The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, June 17, 2004

More football: Mark has just set up e-2004, a kind of Wiki commentary on Euro 2004. Excellent idea. When I get back from Amalfi, there may be a couple of posts from me on how the Italians are seeing things ...

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Yeah, I know I'm not supposed to be blogging, but I'm waiting for an e-mail from my best man, and then I'm off to have a manicure in a bit, so ner. Anyway, this little post on fit philosophers is to good not to share.

Monday, June 14, 2004


Peeved, but definitely not gutted. Last night's result, while enormously frustrating, hasn't done any harm whatsoever to our chances in the tournament. There's absolutely no way Eriksson would have had 'beat France in the opening game' as a central pillar of his plan. The plan will have been (and remains) to beat Switzerland and Croatia, come second in the group andplay either Portugal or Spain in the next round. It's not as though one of those two teams will be a walk in the park, so coming first or second in our group will probably make little difference. So, there's yr perspective.

As it was, I think Eriksson played a blinder. Whatever instructions he'd given his players, it clearly worked: for 91 minutes, the two best players in the world - Zidane and Henry - were completely anonymous. The Owen-Vassell, and Scholes-Hargreaves substitutions were effective (especially Vassell); bringing on Heskey was predictably a mistake however, and it remains a mystery for 40 million English (minus Steve Bruce) as to why he's still anywhere near the squad. David James should not be blamed for the penalty either - that rests solely with Gerrard and that lunatic back pass. Word of advice, mate: Row Z. Probably the first time Gerrard's not hoofed the ball 70 yards up field all year.

Overall, then, I think if we can focus on the numerous positives from the game (good game from Ledley King, storming game from Rooney), then we should be able to face anyone in the competition knowing that we can beat them. And that's something we've not been able to say for some time. I'm annoyed about the game, but very positive about the tournament.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Notes for the morbid 

This has been a rough few weeks for musicians, with a lot of big names making their final bows. As part of my job (go and find out for yourself what that is...!) I keep an eye out for musician obituaries in the papers. Through Bloglines, I found a great little newsfeed to help with this - Moreover produce a whole bunch of aggregated feeds from all over the place on different subjects, and after a bit of searching around on Bloglines I got hold of one on obituaries. The results of this get dumped into my del.icio.us obituaries feed, and then crop up periodically in the box on the left. The moreover feed is pretty good - particularly for the UK and US press, although there are the inevitable links to 'Donald Rumsfeld - a Political Obituary'-type of articles, and it's recently been hijacked by some adverts. The work side of things just means that I need to keep an eye out for any musicians who crop up, but it's fascinating watching the patterns of who gets obituaries, and how many, and where. And many of the newspapers have particular editorial practices for their obituary pages. The Independent for example is especially for good for musicians, of all disciplines, UK and international. The Chicago Tribune almost exclusively runs obituaries for local individuals: most of whom have led very normal, average lives, but have been granted commemoration in their city's paper.

One thing that you do feel when reading across all the papers is a curious measure of an individual's importance, according to the number of obituaries they receive around the world. Obviously Reagan has dominated in the last few days, and Ray Charles has been widely covered too, already. But interestingly Frances Shand Kydd - best known as Princess Di's mother - who died just over a week ago, has also received almost blanket obituary coverage around the world, for less apparent reasons. By this measure Norris McWhirter was highly regarded too.

I take quite an academic satisfaction into looking into these things: you would be surprised how difficult it can be to ascertain someone's place and date of death from the newspapers alone. Many papers don't give a place of death (irritatingly including the Guardian, which is one of the few papers not to require registration to read the things in the first place). Some leave you to calculate the date (eg. ' ... died last Thursday') As soon as you start to double-source the facts, things get complicated. Within a few days, it is not unusual to find three or four obituary notices, with two or even three different dates of death between them. This seems to me pretty basic research, and something that newspapers shouldn't find too hard to record accurately. The Guardian, in my experience, are probably the worst offender in this respect, and regularly print death dates a day or two out from the generally reported consensus. Hugh Bean, the British violinist who died on Boxing Day last year, was remembered in all four of the British broadsheets - but none of them could say where he died.

Do I find any of this morbid? I mean, since opening up Bloglines is one of the first things I do on a working day, it's not long before I'm up to my elbows in eulogies and death notices. Actually, I don't. I happen to think that commemoration and memorial, a scratch on a wall, is an essential part of humanity anyway. The most I can usually do is work, in a small way, towards propagating those memorials, and seeing that they get recorded - in at least one place, anyway - right. And there's nothing like reading dozens of compacted biographies every day to make you marvel at this life we lead.

MP3 blogs, as everyone knows, are everywhere at the moment, but I'm going to make a special mention to The Number One Songs in Heaven: nice design, nice pictures, but most importantly, a whole load of vintage soul and funk sounds. That's what I've looking for! Topical choices too - good show.

RIP Ray Charles.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Euro 2004 Predictions 

I've been playing around with the BBC's Score predictor which, while not completely faultless (it puts teams with the same points, but different goals scored, in the wrong order), is at least a good way of seeing how the tournament might pan out.

So, my predictions?

Group A and B (fingers crossed) seem pretty straightforward: England and France and Spain and Portugal will get through, and both England and France have it in them to reach the semis. I think England, after losing 2-1 to France and finishing second in the group, will face Portugal in the quarters (who come out on top with a draw with Spain, and a superior result against Greece). Group D is tough to call, but the least happy have to be the Germans, who have every chance of not making it out of the group stages. A draw with Germany in the last game is enough to see the Czechs into second place in the group, behind Holland.

Group C, for me, is the really interesting one, and not the focus of most of the media build up. Italy are in real trouble here: they're traditionally slow off the blocks, and I don't think they've necessarily exorcised their World Cup demons (forget iffy referees - you lost because you tried to defend for 70mins). Denmark in their first game will not be a preferred choice, and with Paolo Maldini retired from left back, the lightning fast Danish wingers could cause some real trouble. Italy lose 1-0, and this pretty much sees off their chance of making the quarter finals. Denmark and Sweden get through, and the last game of the group - between the two of them - is a play off to see who gets to face Holland or the Czech Republic. Probably Denmark will face the Czechs, marginally the nicer draw, unless Holland decide this is the time to throw a hissy fit. But even if they decide to play together like nice boys, their match with Sweden will be a draw, and some shocking penalties will gift the game to the Scandinavians.

The Czech Republic may be a game too far for the Danes however, and the Czechs go through in normal time to meet England in the semis. You may draw your own conclusions at this point, but France shouldn't have any problem getting past Sweden. However, Scandinavians like upsets, and the French are prey to them, so who knows?

How semi-finals pan out is always anyone's guess, but mark my words, most of the big teams will be gone by this stage - I wouldn't advise putting any money on Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal or Spain.

Absent with leave 

So here's the plan.

Milady and I are getting married in just over a week (19th June), and then charging off to Italy for ten days to recover. But have no fear, for I will be spending that time hardwired to Blogger keeping you all up to speed with my ramblings on the state of contemporary music, etc.

Or not.

I'm hoping to get a post on Harry Partch's And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma up before long, but that aside it's probably going to be a little quiet around here for the next three weeks. Don't take it personally - you're my readers, and you're great, but nothing can compare ;-)

This is not a political blog, and I never intend it to be, but reading this piece in today's Times just now made me choke. Key points:

"An investigation by The Times has discovered that Labour's General Secretary is urging activists to set up bogus ballot boxes today outside traditional polling stations in all-postal voting areas.

A document issued by Matt Carter, which has been seen by The Times, suggests that the activists should wear red rosettes to maximise the number of last-minute Labour votes collected in the bogus boxes, and to deter supporters of other parties from handing over completed voting slips."

"A Labour MP has also told The Times that election cheats are collecting postal votes and changing the choice of candidates using Tipp-Ex correction fluid."

Oh God. I feel sick.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

If you do sign up to Summer Burn 2004 (and why wouldn't you?), be warned: you might get one of my CDs. I've been idly coming up with some tracklists here, and at least one of them has a concept. Lummy.

Time for bed, methinks.

Shut up fight! 

Words cannot describe how cool this is.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Summer Burn 

Now this looks like a pretty cool idea. Count me in!

Friday, June 04, 2004

RIP Jonathan Kramer.

That old favourite 

A couple of quotations from Michael Broyles' Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music are music to Alex Ross's ears - and mine too. For almost all the other arts, and for all music except the Western classical tradition, the artists and their works are an integral part of people's lives. The establishment has, over the passage of a century or two, contrived to make classical music a completely irrelevant part of everyday life. In fact, if you try to contest this position within the establishment, and make the bold suggestion that maybe shouldn't music shouldn't just be an optional bolt-on accessory to people's lives, but should be as central as, say, architecture, film and literature, you are accused of some sort of 'unmusical' betrayal. As though music appreciation was some sort of fanatical religion, and any free interpretation of the scriptures deserved excommunication.

Ok, maybe that's putting a little strongly, but there is a bizarre tendency of the musical establishment to push itself further and further away from real life into this extremely damaging hermetically sealed world. Sometimes I wish I'd gone into ethnomusicology, you know. At least there, you are starting from a common belief that music matters, just making noise matters. As it stands at the moment, I often see this terrifying vision that within the academy what a piece sounds like, the noise it makes is the very least important aspect of the work.

I've wandered way off topic here, and lapsed unforgivably into my favourite rant, but you know me well enough now, go and read the Ross post instead.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


The people I work for insist that I use one of their own laptops to work on. It is such a heap of junk that these days I keep a book open on the desk to read while I wait for it to respond to every click I make. This is 2004, isn't it? I kid you not, I've got through a full chapter of Nouritza Matossian's biography of Iannis Xenakis this afternoon just trying to get Internet Explorer to start up. God only knows why it won't, but at least the book's worth the time.


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Someone had to do it ...

[Link spotted at NTK]

Kempa.com still delivering the goods on musical oddness. (Also see the post on counting songs.) Regularly the best read of the day.

Music since 1960: Reich: It's Gonna Rain 

Forty years of modern composition and what this music means to me

Index here.

I once wrote a deliberately provocative essay, called 'Steve Reich is a Modernist, Brian Ferneyhough is a Postmodernist'. In this I tried to show, by deliberately inverting the labels lazy thinkers attach to these two composers, the ultimate meaninglessness of such labels. I still stick to that conclusion, but perhaps the way I went about demonstrating it wasn't the best advised. The Reich piece I wrote about was Piano Phase, of 1967, and I set out to compare it with the epitome of high modernist musical abstraction, Pierre Boulez's Structures, 1a. Reich, I argued, had taken a short musical unit, and through rigorous milling had ground all content from it, until the music became about the process, and not the point-by-point detail. Boulez, in his carefully worked-out serial schemes for Structures, 1a was doing pretty much the same thing. And both, I argued, could have written very similar pieces with entirely different musical units to begin with. The actual content of those units, through the process of the pieces themselves, became pretty irrelevant.

Needless to say, I didn't get the greatest mark ever, but not because my tutor disliked my juxtaposition of Boulez and Reich - in actual fact, I think Reich may actually acknowledge the influence. A number of the early minimalists wrote serial works as students, in which - in a simplified analogy to Boulez's own work - the 12-note rows just kept repeating, unchanging. Boulez allowed himself to mix them up a bit, but the methods were not dissimilar. The problem was that if Reich himself did compose as I suggested he might, we could assume that he gave very little thought at all to the composition of his initial musical unit, the element that would undergo all the repetitions and phases. Of course this is not true. One only need consider It's Gonna Rain (recording), one of the forerunners to Piano Phase to appreciate this.

The compositional method of It's Gonna Rain, and the phase pieces that followed is well known, but for those that don’t know it, it goes roughly as follows. Reich recorded on tape a sermon on Noah and the Flood, given by one Brother Walter, a Harlem street preacher. From this, he cut various tape loops, including 'It's gonna rain', and ran them on two tape recorders, simlutaneously. Reich noticed that because of imperfections in the machines, one loop ran very slightly faster than the other. As a result, the two loops, which had begun in synchrony, moved slowly out of phase, creating a gradually shifting pattern of sounds until they eventually shifted back into phase, one loop behind one another. In the piece itself, Reich draws on this discovery, using different loops and edits, and in the second part of the piece he expands the number of simultaneous loops to a Babel-like eight. After further experiments with his second tape piece Come Out, Reich moved into instrumental composition, beginning with pieces that included notated systems for creating these phase patterns.

There's a good interview with Reich by Jason Gross, in which Reich talks about the importance of the semantic content of his material. It's Gonna Rain was composed at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the apocalyptic words of the preacher's Noah sermon fit the mood of the moment. There's little doubt that the two 'phase' pieces that use spoken word tape loops (It's Gonna Rain and Come Out) are far more difficult emotionally than the anaesthetised intellectualism of the instrumental phase pieces (eg. Piano Phase and Violin Phase). Even a cursory glance at the Amazon reviews will give you an indication of that. A couple of years ago I heard an outstanding paper by Sumanth Gopinath titled 'The Strange Career of Come Out: the problems of "race" in the reception of minimalism', in which the Gopinath went so far as to analyse the sonic disintegration of Come Out in terms of racial violence. It was a pretty convincing argument; what is certainly remarkable about both tape pieces is the range of emotion Reich discovers through such a simple process. I see now that this can only have come as a result of such strong content in the first place, and from such a sensitive approach to the nuances and inflections of that content.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Little Jack Horner 

Since Scott Spiegelberg has brought his name up, here are my two best James Horner-Titanic stories. They could be heresay, but my source was pretty reliable.

Firstly, as Alex Ross observed back in 1998, Horner had switched to a "New Age Celtic sound ... reminiscent of that deracinated voclise you hear in overpriced boutiques." Now, films don't tend to get scored these days until pretty late on in the production process, and what often happens is that the composer isn't involved until he is shown a rough edit of the film. Underneath this, the director often adds a soundtrack (usually culled from his CD collection) to give the composer an idea of the kind of effect he is after. For Godzilla, for example, the director imaginatively backed his rough edit with the music from Jurassic Park - if it works for T-Rexes, it'll work for 40-storey sea monsters, right? As I understand it, James Cameron simply played Enya records to Horner (must be a water thing I guess), and bingo: deracinated, New Age film score ahoy!

The better story is how Horner got so rich off Titanic, since usual practice is for composers to be paid a flat fee, and to relinquish their copyright to the film company. However, Cameron did things his own way, and got so heavily involved in every single aspect of the film, including editing the soundtrack, that things ran massively behind schedule, and over budget. Feeling the studio pressure, he cut a deal with Horner - no fee, but you get to keep your copyright. "No problem", says the canny composer. 12 months later the film score is number one in every country in the world, and Cameron has to explain to his bosses why they aren't seeing a penny off the CD sales ...

Just reporting what I was once told, from a reliable source.

Portsmouth Sinfonia 

There was a great piece on the Portsmouth Sinfonia in the Sunday Times this week. This was an orchestra set up by Gavin Bryars in 1970 - which at times counted Brian Eno and Michael Nyman amongst its members - with only one rule of membership: that you couldn't play the instrument you had chosen. During one concert, as a member of the audience, Michael Nyman was "so moved and entertained and excited by the music that I went up to Gavin in the interval and said, 'Is there a spare instrument? I'd like to join.' They had a spare cello, so suddenly I was playing In the Hall of the Mountain King in the second half." There are gentle move towards getting some of their recordings re-released. Must buys if that ever happens.

The article also contains the following choice passage:

"The sinfonia was once served with a cease-and-desist order by the publishers of Also sprach Zarathustra. To [manager Martin] Lewis's eternal regret, the case never came to court. "I wanted to bring the whole orchestra in as witnesses. They complained that we'd rearranged the piece, and we said, 'No, we haven't, we just haven't been able to play it very well.'"

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