Friday, January 25, 2008

Driving in hot and cold

One of the areas of the world that hasn’t ever really appealed to me for some reason is Scandinavia. Maybe I always have the impression of cold and that puts me off. Maybe I’m just not interested in wending my way up there in order to stay at one of the Sweden Hotels or the Norway Hotels.
I remember reading one of Bill Bryson’s books in which he was particularly rude about the
bus trip he made at the beginning at it rather put me off reading the rest. However it was about a trip he made to somewhere in Scandinavia, and certainly cold was the impression you were left with.
On the other hand, my most recent experience of anything Scandinavian wasn’t to do with Stockholm Hotels, or Oslo Hotels,
or any hotels at all, in fact. We were in Spain, (not the coldest place on earth), travelling from Barcelona to Valencia. Normally we would have travelled all the way by train, but there were major works going on at the railway station and we had to be transported the first part of the journey by bus.
Now it was autumn in Spain, and for the Spanish it probably felt chilly. We felt warm, as we did through our entire time in Spain. Anyway, the heating was on in the bus. On full bore. We’d
hardly got out of Barcelona before we began to feel as though we were going to melt, but the Spaniards on board were no doubt quite comfortable.
Across the aisle from us were two women from Denmark. Like us, being used to cooler climes, they felt the heat as oppressive. The problem was, we had no idea how far we would be going in the bus. Our first understanding was that it was merely taking us to another station within Barcelona, but the bus kept on and on and left the outskirts of Barcelona well behind.
Then one of the other passengers claimed that we were travelling all the way to Valencia in the bus. This would have meant that the bus would arrive in that lovely city with at least four melted passengers, if not more. (And one who would be desperate to go to the loo!)
However, we breathed a huge sigh of relief when the bus finally pulled into a station in another city, and dropped us off into the wonderfully cooling autumn air. The Spaniards’ armpits were
no doubt thoroughly dry. Ours were dripping!
I've never driven in Scandinavia, unlike Bryson, though I was recently sent an email which had a longish description of the sort of things you need to watch out for when driving there. They're mostly pretty similar to driving anywhere else in Europe, except that dipped headlights are required at all times, and there are heavy fines for anyone driving under the influence of euphoriants - a word I can't say I'm familiar with.
Another interesting thing is that you can get something called an Autopass. There are some 45 road tolls in Norway, and the autopass allows you to drive in a special lane straight through the tolls. You've paid in advance, in other words. (You'd want to make sure you did enough driving there to get your full value out of the pass!)
The only other thing to watch in these four countries is the state of the roads. The winter weather closes some of them completely. Not nice to get stuck in the mountains in the middle of winter, I'd say. It would be the equivalent of being stuck on a steaming hot bus in Spain!

The photo in the upper right corner is of the Ă–resund Bridge. It was taken by Jonas B. The other photo is by Geek2Nurse, and shows the Great Belt Bridge. Both are massive sea bridges, as you may be able to tell.

Gerald Finzi

I don’t know much of Gerald Finzi’s music; my first contact with it, as far as I recall, was at a Music School back in the early 60s when someone from Christchurch sang a group of songs with string accompaniment. But his music has a particular appeal for singers, and I’ve accompanied some who’ve sang his songs.
I was interested in the following passage from Diana McVeagh’s biography. I tend to write songs by starting at the first line and finding the music as it comes. And it’s intriguing to hear of both Finzi and Vaughan Williams struggling at the piano. You have this picture in your head of great composers being very adept at the piano, and probably several other instruments as well.

"Finzi probably never set out to compose a song; but wen he read a poem, one line – often the first – would call up music unbidden. John Russell, visiting, found Finzi reading a Vaughan poem. ‘He looked up, smiled, and by way of humorous greeting, sang, and at once wrote down, ‘O rose of Sharon! O lily of the valley! How are thou now’ – the last lines but the prime musical motif of ‘Welcome Sweet and Sacred Feast.
He liked then to have the poem typed, and crossed out each line as he set it. once the starting line of a melody had come, he composed more or less continuously at the piano, as if the sound itself was a generating force. He was not a good pianist – not even a respectable one, according to John Sumsion, who occasionally helped him to shape the piano parts - ‘ you’ll get the same result if you do it this way, and it’s twice as easy.’ Hearing him play, Cedric Thorpe Davie was reminded ‘of RVW, struggling and fumbling.’ Some of Finzi’s closest friends never heard him sing; some who did described his voice as a bari-tenor.’ Others called it a growl! Yet his songs are a singer’s delight, they are so vocal. They are never dedicated to performers, and he never composed ‘on’ a known voice. He had no Rubini, Bernac, Pears. I his early days he gave scarcely any directions – dynamics or phrasing – saying ‘any musical person would know how it should go.’ When he began conducting, he realised how much performers’ time that wasted. "

Page 175 2005 edition of Gerald Finzi; his life and music, by Diana McVeagh.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Opera and Golf once more

Mizunogolf, it appears, is the user name of a member at Yahoo answers. This is the second time I’ve had occasion to visit this site recently, and on both occasions it’s turned out to be a rather odd experience. Mizuno is actually the trade name of a type of golf club, and I suppose it’s legit to name yourself in some connection with Mizuno golf, as though this was somehow a link from your life to those inanimate objects that are used to hit other inanimate objects. What does it say about Mizunogolf? Curious.
A while ago I wrote a couple of posts about opera and golf. To my surprise I found that there was actually an American opera called Il Giocatore (don’t ask why it has an Italian name), though it can hardly be said to be well-known, and that in another equally unwellknown opera Apollo 14, the game of golf is played on the moon. Yes, well. (I wrote the posts back in August, if you want to check them out. Just put ‘golf’ in the search engine at the top.)
It’s always fun to check out odd combinations in the Google search engine. After writing the above, I thought I’d try and see if any other golf/opera combinations turned up. One blogger said, ‘20 years from now I’ll probably be writing rock operas about golf or something…’, and in a review of the Opera San Jose’s production of Don Pasquale, the writer says: ‘There's a reason why opera buffs are just as fanatic about their sport as golfers are about theirs: like golf, opera is simply not perfectible. It's a zero-sum game of different disciplines--vocal, orchestral, theatrical, visual--all fighting each other for scraps.’
He then goes on to tell us that the producer made the tenor run up a flight of steps just before his top note, and the soprano had to perform a puppet play while singing one of those notorious full of flight Donizetti arias. Hmm.

Drumming with Gareth Farr

In yet another attempt to improve my familiarity with New Zealand music, I’m listening to what is now a relatively old CD of Gareth Farr’s music.
Phew! There's an awful lot of noisy drumming. It might be fun for the percussion department, but I bet the strings and wind nearby find it all a bit too much for their ears.
Not that I dislike the music. Farr shares with John Psathas (another NZ composer whose music I like) the ability to write music with huge energy. It’s probably exhausting to play, but it certainly is invigorating, like taking a swim in the Southern ocean (especially around St Clair or St Kilda on a less than warm day). Perhaps this is an aspect of New Zealand music that imprints it with the flavour of the country. Compare it to the relatively lifeless stuff that our so-called most famous composer, Douglas Lilburn, produced (before he went off in the haywire world of electronic music). Some of his stuff gets moving, but for the most part it’s pretty tame. Okay, I don’t like Douglas Lilburn’s music. That’s it. I ain’t gonna apologize no more!
I remember being in the Milford Art Gallery here in Dunedin a long time ago, and expressing a similar opinion about the work of an artist which was on display. With considerable sense, the owner Stephen said, You don’t have to like everything, just because it’s there. In fact, he was even rude about that other icon of NZ art: Colin McCahon. I won’t say what he said, but it rather confirmed some of my feelings about that bloke too.

The photo, in case there's any confusion, is of John Psathas, courtesy of the Arts Foundation site.

Hone Tuwhare and Music

I note in the ODT (the Otago Daily Times, for them wot don’t know) that the recently deceased NZ poet, Hone Tuwhare, is to be honoured in a musical composition.
Anthony Ritchie is going to work with young Dunedin singer, Matt Landreth, to create a new piece, with words by Tuwhare. Three of Tuwhare’s poems will be set to music, including the ubiquitous Rain, which is apparently his most well-known and anthologised piece. (You can find a copy of it here.)
Another young Dunedin singer, Michael Grey, is going to work with Auckland composer Jeff Linn. That piece will revolve around a poem by Li Yu, the last emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty. (It has nothing to do with a Southern Man, in case you’re wondering.)
I’ve accompanied Michael in the past, and he was also a strong and very musical member of the now defunct group, Opera Alive.
Anyway, there are six of these combo jobs going on around the country: six composers working with six emerging artists.
I was interested in this piece of news, because I wrote a song using Hone Tuwhare’s words some time ago, and only had it performed last year for the first time. (By another young and emerging artist, who also happens to be very keen on sport; it’s a moot point which ‘art’ will beat the other out.)
To have the song performed publicly meant getting permission from Tuwhare himself. At that time, for some reason, he wasn’t living in Kaka Point; he was up on Waiheke Island, and I had to contact him via an intermediary. He was pleased to have his poem used, apparently, and after a negotiation about a very small fee for the use of his words, the performance went ahead.
The poem in question was Sun O (2). I’m not quite sure what the (2) signifies. I don’t know of a poem by him called Sun O (1), but maybe there is one. Anyway, you can listen to a version of the song online at the site.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Coffee Cantata

I’m rather amazed to hear that New Zealand is regarded as one of the better places in the world to get decent coffee. (North and South magazine says so in its latest edition.) Certainly the coffee scene has increased out of all proportion in the last decade, and even here in Dunedin, where once no one would have thought of sitting outside to drink anything, let alone coffee, there are tables and chairs galore.
I’m not much into coffee – I mean coffee in the sense of it being a ‘real’ drink – so coffee makers aren’t much good to me either. Good old instant coffee does me every time, although I have developed a bit more of a taste for cappuccino of late, only because a friend of mine has introduced me to a restaurant where they provide excellent cappuccini (yes, I think that should be the plural!)
Any other kind of coffee you can keep, especially that stuff that’s so black it doesn’t need a cup to hold it. And I don’t drink coffee much after afternoon tea time (or coffee time, if you prefer) these days, otherwise when midnight comes my mind will still be rattling around.
There, you needed to know all that, didn’t you?

Out goes music

I rarely see Islamic texts on the Net, because I don’t go looking for them, but it happened that while looking for something completely unrelated, namely Gitzo tripods, I came across a site which had the complete text of the Islamic prohibitions against music. I hadn’t ever heard of any such prohibitions before, and frankly, was quite amazed.
A few things are allowed: tapping on a particular drum is one. Some singing and chanting is allowed (if I’ve read it right), but beyond that music is pretty much out. Women can dance, but men never should. Women can clap (rhythmically, I presume) but not men. It’s not a sin to overhear music, but sitting listening to it is.
All the prohibitions are argued in the usual Islamic way from texts that quite frankly could be interpreted in a number of ways (and obviously have been). Some commentators claim that certain texts affirm the use of music and dancing; other commentators are sure that they prohibit them.
There are times when I’m glad that my book is the Bible; certainly it has its moments of obscurity, but in general it’s in plain language, certainly when it comes to allowing or prohibiting things.
This of course has nothing to do with Gitzo tripods, which don’t in any way relate to music, or the arts generally. I don’t suppose there’s any prohibition against the use of tripods, though in the light of what I’ve been reading it wouldn’t surprise me if there was!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Happy Families

People go so overboard on weddings. It’s perfectly possible to get married for next to nothing. At the end of the day you’ll have had just as much fun – and a lot less stress. You won’t be worrying about the catering, the wedding flowers, the bridesmaid’s dress, the page boy, the flower girl, the music and everything else that some people get so uptight about.
My wife and I had a great wedding day. We had about thirty guests, maybe more. We both dressed up for the occasion: me in a purple suit with purple beribbed shirt and bow-tie (I still have the shirt); my wife in a long floral cotton dress she mostly made herself.
We had a cake, courtesy of one of my brothers-in-law, we had enough drink, and plenty of food, and it cost us very little. Some of our guests played the card game Happy Families (highly appropriate!) on the floor of our living room after the dinner was over and were still playing when we went to bed. Next day we flew to Rome (from London) for our honeymoon. The honeymoon cost a little more than twice as much as the wedding itself, but it was an all-paid affair, and we stayed in a delightful and very friendly hotel, and ate at the restaurant next door, because the hotel’s restaurant was being renovated. From memory we spent £50 on food and £50 on drink, and £120 on the honeymoon. Those figures were worth more thirty plus years ago, but they still weren’t extravagant.
So if someone is making a fuss about how much a wedding is going to cost, just remind them that it’s only the first day of many, and spending a life’s savings on it just isn’t worth it.

This picture of the wedding flowers was provided by Jason DeRusha (

La Monte Young

There's always so much to learn.
I'd never heard of La Monte Young until I wrote the last post, so of course I had to do a little search on him.
For a start, he's the composer of The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as they were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gong, Illuminated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot and the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer.
He's a minimalist, like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, though appears to have little in common with them.
He's the founder of The Theatre of Eternal Music, where musicians are supposed to be playing all day and night long. It hasn't always functioned, as funding is a bit of an issue. He's also into Eastern philosophy, which may account in part for the long-winded title quoted above.
As always with people of strange ideas, he has followers. At this point I don't envisage myself being one of them.

The water problem

A reader contacted me in regard to the post I did about using the water that came out of the tap cold when you were running it hot. She said that obvious answer was a bucket. Hmmm. Seemingly she knows many people who have one handy, and who then use the water for useful purposes, such as watering the garden, or filling up the hot water jug, and so on. Gray water is what it's called, a term I have heard before, and apparently some people even collect their bath water and re-use that. I'm not sure how I'd do that at my place, but it would interesting to try!

Susan Bradshaw

Susan Bradshaw isn't a musician with whom I've ever been familiar, so when I checked her name on the Net, I found that she had only died a couple of years ago, and like Richard Rodney Bennett, had been a student of Boulez. Like Bennett, she was no worshipper at the altar of modern music (such as that of Boulez), and she apparently had a good idea of what was true and what was false in the modern music scene. So it's with some delight that I quote this paragraph from her obituary:

She already possessed a critical attitude and a fine ability to distinguish the genuine from the false. An interminably repetitive piece by LaMonte Young was being hammered out at an avant-garde concert, when Susan's slender figure suddenly left the audience, climbed on the stage and, to general approval, dragged the performer off his piano stool.

From the Guardian obituary by Hugh Wood.

A definition of the series

Pierre Boulez attempting to define modern composition. I leave it to you to decide whether he’s achieved his end. (There’s a lot more, by the way, but this extract should suffice.)

The world of music today is a relative world, that is to say, one where structural relationships are not defined once and for all according to absolute criteria, but are organised instead according to varying schemata.
This world has arisen from the expansion of the idea of the series; that is why I should first like to establish a definition of the series from the strictest point of view, and then to infer from it an ensemble, a network of probabilities.
What is the series? The series is – in very general terms – the germ of a developing hierarchy based on certain psycho-physiological acoustical properties, and endowed with a greater or lesser selectivity, with a view to organising a FINITE ensemble of creative possibilities connected by predominant affinities, in relation to a given character; this ensemble of possibilities is deduced from an initial series by a FUNCTIONAL generative process (not simply the consecutive exposition of a certain number of objects, permutated according to restrictive numerical data).

Is it surprising, when you read this sort of thing (a) that Boulez’ own compositions are seldom heard? or (b) that the old tonal systems still continue their long-held sway?

From Boulez on Music Today, at the beginning of the third, and by far the longest of the three chapters, all of which continue on in this vein. Translated (I imagine with some difficulty) by Susan Bradshaw and Richard Rodney Bennett.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Intriguing question

There are days when you look at the Net and you have to go….oh, dear! I was looking at items related to silver bullion – now’s the time to buy it, I’m told (!) – and got sidetracked by some question related to men wearing jewellery. It was on a question and answer site run by Yahoo called Yahoo answers! Sorry, Yahoo! answers. Getting the exclamation point in the right place is essential.
Anyway, the question was this (and I quote it verbatim): Could men wearing ear rings, necklaces, skirt to go to anywhere?
I’m not entirely sure what the point behind the question is: does someone want to go out in this sort of gear but feels inhibited somehow? Maybe.
Anyway, the person who responded with an answer seemed to think this had something to do with it. Jerry G (who has a drawn picture of a woman beside his/her name) says:
The problem is that Lots of people think that when a man dresses that way , that he is gay but thats wrong. Most men who wear womens attire, are straight. I myself dress female every chance i get. The cloths are comfortable and there is lots more varity. So bit the bullet and just do it. Its loads of fun too.
I’m intrigued to know that most men who wear women’s attire are straight. It’s possibly true: there does seem to be a bit of a thing about straight men letting themselves go in women’s clothing in party situations, or even, as I remember from when I was a kid, in concert situations. The local University has an annual ballet done by men in tutus, but way back in the fifties there was a concert party left over from the War. All the women in it were played by men, and some of them were so good you’d never have known they were blokes.
In response to Jerry G’s answer, the original questioner added:
Sometime I like to be Gay, because could be able to wear Tee shirts and pants, sometime wear skirt, could show off the breasts, so good and nice of that.
I leave it at that. I have no idea what he wants to do this for. Who’s he trying to attract? LOL

Buying and Selling

I heard the other day that an old friend of my daughter was not only selling stuff successfully and profitably on Trade Me, but was also the owner of three houses. I know if you get into rental property investment with your eyes wide open and a serious intention of purpose, you’ll do well. It’s overall safer than stocks, definitely more profitable than gambling on the horses, and the occasional awkward tenant apart, it’s usually not too much of a hassle.
We didn’t do very well with it, because we jumped in and bought a house with our eyes mostly shut; saw the problems but ignored them in our enthusiasm to give the thing a go. In the end, while we never had it empty of tenants - which was something of a miracle – we had to replace the roof, redecorate it at least twice, and never managed to deal with some of the problems the previous owner had left us. Things like wonky cupboard doors, and floors that were uneven, and terribly badly put-together shelving and so on. And then the lounge was too small, and ran into the kitchen -–which was also small.
In the end we got rid of it at a loss. Our worst ever investment. We did make some money on another house we bought for rental: my son-in-law who was living there with his daughter was asked one day if he’d be interested in selling it. He was quite happy to move out, and so was my daughter, because there were 40 steps down to the house from the road (!)
We’d bought the place cheaply – probably because of the steps. That’s the way to buy a rental property. Buy something that’s cheap, but is still in good condition. The less you have to spend on it, the better. The person who was interested in buying the property was willing to pay twice what we paid for it! That’s the way to go!
Admittedly the property market was on the move, and we managed for once to catch the wave. As it is at present it might not be so healthy.
Furthermore, the government is thinking seriously about reducing all the perks landlords can get on owning property. Not so good.

Photo courtesy of elisfanclub on

Cool, Clear Water

Years ago it was the practice of our local City Council to send plumbers out free if anyone rang up to say their tap was leaking. Eventually some bean-counter decided this wasn’t profitable enough, even though it probably saved the Council hundreds of dollars in terms of water that wasn’t lost.
But in fact I’ve just been thinking today about an area in the water department, as it were, where water is wasted hugely, and not through anything dripping either.
Whenever we turn on a tap to get it to run hot, we waste several litres of water. I don’t know about other houses, but the water to our bathroom downstairs takes at last 30 seconds to come hot, and running the water upstairs takes even longer because it has to go a good deal farther. Of course some people have these instant heaters nowadays, but I would think plenty of other people don’t.
Wouldn’t it be good if somehow that water that we waste while we’re waiting for it to run hot could be set aside somehow? If we could somehow siphon it off and use it later to cool down the bath, or to brush our teeth in, or some other more environmentally profitable approach.
I’ll have to put my inventing cap on (such as it is) and see if I can come up with something.

Photo courtesy of Dan4th on

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The affiliate thing

Some time back another blogger offered to give me assistance in learning how to improve the number of visitors to my blog and, among other things, mentioned affiliates.

I’ve tried the affiliate thing before, with books, and never found it very satisfactory. Expecting people to click on a title because they happen to see it in a post, and then to go and buy it, isn’t something that works on this kind of blog. If this was a blog where books where the feature, and I focused on doing reviews, perhaps, of books, then it might go better.

Of course you still have to have the visitors.

I’ve just come across a site that connects you up with as a different kind of affiliate: casinos online. Quite apart from the fact that my blog doesn’t really focus on casinos, as I can’t justify them as being part of the art scene (!), casino affiliate programs, however good they may be in terms of profit, aren’t something that I want to get involved in.

I don’t have much time for the casino world; it preys on human beings’ worst instincts, and invariably lets them down. To play in a casino you have to be like James Bond in the latest movie: you get your cash from someone else and you gamble on it how you like. That he wins in the movie is probably sheer chance. There was nothing to stop him (apart from the fact that he’s the hero) going down big time. It was just as possible for the villain to come out on top!

So I don’t think I’ll be joining up as an affiliate of online casinos, however tempting the prospect may be. For instance, on their site they show how the word casino, which I’ve used so far seven times in this post, could bring me in the sum of $628.00. Roulette could bring me in $1095. Sounds great, but is that what people read this blog for? I think not.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Her day?

I came across a post on another blog recently which was aimed at wedding photographers (particularly amateur ones) and made a big deal about the way in which the wedding day is HER day – that is, the bride’s – and everything should be done to make it immortalised by keeping a record of every detail, from wedding flowers to cake, from what the bridesmaids wore to every miniscule button and bow on the bride’s dress. In fact, if nothing else got photographed, make sure it was the dress!
And don’t forget the church (interior and out), and the ushers’ shoes and the bows on the ends of the pews, and the spot on the clergyman’s nose, and the organist’s fingernails, and…
Well, you name it. But do you notice who’s missing out of this line up? Yup, the groom. Somehow or other we’ve got into the mentality that the wedding day is for the bride and the bride alone. It’s something our ancestors would have laughed uproariously at. In fact, it’s likely that they would have focused more attention on the groom, who, after all, was taking on a woman as his bride.
Perhaps Bridezilla and the like are to blame. Or maybe they merely reflect the absurdity of the current approach. Whatever the case, it’s time we got back to seeing the bride and groom as equally important on this day – after all, both of them are committing themselves to each other – and to forget this modern nonsense about ‘her’ day.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Egnaczyk

Beds and beds

One of the joys of being away on holiday for nearly six months was the variety of mattresses and beds we encountered. In general we couldn’t complain, although there were one or two beds that squeaked every time you moved and they weren’t fun to be on.
It was a kind of three bears situation: some of the beds were too hard, some were too soft, and some were just right.
Somewhere there was a bed that was exceedingly hard, but it was nothing to a bed we once struck at a hostel in Roxburgh. I flopped down onto it, as one does (!) and nearly broke my back. It was like falling on concrete. I don’t know whether it was the mattress or the bed itself that was the problem, but I have never come across a bed that was so hard to lie on in my life. It had absolutely no ‘give’, so that you couldn’t get comfortable however you tried. I might as well have slept straight on the floor, because I wouldn’t have noticed any difference.
It was a delight to return to our own bed, finally, and be able to relax. Somehow or other, when we bought this bed, we managed to pick one that suited us down to the ground.
We had to sleep for a few nights after Christmas in our old bed, as my daughter and her family were staying here, and needed to be close to their two young children during the night. How we managed to sleep comfortably in that old bed for so many years is now a mystery to me. Yet it suited us during most of the time our kids were growing up. Perhaps we’ve got spoiled with the new bed!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


I’ve written a post elsewhere about Google’s range of utilities, but there’s one perhaps I should be making more use of, and that’s the kind of online postit feature, where you can add things as you remember them, or as you find them.
Why I mention this is because I’ve just again come across a piece called Nevertheless, which has to be one of the oddest titles around (though is typical of more recent music composition titles, which are tending towards the abstract rather than the helpful). It’s a piece of music by a man called Georgs Pelecis - he comes from a Baltic country; hence the slightly unusual spelling of his first name.
The strange thing about Nevertheless is that I keep hearing it, in passing almost, but definitely aware of it. It was on the radio again this morning, while we were painting one of our bedrooms, but even as I write I have this odd feeling that I’ve got the CD with the piece of music on it! Yet I don’t remember buying it. Perhaps I just had it out of the library for longer than usual.
Anyway, Nevertheless is an unusual piece in which a scale is used over and over, while other instruments ruminate in the background. It’s rather like someone sitting out in the country testing out an instrument and discovering that he can actually get something musical from it. Meanwhile the cattle are lowing, as they say, in the background.