Alvin Lucier, who I had the privilege of seeing a couple of years ago, just turned 80. Daniel Wolf at Renewable Music gives a summary of the many reasons why the world would be a lot worse without him. Lucier’s way of thinking will become even more important as we struggle to understand what music may be, in a world of ever-increasing technological mediation of experience, and of convergence between media.
Nicolas Collins, author of the essential Handmade Electronic Music – The Art of Hardware Hacking, has generously uploaded scans of his notes from taking Lucier’s class, “Introduction to Electronic Music”, along with his reflections on Lucier’s teaching and the musical culture of the early 1970s.
I missed Eurovision again on Saturday night. I briefly considered watching it on iPlayer and writing up a review of it like I did until 2009, but then I got online the next day. In my Twitter feed I had not one, but two waves of Eurovision updates: first from my European contacts on Saturday night, followed by the second wave from Australians on Sunday morning, as they watched the delayed telecast.
A paradox has emerged in the world of online media. Just about any show or event that readily comes to mind is available, in perpetuity; but if you want to join in the conversation your experience has to be immediate. As a kid, my school week always started with a breakdown of what happened on Countdown on Friday evening. Today, any attempt to bring up the subject on Monday would be digging up old news. If you wait for that new foreign show to come to TV in your town, your friends will have downloaded it or bought the DVD on Amazon. You can’t phone people overseas and tell them how their old team is going back home – they already know.
My blog is the closest I’ll ever get to keeping a diary. Over the years it’s evolved from spouting off about anything that’s amused or annoyed me at the time, to spouting off about things I’ve personally experienced. The brief or trivial observations, or links to other stuff that has interested me, which used to keep the update rate on the blog ticking over, are now most often published on my Twitter account. These short entries used to be the supposedly preferred remit for blogs, but now blogs seem like they should be the home for longer, more reflective writing. No doubt the form and substance in which these conversations take place will remain in flux for some time yet.
I somehow forgot to do this last year, so with the first semi-final due to start tonight it’s more than time to look at the Eurovision entrants with the longest odds of winning. (Please note that I have never watched a semi-final, preferring instead to watch the finals with no forewarning of what atrocities may be unleashed. This also adds to the fun of the Drinking Game.)
The bookies this year obviously think they’ve got the contest and voting patterns sussed, as they’re offering frankly ridiculous odds from 200:1 to 500:1 for a swathe of countries. The received wisdom, however, is that the entrant with the least hope of succeeding is San Marino, presumably because it’s barely even a real country.
The Sammarinese contestant, a lady called Senit, is (surprise) not actually from San Marino. Her notable achievements include appearing in the German cast of The Lion King, recording with producers who have also worked with luminaries such as “Christina Alguilera” and “Busta Rhimes”, and…
In May 2006 Senit made her debut in the world of Italian discography with the album that took her name SENIT, produced by Panini, historic editing house of footballers stickers, that chose her as the testimonial of their new discographic activity.
Senit’s Eurovision song has the rather hesitant title “Stand By”, with a similarly less-than-forceful refrain of:
So tonight, if you don’t mind, I will stand by!
In the likely event that San Marino will be eliminated in the semi-finals, the longest odds for any country appearing in the final itself are for Spain. Almost as hopeless as San Marino, Spain’s entry will be sung by the lovely Lucía Pérez. She’s big in Galicia, and is “presently finishing her degree in pedagogics”. Her song, “Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao”, translates as “They Can’t Take The Fun Away From Me” and suggests that Spain are still in their not-giving-a-shit mood.
This is backed up by the song lyrics, which seem to me to be about the joys of getting totally fucking hammered on Rioja, complete with a musical parking of the tiger at the end.
I’m feeling so good,
I’m feeling so good
that I will never ever ever think
in a negative way
Although I know well
that storms may come
and I will fall down
I have enjoyed all this so much
and nobody can take the fun I had away from me
Ouo uo uo ouo uo uo
who can take the fun I’ve had away from me?
Lionel Rose, “I Thank You” (1969).
(3’39″, 5.0 MB, mp3)
Less than a week to go until this year’s Eurovision, and I haven’t even mentioned it yet! Stupid me, didn’t even realise that this year’s event is taking place in Düsseldorf, just up the road from where I went to see SONNTAG aus LICHT. It will be interesting to see which proves to be the more surreal experience.
The potential for Eurovision insanity this year is greatly boosted by the big news that both Italy and Austria are back in the game – after a 14-year absence, in Italy’s case. This means that Drinking Game rule W1.b will not apply this year.
Despite the changing the voting to a 50/50 split between viewers’ votes and national panels of judges, last year’s voting shows no reason to make any change to rules II.3, II.10, and especially not II.2. Therefore the 2011 rules for the refined but deadly art of drinkmanship that is the Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game are as follows.
Yes these have all happened, in case you’re wondering.
PHASE I: THE SONGS
A. Every instance within a song:
I.A.1 The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically shift up a key for the final chorus(es).
I.A.2 The Bucks Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only on every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.
B. Once per song only:
I.B.1 Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if they try to dodge the language issue by intentionally singing gibberish.
I.B.2 The Fine Cotton. Any appearance of mercenary talent flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.
I.B.3 Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life, one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to I.B.2.
I.B.4 The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.
I.B.5 The Wand’ring Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes. It’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating; but take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) in a blatantly fake way, as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.
I.B.6 The Greeks (formerly The TaTu). Finish your drink if the audience boos (on the telly, not in your living room.)
I.B.7 Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. This is a legacy rule, as in recent years it has largely been supplanted by…
I.B.7a Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.
I.B.8 My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical/political problems of hosting the event next year.
PHASE I ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:
I.B.5a The Wand’ring Minstrel (supplemental). Two drinks if the instrument is an accordion.
I.B.9 The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for a hairy armpit.
I.B.10 The White Suit. You’ll know it when you see it; and you’ll know it again when you see it again, and again…
PHASE II: THE VOTES
II.1 The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.
II.2 The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.
II.2a The Gastarbeiter. If Germany still gives twelve points to Turkey.
II.3 The Old Europe. When the UK gets nul points from France.
II.4 The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast at the end to any country which did not receive so much as a single vote.
II.5 The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.
PHASE II INTERMEDIATE: You and your friends probably will be too unruly by this stage to register every occurrence of these, so just try to catch what you can.
II.6 The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (i.e. “Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a friend or relative watching at home.
II.7 The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer reads the voting results wrong. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.
II.8 The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.
II.9 The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone’s figured it out now, so this hasn’t happened for a few years, but just in case: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points first, then the country that has won them – not the other way around.
PHASE II ADVANCED PLAYERS ONLY:
II.10 The New Europe. When the Baltic or Balkan states all give each other twelve points, or a former Soviet republic gives Russia twelve points. Do not attempt without medical supervision.
W1 A person must finish their drink if they ask:
W1.a why Israel is in it*;
W1.b [deleted]; or
W1.c where the hell is Moldova?
W2 A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.
W3 A toast to Bosnia and Herzegovina if they change the spelling of their country again from last year (last year’s spelling: ‘Bosnia & Herzegovina’).
W4 A toast to the person who gets so drunk you have to secretly call a cab and persuade them they ordered it when it arrives.
* This is why.
Google was somewhere around Rancheria, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.
The evening before Easter Sunday I was sitting in a bar, quite unwittingly thinking over what I’d been wanting to write for some time about the various concerts I’d been to lately. Besides getting a little bit drunk I was jotting down notes about gigs I’d been seeing, and thinking over what Robert Ashley meant when he said, “Recitals are a curse.”
At first, Ashley’s critique has some superficial similarity to Glenn Gould’s “Let’s Ban Applause!“. So much of Gould’s opinions on live versus recording are rubbish, I thought, scribbling down a few points about what I’d experienced at the Xenakis gig at Southbank a few weeks ago, or at Exaudi’s performance of Cage’s Song Books a week before that. Yes, I have some caveats about live performance; but I’ll get to these points another time.
Ashley, inevitably, pursues the point further, out of my comfort zone.
As a member of the audience you are a consumer and a consumer only…. Whatever it is, you are not part of it. You have been a watcher. The recitalist hopes that you have been entertained. But you have not been included….
The composer does not have the idea of including the people who come while the music is being enacted. We have lost the idea of the rituals that remind the people who come that what is happening is only a small part, a “surfacing” of the continuing musicality of everyday life.
At the time I was considering these problems, it didn’t occur to me that the next day I would witness Stockhausen’s earnest attempts to include the audience in SONNTAG aus LICHT. His approaches were characteristically unsubtle. The opening scene, Lichter-Wasser, specifies that the musicians proceed through and are stationed amongst the audience, with the singers given circuits to follow around and between audience members. The final scene, Hoch-Zeiten, as staged by La Fura dels Baus, threw punters in amidst five groups of dancers and, surrounded by rotating projections of video and music, left everyone to fend for themselves.
In between, at the composer’s behest, we were surrounded by processions of choirs, censers of various fragrances, and illustrative projections (three-dimensional, in this case). As we left the theatre and walked out into the park or loitered around the entrance, Stockhausen’s farewell music played on through loudspeakers outside the building. Walking along the Rhine afterwards, I could still hear occasional faint snatches of it when the breeze blew the right way. Even in his conception of the work, Stockhausen intended SONNTAG to be performed over three nights, compelling audiences to return to a common place of communion.
The LICHT cycle is intended as a ritual of worship, and consistently strives to impress upon the audience the spiritual essence of all creation and the interconnectedness of music and spirituality. Towards the end we even saw Stockhausen’s list of “issues and challenges for Humanity”. There are ten of them: the comparison to commandments is irresistable. “1. Humanity must pray.” “3. Humanity must support cosmic art music.” “7. Humanity must use sleep for contacting the angels.” Stockhausen’s music is dedicated to the task of creating a spiritual context for itself, to validate the meaning it carries.
Beneath all this effort lurks Ashley’s issue and challenge for the audience. If the music is foreign to you, there is no emotional connection for you to recognise it as part of your life. “We should expect that the audience is a part of the music, and this is not true, even if the audience is entirely music students. This is the dilemma of contemporary music. The ritual has disappeared. The event is hollow.” Stockhausen’s grand plan to create a new ritual was perhaps, as I’ve previously suggested, doomed before it could begin.
Philip Glass, “Ik-Ook” (1977). Philip Glass, electric organ.
(4’13″, 9.7 MB, mp3)
Rather like my fateful encounter with Jeremy Bentham, I was wandering pleasantly half-bombed on midday Chimay Bleus around the streets by Bruxelles-Midi station while waiting for the Eurostar when I turned a corner and bumped into this guy.
I thought he’d been dressed up as a prank but it turns out this is a Regular Thing. This day’s outfit is supposed to “honour the IT division of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).” Apparently Belgian tech geeks are into yachting; or at least Yacht Rock.
So I went to Cologne to see Karlheinz Stockhausen’s opera SONNTAG aus LICHT, the culmination of his epic LICHT cycle of seven operas, one for each day of the week. Only now has this opera been given a complete, fully-staged performance, some eight years after its completion and three years after the composer’s death. So much vague pronouncement and speculation has surrounded the LICHT project, based on what often seems so little direct experience, that I had to see it for myself.
Having said that, it seems impossible to discuss SONNTAG without going into a description of what happens in each of its five lengthy scenes, interpreted in this case by La Fura dels Baus, the same guys who did that version of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre I saw a while back. At the same time, it seems rather pointless to just give a rundown of what each scene contains: this will surely be covered in greater detail elsewhere. Some audience descriptions are online, along with video and photos of the production.
SONNTAG is an opera with no plot, not even any dramatic tension; not does it attempt to work on the audience to extract a catharsis as so much theatre which passes itself off as ‘ritual’. It matches perfectly a description I once read of Stockhausen’s earlier Sirius: “a sci-fi mystery play”. Each scene presents a tableau, depicting the spiritual aspects of all creation, in Stockhausen’s own peculiar vernacular.
I went into SONNTAG at noon on Easter Sunday and left at 9.30 that night. The next morning I went to see the service at the Kölner Dom, which included a performance of Liszt’s Choral Mass, and saw again much of what I had experienced the previous day. The use of word and music in affirmation of belief, the smoke and scent of the incense, the occasional chimes, the processions and movements of the clergy and of the congregation, the different colours of light suffusing the haze above the altar, from the sunlight streaming through Gerhard Richter’s windows, to the conclusion where the congregation turn to embrace each other. All of these aspects were present in Stockhausen’s opera. The connections between the two should not be at all surprising, but it was a powerful reminder that so much of what seems outlandish in Stockhausen’s music theatre has been an established part of life for centuries.
The Winstons, “Amen, Brother” (1969).
(2’31″, 3.4 MB, mp3)
Off to see Sonntag aus Licht – back after Easter.
Everything on Wikipedia is contentious: tomato soup is no exception. Since an entry first appeared in January 2006 – a mere three sentences describing it only as a tinned food, with “the consistency of cream of wheat and… tarty to the taste” – the humble comfort food has been a source of trivial controversy.
This is, of course, to be expected; yet in five years this brief article has been subjected to an unusually high level of arbitrary editing. Beside racist taunts, casual denigration of tomato soup, and mysterious references to the 1998 Swiss Tomato Soup Rebellion, debate has smouldered on the discussion pages over whether the ability to be served both hot and cold is noteworthy, and whether it is necessary to provide a citation demonstrating that tomato soup is, in fact, a soup made of tomatoes. It has also been the blameless target of revisions attributing the soup with the ability to increase sperm count, or of actually being a powdered donut made from llamas.
Despite all this, one element has remained constant for the past four years, surviving every revision and reversion since February 2007:
The American composer Robert Ashley wrote “Empire”, a section of his opera Atalanta (Acts of God), on the origins and proliferation of tomato soup.
Wonderfully, as well as being an excellent opera by one of the past century’s greatest composers, “Empire” deals with tomato soup purely as an industrial commodity, precisely as described in it’s original Wikipedia entry. Even more wonderfully, Ashley has stated that “Empire” is in fact
an allegorical telling of the founding of one of the great multinational corporations. The story was told to me by the scion of the family of that corporation. I have changed the names (and the product) to protect the privacy of the source. And I have deliberately made the metaphor (soup) more casual and humorous than the actuality of corporate America.
For all these years, the one constant in Wikipedia’s quest for authoratitiveness has been an operatic metaphor. Ashley has also stated that Atalanta (Acts of God) is an opera about story-telling, about the persistence of myth through its mutability. Already, Wikipedia has imbued “Empire”‘s origin myth with an obstinate authenticity of the sort that outlasts conventional history.
Someone had given me a CD-R filled with dodgy music software, along with several thousand MIDI files from a boatload of various computer games. What on earth are you expected to do with a bunch of video game MIDI files? I used Andrew Culver’s ic program to select certain files by chance, then use chance to extract one instrument track from the file, assign it a new instrument patch, and insert it into a 15-minute composition.
The resulting trainwreck was played through whatever SoundBlaster card was in the computer, using the standard General MIDI set of instrument patches. In the middle of the piece I switched everything over to the percussion channel. The glitches you can hear are down to half a dozen sets of MIDI instructions all sending conflicting demands at once.
For the past couple of weeks I have been writing music and seeing some very cool gigs, however right now I’m just trying to upload something to Soundcloud. Should be ready any day now.
Soundcloud, if you’re going to keep dicking around like this you’d better come up with some sort of cute Failwhale character to offset the rage.