Psychology: Never Again

Wednesday 14 December 2005

While procrastinating over finishing a longer article, I’ve been clearing through some unfinished posts from last year. First, this gem from 10 October 2004:

And anyone who drones on to me about how they’re going to leave the country better be prepared to meet my wager of $100 that they will still be here a year later.

I owe myself $100.
However, I’m not totally useless at prognostication. Also from October last year:
I forsee that this blog will perpetually be caught in a boom-bust cycle of updates.

Finally, here are a couple of pictures from an unfinished third instalment reviewing the contents of the Yooralla Box. First, a closeup of the front cover of the LP Judy Garland on the Radio, showing Judy’s scary Ellen-Foley-cocaine-black-hole nostrils to full effect.

Next, a prize photo of Barry Crocker’s crotch, from his fine LP No Regrets. Note the white jacket, belt buckle, and the two guys in the background doing the “Allen Ginsberg in Subterranean Homesick Blues” schtick. I particularly like the scuffing on the cover around Bazza’s trouser area – one passionate owner.

More intriguing: maybe it’s the magic of long-lost 1970s trouser technology, but Barry does not appear to be a man who has much use for the golden section:


No wonder he looks pensive, but, non, il ne regrette rien.

Filler by Proxy XXVII: Welcome to the 21st Century; I challenge you to a loins-off.

Saturday 10 December 2005


Still waiting on that personal jetpack for the commute to and from my perspex geodesic dome, but in the meantime we can give sullen, grudgeful thanks for the few, glistening gems of Future Shock that are tossed our way. First, coloured bubbles! I cannot understand why I am so excited about this. It’s like cold fusion turned out to be real, only more fun.
Second, Neil Diamond has a MySpace page. Anyone unwilling to at least cut this guy an inch of slack has a heart of stone. The fine blog Heart on a Stick has collected the best of the many, many accolades the man has received in his short stay on the website, and in doing so has taken the pulse of a modern, media-savvy society when common toilers such as you and I are suddenly confronted by the presence of a genuine, undeniable star. WARNING: it’s a bit bandwidth-intensive, but worth the effort.

For One Week Only: String Quartet No.2 – Canon in Beta

Wednesday 30 November 2005

Update: the piece is now permanently available for download at Cooky La Moo.
It’s short, it’s austere, it’s a strict canon, it’s about 6 Meg and available for download for one week only. The piece was made out of an unfulfilled wish to hear Phill Niblock’s music – despite having heard about it for over ten years I’d never actually managed to hear any of it – so I created an ersatz composition based on descriptions of the original. I knew it typically involved someone playing one note for a long time, over and over again, and then overdubbing all the renditions of said note, resulting in -?- : a mysterious product of all the previously imperceptible fluctuations of intonation from one idealised pitch.
The piece started as a sample of homogenous sound fed through a (virtual) tape delay system, using small variations in filtering to produce gradually shifting overtones on a steady harmonic base. It was long, capricious, and sometimes very loud. Then its nature shifted to a prolonged, almost inaudible performance piece, requiring great concentration and self-control to make a few gestures with little immediately-noticeable effect. Over several incarnations the piece became more and more restrained until it was reduced to this 5-minute composition, a fixed object for contemplation, stripped of added harmonic complexity and overwhelming volume.
This isn’t one note, but it is a single chord played by 240 string quartets with a remarkably uniform sense of intonation, each playing in a very rapidly articulated canon in unison, and each able to expertly imitate the slightest change of nuance in tone colour of its predecessor.
Totally download that thing now!
It’s ideally heard at a modest level, where you only notice the changes if you concentrate. Or if you prefer, set it on repeat, crank it up and switch the telly to a report on Third World child labour for the full faux-Niblock concert experience in your own home.
Made with Ross Bencina’s excellent program AudioMulch.

Filler by Proxy XXVI: Terry Riley Variations

Tuesday 29 November 2005


Opus 8 No.2 by Tom Phillips, 1968. First performed by Phillips and John Tilbury as music to accompany a student film, Wolverhampton 1969. Try performing it for yourself on your next bus journey.
I have been listening to a couple of Riley’s film soundtracks downloaded from UbuWeb, but they don’t seem to be available anymore. Pity: I’m getting to quite enjoy them now, having got past the hippie encrustations of titles like “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector”. There’s an insistent drive and clarity of purpose throughout his music, when everything about his manner of presentation leads you to expect New Age gruel or Dead-like indulgent noodling.
Then I looked at his website. Jesus, what a hippie! My keyboard still stinks of patchouli, even after flushing the browser cache. Honestly, it sounds better than it looks.

Filler Frenzy!

Wednesday 23 November 2005

I’ve spent the last week in a virus-bedecked half-dream room, so nothing coherent or original is getting written these days. It’s also cold at last, frost and fog and subzero temperatures just like the travel brochures promised. I sat indoors cursing that I didn’t have the foresight to pack a coat in my luggage, instead of waiting for my crates of chattels to arrive by sea, until last night when I actually bothered to look in the back of my clothes cupboard and found that I had in fact packed one after all.
You can tell I’m sick because I didn’t bother trying to make that story more interesting (i.e. make up something completely different). On the positive side, it means I do have a coat. On the negative, I now have the flu, which renders me generally unpleasant and uncommunicative.
So tonight I’m going to do something that blogs were originally meant to do: link to other sites for content. Of course, these days this means linking to other people’s blogs.

Peak Melody
“Every society throughout history and throughout the world has made and enjoyed music! But we, now, here, in the west are unique… in our hunger for ever more, new music. Music surrounds us: in our houses, blasting out of radios, CD players, computers. It wakes us up, and it sends us to sleep. Outside we pump music into our ears through up-to-the-minute mobile phones and MP3-players… We hear it in our supermarkets, and we sing it in our churches and in our karaoke bars. Rock anthems in pubs, and recorder-concerts in schools. We chant it at our football matches, hum along to it in our cars, and dance to it in our nightclubs. There is no getting away from music. Our lives are musical lives, and our world is a musical world. Musical. Music.”
So wrote the philosopher Jacob Applebloom in his suicide note.

All genres of music (excluding the extreme avant-garde) are struggling to come to terms with the impending melody-crisis,” writes Larry in his comprehensive and brilliant analysis of the need for radical musical conservation in the early 21st century. Never mind that his blog is called Tampon Teabag. If you want the full blogrolling experience, this was found linked through On an Overgrown Path.


A Concise History of Western Music
Courtesy of The Fredösphere, with one small correction:

Messiaen: If you’re not sure, it probably sucks.

Also, Drew’s First Piece. Agreed. Hats off! Found via The Rest is Noise.


Smart Music
Something I’ve been meaning to link to for ages: An investigation into the cognitive effects of exposure to fine violin music.
An experimental outline was devised using the Spiers – Rotluff test to qualitatively evaluate the `before/after’ responses to musical stimuli. Subjects were exposed to a range of literature… and a variety of promotional material for local concert events. They were questioned about their general music knowledge… It was intended that subjects be divided into a control group of professional practitioners, and an experimental group of interested amateurs as described below.
However, certain difficulties in formulating the control group soon became apparent, and indeed aspects of the study’s design needed attention in order to accommodate the experimental group. Firstly, it was impossible to find a conductor who would consent to take part in the study, most maintaining they `wouldn’t be seen dead’ in the company of the other subjects. We therefore decided to replace the conductor with an old poodle named Von K . On the surface this may seem, to the uninformed reader, a curious step to take. However, we point out that the dog performed well in a simple verbal test in which he consistently identified the music of Bach, although he was less successful with other composers. (In this respect he was ranked equally with the music critic, who professed to being partial to fine music and “…may not know much about Hollywood musicals, but I know what I like.”)
Secondly, despite the best of our efforts it was impossible to find a professional composer to take part in this study. Most of the potential subjects we contacted who professed some understanding of music composition were either university lecturers or employed by a “secret government agency“. The criterion of professionalism could not be met, and it was decided after much deliberation (and certain cost considerations) to replace the composer with a standard laboratory rat.
Another set of difficulties was encountered with the experimental group. Not one opera subscriber would consent to participate unless we included Gilbert and Sullivan selections in the experiment. Likewise, the critic refused to join unless we could promise the music was of the highest calibre, played by a world-class orchestra. Perhaps only our European readers will understand the impossibility of reconciling these two demands. In contrast the arts bureaucrat seemed to have no personal views whatever, and in fact would only respond after being extensively lobbied by the laboratory staff.
Reprinted thanks to The Rosenberg Archive, a treasure trove of one of the most important musical families of the last century.

Filler by Proxy XXIII: Lyric Suite

Thursday 3 November 2005

Can’t remember how I was pointed to this, but never mind: What major work of Alban Berg are you?
It may have been via Tears of a Clownsilly, which should at least be mentioned for managing to work Harrison Birtwistle and bukkake into a single paragraph.
I feel a little queasy after typing that last sentence. Fresh content on the weekend: something about Barcelona or Hackney.

Classical music sucks: just ask the people paid to promote it

Sunday 30 October 2005

Greg Sandow’s blog often discusses the problems of promoting classical music to a wider audience, and every now and then produces a particularly bad (or, less frequently, good) example. Just now he cites the San Francisco Symphony’s publicity for a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.13, a setting of Yevtushenko’s ‘Babi Yar’, a poem concerning the slaughter of millions of Jews during the Second World War, poverty and starvation, and the spectre of the resurgence of Stalinism. The SF Symphony’s marketing director plugged it as the musical equivalent of a date flick. In a previous post he says:

This is yet another way in which classical music is drained of all meaning. Who cares what Shostakovich really is? It’s classical music! It’s a celebration! It’s big, grand, and colorful! Can anyone imagine talking about any other serious art this way?

Coincidentally, I just happened to visit the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Classic FM radio website, and found that they still apparently do their own marketing:

See? Classical music doesn’t suck so hard if you don’t listen to it too closely! It can inspire you to accomplish menial chores! Note also the non-ironic use of the word ‘joyful’ outside of an Xmas context for the first time in 40 years. Shostakovich would be proud to know that his terrors and deprivations weren’t suffered in vain.

Enough with the Xenakis already!

Saturday 29 October 2005

The final night of the Xenakis gigs, with the London Sinfonietta. The Rambler left some remarks about this night in a comment, either on his blog or mine – I forget. Let’s get through this quick.

Waarg: Way to dampen the crowd’s enthusiam, opening with this stodge – yes, one of those flaky pieces from the mid-1980s I mentioned previously. The Rambler thinks the ensemble may have been off-form, but I assumed their wonky playing was intentional, having heard a recording of Épéi, another of X’s queasy, wheezy ensemble works. Épéi, however, had a particular kind of pig-headed authority, whereas Waarg sounded much flabbier. In fact, I didn’t mind this piece as much when hearing it as I did in retrospect: it had a kind of lyrical, relaxed attitude that made a nice change of pace from the rest of the music heard over the weekend. Still, it was a heavy, thudding kind of lyricism. And it was still flabby.

A L’Île de Gorée: Wow, this was bad! The Rambler liked the harpsichord playing – which was technically admirable and almost thrilling, except it was at the service of a shoddy and inept composition. The idea of Xenakis writing something for harpsichord sounds like some music insider’s idea of a joke, but he wrote at least four substantial pieces featuring the instrument. Unfortunately they all sound pretty much as you might expect, with lots of frantic banging away on the keyboard vindicating Sir Thomas Beecham’s likening of the modern instrument’s sound to that of skeletons copulating on a tin roof.

There was lots of give-and-take between the soloist and the ensemble, as you’d expect when X’s typical dynamics ensure that the harpsichord would be drowned out. The whole thing was so stop-start and felt so poorly constructed that you just wanted it to end. The piece was dedicated “to the black Africans… the heroes and victims of apartheid in South Africa” (Thanks Iannis, just what we wanted!). The motivation behind Nuits substantiated its significance, this dedication sought to create significance. It was the sort of claim to relevance that gives European intellectualism a bad name. Written in the mid 1908s? Absolutely.

Jalons: This was another mid-1980s piece but much better, with a spiky severity that held your attention throughout in a way the preceding pieces did not. It was written for Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain and it’s easy to imagine Boulez hovering over X’s shoulder the whole time he was writing it muttering “act like a professional for once in your life, dammit” – in some respects this piece sounds as close to anything his contemporaries may have written as you could hope for. The program notes use the supremely baffling term “polar centre.”

ST 10-1,080262: Known as just plain ol’ ST/10 to its friends. Written in the late 50s and early 60s, this piece always gets kudos for being one of the first works written with the assistance of a computer. A computer program handled the calculation of dozens of probabilities concerning musical densities, curves, pointilistic textures and structures. The result is a hyperkinetic whirlwind of fragments from what sounds like a dozen or so wild compositions thrown into a blender. The combinations and successions of sounds have a perverse kind of objective logic to them, and yet they are combined in ways that would never have previously occurred to a composer. Not to be confused with ST 4-1,080262, a string quartet written at the same time, and either used the same program results as ST/10, or one is an arrangement of the other. Several passages were awfully similar, but the program notes didn’t elucidate.

Akanthos: It’s harder to write about pieces you don’t mind. A work from the late 1970s for soprano (wordless) and ensemble, I heard a recording of this and found it shrill and overbearing. I liked this performance, even thought it was because the singing wasn’t as strong as it could be ideally and so would get swallowed up by the other musicians from time to time (the soprano must sing without vibrato, which can make projecting the voice a tough ask.)

Eonta: Now this is how you finish a concert! Piano playing of impossible ferocity (again, a computer was used to help determine the torrents of thousands of notes) and a brass quintet playing into the piano’s open soundboard. Except at first they’re lined up along the back wall of the stage, playing first into the floor, then up into the air, then over to the piano, and then wandering (carefully!) around the stage, playing long, dense chords over the piano’s rampage. Finally, they get chair facing off opposite the piano for some diabolically intertwined sliding tones, before a final crossing of the floor and face-off with the resonant insides of the piano. This piece had everything to please the punters: keyboard pyrotechnics, theatre, wacky stunts, a real spatialisation of sound that Alax couldn’t provide, and a dramatic pause right near the end the caused some overexcited punters to start clapping too early. Haven’t heard that happen for ages! Wildly enthusiastic applause from just about everybody, including those who were sheepishly fleeing for the exits; not because they didn’t like it that much, but because years of exposure to British public transport turns you into a twat.

Theatrical highlights: Harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka’s red afro, sequinned vest and facial expression that suggested she was under strict medical instructions not to smile, presumably from a very expensive Swiss doctor at the Ponds Institute with a beard and white laboratory coat. And her habit of dumping each page of the score onto the floor when she was done with it.

Overheard gossip in the foyer: None whatsoever. For the whole weekend.

Boring Like a Drill Cultural Beer Exchange: Someone shouted me so I didn’t get the price, but if you get it in a plastic cup the Royal Festival Hall lets you take it into the auditorium just like it’s the band room at the Corner Hotel, although I doubt this is to minimise harm if you get into a stoush with the band and/or your fellow audience members. Or is it?

Readers’ notes: The previous posts about the Xenakis gigs are here and here. A post that was meant to be about Xenakis but mistakenly ended up about Stockhausen is here: do not read this if you want news only about Xenakis. Also, the link I posted to Rolf Hind’s shirt doesn’t work: apparently James Bond fansites are picky about linking to their pictures and would prefer you to just steal them outright, so here’s a nice photie of Mischka, or Grischka.

Pretty much that but with better hair. Oh, and without the knife, unless the piano recital needs some Keith Emerson keyboard-stabbing action to liven things up.

Xenakis, continued

Wednesday 26 October 2005

I’m afraid this is badly written, but I can’t fiddle about with it forever…

Did I mention that these gigs were almost all sold out? That you can fill a hall with people who want to hear nothing but Xenakis, except maybe for a bit of Feldman and Messiaen* to break things up a little? It’s not often you get to hear live performances of music by composers who wrote stuff which requires musicians to put an effort into getting it right. Most of the time, when a 20th-century composition does get programmed at a concert, it’s something dull that performers and audience alike can safely doze through pretending it’s either Brahms or Gershwin and not caring too much if they get it wrong. Then they fill up the rest of the program with 2nd-rate Brahms, under the assumption that the subscribers will like it (they won’t, but they won’t complain about it either). It seems I’m not the only one who’s been hanging out for a concert where I don’t have to leave early, or arrive late.

Rolf Hind knew how to keep the punters happy at his piano recital, starting and finishing with two of Xenakis’ blockbusters for the solo instrument: Mists and Evryali. Don’t mistake the title of Mists – this is not a soft-focus montage of dewy impressionism, but an implacable study of thousands of motes in a constant roil of Brownian motion. The sheer sonic fireworks of Xenakis’ piano music, coupled with the theatrics of a pianist playing music of such obvious, stupefying virtusoity, makes for superb entertainment. It’s very hard to pretend you’re appreciating the intricacies of Xenakis’ use of arborescences and number sieves in these works when the sound just blows you away.

Evryali is, if anything, even more dazzling – long barrages of rapidly hammered 10-note chords ranging far and wide over the entirety of the keyboard. Given a quick look at the score for the piece, you’d think it was written for four hands; after closer examination you’d still need convincing that one person can be capable of playing it. It’s a great way to finish a concert, especially for an audience who are thinking “This cost me less than half the ticket price of watching Stockhausen operate a tape deck.”

A good way to impress the crowd is to play Evryali immediately after Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari, a work as soft and still as Evryali is loud and frantic. I went to this recital as much to hear the Feldman as the Xenakis – he’s just about my favourite composer, yet I hadn’t heard this piece before. I was surprised at how overtly beautiful, even romantic, this piece was – at least as Hind performs it. It was written right near the end of Feldman’s life (he died in 1987), between compositions of deep, hermetic ambiguity and spareness of almost opressive austerity (but still beautiful, just not in such a showy way).

Of course, it would have been more impressive to bash out the Xenakis and then sustain the delicacy of touch needed to play Feldman right. Roger Woodward actually did this at the British premiere of Mists, using it as the opener for the premiere of Feldman’s 90-minute long Triadic Memories – although this may explain why his interpretation of Feldman is as mad as a two-bob watch. The biggest problem about this part of the concert was that the punters wre so pumped up by the preceding music that they got restless and fidgety – moreso than usual during a Feldman piece, in which the quiet atmosphere really amplifies those squeaky chairs.

Theatrical highlights: Rolf Hind’s shiny red shirt, like he was Mischka (or Grischka) from Octopussy.

(Tomorrow: last instalment, promise! Now I have to post a picture of a cigarette packet.)

* WARNING: Hideous 1996-style website design. Kids, learn how Gorak saw the web!

Sorry, that last post turned out to be about Stockhausen. This is the one about Xenakis.

Tuesday 25 October 2005

In Melbourne I was a regular customer (if you can call hanging around in and listening to stuff rather than actually buying it) at Synaesthesia Records. Apparently their biggest seller was (and possibly still is) a CD of electronic works by Iannis Xenakis: it seemed to be a disc in which the free-improv, Japanese noise, avant-garde, computer-glitch and outsider fans could all find some common ground.

Xenakis’ life and work has been condensed in the public mind into a neat little quasi-mythology even tighter than Stockhausen’s, and without the loony parts: ethnic Greek Romanian, socialist partisan fighter in the war, got half his face shot off, exile in Paris, assistant to Le Corbusier, Philips Pavilion, use of number theory and stochastic calculations, the contrast of theoretical sophistication with the raw visceral impact (make sure you use the word “brutal”) of his music. Throw in the word “polytope” and you can pretty much write your own program notes. The front cover of this concert series’ program uses the phrase “builder of dense and dazzling sonic masses” in large type on the front cover.

There is, however, one dirty little secret about Xenakis that is never directly acknowledged. While the ingenuity and power of his greatest works are indisputable, he also wrote a quite a lot of duds. I think the critical consensus acknowledges that his output from the mid 1980s onwards can get pretty flaky, but we’re only now getting to grips with just how many dead-ordinary pieces he turned out, and it looks like a much higher proportion than other composers of his (deserved) stature. What’s even more perplexing is how utterly superfluous these substandard works appear to be: their failures are not interesting failures, and their successes are better heard elsewhere.

Milling about in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall (non-Londoners, imagine something slightly more ambitious than the assembly hall of a large high school built in the 1960s – a concrete testament to the nation’s postwar self-doubt), it was slightly disappointing to be part of a crowd all of the same mind about Xenakis’ strengths and, apparently, his weaknesses. I missed the sad old man who sat behind me though a stonking take on the piano concerto Keqrops (Roger Woodward/MSO, if you’re interested) and then held me transfixed as he spent the entirety of the intermission bitterly complaining about it; his central thesis being the classic observation that it wasn’t music, it was just a collection of sounds.

I was disturbed – but no longer surprised – to find everyone in the room agreeing with me.

At the first gig (I went to five) I finally got to hear Nuits, a wordless piece for 12-voice choir from 1967. This is everything Xenakis is cracked up to be: gripping, dramatic, and totally uncompromising. Dedicated to “the thousands of unknown political prisoners”, it’s a lament that turns between terror, outrage and defiance. I typically find this kind of mid-20th century vocal exercises precious and faintly ridiculous, so anyone who can make me believe in it gets marked down as some kind of genius in my books.

They (the BBC singers) also performed Sea Nymphs, a setting of the “Full Fathom Five” lyric from The Tempest, the latest work (1994) played for the whole weekend. Cannily, they peformed this piece first, so that it was only retrospect you would realise how derivative it is from its illustrious predecessor.

The other highlight of the first night was Shaar, a work for 60-piece string orchestra that really should have been the crowd-pleaser to close the evening. It has every indulgence you could hope for: big, pulsing clusters of sound, wild sweeps back and forth across the orchestra, eight double-basses, everybody playing something different at the same time.

The other concerts in the series all made a point of finishing with a bang, however for this night the closer was an anticlimactic performance of Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum, a choice which can only be explained by a need to find something else for the BBC Singers to do, having already cruelled their Friday night. I don’t care much for Stravinsky’s music, so it’s become almost fascinating to be exposed to the lesser-known corners of his work and hear music that is surprising, eclectic, and inventive, that I would not care in the least if I never heard again.

Apart from that, some members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra played Alax, the first of Xenakis’ pieces to be heard over the weekend to feature lots of long, plodding unison passages of quasi-baroque honking which was starting to wear very thin with the regular concert-goers by Sunday night. There’s always something satisfyingly excessive about music written for multiple orchestras, even though Alax is written for three relatively small ensembles and only needed one conductor, which feels like cheating. However, the stage they played on was so small that all three groups had to sit right next to each other, which rendered the whole enterprise rather pointless. The best entertainment to be had was from watching the three harpists (a hapless role in any Xenakis composition) struggle to be heard over the three percussionists – drums and all – and nine french horns on stage.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll also mention the remaining piece played at the first concert: Varèse’s Intégrales. It’s very satisfying hearing avant-garde from the early 20th century getting played these days, being sufficiently old that orchestras can now usually do them without getting the notes wrong, playing them as if they actually like them, and knowing their way around them sufficiently well to give some thought to interpretation. And Varèse still has what it takes these days for a sufficiently nerdy high school kid to really piss off their parents.

Theatrical highlights: The singers periodically tapping tuning forks against the backs of their heads (coming in on the right note when singing 12-part atonal harmony is a right bastard).

Conductor Jac van Steen pausing to smooth down his hair during a quiet bit near the end of Alax.

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Another week, another excuse. Oh, and this post is about Xenakis.

Saturday 22 October 2005

Most of the events described below happened a little while ago now, but it shouldn’t matter to you unless you use this site as a news source (hint: don’t). I was trying to get this posting (and other long ones) to break from the main page onto a page of their own, without success. Hey, more photies uploaded, but!
One of the benefits of of taking advantage of a loophole in the UK visa system to escape my Australian creditors would be, I told myself, having greater access to the more esoteric reaches of culture which float my boat. Yet tonight I’m contentedly sitting at home in the bunker when I could be out copping a gawk at Karlheinz Stockhausen.
There are several reasons why I’m shunning a live! appearance by the man responsible for some of the most exciting music of the past 50-odd years (Did you know he was on the cover of Sergeant Pepper?). The main reason is because he’s charging £36 a ticket (Did you know he was on the cover of Sergeant Pepper? Hang on, I think I already said that). The other reasons are less materialistic, but all stem from that basic deal-breaker.
You’ll pay £36 to hear him play tapes. Furthermore, jaded Stockhausen fans report that whatever special Stocky-magic he may purport to imbue to a live mix of his electronic music is, at best, indistinguishable from shelling out about as much for the CDs – yours to keep! Another danger sign: he’s playing one undisputed solid-gold classic (Kontakte) paired with a new work no-one really knows (Oktophonie). I still have a short stack of half-played Steve Reich albums I keep around to remind of that particular lesson I learned the hard way.
Oktophonie may be a great work, but everything he’s done over the last 30 years has been obscured by his public persona of a megalomaniacal loony, inextricably intertwined with an impossibly huge project of a seven-opera cycle called Licht that has occupied his entire working life since (but now, amazingly, seems to have been completed).
To make matters worse, recordings of his music are not readily available. About fifteen years ago he reacquired the rights to most of them and has never licensed them to a record company. Oh sure, you can get pretty much everything he’s written on CD through his mail order company, but throughout the 70s and 80s he was complaining that his record label was restricting access to his music. His solution has exacerbated the problem, which makes it seem that he is more interested in cultivating an uncritical cult of acolytes than reaching a wider audience. Incidentally, his CD prices match his gig prices.
This attitude, the white clothes, his claims to alien ancestry, his ivory-tower pronouncements on the destruction of the World Trade Center and its inhabitants, result in a crowd turning up to Billingsgate tonight (I’d bet my unchanged Euros from the Spanish holiday) will be a motley of said cultists, baby boomers who remember back when Stockhausen seemed to be the one composer who mattered (Did you know he was on the cover of Sergeant Pepper? – sorry), and people who just want to see a great artist make a pork chop of himself.
Anyway, what I was going to write about was the weekend I spent camped in the Royal Festival Hall listening to Xenakis a week or so ago, but that can wait a little longer. Four concerts of live musicians for the price of Stockhausen maybe hitting the right button on a tape deck. I’ve heard enough of Stockhausen’s music to want to hear anything he’s written at least once. A composer I respect immensely has repeatedly praised a Stockhausen piece that I think is the most laughable load of cobblers I’ve ever sat through, outside of performances conceived by teenagers. Any Stockhausen recording you can find is worth paying for, unless it’s a CD of Grüppen (because the performance will probably be sucky) or if it mentions Aus den Sieben Tage (a real 60s you-had-to-be-there “project”).
The Rambler is an excellent blog that has posted on the mutual interdependence of the highs and lows of Stockhausen’s art, particularly as part of his excellent Music Since 1960 series.

You will hate the cheese and pickle: Cousin Norman redux

Wednesday 12 October 2005

WFMU, hosts of much goodness on the redoubtable UbuWeb, have an MP3 of the original version of the classic bad song “I’m Going to Spain” by the enigmatic Steve Bent, for your downloading enjoyment. A song I’d heard about as a wee tot on the grievously-misnamed World’s Worst Records compilation LP, but not actually heard until The Fall recorded their wistful cover version: fine in itself, but nothing can match the queasy charm of the original.
All I can find out about Bent is that he was a contestant on New Faces in Britain in 1974. Assertions on some websites that he is one and the same as the British actor Stephen Bent appear to be fanciful.

Be afraid: Linda Perry is also involved somehow

Wednesday 21 September 2005

I know you look to me as an authority figure but I need your help on this one, particularly from those of you outside the UK. Is the inexplicable resurgence of media interest over here in Juliette Lewis a peculiarly British phenomenon, or some global conspiracy engineered by the Scientologists? She’s been popping up everywhere as some kind of rock chick, which is apparently what she wanted to do all along and so deliberately starred in unwatchable shite like The Other Sister so all those movie executives would finally stop pestering her with wheelbarrows full of drugsmoney.
So is this a PR snow job going on everywhere, or have we suddenly become Germany to her Hasselhoff?
It really is a pity they don’t have genuine A-list celebrities manning the tables outside Scientology centres at least once in a while, so we can see how well-adjusted you can become after paying $100,000 to learn that you have thousands of body thetans trapped inside you who were tricked into watching a 3-D movie by an alien galactic ruler named Xenu.

Take a FREE personality test and learn about the science of mental health (Reg. Trade Mark)! My results are not typical and may vary.
Also, ads for Narconon have suddenly appeared at tube stations lately. Coincidence?

A Public Service

Friday 16 September 2005

Switching hemispheres mid-year has left me throughly disorientated and indifferent as to which season it’s supposed to be where, but I figure summer must be over at last because UbuWeb is back online. For months they’ve had a single page announcing they’d be back after summer, but we all know what that usually means on the interweb.
UbuWeb has a bunch of poetry, essays, arty-type stuff online but the real exciting part is the boatload of free MP3s available to download: hours of brilliant and inexcusably overlooked music.
From the ridiculous
The 365 Days Project. Astonishingly bizarre recordings from garage sales around the world. Sometimes too hip for it’s own good, but when the first half of March can offer such treasures as musical polymath and self-confessed failed wunderkind Nicholas Slonimsky (then aged 96) singing “Children Cry For Castoria”, Van Morrison fulfilling contractual obligations to dead record company owners, Anthony Hopkins most genuinely terrifying performance, Orson Welles facetiously offering blowjobs, and Melbourne’s own Man Who Plays Music On his Fingers, you can hate the sinners and love the sins.
To the sublime
Tapes from the Morton Feldman Archive at SUNY-Buffalo. Dubbed from the archive’s open reel tapes onto cassette, then onto someone’s laptop, and compressed into MP3s, so you can guess the quality of these 1970s recordings aren’t the best. Also, some of the performances sound a bit wonky, but Feldman wrote some of the most beautiful and enduring music of the last 50 years, and some of these pieces have never been released on CD. (Note to Mallrat: if you like Gavin Bryars, Feldman’s the guy he stole all his ideas from.)
When I looked in yesterday, UbuWeb had expanded its collection of experimental films, but today they’ve been taken down after a spate of legal threats from various people – “all lawyers and business people, not the artists themselves.” So you may have to wait a while before really testing your bandwidth out on downloading Samuel Beckett’s Film.

And definitely no “Sometime in New York City”, either

Thursday 15 September 2005

“Instant Karma” permitted on Saturdays before 11pm.