Louisiana! Swamps and ‘gators. Crawfish and po-boys. Cajun, Zydeco and New Orleans, the First City of Jazz. Carolan has seen them all this week in its first trip abroad (unless you count Wales that is). Ostensibly, the trip has been to present the first Carolan research paper at the Fifteenth Annual Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, or ‘NIMES’ as these new digital instruments are called, but of course this has necessitated something of a road trip. We’ll be writing about the conference and some of the quirky NIMEs that we’ve met and even jammed with soon, but for now we’ll just get our bearings.
The trip begins 5 AM on a Saturday morning – no time for a respectable guitar to be up and about – with Carolan being wrapped in layers of bubblewrap before being snugly fitted into its Hiscox flightcase.
The a car journey to Heathrow and checking in for a flight to Houston. Carolan is consigned to the hold, is checked in as fragile baggage and disappears into many miles of Heathrow baggage system. For the following ten hours we’re all in the dark – quite literally for Carolan – and it’s a nervous wait at the carousel at Houston International Airport to see whether the guitar arrives and if it does, in how many pieces.
The news is good. Carolan appears to be intact with no obvious bruises and so begins the road trip proper, a four-hour drive from Houston in Texas to Baton Rouge in Lousiana. A classic drive with hundreds of fast-food outlets, SUVs and flatbed trucks carrying dangerous looking items passing by.
The following days are spent meeting people and other instruments, presenting our paper (which you can download from this link) and even taking part in an impromptu Scottish jam with a set of digital bagpipes at the conference open mic session (more of this in a later post).
Luckily, there’s some time on the last day for recreation and where else but New Orleans? We wander the French Quarter and take in the street performers before promenading past the many clubs and bars later that night, each with its own jazz or blues band blaring out through an open door.
We also grab a few hours to head north to the Ponchatrain, the famous lake of the song, for some ‘gator spotting. As you may know, the gator is a fearsome and ancient reptile that can grow up to 4.6 m in length. Their 80 teeth can bite with a monstrous 9,425 Newtons of force (although their jaws open up so weakly that you could then them hold them closed with your hands). At this point we note that Carolan’s Hiscox Litflite flight case is only designed to withstand 4,900 Newtons of crush force and so decide to beat a hasty retreat. The Heathrow baggage system was one thing; being crushed by a ‘gator is quite another.
Then it’s the drive back to Texas, over swamps, past factories and refineries and thousands of road signs, all accompanied by the sounds of Country, Mexican, Christian and Shock-Jock radio stations on FM.
It was wonderful to meet the gentleman at the check-in who told us how he takes a different guitar to India each year and leaves it behind for someone to learn to play on – an inspirational story – we wish we had got your name – but thanks for the photo!
Even better, we’re upgraded, so Carolan manages to avoid the baggage system and spend the return flight safely closeted in a cupboard on the upperdeck of a 747. High rollin’ indeed.