Hana a Petr Ulrychovi: 13HP (Supraphon, 1970)

15 Nov

The title track from Hana and Petr Ulrychovi’s 1970 album 13HP is lyrically fairly slight, stretching to not much more than ten lines, some of these repeated. The gist of the piece is a kind of quirky folk song, revolving around a winter landscape, an almost obsolete car, and a view through the windows of a hall. The Czech lyric runs as follows:

Za teplým oknem vládne mráz a svítí jíní
má píseň vzpomíná když bloudí ztichlou síní
ze starých záclon spřádá lanoví lanoví lanoví
a příběh zašlých dnů vám nepoví nepoví nepoví

Podivný příběh starých brzd a zašlých pístů
podivných aut co jezdí k určitému místu
kde není slyšet skřípot soukolí soukolí soukolí
a chladný dotyk hlíny nebolí nebolí nebolí

Za teplým oknem vládne mráz a svítí jíní
má píseň vzpomíná když bloudí ztichlou síní…

The final version, however, is changed very substantially from this, which would more literally be translated as something like the following:

Hot and cold, the window foregrounds light hoarfrost.
The song remembers wandering in the silent halls
where old curtains are woven – tied, tied, tied –
where the story of bygone days is told, told, told.

The strange story… of old brake pistons, bygone
cars – strange themselves – that drive to a place
where you hear the screeching gears, gears, gears,
and the cold dirt doesn’t hurt, hurt, hurt.

Hot and cold, the window foregrounds light hoarfrost.
The song remembers wandering in the silent halls…

Perhaps in this case, though, the more literal approach was left behind when I came to develop the version here, as something at the heart of Petr Ulrych’s slight song seemed to hint at another layer beneath that strangely mixed surface. The end result is the version here, more loosely based on Ulrych’s words than the literal take above, but perhaps a happier fit with my own purpose of making an adaptation that allows the song to breathe a little, as a lyric to be read rather than sung, and as a construct in a different language and context.

In other words, this final version of the song has departed a good deal from its source, as many of these versions have, but maybe there’s a chance here – helped by the brevity of Ulrych’s lyric – to show how this process of remaking tends to unfold as the versions are added to this site: a kind of ‘showing the working out alongside the solution’, which I remember being required to do in Maths exams. The song itself, as arranged by Otakar Petrina, can be heard here.

13HP (Thirteen Horsepower)

(after Petr Ulrych/Otakar Petrina, 1970)

My song remembers wandering quiet halls,
windows facing light hoarfrost,
watching a story’s strangeness grow:
a car with stubborn brakes and gears
that drives to strange places
at the strangest hours,
wheels sliding in deep snow
yet muffled by the silence there.
We are behind cold glass, see hoarfrost
glitter on the world outside,
white woodland build a bright hall
where clouds, like curtains,
blink, shiver and reveal the moon.
And it’s strange to be here
at this late hour, cold and quiet.
I look out on bright frost,
hear songs echoing in quiet halls,
remember where that old car’s story ends.

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