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The 10 Caprices For Solo Violin by Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté

Now that my new album of this gorgeous music is finally out in the world, available on Spotify (and most other online music-sharing platforms too!), as well as on that old-fashioned thing called a CD, I thought I would write a bit about the music itself, so that you may know about what you are hearing! I have talked a lot about the composer, Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, both in a blog post and in my video diaries (where I video-documented my whole project surrounding Sonia and her music and which I shared on YouTube and on this website!), but haven’t yet really gone into detail about the actual music that she wrote.  I believe that once you know the stories behind her violin Caprices, you can truly get to know Sonia as a person and then her music may have a beautiful impact on you, as it did on me!

Before I delve into the world of Sonia’s 10 Solo Violin Caprices, I think it would be best to explain a little more about her and what her life looked like when she composed this music.  Right from a very young age, Sonia was formidable!  Even in today’s culture of empowering women, female bosses and girl power, Sonia would have ruled over all.  At the age of 15, when she and her mother and sister faced homelessness in Berlin at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Sonia took her violin, marched into all the bierkellers who would have her and earned enough money to get her family off the streets.  She was known throughout her life as a ‘no-nonsense’, ‘tough’ and ‘stern’ character, but if we imagine how difficult it must have been to be a female composer living throughout the first half of the 20th century in Europe, particularly in Nazi-occupied Vienna during the Second World War , and making her name as an artist in her own right and as a woman who chose not to have children or live as a housewife as were the pressures of that society at that time, then perhaps we might listen to her music with a different kind of respect!

 

Sonia often wore men’s clothing, perhaps to assert her authority

 

One of the most important relationships in Sonia’s life, was that with her first husband, Walter Gramatté.  The two artists met in Berlin in 1919, at a private literary evening of young poets, when Sonia was just 20 years old, and they were married the following year, in 1920.  Until Walter’s tragic death from TB in 1929, the couple led an adventurous life together, living and working in Berlin, Spain and France.  Walter painted several wonderful images of Sonia, some of which I will include here, and it was during these years, from 1924 to 1934, that Sonia composed the 10 Caprices for Solo Violin.  So much of this music and the ideas found within it reflect the life that Sonia shared with Walter and her own often powerful and tragic feelings related to losing her first love.  After Walter died, Sonia met an art critic named Ferdinand Eckhardt in 1930, who was researching Walter’s work at the time.  The two connected through their love and respect for Walter, and Ferdinand eventually became Sonia’s second husband in 1934.  I think her emotions of loyalty to Walter while choosing to go with another man and the complexity of these personal feelings is also something that can be heard most poignantly in Sonia’s later Caprices.

 

Sonia and Walter

 

Sonia and Ferdinand

 

So, now to the Caprices themselves.  They are quite unique pieces of music in Sonia’s body of work, in that she wrote each one quickly, kind of ‘off the cuff’, where her other works were more carefully thought out and composed more slowly.  She would observe a fleeting moment or experience something in her daily life that would capture her attention and then immediately sketch out a musical idea on the violin to portray her feelings about it.  Each Caprice was also written in a different place, reflecting where Sonia was living at that particular time.  Some Caprices were composed in Berlin, some in Spain, some in France, and the last one in Vienna, and Sonia sticks to the language, as in the musical language and also the actual spoken language, of each place accordingly.  Therefore, we have 10 Caprices that are each completely individual and very imaginative, telling their own personal story.

Caprice No. 1 is called ‘Die Kranke und die Uhr’ – ‘The Sick and the Clock’.  Sonia wrote this Caprice as she sat at the bedside of her sick friend, while a clock ticked ominously in the background.  In this short Caprice, there are two main sections; the rhythmic chime of the clock, and the emotive cry from Sonia, representing her feelings about losing her sick friend.  The clock motif returns at the end of the Caprice, but this time Sonia asks for it to be played as quietly as possible; perhaps there is a connection between the incredibly quiet, fading rhythm of the clock on the wall and the fading rhythm of breathing life in the bed before her…

Following this, we have Caprice No. 2, ‘Sherz’, or ‘Joke/Prank.  It’s only about 2 and a half minutes, but it’s probably the trickiest little bugger of the set (is that the prank?!).  It’s full of little funny, sparkly moments and plenty of tricks!

Caprice No. 3, ‘Chant triste-chant gai’, ‘Sad song-happy song’, is probably the first of the Caprices where we really feel Sonia’s love for Walter soaring through it.  It goes wayyyy high up on the G and D strings in the sad song bit, which often sounds overwhelming and makes me feel like Sonia almost couldn’t express enough how much she loved Walter, and then becomes more bouncy and bright in the happy song.  This Caprice constantly switches between the two songs, but with which one will Sonia leave us?

Sonia, by Walter Gramatté

The following two Caprices were composed during Sonia’s time living in Spain, and they very much portray this new culture that she was experiencing for the first time.  First, we have Caprice No. 4,La isla de oro‘, ‘The golden island’, which Sonia composed on the island of Mallorca.  The Caprice opens with strummed pizzicato chords that sound like a guitar, and then she writes a kind of flamenco melody, very dark, mysterious and mesmerisingly beautiful.  I especially love how Sonia ends the Caprice with the same chords she opened with, but this time she writes ‘aspirando’ above them;  I thought this might indicate something like we must breathe in the last smells of Mallorca, faint now and fading away as the music also fades! What do you think?

Sonia dedicated Caprice No. 5, ‘Danse Marocaine’ or Marocain Dance, to Fatima, a dancer whom Sonia observed performing – an impression that would last a lifetime on her.  This music is rhythmic and exciting, capturing the essence of the Spanish dancers, the sights of the gypsies, the markets and the camels who all shared the experience of seeing this dance with Sonia. The middle section is also quite remarkable; Sonia writes for it to be played like a ‘Moorish flue‘.  It took me a while to come up with a sound that I thought could match this instruction, to make my violin sound like a traditional Spanish flute.  With the help of a wonderful flautist at The Banff Centre, I think I created an unusual pipe-like sound.  See how you think I did!

Caprice No. 6, ‘El pajarito’, ‘The little bird, is probably my favourite of the set.  Sonia wrote it after observing a little bird trapped in his cage, and the whole Caprice follows his struggle in trying to escape to freedom.  The ending is strange and open – I think Sonia leaves it to us to decide if the little bird won in his plight, found his freedom or succumbed to a life of imprisonment inside the cage.  I thought I would share too, that at the end of this Caprice Sonia has left this note: ‘Music is a language; let’s describe here the soul of this tiny bird: describing what he went through after being aware where he was: gentle first, desperate and resigning, because hopeless, helpless!’  Could there be a personal message from Sonia behind these words and this music?  Did she feel trapped in the cage of a society that didn’t accept her as a woman and a composer?

Caprice No. 7, ‘Le départ d’un train’, ‘The departure of the train’, portrays the moment in 1928 when, as Sonia’s career was just beginning to take off, she said goodbye to her sick husband on the platform of a train station in France.  Sonia was off on a concert tour in America, leaving her beloved Walter behind to battle his illness alone.  It was unimaginably difficult for both of them, and this is the mood that comes across in this Caprice.  It has some beautifully sad melodies combined with train noises, speeding up and slowing down, winding it’s way to its own end.  The music almost matches an inner struggle that perhaps Sonia was feeling; the painful emotions of saying goodbye to Walter mixed with her exciting train journey, taking her to places she had only dreamt of.

Müdes Blumenmädchen, by Walter Gramatté

In Caprice No. 8, ‘Elegie’, we say a last farewell to Walter.  It was composed during winter, an image of falling snow beautifully reflecting the tragic mood of the music.  Even as Sonia remembers their happy times together, captured in the sprightly middle section, the pain and emotion of losing him is ever prevalent here.

Something completely different in Caprice No. 9, ‘Chestnut Hill at Night’.  This one was composed in Philadelphia, during Sonia’s big concert tour in the States (which had been organised and promoted by Leopold Stokowski).   This Caprice is full of the new and exciting sounds and sights that Sonia experiences for the first time in this new part of the world.  It was really fun to come up with ideas for what was happening in each moment of this music while I was working on it; what exactly did Sonia see here, on Chestnut Hill!?  Philadelphia is so often associated with the righteous traditions and philosophies upheld by America’s forefathers, but, paradoxically, this Caprice sounds sometimes exotic, sometimes risky, even sometimes quite dangerous!

Finally, Caprice No. 10, ‘Klage’, ‘Complaint’.  By this point, in 1934, Sonia had found peace and contentment with her second husband, Ferdinand.  Did she feel guilty for her so-called ‘betrayal’ of Walter?  Is this Caprice perhaps a lament on losing her real love?  This music is slow and sad, not in the tragic sense, as in Caprices 7 and 8, but in a humble and soft way.  Sonia would never let go of Walter, he certainly always lived on as a central part of her life and Ferdinand’s too.

 

Die Genesende, by Walter Gramatté

 

There is so much more that I could say about this remarkable composer and her music, far too much to be able to fit into this one post.  If you would be interested to read more snippets about Sonia and her life, or quotes from and about Sonia herself, I will be sure to add more to the Stories of Sonia and Quotes pages, which you can feel free to browse through – there are some real corkers in there!  If reading about the Caprices here has given you an appetite to know more about Sonia’s music, you can read my Masters Thesis, which studies the Caprices in a detailed and comprehensive way.

For now, though, I really hope you will feel inspired to give my album a listen, and perhaps to read along with this blog post, so that the music may make more sense as you listen.  I still have some CDs available, so if you would like to own your own copy of the Caprices, or you know of a library or education institution that would be interested in adding it to their archives, please contact me and I will send one over!

I hope you enjoy the album and Sonia’s music, and that we, together, can bring more public awareness to this extraordinary composer and beautiful music!

 

 

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Why I Love Live Theatre

As I write this, I’ve just spent the last week or so attending shows and events at Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.  I have to say, everything I have seen has been marvellous; from a beautiful production of Julius Caesar (cast as a woman!) to a modernised Coriolanus on a jaw-dropping set, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show that was every bit as raunchy and scandalous as it should be!

Spending so much time at the theatre this week has really got me thinking about why I love it so much, why reading the stories, watching movies or listening to music recordings at home just isn’t enough and why live theatre is SO important.   I know that we may all feel differently about it; some of the reasons that I’ve put together here may strike a chord with some and not with others, and may be just completely meaningless to those who do not enjoy live theatre at all.  Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the reasons why I find live theatre so captivating and that it may motivate you to seek out some live events near you!

(These are in no particular order – each one is just as important as the last!)

 

A piece of art comes to life! 

When we see a play performed live, or musicians playing music right before our eyes, these wonderful pieces of art become real and understandable!  They are no longer words or notes on a piece of paper; they are real characters, plots and stories being put out into the world at that very moment, as they were intended by their creators, and you are a witness to it in the audience!  At home, there is always be some kind of barrier between us and the art – a book that we have to read to get to the story or a device through which we could hear the music.  But at the theatre, the art is being given to us directly, with no obstacle separating us from it, and we can therefore totally engage with it and be immersed in it.  And not just the piece of art itself, as in the play or the string quartet (for example!), but the actual art form too.  Watching talented and professional actors and musicians doing their jobs make those very art forms a real thing and this is something to behold in itself.

 

Different interpretations

I always find it so interesting to watch different interpretations of any piece of art – I feel like the more interpretations of something that I see, the more I explore the art and the better I get to know it,  finding its own meanings for myself.  Whether these are different interpretations as presented by the performers, directors, choreographers, writers, or even those as experienced by other audience members during one performance – seeing a new understanding or meaning to a piece of art that I hadn’t thought of before is really exciting!  This week I was lucky enough to catch two Shakespeare plays, and they couldn’t have been more different.  Coriolanus was set to a modern backdrop, with all modern clothing and even references to modern culture, with things like mobile phones and Facebook messenger.  Julius Caesar was totally old school – the set was minimal, no frills or trills, costumes were old-fashioned and the performance really centred only around the actors and their speech.  For some, the modernisation made that play more entertaining and relatable, while for me personally, I felt much more involved with the old style one, where I really locked into the plot and the language.  At home, we are very limited in what we have available to us – just the book, or a particular recording or two.  One really has to see art live to get these different interpretations and fully understand them.

 

Each one on their own journey

Every time I watch a live performance, I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members.  There is always so much happening in the audience!  Everybody is feeling something different in connection with the art that they are experiencing, each person is on their own journey with it.  In the Shakespeare plays (and in Rocky too, actually!) I found it interesting to see where some people laughed, when people were shocked (even though we all know Brutus kills Caesar, this point still got a few gasps), if some people felt bored, if others looked uncomfortable… And the artists themselves are on a journey too.  We can’t know the details of what led them to this specific performance, about the work that went into it and the mental space they had to get to in order to produce something that they had envisioned or heard in their own heads.  We don’t even know what might be going on in their personal lives which could be affecting their performance, or their relationships with each other on stage, or how they approach the art of performing.  Art makes us feel real emotions, and we all feel them differently.  Being part of that, while experiencing your own personal journey at the same time, is special.

 

Human connection

Similar to the last point but not quite the same, is the importance of watching art unfold together with other people.  At home, we read alone, listen to music in the background while doing other things, watch movies in silence.  But at the theatre, there is a sense of human connection, of experiencing our own personal emotions and journeys with the art WITH other people, audience and performers together.  In that moment, those precious hours while the performance is in progress, we are all as one group doing the same thing.  There is nobody on their phones, answering emails, working or chatting with friends.  We, as one big organism, are going through the same experiences together, and all of our attention is in one place.  In a world that often feels very lonely and hectic, this is so so so important and valuable.

 

There’s only one shot

This is something that is just as meaningful for both performer and audience!  Although it can riddle any artist with performance anxiety, the fact that they only have one chance to deliver, here and now in this exact moment, adds an electricity to the theatre.  They know this, and the audience knows it too.  Whatever happens, happens – there ain’t no do-overs.  As an audience member, knowing that the art that I am experiencing only exists now, once, in this moment, has caused me to sit up and try not to miss a single thing.  As a performer, this feeling is what has encouraged me to take risks, to just ‘go for it’, and also to feel incredibly nervous.  It is what makes every second of a performance really matter and be something that I care so truly and honestly about.  And isn’t it wonderful to sit in the audience and watch a performer who really cares, to watch them take risks and to see the sparks that fly because of it?!

 

Mistakes!

And following on from the ‘one-shot’ philosophy, are the inevitable mistakes.  I love mistakes.  I think they are brilliant.  Because you can’t get more in-the-moment than a mistake.  When an artist makes a mistake, it means they are really experiencing something real; maybe they took a risk and it didn’t work, maybe they care SO much about what they are doing that they got carried away, or maybe they are just real human beings and not computers!  To me, mistakes are life and they are wonderful.

 

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Introducing My New Project!

I am so excited and thrilled to share my plans for my new creative music project! I am about to embark on a month-long independent artistic residency at The Banff Centre, Canada, where I will be creating a unique and immersive performance of solo violin music by a wonderful composer, Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, as well as a recording which will be shared in the archives of the Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation and the Canadian Music Centre.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep updated with my video-diaries of this whole project!  I will be posting my video-diaries here on my blog too.

Read about the life of Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté in my blogpost

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An Artist in Focus: Sara Cubarsi

It’s such a crazy, wonderful thing to be able to say that your friends inspire you.  Although each of my friends live in different corners of the globe, I feel so connected to them through this inspiration and through a deep, profound respect for what they are doing and their work.  My friends are creating new art and music, asking new questions, re-inventing answers to old ones, revealing new paths and I absolutely love and value these things, besides the wonderful people that they are!

One old school friend of mine – violinist and artist, Sara Cubarsi – came to visit me in Germany last year (she is originally from Barcelona and is currently living in California).  She was then right in the middle of a huge project that she had created and developed – actually, the project is still not finished!  The other day I got to catch up with her and asked all about how the project was progressing.  As she told me about it, I found the ideas behind it and everything she has achieved thus far so AMAZING and so COOL, that I decided I just had to write a blog post about it and share it!  This is the story of the ‘Wax Painting Project’, by Sara Cubarsi.

Something to know about Sara, right from the beginning, is that she is not only a clever and talented violinist, but she is also an artist.  Remember in my post about Picasso’s Mad Man (read it here), I mentioned that I had a friend who drew her own mad man on her bedroom wall – that was Sara!  She has done some really wonderful paintings (I’m still waiting for one that she promised to make for me one day) and her style of art and emotion is really present in all of her work, whether its through music – her own compositions or more classical pieces – paint or any other art form.  So, Sara had the idea that she wanted to create a painting to go in one of her performances, and that’s where the origin of this project stemmed from.

The next step of the project came about purely as a joke.  Someone said to Sara, what would happen, though, if your painting would accidentally melt under the heat of the stage lights?? In the moment, Sara laughed, but then realised that that was a fantastic idea and EXACTLY what she wanted!  So she began to research what would make the best material for a painting that needed to melt, and wax became clear as the most ideal option.  Another thing to know about Sara, is that she adores the work of Francis Bacon – you can probably see this in a LOT of her work!  She absolutely loves his organic and raw style and wanted to capture this in her own painting and wax seemed the best, most fleshy and human-like material for her to use.

The first wax painting that Sara created was called ‘The Blind Cow’ and the performance of it took place late one night in February of 2016.  It was a small painting of a cow with a bloody eye that hung from the ceiling of a dark classroom.  To accompany it was a white noise track,made by one of Sara’s friends, with Sara speaking on top of it into a microphone, with distortion; she was reading poems by T.S. Elliot and a Catalan poem about a blind cow.  Sara used candlelight to melt the painting and it worked!  The painting melted completely.  Although, the funny thing was that Sara was facing a wall and unable to see the painting while she was performing the poems, so she had no idea if it was working or not!  This was also what made it so exciting, though, as she just had to have hope that it was all going to plan.  And so went the ‘first public melting’.

After this success, Sara thought – OK, this works, now let’s make it big.  She decided she wanted  to make a new wax painting, big enough that a string quartet could hide behind it, and melt it using electric heaters.  The painting that resulted, which Sara called ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, was 12 x 8 feet and the performance was planned to take place in a bigger concert hall in March 2016.  Sara composed a string quartet to go with the painting, which was very much related to it; she told me that her music emanated the feeling of wax melting, its pace and it’s colours.  Now, here is where is starts to get really exciting.  The night before the performance, the heaters broke – smoke came out when she tested them!  Running out of time, Sara went out to buy six irons and planned to have people standing behind the painting, ironing it to get it to melt!  However, during the performance, there was SO much electricity being used (six irons, speakers, heaters etc.) that the electrical circuit broke!  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), at the end of the performance, when Sara stepped out from behind the painting, she saw that it had barely melted at all and the public reaction was extremely awkward – here were all these people who had come to see this monster wax painting melt… and nothing happened!  But isn’t this the nature of experimenting?!  We have to try stuff out to see what works and what doesn’t.  Sara called her ‘second public melting’ a “successful un-happening”!

Ludwig’s Ear, pre-wax

Ludwig’s Ear, post-wax

Sara was nowhere near finished.  We have to remember that, while all of these wax adventures were going on, Sara was still trying to live her life, as a musician and an artist dealing with all of her own insecurities.  At around about this time she was playing a LOT of contemporary music and was feeling really anxious about her classical playing – she felt that she had lost touch with Bach and with the violin and was trying to find herself as a violinist again.  She decided that she had to force herself to put on a concert and perform some Bach, as this would simply MAKE her practice it.  Connecting all of her work together, she created a new abstract painting for a performance at Art Share, L.A., to which she would play Bach’s Second Partita.  This piece is made up of four smaller dance movements and a monumental Chaconne final movement.  The day before the concert, Sara freaked out – she was feeling so uncomfortable with her playing that she decided to cancel the four shorter movements and just perform the Chaconne.  The very last note of this movement ends on a very powerful ‘D’ chord and at that point in the performance, Sara held this ‘D’ note as a drone, on top of which she sang microtonal intervals, all reflecting the huge Chaconne movement, in a kind of slow motion, while her little painting melted.  I see this concert as a sort of interlude from the main project, but nevertheless very important and relevant to Sara’s personal development and also to show her own personality in relation to the rest of the project.

And now back to the main wax project.  What came next was a painting that Sara called ‘Concerto For A Painting’ which was composed to 9 string instruments and piano and performed in April 2016.  Sara’s music was somehow Wagnerian, but with no rhythmic gestures, and the painting was ambiguous – it could have been a womb or even a woman’s breast (I guess it depended on one’s own personal interpretation).  What I find really cool about this painting is that Sara really made the wax look like flesh, so that when it melted, it left the painting red.  She told me that this made it look like a baby had been born, almost like there was now no baby left in the womb.  Only two heaters were needed to melt this painting and it worked beautifully – the painting melted.

Concerto For A Painting

But remember that huge painting, ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, that didn’t melt? Sara had no idea what to do with it.  This was the point at which she visited me and we discussed what she could possibly do.  She had the idea that she wanted to burn the painting somehow (an idea that also stemmed from a joke comment made by a friend!) and had a vision of doing this in a desert space where there is nothing, no life, around.  My boyfriend, who knows California pretty well, suggested Salton Sea.  It is right in the middle of the desert, it’s not very populated so she could find a space to be alone, and it’s not a ‘nice’ place – she didn’t have to worry about being too careful there.  So when she went back to the States, in October 2016, she took her monster painting to the desert and set it on fire by throwing gasoline all over it.  Of course it was impossible to make music to go with it in this context; the desert was too hot, this escapade far too dangerous and extreme.  While she was burning the painting she was also filming it all and I think the silence aspect and having no music will come across amazingly well on film.  She described to me that by the end she was so light-headed and hot, worried about what she was doing and if she would get caught, heavy from so much physical work… she actually couldn’t finish and had to leave her painting burning there in the desert (it was found and some reports of it turned up on social media and the internet by people wondering what it was!).

Ludwig’s Ear in Salton Sea

Sara’s final wax painting performance, titled ‘Exvoto Study’, happened in November 2016.  On a trip home to Barcelona, she went to visit the gothic cathedral at St. James’s Square, Cereria.  This area is really, really old and very religious.  When someone is suffering some kind of ailment or wound, here they can offer an ex-voto – a votive offering – of the wounded body part, made of wax, to the deities, hoping that they may be cured.  Sara found a little wax ear and took it home, where she decided to film herself melting it.  Her new idea was to project this little film onto a screen for her performance.  However, this wasn’t to be a normal screen – she planned to make a screen of wax!   She got hold of a canvas, which she covered in black paint with white wax on top of it, and this became her screen.  The score that Sara wrote to go with her film, which she performed with two colleagues, reflected what the ear hears; bubbling, gurgling, coughing.  It wasn’t a totally smooth concert; smoke started to come out of the heaters that were melting the wax screen and somehow, because of the light and darkness in the concert hall, this became very visible to the stage managers – they turned off the heaters!  This was a bit of a disaster because Sara needed the screen to melt to achieve her effect, so she got up herself during the performance to turn the heaters back on.  Because of this, the screen only melted partially, but the overall effect of the video of the melting ear being projected onto a screen that was melting LIVE definitely came across – I WISH I could have seen this!

Exvoto Study

The thing that I find really interesting about the whole project and in all of the performances, is that there are two elements going on all the time; the music and the melting painting.  The process of composing and performing the music is very calculated – there’s a score and a system and musicians know what they do, it’s very organised and clean.  But the painting is always a total risk.  For one, the musicians can’t ever see it, so there is no way to ever know if it is melting or not and if the performance is working.  And secondly, it’s always unpredictable – Sara can never know if the heaters will work, if the wax will melt.  These two art forms are continually working together and against each other during her performances, and this is what makes it so truly exciting.

Another thing to think about is that these are performances that are ephemeral; they can only ever be done ONE time, because the painting can only melt once.  It really is amazing, because Sara then puts absolutely everything into this one performance, but there is also a sad quality to this; the painting melts and will never again be what it was, it gets lost to the moment of the performance.  This is performance art at its most real, most meaningful, most alive!

And now? I don’t think Sara is quite finished with her wax painting project yet!  She told me that she wants to master it so that it can be done anywhere.  She also wants to make a film of the Salton Sea experiment, of which she has many hours of footage.  I can’t wait for the next melting episode!

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