Stockhausen: Neptune, Uranus and the Nature of Genius. Astrology Musings

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Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the most important composers of the 20th century, was also one its most controversial. The outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are generational in influence, but if one or more of them touch sensitive parts of our birth chart, they can put us in touch with powerful trans-personal energy.

According to his known birth data, he was born with Leo rising, with a Leo Sun exactly conjunct Neptune.

A fount of inspiration

Here is a powerful, creative individual, with a personal connection to the numinous through Neptune, with all the inspirational, spiritual qualities associated with that planet. He was certainly a major visionary in musical terms and has had a huge influence on jazz and popular music as well as classical.

As we have seen previously, Neptune is invariably prominent in some way in the birth charts of creative artists, but he was clearly no idle dreamer.

Practical application

With Mercury and Venus in Virgo in house 2, the latter trine Jupiter in Taurus in house 10, he was very keen to apply his undoubted inspiration practically, effectively, in detail, and to disseminate it, not only in way to earn a living, but in building a successful career out of it. Indeed, he was also a fine writer and communicator too, teaching his ideas successfully. Without this grounding effect, his genius may well have been lost to the world.

What is more, revolutionary Uranus was very close to the MC (midheaven) in Aries in house 9.

The shock of the new

This midheaven point is traditionally associated with the career or life direction and with Uranus in Aries activating this very personal angle of his chart, we can see the unusual, avant-garde, revolutionary and pioneering qualities he brought to bear in his career. Revolutionary literally means turning upside down: he essentially did this, being a pioneer in the sphere of electronic music.

More than once, his music has been described as ‘disruptive’ (Uranus) and unfathomable (Neptune). He also has Mars in good aspect to Uranus, bringing much supportive, instigating energy and (in Gemini) variability to his repertoire.

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Poem: Perennial Busker

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Give me your roll up
your beaten up guitar
and I’ll even feed your dog

I’ll sing you a few songs
of tragedy, of lost love
and revolution never won

I know a few chords
and I can bash out some tunes
I scream with the best of them

Just don’t think to monopolise
this tale of hard time
it comes naturally to me

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

Gustav Holst and ‘The Planets’ – Musings

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English classical composer Gustav Holst’s most famous work, The Planets, is a testimony to his lifelong fascination for and interest in astrology.

From an early age, his step mother’s involvement with theosophy, inspired him to look beyond perceived reality and examine philosophy. Apart from being a composer, he was primarily a teacher and a trombonist.

Aquarius and astrology

When Gustav was born he had the Moon and Saturn rising in Aquarius. I think this says so much about him. Aquarius tends to be the individualist of the zodiac and anyone with a strong showing of this sign can be somewhat unusual. Holst’s fascination for astrology is quite typical in this regard.

Interestingly, in The Planets Suite, which was completed towards the end of the First World War, it is Saturn which I think is the most successful.

Saturn’s pain and peace

When I was younger I was an avid listener to this work and it was Saturn which most moved me, and I sense that it moved Holst too. This piece is composed like a musical poem and is subtitled ‘The Bringer of Old Age’.

It begins slowly, bleakly, mournfully, then panic sets in to a point of acceptance, which is followed by an unexpected peace as death approaches. It is still quite stunning to my ears, and I think Holst felt this very strongly – fitting then that Saturn should be so prominent in its own sign and on the ascendant. He was ‘in tune’ with Saturn.

Powerful higher mental capacity

That he was very much into philosophy and the higher mind is shown by the powerful Mercury Jupiter conjunction in Libra in house 9, nicely trine his Saturn rising in Aquarius. From this too, I think we can see the composing potential, the all round mental functioning of seeing the small intricacies, and also the big, full picture, plus the hard graft needed to succeed.

Jupiter also rules the midheaven, showing that the above qualities can be chanelled into his life path and career too.

Teacher and composer

His Sun in Virgo gives him a strong central dose of analytical and critical ability too, of course, which would certainly have aided him in composition and Virgoans in general make excellent teachers and worriers.

Venus in Scorpio in house 10 hints at an in depth career in the arts. This Venus is square Uranus and although it may have interrupted his career and relationships with sudden changes from time to time, here too with this tense link, I suspect, lies another indication of a leaning towards astrology; Uranus in some sense ‘rules’ astrology, although personally, I think Saturn is just as important.

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Rock Review: Yes, ‘Close to the Edge’ – Close to being perfect.

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The Classic 1972 Progressive Rock Album.

Probably my favourite all time prog rock album, ‘Close to the Edge’ (Elektra/Rhino CD) by Yes.

I was quite young when this came out in 1972 and didn’t actually hear it until later in the following year, when my elder brother brought it home. I think I had heard ‘Fragile’ by then too, the band’s 1971 release, which kicked off with ‘Roundabout’, one of Yes’ more ‘accessible’ numbers for a young boy. Nevertheless, I remember being pretty impressed by the whole album.

Spiritual sound

However, when my brother put ‘Close to the Edge’ on our family hi-fi, at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The slow start of planetary, naturalistic sound, the incredible weaving together of all the different movements of side one, took some time for me to appreciate, but now it’s like one epic poem, a vast spiritual movement of sound that is hard to describe, in words. It just has to be experienced, let it take you somewhere.

I still particularly like the ‘I Get Up I Get Down’ section, so beautiful, bringing together all the singing talents of the band, not just Jon Anderson, but also Steve Howe and Chris Squire.

Five virtuosos

Which leads me to a major point. Has there ever been a better example of five incredible talents working together, at the top of their game, producing such a masterpiece? I would doubt it.

Jon Anderson’s unique voice and inspirational lyricism; Bill Bruford’s peerless percussion; Steve Howe’s sheer virtuosity on six and twelve strings; Chris Squire’s uniquely lyrical bass and underrated singing; Rick Wakeman’s pure genius and dexterous flair.

It would prove to be a small window, sadly. Very soon, Bill Bruford would be on his way, followed soon after by Rick Wakeman. But what a beautiful, ornately made window it was. It was of its time.

Woven together

Side Two for me is equally impressive. I can still quite easily listen to ‘And You And I’ on repeat. I love the start, with Steve Howe hitting the harmonics on his twelve string, the way Rick’s synth plays over the top is so joyful, full of life. And like all Yes tracks, it’s difficult to envisage how they all put this together, so differing are the elements, but they come to together beautifully, woven by lyrics which are both hard to fathom, yet totally fitting – a Yes trademark.

And the final track, ‘Siberian Khatru’. Heaven knows what it’s about but if I had just one track to take to my desert island, I think it would be this.

Atmospheric

Great, catchy guitar riffs to start off and great rock playing by the whole band, but soon the wonderful group singing harmonies come in to play, adding a great atmospheric and naturalistic feel.

Then all the virtuosity of the band kicks in – indescribable. Especially, towards the end when they sing pairs of mysterious words with lots of reverb, which may, or may not, be related… but it works, it means something, though I don’t know what it is. And did I mention Steve Howe’s jazzy guitar on the outro?

Just how it should be, long reign the mystery.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

The Proms: An Extraordinary British Tradition

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The Proms begin today, July 19, perhaps the quintessential British cultural event, held each year in several venues in London between July and September, though most notably at The Royal Albert Hall.

The word proms is in fact a shortening of the term Promenade Concerts, a cultural phenomena which had its origins in 18th century London, which took place in pleasure gardens where the spectators were allowed to move around the orchestras. The word promenade is a borrowing from the French language, meaning to walk.

Music for the masses

In the 19th century this style of concert moved indoors as well, leading eventually to the establishment of ‘The Proms’ on August 10 1895 at the Queens Hall, Langham Place by the well known impresario, Robert Newman.

The idea was to offer the experience of classical music to the general public, with lower ticket prices in an informal setting. It has to be said that the idea worked, with a comprehensive schedule of performances spanning over two months.

Too English?

However, the Proms do have their detractors. For instance, I have heard it said more than once that they are too English. Whilst there is certainly a great deal of flag waving, a cursory look at the famous ‘Last Night of the Proms’, will reveal flags from all over the world.

What is more, much time and energy has been put in to diversifying the content, with the inclusion of world music, as well as folk music from all over Great Britain and Ireland.

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Album Review: ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’, Joni Mitchell 1975

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Choosing a favourite Joni Mitchell album is a bit like choosing my favourite chocolate.

I suppose I could pin it down a few: ‘For The Roses’, ‘Court And Spark’, ‘Hejira’, ‘Turbulent Indigo’…

But I’m plumping for the 1975 release of ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ (Asylum). I think it received somewhat mixed reviews on release and to me it marks her final ‘departure’ from the folk scene, which she had been threatening to leave on her previous two albums.

More Jazz

‘Hissing’ is more jazz oriented than before, softly sophisticated and it seems to be this which attracted some of the more less favourable reviews.

For a start it’s varied. The first track, ‘In France They Kiss on Main Street’, sounds as if it could have been included on ‘Court and Spark’, her 1974 album. It moves along nicely, catchy, with a great hook involving a bit of ‘rocking and rolling’. Larry Carlton’s lead guitar work is quite superb, as usual.

Juxtapositions

‘The Jungle Line’, ‘Edith and the Kingpin’, juxtapose quite alarmingly. The former was quite radical at the time for its instrumentation and composition, though it’s not often seen as a favourite.

‘Edith’, on the other hand, is one her best, a juxtaposition in itself, for me. Beautifully written, performed and produced, it’s soft jazz but with a story line that’s actually anything but soft.

Beautiful

At the end of the song, when she sings about the two protagonists who dare not look away, intrigue, crime and sleaze truly never sounded so beautiful. Carlton’s guitar work is wonderful, too, gentle and precise, just enough to accent the song.

Another favourite, ‘Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow’, contains some of her best story telling, character forming lyrics. I’m taken to heady, intellectual parties somewhere in mid 70s California, full of ‘holier than thou’ characters, tipsy on German wine and other stuff.

Melting Glamour

‘Shades of Scarlett Conquering’ strongly evokes, over another jazzy theme, a Southern Belle whose sensibilities have no place in a changing, fracturing world, where the glamour seems to melt away the more you grasp at it.

The title track itself is that rare item, a co-written song. Here too, we can feel the easy, yet slightly disturbing direction of life in California at the time, drowning in its materialism.

‘The Boho Dance’ is a reflective, piano dominated piece, with lovely a lovely horn section. It leads nicely into ‘Harry’s House-Centrepiece’, another shot at the materialistic world of big business and its victims, the men and women sated on consumption and luxury, whose lives are empty.

Atmospheric

‘Sweet Bird’ seems to give a hint of what’s to come the following year, with ‘Hejira’. Joni’s very distinctive guitar playing is at its best here in an atmospheric and reflective number.

‘Shadows and Light’ is perfect to end the album, a gospel sounding, philosophical song. Mostly sung a capella, a synthesiser track backing it up, this is a beautiful song and quite set apart from the rest of the album.

To conclude, I feel this album marks Joni Mitchell’s full maturity as a performer and songwriter. It’s varied, more jazz influenced and if there’s a theme, I think it’s the general disillusionment with America life at the time, a theme which was being picked up by other other artists at this time – but they never sounded this beautiful.

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*If you would like a personal astrology report, please contact me at: leoftanner@gmail.com for further details.

 

Favourite Album Reviews: ‘Spirit of Eden’ by Talk Talk

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Few British bands changed so radically during the 1980s as Talk Talk.

Their early albums and singles were very much of their time, like their eponymously named single and ‘Today’, for instance. The early sound featured a strong, driving electronica dominated by synths and hooks.

However, even on those earlier pieces, there were hints of what was to come, that this was no ordinary, shallow 1980s band.

Veering Away

‘Life’s What You Make It’, their best remembered song, though still synth oriented, is beginning to veer away from ‘established’ sound and subject matter.

Yet, despite such progress and change, I don’t think anyone was ready for the 1988 release, ‘Spirit of Eden’ (EMI).

At the time it left many fans and critics dumbfounded with its often improvised, expansive, moody, melancholic, spiritual soundscapes. Then there was the use of a wide variety of session musicians, playing an array of instruments – brass, wind, harmonica. And there were only six tracks.

Unconventional

Then there is the Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral, even an obscure electronic device called a Shozygs to add to the eclectic, unconventional nature of the album.

But if the initial reaction might in some circles have been termed ‘puzzled’, or ‘underwhelmed’, over the years this album has achieved true iconic status, a literal masterpiece of modern music with many fans, myself included.

In some ways it’s a hard album to describe, or to breakdown in to what it’s really about. Yes, there’s an unconventional spiritual element to it, as the name ‘Spirit of Eden’ suggests. You just have to listen to it. It’s perfect background music, good to concentrate on, good to talk about amongst friends.

Sparse Ambiguity

What’s more, the lyrics, though relatively sparse, have enough ambiguity to allow you interpret things your own way, to lead you back in again and again.

Take Track 1, ‘The Rainbow’ which sets things off as they are to carry on. It’s sparse to begin, wonderfully atmospheric with great usage of piano and organ in solitaire mode. An electric guitar pitches in suddenly with a bluesy riff, over the top of a simple drum beat – the latter a feature throughout the album until the last track. And the harmonica is something else too.

And what can one say about the late Mark Hollis’ vocals? I would’ve gladly listened to them on their own, without lyrics; they sound just like an instrument which complements all the others. He is forceful, thoughtful, emotional, tender, a kaleidoscope of feeling in one voice: no better British singer in the past forty years, in my opinion.

Sublime Torture

Then there’s ‘Eden’, another soundscape beginning with brass and wind. There is a particular melancholy here, but a beautiful one, like some sublime torture as each chorus leads up to a desperate statement of faith, or maybe the lack of it. But there’s hope here too.

I particularly like the electric guitar cameo, almost ‘Beatles-esque’ in its playing, to take you off in some beautiful diversion. An extraordinary song which I still don’t fully understand, but I love it.

‘Inheritance’ carries on with the improvisational sense, evoking space, yet might seem a little more conventional sounding.

Gospel Edge

Track 5, ‘I Believe In You’ might seem even more conventional to start with, with a regular, gentle beat. And there’s a soulful, gospel edge to this one too.

This leads us on to the use of The Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral. It’s not overdone, it accents everything tastefully, merely to illustrate the song, finally taking you out into the ethereal at the end.

‘Wealth’ ends this collection of sounds, with another understated sense of melancholic peace, with a twist of gospel. We’re back to the gentle minimalism of the organ and piano, with no percussion at all. It evokes a rare sense of space, reflection, the general feel throughout the album.

After all these years, I still can’t truly say I understand what this album is about. But it doesn’t matter, it’s all the better for it and will remain one of my ‘go to’ albums.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

 

*If you would like personal astrology report, please contact me at: leoftanner@gmail.com for details.