck and shoulders? The scary, uptight type. It’s a two-way street. Just as much as stress builds up in this location, so does tension there set off all kinds of emotional and mental bollocks. It’s exhausting stuff.

Last night I watched the Royal Ballet taking company class, and the barre was mentioned, as a device that enables the dancers to concentrate on the accuracy of their feet and legwork. They’re all fucking amazing so probably all isn’t really applicable to dancing at that level, but it occurred to me that the barre exercises in themselves—and not the aid of the barre—prepare that physical accuracy, the balance, control, coordination, strength, mental and emotional states, so when you get to the centre you’ve already done the basic work and you’ve already been dancing for 45 minutes with yourself, so things like that first adagio make sense as a coherent, logical progression, and not a bizarre leap from one physiological state to another.

This is just my experience of not using the barre: I have to rely on myself, through the pliés, tendus, all those little steps, my body has to discover how it balances and stands, where to hold and where to release, how my weight shifts forward and back, side to side, where my ribs are, how my spine assembles and rights itself. Without the noise of tension in shoulders and neck that comes from the deceptive security of holding onto something, there’s far more to hear within. My body sways far more, probably excessively right now as it adapts to this new regime, seems to work harder, or have more demanded of it, yet remains calmer and recovers from exertion quicker. Ballet forms itself more easily from this state, things like turnout result from this, or are more understandable within the physical logic of the system, rather than being something we—or I—do. Movement that often thwarts me in the centre comes together, patchily for sure at the moment, but inevitably also. Speed is sometimes not possible; at other times almost too easy. Things, by which I mean chronic injuries I’m still getting over, nag less, I think because the barre aids in going too far in movement, and not far enough in maintaining balance, causing overloading or counterbalance compensation stress and tension. It becomes a constant, personal experience of balance and movement. Tough also, definitely the toughest thing I’m doing right now, harder than climbing and cyclocross. Sort of a meditation, maybe because without the barre ballet is easier for me to see as a mental discipline.

An addendum: All this is part of a question of why do I keep dancing, for which I think the only real answer is: because I love it. It’s a question for which that answer is insufficient, particularly while getting older. It’s tied up in that word, ‘keep.’ Keep dancing. Keep doing ballet, when most professional ballet dancers have retired by my age and most professional dancers don’t really commit to the regularity and discipline of class either. Keep putting myself into a physiological state far from the everyday. Why? For what? Again an insufficient answer: for the thing itself. For whatever other reason, I continue doing ballet because it’s not finished with me yet.

On Training (Ballet, Cyclocross, & Some Philosophy)

While working with Isabelle on Fugen, we talked a lot about training. The work itself was concerned with training, the space between training and performance, whether training could be performed (or presented as performance). During rehearsals, I would mention things from my own diverse loves—cyclocross, climbing, of course ballet, dancing, movement—she from hers—again ballet, as a thing from her history, but mostly from Aikido and Ki Concepts (translating that loosely here as things in the realm of Qi Gong, Tai Qi, Shiatsu). We would train together as a warmup (not so much in this rehearsal compared to previous), I would add things from her training to my own, now an incoherent mass of yoga, Pilates, Qi Gong, stretching and strengthening from various physiotherapists … things I do.

Particularly with getting older, injury prevention, rehabilitation, general corporeal maintenance, training—a thing I do most days—preoccupies me. It’s a subject I talk about with friends often. Dasniya and I have made it an endless discussion over the last years. I’ve been wondering, particularly the last few weeks, why it’s not something I’ve been writing about, or at least writing here about it, that thing I do, which I seem to have given my life to.

Earlier this year, after returning to Berlin from my east and south wanderings, I returned to ballet. The previous years had been a cycle of chronic injuries, torn meniscus, patellofemoral pain syndrome, ankle sprains and tendonitis, hip and lower back problems, to the point where I wondered if I’d even be walking in the next decade. This is not however a positive tale of surmounting injury, though it did start with simple questions around injury: How can I get through a ballet class? How can I keep doing class regularly? Is it realistic for me to imagine still dancing, still training for decades?

What comes from these questions I’m not sure I can call answers. Let’s just say the only ‘answer’ of comparable length to the question is: There’s no one, single way. And that’s a banal pile of duh right there. This is practical shit I’m dealing with here, not that kind of vapid platitude. Another couple of questions then: Why ballet? Also, why cyclocross and climbing? And what happened to doing yoga every day?

Well, yoga was causing injuries, floppy loose joints and all, so I’m kinda iffy on it lately. Cyclocross, because it means I get to scuff through forests in the morning (when I live in Wedding), which is one of the greatest pleasures in life, especially on a bike—and cyclocross is one of those weird, dorky sports (it’s the Belgian and Dutch national sport, y’know) that doesn’t quite make sense when you try and explain it to people: “Yeah, it’s like cross-country running, on a bike that looks like a road racing bike … in the mud … in winter …” Climbing, because it feels good, also because it wasn’t dance and was the one thing I’d do and never analyse.

As for ballet, which I’ve over-analysed since the start, partly it’s the love of the form—I mean here of the training form, the process through the hour and an half of a class which has become something of a meditation. From a purely physical aspect, it’s the one thing of all that I’ve done which keeps me together, yet doesn’t introduce its own liabilities (predictable ballet injuries aside). It’s physically and psychologically challenging every single time, its complexity possibly endless.

This is not the time to have a discussion about how ballet is seen in contemporary dance, beyond to say there’s a discipline in ballet which fits my thinking, and while there was no question I’d ever be a professional ballet dancer, as a professional dancer I’ve found it indispensable for keeping my shoddy array of limbs in order. The muscularity, sweat, intensity, toughness, all also appeal, as does finding calmness and a kind of detachment, like meditation, in this. Ballet has this delicate precariousness, what works this time might not the next. It’s a function of the complexity of organising a body while moving in this way, or in any discipline which demands an acute opposition to entropy. For me, it’s this that keeps me returning, that there’s more to be discovered, that it’s not a single path to unattainable perfection, in fact ultimately it’s not about perfection at all. It’s a process, one where the part of the body which thinks in words is mostly along for the ride.

And having written this I realise I’ve said almost nothing of consequence about training, dancing, getting older, living like this.


Eine choreografische LeseVerbindung

Late-2012, I helped Dasniya and Hartmut Fischer with the video for their performance, Die Liebe und ihr Gegenteil oder Mädchenmörder Brunke – Eine choreografische LeseVerbindung. Some of this was collecting their own video of rehearsals, some was joining them on trips around Berlin by ferry or Ring-Bahn, and some was cutting it all together. The performance happened first in Tübingen at Club Voltaire, then again in a different form in Berlin at the Club der polnischen Versager. Hartmut had the unpublished manuscripts of Thomas Brasch, a Jewish Berlin playwright, writer, and director, which are what appear tied up and suspended in the middle part of the video. The first part is Dasniya and Hartmut organising the papers, which arrived as an unsorted mass in an old suitcase. The third part, on the Spree ferry goes past where Brasch used to live in Mitte when it was East Berlin. Finally, we three went on a ride on the S-Bahn, arriving at Ostkreuz just as the sun was setting. It’s not an especially spectacular piece of video, but it does represent – or document – a period of my life in Berlin, as well as parts of the city of Berlin itself. Mostly it’s silent.

Post Formats & Misc Coding

After the recent days of cleaning up the link formatting dregs of Movable Type, I got slightly excited about fixing a couple of things that have been on my list, merging a bunch of tags, images in the wrong folder (another shift-from-MT thing), miscellaneous missing formatting … then I discovered the code which wraps an excerpt around a search term – so you can see the term in context – had borked the archive excerpts. So I rewrote a bunch of that. Finally I got to the not-cleaning-up-mess stuff: Post Formats.

I’d written a widget for Lewis Major that shows a list of available post formats, and had been meaning to put it on supernaut for ages. Turned out to be a matter of plonking the code in my already-existing custom widgets file and there it is, in the footer. Then I decided to do something about the Image Post Format, which turned into a coding frenzy. The result is on a single image format post, the inserted image gets yanked, its ID grabbed and used to spit out the full-size image below any content. Rather happy with how that worked out.

Finally, I decided to add a bunch of posts to the Gallery Post Format. Besides being assigned thus, nothing in the template code is different. I haven’t decided if I want to do anything interesting with how the images are displayed, let alone looked around for code that could give me ideas. Mainly it’s so all the posts where I’ve uploaded some kind of collection of images are grouped. Not all though; some posts with a lot of images, like workshop notices, or which induced some vague feeling of “not gallery” are not included.

The others then: Video posts have been around for a while (I need to do something about forcing non-16:9 into pillarbox format); occasionally there are Quotes, usually from books I’m reading; Asides also get some use (this was going to be an Aside before I realised I didn’t know when to stop); and last but used the most, my pseudo-Twitter Status posts, limited to 140 characters by some petty-facist script.