Tuesday, July 5, 2011

1,2,3 Soleil!

1,2,3 Soleil! was composed by French musician and sculptor Muriel Reboul, who I met while living in Adelaide, South Australia, in 2002. We decided to record experimenting with a laptop and no audio interface: all voice and instruments were recorded directly through the audio jack of the laptop, one by one. I love the result, as it mixes Muriel's influences from Provence and the region around Nice, in Southern/Mediterranean France, with my intent to use some identification of her influences with those of the Fado in Brazilian music.

1,2,3 Soleil! by Jose-Henrique Alves

I used Sonar 2.2 by Cakewalk to record and mix. The recording was made over a few days around early to mid 2002. The song gradually speeds up, which required some tweaking of Sonar's metronome. Everything was recorded using a simple cardioid microphone plugged into the mini jack of a laptop audio port. I used a Di Giorgio classical guitar, or was it Giannini?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bedtime Exercises for Unwinding Chaos

I wrote this article for our younger son's school newsletter. It describes a few calming techniques I use to put our two sons to bed. May be useful and fun to other parents outside our direct circle of contact.

Bedtime Exercises for Unwinding Chaos

By the end of the day, our two boys have jumped around so much, they left a trail of havoc throughout the house. Our brains are in sheer chaos. When night falls, we just want to drop in bed and quickly fall asleep. Before that happens, however, we have, every night, to find out where they hid their on/off button. A few activities work fine for creating that needed transitional, soothing moment before their standby button is finally found: singing quiet songs, reading books etc. However, none has been as effective to calm our kids (and us) as a small set of fun bedtime exercises I adapted, based on self-massage, mindfulness and breathing techniques.

Even when our boys seem unstoppable at bedtime, these exercises quickly make their breathing slower and more regular. During those magical moments, I can feel all the mental clutter dissipate, as we mirror each other in a resonant state of peaceful serenity... yawn. This living evidence I witness as our kids transition from charged up into sleepy angels, supports academic studies made in the last decade or two, as described in books by people like John Kabat-Zinn (“Full-Catastrophe Living”) and Daniel Goleman (“Emotional Intelligence”). These books have shown that exercises like the ones I describe below, are effective ways of not only calming down, but also increasing awareness, confidence, resilience and performance in kids all ages 1-100.

Exercises are made with the child laying in bed and dim lights. Paced, guided breathing is essential. Apart from “finger and toe stretch”, all other 3 routines are repeated a few times to be effective.

Drop your bombs
  • While holding your child's arms or legs up away from the mattress, ask them to let go,
  • When you feel they have really let go, release their arms/legs, so they drop over the bed suddenly.
Squeeze, then let go
  • Ask your child to raise arms, and pretend to be squeezing a ball of play dough,
  • After 2 or 3 seconds, tell him to let go and drop the imaginary play dough on the bed.
  • Use the same idea (but perhaps not the imaginary play dough) for squeezing, letting-go other parts of the body (eyelids, shoulders, mouth and jaw etc.
Fallen leaf breathing
  • Pretend-play that a leaf is falling from a tree, and that your child should try and push it back up with his breath,
  • Slowly sway one of your hands (the leaf) down and up, one direction at a time, as your child breathes in and out.
Finger and Toe Stretch
  • Hold firmly the tip of a finger or toe, and rotate it in clock- and counter-clockwise directions, repeat with all fingers, toes.
  • Hold a finger/toe firmly, bend it up, stretching back but without causing pain, hold for 1 or 2 sec, repeat with all fingers, toes, except thumb and big toe.
  • Hold together all fingers or toes in a bundle (except thumb), one hand/foot at a time, pull back stretching as far as comfortable, hold for 2 or 3 seconds, and release.
With time, your child may do these exercises alone, whenever calming down is needed.

Further reading: Linda Lantieri, “Building Emotional Intelligence”. ISBN 978-1-59179-789-0. 2008. (See also www.lindalantieri.org).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Today, 51 years ago: Heitor Villa-Lobos died

Needless to say, Heitor Villa-Lobos is one of the most internationally acclaimed Brazilian composers of all times: his entry in wikipedia.com shows he was described as "the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music". I would agree wholeheartedly. Every time I hear his name, or listen to one of his compositions, I remember a sunny day in my home-town Rio de Janeiro, when I was in my early twenties, walking down a narrow street (Rua Sorocaba) in the Botafogo neighborhood, when I stumbled on the doorsteps of the Villa-Lobos Museum. Although that visit was completely unintentional (I was actually surprised to find out his museum was right there and then), my memories of that glorious day, other than that it was sunny and I was very happy, are still alive today mostly because of what I felt while walking uncommitted through the rooms of the old mansion in Botafogo.

Villa-Lobos left many manuscripts of his interpretations of classics of the popular and classical repertoires from all over the world, and also of his own compositions, with many notes to performers for correct interpretation, and also dedications to his beloved ones. His writing and words caught my attention so that I spent a few hours reading carefully through whatever I could find on display, and even before seeing his photos and reading his biographies, I was able to see through his clear and firm writing that this was a man of strength, charisma and leadership.

Walking around the room in the Rua Sorocaba mansion, I also captured his intense love affair to all things Brazilian. His personal collection of indigenous and popular artifacts, mostly anything indigenous or popular that could produce music, was breathtaking. About that passion, Heitor himself used to say: "Yes, I am Brazilian and a Brazilian with capital B. In my song I allow the rivers and seas of this great Brazil to sing. I do not put a muzzle on the tropical exuberance of our forests and our skies, I instinctively transpose them to everything I write."

Long live Heitor Villa-Lobos' work.

Starting points to know more about the man and his music:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Roberta's Saltimbancos

A few years ago, after we moved to Perth, Roberta Alves, my wife, had a dream of bringing to a local stage "Os Saltimbancos", an adaptation by Brazilian composer Chico Buarque of "The Bremmen Town-Musicians", by the Grimm Brothers.
A few months ago she decided to bring it all together, and against the odds of a tight schedule of family trips and changes, and end-of-the year commitments, she did it!
After only a couple of weeks of rehearsing, Roberta inventively strung tightly a troupe of local amateur and professional musicians (Juliana Areias, Sandra Barbosa, Tom Foss, Eduardo Mello, Marcio Mendes and Claudia Rondom ).
Then she used what must be her magic touch to make come true her wishes of offering to the "children" of Perth (including our own and myself), a glimpse of the tales and wonder that have lived in the imagination of at least three or four generations of Brazilian children.

Good on ya Roberta, thank you for giving Perth and the local artistic community the opportunity to participate and share your dream. Thank you for the performers and Kulcha, who believed in her dream and helped her make it come true.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Seven pillars of mindfulness

Being aware, which doesn't mean your are going to be doing fully these things all the time, does require the so-called seven-pillars of mindfulness (as per Kabat-Zinn):
  1. Non-judging: make an effort to identify when something is being judged, then step back and just acknowledge it without attaching a value;
  2. Patience: wait so that things go through their course in their own time;
  3. Beginners mind: look at things as if it were the first time, and you will always find something new;, as every moment is unique. This will lead to new possibilities, and evolution;
  4. Trust your guts;
  5. Non-striving: try less and be more. Identify your desires, then back off from them. Just watch, increase your awareness. Awareness will help allocate the resources more naturally to achieving than by simply trying;
  6. Acceptance: see things as they are, then you can choose the best path to change, or to live with etc. Mind like water;
  7. Letting go: let be, non-attachment. Don't be a monkey that gets stuck by not letting go of that banana inside a coconut trap.
Add that to commitment, self-discipline and intent. Simple! ... ?

You don't have to like it; you just have to do it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Oxygen Mask Principle

The Oxygen Mask Principle is simple. Everyone has heard it at least one time while flying in an airplane. But have you listened to what it means?

Should a sudden change in cabin pressure occur, oxygen masks will fall from above. Place the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. If you are traveling with children please secure yourself first, and then assist the child. 

The Oxygen Mask Principle is one my preferred analogies to our social lives. An extension of that simple principle to life goes like this: we are unable to help anybody else if we are not taking care of ourselves well enough.

Some people devote their lives entirely to helping someone else, other people etc, but the only way of doing that as best as we can is making sure we are on a great spot in most areas that are central to our own well-being (say, our emotional, rational, spiritual, financial, professional and physical worlds, to name a few).

This general principle applies even more to families or groups that have to care for people with special needs. As a father of an autistic child, I for a few years forgot about the oxygen mask principle myself (although I would always share its wisdom with friends in need and in general), devoting day in, day out, every hour to providing a perfect place for him to live. That until I figured out that the only way of helping him in the best way for both of us, was to take up caring for myself again, making that a better place for me too, and feeding that inner feeling of strength and happiness back to him.

A simple idea that can make a huge difference to our lives.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

1 + 1 = 3: The Resonant Mathematics of Love

The success of Homo sapiens clearly shows that most love relationships end up in some sort of arrangement between the two loving parties for spending lengthy periods of time together. When the two are a man and a woman, there's still the big chance a third, or forth etc person may come up, adding to the party. But the pair is not necessarily so to prove the theory that, when two come together, the result is not two, but three.

So the theory here is not the silly idea that two people together will eventually produce offspring, thus leading to the "physical"

1 + 1 = 3.

Not exactly. What happens in the behavioral or emotional 1 + 1 = 3 is not exactly a non-linearity, but I will call it that anyway, since the combinations resulting from the 1 + 1 grow out of a resonance mechanism associated with love. The vision of this "quasi-nonlinear" behavior of relationships came through my own experience, of course. Throughout life we learn that when two people come together in love relationships, they are two individuals who will, regardless of how close they become, keep alive from that moment on many of the individual personality and character traces they developed throughout their bachelor(ette) lives or elsewhere in other previous relationships.

The union then creates a third entity, out of resonating love, which tends to behave like a separate being, with character and personality traces of its own, since the two individuals united behave slightly or largely different to what they would when you meet them by themselves. As simple as that, and perhaps somewhat obvious, this proves that the outcome of a sum of two in a love partnership is

1 + 1 = 3.

The consequence of this is the fact that when two people spend a lot of time together and there is a strong bond between them, they have to learn how to manage three different levels of relationship that become ongoing: the one, the other and the two. Many psychologists have warned people about that they should be aware of this when caring for their own relationships, as many people enter a couple's life by either remaining excessively selfish, or overly bonded.

The truth is, the two ones in a couple should be both excessively selfish and overly bonded. And there is where the pair gives two the chance of becoming a form of art or a torn apart.

(Perhaps the idea of 1 + 1 = 3 could be extended to any type of relationship between two or more people, but the links tend to be somewhat weaker, so that a "real" third person only de facto appears systematically in relationships of love.)

Now let's extend this idea to when the physical 1 + 1 = 3, that is, when a couple has offspring or a child is adopted. What happens to the quasi-nonlinear interactions there? The expansion of the behavioral, two-people 1 + 1 = 3 theorem to the inclusion of a child leads to

1 + 1 + 1 = 7.

With the turning up of a third person, as deeply bonded to the other two through love as themselves, the interaction levels at the behavioral/emotional front increase twofold plus one. Of course, although time seems to contract when caring for a child, the new addition will keep things unchanged in the prior 1 + 1 = 3 side, but will create a new "one", two new (1 + 1)'s and a completely new invented "independent" being, the threesome (1 + 1 + 1). That is equal to seven.

In other words, there are now three individuals that need their own, hey, individuality (eg, = 3 beings), who sometimes interact altogether as the full "family" being (eg, = 1 being), and sometimes interact in doubles, such as one + two, one + three and two + three (eg, = 3 beings), thus

1 + 1 + 1 = 7.

Family relationships can become very difficult when people are not prepared to see things that way. And seeing things that way requires some preparation that goes way beyond a simple "mathematical" view of how people interact. It requires many subjective traits such as maturity and respect and independence and trust and self confidence and independence and so on so forth.

I will not elaborate on the consequences of adding a fourth member to our nonlinear family, but one can easily show with little algebra that

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 15.

Our sympathy, luck and love to the families of N >= 4.

(The little algebra in the derivation of the interaction levels above is the sum of N combinations without repetitions, where N is the number of people involved, so that the number of interactions will be = N elements taken 1 by 1 + N elements taken 2 by 2 + N elements taken 3 by 3 + [...] + N elements taken as a block ("N by N"). One may want to learn more about Pascal Triangles and Binomial operations in those airs.)