Music in my bones

Fanny Devert skull and music 1At St Kilda’s craft market last Sunday, I came across the lovely mixed-media work of Fanny Devert.

I love art that repurposes other media to make something new, and of course I was immediately attracted by the pictures of skulls painted over backgrounds of sheet music.

Ms Devert, who is here from France, does lovely, bold art along with some elegant, delicate pieces. I love her dancers and her flowers, too.

Fanny Devert fishApart from the music skulls (and the bookpage skulls) the other piece that called to me in a seductive siren song was a gorgeous picture of a koi carp. It doesn’t relate to any of my books. I just think it’s beautiful.

Alas, all of my wallspace at work and at home is already covered in pictures, but I did pick up a large card version of the skull and music picture at the top right here, a perfect representation of Kitty and Cadaver.

Death and music. Art made from old things, making them new again.

See more of Fanny Devert’s work and find out what markets she’s at on her Facebook page.

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or read the first three chapters at Read the Book.


Making jewellery from a dead piano – Step One: Be Prepared

tealightA long while back, I wrote about the piano donated to the Kitty and Cadaver jewellery project by Eddie Tichelaar of abc Pianos. The piano is warped beyond repair or salvation and would otherwise have been chopped up for firewood.

At the time, however, I hadn’t found a craft jeweller to work with, so the piano (maker unknown, but Eddie says it dates from 1900-1915) has been sitting in Jess Harris’s shed since 2013 waiting for its chance.

Well, not only does the project now have three craft jewellers (Hello Breanna, Amy and KRin!)  but Jess is about to move house, so dismantling the piano has become an urgent matter.

The piano - BeforeCoordinating our schedules so we could all be at the shed at the same time was difficult, so Jess and I decided to make a start one afternoon after she’d finished work for the day.

Here are a few things you need to know about dismantling a piano.


  • It’s best not to do it on a winter afternoon when you lose the light at about 5pm.
  • If you have to dismantle a piano on a winter afternoon after 5pm, it would really help if there was an electric light in the shed where the dismantling is to take place.
  • If you don’t have any such electric light, some candles would be helpful.
  • Tealight candles are not much good for the purpose.
  • With or without adqueate light, having the right tools is essential.
  • A simple flat-head screwdriver and a rubber mallet are not really the right tools for the whole job, though they’ll do in a pinch to get started.
  • Dismantling a piano in the dark by tealight on a cold winter evening with only a flathead screwdriver and a mallet is not the brightest idea Jess and I have ever had.
  • Once you get over how cold it is and how difficult the task ahead, dismantling a piano in the dark by tealight on a cold winter evening with only a flathead screwdriver and a mallet is a pretty bloody funny.

keysWhich is to say, Jess and I laughed a lot that evening while trying to work out how to dismantle the bloody thing. Some parts are held together with screws but I knew that other bits were held in by clever carpentry alone. The trick was working out which bits were which. By tealight candle in a dark shed.

Did I mention the shed was full of straw? Because one of Jess’s flatmates was rather ill-advisedly given a sheep as a pet-come-lawnmower.

Yes, you did read that correctly.

It’s illegal to keep a sheep in the suburbs like that – even in Boronia – so the sheep was re-homed. The hay was not.

Given how ridiculously ill prepared we were, Jess and I managed to pull apart a good deal of the piano, including the individual keys – before the competent people arrive.

The competent peopleBreanna and Amy were the competent people. They had pliers and a spanner and several clues about how to dismantle a piano.

They also discovered the electric light switch in the shed.

Yes, there was a light all along. Jess, who has lived in that house for a year, never knew it was there.

There’s still a bit to take apart – piano wire and metal pegs, mainly, but also more wooden panels and maybe the pedals, if the craft team can think of something to do with them.

JessWe’re also discussing how to use the ivory from the piano keys. As it’s a very old piano, we can legally re-use it, though we’d need paperwork to get the permit for it to be take  or sold overseas (ivory being, very properly, illegal otherwise). There are some ethical issues to consider though, so we’re talking about what approach we might take.

NarrelleShop at our KittyandCadaver Etsy store! New jewellery just added!

Interested in donating to or being part of the Kitty Jewellery Project? Visit the jewellery project page.

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or start from chapter one at Read the Book.


Cranky Ladies: Euphemia Allen and Chopsticks

cranky ladiesIn March, I am writing about some Cranky Ladies of History across my Kitty, Mortal Words and Adventurous Hearts blogs, in honour and support of the Cranky Ladies of History anthology Pozible campaign. The contents of the book haven’t been finalised, but the anthology has submissions from amazing writers like Karen Healey, Jane Yolen, Rob Shearman, Foz Meadows, Kirstyn McDermott, Garth Nix and Deborah Biancotti!

Like countless children before me (and no doubt, after) one of the first things I learned to do on a piano keyboard were the simple (and simply irritating) notes of the tune called Chopsticks. The first few bars of it, at least

At the time, I had no idea there was any more of the thing. In fact, as far as I knew, that particular collection of notes was all there was, and had existed for all of time (or at least, throughout the existence of pianos). But of course, unless you’re talking quantum physics, or how cats apparate in and out of rooms, nothing ever springs from nothing.

In the course of my internet wanderings, I came across a reference to one Euphemia Allen, a British woman credited as the composer of the ‘Celebrated Chop Sticks Waltz’. She wrote it when she was 16 and it was published in 1877 by her brother, Mozart Allen (yes, really – his brothers were named Haydn and Handel). The work was published under the name Arthur de Lulli and she is not known to have written or published anything after. She lived until 1949, however, so who knew what she got up to in her free time.

To tell the truth, I don’t know if she was a particularly cranky lady of history, but in my investigations I was intrigued by a 1932 article by Alfred V Frankenstein (again – yes, really) in The American Mercury, called “Chopsticks – A Musicological Mystery.”

Frankenstein writes unflatteringly of swathes of bad music written to be easy for amateurs to play, and categorizes the Chopsticks waltz as more a parlor trick than a piece of music. This is partly because the piece is meant to be played in a chopping motion with the side of the hand – hence its name, which has nothing to do with Chinese eating utensils.

Frankenstein notes that the piece was originally published as ‘arranged by Arthur de Lulli’ and later as composed by Euphemia. Frankenstein is disinclined to believe that Euphemia did more than arrange the piece, but confesses his inability to discover the original work and who may have composed it. Mozart and Euphemia, both still alive at the time of the article (Euphemia was by then living in Glasgow) failed to satisfy his curiosity on that issue.

A similar piece was put together by a Russian composer with the aid of a daughter who playing the opening chopping section, in the year of the original’s publication. Liszt took an interest in the piece later on.

I’m no music historian, but perhaps Frankenstein is a little churlish to claim the waltz could not have been written by this girl, especially since he couldn’t locate an antecedent. It’s just as likely that she did, surely, and thereby reached the limit of her musical skill, and even indulgent brothers with a music publishing house couldn’t be persuaded to unleash her creations on the world at large.

But it’s there in print that Euphemia wouldn’t answer Mr Frankenstein’s questions, so I imagine she might have been just a little cranky at the assumption that she didn’t write the wretched thing.

What cranky musical ladies of history do you know of? Please comment and share the joy!

Strung Out in Heaven’s High

Death_to_VinylDeath comes to us all. If you’re comfortable with this thought, or at least a forward planner, you’ll have made notes on how you want your send-off to be. You’ll have selected the music (I myself has a Requiem Song List, which I may discuss at another time) and even the type of casket.

For music lovers, And Vinyly offers something a bit more… lavish. Or outre. Or just grotesque, depending on your attitude.

For a stately fee, UK-based And Vinyly will press your ashes into a very limited edition vinyl album, with the soundscape of 12 minutes a side provided by you. For an extra cost, you can have bespoke (‘bespook’) portraits and music, and even international distribution.

If you’re not ready to go yet, but your beloved pet has shuffled off this mortal coil, you can always try it out with the cremated remains of your companion animal.

For £10,000 they’ll even officiate at your funeral for you.

Honestly, I don’t know whether to be amused or mortified (heh, heh, pun) by the fact that I find this idea so appealing!

What’s your vote?

(And yes, the post heading is from David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes.)

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or start from chapter one at Read the Book.

The skulls of Hosier Lane

Paper skullThere’s a joke that you know you’re a Melburnian when you know the difference between street art and graffiti. The Melbourne City Council even has a policy these days, and commissions street art for locations such as Union Lane (off the Bourke Street Mall) and Hosier Lane, off Flinders Lane to the east of Swanston Street.

Hosier Lane has recently been repainted and has a lot of fresh, interesting, vibrant new street art. I visited it on my way to seeing some of the Melbourne Now exhibitions at the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, so it was a very arty day indeed. 

Among the pieces were three skulls – one the papered-on version of a smaller one tucked into an alcove. None of them have the odd appeal of VEXTA’s kissing skeletons (papered-on art that has popped up all over the city streets, including LaTrobe Street, but I find them fascinating and engaging all the same. All that prettyfied death.

The skull closest to the Flinders Street end is this one that weeps colourful diamonds.

Weeping Skull

Further down, in its alcove, is the little version of the skull shown at the top of the post.

mini skull

In between these elegant reminders that ‘this, too, shall pass’ are a number of anatomically correct hearts. A simple little love heart just doesn’t cut it any more. I can’t say I’m sorry. I covet an anatomically correct heart necklace myself.

Do you have any favourite macabre street art? Share the info!

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or start from chapter one at Read the Book.

Montreal and Music

One of the things on my agenda during my recent trip to Canada was to visit Montreal and scout it as a place for a potential future Kitty and Cadaver story. Montreal has a great tradition of music and performance, and several places and ideas came together to make a future story viable. I have notes and the start of a future book set there.

There are a lot of musical moments to choose from in Montreal – and I intend to incorporate as many of them as possible when the time comes.

For example, one night we were going to Les Foufounes Electriques, we stumbled across a festival for emerging music, so we stopped to listen to the DJ and dance for a bit.


We went on after that to Les FouFounes as planned (its name means ‘electric buttocks’). No live music that night, but I listened to the DJs and reflected how it reminded me of a place called The Atomic Cafe I used to frequent in Perth in the 80s.


On the Sunday, we went to two great regular Montreal events: the Tam Tams and the Piknic Electronik. The Tam Tams are a drum circle that sprang up spontaneously at the base of Mont Royal park in the late 70s. A drumming circle will be right up Yuka’s alley.


The Piknic is a summer music festival that has weekly sessions on St Helen’s Island, underneath a giant, spindly sculpture that looks like an alien insect to me. Plenty of potential in both that and the festival, which encourages people of all ages to come and dance.


One thing I loved about Montreal was its summer arts idea of putting pianos in random places around the city. I came across this gentleman playing and asked if I could film him. He gave me permission and after a while, started to sing. It was just lovely.

Montreal also has an underground city, where people can still shop and get around during the snowy winter months as well as reaching the subway trains. One intersection turned out to be a perfect little echo chamber. I sang a little of a song I wrote a while back called This Ghost.(15 second MP3 file)

The corridors near the train stations also have these signs showing the designated spots for buskers.


I’m not sure yet how all of these elements will come together for a Kitty story set in Montreal, but they are all percolating away.

But first, I need to finish Not the Zombie Apocalypse, and the second planned story (tentatively about the London underground and maybe ghosts).

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or start from chapter one at Read the Book.