Better late than never?

You know how it is: you start a new blog, intend to keep something of it going and then circumstances change and it all goes a bit awry. Well, that happened.  Here’s a brief summary of life over the past 8 months.

Firstly, I didn’t do anywhere near enough work in Semester 1, and the blog was not the only thing to suffer.  I’m catching up but this week, having been Freshers’ Week, I’m nowhere near target either, so procrastinating here probably isn’t helping greatly.

Secondly, it all kicked off at work: we had a sudden closedown of the trial I work on. That meant having to fit 2yrs worth of work into practically 3 months. My study work didn’t suffer much but everything else did.

Finally, there has been a lot of things to do with organising and administering RPGSoc and related outfits to be done.

Of course, that wasn’t the half of it: what else has been going on?

RPGSoc won the National Student Roleplaying and Wargaming Championships in Manchester: I’m the current Champion of D&D 5th Edition and Large Model Painting.  I have been playing 5th Edition on Thursday nights still: our gaming group has changed with the change of storyline, and it’s not as good anymore (the group slightly, the storyline mostly), but it’s still brilliant 😀

I’ve been to no airshows since the loss from the air of Vulcan XH558, but I did go to both Bruntingthorpe Cold War Jets open days with my friend from Essex who’s recently moved to the area and I also went to Newark Air Museum’s Fleet & Foreign Open Cockpits thing (although only for the Foreign-y bit), as well as City of Norwich Aviation Museum while I was visiting Emilie and the East Midlands Airport Aeropark with my Mum.  I also visited the Avro Heritage Museum last December with Matt.  So that’s four new Vulcans on the ‘visited’ list 🙂

We went abroad to Austria for the first time in ages and I remembered how much I miss Graz.  Some friends moved back to Nottingham and it’s like the family came home.

My Masters has really kicked off: I’ve been to loads of conferences as a participant so I’ve travelled well!  I’ve also met lots of very interesting and lovely people.  My supervisor thinks my work is very good (it has been described as ‘excellent’!) so it can’t all be that bad.

Let’s not leave it another eight months, eh?  Well, I’ll try my best.

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Philosophy of Language

I am interested in philosophy of language, but I don’t really understand it: I read the suggested reading and understand it as I read, but as soon as I finish, it’s gone from my mind.  To really make sense of it, I have to make notes as I go, which is time-consuming, but is it worth it?

I went to this seminar having read all the recommended reading, understood it and, as just mentioned, entirely forgotten it all (making extensive, time-consuming notes was not worthwhile for this seminar given my other responsibilities).  But I learned some things in the seminar which were useful, and backed up my ideas: that’s crucial, because if my ideas had been wrong I would have been too demoralised to even think about looking at it for my research.

I consider myself a novice in this area: I’ve always had more to do in the linguistics side than the philosophy side.  It also doesn’t help that it’s all generally written in a high register which I now have difficulty understanding, but was probably fine when I was constantly immersed in high-end academic writings (so, 2002-6).  But I think it might be worth looking at.

As I am looking at interpretation of song lyrics, the philosophy becomes important: it is all about relevance, inference, meaning defined and meaning received.  So I will read the book the lecturer kindly lent me and make extensive notes on it, and then I will decide if it’s worth including.  At the very least, it is worth looking at because it is interesting, and at worst I will have more things to think about.

My First Month (Back)

I have been attending University as a postgraduate researcher for four weeks now, so I feel an update on progress is in order.

Things have not really settled down yet: it was my birthday Monday and prior to that there were many other interruptions to contend with: Vulcan tours, my parents visiting, friends visiting…  On top of only discovering at the last minute there’s a whole raft of seminars and workshops to attend, rather than the half-dozen I’d been led to expect by everyone and everything (not erroneously, either!), things have been rather busy.

It was quite useful, then, to ‘attend’ the second ECR Chat of the academic year on ‘Dealing with Competing Demands’, during which I was notably multitasking on watching Twitter and playing in Matt’s roleplaying game.  This week’s training workshop also touched on multitasking and time-management, two things I have become very proficient in recently: I have created a timetable of my entire life until the start of January!  And only that far because I don’t know yet what’s really happening beyond.

Things will settle better from this weekend onwards: less visitors, less touring, less nights out.  Yes, nights out: RusSoc and RPGSoc have had a few events I’ve attended which have been out in town, with a few more this week.  At least the RusSoc ones involved a considerable amount of Russian practice.

Another large chunk of Russian practice came when I had to go to London to have my fingerprints digitally (ha ha!) taken for my Russian visa.  Sitting in the waiting area of the Russian National Tourist Office meant I was exposed to Russian (at a level I could understand), and mine and Matt’s trip to the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum straight after involved a lot of trying to work out not only what words meant, but also semi-obscured handwriting.  At least it was all post-revolution Cyrillic this time!

With all this gallivanting about, I don’t feel like I’ve really done much.  I have, though: part of my ‘research’ is preparing for this research trip to Russia, so those hours spent writing interview requests and emailing them (or, in some cases, messaging on Facebook) are ‘counted’, as are at least some of those spent going to London, applying for my visa etc.  And I have had time to squeeze in a little bit (maybe a half-hour?) of ‘real’ research preparation.  Which is nothing, but I also know that won’t last: I’m only four weeks in, and week six sees the start of the time I have time.

I think I’ve mostly been semi-demoralised by the lack of progress as compared to other times: even my second undergraduate degree, which was similar to this in that it was part-time and I was working otherwise full-time, but being taught meant I ‘progressed’ much quicker.

Another similarity between my BSc and this MA is the feeling of isolation, which is not entirely anyone’s fault.  I might have kept in contact with the Department since 2006, but things have undeniably changed, not least the format of what I’m doing.  I have tried to make friends, mostly outside of the Department because I think it’s easier to make friends within, but even within the Department and my peer group I find it hard because we’re all working on our own projects, I’m not often in the Department or on the same campus, I don’t want to follow around the people who attend the same seminars etc. as I do like a lost puppy and, crucially, I’m a bit too independent for my own good.  Which is why I think I feel the need to attend departmental stuff as often as I can.  I was going to attend SlavSoc but it’s all drinking and that’s boring, although they do appear to be trying to start something more inclusive.

Well, hopefully some sort of stability for the next two to three weeks will mean I feel much more settled and much less like I’m floundering in a dark sea…

(Postgraduate) Welcome Week: A Re-Starting Student’s Perspective

Last week was Week One at the University of Nottingham, when students arrive or return to study.  I was in the odd situation of returning to start: I graduated in 2006 but came back this year to start my Masters.  So while I am back in familiar territory, many things are new and even Week One itself was rather unusual.

The sports hall at University Park is currently under renovation, which meant Freshers’ Fair was all up the creek as the fields the marquee has been on for the past eight years was full of construction paraphernalia.  Back in 2002, the Fair was held in the (unextended) Portland Building, but there weren’t 271 societies to squeeze in, so space was at a premium this year as we returned: RPGSoc were initially supposed to be outside with standing room and an allocated interaction space for an hour a day in the Hobbies room, but the atrocious weather on Monday was a godsend: we set up the little table in the room and did what we usually do, only with the ‘come and have a go’ space we’d always wanted.  Our allocated outside space didn’t go to waste either: we sent some LARPers out to show off our ‘public’ face too.

Other than standing around catching the eyes of introverted geeks and asking them what sort of roleplaying appealed to them, I actually had things to do.  As a part-time student, everything there was a bit weird too.  I don’t think I was truly required to attend anything, as they expected me to be away working but as I always have Week One off, it seemed daft not to get involved as much as I could.  I attended four Welcomes: two aimed primarily at Research postgrads, one for just the half-dozen new Russianists (although one was continuing from undergrad and I was sort-of a returner) and one for all CLAS (Cultures, Languages and Area Studies) postgrads.  There was also a welcome party thing for all Russian students, where I met lots of new people, hopefully didn’t scare too many and drank rather a lot of wine.

Thursday I had my ‘admin’ day: I attempted to pick up my student card but Student Services was so rammed I didn’t bother; I found out where the SSAGC (Social Sciences and Arts Graduate Centre), had coffee and biscuits with people much older and much younger than me and introduced myself to lots of postgrad History people; I also had a look around and ate my lunch in the CLAS study area at the bottom of Trent where the Language Learning Centre (not the Language Centre) used to be.

All that remains before I really push on is to get together with my fellow Russian postgrads to find out what’s going on and have my first supervision on Friday.  And that is the scariest part for me: real supervisions with people who care about something I actually care about too!  Wish me luck!

Ariia: The Forgotten Albums

I recently uploaded some new and some forgotten albums to my Google Play account.  I realised I hadn’t heard such gems as Poterianniy Ray (Lost Paradise) or Probil Chas (Comes the Hour) in some time, so I wondered which albums I had missed uploading.  I’d also bought an MP3 CD of the newer releases and some of the Kipelov albums.

[I should add here that Kipelov are a heavy metal band fronted by Valeriy Kipelov, for many years lead singer of Ariia, and contains a number of ex-Ariia musicians. They formed in 2002.  The ‘split’ could be equated with that of Ariia-Master in 1987]

Needless to say, I’d forgotten how good it all was.  I must have avoided adding Shtil’ (Calm) because there were a couple of very poor songs (notably that English song and the duet with UDO is not to may taste), and I never had a legal copy of Probil Chas until recently. I also quite like the differences in the Kipelov albums to the Ariia albums too: it’s very similar, but different.  More to my taste, maybe: I haven’t decided yet.

Still languishing in the attic is 2000 i odna noch’ (2000 and One Nights), which will need to be uploaded, especially as Kto Ty? (Who are You?) is one of my ‘missed’ songs.  I have started uploading the live and compilation albums as a whole rather than just the songs I like off of them: so Bespechniy Angel (Carefree Angel) would need to be dug out as well.

I am also enjoying the one-off AVAriia ( a play-on-words: avariia is emergency) acoustic album by two of the Ariia members.  Although it is quite strange hearing songs you know and love sung in a toned-down, acoustic, that-song-by-Extreme manner!

Ice dragon

The Three Metal Operas, Part One: Treasures of Epidemiia

In this post I would like to introduce Epidemiia in the same way that I discovered them: though their metal operas.

Epidemiia are a power metal band from Moscow. I first discovered them by picking up a CD in one of St. Petersburg’s ‘505’ outlets in 2004. I was attracted by the stylised dragon design and because I recognised the name of Ariia’s then lead singer, Artur Berkut. I had some experience of rock opera, but metal opera was a new thing to me. Power metal was something I had only got into more recently too: as a classic metal fan I had only in the last year been exposed to such bands as Iced Earth and Helloween.

Epidemiia: El'fiiskaiia Rukipis' album cover

A stylised gold dragon with participants’ names and bands around the edge

I was hooked: as a fantasy fan in general, the language, themes and characters were instantly appealing. The music was great too: powerful, expressive, emotive. This was their first metal opera, El’fiiskaiia Rukopis’, ‘The Elven Manuscript’. I chose the transcript as my language project for my final semester at University, which was when I discovered the Dragonlance references. This is a series of books set in Krynn, one of the worlds associated with Dungeons & Dragons. I am familiar with it although I would not call myself well-read in the series.

Briefly, the story follows a half-elf called Dezmond as he tries to save his world, Eniia, from invasion by the evil Deimos who lives in the sister-world to Eniia. The songs are good, but not outstanding, and the storyline is excellent.

Epidemiia: El'fiiskaia Rukopis' - Skazanie Na Vse Vremena album cover

The dragon is now ‘stained glass’ and the names are gone

After this I looked at Epidemiia’s other albums and found I enjoyed them. A second metal opera, following directly on from ‘The Elven Manuscript’, was released in 2007. I unfortunately did not manage to get a physical copy of this until recently, but I downloaded the transcript and lyrics. It is called El’fiiskaiia Rukopis’: Skazanie na Vse Vremena (The Elven Manuscript: A Story for All Time). This time, Dezmond and Torvald (his human friend) must help Deimos prevent an invasion to his world, Ksentaron, by the daemoness Minatrix who has sought help from Deimos’ erstwhile companion Skai, the blue dragon. The songs are better, in my opinion, and the storyline is not as strong but carries quite well.

Epidemiia: Sokrovishche Enii

A whole new style for a whole new outing

Finally for the trilogy, Sokrovishche Enii (Treasure of Eniia) was released in 2014. With the weakest storyline but the best songs, it follows on again from the previous opera but less directly as it takes a tangent and follows the gold dragon Giltias and dwarf Drogbar as they investigate an unused portal between Ksentaron and Eniia. It features a star-studded cast and was performed in full in Moscow and St. Petersburg during 2014: I was lucky enough to see the latter (a review for a later post).

I hope this post has given you an insight into Epidemiia and my opinions on their Metal Operas. If you would like more information, you can visit their official site at www.epidemia.ru but it is all in Russian; Wikipedia carries an article in English at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemia, as well as a page on the first metal opera, but there is little else English-language out there for non-Russian speakers. Hopefully I can add some useful insights for the English-speaking community into my favourite power metal band!

All pictures from epidemia.ru; click album covers to go through to the corresponding page

And so it begins…

On Monday 22nd June I received my offer to start a Masters at the University of Nottingham, researching Russian heavy metal.

If you’ve made it this far, then that’s a good sign!  It means you’re not one of the many doubters (most of whom are more than willing to confess they know nothing about the Arts Postgraduate Research system) or you are, but curiosity has overcome your disgust!

This means that, from September, I’ll be back to being a student in the University where it all started.  I will confess now to feeling like I was 18 again, receiving an email with the congratulatory but guarded tone of the standard offer letter.  Of course, this being nine years post-graduation (from the subject), my offer was unconditional this time and I don’t need to sort accommodation or travel, nor funding and things (at least not this year).

I do, however, have to negotiate a day off a week at work. I hope this will give me enough time to dedicate to my Masters research, as I am carrying out the course as part-time study.  I cribbed off this website and, working for eight hours each study day plus another nine-ish hours per week will cover the apparent 1800 hours recommended (as far as I can determine) for the course.

The research itself will involve me looking at the influence of politics on the lyrics of Ariia’s first album, Megalomania, written and recorded on to cassette tape in late 1985. At the time, heavy metal was still banned in the Soviet union, and Gorbachev’s perestrokia reforms hadn’t even begun to take hold. But change was in the air. Ariia (Ария) are arguably the most successful Russian heavy metal band, and while this album was not the first heavy metal album to be written and recorded (I think that honour goes to Black Coffee), another is supposedly the first to be officially released in 1987 at the lifting of the ban.

ARIA logo

And why start this now? Because now it’s official and I will be doing this. When it was still merely a possibility, there wasn’t much point in posting in this blog. But now, now things are official, now all the hard work over the past 6 years has come to fruition, it’s live.

Or should that be alive?