Author: Kathy Sykes

Kathy's Carriacou diary: Music

Updated Monday, 28th January 2008
Kathy Sykes's Science of Celebration diary, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 2

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Day 1

A fabulous day - really enjoyed it. I'd been worried about how everyone would get along. Ellen had had a chat with David last night - anticipating some differences in working styles. Ellen and Mike L are a bit cautious of each other too.

Basically, David tends to tell us what he wants - approximately. Ellen understandably wants to decide what to do - suggest it to David - and see if it fits in with what he wants.

I'd told the 'SAGA' crew - John and Derek - that we were going to have a good laugh whatever was going on. John said - "Kathy, you also need to spend time getting everyone working together given your temperament". Not so sure it's my temperament - think it's more to do with really LIKING everyone in the team.

The first scene and music began all crazily. David told us what he wanted. Or tried to. Ellen said "listen to us first". Mike L said "no - just tell us what to do". Then they started squabbling. Quite funny really.

Mike L went off to build a flame organ - an instrument David had heard about and tried out and loved.

Ellen and I went off to make a mbira. Actually - I began by trying to get a middle C - (256 vibrations per sec). Worked out that I needed an open tube 64.5cm long. Filming the explanation was an ordeal though. David kept changing his mind about the approach he thought would be most understandable. My inclination is to try to show things with real objects (words can be so poor at conveying concepts). He wanted me to squeeze into 20 seconds what it used to take me a couple of lessons to teach A-level physics students in Zimbabwe. Pleaded to be able to split it into bite-sized, understandable chunks. But he wanted it in one go.

In the end was quite happy with what we ended up with but my brain was so crammed by then I'm not sure it was actually any good. Mike L's flame organ was just wild. I loved it. A really haunting sound and exciting too.

But the note from the 64.5 cm tube via the flame wasn't middle C. Maybe it was with loads of harmonics on top. But it wasn't as clear as when you blew down it (which corresponded to the note I got from my 64.5 cm piece of hollow bamboo). So I couldn't help Mike L so much with predictions of lengths of tube to use. Ah well!

Mike B was sick - so off in the afternoon. Worried about him.

Day 2

Really enjoyed the day - nice working with Ellen on mbira and guitar. Doing things together really is so much easier (if you can agree - and we did).

Ellen finished off the mbira though while I got on with the guitar. Nightmare just trying to cut through the wood to make a hole. It's amazing how much time you can waste doing something so trivial.

Surprised I enjoyed this morning - had a terrible hangover and felt so tired. Lots of people had hangovers - so much stumbling into things and fumbling of lines. Bizarre - no party last night - just lots of tired people laughing too much late at night. But Mike B not seeming to be on his usual form.

This afternoon we all decided we'd try to play the music from 2001 - A Space Odyssey on our instruments to go with the fireworks. Then me and Mike L had a great time banging things - trying to find things that rang/banged like the huge drums.

Just silly and mad. Enjoyed it lots. Enjoyed Mike L's sarciness too. Also had a huge laugh making a double bass. It's mad and fab.

The crew helped 'a little' - they couldn't resist getting involved. Derek and John went wild playing it - and looked bonkers.

I got them to pose for a photo while the other crew were filming (so they had to be silent) and they stood with their mouths open in pretend yelps, eyes closed in delight - and there they stayed, looking mad while we wandered off.

Nice dinner - John does a mean spaghetti bog and I did guacamole. Serious stomach problems tho'.

Day 3

The last day - felt really sad in the van driving to the site. The last drive. The last breakfast too - 'The Coven' met every morning for bacon and eggs (and rotting fruit). All the women getting together in Kate's room. Today, Paul and Drew joined us tho' - the Coven disrupted.

Reggie's reggae blasted at us in the van and some people seemed relieved it's almost over. Others looked gutted. But once we got to the lime factory everyone got so stuck into things it was soon forgotten.

A very, very long day. We began by spending hours trying to get the right notes for the 2001 music. The first 3 notes were easy peasy. The next two drove us insane. We thought we had them - then Mike B came along and told us how appallingly 'out' we were. Mike L didn't seem to care much and got on with making drums. Ellen and I were going crazy. Paul - sound guy from 18-30 crew - is very musical and he was looking frustrated too. He got all cross - saying "Why have they set you a challenge and not thought about how hard it is? Why didn't they choose a tune in the UK and ask someone who is remotely musical?" But I think it's better, it's flexible - we'd rather be involved in the choice after all.

I was wondering about hitting spanners, nails, doors and cars, trying to eek the right combination of notes out of something.

Eventually we gave up...Ellen walked up the road and asked the two English 17-year-olds, Ben and James, from my home town, Abingdon, what the musical score for the piece was. I knew if I could find out the notes I could build a tube or pluck a string that would create it.

Turned out both notes are a combination of 3 notes - mostly sharps. No bloody wonder we had struggled so much!

Ode to Joy, however, is a mix of simple notes - no sharps, no flats and all in the key of C.

Once we persuaded everyone to change, Ellen and I were much happier. We asked Mike L who, thankfully didn't mind either way. Done!

Spent several happy hours outside with Ellen - me practising on the 'guitar' and helping Ellen cut bamboo to the right length to make the notes.

I seriously shouldn't be let loose on musical instruments - especially on TV. I love singing and can hold a tune (and one of the joys of this whole trip has been singing my socks off on boat journeys). But I haven't ever played anything and am appallingly bad when I try.

But because I can sing (and perhaps because I was getting on OK with both Mike L and Ellen) - I was made 'musical director'. Arghhh! Nightmare! ML and E can both play better than me. Finally managed to get notes right for the pan pipes (we had to keep sanding the length down to get to what sounded the right note). Just in time for lunch.

Savoured the last lunch break. Tuna, cheese, toms, cucumber and bread AGAIN (same every day). Finished with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which always casts me happily back to childhood in the States.

Last swim together over lunch. Did some leg wrestling in the water and some mad swimming races (on back but swimming forwards, breast stroke only using legs). Derek was cross I won them all - so he wanted a running race. I beat him - then he beat me - all depended on who was on firmer sand.

Then tried to climb up a coconut tree - with bare feet. Got a third of the way up...surprisingly easy but you get scared about how you'll get down again - so you stop.

Afternoon of practising the tune with Ellen and Mike L - then helping Mike B make fireworks. We had a whole production line going. Quite fun.

Everything was feeling quite frenzied. Had to get finished by dark. Lots to do. People upset about either leaving or about having not managed to resolve conflicts (this morning Ellen asked how I managed to stay so happy in all of the madness). And a hurricane warning, potentially hitting tomorrow around noon (the time of the flights home). So a superb tension in the air all gearing up to tonight's 'party'. And a storm clearly brewing - gathering up dark clouds throughout.

We began moving outside to the 'orchestra pit' (ho-ho!) and bonfire. All a mad rush, with clouds darkening. Then, suddenly, the whole sky brightened and became orangey-pink - the most surreal bizarre light we all agreed we'd ever seen. It was as though night had become day again but in a diffuse, unearthly light which seemed to get everywhere and not leave proper shadows.

Later, people in Carriacou said they see this just occasionally before a tropical storm. The sky needs to darken first and your brain thinks evening has begun. Then there's a lull before the storm and the sky opens a bit - which surprises everyone 'cos you thought it was night. But the heavy, saturated air and low cloud diffuses and scatters the light around. It was just spooky. Didn't seem like real light - felt like a movie set or an Agatha Christie plot.

A MAD scenario. Bonfire blazing - spitting out tiny shards of burning palm - billowing over Kate and Mike L. Mike L amazing on the double bass - silhouetted by firelight.

And amazing fireworks - Roman candles were gorgeous. Catherine wheel an amazing success (better than most I remember from home)... all in the centre of a ring of burning wood. MAD!

Sparklers fab but the rain began just as we tried to light the rockets. They refused to budge. The rain got harder. People got more frenzied. Angie went back for one last-ditched attempt to make a rocket. I went to help hold the torch and find things in the ever-increasing wind. She rolled it like a cigarette and licked it down. "Spit out the gunpowder" I urged her. She seemed beyond caring - too wrapped up in making it work.

And then Angie made one that worked! It exploded off. We all exploded. Claps. Whoops. Then it was one mad dash in the pouring rain to get the kit back inside. What a way to end!

Had some celebratory champagne back at the hotel. All began very low key. Just all so exhausted I think. At least one person was in their room in tears from the stress of the last scene and relief it worked. Gradually warmed up and people gave votes of thanks.

Then the BBQ to which we'd invited all the people we'd ever met or worked with on the island:

- Lawrence the guy who slept at the lime factory to 'guard' it and also who drove the boat whenever needed.

- Reggie - the driver, who took us sailing to Tobago Cays for snorkelling (me, Jonathan and Drew).

- Dario and Marina - Italian couple who live here and 'fixed' just about everything for us.

- Max and Claudia - who ran the dive school and helped us massively with the underwater torch scene.

- Ben and James - two 17-year-old English guys who happen to live in my home town. Frighteningly bright and massively helpful for the music challenge.

A glorious night. Surrounded by friends. Jonathan juggled. Sarah shouted. Even Max smiled. Drew, Sarah and I sang Grease songs. The swimming team - Paul, Ellen, Angie and I - went for our final swim at midnight. We were the people who sometimes swam back from the Lime Factory. Ellen says she remembers these swims as her finest, happiest moments here. I was the one who persuaded everyone to do it - and did it first with Paul, then Paul and Angie, then Paul, Angie and Ellen. It takes over an hour without fins. 45 mins with fins.

Went to bed very, very, very happy. (Leaving only Steve and Mike L still getting drunk at the bar.)

WHAT an amazing experience!

Leaving the island

Everyone leaves except me and David. I am staying on in the Caribbean for a holiday with my husband, Tony. Woke up deliriously happy - to have had such a superlatively splendid time here but quickly felt very sad that everyone is leaving.

So went on a jolly 'food tour' - picking up what people hadn't finished. Ended up with rucksack of alcohol, tuna, baked beans and peanut butter (and some treats too - like avocados and Milky Ways).

Accompanied the team to the airport. When we left and arrived there was always a team of people to wave us in or out. Sandra commented: "It's so depressing waving off aeroplanes" - at which point the full sadness of waving goodbye to this mad group of people I've grown to love really hit me. Instantly in tears - soft cow that I am.

Sarah and Mike B getting worried about how late plane was so they began running up and down airstrip with arms out pretending to be planes. Took another 5 mins before alarm went off. Nutters!

So - last gossip with Sarah; last comparison of emotions with Ellen; last brain-pick with Mike L; last laugh with Mike B; last mad dance with Derek; last nice reassuring chat with John; last 'see each other in 3 weeks' hug with Jonathan; last teasing from Paul; last snatch of Grease song from Drew and finally last hugs from Derek and Kate - who were on cargo plane (which was even later than passenger plane).

Stomped off down road - waving last passenger, Ellen, into plane.

Dinner with David, the director. David keen on pushing all boundaries - the man has sailed around globe - and still wants to keep pushing.

Yep - keep pushing those boundaries. A good philosophy!





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