Website Update

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Yeah, yeah, I know action’s been pretty spotty here over the past few weeks. The good news is the website is fully functional, and all the files should now be back in place.

Instead of finishing off the Dumirescu article I’ve been dicking around with WordPress with a view to upgrading this blog, but editing the templates has turned into a frustrating way to expedite procrastination. Regular posting should resume now I’ve realised that shiny new blog look won’t happen in a hurry.

Dumitrescu/Avram – Radical Amateurism (part 1)

Wednesday 18 November 2009

It was hard to shake off the feeling that I was in the midst of a cult when attending last month’s Spectrum XXI series of concerts. Before and during the gigs, which were essentially a vehicle for the composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram, little things kept niggling at my consciousness.

Dumitrescu’s scrappy, free-hosted website welcoming you to “the great experimental composer’s home page” conjures up memories of Madame Berthe Trépat (Gold Medal, Grenoble) from Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch. The programme announcement – on a different free-hosted website – makes the rather suprising promise of “World and UK premières by Dumitrescu, Avram, Diaz de Leon, Hodgkinson, Pape, Tsuda, Scelsi, Xenakis”, but in a bait-and-switch move favoured by many cults the actual gigs featured nothing by the last four composers. That’s OK though, because the link to the London programme from the main page doesn’t work.

If you look on the web for reviews of Dumitrescu’s work, you’ll probably first find panegyrics from Harry Halbreich and/or Ben Watson; two critics whose tastes tend to the cultish and whose praise tends to the fulsome. Watson himself was in the audience for a couple of the gigs, and occasionally stepped up front in his green suit and tennis shoes to recite some sound poetry to the faithful. This did not help to elucidate the music much.

More frequently, Ana-Maria Avram would introduce each piece in an attempt to convey to the punters just how important the music was, that they were about to hear. This well-intentioned but misplaced advocacy also brought back memories of Madame Berthe Trépat (Gold Medal, Grenoble), and her introduction to the stage by Valentin (“it represented for contemporary music one of the most profound innovations to which the composer, Madame Trépat, had given the name “prophetic syncretism.”)

As in Madame Trépat’s recital, there was a high proportion of world premieres: I count a whopping seventeen across the four London gigs in the programme, from a tour which had already been to Brussells and Paris. This doesn’t inspire confidence, not in either Dumitrescu’s or Avram’s quality control nor that all the performances will be as polished as they could be. In this and other ways, their enthusiasm would sometimes undermine their strengths as musicians.

(Continued in Part 2.)

Filler By Proxy LXXV: What the Hell Mouth?

Monday 16 November 2009

After the ceremony there’s a dinner hosted by the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, whose name is Rocco. He wears handcrafted alligator cowboy boots with his black tuxedo. Marcel [Proost] asks him about the boots, which are, of course, a major conversation piece.

“You wrassle that ‘gator yourself?”

No, says the Chairman. He bought them in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I had not known that they had alligators in Jackson Hole, but it could be they’ve migrated there to work in the hotel or food service business.

The Chairman is reputed to be a very wealthy man and a fan of theater, baseball, horse racing and country music, in other words our indigenous American beaux arts, our native Kunstwerke. Someone there tells me he contemplated buying the Cincinnati Reds but thought the asking price of one billion too high. Perhaps he could just buy the NEA for half that amount and not have to deal with the flamers in Congress. That would be an exemplary form of the great American tradition of privatizing.

That’s an excerpt from a recent entry in John Adams‘ blog, Hell Mouth. Yes. John “Nixon In China, Short Ride In A Fast Machine” Adams. (Note to self: check out some music he’s written in the past fifteen years or so.)

The Return of Please Mister Please

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Please Mister Please is up and running again, with your old favourites and a welcome return by Mister Buddy Greco. Beats me why there’s a blank space above this paragraph, so let’s just say I was trying to build up suspense.
Also re-uploaded, Real Characters and False Analogues: twelve pieces for microtonal piano, all available for streaming or download.
Blogging is ready to recommence, and the rest of the music will be up again shortly. Everything else seems pretty much intact, but there should (hopefully) be some improvements coming soon.
This includes the long-promised writeup of the Dumitrescu gigs from, oh, a month ago now.

Under Construction

Thursday 5 November 2009

Apologies if the site went down at the end of last week. I was on a long weekend in Brighton and came home to find an email saying that my site had used up its bandwidth allocation.

I’ve now switched to a larger server which allows more traffic, but the music files have not yet been uploaded. They will be soon. In the meantime, to commemorate the closure of GeoCities last week, please enjoy this page of about eight billion Under Constuction icons.

Okay, that’s definitely it for now

Wednesday 28 October 2009

No updates for a week, while I back things up and move stuff around.

“Wait till they find out / where you took most of “your” poetry”

Monday 26 October 2009

Paul Zukofsky, violinist, conductor, son of poet Louis Zukofsky, has declared war on pretty much everybody who gives a rat’s ass about Louis Zukofsky:

In general, as a matter of principle, and for your own well-being, I urge you to not work on Louis Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not. Working on LZ will be far more trouble than it is worth…. Finally, when all else fails, and you remain hell-bent on quoting LZ, but you really, really REALLY do not want to deal with me…

And that goes for you so-called academics and conniving dissertation students, too!

Unsurprisingly, there are now half-a-dozen scanned copies of LZ’s masterwork “A” circulating teh interwebs. Don’t worry Paul, I’m sure they won’t stoop to reading it!

Funny thing is that Louis Zukofsky was something of a virtuoso in the art of appropriation, as the above quote from PZ, quoted by LZ in “A”-12 (p.214) shows.

Whoa there a second…

Monday 26 October 2009

Regular update-type stuff is on hold while I change servers. It seems like several million Chinese punters made a common mistake and have eaten up just about all of my bandwidth. Enjoy the piano music, guys!

Also, RIP Maryanne Amacher – the link’s worth it for the photo of what I always imagined was a typical audience reaction. I mentioned this on Twitter but haven’t had a chance to write anything substantial. (Also haven’t had chance to put Twitter link on my website.)

Please Mister Please

Friday 23 October 2009

John Cage, “Eight Whiskus” (1984). Joan La Barbara, voice.
(4’37”, 3.40 MB, mp3)

Apologies for not writing lately

Thursday 22 October 2009

But I’ve had one of those double doses of flu that go away and come back again a few days later for another crack at you. In the next day or two will post something about last week’s odd little Dumitrescu festival in town, and an impromptu GCTTCATT reunion gig in someone’s flat.

How to save 45 pounds on the Frieze and Zoo art fairs

Saturday 17 October 2009

First, tell yourself that “too much new art in London looks like high-falutin’ tchotchkes created for investors with at least one eye on the auctions,” and that what with the Current Economic Climate the faint stink of desperation is only going to make things worse before they have a chance to get better.

Then, get a friend to go bunk into the openings of both art fairs and get loaded on the free drinks, before reporting back to you the next day that pretty much everything she saw there confirmed your prejudices.

Please Mister Please

Monday 12 October 2009

Paul McCartney, “Only Mama Knows” (2007).
(4’18”, 7.74 MB, mp3)

Fan Mail!

Sunday 11 October 2009

In the early days of the internet, I used to get email every now and then from deluded fanboys who had mistaken me for a different Ben Harper. Of course, I always replied. That hasn’t happened for years, but last week I got fan mail from none other than the King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson. Apparently the afterlife now has email, but not Google.

Mr Johnson’s remarks were apposite, albeit misdirected:

Who did you have to blow to get to the level of semi-fame you have been handed? In your entire career there has not been one original moment. Your vocals and guitar playing, not to mention your lyrics, are dull, and the worst thing is your deep sense of self-importance. You seem humorless and totally self-involved. And you are just generally so AVERAGE. If it weren’t for your connections,you would be playing in a bar somewhere in the Inland Empire on a Sunday Jam night.

I know that your career was handed to you, so that’s nice for you. Since you have a soapbox on which to stand and pontificate, why not take just a minute and write something catchy? Be a pop star and a star-fucker (you already are), and stop with the fake social consciousness.

PS congratulations on those tattoos. They are about as original as your music.

Rolling over in my grave,
Robert Johnson

PS please stop playing my music. It’s embarassing.

As I said, I always reply to fan mail, regardless of whether it’s meant for me or not:

Dear Mr Johnson,

Thank you for your email. In reply to your question, I had to blow an old gypsy at the age of 12 to attain my present day success. Funnily enough, it took place at a crossroads. Ain’t that a kick in the pants? Thought you might find it amusing.

I know I got a pretty sweet deal going here so I have no intention of shitting where I eat and showing up my lack of talent by trying and failing to write something fun and tuneful. As for the fake social consciousness, well as you are aware I have next to no mojo so it’s the next best way to get laid. Sure, they’re those liberal arts student chicks who don’t shave in the right places but they’re hella uninhibited and besides when you’re almost drowning in pussy you don’t want to make waves, you get me? Same goes for the tattoos, they’re a real leg-spreader for the sheltered neurotic type that tend to hang out at my gigs.

To be honest, I have been working on some new material, its uploaded on my new website at I call it Klezska, its like a combination of klezmer, ska, and polka all wrapped up into one. I hardly need to keep typing cos I know you’re already downloading it, who can resist such an amazing blend of rockin styles. It’s pretty fucking awesome, though I say so myself.

Also, Eric Clapton and I have been talking about issuing a sort of customer loyalty/credit account card with your picture on it. You know, as a tribute. Is that cool?

You’re my idol,

“Only humans carry their fast around, their past around.”

Saturday 10 October 2009

I was uh downloading some mp3s the other day when I found that one of the files contained a bad CD rip. Like, really bad: the track stuck and skipped for minutes on end, like the grotty copy of “Best Beer Songs” on heavy rotation down the local. I sat through the whole thing, waiting to see if enough material had survived intact to salvage the track in editing. It hadn’t.

So instead I removed the good material and, with a bit of judicious editing and mixing, made a new piece out of the rubbish. The result sounds like a good old-fashioned mid-1990s skipping-CD glitch piece, because that’s what it is. Like folk music, its value lies in authenticity instead of originality, created by its circumstances.

Ben.Harper – The Past #3
(9’02”, 14.97 MB, mp3)

It’s A Grand Macabre

Wednesday 7 October 2009

How are you supposed to appreciate a work of art that is intended to fail? The possibilities boil down to “Congratulations, it sucks!” or “Too bad it’s good.” György Ligeti’s only opera Le Grand Macabre premiered in 1978, a little late for the 60s era of irreverent deconstruction. Appropriately, he tried to outwit the Zeitgeist by writing an “anti-anti-opera”.

La Fura dels Baus‘ production of Le Grand Macabre is now being staged in London, where it has played upon, and been played by, the modern-day Zeitgeist. Self-consciously provocative, this production’s central conceit is a coup de théâtre that the action takes place on, around, and especially inside a naked, corpulent woman suspended apparenty in extremis. During the first scenes the audience gently chuckled, even more self-consciously, in an attempt to show the Catalans that these English punters were down with all the sexual innuendo and in-jokes. By and large, the critics were at pains to demonstrate that the show failed to shock them and that the whole affair felt a bit dated, really.

By half-time I was starting to feel that the opera was a fine museum piece, at odds with itself over whether to provoke or deflate its own pretensions. The second half won me over. Ligeti’s score is incredibly detailed – it functions more as a chorus commenting on the characters’ behaviour than as a backdrop to their singing – and the latter half contains some of his most unusual, affecting music. I’ve read some reviews that thought the spectacular set dominated procedings. Well, it did, but the singers were a match for it. Besides attacking their parts with lustily grotesque abandon, they gave remarkably active, physical performances. Depsite Ligeti’s qualms about expecting his performers to be actors and singers, one of the greatest pleasures in this production was how seamlessly the singing and the stage acrobatics blended together.

What really makes the opera succeed is how it fails to fail. For Ligeti, failure is not to be denounced but accepted, even embraced. Having survived two of Europe’s most ruthless attempts to impose an all-encompassing system upon society, admissions of fallibility must come as something of a relief. Who can be disappointed by the opera’s ending, that Death’s “sacred mission” ends in failure? The autocratic prince and his secret police are rendered humourous and charming by their ineffectualness. The chief of police’s fevered babbling becomes a coloratura tour de force; the drunkards’ carousing ends in ringing harmonies. Dross is transformed to gold, and we end up feeling affection for these caricatures.

Ligeti talked about “overcoming fear with alienation“. In a world where we are harried to be more and more fearful about less and less, Ligeti’s comedy has found new ways to prod at our nicely settled discomfort.