Archive for Georgia

Savannah Drum Circle

Posted in Critical Commentary of Civilization, Music Reviews, POB Audio, Spiritual with tags , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2014 by Drogo

While I was earning my Masters Degree in architecture from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), in Georgia, I lived on Forsyth Park during the 3 years. Forsyth Park was the largest park in the City of Savannah, and I was very lucky to have such a luxurious ‘yard’. I enjoyed walking and biking through it to classes, running around it and practicing martial arts in it for exercise, and wondering at the beauty of the spanish-moss in the live-oak trees, flowers, and green grass every day. Sometimes I would hear the drums calling to me, from across the fields of the Park, and I would find the free and open Forsyth Park Drum Circle. For a few months it was every Sunday at the Park for hours, but it would also happen randomly.

There were usually at least 2 or 3 drummers that would bring djembes and start drumming. Once they started the call to mass, others like myself would seek them out and join them. There was a tall blonde dreadlock guy named ‘Lion’, and some other hippy-type guys. My best friend in the circle was a hippy vegan girl, who kept a dog. I do not remember her name, but she always smiled a lot and lived a free and alternative life. I think many of the drummers were homeless to various degrees. I did not have a large drum, so I played my native american flute from Alabama (Llama Reed).

Sometimes other SCAD students came to play with us, and that is how some of us formed a ‘pan-ethnic music band’ called ‘The Lance Simmons Quintet’. Our college band was formed by a film student who played drums and chanted vocals. We also had a guitarist, a didgeridooer, and another percussionist. Our Quintet played at college events like ‘Battle of the Bands’ and ‘Pool Parties’, besides playing randomly outside in parks or at the beach. We recorded music in a SCAD sound studio, and made the soundtrack for a short film.

After I graduated in 2000, I was not able to find a similar drum circle in my home area, nor in all my travels; until 13 years later in Frederick Maryland. I would not even have found them probably, if not for Facebook and the ability for networking to find out about other locals. If not for Facebook it may have been a few more years before chance-fate allowed me to have a random encounter again outside in the Park. Drum Circle has changed my life.

Now that I am back with a drum circle on a regular basis, I feel a renewed sense of self-expression and common new-age communal values that have been so rare in Commercial American culture. Many of the mutual behaviors in drum circles, I have tried to express in my own life works (such as SCOD). Perhaps my spiritual belief in drum circle is deeply rooted in past tribal lives and my alternative Montesorri schooling; as my need for the ritual of drum circle is similar to the way many others must feel about attending a church or a more ‘professional band’ practice. Yet there is an alternative difference to drum circle that is very lacking in conventional traditions, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Some of the general ethics of drum circle groups include: freedom to join and play, bring your own instrument or respectfully play someone else’s, bring instruments to share if you want, and the desire to bliss out and allow others to do their thing.

Walton Drum

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Savannah, Georgia

Posted in Alternative Architecture, Historic Architecture, Organic Architecture, Recommendations & Tributes, Sustainability with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2013 by Drogo

Historic Architecture, Environmental Landscape, and Urban Social Art

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Savannah has the historic integrity of an ivy-league campus, yet for the poor as well as rich. Yes, it is very much the old pirate ‘Port Royal’ still, but in some ways it also surpasses the nobility of elite university campuses. Even the SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) campus is spread throughout the city, and SCAD classes are held in renovated industrial buildings, often with Richardsonian strength; so that liberal education is fully-integrated with the city. As far as competing with modern industrial metropolitan cities, Savannah has plenty of modern and post-modern architecture, and SCAD teaches cutting-edge technology; but it has no desire to be as massively impersonal as New York, or any other major city.

Savannah urban design is overwhelmingly utopian, despite there being dystopian flavors as well. The main streets force cars to either park or drive around the eleven park squares (circuses), while pedestrians can go straight through on sidewalks and bike lanes. It is easy to find any place in the formal city because there are no diagonal streets, one tall building in the middle (DeSoto Hotel), and a few tall buildings downtown parallel with the Savannah River. The downtown main-streets (River Street) on Saint Patrick’s Day are celebrated on par with Mardi-Gras. There are so many unique aspects to Savannah, from its very origins. The basic ‘Roman encampment’ grid urban layout is flavored by multiple circuses with vegetation. Live-oaks, palms, and crepe-myrtle trees are naturally hung with Spanish moss. From sandy soil hedges, herbs, flowers and grasses are also publicly grown for the enjoyment of all.

I will find out more about the city founders, besides Oglethorpe; specifically the Native American chief of the local Creek Indians, because he seems to deserve the same level of respect as the English founder, Oglethorpe. The British and Indians were friends, and one of the largest monuments in a prominent park is dedicated to the Indian Chief’s grave. Southern hospitality is less surface courtesy in Savannah, and more a part of its essence; in regards to integration of whites and blacks, international representation, multi-culturalism, and willingness to welcome even enemies (like General Sherman during the Civil War).

There are several ways to consider the social types that comprise the ‘daily population’ of Savannah. There are five basic social types; the rich residents (white blue-blood aristocracy and new-money millionaires), the poor working-class (merchant and service residents and workers), the street beggars (homeless, hustlers, artists), SCAD students (artists, professors, staff), and tourists (pedestrian, trolley, horse-buggy).

According to Dr. Hsu-Jen Huang (SCAD Architecture Professor), Savannah has been growing, even during the recession. In ten years, the city population and SCAD enrollment have doubled. Some buildings still fall between the cracks, but for every loss two more renovations or new constructs emerge. After the 1994 book Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannah has continued to blossom as one of the best cities in the World. Many of its qualities were always inherent in the original urban design, and it continues to grow because of accepted differences.

From the American Revolution, to the Civil War, and beyond; Savannah embraces its strange stories. It has an other-worldly, old world, old town feel. Ghost tours are quite at home with the lamp-lights, cobblestone streets, brick walkways, and French ironwork balconies. It is in fact a small city; one which favors pedestrian traffic more than automobiles. The whole downtown is walkable, and locals often easily commute with bicycles as well (as I did for 3 years).

There are so many fun things to do there, it might be hard to know were to begin; if Savannah were not an immediately immersible, hospitable environment. The whole city is a memory garden, which literally blooms because of all the flowers. There are less flowers and leaves in the Winter, but Fall, Winter, and Spring are best weather-wise; as there is rarely snow, and Summers are often walls of heat and humidity (which it is known for even during Fall and Spring).

Architecturally Savannah is truly unique, with historic world and southern romantic blends. Town-houses often have the side-porch design, as with nearby Charleston, SC. The cast-iron railings and french dormers have that New Orleans feel. Parks and trees really do make a huge difference for traffic. Even while continuing to grow, Savannah is still one of the most colorful and pedestrian friendly cities in America. I can say after living there, the magic is real; including the variety of character personalities that the famous book alludes to.

Midnight In the Garden of Good & Evil describes much of the architectural and social feel of the town. ‘Midnight’ the book has much more analysis of detail, while the film has literally has more visual images. I lived in three parts of town, and often passed by famous landmarks on daily commutes to classes. The main character’s house (Mercer Mansion) is on Bull Street along a square, towards the largest city park, Forsyth Park. Forsyth Park was my favorite park that I loved living on, because of the large open grass lawns, largest and most beautiful fountain, organic paths, and shady flora. There I was free to publicly practice Tai-Chi, hippy folk music, or jogging without much bother.

Most of this essay describes the utopian aspects of Savannah, but this paragraph should put some of the dystopian perspectives in context. The poor and the dead, out-number the rich and the living. Southern swamp-lands naturally have a salty entropic power that corrodes metals, moisture that promotes the decay of organic matter, and massive humidity that stifles productive activity, while encouraging roaches and gnats. The humane social ‘decadence’ of the town, allows for an ease of poverty. Kindness tolerates and sometimes falls prey to hustlers. Vandalism and theft are common crimes in Savannah, with the occasional mugging (typical of cities in general). Although crimes are committed by lower classes, the majority (which are poor) are respectful, lawful, and often generous. So you see despite the ‘scariness’, actual dangers are minimal for a city.

Savannah’s name appropriately indicates the climate heat, and the flat field look of the surrounding wetland marsh grasses. Old pirate maps referred to the lands inland along the River as ‘Savannah Land’. Google Street view is very impressive, with realism. It really helps get the feel for the freedom of moving through the town by photographic vista. In the 1990’s we were taking panoramic photos for architecture projects so it really feels appropriate. Day trips easily include the famous Bonaventure Cemetery, Oatland Island Wildlife Center, and Tybee Island Beach.

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AUGUSTA PUBLIC LIBRARY 2010

Posted in Alternative Architecture, Arts (Design & Performance), Sustainability with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2010 by Drogo

Augusta Architectural Commentary

Written by Walton Stowell II in 1999

SCAD Design Charrette in Augusta, GA

AUGUSTA PUBLIC LIBRARY 2010

Augusta, Georgia was once a harsh city of industrial decay. Augusta society struggled to defend itself from urban anti-establishment street honor codes. Now it maintains a verdant stability under the reign of ‘Holistic Education’.

“The only thing that should be strange and foreign to the people of today, is ignorance.” – Architect Walton Stowell II

When the Augusta Library was first built, times were changing. Technology was evolving faster than biological life on this planet. The masses were given a new way to explore the microcosm and macrocosm, virtually via computers and communication systems. This revolution continues to take place.

“In a world of net empathy, what was once silly, foreign, and bizarre is now honestly and truly accepted as part of humanity; whether deemed a desirable or less desirable. The masses may have been multiplied by ignorant consumer addicts of the last century, but the new opiate is education. The only silliness is the plastic decadence of our past century.” – Architect Walton Stowell II

The architects of the Augusta Library saw that the people of the late 20th Century had a ‘lumpy composite of antiquated skepticism and neglected neocortex’. They felt the shockwaves of a brave, newly connected digital world. The melting pot of the United States was still a polychromatic blur of capitalism and commercialism in the 1990’s. The individual ingredients of this stew were following popular social trend clusters that were changing too fast for anything to be standard for very long. The blur was becoming standard, as all defined standards became stagnant and often rapidly fell out of favor.

Rather than reject urban reactionary arts like spray paint graffiti, the architects realized it as part of the urban language that could be embraced, and manifested as a positive expression of the creativity of youth. While certain aspects were not encouraged, like tagging private property with negativity that belonged to someone else; other aspects were controlled and focused on, like pride in community art in public places.

“We are in a Catch 22 Brave New World Revolution that started in 1984.” – WSII

We were a people so full of substances, yet void of real Substance. Born to a commercial culture of cherished materialism and limited understanding of existence, egos were protected by accepted artificial conventions. The new Augusta Library was meant to help fill that void, and be a beacon of light, knowledge, and understanding.

Here is a famous poem inscribed on one of the Library entry walls:

“How cute we were indeed,

still clinging to our selfish conventions like babies.

For a human to only take, is immature.

Taking without giving is not harmonious;

it is not beautiful or honorable.

Human neocortical behavior can transcend

our basic subconscious appetites of Id.

With the cutting of a tree, we should plant three.

The owner of a new wooden house

would have many scars indeed

if they were to be cut for each tree,

each wound they did to the forest.

We bred animals in cages to be slaughtered

to feed ourselves by the masses,

while we kept so many animals as pets,

who were often treated better than humans

because they were deemed ‘cute’.

We lived in denial of reality, in mass.

We will no longer be ignorant.” – SCOD

Now men and women of integrated nationalities and cultures, rather than races, move through an orchestrated modern city. Augusta is now once again organically saturated by the chirping of birds, and alternatively powered music. Industry and businesses hire musicians and other artists to suit the required atmosphere: drummers for physical labor, jazz for entertainment, courthouses play opera, fast food plays fast Mozart, historic places play historic music, and elevator music changes based on our moods. The more complicated the function, the more complex the music.

Augusta is now a beacon of hope, thanks in part to the Public Library. Holistic Education has allowed us to see things in new ways, and not be blind bigots. The Peace we enjoy with a smart Self Defense Department, was only possible through the inner peace we managed to achieve as individuals.

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(note: this is an architectural manifesto for a theoretical project, which was part of an inter-collegiate event to project into the future, and therefore was not built and remains fictional)