RSS Feed

  1. Curlew River and Sumidagawa


    September 24, 2012 by IPAlchemist

    A few weeks ago I went to a very special performance – one of those events that makes you glad that you live in London, because the number of cities in the world where this is likely to happen are rather limited.

    Tokyo University of the Arts decided to come to England to put on Benjamin Britten’s piece Curlew River, preceded by the Noh play upon which it is based, Sumidagawa.

    Even better for those of a geeky disposition, the Daiwa Foundation, to which my colleague Stephen Scott had just introduced me (he went to Japan as a scholar of the Daiwa Foundation), organised a lecture by two fascinating people: the Noh actor, Professor Sekine, who played the shite part, and Dr Mukai, a lecturer at the University.

    Professor Sekine is a leading performer of the Kanze school of Noh (one of four extant schools, and the largest).  He is a living national treasure, and a Professor at Tokyo University of the Arts.  Noh plays are always written to have one leading part, called the “shite” (in this case the madwoman), which he played in the performance, and one main supporting part, the “waki” (in this case the ferryman).  He explained about the history of Noh, the philosophy of the performance, and some basic meanings of some of the movements and gestures.

    Dr Mukai is a specialist on Britten, and he gave fascinating insights into how Curlew River had developed, including the itinerary of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears when they visited Japan in 1956. It seems that they saw not one, but two performances of Sumidagawa whilst they were there.

    It was fascinating to learn that, although the dramatic style and form of the Curlew River are drawn from the feeling of the Noh play, the actual music is based not so much on Noh music but on Japanese Gagaku music. This is a court music, which uses different instruments from Noh itself, and which Britten and Pears also heard when they were in Japan. In particular, Britten uses the chamber organ to allude to the sound of the Sho, which is a multi-piped wind instrument, which is used in Gagaku but not in Noh.

    A few days later was the performance itself. This took place in the spectacular Spitalfields church, a Hawksmoor masterpiece which has been recently restored, and which I have passed many times, but never been into before.

    The Noh play came first. I have experienced Noh before, because the father (Ohtsubo-sensei) of my Japanese teacher (Uemura-sensei) when I lived in Japan was a professional Noh actor, and I went to see him perform several times. Uemura-sensei had very kindly emailed me some information about the performance beforehand. Although her father Ohtsubo-sensei is from the Hosho School of Noh, whereas the performance here was from the Kanze School, the differences are not I think such that an novice like me would really notice.

    Watching the piece, I felt the same as every time I see a Noh play a strange peacefulness and tranquillity of watching an art form which is clearly survived from ancient times (Sumidagawa was written in the early 1400s). The performing style is extremely minimalist, and, in one sense, very little happens. In another sense, you get the feeling that every single movement, however slight, is precisely planned and meaningful. Not that I felt most of the time that I could understand the meaning. Prof Sekine had indicated the meanings of some of the gestures, for example raising the hand to the face in order to indicate crying. But many remained deeply mysterious. But I can see just why Britten would have found the whole experience are amazing, and would want to have drawn upon it himself.

    After a break, there was then the performance of Curlew River. Although this is a very English piece, the main singers were Japanese. Are very good they were too. I was particularly struck by Jun Suzuki, the tenor who plays the Madwoman.  (Britten made the cast all-male, as is the case with most Noh performances, with men playing the women’s parts – this of course gave him the chance to give the leading part to Peter Pears).

    I haven’t explained the story. The story of both pieces is basically the same: a Madwoman meets a Ferryman at a river, who tells her of the story of a boy who has died in the area a year ago, and the Madwoman then realises that this is her son who was kidnapped, and who she has travelled a long distance to find.  She is distraught to realise that he has died. Both of the pieces seem to speak of the restorative power of a belief in the supernatural, whether buddhism or christianity.  (Incidentally, Prof Sekine said that the woman is not “mad” but only as concerned as a mother would naturally be under the circumstances).  Interestingly, Britten calls the piece a “Church Parable” not an opera or similar.

    One of the live issues about Sumidagawa is whether the ghost of the dead boy appears.  In some performances he does, in others only his voice is heard.  Apparently in the Hosho school he usually would appear; in the performance we saw he (although actually it was played by a girl) remains concealed in the funeral mound, so only the voice appears.  In Curlew River, the boy does appear physically.  Either way round, I had goosebumps at this point in both performances.

    I slightly blush that Curlew River was performed at New College, Oxford when I was a student there, and I didn’t go. I don’t quite remember why, but I think I may have thought I wouldn’t enjoy it. Actually, it is an amazing piece with incredible musical textures. So I’m now looking out for an opportunity to see it again. However, the side-by-side performance with the Noh play which inspired it is probably something that I am unlikely to come across again, so it is an experience that I shall treasure.

  2. Sunday morning


    September 16, 2012 by IPAlchemist

    It’s Sunday morning, and I’m just watching my favourite television news programme, the Andrew Marr show.

    I thought in between interesting news items, I would take the opportunity to try a new way of coming up with a blog post. Since I’m generally using ordinary words, why not try the iPhone 4S Siri feature? I thought that this might be an easier and quicker way to compile a post than typing the old-fashioned way. Furthermore, I have noticed that it’s quite difficult to proof-read a long blog post in the input window on WordPress, and, when entering previous text, I have only noticed mistakes when actually publishing the post on the blog. This has resulted in a rather lengthy procedure of publishing, spotting another typo, going back and amending it, and [DaCapo ad libitum]. Wow! Siri recognised that musical direction!

    Siri also doesn’t seem to like working within WordPress itself, and so I am using my old trick of dictating in a blank email and then copying and pasting. If you’re reading this, it worked! If you are a blogger, how do you assemble your blogs? What is your time-saving trick?

    UPDATE – it did not work that well!  The text came out in strange formatting and different sizes, so I had to go into the post on my laptop and rescue.  But the content worked…  I need to do some work on this aspect.

  3. Favourite Word


    September 15, 2012 by IPAlchemist

    You know how sometimes you think of something, some people think it is a bit odd, and then things that you see around you reflect the idea?  And then something else feeds into it as well…?

    Well, I have recently been involved in interviewing for a new trainee patent attorney.  It’s not an easy thing to spot talent for this job (or vocation as I consider it) in a science or engineering graduate, for whom writing and language skills have probably not been a regular part of their life for some time.

    Anyway, I was thinking how I might approach this, and I decided to ask the candidates their favourite word – what is it, why, and what does it mean? (Mine by the way is squaloid [see more below], but preantepenultimate scores highly too).  Some of my colleagues laughed at this (literally), while some thought it was rather a good idea. I found it very helpful in the interview process, although it was clear that some of the candidates subscribed to the “this is very odd” school of thought on the issue.

    Anyway, with my favourite words in my mind, @OxfordWords shortly after tweeted one of its words for the day – “porcine” (appertaining to pig).  So I thought of my word, squaloid (which means appertaining to shark) and tweeted it back to them.  A few tweets later and suddenly I am deeply involved in twitter conversation with @Hirst_Shark, Damien Hirst’s shark sculpture. No, really.

    Then, in a further coincidence, on Friday, by a circuitous Twitter route, while on the bus into work, I came across an article online in The Atlantic (not a publication I had previously come across) about a gentleman called Ted McCagg (not a gentleman I had come across before either, but his blog Questionable Skills is here) who, by a heroic effort of comparing pairs of words and choosing the “best”, has found the Best Word.  Ever.  And…

    The Best Word is “diphthong”.  A jolly good word, I am sure you will agree.  But one that lands us in another dilemma straight away.  Do you pronounce the “ph” as “f” or as “p”?  And, in the third serendipitous link, I had just a few days before been reading on the OUP blog about that very issue, in a lovely piece that you can read here by Anatoly Liberman.  This article makes clear that the “p” pronunciation is “substandard”.  But very common.  So common that some people go so far as to spell it without the first “h”.  (And Mr McCagg may have undone the good work he did by bringing “diphthong” to the attention of the world by being quoted saying “that silent ‘h’ in diphthong made all the difference.”  WHAT SILENT “H”?)

    The OUP blog also taught me the wonderful word “monophthong”.  If you can slip that into a dinner party conversation you are doing very well.  The author complains that his spellchecker does not recognise the word.  Spellcheckers don’t recognise “squaloid” either, and I am fighting a battle in this post, as I always do with the word, having to go back and amend where computer has cheerfully substituted “squalid”.  Ho hum.

    I will take some time to decide whether “diphthong” will over time replace “squaloid” as my favourite word.  It will have some work to do.  The reason I like it is because I needed it, and had to go and find it – I wanted to refer to the shark-like quality of a patent attorney poker player, and “sharky” doesn’t really cut it.  (Just as, I have discovered, when one wishes to refer to the monastic quality of something, “monky” doesn’t really do either.  In fact people seem to think it rather funny.)  So whereas most words I learnt, and then found ways to use, “squaloid” I needed, and had to go and find.  So I have a completely different relationship with it, compared with how I feel about the rest of my vocabulary.

    Do feel free to contribute your own favourite words.  If you want some suggestions to get you thinking in the right direction, may I suggest you visit Questionable Skills.

  4. Asian Patent Attorneys’ Association Meeting Chiang Mai 2012


    September 13, 2012 by IPAlchemist

    So, APAA is coming up.  It will be my first time to visit.  I have wanted to go for the longest time, but previously the “one observer per non-member firm” rule made it impossible for me.  Of course, as a UK-based UK and European Patent Attorney, I am not eligible to be a member of APAA.

    Never before will I have seen so many patent attorneys in one place, with the possible exception of a party that I went to at AIPPI in Geneva.  So I am really looking forward to it.

    Of course I am looking forward to meeting old friends from Japan, but the really amazing aspect is the opportunity to meet so many attorneys from countries which I have not had a chance to visit yet (which is all except Japan, Singapore and New Zealand, and my trip to NZ was a holiday, so I didn’t meet any patent attorneys…  Actually the Singapore visits were both very brief, so I didn’t see much other than the fascinating Jurong Island.)

    If you chance by my blog and are going to APAA, look me up and say hi to the IP Alchemist!

  5. C’est moi


    September 12, 2012 by admin

    This is me.  Taken a few years ago during a wonderful stay in Cornwall, at the home of my friend Slugg, who is an artist (who took the photo), and his sadly departed partner Philip.  The trick to this type of portrait is apparently to get the subject to close their eyes, and take the photograph just as they are opening them again.  At least that is what Slugg did.

    One of the differences between this blog and my previous blogging outings is that I can mix work interests and others, and share photographs like this.

  6. Welcome to the IP Alchemist


    September 12, 2012 by admin

    So, I have started a blog. I have finally entered the 21st century, and accepted that quill and vellum have perhaps had their day (even if they do conjure the prospect of delivery by owl). I have joined thousands of thousands of others who share their thoughts with the ether on a regular basis, in the perhaps forlorn hope that someone out there may be interested in their thoughts and opinions.

    There are already many IP-related blogs out there, so I am not responding to an evident need.  I already enjoy reading many excellent patent blogs from around the world. I was privileged to spend a half year as an IPKat team member, where there are thousands of guaranteed readers thanks to the decades of hard work of Jeremy, Ilanah, and those who have come after. Even then half the time I felt, contra-factually, that I was writing to no-one but myself.

    And so I suppose the answer is I am doing this for myself. I have been tweeting for many months now, and I find that, for a lot of things, 140 characters is just not enough. So although I shall carry on tweeting, I now have have the option to express myself at greater length. If anyone is interested, then great. If not, at least I shall have a record of my thoughts.

    Serious musings will continue to appear on the EIP Elements blog, so look out there for publications, newflashes of recent cases, events, and the like.

    If you come by my blog, do comment and have your say. Enjoy!