Please Mister Please CXXXIII

Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Music Machine, “Dark White” (1968).
(4’36″, 6.3 MB, mp3)

Precious insights into how I write my music

Monday 24 October 2011

Start composing a piece of music.

Feel irresistible urge to procrastinate.

Dig out old piece which I hadn’t quite finished.

Look at old piece. Decide it needs revision.

Discover that making satisfactory revisions to old piece will require it to be remade from scratch.

Restart old piece from scratch. Discover completely different method of composing it from first time.

Stop. This approach needs to be thought through.

Make new set of calculations to rewrite old piece.

Fix errors in calculations.

Trial and error. Finally get correct effect sought for.

Formalise process for completing one element of revised old composition.

Look for ways of automating this process.

Discover there is no way of usefully automating the process.

Repeat process manually to complete another element. Success!

Realise you’ll have to repeat this process another 548 times.

Surf Failblog for video clips of skateboarding accidents.

Filler By Proxy LXXXI: Great Moments In Medical Research, or Life Imitates Derp

Sunday 23 October 2011

This was the front page of the paper last week.

Finally someone’s paying attention to this doctor’s advice.

The Perpetual Now, or “nothing is as nostalgic as the modernity of the past”

Wednesday 19 October 2011

“Contemporary music is not the music of the future nor the music of the past but simply music present with us: this moment, now, this now moment.”
– John Cage, Composition as Process, 1958.

“The mainstream public didn’t really know about them that much. They were a very minor group in that aspect.”
– Doug Yule, interview, 1995.

It’s a truism that the Velvet Underground were really obscure and unpopular when they were a going concern, isn’t it? Later in that Yule interview, he mentions touring the UK in 1972 as The Velvet Underground and no-one noticing or caring that the band had none of the original members from the first two LPs.

The wonderful Other Minds Archive has posted a recording of the world premiere of John Cage’s composition 33 1/3, at the University of California at Davis on 21 November, 1969. The composition is Cage at his most anarchic: the audience was invited to a room with no performers, no seating, 24 record players, several hundred records, and no instructions. The punters soon get the idea, and a 40-minute collage of simultaneous musics and audience noises ensues.

I’m trying to remember where I read that interview with Cage about the piece, the one where he talks about acquiring the records. He contacted a record distributor and asked for a random selection of different titles. The wholesaler, as you might expect, sent several crateloads of their slowest-selling albums. Cage cheerfully recalls that by the end of the gig a number of records had gone missing, having finally found a happy home with someone in the crowd.

In the Other Minds recording, several minutes into the tentative start of 33 1/3, comes the unmistakeable sound of side 2 of The Velvet Underground and Nico. It’s much louder than anything else. After a couple of minutes it suddenly disappears, only to reappear again soon after, from the top. This time it gets all the way through “Heroin” and “There She Goes Again” before it’s suddenly snatched away again, never to return. I wonder what was happening around that record player for those 15 minutes, and whether that album found a new owner that night.

Please Mister Please CXXXII

Sunday 16 October 2011

Mauricio Kagel, “Unguis incarnatus est” (1972). Siegfried Palm, cello; Aloys Kontarsky, piano.
(5’38″, 8.5 MB, mp3)

The BBC presents: The Current Crisis in Boredom

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Boredom is spiralling out of control!

Lights Out: The Movie

Sunday 9 October 2011

The late burst of summer is definitely over, and everything’s turning dark and grey. Holed up at home late last night and feeling the cold for the first time I hunkered down over a pot of Russian Caravan and a bottle of Laphroaig and made this little video to go with Lights Out. You know, for the kids. They’re all about the Youtubes these days.

Please Mister Please CXXXI

Friday 7 October 2011

Roger Roger & his Champs Elysées Orchestra, “Dalilia” (1962).
(2’16″, 2.5 MB, mp3)

I take back everything mean I said about Pierre Boulez.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

On Sunday night I sat transfixed through the entirety of Pli selon pli. I’ll let someone else gush over the details for me.

I couldn’t lose focus on the thing for a second. What the music had lost in vehemence was now regained in a controlled, hour-long explosion of energy that could alternately freeze or boil without ever resorting to histrionics or becoming self-absorbed in details. It’s linear, it’s dramatic, it’s big; it fulfils the contradictory wish for a radical gesture that signals a renewal of tradition. This was the future that would look much like the past.

For trying to kill Schoenberg, Boulez’s fate has been to become Schoenberg: an artist trapped by the past, his achievement obscured by his hard-won reputation. In a trait peculiar to French artists, too much of Boulez’s attention seems to have been caught up in pontification and politics. It’s surprisingly hard to hear the music for what it is, and not what it has come to represent. I now suspect that this, in a different way, is a problem that Boulez has had to grapple with too, and that Sunday’s Pli selon pli could be a type of triumph that had eluded him for so many years of revisions and re-recordings.

That second Improvisation is damn lovely. And I’m never taking Stravinsky’s quip seriously again. I wonder which other Boulez works are better than they sound?

This Is The New Music: Herr Mahler Died Last Night At One Hundred And Fifty

Saturday 1 October 2011

Herr Mahler Died Last Night At One Hundred And Fifty by Ben.Harper

So the other night I saw Jeff Harrington had posted this rather wonderful remix of bits of Mahler’s First Symphony. It was for a “Remix Mahler” contest put on by the Berlin Philharmonic. Unfortunately, these days the term ‘remix’ is approximately synonymous with ‘novelty dubstep’ so of course most of the entries are uniformly dull.

I had some work to do, so naturally I put it off by thinking of doing a contest entry myself. There were only a few hours before the contest closed, which was probably a good thing. I wanted to bring out some of the qualities of the material in the original work, so I took one passage redolent of Morton Feldman’s Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety, and let it emerge quietly out of an empty stretch of Hardware Lane in Melbourne, late one night in Winter, 1999.