Noe Venable

Thoughts on Goldenrod

Posted by on Nov 2, 2014

Thoughts on Goldenrod

Our new music video, Goldenrod, is up!  Kickstarter backers can preview it now, and all others will be able to see it shortly. Now that the video is finished, Eric and I look at it and say, WOW, how did we do that?  And what did we do, exactly?  This is often the feeling that art gives me, especially my own art.  I feel both connected to it, and disconnected from it, so that it shocks and puzzles me, even as putting it out there brings release. For this video, we wanted to show a group of people coming together to create ritual.  We decided to document a gathering of unusual, clearly defined characters.  It would involve dancing and fire.  Beyond that, we didn’t plan much.  We had a location, a man in a tree suit, some fire, some fuel.  We stationed lookouts at the periphery.  And then we went to it. My little son, Ember snuggled with his grandmother a safe distance from the flames, and I thought about how long it had been since we were all outside under the stars.  Too long, I thought, living in the city. The theme we sought most to emphasize in this song is the yearning to transcend ones individual self and reconnect with something greater.  We played a lot with the idea of wildness.  Not wildness as something separate and other, but rather wildness as our genesis and birthright. My own costume is an homage to indigenous peoples, whose life ways have always honored the principles that modern environmentalism is just coming around to.  Most importantly, that the earth is not simply a material, passive thing to be objectified and used for its resources.  Rather, Earth’s rhythms need our participation and support.  What we call “nature” is not separate from us.  It is the true whole to which we belong.   If my costume is an homage, it also reflects my own situatedness, and the people who are dear to me.  The top that I wear in the video, the Guatemalan huipil, is worn in honor of my Godparents, an always source of wisdom and strength to me.  The yellow cloth at my waist comes from my mother, and honors her loving support.  The headdress I made of ribbons are for my grandmother, who cherished bright colors, and saw beauty wherever she went. Wearing these things helped me feel them with me, and in that sense, our...

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“Let Us Welcome a New Star”

Posted by on Jun 19, 2014

“Let Us Welcome a New Star”

People who have visited my Kickstarter page may wonder why Cascadia is listed as having thirteen songs, when the physical copy of the CD lists only twelve.  The reason is that midway through the campaign, I decided to remove one track from the sequence, and instead to offer it as a bonus track.  All Kickstarter backers received a link to this track along with their rewards.  It also appears in the Cascadia songbook. The song is called “Let Us Welcome a New Star.” Today, I want to share the story behind this song.  “Let Us Welcome a New Star” is dedicated to Volary’s Samantha Lien.  Samantha battled cancer before her too brief life ended, shy of her fortieth birthday.  During this time, she recorded her debut album of original songs, Out of Shadows. This song was written during a time when I had not seen Samantha for several years. I knew that she had been ill. I had only met her a few times, but I thought of her often. I had recently gone back to school, where I had taken an astronomy course in addition to my courses in comparative religion. So I was thinking about stars, about time, about impossible distances. And I was thinking about Sam. Early this year, Samantha’s partner Alex wrote to me to let me know that she had passed. From his description, I had the sense that despite all of the pain that she had experienced, she had also come into a great and powerful beauty– realizing the preciousness of life, and living it to the absolute fullest.  Alex shared that he and Sam had been wed at Commonweal, a spiritual center that brings together people undergoing cancer’s initiation. I was honored and moved to hear that they had played my song “Woods Part of When” at their wedding. They had also created a music video for one of Samantha’s songs, “Blackbird Fly.” Recently, Alex traveled to Sam’s home country of Australia. There, at Cape Tribulation in the Queensland rainforest, he carved a memorial to her in stone. He plans to carve a similar memorial on a stone near Commonweal– two stones drawing a connect-the-dots line between two places that were dear to her, and between the two countries that made up an important part of her identity. Samantha had a message to share with others who might hear of her music,...

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Madame Mugwort

Posted by on Nov 11, 2013

Madame Mugwort

Today I was at the Nature Playground with Ember when I ran into a friend.  My friend is a wildcrafter, wise to the ways of things green and growing.  She knows where to find Elderberry, Mugwort, Chamomile, and she knows how to prepare them to unlock their powers.  Elderberry to keep well in winter, Mugwort for the intensification of dreams.  She shared with me that recently she had gone to the Mugwort patch as usual, but this time she felt strongly that she should not harvest from a single plant.  It was like a voice had spoken, she said.  You have to listen to the plant itself to know whether it is appropriate to take from them. I had been all morning hatching a song about similar, spectral certainties, and was intrigued. “What is it like,” I asked her, “when you listen to the plants?  Does each plant seem to have its own spirit?  Or does it all seem like part of the same voice, the same spirit, whether it be Madame Mugwort or Herr Thistle?” “I do experience it as a unified spirit,” she said.  “Sometimes it’s almost like I hear a voice.  There was one day, I was foraging in a glade, I was going to do some harvesting when I heard a surprisingly strong ‘don’t do it!  Turn back!  Don’t come near us!’  I was taken aback, and stopped to look and listen.  Then I saw t– right where I had been about to go, there was a man lurking, hiding himself in the bushes.  He looked like a shady character.  I felt like they had been warning me.” Such is the value of listening. Her story made me wonder, do I know how to listen like that?  Could I know?  Would I hear the same thing in a similar circumstance, and tune it out?  Could I learn to become more open to plants, as I have learned to be open to songs, and the mystery from which they come? “I would love to learn how to listen like that,” I tell her.  “How does one begin?” “You already know,” she said.  “It’s just a matter of learning how to let it...

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First Foray

Posted by on Oct 5, 2013

First Foray

Dear listeners, dear readers, It has been some time now since I maintained any kind of web presence beyond occasional updates on Facebook.  So much has happened during that time…  I went back to school.  I started a teaching career.  This past year, miracle of miracles, I had a baby. Given all these happenings in my life, I haven’t played shows in a while.  But it’s more than that…  Withdrawing from playing shows has  been one aspect of a broader pulling back from a lot of things I once cleaved to.   So many ideas I once held dear I have now departed from.  So many sureties abandoned in light of the discovery of necessary new uncertainties.  So many places where my priorities have rearranged themselves to accommodate new life and new possibilities. Amongst these changes has been a big shift in my relationship to technology.  Whereas once I delighted in new gadgets (primarily musical ones!), and shaped music accordingly, I now seem most drawn to things un-electric.  Hand hewn or God hewn.  Candlelight.  My acoustic guitar, unaffected, the way it sounds in my home recording space.  A wooden recorder; when my little son, Ember, gets into something on his own, I can pick it up and cheer us both with a tune.  The way the sunlight looks, filtering through branches in the park. Over the last years, books such as The Shallows have bolstered my determination to limit media usage in my life.  My worklife as a Waldorf teacher has been an conducive environment in which to do so. While some teachers face pressure to respond to e-mail multiple times during their work day, I happily purchased a granny phone to free me from the potential perpetual distraction of texting.  I removed all screens from the living areas of our home. It wasn’t just communicative media I began to release from my life.  I also stopped listening to much in the way of recorded music (though I never lost interest in recording it myself!)  Instead I joined a chorus, and even led a few.  I fell in love with what it feels like to sing with people in a room, how alive it is, a song just breathing in the air between you all, raising you up with its beauty. When I reflect on how my life has changed in the years since I pulled back from performing,...

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Not into Common Sense but into Love- Bewilderment and the Life of Study

Posted by on Oct 2, 2013

Not into Common Sense but into Love- Bewilderment and the Life of Study

An essay written during my studies at Harvard Divinity School. I am somewhere in Widener library, that same Widener library of dustless display cases and bronze founders overlooking a stately marble entranceway, but from here, the view is different. I am in a dense and airless space, an elevator, headed several stories underground to the Pusey library, apparently a sort of underground tomb connected to the main library by a web of catacombic tunnels. I am in search of a book. It is a testament to the scope of the Widener library, and also to the peculiar layout of the building, that I have been to the library three times so far to study, and this is the first time I’ve actually discovered where the books are. Unlike most libraries, in which the library collection is kept in the reading rooms, the books of Widener are kept in an entirely different portion of the building, a many-floored vault of stacks, all of which are accessed through a single room. But my book is even more deeply hidden, in the Pharaoh’s tomb at the heart of the pyramid. I watch the light signaling the floors go by as the elevator descends. I didn’t know Harvard went down so far. Does it? Feeling slightly claustrophobic, I have the sudden wild thought that I’m headed somewhere else, boring down through the place where Harvard ends– some place in space and in mind where my own thoughts of my studies meet the thoughts of the encompassing earth.   The elevator doors open, revealing a winding, windowless corridor through which I make my way, following maps on the wall with raised graphics for the blind, and the occasional red arrow proclaiming “Pusey!” Reaching my destination, I find it to be a vast though low-ceilinged room. There are too many books to allow them to all remain accessible at once, so the layout features motorized shelves, which mechanically part to reveal their holdings. Having found the right aisle, I press a red button and a corridor of folklore slides open before me. I see books of Latvian fairytales, books on witchcraft, tales of the Brothers Grimm. I wonder how long it has been since these shelves last slid open to admit a like-minded seeker. Running my fingers ancient spines, blood brown and green, I locate my book. Taking it from the shelf, however, I notice...

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