Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
Do I have to draw you a picture? If you’ve ever been the recipient of such a remark, you’ll- rightly- assume that your perspicacity has been called into question. And yet, how unfair! Steganographers regularly conceal nefarious texts within innocent-seeming pictures. Pictures do not always tell the truth. People who delight in deceit, obfuscation, puzzles, riddles, conundrums and sleight of hand are drawn to this practice. The art of camouflaging what is true goes back a long way. (A note to Gen Y: photo-shopping is not really a new idea.) The Spartan king, Demaratus, sent a warning to the Greeks of an impending Persian attack by writing the message on the wooden board under an innocent wax covering upon which was written innocuous material. Tricky, eh? But not as tricky as Demaratus himself when he eventually switched sides and served as an advisor to Xerxes during his invasion of Greece in 480 BC.
Spies, black-hat hackers and those shadowy forces who seek to create covert elite groups for arcane purposes all think that steganography is the bee’s knees. One group, Cicada 3301, has posted puzzles on the internet from 2012. Who are they? Speculation runs from recruiters to government espionage agencies such as the NSA, to alternate reality gaming tragics, to big bank mavens messing with cryptocurrency testing. But they are probably a small group of tech-savvy anti-establishment geeks who would have been Rosicrucians in medieval times or members of the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn a century ago. I’m with Homer Simpson as far as trying to crack any code such groups might concoct is concerned, if at first you do not succeed, give up. And get on with your short life.
Instead of hunching over plasma screens, chasing electronic chimeras across the wilderness of mirrors that is cyberspace, get yourself out of your room and into an art gallery- there you will find puzzles enough to titillate your senses and mind. For my part, I cross the Nepean River to the Penrith Regional Art Gallery or travel by train to the Art Gallery of NSW or drive down to Canberra to the National Gallery- especially when there is a touring international show. Should my- generally prevailing- inertia prevent so much activity, (as is now the case in the COVID era)
I listen to music, say, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in Ravel’s magnificent orchestration, as played by the Chicago Symphony under Solti, and I see the people and places depicted by Hartmann which inspired the musical work: among them, Gnomus the small frightened man I identify with increasingly, Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch whom I encounter after exiting the gloomy Catacombs but, finally, I ride in triumph through the Great Gate of Kiev- the finale of which had me levitating, or so it seemed, when first I heard it as a student. Another reason that I value this piece so much is that it is a testament to friendship. Mussorgsky wrote the suite as a memorial to his friend Victor Hartmann who died at age 39 in 1873 from an aneurysm. After visiting an exhibition in his memory in 1874, he composed the suite rapidly during June of that year. However, he hit the skids and died in 1881 shortly after his 42nd birthday. Had it not been for his friend Rimsky-Korsakov, who published an, admittedly, flawed version in 1886, it, arguably, would have been lost to posterity. It makes you wonder how many masterpieces have sunk without trace because of the lack of a friend to pull it from oblivion.
Like Mussorgsky, I place value in drinking as an aid to inspiration, and during one bibulous late night alone I found myself surveying the living room: first, I gaze blearily at our wedding photograph in a silver frame, next, a family tree with photos of our parents on top, my wife and I situated below and our children below that, then my gaze slides to the corner to behold a wooden warrior with a shield covering an over-sized phallus- this is an artefact from the mountains of New Guinea. Swivelling my head (a dicey manoeuvre in the circumstances), I next register a ceramic Taoist philosopher made by my older daughter in one of her university art classes which rests on the cathode-ray TV which we still possessed back then. On it a muted re-run of Twin Peaks is showing. At this point I step on a hand-mirror reaching for another drink, cracking it. Lifting my eyes in exasperation, I looked anew at a watercolour of a scene from the Glens of Antrim by a noted local artist- a gift from my brother who had visited us here in Sydney the year before. Slumping to the floor, I notice a bell-jar containing an exotic moth mounted on a faux flower, behind which the photo of my wife cutting the wedding cake is distorted weirdly- or perhaps it was just the whiskey. Beside me, supporting my semi-recumbent form is a cane-chair holding an indoor plant with green tendrils covering the clues to a partially completed crossword puzzle. Picking up the pen lying beside the paper, I jot down a few ideas which, a day later, I work up into this song.
As Nietzsche so cogently observed, for art to exist… a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication. Now, here’s the problem: Nietzsche’s proposition is, arguably, true. However, intoxication does not necessarily- or even usually- lead to art. It usually leads to a sore head, self-inflicted, or a sore head inflicted by a person who has taken offence, perhaps, at the ludicrous excesses you inflicted on them the night before. Anyway, here is the song and you can decide whether it conforms to Nietzsche’s dictum. Or not. [insert song]
The 94th stop along our meandering journey through Quotidia features wise words from Kurt Vonnegut and Goethe. Chaucer also puts in an appearance with a cracking tale from the pilgrimage to Canterbury. St Paddy’s Day and the 1916 rising also feature.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.