Wednesday 5 November 2008

I’ve spent the past week dealing with flu, apathy, and the Karlheinz Stockhausen festival at Southbank. Normal service should resume tomorrow, with a violent disagreement between my girlfriend and most of the audience at the weekend performances of Trans.
It’s nice to know a piece of music nearly 40 years old can stir up as much debate now as it did at its premiere. We both went to the performance last year by a student orchestra (Trinity College?), which was a fine example of the low-road approach to presenting Stockhausen’s music. The weekend’s high-road approach brought up some interesting contrasts in how we react to ostensibly the same music.
Conceived as an 80th birthday celebration, now an unexpected memorial, the festival focuses on his last, unfinished cycle of works, Klang. Having witnessed a few more pieces from the cycle now (after hearing two at the Proms in August), what I wrote last year seems more appropriate than ever, to Stockhausen’s later work as a whole.

Audience and orchestra, equally lost in the purple fog, partook of the event in a state not unlike the suspension of disbelief required to embrace the enactment of a myth. Its alien weirdness and denial of rational meaning suspended judgement, the music and its theatre an unquestionable, unalterable fact to be experienced. We all deferred to the indomitable arrogance of Stockhausen, an arrogance that was necessary to trust that he could put across a work he could not understand, without a safety net of explanation or justification.

New photos, new music

Thursday 30 October 2008

I’ve got the pictures back from the Hobart incarnation of the Redrawing show, and uploaded a new mp3.

In addition to the main elements of String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta) installed in Melbourne, the Hobart version included an extra video, showing my live performance of the piece at the Melbourne exhibition.

I’ve also uploaded a spiffy new recording of the String Quartet, a 23-minute mp3 which gives a good idea of how the thing sounds in its present state.

The main projection and automated version of the audio still played live in the gallery, while punters could also listen to the recorded, human performance over headphones. Two similar but different performances of the music could be heard at once, thus adding a further layer of duplication and imitation to the work.

Please Mister Please

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Eugene Chadbourne, “Ochre Ringlet” (1999).
(4’10”, 4.28 MB, mp3)

Stockhausen for Really Everybody!

Monday 27 October 2008

First, a special thankyou to Blogger for breaking everybody’s browser icons.
Second, an extra special thankyou to Jodru at ANABlog. Remember a few weeks ago when I linked to a recording of this year’s Stockhausen Proms concerts? ANABlog now has the whole thing conveniently broken up into individual tracks, in smaller, more user-friendly mp3 form.

Guy Fawkes’ Month

Monday 27 October 2008

Out my window I can hear that it’s the time of year when fireworks start going off around the neighbourhood again.

Excellent Company

Sunday 26 October 2008

I haven’t plugged Kyle Gann’s internet radio station, PostClassic Radio, yet. I really should because it’s an excellent stream of new music with a newly expanded playlist, which just happens to include *ahem* a couple of my own pieces.
Funnily enough, the bots that run the internet radio service can’t quite cope with the type of music being played on this particular station, and offer links to buy CDs by the likes of myself and “Uncle Morty” – the latter a necessary evil to skirt the bots’ inability to tell individual pop songs from subsections of a 3-hour work.
(Don’t bother clicking the “Buy” link for my stuff: it’ll just say “Title Not Found” and try to make you buy an Il Divo album instead.)

Shouldn’t they all be fleeing south for the winter?

Sunday 26 October 2008

Dear Blog, I have an unclaimed council wheelie bin which has been standing on the pavement outside my front gate for four weeks, without being stolen, thrown into the street, tipped over, kicked around, or commandeered by kids for use in an impromptu chariot race. Is this a record? And why doesn’t anybody want the thing?
On the other hand, the Dormobile of Doom has vanished from outside my house, only to replaced by two more. The damned things are multiplying. On the bright side, these specimens have a more benign appearance.

Filler By Proxy LXV: Pianomania! (Get a handle,.nous,Charlie, chanterons sans l’été chaud)

Thursday 23 October 2008

Are you crazy about pianos? If you aren’t crazy about pianos, are you crazy about classic cars? You should meet raymanboy: he sells pianos and the occasional car on eBay, and he certainly seems pretty crazy.
Firstly, his listed prices for items change at random intervals, either up or down, by as much as £10,000. Then there’s his notoriety amongst piano and car afficionados. The listings themselves are typically illustrated with multiple photographs of what is presumably the object for sale rotated at various angles, inexplicably collaged in with pictures of airplanes, drawings of Mata Hari, and blurry photographs taken of a TV showing wedding videos and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The real giveaway, however, are his product descriptions. If you hurry, you can still make an offer for his VIDO. RED ROSENDORFER WHITE BARON RICHTOFEN GRAND PIANO. If you’re not a musician, don’t worry: that description doesn’t make sense to anyone, except maybe raymanboy himself.
Perhaps the detailed description will clarify things:
The offers can be discussed before you place them – there is no reserve – treat the £20,000 as a joke if it bothers you – I do, two failed marriages one near miss and a funeral and if I ever catch up with him I won’t marry him for a third time the funeral was the Steinway the Serenade in G on the guitar – it only explains the giref glue and research that went into it although but for posterity and your future offspring like my cat it won’t bother either one of you..
£20,000 The doll was a temptation but you knew the true American would always wait for the end of the pier show or lose the chance.
And it goes on, for another 8,000 words of quotations, word association football and meandering streams of semi-consciousness, all in a variety of fonts that arbitrarily change colour, size, and style. He obviously puts a lot of effort into these things; this particular item has been revised 13 times in six days. Towards the end he sounds like the love-child of Gertrude Stein and Christopher Knowles:

Otherwise strutted like the wings of an aeroplane that all rhymes curiosly previous reaons fly out and away and sound and symphony be one together. Hers or his more is more the confusion. This may grow like the piano into a form of anything born of a love and any construction. The greatest of these I find hard to contain; that which on pne hand you at the time deny or hide and detain by “etiquette” for those around. That it may be by this piano you may have experience. A future I only dream but do not have. The premise as heavenly I knew from just one meeting. And in another place than this piano that was the same to those sounds and attitudes which she displayed upon that. Attitude as it changed in one meeting is like a Flying Circus by force of surprise. That to have been at that greater stage of life wherefore I would wish to be again – as one viewer stated to experience beneath the mountain to stand with her alone. It is now as if I I have recoil I was as if I am still there. And there you to find I know to look upon this piano his and hers be there and their kingdon shine. Most time for the buyers of commodity there are two accounts for one crash. His account the real angel of whom we speak you are told is “The Red Baron” was not but he was bar-ren.

Et cetera. They seem to always end up being about the Red Baron. It’s a mystery that he manages to sell anything, let alone have a high customer rating.

Finally Getting Grisey

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Last week (yep, up-to-date as ever) I went to the UK premiere by the London Sinfonietta of the late Gérard Grisey’s Les espaces acoustiques, a landmark work of late 20th Century music. The cycle of six compositions was begun in 1974 and completed in 1985.
What is it with the British coming so late, so often, to presenting major works by prominent composers across the Channel? Perhaps, in Grisey’s case, his reputation as the founder of the “spectralist” school of music did him more harm than good in British concert halls. The British are innately leery of the French habit of dressing up their creative inspirations as universal theories.
Perhaps that reluctance isn’t such a bad thing, much of the time. I’d heard a couple of Grisey’s pieces before but until now I’d never “got” him, having been distracted on previous occasions by trying (and failing) to hear his vaunted theoretical ideas at the expense of his music. Or else I was showing my British roots.
I became a believer after hearing Les espaces acoustiques, a rich, sensual, gorgeous work, superbly played by the London Sinfonietta, aided by orchestral ring-ins for the last sections, which require an orchestra of over 80 musicians. As well as working purely as music at face value, Grisey’s conception of music as a synthesis of harmonies and instrumental timbres was made very clear in Les espaces‘ explorations of sound. Conductor George Benjamin (a composer in his own right) allowed the sonic richness to saturate the performance without ever letting the music wallow in a shapeless, plodding indulgence.
Grisey’s music can be alternately subtle and dramatic, sometimes almost excessively so. He is praised for inventing a new language of sound, free from the stultifying elements of musical modernism, but in his limitations he is equally beholden to them. It is telling that the violist and composer Julian Anderson, who played the opening section of the cycle, says “It really was quite significant” that Grisey included a distinctive, hummable melody in a composition written in 1976. Outside the institutions of the European avant-garde and romantic traditions, discoveries (and rediscoveries) similar to Grisey’s had been going on for years, and pursued more radically and thoroughly than in Grisey’s music.
In America, composers as diverse as La Monte Young and James Tenney had spent the 1960s exploring tonality, the harmonic spectrum, new sounds, forms and structures. Europeans largely thought of them as amateurs, pranksters. Grisey, on the other hand, was the professional: he knew that a composer needed a computer laboratory, a symphony orchestra, and a tendency to disrupt his new sound world with conventional dramatic gestures to be taken seriously.

Please Mister Please

Sunday 19 October 2008

Charlie Louvin, “Cash On The Barrelhead” (1967).
(2’51”, 2.61 MB, mp3)

There’s Always Trouble For Someone

Sunday 19 October 2008

Wyndham Lewis: Portraits

Wednesday 15 October 2008

It’s just about to close, so I finally got around to seeing the “Wyndham Lewis: Portraits” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. A quick walk through the permanent collection to find the show reminded me why I usually avoid the Gallery: wall after wall of British slebs-du-jour (wow, a photo of Kate Moss!) depicted in portraits alternately fussy and simplistic. The relative sizes of the print on the title cards gives away that the subject is more important than the artist.
In the case of Lewis, we have the unusual situation of artist and sitter frequently being equals. Fortunately, a survey of Lewis’ art restricted to portriature still includes many of his greatest paintings and drawings, and they’re well served by this exhibition. The punter is greeted at the entrance by the striking self-portrait Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro, confronting the viewer in his frequently adopted persona of the antagonist, the provocateur, the Enemy. It looks cubist at first glance, but no cubist of the time would have accepted it. The stark colouring, aggressive composition, and grotesque characterisation stamp it with Lewis’ unique style of Vorticism.
Laura Cummings’ review of the show concludes, “No matter how much one admires these portraits, they don’t make one curious about the sitters so much as Lewis himself.” Lewis shunned the contemporary enthusiasm for psychoanalysis; knowing that art had no ‘inside’, he wrote “the lines and masses of a statue are its soul”. He believed in character, not personality. Examining prehistoric cave paintings in the south of France, he observed that “the artist goes back to the fish.”
Lewis’ portraits go back at least as far as Heraclitus’ statement that character is fate. His sitters wear the masks they have chosen to present to the public, and bear the burdens the masks impose upon them. Ezra Pound (above) presents himself as the still point at the centre of a cultural whirlwind; the background accoutrements, presented as conventially as the symbolic props that have littered portraits since the Renaissance to date, depict a confluence of historical forces that would soon swallow him up. More telling is the portrait of T.S. Eliot, his cultivated image of the anonymous, respectable bank clerk hemmed in by the organic scrollwork that surrounds him.
The final room of the exhibition includes several excellent portraits of Lewis’ wife Gladys “Froanna” Hoskins, in particular the haunting Red Portrait. The scene of intimate domesticity becomes a forbidding icon; Lewis never painted another face so expressive and so insubstantial.
Equally talented as painter and as writer, Wyndham Lewis is still grievously underrated as either. Despite his numerous books referred to and displayed in the exhibition, the large gallery shop had only a small corner of one table devoted to Lewis. Besides the catalogue and a welcome CD of Lewis reading from his works, the only two books available was a collection of his poetry and plays, and an eight year-old edition of The Childermass, quite possibly his most difficult novel. Everything else is out of print.
(Incidentally, the colours in the photographs on the NPG website are pretty washed out compared to the originals.)

Please Mister Please

Saturday 11 October 2008

The Raincoats, “Lola” (1979).
(4’04”, 3.95 MB, mp3)

Google vs Death

Saturday 11 October 2008

(Originally posted at Sarsaparilla, as a much expanded version of an earlier post.)

Has anyone else been wasting their life looking at Google’s street view photographs of Australia? I only found out about it by accident last weekend (I’ve been waiting for London to come online, not realising they’ve been working on Australia all this time) and have spent hours since then poring over the maps.
It seems to be a universal quirk that everyone first goes to look at somewhere they already know quite well, to compare the images with the reality of their memories. I looked up the suburb of Adelaide I grew up in, to find that Google captured the area in the midst of that great Australian tradition, Hard Rubbish Day.

My grandma’s old house, in a tiny town off the highway in an obscure backwater of New South Wales, is now visible to the world online. On the other hand, my girlfriend looked up her mother’s house in Caulfield only to find her section of street replaced by a black screen and the ominous legend “This image is not available.” She called home that night.
I don’t think it was the block on which that unfortunate man conked out after a night on the turps, after attending his best friend’s funeral (as the whole world now knows). That image, now removed, seems to be the only Australian one so far to have joined the likes of the fence climber and the burning house amongst the American street views.
Incidentally, the block on which that house burned down has also been blacked out, even though the hoses and smoke can still be clearly seen from further down the street; and of course, the images Google removed can still be seen on dozens of web sites around the world. The images persist after reality, even Google’s version of it, has moved on.
In my childhood neighbourhood, every day is bin day. Tied to its maps and aerial photographs, Street View gives an illusion of a perpetual present moment, when in fact it depicts a past world growing less true to the world by the second. A woman in Sydney observed, “Both my parents were pictured outside their house, but my dad passed away a month ago.”
Google would like to show the world in Street View, but remain invisible itself. The camera car is never seen, but on the dirt roads in remote parts of Australia, it reveals its presence as a cloud of dust stretching out along the road. (By this stage, the name “Street View” is becoming less and less appropriate.) The presence of the camera and the people who control it is also reflected in the choices the drivers have made.
For me, their most peculiar decision was to drive in and around the town of Wittenoom. If you clicked that last link for the map you’ll have seen that the sponsored link at the bottom of the page, instead of the usual advertisements for tourism services in the area, is a government warning headed “Do not travel to Wittenoom.”

Officially, Wittenoom no longer exists: the state government degazetted it as a town last year. All public services, including electricity, have been withdrawn. Only eight people still live in what remains of the town. Of its 20,000 former residents, over a thousand have died from exposure to the blue asbestos that was the town’s sole reason to exist. The government strongly advises against tourists from visiting: “Travelling to Wittenoom is not worth risking your life. The existence of tiny asbestos fibres on the ground and in the air which are a product of past asbestos mining present a deadly risk.”
I’d like to know what made the Google people decide to make a detour through Wittenoom. Were they following instructions or defying them? Acting out of ignorance or out of curiosity? Perhaps it was a desire to witness and preserve, in some way, what was left of the town before it was completely erased from the face of the earth, regardless of the potential risk to their health. I hope they drove around with the vents and windows shut.
What is there to see in Wittenoom? Empty blocks and crumbling streets, a few scattered houses, some still occupied. A mysterious truck with “Sound Production” painted on the sides is parked outside one home. The townsfolk apparently still offer accomodation for backpackers, at six bucks a night. One of the residents still holding out against the government’s plans to relocate her has set up a website, but it hasn’t been updated for several months. Not surprising I suppose, being without access to the internet, phones, or mains power.

Streetview Adelaide: The Museum Of Dirt

Tuesday 7 October 2008

I haven’t been doing any work, I’ve just been playing with Google’s street view of Australia. I’ve been mostly looking at Adelaide, my old home town.
Thanks Google, for picking Hard Rubbish Day to send your little car around the neighbourhood I grew up in. You make it look like I spent my childhood in a tip.

Note also in the above photos two other Adelaide icons, the brush fence and the stobie pole. I’ve tweaked the photos a little bit because Google went through town on a bright sunny day, and the intermittent tree cover made a lot of the pictures overexposed.