Please Mister Please

Thursday 22 May 2008

Anthony Pateras & Robin Fox, “Cranking the Dwarf” (2003).
(6’37”, 8.30 MB, mp3)

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

Thursday 22 May 2008


Countdown to Eurovision: Meet the Losers

Tuesday 20 May 2008

The betting has, theoretically, been thrown wide open this year, as the top-scoring countries from last year no longer get a free pass into the Eurovision final. This means everyone has to compete in the semi-finals for a place; except of course last year’s winner (Serbia) and the four countries which pay the most fees each year to the EBU (France, Germany, Spain, the UK).
The entrant with the longest odds of winning this year is plucky little Montenegro, with the 150-to-1 toe-tapper “Zauvijek Volim Te (Never Forget I Love You)”, sung by Stefan Filipović:

Stefan Filipović was born in Podgorica, on 18th January 1987. He is a student of the Music Academy in Cetinje, but he is into music industry since the age of seven. He participated in many musical contests as a child, in Montenegro and abroad, and he even won many of these contests and festivals, as the songs he was presenting became instant hits.

Unfortunately, the Eurovision website doesn’t offer a translation of the song lyrics, possibly because the subtleties of Montenegrin poetry are untranslatable:

Ponoć nad gradom kuca
Ja ne znam gdje si ti
Srce od ljubavi puca
U praznoj postelji!

Tuga mi pjesme piše
Dok suze padaju
Jastuk na tebe miriše
A dugo, dugo nisi tu!

If you thought Stefan’s biography was quaintly phrased because it was submitted in English by the Montenegrins themselves, then check out the elegant panegyric for the longest-odds entrant guaranteed a place in the final, the 66-to-1 “Even If” by (surprise!) the United Kingdom’s X-Factor loser Andy Abraham:

Andy is a man of mass musical talent, personal integrity… a family man. Andy is a songwriter. A man who has braved and exceeded all expectations and media obstacles over the last four years. Andy is a man who has dealt with the media spotlight with such personality that he has been dubbed the “man and voice of the people” Andy has sold half a million records in less than two years. Andy Abraham is a man of the people. There are no airs and graces. A man who has nurtured his vocal and writing talent for many years and now, on his own terms is set to move on to the world stage. Andy is the UK’s chosen representative at the 53rd Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade, Serbia.

Judging by the grasp of language on display, it was probably written by the same people who wrote his lyrics, who – hey! – include the man and voice of the people who is a man of the people, Andy himself:

Your [sic] keeping me fascinated
No I ain’t running all over town
I feel so intoxicated
I’m struggling to keep
My feet on the ground
I’m not playing girl
This ain’t no game at all
And for the first time
I’m not looking for love
So come here baby
Listen to me
I just want cha
To believe me

Filler By Proxy LXIV: Baby Hitler Found!

Monday 19 May 2008

The Irish Independent (original PDF) cleverly covers up Wee Baby Schickelgruber’s most telltale facial feature in a slightly misguided attempt to preserve his anonymity. Found at Photoshop Disasters.

The Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game, 2008 Edition

Sunday 18 May 2008

People have been googling for it, so here is the 2008 edition of the Eurovision Song Conetst Drinking Game rules. After last year’s success, there aren’t very many changes needed to get this down to a science. Unless they change the voting again.

Phase I: The Performances
A. Every instance within a song:
I.A.1 The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically shift up a key for the final chorus(es).
I.A.2 The Bucks Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only on every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.
B. Once per song only:
I.B.1 Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if they try to dodge the language issue by intentionally singing gibberish.
I.B.2 The Fine Cotton. Any appearance by mercenary singers flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.
I.B.3 Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to I.B.2 the Fine Cotton.
I.B.4 The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.
I.B.5 The Wandering Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes. It’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating; but take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) in a blatantly fake way, as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.
I.B.6 The TaTu. Finish your drink if the audience boos (on the telly, not in your living room.) Let’s hope this year’s crowd in Serbia isn’t as surly as the Greek Tragedy of 2006.
I.B.7 Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. In the past few years it seems that I.B.7 has been supplanted by I.B.8…
I.B.8 Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.
I.B.9 My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical problems of hosting the event next year.
I.B.10A The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for a hairy armpit.
I.B.11A The White Suit. You’ll know it when you see it; and you’ll know it again when you see it again, and again…

Phase II: The Voting
II.1 The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.
II.2 The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.
II.3 The Old Europe. When the UK gets null points from France.
II.4 The New Europe. When the Baltic or Balkan states all give each other twelve points (may be relegated to advanced rules only).
II.5 The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast to any country left with zero points at the end.
II.6 The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.
PHASE II SOBER PLAYERS ONLY: The voting now moves along too quickly for most people to keep up with the following by this stage of the evening, but you can try.
II.7A The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (“Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a relative watching at home.
II.8A The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer reads the voting results wrong. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.
II.9A The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.
II.10A The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone’s figured it out now, so this hasn’t happened for a few years, but just in case: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points first, then the country that has won them – not the other way around.

The Wildcards
W1 A person must finish their drink if they ask: (a) why Israel is in it; (b) why Italy isn’t in it; or (c) where the hell is Moldova?
W2 A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.
W3 A toast to the person who gets so drunk you have to secretly call a cab and persuade them they ordered it when it arrives.

Service Resumed

Sunday 18 May 2008

Things were interrupted for a few days there, thanks to a dodgy internet connection and a drunk girlfriend. Both are OK now. The promised review of Nono’s Prometeo should be below.
Also, work on the main website continues: a page for upcoming and past live performances is now online.

Prometheus versus The Minotaur, part two

Friday 16 May 2008

I mentioned that the expanse of Harrison Birtwistle’s music in The Minotaur created a space for the mind the reflect upon the themese of the opera’s drama. This effect in Britwistle’s opera becomes the drama and subject itself in Luigi Nono’s Prometeo, which I saw the following weekend.
Nono’s last opera is “a tragedy of listening”, with no acting, so sets, no staging, no props. This performance was the culmination and raison d’etre of the “Fragments of Venice” festival which I attended in October last year. I was amazed just at having the chance to witness it; not only because it was getting its British premiere a mere 24 years after its first performance in Venice, but because I was organised enough to book tickets seven months in advance and then, when the time had come, remember I had done so.
I had heard this work before on CD and knew that it was one of the major works of Nono’s remarkable late period. For nearly two and a half hours the music proceeds through various “islands” and “stasimons” of sound, always slow to the point of stasis, rarely rising above the quietest levels of the assembled orchestras and chorus, the libretto atomised and overlayered with electronic reverberations and echoes to just beyond the limit of comprehension. It was a work I knew I needed to experience live.
The action, for want of a better word, occurs in the movement of sound around the space. That first performance in Venice took place in the deconsecrated church of San Lorenzo. The London performance was in Royal Festival Hall, surely the least atmospheric and most clinical environment in which Prometeo has yet been performed. The location, and absence of extraneous sound, must have had an effect upon the experience.
One orchestra and the two conductors with the chorus on the stage in front of us, two more small orchestras each side of us, the five soloists in the wings house left, another orchestra overhead in the upper circle, various brass instruments in the boxes above either side, and a string trio in the royal box. A row of sound technicians in the centre of the hall. The musicians very rarely played all together at once; different combinations of instruments and voices circulated around the space, immersing the audience in music without overwhelming them with sheer force of sound.
The libretto was reprinted in the program (and emailed out to ticket holders in advance of the performance) but no surtitles were provided. Each new section was identitfied as it began, but the words were left to stand as part of the overall sound, as mysterious as the music, neither imposing a new narrative upon the listener’s imagination nor distracting from the experience of listening.
Sitting there for over two hours in a space physically unaltered but brought alive by Nono’s music, experiencing it in all four dimensions, made me understand that this is not just a major work but Nono’s magnum opus. Like Fragmente – Stille it is a work about timelessness, but is not so reliant upon pauses, silences. Its quietness is not always hovering just above the inaudible; it is continually filled with sound, albeit a fragile, transparent sound. The material making up that sound remains consistent throughout, but its nature changes in tone and atmosphere from one section to the next. The hushed stasis and subsumed, pulverised language render this opera simultaneously empty and full, testing musician and listener by tearing as much as possible away, and finding that coherence can still be found amidst the fragments that remain.

Please Mister Please

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Ivan Wyschnegradsky, “Composition en quarts de ton” for Ondes Martenot quartet (1963). L’Ensemble d’Ondes Martenot de Montréal.
(6’06”, 4.45 MB, mp3)

Prometheus versus the Minotaur, part one

Wednesday 14 May 2008

As I was saying: the previous weekend I took the girlfriend to the Royal Opera House to see Harrison Birtwistle’s latest, and supposedly last, opera The Minotaur. In its music, structure, dramatic presentation, and high seriousness, The Minotaur is a direct descendant of Wagner’s musical dramas. The drama tells in stark, bold strokes the myth of the Minotaur Asterios, Ariadne and Theseus; its bluntness focuses the mind on the story’s ancient roots, while the modernity of its interpretation is found through what is omitted from the tale. The most telling moment comes at the end, when Theseus slays the monster. No more of the story is told, of Theseus return or Ariadne’s fate: we are left with the Minotaur dying alone, contemplating his doomed botch of a life.
All that is best in Birtwistle’s music is heard in this opera, as with his massive orchestral movement Earth Dances it has a relentless power to it, like a force of nature that can barely be repressed. In The Minotaur this force comes with greater subtlety and nuance; closer attention to the implacable drive of the score reveals a wealth of small details and shifting instrumental colours. The singers’ securely modernist melodic lines were surprisingly singable and clear despite their evident difficulty. It was hardly necessary to look at the surtitles to follow the libretto.
I wonder for how much longer we can expect new operas like this to be produced: so heavily reliant upon the traditional material support and performance tradition of the opera house, yet demanding from the musicians interpretive abilities from an avantgarde idiom alien to most opera repertory. It is a work that embraces the Western operatic heritage, but rejects the comfortable nostalgia that would allow it to be easily accepted into that heritage.
At times I was conscious of witnessing two historical cultures, the ancient Greek and the grand operatic. There were moments when both cultures strained against each other and the contemporary world, requiring a more conscious suspension of disbelief, but more often they spoke across the years with surprising clarity and directness.
With the exception of the Minotaur’s limited insight, the characters’ actions and motivations remained on the level of myths, unexplored and often curiously impassive. There was no need to burden them with psychological or political baggage; the drama’s measured pacing and unyielding music allowed the audience’s minds to meditate upon their emotional states and form their own responses.

(Tomorrow: part two, Luigi Nono’s Prometeo.)

Robert Rauschenberg

Tuesday 13 May 2008

There is in Rauschenberg, between him and what he picks up to use, the quality of an encounter. For the first time.
Having made the empty canvases (A canvas is never empty.), Rauschenberg became the giver of gifts. Gifts, unexpected and unnecessary, are ways of saying Yes to how it is, a holiday. The gifts he gives are not picked up in distant lands but are things we already have… and so we are converted to the enjoyment of our possessions. Converted from what? From wanting what we don’t have, art as a pained struggle.
To Whom It May Concern: The white paintings came first; my silent piece came later.
– John Cage, “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, And His Work” (1961).

Countdown to Eurovision: Could be worse, could be Des Mangan

Tuesday 13 May 2008

The Director of the Eurovision Song Contest, Bjorn Erichsen, came this close to catching a clue when he complained to the BBC this week that their choice of host is a “problem” which is undermining the contest’s reputation:

Terry Wogan is a problem because he makes it ridiculous. I know he is very popular, and maybe that is the reason why a lot of people watch… The BBC gets a very large audience but it chooses to represent the Contest in a certain way. They take it far more seriously in Sweden. They have a genuine love and respect for it.

Ah yes, it’s all Wogan’s fault that people think Eurovision is ridiculous. Apparently viewers in Sweden will be taking that singing Irish turkey puppet very seriously this year.
How dare Wogan make Eurovision a popular, high-rating show, and retain a huge viewing audience in Britain while ratings across the rest of western Europe have nosedived? What we really need is sober, introspective chin-stroking over “Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley“.

Short, Stupid Sunday Science

Sunday 11 May 2008

The most popular story currently on BBC News’ Science and Nature website? Great tits cope well with warming.
Hey, goth kids! Wanna know what the mysterious, mind-expanding “green fairy” of absinthe really is? Booze!

Have you heard, it’s in the stars

Saturday 10 May 2008

I there some momentous astronomical event happening that I’m not aware of? Mission to Mars is on telly right now. RMIT Project Space in Melbourne has just opened a show called The Mars Project (“Tapping into primordial hopes and fears, the dream to make Mars a life-sustaining planet possibly connects us to our past more than it does to our future”), followed by – hey!
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the 55th Carnegie International has just opened, the theme: Life on Mars (“The question, “Is there life on Mars?” is a rhetorical one, posed in the face of a world in which increasingly accelerating global events…”)
The Barbican Art Gallery in London is showing the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art (“…presents contemporary art works under the fictional guise of a museum collection conceived by and designed for extraterrestrials.”) Well did you ever?

Otherwise, you can go read Opera Chic

Thursday 8 May 2008

I was going to finish my rave about Harrison Birtwistle‘s new opera The Minotaur, which I took my girlfriend to see at the Royal Opera House last weekend. (Warning: we’ve been together for a few years – this is not a good date opera!) However, I got distracted by finally working out how to make the header on the archive pages clickable to get you back to the front page of the blog. It’s a good day.
The last opera I saw was Satyagraha, over a year ago; and this weekend I’ll be at Southbank for Luigi Nono’s Prometeo. For all the musical and dramatic power of Birtwistle’s opera, thinking of it in retrospect makes it seem almost quaintly conventional compared to these two other works; but that’s hardly a fair assessment.
I’m still trying to figure out what to play for my gig at Horse Bazaar (Wednesday 11 June!), so The Minotaur review may come out before or after I’ve seen Prometeo. If the latter, I’ll try to resist making comparisons.

Countdown to Eurovision: Just when you thought Cliff Richard couldn’t possibly get any sadder…

Wednesday 7 May 2008

His faith may have guaranteed him an eternal reward in heaven, but that hasn’t stopped an unrealised desire from gnawing away at Cliff Richard for the past forty years. He’s still bellyaching over coming second in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest.
But now, the hope of salvation is on the horizon*: the winning song, Spain’s imaginatively titled “La La La”, is accused of having won through vote rigging by Franco himself.

According to Montse Fernandez Vila, the director of the film called 1968: I lived the Spanish May, Franco was determined to claim Eurovision glory for his own country. The investigation, which is due to be broadcast shortly, details how El Generalísimo was so keen to improve Spain’s international image that he sent corrupt TV executives across Europe to buy goodwill in the run-up to the contest.

The two funniest moments in this report come when the 1968 Richard is referred to as a “starlet” (that can’t be right, can it?) , and that reference to “corrupt TV executives”. Apparently, duchessing is corrupt only when it is performed by TV executives, not by other businessmen, politicians, or Olympics officials.
* I know that phrase sounds meaningless, but it’s no worse than Sir Cliff saying, “I’d be quite happy to be able to say I won Eurovision ’68. It’s an impressive date in the calendar these days.” It’s a cheesy song contest Cliff, not one of your cheap, Portuguese wines.