What’s on top of the pile? (blind item)*

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Older readers – you know, Gen X’ers and stuff – will remember experiencing their first David Bowie Moment, endlessly arguing over whether this is a misunderstood masterpiece or a lazy load of bollocks, when it’s really just Not Bad. Wait, I get it now! She’s channelling Patti Smith so it’s supposed to be cringingly bad, but we’re supposed to admire it because of that. Reckon in ten years’ time this will sound atrocious, and then gradually get better again?

(More from the pile)

* I hit ‘post’ before it was finished.

Anatomy of a Nerd (13.5% vol.)

Thursday 21 June 2007


Late one Friday night at a cool indie pub in Whitechapel. Scruffily dressed bright young things mingle while a DJ plays dub mashups. In one corner, Ben.H is jumping up and down in front of a doorway.

A Friend
What on earth are you doing?

There’s a book up on that shelf above the doorway. It’s really thick with a pale green spine so I thought it might be Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.



In a twist ending, the book turns out to be The Ultimate Pub Quiz Book, and not The Anatomy of Melancholy after all.

Filler By Proxy LII: Your Pretty Face Is Going to Slough

Tuesday 19 June 2007

There’s something else I learned at Venn, but it has to wait till tomorrow night. In the meantime, please enjoy what promises to be a lengthy series of highly illuminating posts about life in a modern British provincial town; in fact, that most archetypal of nondescript British towns, Slough. The delights that await the business traveller can be followed at the blog Life in the Slough Lane.

One or two things I learned at the Venn Festival in Bristol

Monday 18 June 2007

I just remembered to write more about the Venn Festival. A couple of things stick in my mind from the weekend, beside the hangovers.
I got up particularly early on Saturday afternoon to go see Goodiepal without fully understanding who he was or what he did, just that the night before a friend had been very insistent I see him. A Faroese man with a fine beard, he was whistling a slow, meandering tune while setting up two large tables covered with small model planets, tiny paintings, music boxes, small vinyl records etched with various patterns. His hour-long set took the form of a lecture, as he explained planetary signals sent back and forth between New York and remote parts of the world, playing his very small records (of whistling, grunting and howling, or other lectures he has given), usually two at a time and talking or singing along with them.
Every now and then he would demonstrate how musical ideas changed in different cultures by giving a quick, vocal demonstrations in gibberish of New York rock bands, Norweigans pretending to be New York rock bands, French rappers, Björk, and offering evidence that every Scandanavian band now sings slow, keening melodies redolent of vast empty spaces.
He produced a small case containing a bird-like theremin under a glass bell, and I remembered where I had heard of him before: Music Thing blogged about this guy in March, linking to video of his appearance on a Danish TV program, under the heading “This Video Will Blow Your Mind“. Later they provided a transcript in English of the interview, where he talks about planetary movements and the interaction of electronics and mechanical music.
In Bristol, he talked for some time about prehistoric sounds being recorded in naturally-occurring magnetic rocks before he ran out of time and had to break it off, allowing audience members to look at the tiny paintings (which had been placed on the table face down) and buy records from him (for which purchasers would a name a price he could not refuse).
It felt like, regardless of whether he was talking, singing, miming or whistling, we had heard the latest instalment in a discussion he had been having with the world for some years now, about what music is, and what it could be.
Much later that night, a Finnish duo were playing a gig in another part of town. They began singing a slow, keening melody redolent of vast empty spaces and I had to leave the room, giggling. Several other people left at the same time. We had all been to see Goodiepal that afternoon.

What’s on top of the pile?

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Luc Ferrari, Collection de petites pièces ou 36 enfilades, Jeu du hasard et de la détermination (Michel Maurer, Françoise Rivalland)
While I was in Waterloo I also finally visited Gramex, in Lower Marsh, and found it pretty much as everyone describes it: a group of old men scrabbling through piles of CDs randomly stacked on a couple of large coffee tables. The main difference was that the two leather armchairs in the shop were unoccupied. They were being used as impromptu shelving for several more boxes of unsorted CDs, and so their usual occupants had had to find somewhere else to continue their day-long discussion of cricket.
One gent informed me he was searching for a Czech recording of Joplin’s rags played on a harpsichord, which had eluded him for the past eighteen months. I stopped myself from mentioning searching for it on the internet, figuring that he had probably heard and ignored that advice from younger people several times before. Besides, all my books and CDs have been found by hunting and gathering, so I’m not going to tell anyone else to be more systematic.
I didn’t expect to find much of interest. Over half the shelf-space was taken up with opera, and in most record shops opera is inversely proportional to 20th century stuff. I picked up a couple of discounted Naxos discs (yeah, that’s how cheap I am) and found this Luc Ferrari disc, which I hadn’t heard of before. Gramex also has a basement full of vinyl, which I didn’t dare look at because I haven’t replaced my turntable yet.
It’s another set of his disconcertingly jaunty and menacing piano pieces, with various taped and electronic sounds inexplicably popping up every now and then. I almost forgot to include that description of the music itself before posting this thing.

(What used to be on top of the pile?)

Filler by Proxy LI: Embers

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Last week I went exploring around Waterloo for the first time and stumbled across John Calder’s bookshop in The Cut. I had no idea that this transplanted piece of literary history still existed at all, let alone as a vital and interesting store (unlike the pickled ruin of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris).
Since the 1950s Calder has been the publisher of Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, Wyndham Lewis, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and so on and so forth. Sadly, he will no longer be publishing Beckett: the writer’s estate has decided that Faber and Faber, who have until now published only the plays, will now handle all of Beckett’s work.
Calder has written a valedictory tribute to Beckett, the writer and man:

He was 47, unknown except to a few close friends and singularly unsuccessful, when he had his first success with Godot in 1953 – another of the lucky flukes that characterised his life and career. He had survived the war and the clutches of the Gestapo hiding in the Vaucluse mountains, along with many other misadventures. He had also endured misunderstanding of his work that very few academics, mainly Joyceans – and even fewer reviewers – were able to overcome…. He was a simple, totally honest, highly perceptive and overly generous human being who saw and described the reality of human existence as the tragedy it is.

He also explains how the initial division of publishing labour between his company and Faber came about (hint: it involves a fear of the police).

The comments attached to the article are worth a look too, as they include a link to an interview with Marion Boyars, Calder’s sometime publishing partner, and this observation from reader fmk:

I guess we’ve got a few years ahead of us in which Faber’ll be telling us of all the errors in previous editions and how their new editions are totally definitive, tpyo-free* and as the author intended them to be.

* [sic]

Another day, another musical institution turning against its fans.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Remember the Roberto Alagna scandal at La Scala in December? La Scala, possibly after having run out of other people to sue, has now sent a cease and desist letter to Opera Chic, fearless blogger of all things La Scala and dogged chronicler of the troubled Aïda production. Opera Chic has had no option but to comply, removing all the photos taken inside the theatre from her blog, and changing her logo.
Supposedly, La Scala were worried that people would confuse OC’s blog with the official La Scala site. La Scala must also like to pepper its site with pictures of Riccardo Chailly with MS Paint speech balloons calling Alagna TEH SUXXOR, and feature guest appearances by the Drama Llama.
On the other hand, maybe people wouldn’t be so confused if La Scala’s site didn’t crash in a smouldering heap the day it should have announced its 2007/08 season, leaving Opera Chic to do all the work for them. Ingrates!

Everybody’s Got One

Thursday 7 June 2007

The story of the lost Morton Feldman recording, hidden in plain sight with a name tag and everything, reminded me of Kurt Schwitters’ recording of his Ursonate. Back when I was first trying to find out more about Schwitters, every book (yes, pre-internet) I read mentioned that Schwitters never made a complete recording of his major sound poem. Then one day I find a CD in the shops of Schwitters reciting the piece. All of it. How did this happen? It went a little something like this….

Cologne, 1987
Jack Ox: Gee, wouldn’t it be great if we could hear how Schwitters performed his Ursonate?
Michael Waisvisz: Oh, you can borrow my copy.
Ox: No, I mean a performance by Schwitters himself.
Waisvisz: Yeah, I taped a copy of it from some guy at STEIM back in the 60s. It was a dub of some shellac discs Schwitters had recorded.
Ox: !!!!!
Waisvisz: What, is it rare or something?

UbuWeb has a page of different versions of the Ursonate, including the Schwitters recording, and the 1986 recording by Jaap Blonk that Ernst Schwitters doesn’t want you to hear!
Also, just because I found them while (ahem) researching this post, here are some ridiculously cool photos of Leon Theremin jamming with Michael Waisvisz.

Lost Feldman piece recovered!

Wednesday 6 June 2007

There are artworks that are lost, and then there are artworks that are stolen from the backs of cars: such was the fate of the master tapes for Robert Ashley’s In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women before the proper mixdown could be made.
Perhaps more notoriously, because no trace of its existence remained, was Morton Feldman’s composition The Possibility of a New Work for Electric Guitar, the manuscript of which was stolen from colleague Christian Wolff’s car in 1966 (it was kept inside his guitar case, which was lifted along with the instrument).
I subscribe to the Morton Feldman mailing list Why Patterns? (doesn’t everyone?), so in my inbox today came the news that after going missing for 41 years, a recording of the piece has been found.
The piece had only been played three times, once at a radio station. Feldman scholar Chris Villars and Steve Dickison of San Francisco State University did some inspired guesswork as to what station that might be and got in touch with Charles Shere, a former Music Director at KPFA Berkeley from 1964-67.

Amazingly, Charles Shere recalled seeing a tape in the archive labelled with the title of Feldman’s piece, which he had thought was a piece by Christian Wolff. No-one had realised the importance of this tape as probably the only recording of a piece whose score was subsequently lost!

Soon after, Other Minds unearthed a tape of the complete concert, including the lost Feldman work. A digital copy has now been made – no news yet of how or when it will be published.

This is a perfect opportunity to plug the new, improved RadiOM, Other Minds’ free archive of recordings of landmark concerts, readings, interviews and lectures.

Back, by request

Tuesday 5 June 2007

I’ve just come back from a highly enjoyable long weekend at the Venn Festival in Bristol, which I might write up a bit, even though I’m reluctant to rant on about the work of people I know personally. All week I’m in and out of the house attending to various bits of business, so in the meantime please enjoy this photograph, taken at a friend’s instigation during a pleasant summer evening’s drinking by the old Bristol docks.

I am assured it is one of the vans the historic krautrock band Faust turned up in for their gig on Friday night. It certainly looks like the type of vehicle that might have been released by Brain records circa 1972. Also, if a picture paints a thousand words, then please accept this photo as an in-depth review of what a Faust gig sounds like in 2007.