[The Night Shifters is] a fascinating ride. The voice feels a lot like Neil Gaiman. This is a huge compliment in my mind, and one not to be taken lightly.” - Melinda VanLone Reviews

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Michael Levy in the Daily Mail!

Michael Levy has been interviewed on The Daily Mail!  Follow the link below . . .

My arrangement for lyre of the oldest written melody so far discovered - featured in the Daily Mail!

In my daily struggle in my status as an independent musician in the soulless 21st century CE (when I am frustratingly in possession of musical skills which certainly would have made me a legendary living as the 'Bruno Mars of the Bronze Age' in the 21st century BCE!), after another morning spent doing yet another tedious, tiring and totally unrewarding part-time job to make ends meet, I was delighted to be contacted by a journalist from the Daily Mail Online, who wanted to feature one of the viral YouTube renditions of my arrangement for solo lyre of Hurrian Hymn Text H6 in a news story on the world's oldest song!

At approximately 3,400 years old, the Hurrian Hymn Text H6, is literally the oldest surviving substantial fragment of an actual written melody so far discovered, which can actually be interpreted and performed, some 3,400 years later:

Who knows, maybe one day, some ever elusive, enlightened record company out there might now take my musical mission seriously...may almighty Apollo's will be done!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I just lost Fifty Pounds! (For the Seventh Time . . .)


There are times in your life when you really have to be grateful for thrift stores – like when you have to replace an entire wardrobe. When you gain weight, you grudgingly buy the larger sizes, worrying that having them will give you permission to put on more weight. And when you've lost weight several times, you wonder if you should keep your larger sizes in storage, in case you need them again. 
But it's always fun to buy the skinny clothes. I know this, because I've done it seven times.

On previous occasions, everything from dysmorphia to vanity spurred me to lose weight. But my reasons were a lot more straight-forward this time. This time it was pain. My knees and hips ached so much, I couldn't sleep through the night. I took lots of pain killers, hoping the discomfort would pass. But it just got worse. 
I'm a hiker, so I remembered what had caused me to feel that kind of pain in the past. Walking with just a couple of bottles of water and a few fig newtons is a lot easier than carrying an overnight pack. I had gotten to the point with my weight where I was carrying around the equivalent of a 50-pound load. Of course my knees hurt. If I wanted to feel better, I was going to have to put that pack down.

Good intentions are great, but hopelessness has stalled me many times. I have to change my habits if I want to succeed, and that's annoying. Plus there's cake, which will probably be the death of me some day, even if I stay relatively skinny. But pain is an excellent motivator, even better than vanity. So I lost fifty pounds in about 11 months. 
Yeah – I've read the news reports. All those people on The Biggest Loser gained all their weight back. And I know how they feel, because every previous time I have gained back the weight I lost.

Yet I still hope that this time around I'll be able to figure out how to keep from putting those extra pounds back on. Am I kidding myself? Maybe. 
But failing so many times can teach you something. Even other people's failures can be instructive.

Take my buddy (who shall remain nameless so he'll still be my buddy). Recently his doctor told him that his blood-sugar levels had reached official diabetic status, and it was time to talk about insulin medication. He rebelled against the idea, saying that he believed he could get his blood-sugar levels back down to the proper levels by changing his diet.

“Give me a month!” he begged.

“I'll give you three months,” she said, and handed him some testing strips he could use to check his blood-sugar levels every day. 
My buddy is a lot younger than me, so this whole diet thing is new to him. If a doctor had told me that I was technically diabetic, I would have bought a cookbook from the American Diabetes Association and started following it. Instead, my buddy decided he would eat nothing but raw vegetables, all day every day, world without end. That first week, he was starved, crazed, and in a really bad mood.

Pretty quickly, he began to cheat, big time. One day he gobbled down three Indian tacos in one sitting (beans, mutton, and chilies on fried bread – those suckers are huge). A couple of days later it was three hotdogs, two bags of potato chips, and a big can of the sugary soda he swore he would never touch again.

They say that the diet you design for yourself is the best diet. Unfortunately, for most of us that turns out to be the Delusional Idiot Diet until we finally learn from our mistakes. I've tried exactly the same thing my buddy did, throwing myself into a strict eating program with all the fervor of a religious zealot. But Alas! Starvation can turn the best of us into sinners. So big-time failure resulted. Would he listen to me when I tried to tell him that? Nope. Plus now he thinks I'm a know-it-all jerk.

He's at least half right about that; I do know some things. I know you can think you've got a handle on your weight-loss plan, and then something comes along and throws you for a loop. That protein shake you rely on to keep away the stress-hunger won't be available anymore, or they'll double the price. Your situation at work or home will blow up and leave you struggling just to get through the day without tearing out your hair. You'll throw yourself into an exercise regime that you really like, then hurt yourself and end up flat on your back. All of these things have happened to me. 
But when you go through that stuff, and you watch other people struggling too, a bigger picture can emerge. You begin to see what works and what doesn't. And it gets harder to kid yourself about the consequences of doing nothing. Every day I see people laboring just to get out of their cars and up to the front door of grocery stores, because they're so heavy they can barely move. They're in pain – it's etched into their faces. But when they exit the store, it's with a cartload of all the stuff that's making them miserable.
That's what I have to look forward to if I give up.

So I count calories, because if I don't, I'll end up eating too much (I have the same problem with money). I measure my waist and step on a scale once a week, so I know my real status. I sketch out what I'm going to eat the day before, so I don't end up improvising (I'm not good at that). I exercise to keep toned and fit, but don't rely on it for weight loss, in case I end up injuring myself. Protein is an important part of my diet, and I try to keep the fat and sugar at sane levels. My calorie intake is lower than it used to be, but not so low that I can't sustain it. 
A cynic might ask if it's worth it to go through so much pain and suffering if I just end up right back where I started. But actually – the suffering is no big surprise. I've been through it all before – I don't have any illusions about it. So far I've managed to keep the weight off for a year. It feels good to be rid of the knee pain, to enjoy food again instead of feeling uncomfortably full, to eat without getting indigestion. And it really feels good to walk into those thrift stores and try on anything I want. In fact, it feels so good, that may be the thing that helps me keep the weight off this time. 
And if not? Well, you know what they say. Eighth time's a charm . . .

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

In an Ancient Roman Garden (But Without the Cactus . . . )


Michael Levy has a new single to buy! Follow the link to get your copy . . .

In an Ancient Roman Garden

I am pleased to announce the release of my new ancient Roman-themed single, "In an Ancient Roman Garden"!

In this project, it was my aim to attempt to recreate an evocation of the lost serenity of Classical antiquity...

This single features a completely spontaneous improvisations for chelys (tortoise shell form) lyre, recorded, live in my own garden at the height of Summer, with nothing but the soothing, timeless background sounds of flowing water and birdsong.

The single is available now, from all major digital music stores and streaming sites, including iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, CD Baby & Bandcamp:

As usual, as an independent artist, without the benefit of a record company to promote me, each and every new album review or blog post about my musical mission to reintroduce the beautiful lyres of antiquity back into the bland modern world, is to me, literally a 'libation to Apollo' - many thanks, everyone, for your continued support!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Roll Over, Mendelssohn!

Michael Levy's music is popping up in some wonderful places. Click the link to discover how one wedding party turned their ceremony into a truly beautiful musical memory.

Roll over, Mendelssohn!
 My music will soon be as popular as his iconic 'Wedding March' - I quite literally just stumbled across a video of a Roman-themed wedding somewhere in the USA, featuring my very own Roman-themed music...this could also quite possibly fire a canon into Pachelbel's Canon!

The video featuring track 1 from my album "Ode to Ancient Rome" being played as the bride and groom move towards the site of the suitably sacred ceremony:
This is certainly a step in the right direction to reintroducing the ancient spirit of Apollo into our soulless, sterile, modern 'musical' world! Let us keep the magical musical spirit of the ancient world burning into our dull 21st century, and way beyond...

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Perfect Gift For Fans of the Ancient Harp!

Michael Levy has a new album out, just in time for Christmas (or Hunukkah, if you download the Deluxe)! Click on the link below and get your gift-giving into gear . . .

Pre-order my new album in time for Christmas!

I am pleased to announce that from 17th December, it will be possible to pre-order from iTunes, my brand new meditative compilation album, "Ancient Lyre Music for Meditation", ahead of it's official release on iTunes and the rest of the major digital music stores (including Amazon, Google Play & Spotify etc) on 24th December!

Anyone who pre-orders the album will be able to download one of the tracks during the pre-order period and the entire album will automatically be added in their iTunes Library on the official release date...

This album features the most lyres I have ever managed to squeeze into one release! Besides showcasing the Luthieros replica Kithara of the Golden Age (with its wonderfully reconstructed vibrato mechanism) and the exotic, ancient timbre of their replica Barbitos (the bass-register tortoise shell lyre favoured by the ancient Greek poet, Sappho), the compilation also features their tenor register Chelys (tortoise shell form lyre), their treble tortoise shell lyre, as well as the wonderful harp like tone of my evocation of a Davidic lyre made by Marini Made Harps & the evocation of the Biblical 10-string Kinnor made by Mid East Ethnic Instruments - the first lyre I taught myself to play, back in 2006.

For anyone who can't wait until the 17th December, as a special Christmas present to all you lovely lyre music fans, both this new release and my entire lyre album repertoire can now be downloaded from my Bandcamp Store for just $38.70:

Seasons Greetings, everyone!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

More Crappy Self-Promotion (and a Change of Font)

Way back in August, when I certainly should have been on top of the situation, my writing again appeared in CLARKESWORLD magazine – and I failed to tell anyone about it. Despite that, my story (technically a novelette) “The Servant” has managed to get some recommendations for the Hugo award. Since “The Servant” started out as an idea for a novel, I've placed it on the front burner and am now ambitiously expanding and developing it into what will eventually be a 125,000-word book. Shazzam. (Shazzam is not the title of the book; it's just a mild, happy expletive with old comic book roots.)

In the same issue of CLARKESWORLD, I also have a nonfiction piece, “Hipsters of Zombieland.” You lovers of all things zombie, please visit and counter the one comment on the page that was penned by a zombie-hater. Unless you hate my article. In which case, never mind . . .

And yes, this is a new font: Chalkboard. Apparently quite a few people hate Comic Sans. (Just about everyone but me, it seems.) Granted, you may have a tough time telling the difference between the old font and the new one, but to me it seems less wiggly. In fact, this is the way I wish I could write with the raw paw (mechanically). Of course, that's how I felt about Comic Sans, too. So my judgement is still questionable.

Fall is coming to Phoenix, which means that the temperature has dropped into the 80s (Fahrenheit) instead of the 100s. Work here at Casa Devenport/Hogan proceeds apace. A lot of failure is mitigated by a few successes, so we are encouraged to continue. I hope you are too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Nero's Lyre" Gets a Ballet of Its Very Own . . .

If you can get to the London Place Theater for this performance, buy your tickets now! Michael Levy's music is featured in a new ballet. Click on the links below for more information, and to buy the music for your lyre collection . . .

"Nero's Lyre" To Feature in Riccardo Buscarini's New Ballet Production!

Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky? They can now retire - I bring forth into ballet, my awesome lyre! I am delighted to announce that my composition for solo lyre, "Nero's Lyre" is to be featured in a new ballet production "No Lander" by Riccardo Buscarini - to be performed live at the London Place Theatre on 28th October:

"Five sailors lost at sea are exposed to an unrelenting space, nothing to hang onto, no roots, no light and no land. Falling in and out of intricate duets as they grapple to hold on to something, their flesh emerges from the darkness in waving and sculptural torsions. Stark industrial lighting and live-captured sound collide and transform the stage into a deserted wreck. No Lander is a dance about longing and belonging"

More details at: 
A video of the section of the ballet which features my music can be viewed here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Good and Affordable Stuff -- Updated for 2015!

I posted the original version of this report a couple of years ago, but I thought I'd better update it.  A few things have changed, and some things remain the same.  One of the things that stayed the same was price range (for the most part).  All but one of the shops that I visited had the same, ultra-low prices, ranging from 25 cents per item to $15.  One shop had prices that doubled, but I suspect that shop will bring its prices back into line with the market.

Our favorite used book store in Santa Fe disappeared, but Ernie was able to find books at all of the thrift stores we visited this year, and actually came back with a bigger haul than in previous years.  He was quite happy with his spoils.

In the last quarter of the 20th Century, a gal used to be able to find wonderful little shops in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. These shops carried handmade jewelry, unique clothing and shoes, art and folk art, perfume and lotions, books and nick-nacks, pots, plates, wind chimes, fossils – you name it. The cost of the items started at $2 and went up to a few hundred dollars, but you could get quite a lot in the $15 to $45 range. My mother and sister and I looked forward to visiting these shops every time we visited New Mexico.

But many years have passed since those days, and recently a woman came into the Heard Museum Book Store during my regular shift and asked me if there was a shopping district like that in Phoenix. She told me that visiting those quirky little shops used to be one of the highlights of her trips in the Southwest. Lots of cities had them; locally we had the Mill Avenue shops in Tempe, and Tucson had its own shopping district near 4th Avenue. Flagstaff still has something resembling a cheap-and-fabulous shopping district, but not to the extent you would have found back in the 1970s and '80s. “What happened?” the traveling lady asked me. “Was it the economy?”

I suspect it was the opposite. Those shops were enormously popular. I think the landlords who owned that property decided they should raise the rents. They raised them so high, the owners of those little shops couldn't pay. In New Mexico, expensive jewelry, rug, furniture, clothing stores, and art galleries moved into those spaces. The top 5% of the population can afford to shop there now. The rest of us seem to be out of luck.

It's sad to see our paradise lost, but there are some alternatives for those who are willing to hunt a little harder. My search always starts with thrift stores. Prices there usually run from $1 to $15 for clothing, and quite reasonable for a gamut of other stuff. Places that advertise themselves as consignment stores or vintage clothing shops often charge more, but their items still cost considerably less than what you'll find in the expensive stores in the shopping districts. Second hand shops also run the gamut, price-wise, but are always worth investigating. And some of them carry new work by local artists and artisans.

Antique stores are also a mixed bag. We have a lot of them in Arizona, and almost all of them are low-priced. I walked into an antique shop in Taos on my recent trip to New Mexico, and I had to conclude that the place was too close to the pricey downtown district. The item I looked at (a gorgeous buddha) was $550. But you don't know until you look – that's part of the adventure. What sort of treasure you find depends on how much you're willing to dig, and whether or not you're bothered by dust. My tolerance for weirdness and unexpected adventure is high, and I've waded through worse things than dust to find the fabulous – on a recent journey in the Cave Creek foothills for garden rocks I fended off swarms of thirsty yellow jackets. Fortunately, bug swarms are rare on the thrift store circuit, and most shoppers can find a few places they like.

Here are some of the places my mom and I have discovered in New Mexico:

BOOMERANG THRIFT BOUTIQUE in Española carries a wonderful variety of hip clothing, including smaller and larger sizes. While we were there, they were running a sale, so we got our items for even less. The price range was $1.50 to $9.50. They carry an eclectic selection of other second-hand items as well. They're on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, near the southern end of town.

ENCHANTING BARGAINS THRIFT STORE in Española is also on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, a bit farther north than BOOMERANGS. Just drive until you see DANDY'S BURGERS and then pull into that little plaza. Their price range is $1 to $10. On this last trip I found 2 pairs of pants and 3 blouses I liked, and my mom found 5 fabulous blouses. Our tastes are quite different, yet we both found things we liked. (My husband bought 4 books.)  NOTE: THIS STORE CHANGED OWNERS RECENTLY, SO THE NAME MAY HAVE CHANGED.  BUT THE LOCATION AND PRICES ARE THE SAME.

THE WATER STORE in Española is under new management and has re-opened as of this publication.  They have a thrift section stuffed full of clothing priced from $1 to $4. If you're in the area, it's worth checking to see what's going on with them – they're on the northbound side of HWY 84-285 that leads through the town to Taos.

Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store in Española has a dressing room that's kind of uncomfortable.  It's in an overstuffed closet behind the register.  But that shop has one of the best selection of Ladies' pants/slacks I've ever seen.  I bought five pairs from them on my last trip, at $1 apiece.   

In Taos we always check out the COMMUNITY AGAINST VIOLENCE store on 1046 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur. From the road, you simply see a sign that says CAV. This year they only had half as much clothing as they did last year, but my mother and I both found a few things we liked, and they're worth checking out. On the other side of the street at 1024 is a consignment store called PIECES that has a trendier selection than most of the other thrift stores.  Their prices are very reasonable, from $5 to $45.  I found several fabulous blouses there this year (2015), and my mom found a gorgeous skirt.

TREASURES, located much farther North on Paseo Del Pueblo, is always worth a visit, though we have only bought a few items of clothing there. They also carry antiques and folk art from local artists, and they have a lovely little garden out front. Just up the road from them (going north) are a couple of affordable import stores, like the CAMINO REAL IMPORTS AND GIFT SHOP. They must have sold out of all their Jesuses by the time we got there (see photo), but I got a lovely urn-style garden pot and my husband Ernie bought a faux-alligator-skin wallet and a nifty t-shirt. (That was the only time I saw him get excited about an article of clothing on the whole trip.)

As you're headed out of town toward the High Road To Taos Scenic Highway, you'll see THUNDER LIZARD DIRECT CORAL IMPORTERS. They specialize in beads, so if you're a bead junky in recovery, don't go in there.

In Santa Fe, there are a lot of thrift stores on the southern end of town on Cerrillos Road, and you don't have to drive near the complicated tangle of the main plaza to visit them. These shops include GOODWILL, one of my favorite thrift store chains. I love the way they organize their stuff by color. GOODWILL discount days vary from place to place, so expect blouses to cost about $4.99 to $5.99 when they're not on sale.

The HOSPICE CENTER THIFT STORE AT 1303 Cerrillos Road offers clothing and antique/collectible items, and their clothing is always 2nd-hand fancy stuff. They were having a 50% off sale the day we visited, so we got several gorgeous items for a steal. Call them at 505-473-0972.

If you want a break from clothing shopping try A BIT OF EVERYTHING at 1836 Cerrillos Road. They don't have anything you can wear, but they're a 2nd hand/antique /collectible emporium that offers – you guessed it, a little bit of everything. You can call them at 505-983-0665.

So yes, the halcyon days of cheap and fabulous, quirky and hip shopping districts are gone. But it's possible to roll with the punches. And though people who have to shop for smaller and larger sizes sometimes don't have as much luck when shopping for second hand clothing, thrift shops usually offer more than just apparel. These are the places you might find pretty dishes, garden décor, books, etc. Second-hand book shops are always worth investigating, and they could use your patronage. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tortoise Shell Lyre, Revived!

I'm late with this announcement, but if you haven't heard this music from Michael Levy, it's still new to you. Follow the links below . . .

The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre - Revived!

I am delighted to announce the release of my most authentic sounding album to date! My new album, "The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre" was inspired as a tribute to the great philosophers of ancient Greece, performed on an inspirationally authentic replica tortoise shell lyre, hand-made in modern Greece by Luthieros Ancient & Modern Music Instrumentswith an actual tortoise shell for the resonator, an authentic replica 2500 year old carved bone plectrum, gut strings and actual goat horns for the arms of this magnificent musical instrument of the ancient Greek gods!The free PDF of detailed album notes can be downloaded here

Here are the main purchase links for the album:

Buy This Album on iTunes!
Buy This Album on Amazon!
Buy This Album on Google Play!
Buy This Album on CD Baby!Buy This Album on Bandcamp! 
Hear & Share This Album on Spotify!

Remember, each new album review on the major digital music stores is literally a 'libation to Apollo' in my efforts to honestly promote the reintroduction of the lyres & ancient musical modes of antiquity back into our bland, 'Bieber music' soaked, modern manufactured 'musical' world - thanks, everyone for your support in my ongoing musical mission!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Book Store Is Not a Library (This Is Not the Rant You May think It Is)

For an inordinate proportion of my adult life, I have worked as a book store clerk, and I have learned something that may upset book lovers: you sell more books when books are an impulse buy.

If this is upsetting, it's because most readers think of themselves as a cerebral bunch. They're particular about what they read, and they consider their choices carefully. I know this is true, because I've been watching browsers for decades. As they peruse bookstore shelves, they're both hunters and gatherers. But the hunting far exceeds the gathering, and this is for a good reason: book stores are designed to look like libraries. And if you want to sell more books, that's the worst way to do it.

But wait, you may cry, I like the process of digging in the stacks and finding the gems that are hidden there. I like to spend hours browsing. Why would you change a model that's so pleasing to your customers?

The simple answer is that while customers find some hidden gems, they don't find all of them. Not even close. So a lot of good books never sell, and they end up in a bargain bin or being returned to the publisher. The book stores, publishers, and authors lose those sales. Customers may like the fact that they got a good deal on that bargain book, but that model is not sustainable. If a book store is going to stay open, it needs to make more profit.

The store where I work is currently one of the most profitable I've ever seen, despite the fact that it's small. It has the added benefit of being attached to a museum, so we get more traffic, from a wider range of customers. We sell a variety non-book items, like dreamcatchers, small sandpaintings, cards, magnets, etc., and that also widens our appeal. But we have the same flaws that other bookstores do: shelves with most of our titles spined out, shelves that are below knee level, and shelves that are above head level. (The last two flaws also apply to spinners for cards and activity books.)

Spined books are harder to see and harder to sell. If I could re-design our store, I would build display-slot shelves that start at waist level and go up to face level (not over six feet). I would face titles out in these slots. (A lot of State and National Parks have shelves similar to these in their shops.)

Cookbooks and children's books especially benefit from being faced out. Children's illustration is some of the best art being produced today; a kid's book with a great cover stands a very good chance of being picked up by a customer. The same is true of cookbooks with delicious covers. If the dish on the cover makes you hungry, you're much more likely to buy that cookbook than you would be if you simply saw the title on the spine.

Books that are faced out require a lot of section maintenance, and they still need to be organized by title/author and subject. But this allows employees to stay familiar with the stock. And it gives clerks a chance to interact with customers who are looking for particular things. But what about the space above six feet and below waist level?

I think the lower shelves are the perfect place for overstock. If there is room to face things out down there, and you have enough stock, it will break up the monotony of rows of spined-out titles. And to make this stuff easier to see, those shelves should be slanted upward and graduated like steps, so people can see what's down there at a glance instead of having to bend knees that are often sore. Being able to see those books without kneeling or sitting also helps eliminate nincompoops who think it's okay to sit on the floor in front of a bookshelf and read. (Why these folks think no one is going to need to stand in that area to shop, or that no one can trip over them, is beyond me.)

The area above six feet can be used for displaying art, sample t-shirts, and that sort of thing – and in the case of the store where I work, it's a great place to put stuffed animals (a.k.a. plushies). Though we've had many folks inform us that we should have those toys on a level where children can grab them, that is a crummy idea. When kids can grab toys and stuffed animals, they beat them up while the adults who are supposed to be watching them are busy browsing those spined-out titles that are so hard to see. Nine times out of ten, those adults don't buy that item for the kids.

If you really want to sell stuffed animals and toys, place them on a level that the kids can't reach, but a level they can see. In other words, at Grandparent level. Parents practice saying No! All day long, but grandparents are the good cops. I've also had success selling stuffed animals that are displayed alongside children's books that are about that animal.

So diverging from the library model allows buyers for bookstores to think about what sorts of non-book items they can include in their mix. But it also encourages more communication between clerks and visitors who no longer feel constrained to be quiet (as we're all trained to be in libraries). The more you interact with your visitors, the more you get to learn about what appeals to them. You can charm people who are just passing through, and cultivate your regular customers.

Take a good, hard look at the idea of the bookshelf. When you peruse your shelf at home, do you always find the titles you're looking for? (I don't, even thought I try to keep my shelves organized.) Maybe it's time to break away from the library model for displaying books that you're trying to sell.

By the way, a book store is not a coffee shop, either – but that's a rant for another day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Michael Levy Beats Justin Bieber, With A Harp (Film At Eleven)

Click on the links below to see/hear Michael Levy's take on the most ancient music that can be interpreted!

The World's Oldest Melody in History has just made YouTube History!

I am pleased to announce that I finally have managed to create a video of ancient music on Youtube with view counts to finally rival those of Justin Bieber's 'musical' offerings on VEVO!!

My arrangement of the 3400 year old Hurrian Hymn Text H6 from ancient Ugarit, the oldest fragment of a written melody so far found which can be interpreted, with a slide show which attempted to capture the rest of the world at about 1400 BC, to give the melody some historical perspective (e.g. a melody which was already over a century old, before the birth of Tutankhamun!)...HAS JUST REACHED OVER HALF A MILLION VIEWS! Here it is:

Recorded on a rather appropriately ancient, £5 plasticy PC mic from Argus, Salford Precinct and put together in my former grotty spare room on my first ever 'bargain basement' lyre (easier to play a piece of bedroom furniture!), with my clunky old desktop 'computer', I somehow managed to create this YoutTube slideshow video of the 3400 Hurrian Hymn from Ugarit - which now has over 440,000 more views, than the full orchestral arrangement of the same melody by the Syrian concert pianist and composer Malek Jandali: only this, but in the same week, another of my YoutTube video slide shows, featuring my earlier ancient Greek-themed albums, has also just beat the half a million views milestone:

At long last, I seem to becoming the 'Justin Bieber of the Early Music Scene'!

Thanks for all your support, everyone...and keep enjoying the music!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Time of Odd Innocence

The other day I watched a movie that had a huge impact on me when I saw it on TV: Beach Party. It was released to theaters in 1963, but didn't make it to my TV set until about 1968. I was nine years old, and it rocked my world.

You could say the same thing about Godzilla, The King and I, Jason and the Argonauts, The Pink Panther, and dozens of other movies my impressionable young brain soaked up from the TV, but unlike the other movies, Beach Party and its sequels and impersonators were about something I thought was actually going to happen one day: I would become a teenager, go to the beach, and get a boyfriend who surfed and played the guitar.

After all, isn't that what happened with Gidget and Moondoggie? To me, this seemed like the True and Only American mating ritual. Never mind the fact that I knew nothing about actual sex. And watching Beach Party did not educate me in that regard. Seeing the movie almost fifty years later, I was struck by the artful balance between what the characters said and what they did not say. The adult characters use the word sex several times, but the young characters, the people I thought were teenagers (on the second viewing, they struck me as college-age), never do.

But here's what really blows my mind. They never mention the word marriage, either. Prior to that time, you had to imply that couples were heading in that general direction if you were going to make it past the ratings board, but by the time Beach Party came out, everyone had grown up at least a little.

There are two couples at the center of the movie, and the younger one, whose age group was undoubtedly the target audience for the movie, is having trust issues. He wants to be alone with her; she's afraid to be alone with him. As an adult, I can see that he was hoping their relationship could move to the next level of intimacy, the one that would require at least one of them to use birth control. But she's afraid of that level, because she's not sure he's in it for the long haul. If she ends up “in trouble,” she may be on her own.

Even as an uneducated kid, I understood her fear of abandonment. And since the movie was a musical, it also seemed natural that the characters should burst into song from time to time. (I'm convinced this is the reason we insist on blasting music in cars, stores, and malls – we think real life is supposed to have a sound track.) The surfer guys all looked like the handsome guys from the Mystery Date game (I rigged the door on the one I owned so it would always open to show my favorite guy), and a general silliness held the plot together, so even when I didn't know what was being implied in the sex education department, I could go with the flow on the surface emotions. I was thrilled with the ride.

In 1968, the real world was coming to pieces and trying to remake itself into something new. Viet Nam divided the younger and older generations, people were beginning to question whether war caused more problems than it solved, whether a 9 to 5 job was the only worthy goal in life, whether drugs should be illegal. And the family itself was a reason for conflict – was it really a one-size-fits-all proposition? Was Western religion the only true philosophy, or did Eastern religions have something to teach us? In another year, the pinnacle of hippie culture would be realized at Woodstock, the nadir in the Manson killings. Younger people felt an irrational hope; older people thought the world was coming to an end.

More relevant to the two couples in Beach Party, the first birth control pills were approved by the FDA in the late 60s. The idea of a relationship outside marriage was about to get some moral support (though many still called it immoral).

But the whole love theme was only half the story in Beach Party, because another phenomenon had already started to re-shape pop culture: the Tribe of Surfing. The writers of Beach Party were right when they sicked a couple of anthropologists on the main characters, and Paul McCartney was right to worry that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was his biggest competition. Once Dave Sweet and Hobie Alter designed light-weight surfboards that more people could use, anyone who had access to a beach at least gave it a try. The Gidget movies turned surfing into pop culture, Dick Dale perfected surf music that summed up the surfing life and the lingo, and Hawaii suddenly seemed like a happenin' place to a new generation.

And me? I lived in Arizona. I bought into the beach myth with all my heart, and it was with great dismay that my balloon was burst many years later, when I made my first trip to an actual beach in California, thinking it would be Pavones. But every square foot was taken up by a human being, and almost none of them looked like those fabulous people in the movies. They were old and fat, or screaming toddlers, or people who gave me the creeps. The sand was hot, the water was cold and full of icky stuff, and I got a sunburn just by walking from the parking lot. (All of you people who didn't belong on my beach, I still hate your guts 30 years later – especially now that I look like you).

But I did glean one useful thing from Beach Party. At the end of the movie, the surfers protect the Anthropologists from evil bikers by forming a moving ring around them and singing their own version of Ring Around the Rosey (“Punch You in the Nosey”). I tried that trick on the playground after I saw the movie. I can tell you with authority – it's a great trick. But it only works once.

Then the bad guys wise up.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Volcano Music

Volcano music! What could be more appropriate for this science/SF/music/weirdness blog? Michael Levy's music will be featured in another BBC production, this time enhancing the glory of volcanoes. And there will be Naked scientists! Sort of. Click on the links to check it out. And Happy Birthday, Michael!

Volcanoes...and Ancient Roman Lyre Music!

The perfect birthday pressie - I am getting airplay on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire at 6 pm on my birthday, Sunday 3rd May!

The show, "Naked Scientists" is about volcanoes and will features clips of my Roman-themed compositions "The Temple of Mars" from my album"Echoes of Ancient Rome""Gloria Belli (Glory of Battle)" and "Tristitia (Sorrow)", from my album "The Ancient Roman Lyre", played during a reading of Pliny the Elder's first-hand account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.The show will also be out then on BBC iPlayer.

For anyone who simply can't wait and feels the need to be up at the crack of dawn, the show will also be on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday 2nd May at 5 am!

The show will also be going global on the Naked Scientists podcast - at last, my lyre music will soon be erupting all over the known world!