A number of people have written in over the past few months to inform me that Magic 693
, the greatest radio station in the world, has suffered a traumatic change. At first it seemed the station had gone for good, but instead it had just been shunted by its owner, without warning, to the more cramped frequency of 1278 KHz.
It’s an oldies station, with a focus on what people would generally describe as “easy listening” – e.g. they’ll play “Something” but not “I Am The Walrus” – but within that ambit they’re about the most eclectic radio station in the world. If they have a playlist, it’s so vast I’ve never been able to learn it. I once heard them segue from “Imagine” to “Baby Elephant Walk”, which is reason enough to love them.
They have a fairly loose, philosophical concept of “easy listening”, in any case. No-one would consider “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back” as a soothing piece of muzak, yet it has turned up without warning, right after Barbra Streisand. Magic’s disc jockeys are fearless, indiscriminately spinning anything that once was popular, without regard for taste, political correctness, or continuity, let alone the selective, sanitised memories of the aesthetic judgements of baby boomers. Their attitude can be heard from their ads for their Fifties show: “the Fifties was more than just rock and roll, and we play all of it!“
Besides the music, there is added appeal in listening to the ads. Magic presents itself to advertisers as “Melbourne’s highest-rating station for over-30s”, which is adspeak for geriatrics. The commercial breaks are invariably filled with spruikers for retirement villages, funerals, cat litter (“Is your home a bit… phew-whiff?”), and those recliner rocker chairs that tilt forward to get you up out of them. Bud Tingwell
tells you about the good works of the Spastic Society and asks you not to give generously now, but to remember them in your will. They can wait a little longer for your donation.
Finally, there is also the mysterious fascination commanded by their announcers. There seem to be only three of them, who alternate in shifts that rotate around the clock, and after listening for years I still can’t distinguish one from another. The same guy is likely to turn up at 9pm on a Tuesday, and then at 3am on a Sunday.
The station’s indiscriminate inclusivity has put them far ahead of the cultural curve in a number of instances. Without realising it, they have perfectly implemented Negativland’s “Moribund Music of the Seventies”
project on a mainstream, commercial station. They are also quite probably the only station which unironically plays records featured in the 365 Days Project
, and always has done. A couple of times each I’ve heard them spin Jesse Lee Turner’s “The Little Space Girl”
(see July 18) and Jack Clement’s rather fine “My Voice Is Changing”
(see August 23) – an obscure B-side, according to the website.
It’s such a pity they’ve been shunted to a frequency with worse reception, and had to ditch their catchy station ID jingles; but on the upside, they’ve just introduced an internet streaming service
! It sounds like someone’s holding a transistor to a styrofoam cup on the end of a taut string 16,000 miles long, but the one thing I have been wishing for since I left Melbourne is a reliable source of Joe South and Vicky Leandros
broadcast into my house at any hour of the day or night. Now you, music lovers around the world, can share in the Magic.
Also, while looking for links for the above article, I discovered Bud Tingwell has a blog! I love the 21st Century.
For those of you with a love of the funerary violin, that obscure genre of music rendered almost extinct after it was condemned by the Catholic church in the 1830s, you will be glad to learn that Rohan Kriwaczek’s brand new book An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin
is now available on sale from Amazon
(UK site only). Fittingly, Kriwaczek’s book is published by Duckworth, purveyors of the poetic oeuvre
of William McGonagall
If you don’t care much about funerary violin music but have a grudge against Pius X for his 1903 motu proprio
on sacred music, this book may also be up your alley.
Has anyone made a comedy map of Britain? I don’t mean a map indicating clubs and the birthplaces of comedians; I mean a map marking the real locations inhabited by fictional comic characters, haunted by absurdist conceits. The more anonymous and duller a place is, the more likely it is to have been infused with significance by generations of comic minds: dormitory suburbs, brownfields, dead ends, postwar nowheres. Balham, Putney, Hendon, Cheam: London and the counties are held together in an invisible network of bathetic, negative landmarks. The enervated traveller crossing these liminal spaces is suddenly seized with a numinous inversion of meaning with which the no-place has become invested. What ley-lines connect these psychogeographical lacunae; do they awkwardly bisect the zones of conscious importance, or sneak behind and between through forgotten territory?
Last Friday night a self-selected cross-section of Londoners and American tourists were sharing a small frisson at finding themselves congregated outside a bingo hall in Cricklewood, reminding each other that The Goodies lived in Cricklewood. This wasn’t the reason we were all there; we had come to see a different British institution, of similar cultish appeal. We had come to see The Fall; or not see The Fall, as the case may be.
The Americans amongst us were hopeful of seeing a real, genuine Fall gig, having been repeatedly exasperated at home by the nominal band’s touring habits: either gracelessly imploding on stage or working a setlist top-heavy with interminable ten-minute dirges about supermarket car parks in Salford. (Mark E. Smith has his own appetite for psychogeographical nullity.) Perhaps they didn’t know that the band’s London gigs tended to be equally perfunctory: it seems anything south of Birmingham is much of a muchness, as far as Smith is concerned.
To get an idea of the venue, take a look at their website
(proletarian visions of prosperity). No really, it’s priceless. A gilt-edged coffin for Punk’s corpse, WMC Blobs laid to boozy rest with Celtic troubadors and cowboys from Carlisle. As a harbinger of the muzzy haze of regression that threatened, the opening act was John Cooper Clarke, preserved like Sharon Osbourne.
Perhaps it was the faded premises on the cultural and subcultural margin that made the band turn up and play. The band, such as it is, all vestigal entity outside of Smith himself having long departed and now routinely replaced with such regularity that even fans can’t keep track of the musos’ names
, has a reputation for only partly turning up, in body or mind; with Smith himself late, drunk, or a no-show. Instead of a vicarious trainwreck thrill we got the embodiment of a Rock Band at Work, of performance as routine.
Smith, famously looking 20 years older than his real age, stumbled round the stage snarling and hollering incoherently as usual, into one or two mics, as usual, dropping one or picking up the other, peripetetically bemused by their technical failings, nonconsensually futzing with his bandmates’ gear, as usual. Performance as routine, stripped of its romance and mythology when seen plain on stage as schtick – in the same way that he refuses to play any songs more than a few years old, Smith’s performance denies his fans the delusion of shamanism, of recollection of an intangible psychic resonance. What is left is form and technique, with no invocation of the past, to impress the punters – not appeals to faith. (My companion for the night, oblivious to The Fall’s history and significance, attested to this.) The conventional becomes experimental.
The band confined themselves to solid riffs, one per song, starting out OK and then locking into a tighter groove that propelled the music and voice into the higher levels, into the lower reaches of the transcendent state a good rock gig can give. After this peak it was in the recoil of the interval, ebbing into a slower, muted rhythm, “Blindness”, its protracted disorientation nudging the punters into a dreamlike semiconsciousness. Smith himself had delayed his entrance onstage, like Elvis in Vegas, but then disappeared early as well, before and after the encore, effacing himself backstage inconspicuously, not to return. It seemed over too soon.
Catching the band in an upswing of collateral cool thanks to John Peel’s untimely death, the crowd was a mixture of disoriented tourists, middle-aged punks in mufti, prematurely-aged anoraks comparing notes on Tuesday night’s gig (and observing that one band member had been sacked
in the interim), curious students, a mosh pit, bright young things their dowdy finest, a pair of them dancing like frenzied muppets on the balcony behind the band, alternately irritating and amusing the more sombrely dedicated punters. And of course, the indifferent regulars up the back getting their pints in all the while.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing in their report that definitively links a love of classical music to the likelihood of being an evil genius, despite extensive anecdotal evidence in movies.
By the way, the first picture and caption in the article is even funnier than the one shown above. Slightly related: Headless Zombie Bunny
As alluded to previously
, I went to see one of Keiji Haino’s gigs this week. I don’t mind a bit of Japanese noise from time to time: besides the visceral fun of the extremes of pitch and loudness it possesses a keen awareness of the subtle intricacies of sound and its effects on the listener. But this performance ended up being extremely tiresome, although not because of the monotony of the sound. The gig began with Haino duetting on drums with Chris Corsano, who kept up his frenetic drumming all through the set while Haino switched to electronic noisemakers, then to electric guitar, then voice, then back to those electronics, then guitar again…
At one point he turned his back to audience and checked his watch, like Micky Dolenz on stage at a shopping mall. He wanted to fill up to the maximum the amount of time he was allotted. The extended guitar and drums duo sputtered through three or four false endings, any of which would have been a perfect conclusion – the shattering climax, the relfective coda – but there was always just one more thing that Haino wanted to add. Twenty more minutes and he was like a teenage boy alone in his garage imagining he’s a guitar hero. It was too much of a… thing.
A friend of mine went to a free improv night a few weeks ago and saw a saxophone guy play a great solo, which went for about fifteen minutes. When he’d finished, the bloke organising the night told him to keep playing, because he had another ten minutes or so in his set. Sax guy relented and played a second solo, which was weaker and anticlimactic. If money was at stake, it would have been an amount too trivial to worry about.
It’s amazing how many musicians have no sense of time, who can make great sounds, put them together beautifully, but have no idea how to construct a framework in which those sounds can best be heard. It’s easy to get lost in the moment while performing, either caught up in the uncanny beauty of your own sounds, or just concentrating on keeping things together from one minute to the next. A lot of people, given an amount of time to play, obsessively fill up every available second.
This is not to say that most musicians play for too long, although this is usually the case. It is to say that not enough musicians question the timeframe in which they play, and demand of themselves or others to play in an appropriate duration outside the expected commercial quantity.
My favourite noise gig was hearing Masonna
play, about ten years ago. It was intense, brutal, anarchic and yet completely focussed, and totally disorientating. I knew it was short, but the immersion in sound (John Cage would call it the “now-moment”
) was sufficient for me not to know if it was 30 minutes or 30 seconds. Someone told me later he played for eight minutes, I think, which seemed substantial given his material, and that if he played much longer someone would likely get hurt.
regrettable comparison used in the publicity for an upcoming gig at The Spitz
(scroll down to 1 September):
The enigmatic Westcountry acoustic duo Show of Hands are formidable operators in the roots arena. Voted “Best Live Act” in the 2004 BBC Radio Folk Awards, they’ve been likened to U2, “Crowded House without the drums” and…
I had an urgent barbecue to attend in the Cotswolds, so unfortunately I had to cancel plans to see Mattin and some other new-musicy dudes play at Alma Enterprises last weekend. I forget who else was playing; I wanted to see Mattin again, having previously seen him give one of the best live laptop performances I’ve experienced outside of a strip club.
The stage presence of most live computer sound-crunching musos has been definitively described elsewhere as that of “bored young men checking their email”. Usually, the music isn’t much more engaging. But several years ago, in the Iwaki Auditorium
, Mattin conscientiously set up his Powerbook, covered his ears, winced in anticipation, and waited.
Then, tentatively, he uncovered his ears and relaxed. Then he hunched forward and braced himself again, before relaxing once more. In between the occasional small adjustment to his inert computer, he and an accomplice crept from one corner of the auditorium to another, finding a place to freeze, cover over, and wait with increasing bemusement. There was never so much as a peep from the computer or the PA.
The necessity of artists compromising their aesthetic or political beliefs to conform to such a high-concept curatorial brief is evident immediately upon entering the gallery. You wouldn’t know the show was about sound art: four of the six artists have presented video installations. Apparently, sound doesn’t have much potential as a weapon unless it is circumscribed with image.
Of these, two were video documentations of events involving sound and/or music. In November 2005 Thomas Altheimer attempted to sail toGuantanamo Bay to play Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony within earshot of the camp. There may be an interesting documentary in his tribulations to make the project succeed, but not in this muddled, artsy-fartsy installation.
Rod Dickinson’s video footage of his reenactment of the sound barrage used by the FBI at the seige of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco is similarly dull and unenlightening, elucidating neither the reenactment nor the siege itself. The most psychologically disturbing aspect of this piece was its expectation that you would sit wearing headphones while watching a video of unspecified length.
There was also a music video, little more than an advertisement for the metaphor of sound as virus without any further exploration of how this may work as an idea. The final video was an incompetently shot video of someone’s backyard accompanied by non-English speakers reading an English language primer, a cheap bit of grant-bait that fits the curatorial brief only if the intended audience is poor Professor Henry Higgins.
The sad part of this show is that underneath it all lies the tired old idea that art still has some social subversiveness to it, a political relevance it can no longer even pretend to claim. And yet the proposed transgressions are so vague and unambitious. If you want some real mayhem, try getting hold of William Burroughs’ Revised Boy Scout Manual
1) The song must feature an Important Life Lesson. This lesson can usually be summed up on a single sentence, and often ends in an exclamation point.
2) Billy and/or his band (also known as The Black Hole of Rockin’) must in some way remind the viewer of another band/another celebrity/some irrelevant piece of pop culture history. You’ll be surprised how often this happens.
3) There must be celebrity guest stars. Not every video features a guest star, but when they do, you can almost count of them being 80′s specific.
4) Perhaps most important in determining how essential a video is, is where it falls on the BJ Jew Fro Scale.
. . .Oh, and it always helps if a video has hilariously out-of-place black people.
Convincing scientific analysis of a dozen or so case studies follows. I think it was The Standing Room’s
overzealous del.icio.us feed that brought this important information to my attention.
new music magazine in Australia, publishing about one issue a year from 1982 to 1992. The featured composers and performers were resolutely of what New Yorkers call a “downtown”
musical orientation, revolving around free improvisation, home-made instruments and homebrew electronics, multimedia extravaganzas, lo-fi sampling, bizarro forays into rock and dance music, and general eclecticism and mockery of the dogma emanating from the self-anointed cultural centres in Europe and the USA.
Each issue came with a cassette tape of pieces by musicians who appeared in the mag. Most (all?) of it has never been reissued commerically: for decades this music has circulated by samizdat, dubbed and redubbed from library copies and occasional radio broadcasts, passed between music geeks who knew there was more to life than horrible pub rock and tribute bands. The music is wild, unique, and utterly essential to anyone interested in the less offensive developments in music over the last 25 years.
Shame File is halfway through uploading the complete series of ten cassettes. NMA’s website has published the complete text of the 1988 book 22 Contemporary Australian Composers
, which describes the careers of many of the composers on the tapes.
Experience the Ferocity of a Pyroclastic Flow!, by Translators from the Ukraine.
The irrepressible Dr David Thorpe of Your Band Sucks
volleys back a few Dorothy Dixers about modern popular music. Now you too can be as well informed about the latest trends in youth culture as someone who honestly gives a shit.
Dr Thorpe answers mail from readers who want to know whether Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails killed more teenagers, what is the current balance of T versus A in pop, as well as resolving the perennial questions about the Corrs and Tegan and Sara. In between, he also gives a few critical life lessons.
Will rap music ever receive the same level of critical acclaim as mainstream guitar-based radio friendly songs?
Hey buddy, next time you go back in time to 1989, bring me back a sports almanac like Biff in Back to the Future II so I can get rich.
Much too dark exposure and not sharp. I suppose you may say that you tried to make it unsharp but what the hell’s the point in that. I like things sharp. Maybe you should study some other peoples’ photographs here on this forum and get an idea of what a good photograph should look like.
There’s a heap more like this, in the same post and subsequent entries
on the Online Photographer’s blog, culminating in some navel-gazing about how everyone feels compelled to point out “mistakes” photographers such as Cartier-Bresson have made by not following “rules” of exposure, framing and focus. Oh, and not using a Nikon. No, a Canon. No! A Nikon!
Taking a photograph in complete ignorance of the “rules” hurts no one, costs nothing, and might even be more fun.
You can read those posts and laugh at the silly nerdboys (there may be a girl or two in there) with their techincal hairsplitting, valuing process over results. But as you do, please spare a thought for those of us who tried to learn music composition at university. I doubt there is any other artform taken so seriously, which is so dependent on the same type of pointless nitpicking as which these internet kibitzers thrive on.
At about the same time as the Online Photographer was making his point, Kyle Gann at PostClassic had finished teaching another semester:
I’ve been becoming aware that, even among the Downtowners, there is a standard academic position regarding electronic music, and am learning how to articulate it. I’ve long known that, though much of my music emanates from computers and loudspeakers, I am not considered an electronic composer by the “real electronic composers.” Why not? I use MIDI and commercial synthesizers and samplers, which are disallowed, and relegate my music to an ontological no-man’s genre. But more and more students have been telling me lately that their music is disallowed by their professors, and some fantastic composers outside academia have been explaining why academia will have nothing to do with them.
Two generations ago, composition professors would promote the careers of unlistenably dull, academic composers who would say approvingly, in all seriousness, that a piece of music was “better than it sounds.” Today, those same fossils are still taking up space in most music schools, but now a whole new exciting branch of electronic music has opened up, so that a fresh batch of careerists can stifle it all over again; and refuse to state whether or not a piece of music they have heard is any good, until they know what technical equipment was used to make it.
In one of the later, more indulgent passages of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker” novels, he describes an out-of-it band’s music (from dim memory) as one muso playing in 3/4, another in 5/8, while a third played in πr
². It seemed like a far-out joke to your callow, nerdy self, right up until you heard the music of Conlon Nancarrow
Nancarrow’s Study for Player Piano No. 40
is written entirely in the rhythmic relationship of e
/π. How do you play something like that? You can’t, so you get a machine to do it for you. If you’re living in 1948, in an earthquake-proof bunker in Mexico City, in exile from your native United States without a passport because of your socialist beliefs, the machine in question is a battered 1920s player piano, and you punch the notes for its piano rolls by hand, one at a time.
Nancarrow was obsessed with hearing polyrhythms of a complexity the mind could perceive, but not imagine. He resorted to the player piano when musicians couldn’t, or wouldn’t (“they’ll think I’m playing wrong notes!”) play his music, and so expanded the realm of rhythmic and temporal possibilities beyond anyone’s previous expectations.
Wait: more Nancarrow links.
- In addition to the Other Minds page linked above, Kyle Gann has written the book about Nancarrow (literally), and annotates his list of works with the increasingly wild tempo ratios used in his music.
- The Other Minds Archive has a recording of the long-lost Three 2-Part Studies, written back when Nancarrow was still writing for live pianists and was conventially jazzier, only this version has been arranged for two toy pianos (why yes, it is Margaret Leng Tan, how did you guess?)
- More from Other Minds: Study for Player Piano No. 40b (i.e. the second and final movement of Study No. 40).
- I get cranky about live musicians playing Nancarrow’s player piano music.
He was that rarest of treasures, a brilliant European composer who wasn’t a megalomaniacal arsehole. A composer whose music is as sensually rewarding as it is intellectually appealing. A composer who became part of Fluxus
to annoy the modernist orthdoxy, only to leave it again when he realised Fluxus wanted to be taken seriously. A man who wrote a symphonic poem for 100 metronomes.
If you’ve seen 2001 you’ve heard his music. Oh alright, and Eyes Wide Shut. No, not that piece!
- Alex Ross gives a beautiful summary of Ligeti’s life and achievements, written in 2001.
- The score of Poème Symphonique: note the solicitude with which he addresses the problem of how on earth you can get hold of a hundred metronomes. Unfortunately I can’t find his vivid description of his preparations for the premiere: sweating backstage in an ill-fitting, rented tuxedo, fingers aching after several hours winding up fifty metronomes, and realising he still had another fifty to go.
- The Rambler has collected some obituaries.
- Some small downloadable audio samples (and scores) from his list of works. The piano etudes play like Thelonius Monk orchestrating M.C. Escher.
- YouTube has a film of the Poème Symphonique.