The 23 Club Brief Comments

The following brief comments may provide some insight to how I have processed my own landscape samples into this story.

I arranged these comments, for reference convenience, according to the story structure.  For each episode and its parts, I have included a Media Location Index, organized on a minutes and seconds timeline.

Opening Sequence

A soft dream, a hopeful dream is embedded in the opening music…music that like the best of a chiaroscuro, does not reveal all.

The opening epigram refers to both history and chiaroscuro.  The shades of gray in a chiaroscuro affect our lives both in what we sense and what we remember…there is something missing in chiaroscuro, something is hinted at, something is missing; and something always seems to be of the property of changing…something changing, and we don’t always perceive what is changing, or, how it is changing…history is written in a similar shorthand, written with things missing.  We have no choice.

A Glossary of Musical Terminology defines perdendosi as: dying away; decreasing in dynamics, in tempo, in form .  This perdendosi sample occurs at the introduction to every episode.  Perdendosi is like memory, it dies away…it is like color in the crepuscule, it dies away…it is like history, it dies away…it dies away with the soft subtle sweetness of a pleasant chiaroscuro blend…and then it is all gone.  Or…maybe…it is about an undercurrent of uncertainty…an undercurrent of quietly disturbing noise…somewhere, just beneath the surface.

Episode 1::Desertification

David Lean, in the mid 1960s, made a large step to international immortalization of T.E. Lawrence in his epic movie, Lawrence of Arabia.  His cinematographer, Freddy Young, made the desert an incredible landscape spectacle.  I attended the Lawrence of Arabia West End opening week in London 1963.  Little did I know then that the Anatolian Turks, and the Empty Quarter would, later in my own life, become for decades, my personal and professional home.

In Part 1, Prologue, an animated global graphic shows the geographic relational distance between Zurich and Dubai, between Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, as Erik Chalmers is headhunted for a project in the Arabian Peninsula Empty Quarter.

In Part 2, Berner Alps, Erik Chalmers’ wife Madge, absorbs the beauty of their retirement landscape in Switzerland, especially stirred by springtime.  A selection of images and sounds enrich the description. Concluding Part 2, Berner Alps, is an alphorn solo (Jozsef Molnar, of Ranz des Vaches that traditionally brings tears to the eyes of Swiss mountain folk as it recalls the richness of the beauty, the culture and the intimate life style of the people, their mountains, their animals.

In Part 03, Madge, sounds and images from the landscape, near Madge and Erik’s chalet, bring to life the environmental wealth of their location.

In Part 07, Arabia Felix, an extensive series of animated maps displays the cultural and natural geography of the region, with background samples from Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov’s Sheherezade, Opus 35-4.  The music is absolutely compelling.  It is in itself a chiaroscuro of emotions.  It carries a full quota of the bittersweet emotion that seems to flow, ever so subtly, from the sands of the Empty Quarter.  Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov’s relationships with 1001 Arabian Nights and Alexander Borodin provide many doors through which one may pass to further explore these eternally evolving facets of this sandy, oriental node.  It is entrancing, simply entrancing, a kaleidoscope of fairy tale images…a kaleidoscope of weaving tales….

Episode 1 Media Location Index

00:00-(o)-audio sample opening music

00:30-(o)-animation clip Perdendosi

01:42-(1)-animation clip Dubai/Zurich/Dubai/Zurich

04:02-(2)-audio sample of mountain valley spring birdsong

05:21-(2)-series of mountain valley images

05:31-(2)-audio sample of open valley pasture cow bells

05:43-(2)-audio sample from Ranz des Vaches alphorn by Josef Molnar

10:04-(3)-video clip and audio sample from high mountain snow melt

11:21-(3)-series of high mountain images

28:18-(7)-audio samples from Sheherazade 

31:17-(7)-images of Dubai dhows

Episode 2::It’s 2AM

The samples, from George Kooymans’ work with Golden Earing (, fit perfectly Erik Chalmers’ emotional set.  In Episode 1, there was an emotional crashing between Erik and Madge, wherein Madge detailed all the reasons why another assignment in the Arabian Peninsula should not be undertaken.  Erik went anyway.  Then, when in his first two days, a number of cross cultural experiences turned him inside out, he wondered whether eternal fate had indeed turned its back on him.  He wondered had he entered the twilight zone.

In Part 1, Dubai Arrival, samples from DJ Sharam’s ( Global Underground 29 Dubai mix gives the pace the flavor of 21st century Dubai, and its quickly evolving metropolitan culture.  In a description of the music, ‘a melodic blend of percussion, crunchy synths, and sweet sultry vocals…the bass line kicks into a comfortable but harder tribal rhythm before being melted into the next…’, one sees how this multi-cultural society blends in real time.  It absolutely captures Dubai 2006 and the years following.

In Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5 there are a mashup of background clips recorded live at the Ashura parades in Bahrain between 1991 and 2006.  The noise they make in the background is very much integral to the story…noise…stuff that gets in the way of neatly packaging anything…that stuff you don’t see in chiaroscuro…that leaves you with an agitation…a background agitation that just never goes away…

At the conclusion of Episode 2, at the very end of Part 5 is a sample with Cole Porter singing and playing ‘Anything Goes’ which does two things.  It sets the ‘anything goes’ mode often encountered on these large international projects in extreme environments…but more importantly it introduces the next Episode which is distinctly flavored by the 1920s and 30s era of Cole Porter, Harry Vardon and P.G. Wodehouse.

Episode 2 Media Location Index

00:59-(o)-audio sample from George Kooymans Golden Earing, It’s 2AM

01:56-(o)-audio sample from DJ Sharam

03:25-(2)-audio sample from Bahrain Ashura, warped

07:41-(3)-audio samples from Bahrain Ashura, warped

10:50-(4)-multiple audio samples from Bahrain Ashura, crescendo

15:12-(5)-audio sample from Bahrain Ashura, progressive echo

18:14-(5)-audio samples from Cole Porter, Anything Goes

Episode 3::Spike Lounge

‘We don’t need the key we’ll break in’ follows very comfortably from ‘anything goes’.  And the rage of Zack de la Rocha ( very nearly matches the rage pent up in the main antagonist character of this story, who is introduced in detail in this Episode.  There is irony when examining the rage of the revolutionary de la Rocha and the rage of Theuns van der Walt whose family was killed by revolutionaries.  It is an ironic rage sandwich around death.  It would be literary fun if it was not a horrible death caused by rage.

In Parts 1 and 2, Sharam’s Dubai Underground sets the pace, the tone, the rhythm of Dubai in the background, always there, always pumping, always eager.

In Part 3, Cole Porter returns, reminding that ‘anything goes’ as Erik Chalmers describes a dramatic, seductive, belly dance experience, inspired by landscape design stage set.

In Part 4 Cole Porter, Harry Vardon and PG Wodehouse combine to set the tone for the Clubhouse, all overseen by the venerable oldest member from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, and recently of the R&A, the Royal and Ancient, Mr. Bankley Cuthbert, Esquire.  Now, this really is good fun…all good fun!

Episode 3 Media Location Index

01:23-(o)-audio sample from DJ Sharam Dive In

05:05-(1 and 2)-audio sample from DJ Sharam Dive In

07:01-(3 and 4)-audio sample from Cole Porter Anything Goes

15:52-(5)-audio sample from Rage Against the Machine, Know Your Enemy

Episode 4::The Walk

Zack de la Rocha ( returns with his rage against the powers; and it is exactly the powers that run the projects that Erik Chalmers fixes.  The tension from the top is always there, either in Erik’s face, or in the background.

In Parts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 Sharam’s DU29 ( perfectly fits the multi cultural buzz of a street scene in Dubai…it is heavily ‘bling-bling’…but it is even more heavily lots of jobs, lots of people working, lots of people with a goal that the job facilitates.

In Part 3, titled Geoffrey and Tang, a ‘China Girl’ sample from David Bowie ( is superficially obvious…but his lyrics are about the cross cultural clashes…and they are real, and, on going.

In Part 4, Urban Pleasures Dubai Style, during a discussion of Lebanese cultural roots, a sample from Ashekman ( perfectly shows how, regional culture and Western originated trends, do interact, to generate now, and, the future.  It is all a two way street, you make your own choice.  Make your own way.  That is the sweetness of Dubai.

Episode 4 Media Location Index

09:50-(2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7)-audio sample from DJ Sharam, Bling Bling

12:30-(3)-audio sample from David Bowie, China Girl

18:40-(4)-audio sample from Ashekman

Episode 5::Rub Al Khali Coastal

Maha Gargash is an Emirati woman, an author ( who breaks molds, by telling truths and details about the past, her past, the Emirati past, the Empty Quarter life style.  Her words and pictures start from the same early 1950s historical time that Wilfred Thesiger travelled the sands.  He shares the sympathetic perspective of a foreigner.  She shares the hard and soft realities of a resident, a person whose family lived on the whims of the huge beast of a desert, the Rub al Khali,  Sand Fish is her story of a girl growing up.

In Part 4, Historic Landscape Transect, Jean-Claude talks about afternoon sun at the Tropic of Cancer how it affects the perception of dunes.  Images demonstrate this effect.  Similarly in Part 4, images of camels, in the Empty Quarter, add their unique character.

In Part 7, Al Qurm, images show how the Abu Dhabi al qurm, mangroves, Avicennina marina, impact the desert coastal landscape.

In Part 9, Sabka Groundcovers, Chalmers and Jean-Claude stop at the last gas station before heading toward the interior of the Rub al Khali.  In the gas station store, they encounter meshwak, toothbrushes made from Salvadora persica.  Images elaborate upon the experience context.

Episode 5 Media Location Index

13:56-(4)-images of Empty Quarter desert sand in ocean wave aspect

16:10-(4)-images of Empty Quarter camels

27:52-(5)-images of Abu Dhabi mangroves

39:19-(9)-images of Abu Dhabi gas station

Episode 6::Rub Al Khali Inland

Episodes 5 and 6 explore the complex interfaces between humans and the Rub al Khali.  Episode 5 covers a Rub al Khali geography where human habitation dominates.  Episode 6 covers a Rub al Khali geography where human habitation is ephemeral.

Johan Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos have been described as daring combinations and it is the word, daring, that brings them close, in proximity to the Rub al Khali.  The Episode 6 entry music by Bach is Brandenburg Concerto #5 in D Major.  The harpsichord in the first allegro, has been described…it becomes more and more assertive until finally it bursts forth into an astonishing cadenza of tremendous difficulty…this is the experience of entering for the first time deeper and deeper into the Rub al Khali.

Part 1, Desert Sirens, asks the question: Is the Empty Quarter a seductive face or threatening force?  Images demonstrate both realities.  Additionally, video footage, with soundtrack, displays the ferocity the wind brings to this landscape.

In Part 2, Lunch on the Spice Route, Chalmers and Jean-Claude, stop to take shelter at a small truck stop restaurant.  They discuss spices and the spice route.  An image of cloves and anise provides oriental accent.  Images of trucks provide a peek at a life style of other expatriates working along the edges of the Rub al Khali.

In Part 3, Tropic of Cancer, Jean-Claude recalls his visit to the Liwa Date Festival, supported by images of Phoenix dactylifera, truly a life saver for humans in the Liwa Oasis.  Later in Part 3, Chalmers and Jean-Claude enter into an arcane conversation on the roots of landscape architecture design and human habitation, using images from the Atlantis the Palm Dubai landscape as a reference.

InvPart 4, Hameem, images enrich the picture of the last fifteen kilometers of road connection to the project site.  In the story, the license plate number of their vehicle makes a reference to the Blue Brothers vehicle, perhaps linking the ‘over the edgeness’ found in the Blue Brothers chases, and, the chase out here in the Rub al Khali to make it habitable.  Which was the greatest folly?  Or were neither folly?  …lovely, light hearted questions…

In Part 5, Destination 5 Star, Chalmers and Jean-Claude arrive at the project site, and see the smallness of the human effort in the face of a huge desert landscape.  Like a fly on the hide of an elephant, this immense human effort is dwarfed by the Rub al Khali landscape.

Episode 6 Media Location Index

00:33-(o)-audio sample from Bach

02:46-(1)-images of seductive Empty Quarter dunes

03:28-(1)-images of reduced Empty Quarter shamal reduced visibility

04:06-(1)-video clip and audio sample of Empty Quarter shamal roaring dune top

07:30-(2)-images of spices

09:52-(2)-images of Empty Quarter trucks

16:56-(3)-images of Liwa dates

19:02-(3)-images of Atlantis the Palm Dubai

26:35-(4)-images of Empty Quarter construction haul road

32:03-(5)-images of Empty Quarter project site

33:25-(6)-audio samples of Paganini

33:47-(6)-map of landscape transect

Episode 7::Liwa Qsar

Over three thousand people are living in a little node in the Rub al Khali, brought together by their work, for a two year stint, to build a five star shelter.  What kinds of people come here to work?  This episode describes the lives of some of those people.

Rudyard Kipling, a hundred years ago, lived in among the lives of peoples of Southwest Asia, people accustomed to the hardships of landscapes known for scanty water, scanty resources.  The peoples of Pakistan, the peoples of Afghanistan, as we know them today, these peoples often find their way to projects like this.  But the managers, the managers are always Western, from Europe, from North America.  Cultural differences often become huge hurdles, today as they were for Kipling, one hundred years ago.

And Paganini, how, you might ask , could Niccolo Paganini fit into this story?  A violin virtuoso, in and of itself, qualifies him.  He had extreme skill, extreme technique…extreme…like the Rub al Khali, extreme.  Among his 24 caprices for violin solo, one in particular conjures up the uncomfortable unknowns that characterize this unknown Rub al Khali.  Caprice in G Minor, Opus 1, Number 6, has the sadness of a life of extremes and out of control, yet, with a yearning…a yearning…maybe a hope?

This musical theme is introduced in Part 3, Morphogenetics, as Kelvin Isley describes his experiences in the sands around the Liwa Qsar Project.  Paganini’s theme weaves throughout the remainder of this Episode.

Episode 7 Media Location Index

00:56-(o, 3 and 5)-audio samples from Paganini

Episode 8::The Nursery

In the movie Slumdog Millionaire, quite appropos to this story and its Indian laborers and managers, Maya, Mathangi Arulpragasam ( contributed Paper Planes which had lyrics that encapsulated the history of landscape nurseries in the Arabian Peninsula perfectly…pirate skulls and bones…all I want to do is take your money.  Exactly.  The complexity of that situation can only be fully appreciated in the technical discussion of tender documents and landscape architecture project management.  But her Paper Planes music samples are perfect to set the tone for nurseries in this extreme landscape.

In Part 3, Thomas George, Chalmers wonders if he is living the Slumdog Millionaire movie; and being taken by the same incorrect nursery practices he had found twenty five years earlier in the Arabian Peninsula.  Images and music support his concern.

Episode 8 Media Location Index

01:02-(o)-audio sample from Paper Planes by MIA

10:34-(3)-audio sample from Paper Planes by MIA

12:40-(3)-images from Empty Quarter nursery

13:53-(3)-audio sample from Paper Planes by MIA

31:38-(6)-audio sample from Paper Planes by MIA

Episode 9::Finding Majlis

In this Episode, Chalmers indulges himself in a garden walk.  In Part 2, Library Gardens, he encounters an inscription at a fork in the garden paths.  The inscription is a line from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which opens ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree…’.  Chalmers embarks upon a garden journey on which either Coleridge or Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodson) would see lively opportunities for emotional and transcendental digressions…fun in many dimensions.

In Part 3, Fountain Courtyard, Chalmers senses are overcome by interlocking linear patterns carved from plaster…he can recall only the work of MC Escher having had such an entrancing effect on him previously.  At the same time, the evening call to prayer from a nearby mosque eases his way into the trance and pushes his thoughts into other directions.

Episode 9 Media Location Index

18:02-(3)-audio sample from Magreb prayer call

Episode 10::Library Majis

This Episode finds Chalmers inside the Library, meeting with colleagues.  The entire setting is one of unusual aromatic effects, artists moved by landscape and transcendental realities ending with questions about genies.  What about genies in the desert, in the sand desert, genies in that beast of a sand desert, the Rub al Khali.  How does that work?

Rage Against the Machine ( sample provides the tension associated with Theuns’ presence.

Episode 10 Media Location Index

13:06-(3)-audio sample from Know Your Enemy by Rage Against the Machine

Episode 11::Villa Majlis

All people together at majlis mix and then go off in their own ways.  It is just another day at the office.  It is just another night with friends.  In the background title sequence build up to Part 1, traditional Emirati song and dance sets an appropriate mood.  A garden setting is the context for people of greatly different cultural background to casually discuss the fundamentals of human life in this landscape, this Empty Quarter, Rub al Khali landscape.

Again, Rage Against the Machine ( sample provides the tension associated with Theuns’ presence.

Episode 11 Media Location Index

00:42-(o)-audio sample from traditional Emirati song

14:40-(3)-audio sample from Know Your Enemy by Rage Against the Machine

16:04-(3)-audio sample from Know Your Enemy by Rage Against the Machine

Episode 12::Epilogue

Whoever has seven Ajwat Al Madinah dates every morning, he will not be harmed that day by poison or magic.  This quote brings into view the details of life in the Arabian Peninsula…details that Chalmers regularly encounters.  These regional details bring beauty, uncertainty, danger…these are all landscape details, characteristics of the Rub al Khali landscape.

The mirage of the sand desert landscape is no different than the mirage of the work place landscape.  It is life.

Neil Young ( wrote music and song about the landscape, and with such melancholy…a melancholy that chased Chalmers throughout his entire eight months at the Liwa Qsar project in the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali…and a hope, a thread of a hope that carried him through, that carried him back home…a great sample that fits this story.

In the two parts of this Epilogue, local newspaper articles finish the story begun in the previous Episodes.  The articles are depicted on screen as voiceover teletexts.

Episode 12 Media Location Index

01:50-(1)-teleprinter text of auto accident news report

03:24-(1)-teleprinter text of court case after Theuns late night desert visit

06:26-(2)-animation clip of Chalmers’ return home Dubai/Zurich

06:47-(2)-images from Chalmers’ completed Liwa Qsar project

10:31-(2)-teleprinter text of newspaper magazine Liwa Qsar featrure

10:42-(2)-audio sample from After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

Edward Flaherty 

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