Why I’m not a musician

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Having mentioned Paris Transatlantic the other day, I started looking through some older editions and found an interview with Phill Niblock. Niblock was the inspiration for my piece now showing at the Redrawing exhibition in Hobart (plug!).
Something Niblock said reminded me why I’ve never sought music-related employment as a day job to fund my musical activities: I worry about what might happen to me if I’m placed in regular contact with musicians. Here’s Niblock discussing the role of the performer in playing his music (remember that his music sounds kind of something like this):

There were two especially bad performances in my memory. One was in The Hague, actually. We were doing a concert and one guitar player had come to the rehearsal; and the other guy couldn’t come for a rehearsal at all – he’d never heard the piece nor had the CD or anything. So he came and got up on the stage and immediately started improvising over the drone. And the other guy was playing perfectly. I almost got up and said to him: please lay out. But I didn’t. And a similar thing happened very recently in the States. I had even sent the CDs to this woman who I knew, and who knew the music, and the same thing happened; I came very late, there was no chance to make a rehearsal or a soundcheck, and she just used it as an opportunity to make a really long improvisation for herself with a drone background. I was sort of shocked. I didn’t say anything to her because we were actually staying with her, so that made it difficult.

Please Mister Please

Monday 29 September 2008

Helmut Lachenmann, “Guero” (1970). Mario Formenti, piano.
(4’57″, 5.89 MB, mp3)

Unlucky Thirteen

Monday 29 September 2008

This’ll learn me for talking too much about death. The Brockley Dormobiles are still growing in numbers, and yesterday afternoon I awoke to find my house had been visited by this dilapidated Kombi Van of Doom.
Needless to say, I went back to bed and waited until the hand-sprayed harbinger had clattered away.

Rueful Autopsy

Sunday 28 September 2008

“He reserves his respect mostly for the dead.” Why am I interested in so few composers under the age of 50? Is it simply because I’m getting old and stopped taking an interest in anything new? Or is it that I was never that interested in what’s comtemporary, and my interest is in a particular historical period, of which I happened to catch the tail end?

This is starting to get depressing.

Friday 26 September 2008

It’s one thing when you realise that most of the generation of great composers born in the 1920s have now died – Xenakis, Ligeti, Berio, Stockhausen, Kagel, etc – but now The Rambler is reporting that Horaţiu Rădulescu (b. 1942) has died. No other reports yet, and Wikipedia is dithering on whether or not to put it on their ‘live’ page.
ANABlog has recently been posting a bunch of mp3s, with notes, of Rădulescu’s music – simultaneously sensual and austere, using a rich and distinctive palette of microtones, embracing the complete “acoustic spectrum”. If the ANABlog links are down, there are more compositions easily found on the Avant Garde Project site (large FLAC files and sleeve notes here, mp3 versions backed up here).
Also, Paris Transatlantic interviewed Rădulescu last year. It begins promisingly:
He can’t stand Shostakovitch (“de la merde!”), dismisses Schnittke (“tuttifrutti!”), cordially dislikes Boulez (but admits that “he opened up a new sound world for all of us and his management skills come out well in front of the orchestra”), listens to Algerian rai, and Nashville blues while he accelerates in the BMW, and unwinds to Monteverdi and Josquin des Prez when he de-accellerates at home.
His own music is unclassifiable. Though frequently called spectral, it has diverged totally from the French academic spectralism which is so hot in institutional circles in Paris these days. Colleagues of his who have become well-known such as Dusapin (the tritones of whose cello concerto “set my teeth on edge”) annoy him through their business skills, and he refers to the music spectrale crowd in Paris with scorn (“they’re the mafiosi”). He reserves his respect mostly for the dead: Wagner, Bruckner (“not Mahler, his music is empty!”), Josquin des Pres, and Xenakis, whom he venerates, adores.

A Southeastern Trains Employee Offers Travel Advice To A Lost Tourist, Which May Have More General Applications In Life.

Monday 22 September 2008

“It doesn’t matter where you are now, that’s not important. Where do you have to get to?”

Mauricio Kagel

Sunday 21 September 2008

I performed Kagel’s General Bass (for “unspecified bass instrument”—I used an accordion), a little piece of typical, mysterious wit consisting of sparse, disconnected phrases that hint at some absent, traditionally tonal grandeur. Kagel a) was mildly disappointed at the fact that my piano accordion was not a bandoneon, but took it in stride, and b) was very particular about staging—seated, not standing; very still, as if one player within a giant ensemble; and making sure to underemphasize any espressivo possibility in the fragments. It was a bit of master-class in how to play off of performance expectations, and in how magically you can up the stakes of humor the less you give away the joke.
Kagel could be intellectually unforgiving, but even his criticism was cloaked in the graceful good manners of an old-school radical; if he thought I was young and stupid (which he probably did) he never let on, instead giving the generous illusion that the time he spent with me was time well spent.
Mauricio Kagel RIP. A composer I’m still learning how to listen to; although this might be because I keep confusing him with György Kurtág.

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

Thursday 18 September 2008

It's not a rhyme, it's assonance! That's the resonance made when I BLOW UP YOUR ASS!!!! HEE! HAW! BOOM!

Please Mister Please

Thursday 18 September 2008

Lejaren Hiller, “An Avalanche” for pitchman, prima donna, player piano, percussionist and pre-recorded playback (1968). Royal MacDonald, pitchman; Norma Marder, prima donna; Robert Rosen, percussionist; George Ritscher, audio technician.
I. Getting Ready For It
II. The Avalanche
III. Cleaning Up The Mess
(9’04″, 8.88 MB, mp3)

Big news this week, take my word for it.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

1. My String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta) continues its conquering of the southern hemisphere when the Redrawing show tours to Tasmania. It opens this Friday, 19 September, at CAST (Contemporary Art Space Hobart), 27 Tasma Street, North Hobart, and runs to 12 October.
More information about Redrawing can be found here. CAST’s website is… currently under redevelopment.
2. My “World Class Anxiety” post from earlier this year has now been published in a revised, improved form in the latest issue of Meanjin – volume 67, number 3.
The new, redesigned Meanjin is over 200 pages of fiction, essays, and poetry – including several contributions from fellow Sarsaparilla writers. Meanjin’s website is… currently under redevelopment.

Postcards from Berlin (G – VG+)

Monday 15 September 2008




The Weekend that Wasn’t

Monday 15 September 2008

By now I should have just come home tired and hungover from a weekend across the channel catching up with some friends at Happy New Ears in the bustling Belgian burg of Kortrijk – or Courtrai, depending on which Belgian you ask.
Except, I had my ticket booked on the Eurostar on Friday morning. So instead I spent the last couple of days sleeping, drinking alone (whoopee.) and sorting through a small pile of CD-Rs. One of these contained some photos from a trip to Berlin in 2006, which are now on Flickr.
A bunch of these photos are of the sound/painting/lighting installation psc by Michael Graeve, who was at Happy New Ears. Ah well. More sad stories as the week progresses.

Please Mister Please (1st Anniversary Bonus Edition)

Wednesday 10 September 2008

The Fall, “English Scheme” (1980).
(2’00″, 3.61 MB, mp3)

Repeat (one week only): Kenneth Gaburo, “Fat Millie’s Lament (Exit Music No.2)” (1965).
(4’45″, 4.65 MB, mp3)

Postcards from Amsterdam

Wednesday 10 September 2008



The Good Old New Musical Resources

Sunday 7 September 2008


He provided a new and visionary basis for musical exploration based in the unalterable facts of acoustics, a basis so broad that it opened up room in the Western tradition not only for musics of the rest of the world, but for compositional systems that have not even been conceived yet. If Cowell failed to fulfill his own potentials, it was because those potentials were too ambitious to be realized except by a succession of future generations. As a prophet he pointed the way to a new world he was not destined to live in….

For nearly 70 years Henry Cowell’s book New Musical Resources has inspired composers to explore new territory in the worlds of harmony and rhythm, and to discover connections between the two. Barely a week after uploading a PDF of Notations, UbuWeb has made a scan of Cowell’s complete book available as a 56 MB PDF download.

For a practical demonstration of Cowell’s musical thinking, American Mavericks is still hosting the Virtual Rhythmicon, which lets you play with the instrument yourself, or hear other people’s compositions. The original rhythmicon was built by Leon Theremin in 1931, following Cowell’s instructions. The electronic instrument was configured to play notes in the same harmonic and rhythmic ratios as the frequencies of the harmonic series.
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