The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Five

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Do you believe in God? Stephane had tried to understand. The parish priest and the mayor often get angry at each other. Which is the best informed? The church is on the right. Come drink to the health of the priest. Let’s drink to your health. I am your mayor. Don’t get mad at me. We’re going to discuss it. I shall pay for your chicken, because it was yours.
Just as you always say no, she always says yes. The revolutionaries had 200 killed or wounded. The mass of the people took the Bastille after four hours of fighting. The fortress was the symbol of arbitrary power. This revolution produced a great impression. You could change profession if you wanted to. I would have liked to study biology. I would like to know how to sew. Why don’t we toss for it? You wanted to understand it. Everything is relative. In that case buy yourself a map and a guidebook. Buy a different paper every day. Remain objective!
I managed to buy a typewriter. Tell your story! Tell your life! I liked nature and open air. I love bicycle riding. I wanted to be a lawyer. In fact, I was good in philosophy. I’ve never gone to Africa. I don’t like racking my brain very much. If you could see my new tie! Let’s say that the style is very literary.
We were in the process of discussing taxes. No one likes to pay any, but it is necessary to pay them. Do you have a car and a washing machine? Incidentally, it is interesting to see why people protest. We’ve made the same mistakes. You refuse to let your trees be cut down. They are right not to give in. Life must have a meaning.

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Four

Tuesday 29 September 2009

She managed to get in. He noticed that she was the first. Note that he is very clever. He also produces amazing gadgets. Did he tell you about his trip to Europe? He would have wanted to be a doctor. She is very original and very much of a poet. She didn’t like the factory at all. She prefers the unmarried life. Good for her. It’s better that he does the cooking. She comes from Great Britain. She just made herself a new dress. He is an absent-minded student who is a tragic hero. He’s happy that I’m getting married. What about going to see him? She is arriving in a taxi. Did you talk to her? They still live at the same address. They live on the fourth floor.
My old car has had it. How come? It should have lasted longer. Did you have an accident? Not serious, I hope! Just the same I had to have my nose redone. There was a lot of fog. I was driving too fast. I didn’t watch out for the curve. I’ve never been lucky on Friday the 13th.
The taxi driver is very kind; he is a Frenchman. The French gesticulate so much that we understand them anyway. I’m learning a lot about French life. The taxi driver looks at the Seine. Over there! I see a police officer. I don’t know if he is old or young. I would say that he’s about fifty. I know that he is hungry, I can see it. You are cruel in your description. I often tell myself that they are an anachronism.
The left and the right are traditionally opposed to each other. There are also many communists. The bourgeois are usually on the right. Do you have any in the centre? The farmers want to go to the city. That doesn’t surprise me. Those who have faith are convinced. In any case, I don’t know how to play cards. In mathematics, one needs imagination.

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Three

Monday 28 September 2009

When I was a child, I always heard the same story. All men are alike. One had to find a husband. All men are skirt chasers before getting married. Women had to be flirtatious before marriage. Good cooking was the means of keeping the husband home. They had to feed their husband and take care of the children. They didn’t know how to do anything else! Poor women! I am sorry. I don’t like all the clichÈs people use. My friends won’t take long explaining this to you. They are less happy than they believe.
You’re getting married. That’s an important event. I thought you were a confirmed bachelor. But the young optician was very pretty. So you fell head over heels in love. You’re a bit romantic. But love and reason are very different. You are still in the clouds. You’ll get married and you’ll have many children. You are going to sing and dance. With pleasure.
You are a good housewife. You are very happy. You do not have a bird brain. No woman had ever been a great painter. Do you have the time? Men have lots of faults too. One had to marry young. If people don’t get along they divorce. The family has become more fragile. Are men and women faithful. Your dress is very becoming. I like it. Your boyfriend is a flatterer and a liar. I hate that. Did you see Marie? She has a very pretty face with blue eyes. We have heard a great deal about you. I respect you a lot and she likes you well enough.
I have just been introduced to two young people. They are coming to the house tonight. They look as smart as your mother. I am going to pick them up in town. They detest working. Today one chooses one’s religion. Life is easier in the city.

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Two

Sunday 27 September 2009

Can you tell me what time it is? I don’t have my watch. It is a quarter to five. We are watching television. That is easy. Sometimes cartoons are crazy. Commercials are like an intermission. The people are happy. You too? The hotel room is very comfortable. I think I’ll come back one day.
What’s new since yesterday? I want you to tour the factory. We’re going there right away. Otherwise what one learns remains theoretical. One ought to work more. You shave fast. You have Napoleon’s profile. I find that you look like my sister.
I’d like to introduce you to my best friend. Very happy to meet you, Miss. Alice is quite inquisitive. She does not put on makeup. That saves time. She is an American. Americans like to play baseball and to box. What does she do the rest of the time? I prefer playing chess and draughts.
You did not like to stay at the same place for long. One day you decided to leave. Where did you go? Did you go by bicycle? No, I did not look for you. What did your parents think about it? What did you do yesterday? You couldn’t get me on the phone? Did you write your parents?

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: One

Saturday 26 September 2009

Where are my parents? Here they are. I am early. He is very kind. She is very happy. Delighted to meet you. I know everybody, don’t I? My name’s day is on September 6th. I am hungry and thirsty! I don’t like the hotel room; I like the streets and the stores. Come with me and I’ll take you there.
One day I left. I wrote them a long letter. I took my bicycle and a knapsack. First, I am going to the beach. Is it too far away? When the weather was nice, it was wonderful. Since I love fishing, I’ll live on the seashore. If you go there, you will no longer forget where it is. Let’s say that if it rains I’ll stay here. Since it was raining, I did not go back home. Did you look for me?
I caught a severe cold. I am cold and sleepy. I have no change. We have no more bread. We have no luck today. Let us go for a walk and talk for a bit. To be or not to be. That is the question. We did not fear anything. He is very talkative and so am I. Everything is perfect, because I like to talk.
What do you want me to do? I doubt that you will find anything. I did not find any. You have to give me a map. No, you are wrong. It’s better that we take a rest. I want you to get a rest. You were cold while you were walking. What are you doing today? Are you going for a walk? What are you doing right now? You don’t understand very well. You don’t listen to what I am saying. Are you satisfied here? What don’t you like? Can’t you answer like everybody else? Don’t get angry! Open your mouth and articulate clearly!

Please Mister Please

Thursday 24 September 2009

Tristan Murail, “Vampyr!” (1984). Wiek Hijmans, electric guitar.
(7’14″, 9.93 MB, mp3)

Filler By Proxy LXXIV: Percy Grainger’s Electric Eye Tone Tool

Tuesday 22 September 2009

A short video of Warren Burt and Catherine Schieve playing the last of Percy Grainger’s free music instruments, the Electric Eye Tone Tool:

Between 1954 and 1961, Percy Grainger and Burnett Cross worked on a machine called the Electric Eye Tone Tool. Years later, I was looking at the diagram of the Electric Eye machine in the Grainger Museum and I said, “That should be fairly easy to rebuild.” Well, it turns out it’s not fairly easy to rebuild but it was rebuildable.

The Electric Eye Tone Tool seems to be the first light-controlled synthesizer. Its oscillator circuits were transistorised (more stable than the old valve technology) and could be controlled graphically, simply by painting a score onto a transparent plastic sheet which could then be passed over the instrument’s array of photoelectric cells. Take that, UPIC.

Burt has written a brief study of the history of experimental music in Australia, reprinted at the Australian Music Centre website.

(Hat tip to Mr Graeve.)

Stupid Tuplet Tricks

Monday 21 September 2009

Just the other day I was complaining about writing out conventional dots-on-lines music using notation software. “It needs a regular, steady beat, and needs to know how many beats will be in each bar before it begins to fill them with notes and silences.” I haven’t used notation software for years because it didn’t seem to want to let me do anything fun.

I generally don’t write for human beings anyway, so if I’m writing out musical instructions to be understood by a machine I’d rather use sequencer programs which can give you more direct control over your data. This means I end up punching in lots of numbers by hand* or writing scripts to generate the numbers for me. Now someone’s found out by accidentally hitting the tuplet key twice in Sibelius that you can create all sorts of groovy irrational rhythms and temporal illusions by building up stacks of multiple tuplets, like so (illustrations and sound samples follow).

* or by banging my head against the computer keyboard Don Music stylee.

Re Redundens 1m

Friday 18 September 2009

In case you don’t hear the music in your head when you read a score – and I sure don’t – I’ve made up a little electronic realisation of Redundens 1m for you to enjoy. It was written for melodica (and for Melodica!), but this recording uses an accordion soundfont because I couldn’t get a decent-sounding melodica soundfont for free anywhere on the internet, not even illegally. These particular accordion samples sound closer to a melodica than an accordion, anyway.

The series of works collectively titled Redundens was begun in 2001. All the pieces take Arnold Schoenberg’s Three Pieces for Piano, Op.11 as their starting point: only the top line in Schoenberg’s pieces is retained as an unaccompanied melody (or as a list of pitch classes if you’re more technically-minded.) Each set of pieces uses a different method of encoding this melody; by pitch, register, timbre, duration, dynamics, or other means.

Redundens 1m keeps the same register and duration for each pitch class throughout the piece, determined by the nature of their initial appearances in the original. The range of the original has been compressed to suit a solo melodica with a range of two-and-a-half octaves. Certain notes have been selected by chance to be extended to four beats’ duration, so that they may overlap with following notes.

Redundens 1m for solo melodica (13’25″, 16.74 MB, mp3)
Also available at The Listening Room.

Please Mister Please

Wednesday 16 September 2009

The Triffids, “Nothing Good Is Going To Come Of This” (1982).
(3’11″, 6.08 MB, mp3)

The Gods of the Union Hotel Look On

Wednesday 16 September 2009

I just remembered it’s the Grand Final this weekend in Melbourne. I was looking through some photos last night and found some more snaps from my last trip to Melbourne. On one of my last nights there I was out drinking with some friends at the Union Hotel in Fitzroy when the football came on – the only real footy I’ve seen in nearly five years.

Essendon 16.17 (113) d West Coast 13.13 (91) in case you’re wondering.

One-Minute Mystery

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Every morning I go past Conway Hall on my way to work. A while ago I just twittered that for the last two days the front entrance has been surrounded by truckloads of pianos being wheeled inside. This morning I caught a glimpse through the front door of the corridors lined with pianos.

I’d been hoping for at least a super-duper version of Les noces, if not some sort of weird, quasi-musical ritual going down – the hall opens its doors to all sorts of meetings. Instead, according to their website they’re just hosting a piano auction this week. Google takes the fun out of everything.

The Last Of The Proms (Part 2)

Tuesday 15 September 2009

(Part 1 is here.)

When I get to gigs at all, it’s because of what is being played rather than who is playing it. I’m not a huge Stravinsky fan but I had to go hear the Proms performance of Les noces, that fantastically eccentric piece for singers, chorus, four pianos and a load of percussion. My general lack of enthusiasm for Stravinsky comes partly from disappointment that he moved on to pursue other musical ideas after writing something as awesome as Les noces. It’s a sad, stupid blind spot I have which persuades me, when I hear this piece, not to listen to any of Stravinky’s other music for fear of spoiling it.

The real highlight for me for the Proms season was the late-night concert one Friday devoted to George Crumb. Crumb’s music really needs to be heard live to appreciate it, not only for the theatrical elements of its performance, or for the spatial placement of sounds (more than once the musicians had to relocate from the stage to one of the balconies to achieve an elusive, distant quality to their sound), but for the subtlety and complexity of the sounds he specifies.

These details can’t be fully captured on recordings. Just one example: the soprano begins and ends Ancient Voices of Children with her back to the audience, singing into the resonating strings of the amplified piano. The Nash Ensemble played these pieces superbly, keeping the technical details in focus without ever losing the dramatic and emotional impact of the music. Each piece ended with a long, reflective silence from the audience before breaking into applause. That’s another thing you don’t get to experience in recordings. Again, in the Royal Albert Hall the best place to appreciate all this was standing in the arena.

(Churlish footnote: Ancient Voices of Children has a part for a boy soprano. In the programme guide was the note, “Owing to the late hour of this concert it is not possible for a boy soprano to take part in tonight’s performance; the BBC is grateful to Amy Haworth for agreeing to take on this role at short notice.” Sounds like there was a late intervention from a Health’n’Safety officer, and one disappointed youth.)

The Last Of The Proms (Part 1)

Sunday 13 September 2009

I missed the Last Night of the Proms this year, not that I watch it anyway: I simply missed that it happened on the weekend. There wasn’t even the usual hand-wringing from the usual suspects about jingoism and cultural imperialism that usually presages the event. Perhaps getting David Attenborough to perform the floor polisher solo in Malcolm Arnold’s beloved Opus 57 put the night beyond criticism.

In fact I went to more Proms than usual this year: three of them. I think I’m acquiring a taste for them. Depsite the dreadful acoustics, the Royal Albert Hall is starting to endear itself to me. Getting arena tickets helps. You have to stand for the entire gig but it’s only £5 and it’s probably the best way to hear what’s happening on the stage, what with all the seats in the hall being either side-on or far, far away.

For the Xenakis prom I scored a seat in one of the loggia boxes from a friend (thanks!), which was just as well because the BBC Symphony Orchestra performed Nomos gamma from inside the arena itself, leaving room for only a few lucky punters to mill about in the company of the scattered groups of musicians, and Mrs Xenakis, who presumably was given a chair. It was one of those rare occasions where the Albert Hall becomes a suitable venue, with the sounds of disjointed groups of instruments rising up from the centre of the arena.

The playing seemed more passionate than at the Total Immersion concert earlier this year, particularly in a suitably brazen performance of Aïs. Are the British developing a taste for Xenakis? Perhaps they’re less reticent when safely behind an instrument, and they’ve always shown a greater tolerance for new music as long as it makes a suitably large noise.

A Free Hour

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Continuing the minimalist binge (cramming myself with lots and lots of very little), I’ve been listening tonight to a new performance of Tom Johnson’s insidious An Hour For Piano by R. Andrew Lee. It’s available for download on Lee’s blog, in either mp3 or (gasp) wav format. Thoughtfully, he reprints the program notes, which are meant to be read while listening to the music. If you’re one of those people who can’t help reading the notes while listening, you may think this is a boon. Remember, I said the piece is insidious.

It’s a fine performance, never mind Lee’s perfectionist quibble that he ran twenty seconds over the one-hour time limit. He got closer than Frederic Rzewski.

(Found via aworks.)

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