The iPod meme update: my dad clarifies the situation somewhat

Monday 26 February 2007

After posting a lengthy piece of filler about the contents of someone else’s iPod, my dad has written in to supply the missing information about the mystery orchestras.
The Beethoven is Nikolas Harnoncourt conducting The Chamber Orchestra Of Europe – this is part of a boxed set of the 9 symphonies and was released by Teldec in 1991. The 4th was recorded live 29/06/1990.
The Villa Lobos is the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, conducted by Villa Lobos himself! The soprano is Victoria de los Angeles (Nos. 1 & 2), the original recording is from 1957, digitally remastered in 1987 by EMI France.
He adds that he is relying on the Gracenote database for some of this information, and if Gracenote was good enough to out Joyce Hatto as a fraud then it’s good enough for me.
My dad also confirms that, sadly, he no longer has the John Betjeman LPs and so had to source these tracks from, uh, “elsewhere”. However, he remains silent on the whole Rammstein/Lavigne/Farnham business, preferring instead to opine, erroneously, that “Undecided” is inferior to “Turn Up Your Radio“, and to gratuitously diss Tom T. Hall for no apparent reason before signing off. Clever smokescreen, there.

The mummified corpse of Jeremy Bentham reads inter-office emails.

Saturday 24 February 2007

Shuffling with someone else’s mind

Thursday 22 February 2007

It had to happen by accident if it was going to happen at all. Every year I receive a shoebox containing several relatively high-end consumer knick-knacks from my dad, as he casts off his superseded technology and upgrades to the next generation of electronic gadgets. The box always arrives unexpectedly, the contents are always a surprise, and have a large degree of difference in usefulness. If you have unwanted battery-operated items lying around your house and cannot be bothered firing up eBay, I am considering expanding this service beyond members of my immediate family.
This year’s shoebox contained an iPod Nano so Dad, I hope you’re enjoying that new 80GB video iPod you’ve got yourself. I’ve never used a personal music player before, figuring that I’d always be switching it off every few minutes to hear something going on in the outside world. (The ancient Discman in the photo is patched into an amplifier, and in any case doesn’t like being moved. It’s another paternal cast-off.)
My Dad sent me his iPod with all his music still loaded on it, so before I do anything else with it I’m going to hit shuffle and report on the first ten tracks it plays. This experiment enables me to do simultaneously two things I’ve never done before: use an iPod, and take up a meme that has appeared on other blogs. Please note that I am using the latest definition of “meme”, which has now been extended to include “copying the Random Rules column in The Onion’s AV Club”.
Unlike other participants, who have prefaced their reports with disclaimers as to how the music on their iPod may not necessarily be representative of their actual tastes, I won’t resort to such a cop-out, and will boldly affirm that whatever tracks come up on this device are an unequivocal indicator of my dad’s personality.

1. “Ich Will (radio edit)” by Rammstein

OK, I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps he’s given me my little sister’s iPod instead.

2. Symphony No.4, 3rd movement, by Ludwig van Beethoven. Nikolas Harnoncourt conducting somebody or other

Sorry, I don’t know who the orchestra is because I haven’t figured out yet how to get all the track details to display properly. That’s one problem with MP3 players: they’re overengineered in the way they present music. CDs, tapes, records: they don’t much care whether you fill them with symphonies, Buddhist rituals, lectures, or radio broadcasts. It’s all the same to them: stick a label on it somewhere and everyone can work it out for themselves. But iPods expect every track to be one complete unique song by a unique singer and get all grudging with the information when the real world doesn’t work out that way. Also, the little headphones keep falling out of my ears.

3. “Too Much To Ask” by Avril Lavigne

Uh, Dad, that picture is too small to be of any use to anyone.

4. “Now’s the Time” by Charlie Parker

I have a great big deaf spot when it comes to jazz. And I was too preoccupied with trying out different ways, none of them successful, of sticking the headphones in my ears without them falling out, to concentrate on the music.

5. “Longfellow’s Visit to Venice” by Sir John Betjeman

Now this is the stuff. For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted that up until now I have been doing what I imagine everyone does when undertaking this exercise and skipping through each track instead of listening to it. I’m sorry if I sound terrible slow in coming to the party on this point, but I’ve truly just realised that the great benefit of iPods is that they enhance your ability to identify with your selection of music, without subjecting you to the inconvenience of having to hear it.
I was just reminded about the existence of these records last year (via The Rambler): eccentric hybrid recordings combining the then Poet Laureate reciting his verse over charmingly sympathetic musical accompaniments, specially composed by Jim Parker. I remember enjoying the LPs my parents had of this stuff when I was a kid, and apparently I wasn’t alone. “There’s this comic gravity that I’ve certainly found inspiring regarding my own work,” enthuses fellow fuddy-duddy Nick Cave in an article about the history of Betjeman’s records in The Guardian. Further investigation is required before I can verify the Guardian’s claim that there is indeed “dope bass action” and “fat, funky basslines” for DJs to dig on in these tracks. It’s better than Gerrard Kennedy’s efforts, at any rate.
Did my dad dub this from his vinyl, find it on CD, or is it for sale at iTunes? Or are the l33t w@r3z kids sharing Sir John B on teh bittorrentzz?

6. Bachianas Brasileiras No.9, 1st movement, by Heitor Villa Lobos. Orchestre National de la R..

One of these was bound to turn up. There are nine works in this series, each broken up into movements, so the odds are heavily stacked towards some fragment of them appearing near the front end of any shuffle. Again, the machine will not tell me the full name of who’s playing this, making the orchestra name look like that of a licentious marquess from a saucy 19th-century novel.

7. “Thrice Told Tale (Take 1)” by, uh, me.

Suddenly I’m listening to something I composed five years ago. I suspect he whacked this on just before shoving it in the jiffy bag just to impress me. Still, he would have ripped it from the audio CD I gave him, so there’s been some effort put into it, which is nice. Even though it’s unquestionably brilliant I’m skipping through it anyway, because it’s half an hour long.

8. “Horny” by Mousse T vs Hot’n’Juicy

Daddy, we hardly knew you.

9. “Undecided” by The Masters Apprentices

At last, something else I don’t want to skip through. Amazingly, this little garage nugget just keeps growing in stature over the decades: what began as a quickie bit of filler is now teaching us all an important lesson in how much Jet sucks. I suddenly feel very old. Not because I know this song, I mean because I remember Jet.

10. “You’re The Voice” by Johnny Farnham

This whole exercise – right from the invention of the iPod, down to the act of deciding to write this post – has been a cruel, elaborate trick played by fate at my expense.
Next five: “I’m the Lonesomest Gal in Town” by Ella Fitzgerald; “Yesterday When I Was Mad” by The Pet Shop Boys; “Kometenmelodie 1” by Kraftwerk; “Tiger Feet” by Mud; and something by my ex-girlfriend – hang on! We split up before there were iPods, which means…. (throws iPod out window only for it to bounce back when headphones remain stuck in ears).

Truly, this man was the Jesus of Cool.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

There haven’t been enough pictures here lately, so here’s one I nicked from Straight from the Tated&nbsp.

Pianophiles, you’ve been Hattoed

Tuesday 20 February 2007

From the sublime to the ridiculous: the previous post came out of my researching this one.
National pride is all well and good, but British classical music buffs are notoriously partisan. No praise is too fulsome for a doughty wind band from Bournemouth or church organist in Beccles, all of whom are favourably compared to their foreign counterparts and their somewhat suspect techniques. No wonder so many music critics were beside themselves when they discovered the late-blossoming career of the Cambridge-based pianist Joyce Hatto.
Over the past year the British Gramophone magazine has been one of the most ardent champions of the 100-odd CDs recorded in the last 15 years of her life, after illness had forced her to abandon her concert career; alternately praising her and denouncing her critics in its quaint house style.
Gramophone, December 2006:

Hatto takes her place among the greats. Joyce Hatto’s CD legacy may be mired in controversy (“the forgeries of jealousy”?) but there is nothing controversial about recordings which surely place her among an elite of women pianists (only six artists of comparable stature spring to mind).

Gramophone, 2006 Awards:

Doubting Thomases, of which there are apparently many, may well wonder how Joyce Hatto achieved such unalloyed mastery and musicianship when tragically beset with ill-health. But others will surely celebrate an awe-inspiring triumph of mind over matter, of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

But then came 15 February 2007, when Gramophone published this sad revelation on its website:

It would take many weeks of intensive work to examine all of the Hatto recordings, but it seems clear that at least some of these great performances are identical to other performances available from other recording companies.

According to Andrew Rose, who investigated the hoax for Gramophone, the list of CDs by other pianists plagiarised by Hatto (or plagiarised in her name by her record-producer husband) is growing every day, as enthusiasts track down the matching source material.
The cranky old men who populate on Usenet have descended into even wilder name-calling than usual, with hilarious use of quotations of previous Hatto praise to deflate some of the more obnoxious resident egos.

More cogent discussions are being tracked at Iron Tongue of Midnight.

Opera Chic offers her typically pertinent observation on the scandal, being the first to call out Hatto’s “Jetsons-style” bouffant.

Filler by Proxy XLVII: Great Drinker, Great Thinker

Tuesday 20 February 2007

The late, great James Tenney’s For Ann (rising) wins the inaugural Black Torrent Guard Most Annoying Song Tournament (found via Soho the Dog). Luckily, he includes an mp3 of the piece as well, but get it quick because I think it’s one of those temporary links.
For some reason I didn’t mention Tenney’s passing last year: he was one of the sharpest musical thinkers and composers of the latter part of the 20th century. He’s often pigeonholed as a musical version of a conceptual artist, but his music beautifully embodies his understanding of the nature and perception of sound and, in turn, his theoretical writings illuminate the ways in which we do and don’t “get” contemporary music, in ways that conventional talk of harmony and structure fails.
In one of the nerdiest seductions ever, I once turned a girlfriend on to the avant-garde by taking her to a performance of Tenney’s Having Never Written a Note for Percussion. (That piece is usually more of a knockout than the Sonic Youth performance in the link, but I like the way they take an idea and run with it.)
Some short pieces by Tenney are online at the CalArts site (Firefox users: dodgy website alert!) including the classic tape piece Collage #1 (“Blue Suede”). People’s memories of Tenney piled up at PostClassic.

Also, the indices are almost up to date.

Saturday 17 February 2007

In case you tried to read this site last week and wondered whether I had trashed everything in a fit of blogger burnout, the answer is no. My kerazy web hosting service likes to keep things lively by randomly deleting my account from time to time, then reinstating it a few days later with a terse apology but no explanation. Suggestions for a less impetuous web host are welcome.
I’ve used the downtime productively by getting all fatalistic and not bothering to finish up the next article I was preparing. Meanwhile, at Sarsaparilla, an intelligent posting about language and erudition has descended into a discussion about people sticking inadvisable substances into various bodily orifices. You might enjoy that.

Test your word power against a dead squirrel

Tuesday 13 February 2007

Future historians will wonder at the turn-of-the-century trait of people forwarding each other emails and web links containing allegedly humourous or entertaining material. I’m lucky enough to have friends who spare me, by and large, from this practice. Nonetheless, on a slow work day someone pointed me towards “33 Names of Things You Never Knew had Names”, one of a number of lists published on Canongate Books’ website to promote their publication The Book Of Lists.
If I wore a bow tie and/or lamented the occasional, elegant use of a terminal preposition, I would resent the assertion that I didn’t know these things have names, let alone that I didn’t know what those names all were. Instead I’ll put my brain where my mouth is and review a selection of the words, to see how many I do know, and even whether the list gets something wrong…
Aglet is the first word on the list. Feh! Anyone who reads Achewood or has done prison time knows this one.
Columella Nasi. I almost called this one wrong, misinterpreting the description as referring instead to that classic obscure body-part, the philtrum. Philtrum is an excellent word, naming an essential yet overlooked (literally) facial feature that is right under your very nose (again, literally); furthermore, it has a beautifully arbitrary etymology, and renders one of the definitions in The Meaning of Liff redundant. Columella Nasi is not excellent. Latin terms like these aren’t very impressive: they suggest you’ve merely boned up on a science book, rather than achieved the command of a wide-ranging vocabulary through a lifetime rich with variegated experience. It’s like saying “rattus norvegicus” when you could say “Siberian hamster”.
Hemidemisemiquaver. As a rough guide, there’s not much enjoyment to be had from a word if it’s useless for both Hangman and Scrabble. If you’re going to fill up your list with technical jargon, there are much better words to be had from the field of music, even starting with H, such as hocket, hemiola, and Hennessy.
Jarns, Nittles, Grawlix, and Quimp. They don’t give you any pictures of these to show precisely which is which, so here you go. Funnily enough, the font set linked above shows that a jarn is the same thing as an octothorpe, and there’s a character called a phosphene. The research behind this list is starting to look less than extensive. In case you were wondering, these terms were all coined by Mort Walker, who also invented the similarly useful word, briffit.
Keeper. The lamest name for the dullest definition. Even if they believe you, knowing this word is guaranteed not to impress anyone. Honestly, this sounds like something a five-year-old came up with.
Minimus. “The little finger or toe.” For names which are supposed to define amusingly specific things (see nef), this one is maddeningly vague. Pick one appendage and stick with it! I’m sure this word is responsible for at least one erroneous amputation.
Peen. What part of “ball-peen hammer” don’t you understand? Besides the “peen” part.
Purlicue. This is entering my personal lexicon immediately, and I shall never admit that I got it from a stupid list someone emailed me.
Rowel. This one came up on one of those forensic science dramas (the one where everything’s dark blue even though they’re in the middle of a desert) a while back, so along with dragées and ferrule I’ve got 8 out of 33 so far, while Douglas Adams has 0.
Zarf. I’m docking myself half a point for getting this one hopelessly wrong, thanks to a newspaper article I read years ago which asserted that the correct word for those cup-holders is swarf, derived from the large wood shavings that lathe operators used to wrap around their hot mugs of tea. It turns out that guy was confused and wrong, and so, in turn, was I. Swarf typically means fine shavings and filings, and zarf is an unrelated word of Arabic origin. I’m pretty sure I read my misinformation in a column in The Adelaide Review, so I’ll take comfort from blaming this on Christopher Pearson.
Any suggestions for better, more obscure nouns are more than welcome.
(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)

Ugly Cooky

Sunday 11 February 2007

Pardon my French, but the new version of Blogger is a bloody disgrace. Above, on the left, you see the official portrait of this website’s patroness and muse, Ms Cooky La Moo, as she appears in the standard Blogger profile. On the right, the deformed and wretched travesty, like a mildew’d ear, of said portrait as displayed in the pop-up comments window in the new, “improved” Blogger. A bloody disgrace, I say.

Filler by Proxy XLVI: London and Daisies

Saturday 10 February 2007

I like the idea of movies but usually don’t go to see any, which leaves me with a small, erratically selected pool of films to draw upon when I find myself in a conversation about cinema. Found more or less by chance, two bloggers have been writing more or less recently about two of my favourite films: Patrick Keiller’s London and Vera Chytilova’s Daisies.
Books and movies in which the city becomes a character have always touched a special something inside me, and London comes out on the top of this internal list. I’ve mentioned it in passing once or twice before: it’s the movie that convinced me that moving to London wouldn’t be a total loss, no matter what else happened.
The Measures Taken seizes upon some of Keiller’s ideas and cinematic techniques, as part of a description of his latest project:

It still feels like a peculiar gesture though, to follow these films with a project made up of around 60 films from the 1900s, which are then spun into a coherent narrative on the one hand, or on the other affixed to map of the world, with highlighted cities or streets taking you via a click to footage of that area in the first decade of the 20th century. We are in fairly Borges-like territory here, wheeling from Shanghai to New York to Liverpool, zeroing in on discrete streets with lunatic exactitude. It isn’t entirely clear what this project is…

I first saw Daisies while lying on my side, quite drunk, half on top of someone else, as it was projected onto a wall in a small bar down a backstreet somewhere in Melbourne, and have been infatuated with it ever since. “That film could only have been made in the 60s,” a friend once remarked after watching W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. “People have never been so dirty in quite the same way.” Daisies has that same, ineffable quality, and the same cheerful anarchy to it, but is even less encumbered by theories – even countercultural ones.
It’s one of the few cultural artifacts I’ve seen built upon a presumption of abundance instead of scarcity, affirmatively blowing social and political dialectics away. The Pinocchio Theory gives us a more substantial appreciation of Daisies.

… manages to be both visceral and abstract, playful and savage, intellectual and infantile, all at once. Watching it last night, I was literally trembling with joy and exhilaration. I felt the same way when I first saw the film, nearly thirty years ago.

Found via sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy, written by the same bloke who does The Measures Taken. It’s all like cellophane!

The Patrick White Reading Group is back

Tuesday 6 February 2007

This time, reading The Solid Mandala. Starts 20 February. Everybody welcome. Won’t be joining in this time. Gone off White after Vivisector experience. Also no time for articles, pronouns, conjunctions, certain verbs.

Hardest Way To Make Easy Living etc: Philip Glass at 70

Sunday 4 February 2007

On the occasion of his 70th birthday, Sequenza 21 is hosting a debate on whether Philip Glass is overrated or underrated. Part of the discussion has centred on why his later music seems to be so often driven by monetary more than artistic motives.
UbuWeb has both audio-only and video available for download of the Philip Glass episode of the 1975 series Music With Roots in the Aether, in which Glass, in a magnificent shirt, sits surrounded by small children eating pizza while being interviewed by Robert Ashley, in an even more magnificent shirt. The interview begins with Ashley speculating on why he hates children, before Glass explains his current financial situation.
Glass is equally lauded and derided as the most successful “real” composer alive, so it’s interesting to hear this thirty-eight-year old man reflect on just how far his career has gotten him to this point:

When we’re not being paid for concerts, we’re on unemployment. So that makes it, that’s the way things are now. Unemployment seems to have become a permanent fact of everybody’s life now…. We’re into the second year of unemployment….When we’re not getting paid a cheque for a rehearsal or concert, we get the unemployment. So if you figure it out, that comes to about, we get the maximum, which is 95 a week.