What’s on top of the pile?

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Michaels Reise (Solisten-Version) (Markus Stockhausen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Simon Stockhausen etc etc)
It’s funny how as Stockhausen’s messianic tendencies became more evident, his music got less hard-nosed and abstruse, more relaxed, even folksy enough at times to drop corny jokes. It would seem that Stockhausen is a benevolent god. Perhaps the music gets a little too comfortable with itself sometimes, but it’s nice to hear old-school modernists mellow out a little.
It’s funnier still how when he’s writing melodies for doubled horns, in irregular rhythms with odd little leaps all over the place, he sounds just like Frank Zappa. Complete with wacky German muttering in the background.
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
Does everyone have this experience? I don’t think I’ve ever stopped this record early, but I can’t remember anything after “Candle”. I’ll have to start this disc at track 10 and see if it exists. I’ve just noticed my ancient CD player is showing “Trilogy” is indexed. That’s so cute.
(More about the pile.)

We connect John Cage with James Bond.

Sunday 20 May 2007

As I’ve mentioned John Cage a couple of times recently, I may as well go on and mention that Silence, a collection of his essays from the late 1930s to 1960, is one of the most useful, entertaining, and best-smelling books I own. In his lecture “Indeterminacy” he tells, in part, how he came to be a composer. Instead of finishing college, Cage left California and went to Paris where, eventually, he ran into one of his former professors.

He gave me literally a swift kick in the pants and then said, “Go tomorrow to Goldfinger. I’ll arrange for you to work with him. He’s a modern architect.” After a month of working with Goldfinger, measuring the dimensions of rooms which he was to modernize, answering the telephone, and drawing Greek columns, I overheard Goldfinger saying, “To be an architect, one must devote one’s life solely to architecture.” I then left him, for, as I explained, there were other things that interested me, music and painting for instance.

When I first read this, and for years after, I knew nothing about this architect other than Cage’s single name-drop, and assumed that the name’s retrospective connection to a James Bond villain was a coincidence. This situation changed soon after I arrived in London.

For several weeks I wondered about the unusual tower building visible throughout much of north west London, until I found that it was written up in my Time Out London guide:

Trellick Tower, built in 1973 by architect Ernő Goldfinger and considered by some to be a hideous eyesore and by others to be a significant piece of modernist architecture. You might wonder about the concordance of Ernő’s name with a James Bond villain? That’s the penalty for irritating Ian Fleming.

Goldfinger left Paris in the mid 1930s and moved to London; most of his designs were built in England. Trellick Tower, on the northern edge of Notting Hill, is his most famous building – or notorious, depending on your point of view.

There are two persistent myths about Goldfinger the architect. One is that he committed suicide by throwing himself off Trellick Tower in a fit of remorse over his creation, and the other, more pervasive one is that Fleming maliciously named his villain after the architect as a rebuke to the latter’s aggressive modernist tastes. Goldfinger had built an avant-garde terrace house in Hampstead as his own residence, allegedly to the displeasure of his more conservative neighbour Fleming.
Nigel Warburton, Goldfinger’s biographer, has debunked this oft-repeated story, showing there is no reason to believe Fleming had any grudge against the architect. Fleming had most likely heard of Goldfinger through a mutual friend and took the name for his own use, as he often had before with other friends, relatives, and acquaintances – to their occasional displeasure.
Fleming’s irritation with the real Goldfinger came after the fact, when the architect sued for defamation. The publishers, unable to deny that use of his name was coincidental, settled out of court, and presented Ernő with six copies of Goldfinger. Fleming’s own suggestion that an errata sheet be inserted in the novel, explaining that the character’s name should be Goldprick, was not taken up.

Trellick Tower has always been a contentious building to Londoners, to a greater or lesser degree over the years. Apart from its brutalist style, by the 1980s it had become one of the more conspicuous failed modernist housing projects, rife with crime and squalour. Living conditions have since improved immensely since the local council invested some money in the site, and employed a concierge as Goldfinger recommended in the first place. The building now has a heritage listing, and has acquired some cachet among the fashionable.
Warburton has collected a number of related articles and book excerpts about Goldfinger, and Trellick Tower in particular. (His book cannily puts the Fleming story at the very beginning, to save journalists the trouble of searching the entire thing.)
Now that I know something about Goldfinger, one aspect of Cage’s story becomes unusual. Goldfinger was only ten years older than Cage, and was in his early thirties when Cage was sent to work for him: why did Professor Pijoan decide he would be a suitable mentor for Cage?

A Proustian Rush

Thursday 17 May 2007

I was going to get a little bit nostalgic about Melbourne and simply point out that the Spill label’s compilation albums of eccentric indie pop from the 1990s are available for download from the Spill website, but I have Number Three playing now and I just remembered that I’ve heard this one before, years ago, lying helplessly drunk on the floor near the end of a very long night at Clare’s house, and so now I’ve gone completely over and incapable of making any reasonable assessment about anything, whether it’s music or just what I’m going to do with myself when I finish typing this. It’s all there, from Clag to Undecisive God.
Link found via No Rock and Roll Fun.

What’s on top of the pile?

Wednesday 16 May 2007

(About the pile.) This is not a representative sample of what I’m listening to right now; it’s just about whatever CDs get to the top of the pile that I can be bothered writing something quick and short about. For one reason or another there are no really new CDs floating around the house. I don’t care to find out, but part of me hopes that the discs that get mentioned are deeply unfashionable right now.
A cheapo compilation of Curtis Mayfield’s Greatest Hits with sleeve notes in French.
It includes the full-length versions of “Move On Up” and “Don’t Worry If There’s A Hell Below”, which is a neat way of displaying integrity when you’re really just filling out the disc. What really fascinates me is that crazy woodblock solo on “Trippin’ Out”.
Autechre, Confield
I should have guessed when I found this one second hand, but after googling a bit it seems the critical consensus is that this is Autechre’s Unlistenable Album. Mind you, the consensus amongst most music critics is also “Boo hoo hoo Radiohead hurt my ears and last night at dinner the gravy and the potatoes were touching and life’s so unfair.”

The generic Eurovision Song Contest 2007 wrapup

Monday 14 May 2007

Eurovision night was spent at home in a faint haze of cabernet sauvignon, stilton, and pseudoephedrine, so this year’s wrapup is a bit on the sketchy side. The code in brackets at the end of each entry denotes the drinking game tally.
The show begins with a warning about flashing images, in case there are any Japanese school children watching and the stage is overrun with Pokémon. Then the slogan “True Fantasy” appears across the screen for no evident reason, so maybe this is going to turn into anime after all.
The male and female presenter couple are present and correct.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Slow start tonight, with several women vamping around in the sort of pale green fog that threatened to irradiate Jon Pertwee on Dr Who. That bloke with the bazouki looks really pissed off with the singer about something. Come to think of it, they all look like they had a tremendous row just before coming on stage. (1: WM)
Spain: Four guys in white denim outfits and two girls pretending to play oversized drums out of time with the music: two classic Eurovision clichés. I can’t believe they don’t complete the set by taking off their jackets. Presumably they forgot, in all the excitement. (3: E?, DKC, WM)
Belarus: Ignore the fat chick at the edge of the stage doing all the singing! Please be distracted by the women in suits sliding back and forth on office partitions doing slow, jerky dance moves copped from Laurie Anderson. Belarus’ designated pretty boy sings about how he’s wheeling something, from the sound of it. (0)
Ireland: Oh dear. Oirish bobbleheads haplessly sway back and forth, clearly at a loss as to how best convincingly mime their instruments. The singer’s intonation and vocal power is uncannily reminiscent of Julie Dawn; she later tries to build some stage presence by ripping off Grandma Boonika’s star drumming turn a couple of years ago. She fails. (2: WM, CR)
Finland: A solid-looking goth diva announces that she’s “gotta go crazy just to stay sane.” Yeah, well I gotta get drunk just to stay sober, so the room decides that goth is as close as anyone dares get to ripping of Lordi tonight, so Finland is deemed guilty of self-plagiarism. Harsh but alcoholic. (2: CRx2)
Five songs in, and both hosts have changed their outfits! (3) This could get dangerous. A bafflingly pointless charade ensues where the two hosts pretend to randomly pull a Eurovision Fan, i.e. a shrill woman in a pink party frock, out of the audience to act as a third host. Ah, Eurovision! Always finding new ways to irritate the crap out of you.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Someone sings a boring ballad under fraught circumstances. Behind, a young man selflessly restrains a feral ballerina who means to knock the singer down and claim the limelight for herself. Meanwhile, three people on stools guard the stage perimeter to keep the Serbs out. (1: E?)
Someone in the audience is waving a Portuguese flag. Ha ha! You blew your money!
Slovenia: Another chunky goth diva! Everyone’s going a bit goth here, but then the filmed segments introducing each song would like you to think that Finland is simply filled with (a) snow and (b) goths. She’s singing that operatic swooping over a techno beat that every hacky sci-fi movie and Malcolm McLaren would have you believe is the Next Big Club Hit. For added effect, she lights up her face with one of those little palm-lights she copped from Laurie Anderson. (2: CR, SR)
Hungary: Another chunky woman – for once, not in a leather bustier – leans on a bus stop sign stolen from Sesame Street and sings the blues in Hungarian. She pats her stomach in a missed attempt to find her heart. Perhaps she’s hungry. I can’t make out the slogan on her tank top: “Thank God I’m —-” Hungarian? Atheist? Dyspeptic? Not French? (0)
Lithuania: You should have guessed by now that a group called 4FUN (a) has not four members but five, and (b) is not fun. As predicted, a moody and mildly depressing ballad, with a hint of Spanish via Bryan Adams. Behind the singer, the rest of the band play in silhouette behind a screen, in a move copped from Laurie Anderson; although this may be to disguise the fact that they’re really the Latvian entrants doubling up. (0)
Someone is the audience is waving a placard saying “Where is Andorra?” No, no, no! It’s supposed to say “Where is Moldova?
Greece: A man in a stripey suit that strobes horribly on TV does the traditional Greek Pat Benatar shimmy with a gaggle of frankly trashy women. He’s singing in English but drops the word “Yassou” in every now and then so you don’t mistake him for Ricky Martin. Considering that he sings the line “Dancing like a Cheeky Girl”, he’s more likely to be mistaken for Lembit Opik MP. At the end they copy that “pulling the ropes out of the singer’s clothes” move pioneered by the Turks a few years ago: either a sign of reconciliation in the east Mediterranean or a declaration of war. (3: E?, CR, SR)
Georgia: A girl in a nice red frock is surrounded by Ninja Cossacks, which is less fun than it sounds. She bellows over a techno track swiped from the free CD that came with the October 1989 issue of Studio Musician Monthly, and then it’s over. (0)
Sweden: It’s a pity Justin Hawkins didn’t get up as the UK entry this year, ‘cos this outdoes him for ironic glam cheese. I think the Swedes have secretly been at war with the British for decades, by remorselessly taking the piss out of every aspect of their popular culture. They’re crap and they’re ugly; in other words, a perfect recreation of a real glam rock band. Still a bit gothy, though. At last, the first Bucks Fizz move of the night! (1: BF)
Half Time: After their shock quarter-time wardrobe change, the hosts keep us guessing by wearing the same clothes! Outside the hall, the Eurovision Fan goes to the trouble of finding some more Eurovision fans, only to laboriously explain to us why she’s not allowed to interview them, thus answering a question no-one watching had asked. Still, that ate up a minute of commercial airtime.
France: Five television comedians who have obviously never worked together before frantically try to steal the limelight from each other in the mistaken belief that one of them will get voted out of the band at the end of the show. Was there some English in this song? I think so. It didn’t help. (1: E?)
Latvia: They sing in Italian, just to confuse us, and to secure the vote from the Italians, who neither compete in nor watch Eurovision. Five blokes in jeans, dinner jackets and top hats wander in like junior execuitves turning up at the office on Il Divo Friday. They clutch roses, they sing, they go away. (1: DKC)
Russia: Three Manezh Mall Rats form a Chrissie Amphlett fanclub and sing a song about being Manezh Mall Rats. Their two fat friends from school are allowed to join the club too, but they have to stand up the back. Also hiding up the back is a guy pretending to play guitar, who is really there to beat up anyone who eyes up his bitches too much. (0)
Germany: At last, a proper white suit. It’s a swing number, and everyone tries to look cool instead of dementedly happy: see what we mean? Once again the Germans have found an excuse to put a double-bass on stage, but unlike last year this one is a civilian. The word “ROGER” appears in lights behind the stage, which at first glance I mistake for an audience cue. Oh, those Scandanavians! (2: E?, WS)
Serbia: Every lesbian’s ex-girlfriend from hell comes on to sing the slow, tuneless ballad known from Aragon to Arkhangelsk as the Toilet Break Song (future me: whoa, did I get this one wrong!), and she has a posse of Ruritanian ambassadors from Planet Zsa Zsa to join her in some pinpoint choreography consisting of standing together and staring at the floor really hard. For the climactic key-change her passion moves her to remove her glasses. At the end, She and one of her dead-eyed minions do this creepy loveheart hand gesture – yeah, just like your sociopathic ex. (2: BF, DKC)
Ukraine: Campy blokes in Alfoil and granny glasses recreate a gay fascist disco cabaret in your living room for three minutes. They sing in German, which makes no sense whatsoever until you remember that the Germans used to do this kind of self-consciously zany stuff at Eurovision all the time up until about, oh, five years ago. They run around on stage and smack each others’ bottoms – this is so German. I thought Operation Barbarossa failed. (2: E? DKC)
The hosts reappear to confuse and enrage us by wearing the same clothes!
United Kingdom: It’s a pity Justin Hawkins didn’t get up as the UK entry this year, ‘cos this is even worse. Hah! The Ukrainians just outgayed you, UK. And they did a better Benny Hill schtick. And their English made more sense. Dressing up as fabulous air stewards and miming the in-cabin safety procedures may add a rare note of educational value to the show, but it’s probably not a good idea to remind viewers mid-song (a) that they can leave any time they wish, and (b) of the futility of resisting inevitable, violent death in a fiery plane wreck. It isn’t really Bucks Fizz in that bottle they’re waving around, it’s Eau de Desperation. (3: CRx2, BF (bottled))
Romania: Now there’s some wandering minstrelsy! In a misguided attempt to ingratiate themselves with voters, five blokes aimlessly fanny around on stage, bumping into each other and singing each line of the song in a different language. Unfortunately, they get carried away and sing in French too, blowing their chances of winning. (2: WM, E?)
Bulgaria: Yeah, drumming, that’s different! Everyone thinks this is finally going to be the year no-one else will go for the drumming and so their act will stand out. A flat (in both senses) chick goes for the goth looks but wears the wrong type of trousers. They try to get some tribal thing going, which is impossible when there’s only two of you. (1: CR)
Turkey: Year after year, Turkey has reliably sent us some hot chick to ogle; this year we now know why they’ve never sent guys. This man has the apperance, as he has the clothes, of some one who hangs around the front of hotels in Istanbul in the hope a tourist mistakes him for an employee. Apparently the backup belly dancers are British, which explains why they’re (a) not so hot and (b) have no bellies to dance with. A failure on every level, but it’ll get them through to next year’s finals thanks to the gastarbeiter vote. (1: FC)
Armenia: A mess of people in different outfits who had trouble translating the “come dressed as a goth” memo. Either a Turkish fan threw a ripe mulberry at the singer or he’s got a squib under the his ruffled shirt, because during the second chorus a dark red stain spreads across his collarbone in a missed attempt to find his heart. Is there some Eurovision rule against anatomically correct singing gestures? First the great Alf Poier crotch-grab fiasco of 2003 (which cost him the prize, I reckon), now this. (1: DKC)
Moldova: Every girl in Europe wants to be Amy Lee. Look, this one’s already sacked her band! Her crack team of wannabe goth divettes hurl scarves, for all the good that’ll do them. (2: E?, DKC)
The voting: The hosts are still wearing the same outfits when they announce the voting, but she’s changed her hairstyle (1). The voting session is officially started by Finland’s biggest celebrity: a goth! No, just kidding: Santa Claus. At least he does a better job of things than Nana Mouskouri.
At last, after the voting has finished, the presenters change their clothes again (3). “Things are getting very exciting!” they shout. They’re wrong. The Serbian Toilet Break Song wins and I still can’t remember anything about it. Everyone grumbles about bloc voting by the Balkans and former Soviet states, but France, the UK, and Ireland came last, which is only fair considering they were the worst of the lot. The only real surprise is that Malta gives 12 points to that dire British effort, but that may have been a tactical “fuck you” to the Eastern bloc for dumping them out of the semifinals on Thursday. Good night.

Fly home daughter, cover your ears: Eurovision, the Movie!

Sunday 13 May 2007

The Eurovision Song Contest wrap-up will appear tomorrow. In the meantime, please enjoy the following announcements from the Eurovision website:

There were two new announcements which were made today were that the European Broadcasting Union, the first of which was that it has signed a contract with a feature film company, who produced amongst other things Notting Hill and Love Actually. They will make a feature film with a comedy hint all about the Eurovision Song Contest, and will hopefully be in cinemas in 2008.

The second announcement is that negotiations are underway for a Eurovision Song Contest musical inspired and including the songs from the past 52 years of the contest. This follows on from the success of Mamma Mia. This again is hopefully going to happen in 2008.

Aha ha ha ha aha ha ha AAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!

The Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game, 2007 Edition

Thursday 10 May 2007

Previously posted editions of the Eurovision Song Contest Drinking Game are now superseded by this, hopefully more user-friendly, edition for the 2007 contest.

Phase One: The Performances
A. Every instance within a song:
The Dramatic Key Change. Whenever the singers dramatically change key during the final chorus.
The Buck’s 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.
The TaTu. Finish your drink if the audience boos (on telly, not in the living room.) Hopefully this year we won’t be rendered near unconscious by an audience that was incredibly up themselves – we’re considering renaming this one ‘The Greeks”.
B. Once per song only:
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.
The Fine Cotton. Any appearance by mercenary singers flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.
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 the Fine Cotton.
The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance, which, considering last year’s winners, could be quite amusing if anyone attempts it this time. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.
The Wandering 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. I got this point completely the wrong way round when explaining it last year, but the essential point is the same: take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument (or simulacrum thereof) as part of the choreography. A second drink is permitted if a subsequent, different wave of faux-minstrely rises after the first has subsided.
Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. Judging from recent years this one is being phased out in favour of…
Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.
My Lovely Horse. Any obvious indication that a country is deliberately trying to lose, to avoid budgetary/logistical problems of hosting the event next year.
The San Remo. Any occurence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for an unshaved armpit.
The White Suit. Self-explanatory.

Phase Two: The Voting
The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits.
The Gimme. When Greece gives twelve points to Cyprus.
The Old Europe. When the UK gets null points from France.
The New Europe. When the Baltic states all vote for each other.
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 to any country left with zero points at the end.
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.
SOBER PLAYERS ONLY: The voting now moves along too quickly for most people to keep up with the following by this stage of the evening, but you can try.
The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to shut the fuck up (“Can we have your votes please?”). Two drinks if the announcer tries to deliver a personal message to a relative watching at home.
The Sandra Sully. Each time an announcer fucks up the voting results. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.
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.
The Master of Suspense. It looks like everyone got the memo, so this rarely happens now: each time an announcer fails to understand that the pause for suspense only works if they announce the twelve points and then the country that has won them – not the other way around.

The wildcards
A person must finish their drink if they ask: (a) why Israel is in it; (b) why Italy isn’t in it; or (c) where the hell is Moldova?
A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.
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.

Countdown to Eurovision 2007: Meet the Losers

Tuesday 8 May 2007

I’d spent the past few days sick at home, watching the foxes in the back yard and reminding myself that they’re meant to be there, when someone asked what I planned to do for Eurovision this year. I’d forgotten that it’s on next Saturday, so it looks like it’ll be a quiet one at home. Originally I had planned to be at the event in person this year, but then Finland went and won the thing so that Eurovision 2007 is being hosted in one of the few cities even more cripplingly expensive than London.
Before the contest even begins, Portugal can celebrate being the country with the longest odds on winning for two years running. (Is this a case of My Lovely Horse?) After threatening that they WERE GONNA MAKE US SMILE last year, this year their singer, distinctively named Sabrina, is offering more of a soft sell:

Come dance with me
Through the waves of adventure
And I promise I’ll give you
Oceans of tenderness
The wind told me
You will always be my partner

That’s tantamount to an offer to polish your hooves every day.
Portugal probably won’t make the final, where the lowest-rated country with guaranteed entry is Lithuania. These were the guys who turned up last year with an act consisting of six blokes in suits yelling “We are the winners of Eurovision so vote for us” for three minutes, and blow me down it almost worked. Unfortunately success has gone to their heads and they’re now going for an earnest, mopey, Ireland style of what I presume is a ballad.

Words lose their sense
when I feel you near
when I touch your hands
I’m trying not to think
that at break of dawn
You’ll be gone and I’ll be lost, numb and all alone

According to the Eurovision website the band’s named 4FUN, which I think is a typo of 4MUM.
The UK has an excellent chance of nul points this year, thanks to the voters of Britain selecting a Stock, Aitken and Waterman reject act that is basically (hello Australian readers) the airline stewards sketch from Fast Forward, only even gayer. Also, they wave Union Jacks around at the end, because the rest of Europe finds the British so endearing. It’s like the French having a song with a second verse about correcting the hosts’ pronunciation, and then complaining afterward that it didn’t get many votes. In fact, that may have happened sometime in the 1980s.
Coming later this week: the Eurovision Drinking Game, substantially revised to take into account the new vote-counting method and last year’s near-hospitalisation for alcohol poisoning.
An almost complete review of last year’s event can be accessed from here.

What’s on top of the pile?

Saturday 5 May 2007

Although the books are pretty much sorted out, all my CDs are still sitting around the house in unsorted piles and boxes. Even when I did have shelf space for the discs there was always a certain amount of overspill, which accumulated in a small stack near the CD player. Anything that got played would linger on this pile for a week or so, as its place on the shelf had been taken up by another CD previously on the pile, and so would have to wait before it could be returned from pile to shelf until another vacancy opened up, when a third CD was transferred from shelf to pile. A similar pile has established itself beside the CD player on my desk.

Glenn Branca, The World Upside Down (New York Chamber Sinfonia, Glen Cortese)
Found years ago in the ten bucks or less bin at Gaslight Music, which I just googled and found out it went bust a few months after I left Melbourne. Much in the same way that you can’t play rock on a trumpet, if you take away the dozens of retuned electric guitars from Branca‘s music and replace them with a string orchestra, it sounds much less like Sonic Youth and much more like John Adams.

Ed Kuepper, Honey Steel’s Gold
Half price off mid price at JB. Apparently, if you overhear this album from the next room it sounds like Talking Heads: whether it’s Remain in Light Talking Heads or True Stories Talking Heads is yet to be clarified by my girlfriend.

Filler by Proxy L: Special Commemorative Edition ($250 unframed, $350 framed)

Monday 30 April 2007

First, a piece of self-generated filler: I was testing for dead links and discovered that Haiku Review has finally published the Richard Tipping review they asked me for about three years ago, and which I submitted to them about two years ago:

Les techniques sont semblables à ceux employées par des «pirates de l’air de médias» et autre activistes, qui ont puisqu’alternativement coopté et reassimilated par industrie de publicité. Quant à la bureaucratie, travaux tels que retentir le silence être maladroit dans leur monumentality et leur contenu didactique, définissant un message édifiant que n’importe quel bureaucrate ou conseil à l’âme noble pourrait approuver.

It’s also available in Dutch, Korean, Portugese, and English, among other languages.

All Kinds of Stuff
John Kricfalusi regularly updates his blog with lots of strongly held opinions about cartoons: in particular, the aspects of art, design, writing and acting that go into them, and the way that corporate economics can screw them up. His last posts have been observing the decline of cereal box artwork, and the difference between acting and dialogue performed by a real person, and performed by a cartoon:

I had just read the script for “Disco Droopy” and someone tipped me off on where the scriptwriter was hiding out…. I chased him down and began to deliver God’s justice upon him… reality sunk in slowly; it produced a last rebellious and futile spasmic outcry. This is what artists face every day of their lives in the terrible icy world of animation scripts.

The real surprise in this post is his brief reference at the end to the extensive restoration work recently done on Ren and Stimpy, salvaging scenes from an old VHS tape. They had to restore Ren and Stimpy. What has the world come to?

Music Stuff

Composer Daniel Wolf has been posting frequently on Renewable Music about the ways that music seeps into other parts of life, including a recent series on Music Landmarks (see the sidebar), a bit like The Rambler’s Music Since 1960 series.
Finally, WFMU has video of John Cage performing his Water Walk, complete with bathtub, pressure cooker, blender and watering can (but not working radios) on the American TV game show I’ve Got A Secret, in 1960. The previous year, Cage had performed his music on the Italian quiz show Lascia o Raddoppia, where as a contestant he won enough money to buy a minivan for Merce Cunningham’s dance company. Has any composer beaten Cage’s record for TV game show appearances?
In case you hadn’t guessed from the description, the video is a great bit of fun.

Seriously Comma

Thursday 26 April 2007

Value judgements are not in the nature of this work as regards either composition, performance, or listening…. A “mistake” is beside the point, for once anything happens it authentically is.
John Cage, “Composition” (1952), Silence, p.59.
John Cage, cover page for manuscript of 27’10.554″ for a Percussionist (1956).

Satyagraha and living with contradictions

Tuesday 24 April 2007

In the foyer of the Coliseum at the intervals of Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha, I heard people making the same Glass jokes that I heard at the first ever Glass concert I went to – good god! – twenty-one years ago. And people complain that his music’s repetitive.

Everyone who discusses Satyagraha mentions how long it is, as though a three-act, three-hour opera is somehow unusual.

When Satyagraha was new (to me and to the world) it revealed a dramatic and emotional depth to Glass’ musical language that had previously been implicit, or repressed. Today it is heard in retrospect, after his decades of movie soundtracks and symphonies, and people find it curiously empty, flat, and static.

Or else they find it infuriating. “Works like these can have much the same effect as mind-numbing drugs, which is no doubt why they proved so popular at the time.” The same criticism was made when Satyagraha was new, by 80s yuppies looking back at the flower-power era with disdain. The major works by first-generation minimalists have long been derided as out-of-date, irrelevant. Strangely, this just makes these pieces seem even more radical to music audiences today.

The more action there was on stage, the less interesting the music became. The stage directors were smart enough to make the stage less busy as the opera progressed. If you didn’t know already, you should have learned during the evening that the music didn’t need visual distractions to work as a theatrical experience.

What was that crocodile doing on stage? If it was just to get a few chuckles from the audience, then it was a success.

Were the texts projected on the stage successful in providing just enough context to better appreciate the opera, or were they treating us like high school kids in need of a crib sheet? I think the literalness of some of the texts (numbering off the scenes, for example) demystified the opera, and so worked against it.

Why did the wind players enter the orchestra pit gradually, as needed, during the third act? Is the audience meant to notice this?

It was wonderful to hear a live performance of one of Glass’ relatively few orchestral works worth hearing. As always there were advantages (Alan Oke’s singing in the lead role, the chorus’ performance after the first scene, watching how well the orchestra kept up such an unfamiliar musical style) and disadvantages (a couple of weak singers, the conductor’s occasional habit of broadening the tempo at dramatic moments, which kills the momentum of Glass’ music) to hearing it live versus a recording.

Some of the time it felt like the singers were all a little too polite in keeping out of each other’s way. Would a full-on La Scala type display of bravura give us a richer operatic experience of the work, or would it pull this type of music to shreds?

Is a recording of a modern opera an idealised performance? Glass certainly intended his recording of Satyagraha to be a distinctive, “perfectly” performed musical experience in its own right. Instead of documenting an ensemble performance, it was a studio creation: the singers and orchestral sections recorded part by part, overdubbed, edited and mixed. No-one had tried to record an opera this way before; presumably very few, if any, have tried this method since.

Satyagraha was recorded in the mid-1980s. Most people discussing the album these days say the sound, like that of many other products of then-new recording technology, is dreadful. I loved this LP, but haven’t listened it to years for fear that hearing it with 21st century ears will ruin it for me. The memories of the album kept coming back throughout the performance at the Coliseum: the two will coexist in my head until someone tries to make a new, more conventional recording.

The day after seeing Satyagraha I didn’t think about it at all; but since then bits of it, from every scene, having been popping into my head. Mostly the music, with the staging as a semi-subliminal accompaniment.

He Comes Back from a New Music Gig Feeling Disgruntled!

Monday 23 April 2007

I have come to realise that, along with “Disco Polka” and “Contemporary Christian”, the most contemptible pairing of words in the world of music is “Spatialised Electroacoustic“.
After going to gigs like this for years I realise it’s all the same. The same shiny crunchy timbre of over-processed sound, the same repeating regularity in the loops, the same reverb in the mix, the same mystification of the source material, the same ethrallment at reproducing a surface effect for its own sake, with no thought or mood to support it, the same lack of compositional shape, the same self-contained complacency in its aesthetic goals. It’s all déjà-entendu, without the spark of individuality present in any composer’s work to distinguish one example of the genre from another.
The technology reached a level of sophistication and accessibility in the 1990s that almost nobody has been able to transcend. Everyone is so beholden to the great, potential capabilities of the software that no-one working with it for long can resist altering their creative processes in a way that better accommodates that technological potential, at the expense of their true creativity.
(A visual example: try to find a scene of CGI landscape in a film that doesn’t have some birds flying over and through it.)
This is partly a problem of composers conceiving the music as being defined by its technical apparatus. There’s good contemporary, christian music out there, but it doesn’t describe itself as Contemporary Christian. Now that electroacoustic music is ten-a-penny, spatialisation is the new incursion of ossified academicism: there’s infrastructure and funding needed to support that, with the attendant accumulation of material resources to legitimise cultural authority that the music cannot substantiate on its own.

More Uigedail!

This Is It! This is the New Music! Again. More Stained Melodies

Monday 2 April 2007

I’ve finally gotten around to uploading some more mp3s of my music. Everything I’ve been working on lately is pretty long, so here are some shorter pieces written over the past few years that I can still stand to listen to.
The two new additions are from a series of 24 piano pieces called Stained Melodies. The material for Stained Melodies was selected through the use of chance operations on a large array of MIDI keyboard works freely available on the internet. Rather than make a conventional collage, these pieces take only one kind of pitch from each selected work, all of which are then played back simultaneously. In effect, each melody is a collaboration between numerous ghost pianists, none of whom can hear each other; the majority of their music erased. A more detailed explanation is on the download page.
This set of pieces is quite likely impossible for a human pianist to play. To put it beyond any doubt, several additional adjustments were made to take advantage of a computer realization. Dynamics change abruptly from one note to the next, and the sustain pedal only works for the least occurring notes in each piece. Finally, the tuning was modified so that the piano retunes itself in each piece to suit the harmonic qualities of the most frequently occurring note.
At the moment, only Nos. 2, 12, and 18 are available for download: they’re about 3MB each. Two other, later works are available on the main music page. Comments are welcome and may be concise as, but not necessarily limited to:

Filler By Proxy XLVIII: The Right Kind of Pain

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Mark Greif in the London Review of Books sums up the inadequacy of most popular music criticism when it comes to addressing the genre’s unique qualities, and its unique illusions:

This sort of writing fails the reality of pop: its special alchemy of lyrics that look like junk on the page, and music that seems underdeveloped when transcribed to a musical staff. Then there is the curse of arid musicology; and of Rolling Stone-ism, the gonzo rock journalist who thinks he is a rock star. Perhaps worst of all, there is the curse of the rhetoric of social action and ‘revolution’, a faith-based illusion that pop songs clearly manifest social history, or an exaggerated sense of what pop achieves in the world. In truth, most critics aren’t verbally equipped to describe any band’s vivid effects on its main audience: the listener at home, alone in his room.

You could argue against that last point, but the reality of recording as pop music’s medium (and rock’s, if you are particular about these distinctions) is inescapable in Grief’s review of Richard Witts’ book on The Velvet Underground. Combined, the two writers reveal the band as something quite different from the quasi-mythical beast it has become in popular imagination, and discover the band’s secret twin on the other side of the continent…

Also: The Velvet Underground, as Doug Yule saw it.