Filler by Proxy XXX: Billy Stewart sings ‘Summertime’

Friday 3 February 2006

B-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Up-jump-jump
Chuka-chuka-jump-jump
H’uh! Jump!
(horns & instrumental begin)
A-summertime an the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumping
Don’t ya know my darlin’?
I-I said, a-right now
An a-cotton is high
Laka-laka-laka yo old daddy is rich, so damn rich, girl-a
An a-yo mommy’s good looking, yeah-ay
So, a-hush pretty little, baby
Don’t a, a-you cry
One-a-these, a-one-a-these a-one-a-these mornin’s come up, early
Ya gonna rise, ya gonna rise up, singin’
Then you spread yo little wings
Yo little wings
An-a take to the sky-la-la-la-lie
B-rrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Until a-that mornin’, you’re a free maid
There’s a-nothin’ a-gon’ harm you, girl
With a ‘dombie’, an a-daddy standin’ by
Yeah, blues!
(sax & instrumental)
Come a little la-a-a-ate
Payin’ up the dues
Give you the blues
I know my little darlin’ I love you, so
An a-never gonna let you go
Lord!
La, la-la-lie
Tell-a lie, tell-a-lie, another lie, another lie, another lie, another lie
Say, pretty baby
Cannot save the day yet, girl
Hush, pretty little bab, don’t wanna have you cry
Hush! Shush!
Don’t a-you cry, Lordy little darlin’, I say girl
No-po’ child, I said a-right now
A-listen, baby
I don’t, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t want you to die
Don’t-a, pretty baby child
A-don’t let-a tear, don’t let a tear
Fall from yo eyes!
Hey!
All that mama do to please you-ooo’
Cause she paid her dues with blues
Baby child, I said a-right now
Don’t let a tear, don’t let a tear, don’t let a tear
Baby doll, I said fall down a-from yo eyes
So hush, pretty baby
D’oh-whoa, oh-whoa oh-whoa, oh-whoa oh-whoa, oh-whoa, oh-whoa-ooooooh-n’t
You-ooo-ooo!
Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Up-jump-jump
Chuka-jump-jump
Little darling do not let a little tear fall-a from your eye-hi-hi-hi-eye.
(‘Whoa!’)

Hurry! Only 33,113 weeks remaining.

Monday 30 January 2006

Having some years ago decided that the best way to cope with existence is to embrace my flaws as though they were endearing character traits, it follows that it is a point of pride for this blog to be always behind the times to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t think it matters being a few weeks late getting the news in this case, that the a new chord in the performance of John Cage’s Organ²/ASLSP in St Buchardi church in Halberstadt began on 5 January.
The piece began on 5 September 2001, but the first note wasn’t heard until 18 months later – the piece begins with a pause. The chord now playing now will end on 5 July 2012. Book tickets now.
Typically, a performance of Organ²/ASLSP as Cage wrote it would last only 20 minutes or so, but someone’s gotten the idea of taking the performance instruction “as slowly and softly as possible” very literally and come up with a rendition that will take 639 years. It beats me why this amount of time represents the ultimate in slowness and that someone couldn’t milk an extra fortnight or so out of the ending shows up the fatuousness of the enterprise.
At least they’ve beaten the Long Now people into actually starting a project designed to make people consider extra-human dimensions of time. The most tanglible products of their Millennium Clock project so far have been $100 pine cones and commemorative bottles of wine – presumably good for cellaring, but not quite enough to lift minds above everyday, material concerns.
What I don’t like is that they’ve attached John Cage’s name to it, enforcing Cage’s undeserved reputation as a conceptual artist whose ideas are more interesting than his music. Specifically, it is highly unlikely that Cage (who died in 1992) wrote the piece for anything other than a human performer, with an audience throughout. Generally, contrary to the claims of his detractors and some of his supporters, he was the least conceptual of composers, whose compositional ideas were always subservient to, and philosophically detached from, the resulting music. His later music was carefully written to avoid the need to be “understood”. More than any composer he wrote music to be heard without recourse to external ideas, whether cultural, literary, or theoretical. No “idea of America” here. His aim was always to make you hear, not make you think. Unlike many artists, he’d trust you to think for yourself.
An 600 year piece, which in practice cannot be heard, is at odds with everything Cage wrote. Worse still, it devalues the true beauty and importance to be found in Cage’s music, instead promoting Cage-the-personality as some blue-sky empty vessel that can hold any wacky idea that happens along. They may as well use that church organ for the next 600 years to perform a piece of Bach, who was pretty loose himself with tempo markings on his manuscripts. It would be a travesty of Bach’s music, but no less than this performance of Cage’s. But then, these supposed followers of Cage are OK with turning out a poor, wrong-headed misrepresentation of his music for the sake of their own clever thoughts.
In case you were wondering, the keys are held down with weights; they don’t have a relay team of organists pressing the things round the clock, which is a pity. I would have preferred a guy (possibly Rolf Hind) in a Keith Emerson cape storm into the church every few years and jam a knife into the keyboard, but I guess that’s why I don’t get grant money for this sort of thing.

Carter, gotten. Note the sense of ambivalence throughout.

Saturday 28 January 2006

Elliott Carter is one of the few composers to have reached the exalted status of being widely and generally respected amongst a cognoscenti who nonetheless have few qualms about ripping into him whenever the opportunity arises.

Contrary to his forbidding reputation, his success can be attributed to the ease with which anyone can summarise his life and work: he is very old, and his music is very complex. Fortunately for his career, his long life has not resulted in an unmanageably large oeuvre, thanks to a slow work rate and to being a relatively late bloomer – all his music written before he turned 40 being largely, and deservedly, forgotten. Still working at a steady pace despite being in his 98th year, he has the rare privilege of attending his own funeral obsequies. You too may be apprieciated in your lifetime if you stick it out for a century or so.

Every American article I’ve read about about Carter observes that he is much more popular in Europe than at home, an idea reinforced by the festival thrown for his benefit at the Barbican, featuring a series of concerts the promoters titled Get Carter (ha! English humour.) Sadly, Michael Caine (or even Sylvester Stallone) was not on hand to punch on with the nonagerian composer in the car park afterward. I can’t wait until they stage a series dedicated to Luciano Berio called The Italian Job (“Sinfonia: It’ll blow the bloody doors off!”)

The complexity of Carter’s music (assigning each instrument unique musical characteristics, so that you hear a collection of individuals each with their own, distinct melodies, rhythms and harmonic traits) has earned him a reputation for weighty intellectualism; a reputation assisted by the music’s obscurantism. You can be complex and lucid, but in Carter you won’t hear any readily definable cross-rhythms or harmonic interplay – his string quartets come closest to achieving this. It’s hard to come away from any Carter performance remembering anything about the music in particular, other than the sense of an overwhelming rush of details.

Many of his fans (like me, to a certain extent) doubtless keep coming back to his music to get lost in its intricacy, but many critics and academics have seized upon the obvious difficulty of the music – writing, playing, and listening to it – as grounds to build him up into a Beethoven-like hero to whom all must defer. It’s a very old-fashioned, romantic idea that has paralysed the art-music establishment for decades, that there must always be a central authority figure to which musicians of all persuasions must aspire, or else be cast into darkness. Carter fits the role far too well, logistically and aesthetically dependent upon the classical music infrastructure to produce work that in turn supports stolid careers in academia. To many in music circles less obsessed with dead white men, Carter is a figure to be ignored or scorned.

For all the profundity attributed to this complexity, I can’t think of a magnum opus of sufficient depth to satisfy the reputation his supporters have saddled him with. Most of Carter’s major compositions seek equal status, to a greater or lesser degree, as works of entertainment, of compositional and musical virtuosity: qualities traditionally found as ends in themselves in the form of the concerto. Carter has shown a clear preference for writing concertos (I can think of 9 off the top of my head) but has avoided the charge of superficiality that critics habitually ascribe to the form. Claims of greater philosophical import in Carter’s work are invariably external to the music itself, and tend to age badly: their awkward appeals to intellectual concerns of the day come across in retrospect as calculated assertions of seriousness. The program notes to the Double Concerto for Piano, Harpsichord and Two Chamber Orchestras (1961) burdened the piece with ponderous musings on quantum physics and nuclear proliferation. One review described the piece as “a tempestuous, multifaceted dialogue” – an expression which applies equally to everything Carter has written. It’s an exemplary display of his style, a constantly shifting scene of roiling activity between the soloists and their orchestral counterparts, complete with several BBC Symphony Orchestra musicians almost losing their way at several critical points to add interest.

Stripped of its pseudopolitical baggage it’s a heavy slab of neo-baroque, in its steady flow of dense ornamentation and the curiously static way in which it spins its wheels for 20-odd minutes to no greater effect. The inclusion of a harpsichord telegraphs this intention all too well; even though, for the sake of the idea against musical realities, the discreet instrument has to be amplified to be heard above the piano and orchestra. It was miked up in a way that made it sound flat and ugly, but I’d rather hear this concerto than A L’Île de Gorée.

The Symphony for Three Orchestras (1976) again relies on a putatively philosophical theme, portraying “the idea of America” – note the year of composition and envision how artists must ingratiate themselves to their patrons. It also claims inspiration from another literary figure safely considered OK for the time, Hart Crane (try announcing your creative debt to William Burroughs and see how far you get with an orchestra).

It’s an enjoyably teeming and expansive work , evidently drawing from Charles Ives’ visions of America as a boundless horizon of rough-hewn wildness, right down to the searching trumpet solo at the opening. However, in Carter’s hands this style becomes most more restrained, particularly in this performance, flattening everything with a modesty and self-conscious tastefulness many Australian composers seek to emulate. The same review I quoted before reckons the brass sections in this piece “suggested discomfort and anxiety“, which is an achievement for modernist art music on a par with alt-rockers making teenagers depressed. Again, staging considerations kept the multiplicty of orchestras conceptual more than spatial.

The later works, 1989’s Oboe Concerto and 1996’s Clarinet Concerto, presented Carter at a point in his career where he no longer has to justify himself and can write music without burying it under a welter of complications and portentous earnestness, knowing that critics will handle the intellectual content for him. In both pieces Carter allows his more natural showbiz tendencies to the foreground, with the music more yielding and persuasive to the listener. Both works sounded better in these performances than I’d previously heard them, possibly because the BBCSO was happy to let the percussionists go crazy and dominate procedings, making Carter sound more out-there than his defenders normally allow.

The Clarinet Conerto in particular, with the soloist wandering around the stage to ally himself with one instrumental group, was much more fun than both Carter’s apologists and detractors would admit. The Oboe Concerto, which in recordings sounded a typically worthy, brow-furrowing piece, came across as a much more endearing work in this performance, sustaining a plaintive mood throughout its restive changes. It’s interesting how the punters for both works knew immeidately when each piece had finished and confidently burst into applause as soon as the final note was sounded.

One thing that’s sunk in about audience behaviour in London: the Brits love their musicians. No matter how strong or weak their applause for a piece, they’ll always give a bit extra for the soloists who play them. I suppose it’s the same rule pavement artists live by, knowing that their reward comes from graft seen to be done, rather than the result of their efforts.

Carter himself, in attendance at the concerts, got a standing ovation as you would hope, having dragged his 97-year old frame across the Atlantic for the event. The applause was prolonged, warm, appreciative, and notably lacking in the excitement and enthusiasm generated by the best performances at the Xenakis concerts last year. This may have been due in part to the audience being older on average, and more sedate, with the younger people seeming mostly to be music students – the foyer had a very academic air. It may have also been due to Xenakis being the type of composer who, unlike Carter, will never make you think twice about staying home after all to watch darts on the telly.

Theatrical highlights: Enter Carter, stage right, a factotum for support. During the Double Concerto: Oliver Knussen simultaneously conducting a different metre with each hand for the two orchestras, with as much delicacy and decorum as possible. Ian Brown* getting visibly lost in his piano part during the same concerto, briefly flicking the pages back and forth before figuring out where the hell the orchestra were.

Overheard gossip in the foyer: Sitting by the toilets after the concert, a Chinese-American composition graduate lining up a commission from a London orchestra. The orchestra guy asks him what he thought of the concert. “Uh… exhilarating,” he answers carefully. This is why so many composers resent Carter: he’s such a blue-chip authority figure in academia that if you let slip to the wrong person that you’re not so keen on his work, you can wave your career bye-bye. It’s almost as certain a kiss of death as admitting to liking John Cage.

Boring Like a Drill Cultural Beer Exchange: Stubbies only. Kronenbourg, San Miguel or Stella (“the wife beater’s beer” – take note, Australians with pretensions) Artois – £3.10 a pop.

 

* No, not that bloke from The Stone Roses, I mean someone you wouldn’t expect to get lost.

Maybe the next post will be about Elliott Carter. This one ended up being about darts.

Monday 16 January 2006

The bunker has recently suffered the addition of a television to the drawing room. The most immediate cultural ramification of this development is that on Sunday evening I was extremely reluctant to leave the house to see the BBC Symphony Orchestra play Elliott Carter at the Barbican, because I had become engrossed in the World Darts Championship final on BBC2.

In my defense, I will say that I was watching it wearing my anthropologist’s hat. When you’ve become blasé about walking past St Paul’s each day to get to work – and complaining about the tourists getting in your way, besides – it takes a darts match shown on prime time terrestrial tv to remind you that you are in a foreign country. Once that novelty wore off, another type of fascination took over. The more I watched, the more it dawned on me that I was watching one of the great endangered species of popular culture, a type of television that the next generation of children will never know: the professionally-produced, relatively major television event that is completely unphotogenic.

I cannot imagine that in ten years’ time a large, Western television network will be making any shows where fat, balding men in polo shirts and soveriegn rings are watched by a clubhouse full of attentive smokers. The show commanded respect simply for having survived until now. Between sets, expert commentary was offered by two men who looked and sounded like they had walked off the set for Minder, prison tattoos and all. In fact they hadn’t walked off the set, they were still on it: seated in a corner of the club foyer lined with framed publicity photos of stars of the vintage and calibre of Marty Wilde.

To cap off the experience, I’d been playing with the new telly’s buttons and had switched on the subtitles. To add subtitles to the live broadcast, the BBC had opted for the cheapest possible option and so had either hired an ESL student in a call centre in Chittagong with a hunt-and-peck typing technique to listen in to the commentary over a party line while a typhoon raged outside, or had downloaded a trial version of a particularly unreliable voice recognition program (that would be all of them). A slow, unsteady stream of Engrish sputtered across the top of the screen, usually followed by corrections hastily typed in after the more egregious errors.

The most impressive example came when an announcer remarked upon “how many Dutch fans are here tonight”. MANY DRUG BARONS HERE TONIGHT tentatively ventured Sanjay or ViaVoice, clearly unimpressed by Amsterdam’s coffee houses.

Elliott Carter is a composer. He is very old. More details as they come to hand.

Filler by Proxy XXVIII: The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall

Tuesday 10 January 2006


My biggest regret over my time in London so far has been blowing two opportunities to see the Fall play live. Apart from being pretty much my favourite band, I’ve missed the chance to watch a gig descend spectacularly into chaos, complete with equipment sabotage, onstage punch-ups and walk-offs by various band members. If you’re lucky, you might see someone get sacked from the group on the spot, or quit in disgust.
This all happens quite a lot, as the 43 former band members can testify. Recently, Dave Simpson attempted to track down every last one of them – from the keyboard player who lasted one day, to the drummer who has been sacked nine times – to see what they’ve been up to since they fell foul of band leader (and only constant member) Mark E. Smith’s desire to “freshen up” the band from time to time.
One is dead, one’s been sent to prison: not bad going for a relatively large sampling of rock musos. Former bandmates have ranged from teenagers who happened to drink at Smith’s local, to the manager of the Chemical Brothers, who was recruited as a last-minute replacement when the Smith threw the drummer off the tour bus at a service station en route to their gig at the Reading Festival.
Dewey was led to a darkened tour bus to meet Smith, “passed out with his shirt off. The guitarist had to punch him in the face to wake him up. Then they began fighting over whether or not they should teach me the songs. Mark said no!”
Since this article was published in The Guardian, Smith has vowed never to speak to anyone at that paper again. You can also look at a PDF scan of the original article, complete with photies and more survivors’ tales of being abandoned in a foreign bar for eating a salad: best of all is the concluding plea “If you have been in the Fall and we failed to contact you, email culture@guardian.co.uk”.
As one of the current guitarists says, “I have nightmares, but it’s never boring. It’s not Coldplay.”

Solstice Special! The greatest song ever, never done better

Wednesday 21 December 2005

Having mentioned that I was listening to an oldies radio station, I now feel compelled to justify my actions: the radio station plays Buddy Greco.
Buddy is the swingingest lounge singer around, in the archetypal Vegas style (although his last gig appears to have been in Palm Springs, according to his website.) It’s impossible to imagine him singing anything without a swagger: I suspect even “Strange Fruit” would yield to his persuasive powers.
If there is an LP I truly covet, it is this record that a friend found for $1 in an op shop in Marysville, Victoria.
That’s not someone’s scribble over the title, it’s part of the design: the word ‘sun’ is crossed out and ‘love’ written above it – see what they did there? My friend’s copy is a reissue on the Australian cheapo Summit label, which may explain why the cover photo came out so dark – all you can make out of Buddy’s face are his teeth gleaming from the gloom of his comically holey umbrella.
As a Buddy Greco fan page succinctly describes it, “Buddy singing the songs of 1969 ultra hip, with very clever arrangements and a very good backing. The theme ‘Let the sunshine in’ repeats between each song through the whole album.” Indeed, he starts with a blazing version of the Hair hit, and the band quietly jams on the tune to segue from one track to the next, before closing the album with a mournful, haunting reprise. Genius.
If the front cover doesn’t convince you, then the back cover goes for the hard sell with an endorsement by none other than Buddy’s good pal, Mr Jimmy “Macarthur park” Webb:
Yes, Jimmy’s comfortable enough with his genius to assert his own greatness while he’s supposed to be praising someone else.
The absolute pinnacle of this album is when Buddy tackles the song that no other ageing crooner dared to touch when the older generation attempted to prove they were still ‘with it’ in the 1960s. Amongst the Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach he fearlessly launches head and heart-magic first into the Greatest Song of All Time, the Everest of the 60s counterculture that forever rendered his generation of singers irrelevant.
Even more remarkably, he doesn’t reduce it to more manageable proportions: it’s even longer than the already-epic original, adding some much-needed showbiz pizazz missing from it’s better-known incarnation. You will wonder how you could ever bear to hear this song without horn section, backing singers, and a sax solo.
It’s 6 Meg, six and a half minutes of unadulterated ecstacy. Download the apotheosis of Buddy Greco for a christmas you will never forget.
Now I just have to find the recording of Buddy doing “Macarthur Park”.

News Flash! I am old.

Monday 19 December 2005

I wasn’t going to post anything tonight, but while checking my mail I’ve been listening to an oldies radio station: Vic Damone, Ricky Nelson, Doris Day, Fred Astaire, Dinah Washington, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. I suddenly feel very grey and feeble.
Oh god now they’re playing Spandau Ballet – must go lie down. Time to die.

Addendum: I didn’t switch off quickly enough, and heard a pre-recorded xmas greeting. From Leo Sayer.

Haunted by Leo Sayer, and other bad flashbacks

Thursday 15 December 2005

One year ago, I posted: “Leo Sayer is still threatening to move to Australia next year to relaunch his music career,” followed by his immortal quote:

In Australia they still want heroes. They are looking to me to teach their kids knowledge and wisdom.

Well, it turns out I owe Leo Sayer $100 too, as he up and done it. In April. We could have been in the Changi Airport terminal together.
This only popped into my head because this morning I read in the paper that he is allegedly (never, ever trust reports on popular culture in newspapers, no matter how much you wish them to be true) enjoying chart success in the UK again, thanks to some uninspired DJ rehashing one of Leo’s creaky old chestnuts. The only problem is, ha ha ha, they can’t find him:

… while Sayer seemed happy to give his blessing when first approached about the project, now that he is on the verge of his biggest hit in three decades, he is nowhere to be found. A new video was made without him after he proved hard to find in Australia, where he moved at the beginning of the year. And occasional e-mails suggest that he has little idea that he is storming up the dance charts…

Funny, he seemed accessible enough when he last updated his website a couple of months ago, talking about the remix. I know Australia’s a big place, but he’s hardly the first Brit to go there, and he doesn’t seem to be the type to go trekking alone over the Canning Stock Route on a journey of self-discovery. Unless he’s looking to muscle in on some Aboriginal tribal elders teaching their kids knowledge and wisdom.
If anyone back home in Australia happens to notice Leo Sayer wandering the streets lost and confused, mumbling “I think I used to be an entertainer! Bobby Goldsboro? Donny Osmond?”, please alert the authorities. In fact, if you see anyone dressed as a scary clown mime, best cosh them and drag them down to the nearest cop shop for their own good, just to be on the safe side.
Nothing on Leo’s website about whether he’s ever heard of Johnny Farnham. Excuse me while I go erase my browser cache.
Yes, I have been trawling through old blog posts. There are plans afoot.

Psychology: Never Again

Wednesday 14 December 2005

While procrastinating over finishing a longer article, I’ve been clearing through some unfinished posts from last year. First, this gem from 10 October 2004:

And anyone who drones on to me about how they’re going to leave the country better be prepared to meet my wager of $100 that they will still be here a year later.

I owe myself $100.
However, I’m not totally useless at prognostication. Also from October last year:
I forsee that this blog will perpetually be caught in a boom-bust cycle of updates.

Finally, here are a couple of pictures from an unfinished third instalment reviewing the contents of the Yooralla Box. First, a closeup of the front cover of the LP Judy Garland on the Radio, showing Judy’s scary Ellen-Foley-cocaine-black-hole nostrils to full effect.

Next, a prize photo of Barry Crocker’s crotch, from his fine LP No Regrets. Note the white jacket, belt buckle, and the two guys in the background doing the “Allen Ginsberg in Subterranean Homesick Blues” schtick. I particularly like the scuffing on the cover around Bazza’s trouser area – one passionate owner.

More intriguing: maybe it’s the magic of long-lost 1970s trouser technology, but Barry does not appear to be a man who has much use for the golden section:


No wonder he looks pensive, but, non, il ne regrette rien.

Filler by Proxy XXVII: Welcome to the 21st Century; I challenge you to a loins-off.

Saturday 10 December 2005


Still waiting on that personal jetpack for the commute to and from my perspex geodesic dome, but in the meantime we can give sullen, grudgeful thanks for the few, glistening gems of Future Shock that are tossed our way. First, coloured bubbles! I cannot understand why I am so excited about this. It’s like cold fusion turned out to be real, only more fun.
Second, Neil Diamond has a MySpace page. Anyone unwilling to at least cut this guy an inch of slack has a heart of stone. The fine blog Heart on a Stick has collected the best of the many, many accolades the man has received in his short stay on the website, and in doing so has taken the pulse of a modern, media-savvy society when common toilers such as you and I are suddenly confronted by the presence of a genuine, undeniable star. WARNING: it’s a bit bandwidth-intensive, but worth the effort.

For One Week Only: String Quartet No.2 – Canon in Beta

Wednesday 30 November 2005

Update: the piece is now permanently available for download at Cooky La Moo.
It’s short, it’s austere, it’s a strict canon, it’s about 6 Meg and available for download for one week only. The piece was made out of an unfulfilled wish to hear Phill Niblock’s music – despite having heard about it for over ten years I’d never actually managed to hear any of it – so I created an ersatz composition based on descriptions of the original. I knew it typically involved someone playing one note for a long time, over and over again, and then overdubbing all the renditions of said note, resulting in -?- : a mysterious product of all the previously imperceptible fluctuations of intonation from one idealised pitch.
The piece started as a sample of homogenous sound fed through a (virtual) tape delay system, using small variations in filtering to produce gradually shifting overtones on a steady harmonic base. It was long, capricious, and sometimes very loud. Then its nature shifted to a prolonged, almost inaudible performance piece, requiring great concentration and self-control to make a few gestures with little immediately-noticeable effect. Over several incarnations the piece became more and more restrained until it was reduced to this 5-minute composition, a fixed object for contemplation, stripped of added harmonic complexity and overwhelming volume.
This isn’t one note, but it is a single chord played by 240 string quartets with a remarkably uniform sense of intonation, each playing in a very rapidly articulated canon in unison, and each able to expertly imitate the slightest change of nuance in tone colour of its predecessor.
Totally download that thing now!
It’s ideally heard at a modest level, where you only notice the changes if you concentrate. Or if you prefer, set it on repeat, crank it up and switch the telly to a report on Third World child labour for the full faux-Niblock concert experience in your own home.
Made with Ross Bencina’s excellent program AudioMulch.

Filler by Proxy XXVI: Terry Riley Variations

Tuesday 29 November 2005


Opus 8 No.2 by Tom Phillips, 1968. First performed by Phillips and John Tilbury as music to accompany a student film, Wolverhampton 1969. Try performing it for yourself on your next bus journey.
I have been listening to a couple of Riley’s film soundtracks downloaded from UbuWeb, but they don’t seem to be available anymore. Pity: I’m getting to quite enjoy them now, having got past the hippie encrustations of titles like “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector”. There’s an insistent drive and clarity of purpose throughout his music, when everything about his manner of presentation leads you to expect New Age gruel or Dead-like indulgent noodling.
Then I looked at his website. Jesus, what a hippie! My keyboard still stinks of patchouli, even after flushing the browser cache. Honestly, it sounds better than it looks.

Filler Frenzy!

Wednesday 23 November 2005

I’ve spent the last week in a virus-bedecked half-dream room, so nothing coherent or original is getting written these days. It’s also cold at last, frost and fog and subzero temperatures just like the travel brochures promised. I sat indoors cursing that I didn’t have the foresight to pack a coat in my luggage, instead of waiting for my crates of chattels to arrive by sea, until last night when I actually bothered to look in the back of my clothes cupboard and found that I had in fact packed one after all.
You can tell I’m sick because I didn’t bother trying to make that story more interesting (i.e. make up something completely different). On the positive side, it means I do have a coat. On the negative, I now have the flu, which renders me generally unpleasant and uncommunicative.
So tonight I’m going to do something that blogs were originally meant to do: link to other sites for content. Of course, these days this means linking to other people’s blogs.

Peak Melody
“Every society throughout history and throughout the world has made and enjoyed music! But we, now, here, in the west are unique… in our hunger for ever more, new music. Music surrounds us: in our houses, blasting out of radios, CD players, computers. It wakes us up, and it sends us to sleep. Outside we pump music into our ears through up-to-the-minute mobile phones and MP3-players… We hear it in our supermarkets, and we sing it in our churches and in our karaoke bars. Rock anthems in pubs, and recorder-concerts in schools. We chant it at our football matches, hum along to it in our cars, and dance to it in our nightclubs. There is no getting away from music. Our lives are musical lives, and our world is a musical world. Musical. Music.”
So wrote the philosopher Jacob Applebloom in his suicide note.

All genres of music (excluding the extreme avant-garde) are struggling to come to terms with the impending melody-crisis,” writes Larry in his comprehensive and brilliant analysis of the need for radical musical conservation in the early 21st century. Never mind that his blog is called Tampon Teabag. If you want the full blogrolling experience, this was found linked through On an Overgrown Path.


A Concise History of Western Music
Courtesy of The Fredösphere, with one small correction:

Messiaen: If you’re not sure, it probably sucks.

Also, Drew’s First Piece. Agreed. Hats off! Found via The Rest is Noise.


Smart Music
Something I’ve been meaning to link to for ages: An investigation into the cognitive effects of exposure to fine violin music.
An experimental outline was devised using the Spiers – Rotluff test to qualitatively evaluate the `before/after’ responses to musical stimuli. Subjects were exposed to a range of literature… and a variety of promotional material for local concert events. They were questioned about their general music knowledge… It was intended that subjects be divided into a control group of professional practitioners, and an experimental group of interested amateurs as described below.
However, certain difficulties in formulating the control group soon became apparent, and indeed aspects of the study’s design needed attention in order to accommodate the experimental group. Firstly, it was impossible to find a conductor who would consent to take part in the study, most maintaining they `wouldn’t be seen dead’ in the company of the other subjects. We therefore decided to replace the conductor with an old poodle named Von K . On the surface this may seem, to the uninformed reader, a curious step to take. However, we point out that the dog performed well in a simple verbal test in which he consistently identified the music of Bach, although he was less successful with other composers. (In this respect he was ranked equally with the music critic, who professed to being partial to fine music and “…may not know much about Hollywood musicals, but I know what I like.”)
Secondly, despite the best of our efforts it was impossible to find a professional composer to take part in this study. Most of the potential subjects we contacted who professed some understanding of music composition were either university lecturers or employed by a “secret government agency“. The criterion of professionalism could not be met, and it was decided after much deliberation (and certain cost considerations) to replace the composer with a standard laboratory rat.
Another set of difficulties was encountered with the experimental group. Not one opera subscriber would consent to participate unless we included Gilbert and Sullivan selections in the experiment. Likewise, the critic refused to join unless we could promise the music was of the highest calibre, played by a world-class orchestra. Perhaps only our European readers will understand the impossibility of reconciling these two demands. In contrast the arts bureaucrat seemed to have no personal views whatever, and in fact would only respond after being extensively lobbied by the laboratory staff.
Reprinted thanks to The Rosenberg Archive, a treasure trove of one of the most important musical families of the last century.

Filler by Proxy XXIII: Lyric Suite

Thursday 3 November 2005

Can’t remember how I was pointed to this, but never mind: What major work of Alban Berg are you?
It may have been via Tears of a Clownsilly, which should at least be mentioned for managing to work Harrison Birtwistle and bukkake into a single paragraph.
I feel a little queasy after typing that last sentence. Fresh content on the weekend: something about Barcelona or Hackney.

Classical music sucks: just ask the people paid to promote it

Sunday 30 October 2005

Greg Sandow’s blog often discusses the problems of promoting classical music to a wider audience, and every now and then produces a particularly bad (or, less frequently, good) example. Just now he cites the San Francisco Symphony’s publicity for a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.13, a setting of Yevtushenko’s ‘Babi Yar’, a poem concerning the slaughter of millions of Jews during the Second World War, poverty and starvation, and the spectre of the resurgence of Stalinism. The SF Symphony’s marketing director plugged it as the musical equivalent of a date flick. In a previous post he says:

This is yet another way in which classical music is drained of all meaning. Who cares what Shostakovich really is? It’s classical music! It’s a celebration! It’s big, grand, and colorful! Can anyone imagine talking about any other serious art this way?

Coincidentally, I just happened to visit the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Classic FM radio website, and found that they still apparently do their own marketing:

See? Classical music doesn’t suck so hard if you don’t listen to it too closely! It can inspire you to accomplish menial chores! Note also the non-ironic use of the word ‘joyful’ outside of an Xmas context for the first time in 40 years. Shostakovich would be proud to know that his terrors and deprivations weren’t suffered in vain.