Filler By Proxy LIX: Pli Selon Pli

Saturday 2 February 2008

Boulez, according to all known biographies, did not have a childhood. Not in the Michael Jackson sense of “He never got a chance to play with little boys because he was recording ‘Ben'”, but quite literally: Boulez actually materialized one day in Messiaen’s class at the Paris Conservatoire. Some say that he walked out of a forest in the Rhône one day wearing white dress shirt and black tie. (I believe Peyser’s book adds that he was trailed by a pack of wolves over whom he had a sort of psychic power.) …
Needless to say, he was already balding.
For peace of mind, I will assume that I’m not alone in being willing to overlook the most egregious failings in my heroes. Let’s see, there’s Ezra Pound’s anti-semitism, John Cage’s flirtation with Maoism, Cornelius Cardew’s wholehearted embrace of same, William Burroughs shooting his wife in the head (accidentally! so that’s not so bad, is it?). And then, of course, there’s Pierre Boulez’s combover, which I like to pretend simply isn’t there whenever I see a photograph of him. I wonder how easy it is to ignore if you meet him in person?
Tears of a Clownsilly has shaken up my consciousness by offering a history thus far of the great conductor and composer’s relationship with his fast-receding hair, how it has influenced his music, and the strain it has placed on his dealings with fellow musicians.

British, up-and-coming

Tuesday 29 January 2008

So I saw something about a call for live electronic music for a gig opening for Christian Marclay and Elliott Sharp this Thursday; so I quickly sent off a piece; so they say no thanks to the gig offer, but would I like something of mine on a compilation CD they’re handing out on the night, “showcasing up-and-coming British artists”? Yes! I said. I’m British! I’m up-and-coming! I’m an artist (Macquarie University once said so)!
It says on the website they’re giving the CDs to punters at the end of the night. Is that to incentivate the punters to hang around to the end, or to prevent the punters from frisbeeing them at the talent?
Note to self: name on the door? or risk getting turfed out into the cold streets of Kilburn?

The Magic Listener Advisory Board Top and Bottom 5 for 2007, as voted for by people like you. Well, me really.

Sunday 27 January 2008

If you’re on the New Magic Listener Advisory Board, you’ll have had the chance to rate over 300 easy-listening, MOR, AOR, mouldy oldie, and long-forgotten novelty hits. As suggested before, Magic listeners have excellent taste in judging what people really want to hear, not what dickhead hipster ironists think people want to hear.

The Top 5:

1. “Runaway”, Del Shannon
2. “Then He Kissed Me”, The Crystals
3. “Ramblin’ Rose”, Nat King Cole
4. “Spicks & Specks”, The Bee Gees
5. “El Paso”, Marty Robbins
Anyone who would not be stoked to hear any of these five songs on the radio is an enemy of music. Bonus points are in order for bigging up a Bee Gees single the rest of the world would find hopelessly obscure.

The Bottom 5:

1. “Since I Fell For You”, Kate Ceberano
2. “Jolene”, Olivia Newton-John
3. “Ben”, Michael Jackson
4. “Please Don’t Ask Me”, Johnny Farnham
5. “Route 66”, Natalie Cole
It’s not explained whether this list is counting up or down, but still a clear picture emerges of what your average Magic listener does not like: ageing pop stars trying for second careers as lounge singers, off-brand cover versions, or pedophiles singing about rats. Take that, ironists.
In these troubled times, at least one corner of the world is in safe, sensible hands.

What’s on top of the pile?

Monday 14 January 2008

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Your Funeral… My Trial
I know it’s wrong to say this, but listening back now he sounds a little bit retarded on those earlier records. Was it just the drugs, or that the Eighties are now a foreign country?
A bunch of “The Wire Tapper” sampler CDs
Along with a magazine subscription as a birthday present. Thanks babe!

(Last time on the pile.)

Last year’s new year’s resolution, or Is Music Art?

Saturday 12 January 2008

Someone reminded me that it’s Morton Feldman’s birthday today, so here’s a little bit from a talk he gave in San Francisco in 1986, ruminating on whether or not music is really an art form. (5’58”, 2.5 MB, mp3)

He’s not going away in a hurry

Thursday 10 January 2008

Jodru at ANABlog imagines how Stockhausen would describe riding the subway in New York:

“Through a process I invented of experimenting with the New York City subway system, I have discovered a new borough called Queens.”

What follows is a useful introduction to the peculiar musical and theatrical world of Stockhausen’s LICHT, complete with photos and musical examples. A world still shrouded in mystery.

Despite being chock full of astonishing music, the ultimate strangeness of the staged opera obscured the continuing quality of Stockhausen’s writing. If Gesang der Junglinge, Hymnen and Mantra were wrapped into some cosmically trashy concept album (say, Kilroy Was Here), their aura would certainly dim.

Vaucanson’s Duck

Sunday 6 January 2008

Back to Melbourne again for a moment: while I was there I got to see the opening night of Vaucanson’s Duck, a sound installation and music series at Bus gallery. Three of the four rooms in the gallery were filled with a diverse array of automatic instruments built by Ernie Althoff, Robbie Avenaim, and Dale Gorfinkel. The instruments were built out of deconstructed musical instruments and found objects, powered by repurposed record players, cassette recorders, and other electric motors.
The opening night of the exhibition became a three-hour performance, with the musicians switching instruments on and off, making small adjustments, transforming the exhibition into something between an enormous sound sculpture and a spatialised orchestra of automata. Over the course of the exhibition, each day ended with an evening performance in which a guest musician was invited to duet with the installation – sometimes acoustic, sometimes electronic, sometimes beyond category.

This is what I miss about Melbourne’s music scene. While it can be incestuous and isolated (it’s a financial and logistical hassle to get in a visitor from another state, let alone another country,) it consciously maintains a vitality that often seems lacking in London. At times London feels too complacent, a victim of its size and its history.
What’s notable about Vaucanson’s Duck isn’t just the intensity and commitment demanded by the program (a different gig each night for two straight weeks!), it’s the attempt to present a season of new music with no easily identifiable genre. While London new music events so often evince a need to identify with a tradition in folk, free jazz, or classical music, the musicians in the Melbourne program typically work in ways that transcend typical stylistic boundaries – as shown in the web discussion. I’m familiar with most of the musicians in the series, and yet I could not predict what kind of performance some of them would give on the night.
This is by no means the only time such a series of events has been staged in Melbourne in recent years; nor are these events typically attached to any large, public institutions. I’ve made a sort of new year’s resolution to seek out more obscure gigs in London to find out whether this city truly lacks such an eclectic new music culture, or that it has simply managed to elude me for so long.

Magic happens.

Saturday 5 January 2008

Another year, another Magic 1278 Listener Advisory Board Survey. Visit their home page and click on the Advisory Board link in the bottom right corner to join in the fun.
The golden rule still applies: one dud song amongst a sea of gems, including Lobo’s “Don’t Expect Me To Be Your Friend”, which is just about the most Magic-esque song in the world. This month seems to have a sub-theme of semi-forgotten cover versions.

Gypsy Woman – Brian Hyland*
To Whom It Concerns – Chris Andrews*
Clap Your Hands – Beau-Marks*
Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
Theme From “A Summer Place” – Percy Faith*
But I Do – Clarence “Frogman” Henry
Young Love – Tab Hunter*
Guantanamera – Sandpipers*
Nowhere Man – The Beatles
Yesterday When I Was Young – Roy Clarke*
What The World Needs Now Is Love – Jackie DeShannon
It Takes Two – Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
Happy Birthday Baby – Tony Christie*
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher – Rita Coolidge*
Room Full Of Roses – Mickey Gilley*
Don’t Expect Me To Be Your Friend – Lobo**
Clancy Of The Overflow – Wallis & Matilda*
Here You Come Again – Dolly Parton
Emotion – Samantha Sang
Route 66 – Natalie Cole
Saving All My Love For You – Whitney Houston
Ebony Eyes – Everly Brothers*
Forever Autumn – Justin Hayward
Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone – Smokie*
Montego Bay – Bobby Bloom

Winter Music

Wednesday 2 January 2008

It’s not that I like summer; it’s just that I still can’t fully commit to the idea of winter happening at this time of year. Give it another year or two and the seasons will change back the way they always were, my brain keeps saying.
In an attempt to get into the mood, I’ve offered up a piece to Daniel Wolf at Renewable Music, for his Winter Album, a collection of short compositions for piano. Also featured are pieces by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz, Jon Brenner, Steed Cowart, Elaine Fine, Hauke Harder, Jeff Harrington, Aaron Hynds, Lloyd Rodgers, Jonathan Segel, and Charles Shere – most of whom have probably got a better handle on this whole “winter” concept than I have. I wonder if I still lived in Australia, whether I would, or should have contributed at all!
My piece, Redundens 6i, is the latest in an ongoing series of works I return to every now and then. This new instalment seemed brief, static, and cold enough to fit the Winter bill. I’ve started a short page about this piece, and the series in general, which might get expanded over the next few months.
They’re saying it might snow tomorrow.

Until next year (actually, I could do with a Coopers now)

Monday 31 December 2007

Finally, here are the five most popular songs played on Magic 1278 in 2007, as voted for by listeners like me. And what a fine list it is too, except maybe that last one.
  1. “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals
  2. “Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole
  3. “Spicks & Specks ” by the Bee Gees
  4. “El Paso ” by Marty Robbins
  5. “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies
And the least popular song? “Please Don’t Ask Me” by Johnny Farnham. Looks like the listeners’ advisory committee is doing its job.
Please start the new year by enjoying the above location shot of the venue for the Brisbane gig. More photos and music are on the way.
The indices are finally almost up to date again.

A Man in Love with the Past: the year in retrospect

Friday 28 December 2007

Last December Georgina wrote in Sarsaparilla about her books of the year:

Instead of naming a book that was released this year, how about we name a book that was our ‘one’ of the year, regardless of when it was published. Perhaps you might have read something that was particularly pertinent, perhaps you finally got around to reading something that really stood out from the bedside pile. Perhaps you read nothing of note.

I haven’t written nearly as much about books this year as I wanted to, so here’s my chance to make it up a little.
Book of the year: For me, this was William GaddisThe Recognitions, a novel whose 950 pages I finally read after finding an ex-library copy in Melbourne’s Grub Street Bookshop years ago (thanks, Macrobertson Girls’ High!) Taking up from where Wyndham Lewis left off, it’s one of those books which has just grown more and more relevant to our world with each year since its first publication 50-odd years ago. Its double-edged dissection of the dearly-held belief that art reveals truth is set in a society whose slippery duplicity is probably more familiar to us than to Gaddis‘ contemporaries. The book’s unique written style was later echoed by Pynchon, De Lillo, and others, but I’ve never read anything so uncompromising or sinister in its relationship with the reader.
Runner up: As is all too typical, I became interested in Gilbert Sorrentino just after his death. I’d lazily pigeonholed his novel Mulligan Stew as one of those faddish, would-be cult novels from the 70s, based solely on its dogged recurrence in those little bookseller’s ads at the backs of yellowing paperbacks, with the inevitable trite comparisons to Joyce, Vonnegut, and Moorcock which publishers used interchangeably back then. In fact, it’s one of the funniest literary satires written, especially for people who sometimes grumble to themselves that they’ve read too much to really enjoy books any more. Best of all, it never lets up on the gags to explain the philosophical and emotional core that its facade attempts to conceal. A book that’s worth it for the first page alone.
Literary discovery of the year: Ronald Firbank. From dilettante and fin-desiecle also-ran, to cultish outsider, to the inventor of modernism. It’s those jokers you have to watch out for.
Reverse-Humiliation: Apart from The Recognitions, I finally knocked Jealousy and Life: A User’s Manual off my to-read list.

Music gig of the year: Even before his death, my thoughts about music kept coming back to the February performance of Stockhausen’s Trans. A student orchestra, some dramatic lighting, and not just Stockhausen’s imagination, but his boldness and self-assuredness when making something new; all came together to create an uncanny experience which leaves people bandying around expressions like “otherworldly” and “life-changing”. There’s no other piece of music quite like this; nor, in all likelihood, will there be.
Music recording of the year (any type): Special thanks are due to Different Waters, for uploading a complete version of La Monte Young’s long-deleted masterpiece The Well-Tuned Piano.
CD of the year: It was a year in which I avoided CDs and vinyl in favour of foraging for downloadable music, so you might blame my limited range of discs for my choice; but honestly, I don’t think I could have possibly heard anything more surprising than Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full album. An elderly ex-Beatle makes a CD for Starbucks, and instead of cobbling together a lazy cash cow he finally makes his first album in, well, forever, that embraces all of his strengths (brilliantly crafted songwriting and arrangements, brought off with a disarming informality) and almost entirely rejects all his weaknesses (complacency, bombast, second-guessing, ill-judged whimsy).
Music discovery of the year: Zygmunt Krauze, whose piece Folk Music I heard thanks to The Rambler’s fascinating description of Polish “Unism“, a home-grown movement of minimalist art and music that emerged in the 1960s.

Art event of the year: Too much new art that I saw in London looked like high-falutintchotchkes created for investors with at least one eye on the auctions. My personal highlight was a visit to the Groeninge Museum in Brugge and seeing renaissance Flemish masterworks by the likes of Memling, Van Der Goes, and Van Eyck, the same artists I’d just been reading about in The Recognitions. Looking at this art you can understand what Ezra Pound meant when he said that Western culture went wrong somewhere in the 17th century.
Public art event of the year: After a mysterious extension to its intended stay, Mark Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant finally came down from the fourth pedestal in Trafalgar Square. Honestly, it looked like the sort of thing Coldplay would turn out if they were paid to make a sculpture.

(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)

The One Who Was Neither Or Nor (live in Melbourne and/or Brisbane)

Saturday 22 December 2007

I’ve finally gotten around to uploading the recordings from the two live gigs I played in Australia (Melbourne and Brisbane). For the sake of comparison and contrast, they are both available from the one page, along with a description of the piece, laden with tantalising sentences such as:

The three loops are nested, so that the output of the two outer loops may be fed back into the first. The output of the first loop is always heard mixed with and modulated by at least one of the other two loops, the subsequent loops may either be modulated by the others or heard plain.

There are also thumbnail portraits of the experience of playing in a Fitzroy bar late on a Tuesday night:

I began to imagine people checking their watches and, one by one, slinking away in the dark to catch the last tram home.

and of playing in the living room of someone’s house in Brisbane:

It felt very civilised to be able to play a gig while sitting on a couch with my girlfriend…. The amp was a small, battery operated unit which gave the music a slightly muzzy, mellow sound.

The recording quality is OK, but the performances may not be ideally suited to home listening; unless you play it through a small amp while drinking beer and chatting with your mates. Enjoy?

We connect Karlheinz Stockhausen with Ezra Pound

Tuesday 18 December 2007

In 1990, three years after the death of Morton Feldman, I heard on the radio a live broadcast of Roger Woodward playing Feldman’s 90-minute piano piece, Triadic Memories. The performance was preceded by a half-hour discussion between two music critics about whether or not the music to follow was even worth playing.
It seemed that Feldman’s fate had been cast since the 1960s: a footnote, however indelible, to the history of postwar music. He had been the first composer to write in non-conventional, graphic notation, back in the early fifties, and then faded away into apparent neglect, unheard. Towards the end of his life he wrote only pieces of unmanageable length, unbroken spans of music lasting at least an hour, anything up to five hours. It looked like a rejection of the audience, of musical society. (“Unforgivably indulgent” was the main thrust of the critic for the negative on radio that night.)
We all know how foolish it is to try to second-guess posterity: the obituaries for Herman Melville describing him as “a formerly well-known author” who will be best remembered as the writer of Typee is just one of the more famous examples. Today, at least ten different performances of Triadic Memories have been issued on CD. Seven of these are listed on Amazon, among the 120-odd Feldman titles in stock. The available discs are overwhelmingly biased towards those long, long pieces from the last eight years of his life, overshadowing his previous work.
* * *
Posthumous recountings of Stockhausen’s life have invariably treated his 29-hour, seven-opera cycle Licht, a work he concentrated on exclusively from 1978 until its completion in 2002, as little more than a postscript to a long, productive career. Descriptions of the opera cycle range from cursory to derisive (“egomaniacal“, “grandiose”). Given that two of the operas have not yet been fully performed, that live performances even of excerpts have been rare, and that the CDs of it are expensive and tricky to order, it would be interesting to learn just how much, if any, of Licht‘s 29 hours has been heard by each of its critics.
I haven’t heard anything from Licht either, so the last thing I need is a load of hot air about it from a bunch of hacks arguing from ignorance. This situation is starting to look less like a case of critics attacking the work despite not having heard it, and more like a case of attacking the work because they haven’t heard it.
Just a few days ago I was describing to someone Stockhausen’s strange decision to devote 25 years of his life to a single, all-encompassing work, a work misunderstood by its audience (or at least not received in the way expected by the composer), when an earlier example of an artist who took a similar turn in his career path came to mind. No, not Wagner. Ezra Pound.
After 1920, Pound’s poetic output, as far as the literary public were concerned, came to a halt. For a while he gave up poetry to compose, but soon returned to writing. However, in doing so he rededicated himself to his long poem The Cantos, falteringly started some years earlier, deciding to apply himself solely to this one magnum opus, to the exclusion of all other original poetry. Besides translations and a handful of occasional poems, The Cantos was Pound’s only poetry until he abandoned it, unfinished, in the 1960s. With it, he abandoned writing.
Licht and The Cantos are both immensely ambitious works, epic both in both scale and subject matter. In fact, the wide scope of both works allowed their creators to accommodate any of their creative impulses into the structure of their ongoing, all-encompassing projects. Similarly, subsections of each large work may be presented individually (although this is less true for the published instalments of Pound’s Cantos, which are frequently dependent on context, than for the free-standing compositions spun off from Licht).
It is fatuous to compare too closely the material and biographical circumstances of both works, but a general parallel can be drawn. Stockhausen’s dogged commitment to Licht came to be seen by many as yet another manifestation of his increasing eccentricity, of a piece with his Messianic self-image, his polygamy, his claims to interstellar heritage. By the time the wider reading public became aware of The Cantos (more about this later), its subject and style was impossible to separate from Pound’s notoriety as a fascist, an anti-Semite, an incarcerated mental patient with an unanswered treason charge hanging over his head. Pound’s later poetry was analysed less for its literary merit than for signs of his descent into madness. As with Stockhausen, the large, late work was treated as an unfortunate aberration, the anticlimax to a career whose successes all came relatively early.
* * *
Over the past 40 years most Pound scholars have come to accept The Cantos as his masterwork, the centrepiece of his artistic achievement, and treat the earlier poetry as though it were a prelude to his most important writing. Most advocates for Pound’s poetry admit The Cantos is a deeply flawed piece, with many dull passages, inconsistencies, gratuitous obscurantism, and lapses in judgement that are risible or offensive. (The same criticisms have been made of Licht.) Even so, generations of writers and scholars have argued that The Cantos is essential not only to the understanding of Pound, but to 20th century poetry.
The same fate may or may not be true of Licht, but if it is in fact a work of genius, flawed or not, then its future recognition as such will have been greatly hampered, largely by Stockhausen himself – and this is the most important comparison I want to make with Pound. As said before, even interested listeners have found it impossible to hear more than a few, isolated fragments of the whole cycle. Stockhausen withdrew from the conventional musical institutions that had supported him, pursuing his goal of ultimate autonomy, which he achieved at the expense of his accessibility. Pound (who also withdrew from literary society, relocating to the small Italian town of Rapallo) ensured that readers could not easily access his work-in-progress until 16 years after its commencement, preferring to publish instalments in small editions of expensive, hand-printed volumes.
Serious critical attention was not given to The Cantos until the early 1950s, and only then because of the intense controversy that surrounded its author. Since that time, readers and critics have been playing catch-up, forced to argue first for the poem’s importance before its complexities can even be discussed. Debate still simmers over to what extent the poet must be excused or denounced before his poem can be appreciated. Obscurities that may have been explained away by contemporary familiarity have been allowed to languish.
There is no substitute for critical tradition: a continuum of understanding, early commenced. … Precisely because William Blake’s contemporaries did not know what to make of him, we do not know either, though critic after critic appeases our sense of obligation to his genius by reinventing him. … [O]n the other hand, something was immediately made of Ulysses and The Waste Land, and our comfort with both works after 50 years, including our ease at allowing for their age, seems derivable from the fact that they have never been ignored. …
Hence the paradox that an intensely topical poem has become archaic without ever having been contemporary.
— Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, p.415
Licht now faces the same predicament, compounded by the logistical demands of its staging. Thirty years after it was started and five years after its completion, we are still none the wiser as to what it actually is. Without its creator around, we may find ourselves reinventing what the operas actually mean. Perhaps the complete staging of the cycle planned for 2010 will be the true moment that Licht makes it debut in our consciousness.
One final comparison with Pound. Regardless of whatever appreciation, enthusiasm, and goodwill with which Licht may be received in the future, it is unlikely to ever be understood in the way Stockhausen intended.

The New Magic Online Survey 5: Not really number 5 because I missed one or two, but still.

Sunday 16 December 2007

I know I missed at least one survey while I was in Australia, so this was the last update.
For the first sixteen songs it looked like this was shaping up into a perfect list, with no duds at all. It starts masterfully with an unexpected opener in “The Three Bells” (a song, bizarrely, once covered by Tina Arena) before building up to a thrilling climax with the unforgettable Liv Maesson.
Then everything just goes to hell. Hell being an unwelcome appearance on the Magic surveys by the unspeakable B—- J—, followed by the playlist from a British pub on karaoke night. In desperation the surveymakers try to save the ending by raunching things up with “The Stripper” and some Elvis, which is fine with everybody.
So this month’s low point is that hideous Joel/Stewart/Richard/Blues clusterfuck, and thus the high point must be the whiplash transition to “The Stripper”, with honourable mentions to Ms Maesson, The Browns, and the repeat appearance by Burl Ives, caught in the provided audio sample at his most demented.

The Three Bells – The Browns*
Pipeline – The Chantays
My Friend The Sea – Petula Clark*
Stayin‘ In – Bobby Vee*
Cast Your Fate To The Wind – Mel Torme*
Kisses Sweeter Than Wine – Jimmie Rodgers
Softly As I Leave You – Matt Monro*
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight – Burl Ives*
Walkin‘ In The Sunshine – Roger Miller*
Hold Me Tight – Johnny Nash*
Woman – Peter & Gordon*
Baby I Need Your Lovin‘ – Johnny Rivers*
I’m Not In Love – 10cc
Ben – Michael Jackson
If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot
Knock Knock Who’s There – Liv Maesson*
I Still Call Australia Home – Peter Allen
Leave A Tender Moment Alone – Billy Joel
Begin The Beguine – Limelighters
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You – Rod Stewart
Some People – Cliff Richard
Nights In White Satin – Moody Blues
The Stripper – David Rose*
Little Egypt – Elvis Presley
Put Your Head On My Shoulder – Paul Anka

Filler by Proxy LVI: Carlos Santana Shreds!

Friday 14 December 2007

Also, Paco de Lucia plays Eugene Chadbourne.
Found via Why, That’s Delightful!