Older, not wiser

Sunday 20 November 2005

Another six months have passed, so it’s time to update the list of People Or Things I Have Been Mistaken For, Or Allegedly Physically Resemble, In Increasing Order Of Ridiculousness. Two new entries, which have been placed above and below Jim O’Rourke, although it’s a bit of a toss-up which way those three should go.

Filler by Proxy XXV: Who to turn to when you’ve run out of Mitfords

Thursday 17 November 2005

If anything’s better reading than the London Review of Books’ personals column, it’s the Telegraph’s obituaries. Lady Sibell Rowley has died, aged 98. Being England, the death notices tend to get clogged with a lot of ancestral ruins such as these, perhaps out of a sense of heritage more than of aristocratic fealty.
In this case, however, the passing of poor old Lady Rowley is treated as an occasion to trot out gossip about her family. She was a daughter of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, KG, “and thus a member of the family that inspired Evelyn Waugh to write his celebrated Roman Catholic novel Brideshead Revisited.”
It’s good enough that the Telegraph feels obliged to employ the epithet ‘Roman Catholic’ as an advisory to its less stout-hearted subscription base, but things get better still:
…the youngest daughter, Dorothy (Coote), endured an unfortunate late-life marriage to Robert Heber Percy, known as “Mad Boy”, the eccentric squire of Faringdon and former boyfriend of Lord Berners.

Actually, the whole article should be imagined as it would be read by Vivian Stanshall:
The daughters, aware of their father’s nocturnal prowlings, would sometimes advise their boyfriends to lock their bedroom doors. Lord Beauchamp once complained at breakfast: “He’s very nice that friend of yours, but he’s damned uncivil!” Unfortunately, the problems proved more serious, concerning incidents with footmen, and as a result of a campaign instigated by his brother-in-law, Bendor, Duke of Westminster, Lord Beauchamp was forced into exile in Europe. The Duke tried to explain the circumstances to his sister, Lady Beauchamp, who failed to grasp the essentials. “Bendor says that Beauchamp is a bugler,” she announced.

A post about posting about posts you just posted: a rueful autopsy

Thursday 17 November 2005

It’s kind of sad when you notice these kinds of things, but it had struck me that over the last week or so no comments had been added to the blog, while over the same time I had received several emails about it. Worrying about who’s reading or not reading your blog is a sure sign that you’re turning into a dickhead, but the thought popped into my mind: “You know what the next comment will be about? Something really minor that I put up in a few minutes as filler and then forgot about.”
And so today I get four comments posted about my posting about that Kia salesman’s defunct blog. Disturbingly, someone called Cyn complained that there’s not enough violence on this site. More disturbingly, this seems to be proposed as her(?) solution to people not coming to your birthday party. Even more disturbingly, she apparently uses the term “twilight twitterings” as some sort of Clockwork Orange-type dystopian slang for “bloodletting”.
Do I feel mad with power? No. At the moment, even after half a box of pseudoephedrine I can barely summon the will to get out of bed.
At the very least, I can sleep tonight content in the knowledge that there’s one more person besides myself who doesn’t have a copy of the Fluxus Codex.

Death of a Salesman: Blog Draws Blood!

Wednesday 16 November 2005

Nothing of substance fit to post today. Alas! My dad just wrote in to say that reading my blog is the only way he has of keeping tabs on what I’m up to these days. Hi dad! I’m feeling a bit fluey today, so not much writing going on. Oh, and I left Melbourne and moved to London a few months back, so don’t send a card with a $10 note in it to the old address this christmas.
Just last week I posted about the Kia car salesman’s blog, but now the thing’s gone! Either my linking to him drove his traffic through the roof and his service was cut off, or else he won third prize in last month’s sales contest. And had something else cut off.
Like you care. Enjoy the cached version on Google while you can.

Creepy old man update from my dad

Monday 14 November 2005

Hello. I keep meaning to get more regular updating this thing, but then I get caught up writing something and not finishing it, so you have to make do with more hastily-written rubbish about Jeremy Bentham or something.
Today, I found out someone reads my blog. Thanks dad! He was looking at a picture I posted on Flickr:

This was a mural on the corner of Frome and Rundle Streets in Adelaide, circa 1989 – note the ever-so late-80s chic motif of pink stylised galahs. I mentioned that this picture unfortunately omitted the left side of the mural, which featured an old man – eating? proferring? – an ice cream cone. Yes, the legend at the top of the wall began “When I’m…”
Creepy? Yes. I speculated on whether the mural still exists. My dad, who lives in Adelaide, thoughtfully went down there with his camera.

Bizarrely, the thing has been partly repainted into a scene even more incomprehensible. Girl on bike is now some mystic skykid, in a poorly-rendered minimal landcape overseen by aliens (and floodlights, to show off this masterpiece at night). Somehow, creepy old man with icecream has survived intact, along with the mid-80s yellow hessian schoolbags with aboriginal flag patch. So, now you can recreate the Lolita-type scene in your head.
As for the building itself, late 80s pink has been replaced by late 90s teal. It’s now a camping supplies store, but back at the time the mural first appeared it was bong shop, with a second-hand record store out the back. I once scored from there a copy of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Virgins LP, which I used to aggravate the other kids in photography class at high school. I can still whistle the opening bit from that album.
We have also learned that homeboys still roam the streets of Adelaide. So, no hurry to go back for a visit.
I just realised the title for this post may be read in the wrong way but then, if it were your dad, you wouldn’t change it either, would you?

Filler by Proxy XXIV: Please help this man sell a cheap Korean car

Monday 7 November 2005

The great thing about the internet is that it can put you in touch with people from all walks of life (except for the three-quarters of the world’s population who don’t have internet access): lives of excitement, adventure and heroism. And if you get tired of that, you can also keep tabs on the day-to-day life of a Kia salesman in London:
Sunday, 9 October 2005
Its the end of a hard Sunday in the showroom, tiring with loads of customers and just the two of us. Still have sold a mid-range Sedona at a good price to a nice Irish couple so all is not lost!
Mood: caffeinated
Monday, 10 October 2005
Monday… the dawn of a new week. Two test drives today. Why are Asian people such good and tough negotiators? Do they go to a special school or something? Involved the boss to try and put a blinding deal together on a Rio (which he did) and managed to get them more money for their PX than they thought and they STILL walked!
Mood: energetic
Friday, 14 October 2005
well looks like I cant keep this a daily thing so will write as often as possible. Got rapped on the knuckles by the boss again today … sigh. Loadsa new kias to sell by end of month…. Any ideas?!
Mood: lucky
Saturday, 15 October 2005
Mitch & Murray sent down some guy for a pep talk today. Something about how we can’t play the man’s game because we can’t close the leads, and how we need brass balls to always be closing or something.
Mood: zesty
Sadly, there’s no obvious information about who this man is or where you can buy a Picanto from him. He signs his first post ‘Malcolm’, but I like to think of him as Wendell Maas*. I’m waiting for him to begin a post with “Today was another defeat.”
In the meantime, checking his site for updates is as much fun as playing The Sims, only with the added advantage of not having to stand over him pushing buttons to make sure he remembers to take his daily half-hour crap. And if he doesn’t, there’s no way I’m test-driving one of his second-hand Sportages.
* Definitely Mucho, not Wayne Hoover.

Title Pending

Sunday 6 November 2005

Blogger’s been down, so no post for you. Presumably the server was accidentally blown up by a stray firework or ten last night. For the past week the bunker has been surrounded by small clumps of locals setting off cheap-arse fireworks with such irritating regularity that I can’t phone aged relatives in Australia without them assuming that I’m calling from Basra or, worse still, France.
Of course, it’s all part of the festivities commemorating the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot and reenacting the misdeeds of Guy Fawkes, who was apparently a Nigerian who went around attacking pets with bottle rockets.
So much of the weekend was spent hiding down the pub. Here’s a picture of my local and, hey, check who’s street it’s on!

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.

Great moments in art criticism: a clarification

Tuesday 1 November 2005

The preceding post may have given the impression that writing about new art is harder than writing about old art. The approach is different, but no less difficult. In a boon for critics, art workers now feel compelled to do the hard work for them, putting a great deal of effort into press releases, curator’s missions and artist’s statements in an effort to justify their existence to the philistines who control the purse strings. Many artists cannot even make their art, let alone exhibit it, without a proposal being approved by commitees appointed to ensure that any art presented with other people’s money is sufficiently worthy, rational, responsible and predictable.
The critic’s task is simply to quote from the press statement and then say whether the work succeeds or fails on these criteria. Again, it is not necessary to look at the artwork. The more expensive exhibition launches can be particularly well catered.

Great moments in art criticism: losing your bottle

Tuesday 1 November 2005

The wonderful thing about writing up an exhibition of well-known artworks is that not only do you not have to look at it (thus saving you from putting your drink down at the opening), you don’t even have to look at reproductions of it in the catalogue. It’s all been written down for you already! So you can just copy down some other critic’s description of the work in question, and thus tweak your opinions on it to best suit your audience. If it’s a particularly famous work you don’t even have to pretend to be original – you try saying something new about The Scream, smartarse!
The only time this method might come unstuck is if the description you pick turns out to be, in fact, completely wrong. Now the exhibition is open, Adrian Searle might want inspect Les Joyeux Farceurs for himself and ask why a milk bottle has a tube down the middle, and why the milk is transparent and fizzing. Alternatively, he can quote other critics who have actually worked out what the painting depcits.
You’d be amazed how much you learn from a painting by looking at it.

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.

Enough with the Xenakis already!

Saturday 29 October 2005

The final night of the Xenakis gigs, with the London Sinfonietta. The Rambler left some remarks about this night in a comment, either on his blog or mine – I forget. Let’s get through this quick.

Waarg: Way to dampen the crowd’s enthusiam, opening with this stodge – yes, one of those flaky pieces from the mid-1980s I mentioned previously. The Rambler thinks the ensemble may have been off-form, but I assumed their wonky playing was intentional, having heard a recording of Épéi, another of X’s queasy, wheezy ensemble works. Épéi, however, had a particular kind of pig-headed authority, whereas Waarg sounded much flabbier. In fact, I didn’t mind this piece as much when hearing it as I did in retrospect: it had a kind of lyrical, relaxed attitude that made a nice change of pace from the rest of the music heard over the weekend. Still, it was a heavy, thudding kind of lyricism. And it was still flabby.

A L’Île de Gorée: Wow, this was bad! The Rambler liked the harpsichord playing – which was technically admirable and almost thrilling, except it was at the service of a shoddy and inept composition. The idea of Xenakis writing something for harpsichord sounds like some music insider’s idea of a joke, but he wrote at least four substantial pieces featuring the instrument. Unfortunately they all sound pretty much as you might expect, with lots of frantic banging away on the keyboard vindicating Sir Thomas Beecham’s likening of the modern instrument’s sound to that of skeletons copulating on a tin roof.

There was lots of give-and-take between the soloist and the ensemble, as you’d expect when X’s typical dynamics ensure that the harpsichord would be drowned out. The whole thing was so stop-start and felt so poorly constructed that you just wanted it to end. The piece was dedicated “to the black Africans… the heroes and victims of apartheid in South Africa” (Thanks Iannis, just what we wanted!). The motivation behind Nuits substantiated its significance, this dedication sought to create significance. It was the sort of claim to relevance that gives European intellectualism a bad name. Written in the mid 1908s? Absolutely.

Jalons: This was another mid-1980s piece but much better, with a spiky severity that held your attention throughout in a way the preceding pieces did not. It was written for Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain and it’s easy to imagine Boulez hovering over X’s shoulder the whole time he was writing it muttering “act like a professional for once in your life, dammit” – in some respects this piece sounds as close to anything his contemporaries may have written as you could hope for. The program notes use the supremely baffling term “polar centre.”

ST 10-1,080262: Known as just plain ol’ ST/10 to its friends. Written in the late 50s and early 60s, this piece always gets kudos for being one of the first works written with the assistance of a computer. A computer program handled the calculation of dozens of probabilities concerning musical densities, curves, pointilistic textures and structures. The result is a hyperkinetic whirlwind of fragments from what sounds like a dozen or so wild compositions thrown into a blender. The combinations and successions of sounds have a perverse kind of objective logic to them, and yet they are combined in ways that would never have previously occurred to a composer. Not to be confused with ST 4-1,080262, a string quartet written at the same time, and either used the same program results as ST/10, or one is an arrangement of the other. Several passages were awfully similar, but the program notes didn’t elucidate.

Akanthos: It’s harder to write about pieces you don’t mind. A work from the late 1970s for soprano (wordless) and ensemble, I heard a recording of this and found it shrill and overbearing. I liked this performance, even thought it was because the singing wasn’t as strong as it could be ideally and so would get swallowed up by the other musicians from time to time (the soprano must sing without vibrato, which can make projecting the voice a tough ask.)

Eonta: Now this is how you finish a concert! Piano playing of impossible ferocity (again, a computer was used to help determine the torrents of thousands of notes) and a brass quintet playing into the piano’s open soundboard. Except at first they’re lined up along the back wall of the stage, playing first into the floor, then up into the air, then over to the piano, and then wandering (carefully!) around the stage, playing long, dense chords over the piano’s rampage. Finally, they get chair facing off opposite the piano for some diabolically intertwined sliding tones, before a final crossing of the floor and face-off with the resonant insides of the piano. This piece had everything to please the punters: keyboard pyrotechnics, theatre, wacky stunts, a real spatialisation of sound that Alax couldn’t provide, and a dramatic pause right near the end the caused some overexcited punters to start clapping too early. Haven’t heard that happen for ages! Wildly enthusiastic applause from just about everybody, including those who were sheepishly fleeing for the exits; not because they didn’t like it that much, but because years of exposure to British public transport turns you into a twat.

Theatrical highlights: Harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka’s red afro, sequinned vest and facial expression that suggested she was under strict medical instructions not to smile, presumably from a very expensive Swiss doctor at the Ponds Institute with a beard and white laboratory coat. And her habit of dumping each page of the score onto the floor when she was done with it.

Overheard gossip in the foyer: None whatsoever. For the whole weekend.

Boring Like a Drill Cultural Beer Exchange: Someone shouted me so I didn’t get the price, but if you get it in a plastic cup the Royal Festival Hall lets you take it into the auditorium just like it’s the band room at the Corner Hotel, although I doubt this is to minimise harm if you get into a stoush with the band and/or your fellow audience members. Or is it?

Readers’ notes: The previous posts about the Xenakis gigs are here and here. A post that was meant to be about Xenakis but mistakenly ended up about Stockhausen is here: do not read this if you want news only about Xenakis. Also, the link I posted to Rolf Hind’s shirt doesn’t work: apparently James Bond fansites are picky about linking to their pictures and would prefer you to just steal them outright, so here’s a nice photie of Mischka, or Grischka.

Pretty much that but with better hair. Oh, and without the knife, unless the piano recital needs some Keith Emerson keyboard-stabbing action to liven things up.

Hope I die before I look old

Wednesday 26 October 2005


To die of the cigarettes, that is a misfortune, no? But to have one’s skin look not so young before one’s time, that is the real tragedy.
The French have their priorities straight. The real mystery here is that this photo was taken in Estavar, where a 5-minute drive into the next village will see you over the border into Spain, where a packet of Camels will set you back only €2.50.

Xenakis, continued

Wednesday 26 October 2005

I’m afraid this is badly written, but I can’t fiddle about with it forever…

Did I mention that these gigs were almost all sold out? That you can fill a hall with people who want to hear nothing but Xenakis, except maybe for a bit of Feldman and Messiaen* to break things up a little? It’s not often you get to hear live performances of music by composers who wrote stuff which requires musicians to put an effort into getting it right. Most of the time, when a 20th-century composition does get programmed at a concert, it’s something dull that performers and audience alike can safely doze through pretending it’s either Brahms or Gershwin and not caring too much if they get it wrong. Then they fill up the rest of the program with 2nd-rate Brahms, under the assumption that the subscribers will like it (they won’t, but they won’t complain about it either). It seems I’m not the only one who’s been hanging out for a concert where I don’t have to leave early, or arrive late.

Rolf Hind knew how to keep the punters happy at his piano recital, starting and finishing with two of Xenakis’ blockbusters for the solo instrument: Mists and Evryali. Don’t mistake the title of Mists – this is not a soft-focus montage of dewy impressionism, but an implacable study of thousands of motes in a constant roil of Brownian motion. The sheer sonic fireworks of Xenakis’ piano music, coupled with the theatrics of a pianist playing music of such obvious, stupefying virtusoity, makes for superb entertainment. It’s very hard to pretend you’re appreciating the intricacies of Xenakis’ use of arborescences and number sieves in these works when the sound just blows you away.

Evryali is, if anything, even more dazzling – long barrages of rapidly hammered 10-note chords ranging far and wide over the entirety of the keyboard. Given a quick look at the score for the piece, you’d think it was written for four hands; after closer examination you’d still need convincing that one person can be capable of playing it. It’s a great way to finish a concert, especially for an audience who are thinking “This cost me less than half the ticket price of watching Stockhausen operate a tape deck.”

A good way to impress the crowd is to play Evryali immediately after Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari, a work as soft and still as Evryali is loud and frantic. I went to this recital as much to hear the Feldman as the Xenakis – he’s just about my favourite composer, yet I hadn’t heard this piece before. I was surprised at how overtly beautiful, even romantic, this piece was – at least as Hind performs it. It was written right near the end of Feldman’s life (he died in 1987), between compositions of deep, hermetic ambiguity and spareness of almost opressive austerity (but still beautiful, just not in such a showy way).

Of course, it would have been more impressive to bash out the Xenakis and then sustain the delicacy of touch needed to play Feldman right. Roger Woodward actually did this at the British premiere of Mists, using it as the opener for the premiere of Feldman’s 90-minute long Triadic Memories – although this may explain why his interpretation of Feldman is as mad as a two-bob watch. The biggest problem about this part of the concert was that the punters wre so pumped up by the preceding music that they got restless and fidgety – moreso than usual during a Feldman piece, in which the quiet atmosphere really amplifies those squeaky chairs.

Theatrical highlights: Rolf Hind’s shiny red shirt, like he was Mischka (or Grischka) from Octopussy.

(Tomorrow: last instalment, promise! Now I have to post a picture of a cigarette packet.)

* WARNING: Hideous 1996-style website design. Kids, learn how Gorak saw the web!

Breaking news: a small yet significant victory in the war on terrorism

Tuesday 25 October 2005

I came into work this morning to find a new sign in the lift warning us to be on the lookout for terrorists. I searched everywhere, but I’m quite sure I was the only passenger.