Shadows are over
Blue painted sky stays for now
Sunlight streaming in
Slicing through the thick darkness
Welkin up above
After spending past five years of my life in Los Angeles, seeing magnificent towers and sea of people on the streets of New York really dazzled my imagination. For the whole time I was in New York, I couldn’t rest; I couldn’t take my minds off from the world around me.
In Los Angeles, big real estate developers are trying to build what they call “Times Square West” in Downtown LA. But, I doubt that it will ever match the fierce splendor of Manhattan .
I was doing a little reading on Welkin in anticipation of the launch event this evening, and found this interesting Wikipedia article about a line of warplanes built in the 1940s with the intention of fighting at high altitudes.
For those interested, here is the link:
Welkin… it sounds so strange, yet so familiar. The vault of heaven. I like it. Then I saw the del.icio.us “Wolken” link, with all these skies from around the world—photographed, labeled with location, date and time, as if the skies were classical architecture captured on a sightseeing tour, snapped by someone fascinated with vaulted ceilings. Imagine the joy of that tourist spotting that cloud over Brussels, Belgium, on October 10, 2005, at 4:30 in the afternoon. A welkin touched by a rainbow, touched as if by a seven-fingered hand frantically hailing the bus that didn’t stop, throwing itself up so high, it discovered the texture of Brussels’ ceiling—dissolving disappointment, discovering welkin.
Lynne and I had a wonderful chat about the artistry of “Wolken” and the word almost being welkin. Wolken is the word for clouds in Dutch, my mother tongue. Welkin and wolken—not quite synonymous, but they must be distant cousins. The next day, I went for a walk at lunchtime, with the podcast of the Writer’s Almanac of March 28th in my ears. Garrison Keillor read Gary Johnson’s “Up in the sky the lovers lay in bed…”
Next time I look up between the skyscrapers of this awesome city, I may just say: “Thank you, welkin. Thank you.”
In creating my finished video for Welkin I made a few significant changes- none of which change the overall concept of the piece but hopefully do bring out the meaning more clearly. In the updated version there is now a littering of street noise behind the sound of the bells from the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Ditmars Boulevard and 29th street. At first I tried to use filters to mute these sounds- cars and trucks rolling by, children talking to their parents, someone mustering up a big, phlegmy wad to thrust forth onto the sidewalk. In recutting I realized that these sounds are just as ambient to me as the bells. Unlike the cacophony of airheads screaming on their cellphones or fresh-faced graduates gushing about the newest Sushi joint or coffee shop to pop up (thereby closing another local business such as the tattoo parlor that recently went under) these other sounds are a sampling of what I still love about my neighborhood. A diverse group are responsible for these sounds- Greeks, Italians, Indians and Pakistanis to name a few. But more and more this aural landscape is morphing into a screeching record of American white girls who twitter like they’re twelve when in reality puberty is a thing of their past. Sauntering around in their purple leggings, it’s a challenge not to shove them in front of the Q19 bus.
I still can’t figure out why these things were easier to take when I first moved to Queens in 2003. I’m sure these people were all part of my environment then as well, but for some reason I was able to ignore them in ways that I just can’t anymore.
The use of super-8 for the first segment is symbolic of a time when things were simpler, especially my attitude. I’d sit on the balcony of my apartment and stare up at the sky just as it is being presented to the viewer here- eyes to the sky, embracing the hazy lull as planes and blimps float by overhead, impervious to the frivolties of the world beneath them.
In the second segment of “Welkin” the medium changes to video- something I have also had a difficult relationship with. I appreciate video and it’s versatility; however, it has also allowed any fool that can press “record” to boast himself as a “filmmaker” (which, for the record, is an inaccurate moniker if you’ve only ever used video). Coincidentally, the growing yupster population seems to be ripe with these budding young “auters.”
It only made sense, then, to use video as the illustrating medium for the segment of the piece in which everything abruptly changes. In an instant the soft focus of the film cuts to sharp digital images of an electrical storm. The lightning is a seizure-inducing spasm of activity, an electric fence between Earth and the Vault of Heaven. The bells are no longer the eloquent song of the Immaculate Conception Church, but the sonorous din of a Belgian cathedral- invasive and deafening just like this unstoppable breed of new New Yorkers.
As I turn the corner from Smith Street onto my short block in Brooklyn on a late winter afternoon just a few months after moving to the neighborhood, I notice that the sky somehow seems very different here. To my left and right the buildings take a few steps backwards, like cancan dancers on a stage, kicking their legs with lifted arms. After discovering the almost obsolete welkin, I know there is a single word I can use to describe this celestial beckoning.
33rd Street @ Ditmars Blvd (visual)
Hellgate Bridge (visual)
24th Street @ Ditmars Blvd (visual)
ConEd Plant @ 19th Ave (visual)
Immaculate Conception Church, 29th St @ Ditmars Blvd (audio)
There is surprisingly little to be found on google about the term welkin. It is an archaic word meaning “the sky” and is rarely used in modern language except for in the phrase “to make the welkin ring,” meaning to cause a loud noise. It is also the name of a death metal band and a computer systems corporation based in North Virginia. Susan pointed out that the origin of the word comes from the Old Enlgish “Wolcen” and directed me to a wolcen-themed blog, which you readers may enjoy
Back to welkin. The bare-basic concept of my entry for welkin is to introduce my neighborhood through a series of tranquil shots, panning across the area skyline as viewed from my old balcony and my current apartment. At the moment we transfer to video, I hope to illustrate the act of making the welkin ring, disrupting the serene mood with the abrasive intrusion of bells and lightning, symbolizing the pace of (not necessarily welcome) change in this city.
Getting the audio cut to my liking proved to be a bit of a challenge. I wanted to record the bells of the Immaculate Conception Church- a goal I’ve had in the back of mind for three years and have only now found an excuse to try. I really hate being seen doing my creative work, so I wasn’t about to go all-out dragging a microphone over to the church, I didn’t even go in to the church, rather I took my handheld dv camera, found a spot on the back stoop, and hit “record.” Consequently, I had every person I turned to for audio design assistance gripe about the poor quality of my recording. I can’t argue that fact, but there was something important to me about capturing an honest depiction of things as I hear them which is why I like my results. You never hear just one sound at one time in this city. You have to master the art of tuning out the static and hearing what’s soothing. If you do this here you will find that, despite the background chatter and traffic, there is beautiful music being played.
This piece is in many ways symbolic of my current relationship with New York. In considering leaving I’ve also been forced to consider what I will miss if I leave. I know that as long as I live within the five burroughs, I’ll want to live in Astoria. It’s been a source of serenity for me in the years that I’ve lived here and I find it very aesthetically pleasing. The problem I’m having lately is that I find my serenity being disrupted more and more lately by the sight of walking attitudes with bad haircuts, wide-eyed recent graduates from the Midwest, and yuppie couples hogging the sidewalk. It’s not overwhelming yet, but it’s a noticeable evolution that’s really been getting under my skin. I’m the first to admit that my misanthropic aversion to my own demographic is somewhat odd, but I stand by my love of old people and families and my desire to live quietly amongst them. When the panoramic view of my neighborhood skyline is disrupted by the electrical storm it is representative of what I have considered an unwelcome intrusion into my peace of mind.