“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!” wrote Noel Coward. I think he missed a trick: there was no corollary ditty, about mad Scotsmen going out in the rain.
Many of my recollections of peace and contentment take place in the rain. Playing cards under a canvas canopy of an eight-man Stormhaven tent on a scout-camp; Sitting at an old desk and writing a diary during the afternoon storms in Zimbabwe; Leaning against the door-frame of a rural Brazilian villa, watching clouds sweep through the valley. Sure, rain prevents you from stepping out into the street, but it also protects you. It creates a barrier you can hide behind. It isolates you like an incoming tide. It enforces privacy. Sometimes there’s nothing better to be stranded indoors by the rain. Open the window and listen to it fall.
Although, if you’re caught out in the rain, you might as well pull a Gene Kelly, and stay out. There’s a serenity to that too. A favourite quote:
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
A great deal of this stoicism was displayed at the weekend, at the Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo event at the Royal Botantic Gardens Edinburgh. The sky was not kind, and we were rained upon from start to finish. However, I had the sense that sheer bloody-mindedness would prevail amongst both performers and performance-goers, and that nothing would be postponed because of the weather.
And so we persisted, but some things are obviously odd when performed in the rain. No sane person would wander out and do Tai Chi in a cold, damp park, and I felt sorry for those giving a demonstration of the art, who did their best to ignore the rain. It must be extra difficult when people with brollys are stomping past. I think this point is true of the dance pieces too – the audience were probably not as relaxed as they could have been. And if you are distracted during a performance, it precludes the possibility of giving yourself over to the dance, incapable of submitting to the pure movement.
However, I think the traditional Chinese music gained something through being played in the storm. The hum of the rain was like a backing track, which bedded very well underneath the stringed notes.
Susie Brown’s installation Natural Progression, persists until 29th June. It consists of a set of painted bamboo sticks set into the ground, forming a fence-like barrier which slithers accross the lawn. Like an organic Fred Sandback installation, it delineates the open space and makes you think twice about crossing the imaginary boundaries it seems to define. It therefore takes a little courage to engage with the piece, which you can do by blowing across the tops of the bamboo to ‘play’ their notes.
Back in the RBGE glasshouse life was much drier, although the towering, anorexic palm trees occasionally drip onto you. FOUND and the Shanghai Jazz Project teamed up to give a performance. The glasshouse, with its collision of nature and human technology, is precisely the sort of odd venue I expect from FOUND. I’ve seen them in Warehouses and Chinese Kitchens, and they’ve played in portacabins before too.
FOUND are known throughout Scotland for their love of sampling stuff, mixing and remixing what they collect into their music. For this performance, we heard them sample an old 1930s Jazz recording, supplied by the Shanghai Jazz Project. We heard the familiar hiss and crackle of the old recording, and I remember thinking that this was not unlike the patter of the rain ouside.
Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo was the brainchild of Kimho Ip. Over at the project’s website, there’s an interesting podcast discussion with Stephen Blackmore, Regius Keeper, about the twin pleasures of nature and music, and their importance in the increasingly frenetic modern world.