The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Warner Bros. Records 

Here's odd. While I think they make your blog look clunky and a little crass, I can appreciate why people might stick up some Google ads in their sidebar to make a little bit of pocket money on the side. But I'm surprised that Warner Brothers Records feel this short of cash (especially when there's every chance the ads will be for their competitors). Maybe the record industry is in worse shape than feared...


I've been slightly lax about doing this admittedly, but I want to take a moment to announce that after marrying, milady and I are democratically changing both our names - so if you see comments etc. from 'Tim Rutherford-Johnson' from now on, that's me.


Critical Conversation 

The Democrat Convention notwithstanding, this, over at Arts Journal is for me the most interesting thing happening on the net at the moment. By way of explanation, here's their own spiel:

There was a time when great cities had multiple newspapers and culture was hashed out daily in the press, strongly-held opinions battling for the hearts and minds of readers. Today it's rare for a city to have more than one or two outlets where culture can be publicly discussed, let alone prodded and pulled and challenged...

Our culture is the lesser for it, as critical opinions about art, music, theatre, and dance get squeezed, and public debates about culture in the print media grow fainter. That doesn't mean there isn't great writing about culture still to be found in print (there's evidence of it every day in ArtsJournal). But the writing is one-way, and rarely do we see a good back-and-forth debate bubble up.

Now comes the internet, where a lively mob of voices has taken up discussions of culture, politics, and just about anything else you can think of. Daily, thousands of bloggers fire up their computers to register opinions, and one of the things that makes the best of them interesting is their willingness to engage in dialogues with their readers.

So what if we gathered up some of the best print critics and asked them to engage one another over an issue in a blog? Their opinions could be challenged, their ideas explained, and a lively debate might ensue.

That's what we hope will happen over the next ten days in this "topic blog" exploring the future of Big Ideas in classical music. We've invited a dozen of the best American classical music critics:

Charles Ward of the Houston Chronicle
Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News
Kyle Gann of the  Village Voice
Justin Davidson of Newsday
John Rockwell of The New York Times
Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Greg Sandow of The Wall Street Journal
Wynne Delacoma of the Chicago Sun-Times
John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune
Kyle MacMillan of the Denver Post
Alex Ross of The New Yorker
Joshua Kosman of the  San Francisco Chronicle

and asked them to discuss:

If the history of music is the recorded conversation of ideas, then where do we find ourselves in that conversation at the start of the 21st Century? In the past, musical ideas have been fought over, affirmed then challenged again, with each generation adding something new. Ultimately consensus was achieved around an idea, and that idea gained traction with a critical mass of composers.
Now we are in a period when no particular musical idea seems to represent our age, and it appears that for the moment – at least on the surface – that there is no obvious direction music is going. So the question is: what is the next chapter in the historical conversation of musical ideas, and where are the seeds of those ideas planted?
Or: Is it possible that, with traditional cultural structures fragmenting, and the ways people are getting and using culture fundamentally changing, that it is no longer possible for a unifying style to emerge? Is it still possible for a Big Idea to attain the kind of traction needed to energize and acquire a critical mass of composers and performers?

RIAA destroy a legit record shop, simply for selling mixtapes. So that's a fat chunk of records no longer being sold in Indianapolis, a whole bunch of artists no longer getting promoted, and a record company-endorsed practice for breaking new artists outlawed. Mission accomplished then? Well done guys.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

If Mark E. Smith was a spammer 

Jeff of The Architectural Dance Society has just posted info on his contribution to the ever-growing struggle to make spam into something useful. He figured that some of the spam his friend was getting could have been penned - in an alternate universe - by Mark E. Smith. There's more explanation here (including lyrics), and he even went the extra mile to put together an MP3 (here, 5.56Mb MP3 file), which is pretty convincing at times. Like it centurion!


The internet really has come up trumps today. Thanks to a diligent del.icio.us poster, I was directed towards this old UC Berkeley page buried in the Internet Archive. And what do you find there? Nothing less than a downloadable recording of Reich's triumphant UCB concert of 7 November 1970, with full performances of Piano Phase, Four Organs, My Name Is and Phase Patterns. This is tremendous stuff, and a classic recording. A word of caution though - this is not for the faint of bandwidth: the zip file I saved broke the 700Mb barrier!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Jazzy Jeff 

Thanks to Disquiet for the pointer - I am greatly enjoying the two-part Jazzy Jeff mix available here at Club Six - a surprisingly unsettled, jumpy collection of loose grooves and pop licks. A darn sight more interesting than his acting on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air ever was anyway.

Speaking of which, for those who - like me - are easily amused by these things, there's a great little flash-DJ game on that FPoBA site which lets you DJ while Philip, Geoffrey, Vivian, Carlton et al boogie under the disco lights. One to save for a slow Friday afternoon.

Maybe a really slow Friday afternoon...

Monday, July 26, 2004

You've probably heard it before, but I'm absolutely loving this cover of 'Common People' [1 Mb Quicktime file] by Joe Jackson and a brilliantly bitter and sneering William Shatner. Yes, that's William Shatner, and he out Jarvises Jarvis on this one.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Feeling low at the end of another drab UK summer week? Inject some sunshine into your day with the Low IQ 01 track featured here. Ever wondered how a Japanese punk band, who may have recently been listening to some chirpy Stereolab albums, would cover 'Anarchy in the UK'? Thought so - well this is your chance. I love this track - right down to the flute solo, the little vocal twiddles on 'I want to be-e-e anarchy', the bolted-on reggae intro, the works.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

What with the Wilco backlash doing good rounds at the moment (see also Carl Wilson recently), I was rather surprised to see Wilco on the cover of the new Wire magazine flopping through my door just now. Could be some interesting reading in there, à la Radiohead a couple of years back I reckon.

Thanks to a generous wedding gift, for the first time I am able to sit at my desk and work whilst listening to the test match over digital radio. I am quite childishly excited about this.

The good reading just keeps backing up 

Yet another essential blog I need to start reading ... Carl Wilson's Zoilus.

[Discovered via Alex Ross and Aaron Wherry]

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I'm a couple of days behind the game on this one, but 1471 has moved (including a new looking XML feed here which you might want to hitch a ride on).


If you have any interest in Zimbabwean, or African, music and culture, you need to go here. I've just come across this exemplary Resource Guide and am stunned. Wow.

Mercury Music Prize 

The annual controversy roundabout begins here, starting with the Beeb's description of Amy Winehouse as 'R&B', and Mike Skinner as an 'outfit'.

[Thanks to the ever alert DJ Martian, who has been blogging his personal choices for nomination.


A glitch in the Telegraph's XML feeds just threw up the following headline
500,000 'suffering asthma misery' (a link to this story), accompanied by this summary:

"The tranquil world of punting in Cambridge is being rocked by the aggressive tactics of touts trying to lure tourists to board their boats." - when, presumably, these hundreds of thousands of unfortunates are sent up the Cam without their inhalers...

Ah, good - Die Acid House is back online.

This morning I have been mostly enjoying *drip*drop*drap. You should too.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Music since 1960: Stockhausen: Hymen 

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

Index here.

Stockhausen had to be in here really, although it was tricky at first to choose a piece of his music post-1960: the music of his that I most enjoy (Kreuzspiel, Gruppen) dates from the 1950s, making it practically antique. But actually, although Stockhausen's place in the 20th-century canon was secured with early works, he has become a more and more intriguing figure later in his career. Kreuzspiel, for example, is remarkable as one of a handful of genuine works of integral serialism, and possibly the only one that occupies a listener-friendly soundworld (twelve-note bongos are surprising effective). However, it also reveals a profound limitation of pure integral serial composition: once you've sussed the patterns (and they are easily discernible here - just count the number of bongo beats to get one of the 12-number series) there's not much else to hold your attention. Gruppen, on the other hand, helped signal the way to the later Stockhausen: the megalomaniac, Dada-Wagnerian loony. This Stockhausen is fun, and funny, and his music is unfeasible, grandiose and grotesque. This Stockhausen no longer tilts at windmills, he drives crash test vehicles into them. Integral serialism, for all the composers involved in its development (see also Boulez, Barraqué, Nono, Babbitt) was a dead end to a short street, and each found his own way out. Stockhausen's masterstroke was to pursue the (pseudo)-scientism that got him into integral serialism beyond the point of absurdity. Not satisfied with applying serial methodology to the parameters of pitch, duration, dynamic and attack, in Gruppen Stockhausen devises a method (drawn from his discovery that when you slow a tape down enough, it becomes just a series of slow clicks) of tying pitch, rhythm, tempo and form to one giant series of durations. From his experiments with tape, he reasoned that rhythm and pitch were aspects of the same phenomenon: in fact, a complete musical work - Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is his example - can be expressed as a single rhythmic pulse if played at a fast enough speed. It's all a question of telescoping in or out. Now, articles have been written pointing out that when it came to acoustics, maths and science in general, Stockhausen didn't know his partial from his elbow but I think this is missing the point. What is really interesting about him from this point on is his single-minded determination in the face of everything. He is, to this day, fond of complaining that Gruppen has never yet been given a decent performance because no one will build him the concert hall to accommodate three orchestras in surround sound. And he got into the position of writing such a piece because he devised some hokey ideas about time perception and acoustic theory and followed them through to their illogical end. While an obvious inheritor, and inflator of the Wagnerian tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), in this doggedness ad absurdum Stockhausen also shares surprising ground with Cage (who when Schoenberg told him that without a feel for harmony he would end up banging his head against a wall replied "Then I'll devote my life to banging my head against that wall") and LaMonte Young, the score for whose Piano Piece for Terry Riley #1 reads

"Push the piano up to a wall and put the flat side flush against it. Then continue pushing into the wall. Push as hard as you can. If the piano goes through the wall, keep pushing in the same direction regardless of new obstacles and continue to push as hard as you can whether the piano is stopped against an obstacle or moving. The piece is over when you are too exhausted to push any longer."*

There's a sense that Stockhausen is a clown, after Beckett or Satie, brazenly throwing juggling balls into the chasm of modernity. What you get is music that is equally endearing and frustrating, but my experience of Hymnen (an expensive recording from Stockhausen's own publishing company is available here as CD10) is very much of the latter.

This is another piece (like so many, it seems), that I heard live at the Barbican, as part of a series of Stockhausen's electronic works, and some of the composers who have been inspired by him. As he is wont to do on these occasions, Stockhausen came onto the stage before the performance (which actually amounted to some moody, static lighting on stage, and the playing of a tape) to explain his motives for writing the piece. As was typical of his work by this stage, it was an attempt to employ loose compositional theory in the service of a philosophy it transparently could not support - in this case the unification of the world in a collage work made from samples of the world's national anthems, brought together at the end in a Stockhausen-composed 'world anthem', at which point peace will spontanenously break out across the earth, or something.

Stockhausen's decision to talk about his very dated notions of world unity, before showing his 2-hour electronic thesis on the subject, was very interesting. Because this performance was on 15th October 2001, a month after the World Trade Center attacks, and a month after the low point in Stockhausen's diplomatic career as he described the attacks as "the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos." In the light of these comments the Barbican had had to defend their decision to go ahead with the scheduled performances of his music, and the audience's breath was well bated as the composer spoke. What was curious was that while the little speech he gave need not have made any reference to recent events, it was so out of time that it could have been given at any point in the last 40 years. Stockhausen seemed unflapped, and while the entire Western world was still shaken to its core, he seemed utterly convinced in the continuing validity of his artistic vision for Hymnen.

This did much to shape my (over-egged) impressions of the piece, written in the interval, and which I reproduce here:

"What an utterly brutal and ugly work. There's no doubting its strength as a piece of electronic innovation - large parts of it don't sound dated, even 35 years on - but although the sentiments of international unity which lie behind its composition are admirable, the result is an utter failure. The stomping dominance of Stockhausen's electronic sounds leave muddy handprints over the iconography of nations.

It is an almost joyless piece, the only pleasures found are the masturbatory excesses of Stockhausen's knob-twiddling. [ahem] It is telling that other than the shattered remnants of the anthems themselves, and Stockhausen's electronic dominance over them, the only other passage of any length is a recording of him issuing instructions to his Tonmeister (who goes uncredited in S's introduction to the piece). The result is warlike (and confrontational), with spattering gunfire tearing the fabric of nation. The 'unity' we are presented is of a single ego compressing everything to a base level."

While context had a lot to do with this reading of the piece, it remains a historical curiosity, tied as it is to such a utopian agenda. But this, for me, does not necessarily devalue the work as it stands - like other works of Stockhausen it is the collision of ambition and technique, and the wreckage that is left, that is interesting. The dogged egomania of a man who refuses to let the real world of physics, and acoustics, and financial reality, and current events get in his way. On the occasion of this particular performance of Hymnen this was encapsulated in what I treasure as a quintessential Stockhausen moment. After doing his little turn on stage - in regulation white shirt and trousers and orange cardigan - the maestro returned grandly to his mixing desk at the back of the hall, ready to initiate his grand vision. He presses play, there are some characteristic electronic bleeps, then a clunk of tape mechanism, some muttering in German, and silence. There is no explanation - surely he didn't false start his own piece, after the build he'd just given it? - but the tape is rewound, and after a pause we're off again, this time for real. For all the grand talk, the exuberant technique, the banging of heads against the wall, it all came down to a question of levels and balance: the real world did have its way after all.

*I believe Cage himself gave a performance of this piece once and, following the score to the letter pushed the piano against a wall until he passed out.

RSS ... mmm .... 

Say goodbye to productivity and hard disk space, say hello to lots of new tunes to try before you buy. Say hello to the MP3Blogs Aggregator. We give big love to syndication round here, and this is a really great, simple idea that I'm glad someone is doing. To add the MP3 Blogs Aggregated RSS to your feed reader, you need this RSS. Chomp chomp.

Friday, July 16, 2004

In amongst my recently received Summer Burn tracks is 'Rimshot' by Erykah Badu. A track I have a story about, and will now bore you with.

A couple of years ago, I went - on a Work assignation - to a music and technology conference in Darmstadt. Now, a free trip to the spiritual home of high modernist music was not to be passed up, so I gladly went (and bunked off one day to browse the Summer School archives). However, the emphasis of the conference was very much on the side of technology, rather than music. Despite the fact that it was music at the core of every research paper presented, I think I was possibly the only musician or musicologist of any description present. This was made most clear to me at the end of one of many papers presenting a potential technology solution for automating music cataloguing systems. Most of these were based on means of analysing the note-by-note content of a track, and then cataloguing it according to some algorithm or other. I was despairing by this point - every solution I'd seen had so little to do with music as I understood it that I wondered why it was the topic under discussion in the first place. So, here was this paper, in which the Erykah Badu track was played as a demonstration of how the system might work. OK, I thought. Here's a tune that slips between genres, and includes heavy quotation across genres (it relies heavily on the riff from Miles Davis' 'So What' if you don't know it). I asked the speaker if his system was able to cope with such cross-genre fertilisation, if this kind of explicit musical linkage was part of his model - or whether it would be. I was met with a room full of blank faces. No one recognised the quotation I was talking about - which was one thing - but no one even acknowledged that my concern might have any bearing whatsoever on how a user might wish to use a musical catalogue. I kept my head down from then on. This was a different world, and while a fascinating insight into a completely unfamiliar notion of music, it ran so contrary to years of learning that I couldn't help but feel antagonistic. A day's immersion in Darmstadtian total serialism was a surprisingly refreshing diversion.

Ooo - now here's exciting - my first Summer Burn CD just dropped through the door. A generous 23 tracks, almost all of which is new to me - and none of which I own. Result! If you're reading, 'WD', then thank you!

More here on the Allmusic.com saga...

New stuff! 

Couple of new, and newly-discovered blogs to help you through your Friday and push you closer to the weekend.

Firstly, I've just received a cordial e-mail from Chris Mosley, one of two contributors (the other is Danny Meyer) to Jazz Thinks, a new addition to the all-too-small realm of Jazz blogging. Hello!

And, via Jazz Thinks, I came across the Fingertips blog, an MP3 blog with exclusively legal content that is connected to Fingertips, a website that does a very similar thing. Good clean fun. Add that to my (belated) discovery of Ubuweb's 365 days project, I have a feeling that milady's iPod could be getting a workout this weekend ...

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Music since 1960: Partch: And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma 

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

Index here.

I appear to have backed myself into a little bit of a corner with this one. I don't actually have access to a recording of And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma - I don’t own it myself, and although they have a whole bunch of Partch recordings, my university library don't have a copy either. (You can get yours here.) I have heard it live, once, though, and that single experience justifies its inclusion here. However, I'm going to have to talk a little more generally about Partch in this post, rather than specifically about And on the Seventh Day.

So, back in 1998 the Barbican ran an exemplary series of 'American Originals' concerts, featuring composers from Adams to Zorn. Everybody important got covered, but one of the highlights - and the real coup - of the series was persuading the curators of the Harry Partch collection of instruments, Newband to come and give a concert, their first, in the UK.

Partch is most spectacularly known for his collection of unique, homemade instruments. He developed a method of composing using a scale based on the harmonic series, which, unlike the 12-notes-to-the-octave equally tempered scale of most Western music, crams 43 notes into every octave. As one might imagine, this compositional method necessarily accompanied the construction of instruments capable of playing such a scale. Most of these - all built by Partch himself - are percussion instruments like 'Boo II', and many are made from found objects. The most beautiful, to my eyes and ears are the 'Cloud Chamber Bowls', which are made from giant Pyrex carboys recovered from the radiation labs of University of California, Berkeley. They're impossible to tune, and almost irreplaceable. And they're percussion instruments, made to be hit by someone with a stick. Because of the instruments - and the fragilities involved in playing some of them - Partch's music is uniquely visual, and a concert of his music is more theatrical than almost anything in the Western instrumental canon. Other composers have written for Partch's instruments, but they only sound like transcriptions of traditional instrumental works and are far less successful. It's obvious that the composer who built the instruments is going to be best able to write for them, but with Partch, because the whole experience - visual, theatrical, musical, instrumental - is created by him, there is an overwhelming sense of compositional intent and presence within his work that is hard to find in the work of other composers. It's notable that Newband, the performers who play Partch's instruments, are also the instruments' curators: there is a quality of museum preservation to a performance of this music, as though a performance tradition were on the verge of dying out. In that respect, it shares something with gagaku music, say, but accelerated several hundred years on.

What is most unique about Partch's music stems from the fact of that 43 note scale. Partch was hardly the first compser to divide the scale into units smaller than the semitone, but this particular scale, as I say, required Partch to build, or adapt, a whole collection of instruments specifically to play the pieces he was composing. None of this music is fully performable on other instruments (although plenty of pieces do include standard, or easily adapted instruments such as violas or guitars). These instruments are now museum pieces, and irreplaceable. They're also very difficult to copy, as Partch was an exceptionally skilled craftsman, and you can hardly dismantle some of the more complex items to figure out how he did it. So Partch's music is extremely specific to time and place: the instruments can only have a finite lifetime, and when they break or can no longer be maintained, the music is gone; and even while the instruments are in good condition, they are best kept in their current location at Montclair State University in New Jersey and are very rarely moved. The visit to London was the first time they had come to the UK, and it is unlikely that there will be another, especially of so full an ensemble. Partch's music came from nowhere, and will almost certainly disappear into nowhere one day as the instruments decay and the performances become no more. His whole body of work is temporary, like one giant happening, and this alone places Partch further outside the Western art tradition than any composer before or since.

And on the Seventh Day, is a characteristic work of Partch's for his instruments - very percussive and rhythmically driven. The consistent rhythmic patterns and marimba-like sonorities give his music a feel of Steve Reich's minimalism, but in actual fact the music is continually inventive and Partch's aesthetic sensibilities were quite different from the Downtown, urban experimentalism of Reich. Instead, Partch taps into something more purely human, with more of the spirit of the American frontier - a kind of mystical purity that at the same time as deploying aircraft fuel tanks and atomic lab equipment as sound sources found nourishment in ancient Greek mythology. There really is nothing else like Partch, and if you haven't already, seek him out. And if you ever have the chance to see his music in the flesh, do not miss it.

If you want to spend the rest of your day simply getting a feel for this stuff, you could do much worse than visit this virtual Partch museum, where there are playable Flash versions of all his instruments.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Update on the allmusic.com fiasco - Tim Murtaugh has spent a grand total of 2 hours rebuilding the site, and has come up with how it should look at least... Over to you, AMG.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

And in today's usability news, a once powerful and useful resource (All Music Guide) transforms itself into something half the world can't even read (Hint: if you're using any browser/platform combination other than Windows and IE5.5+, you're screwed). Well done chaps, money well spent. And have you ever even heard of accessibility?

[Click here for more details from waxy.org]

Doing the rounds 

Here's nice: two of the hottest linked-to items on the web at the moment are this story about Laurie Anderson becoming NASA's first artist-in-residence, and this site documenting 120 years of electronic music. What's surprising is that they've both made the Daypop Top 40, and neither is about Michael Moore, Instapundit or Gmail. What a pleasant change.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Accessible Od*on 

You try to do people a favour, and this is the thanks you get. Muppets.

[This is the horror flick that is the existing Odeon website. Proceed with caution.]

Interesting stuff. I always (in vain) tell my students to regard Testimony with the greatest suspicion, but now I shall direct them to Laurel Fay's essay in A Shostakovich Casebook.

(Ironically, Amazon run a special offer pairing A Shostakovich Casebook with Shostakovich and Stalin by Solomon Volkov, the very author discredited by Fay. Hmm.)

Saturday, July 10, 2004

There's a post over at Mischievous Constructions that might be of interest to Dylan at The Poetics of Decay, if he's not seen it already of course ...

Friday, July 09, 2004

Summer Burn 

My Summer Burn CDs are ready for two lucky people - and, if they're really lucky I might just get round to posting them this weekend. Tracklist runs as follows:

'Journey': The Gentle People: The Braindance Coincidence
'Spiral Dance': Keith Jarrett: Belonging
'Bug Powder Dust': Bomb The Bass: Clear
'Uprising': Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra: Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1
'Skills To Pay The Bills': The Beastie Boys: The Sounds Of Science
'Spellbound': Rae & Christian Featuring Veba: The Chillout Lounge 1
'Millions Of Images': William S. Burroughs: The Elvis Of Letters
'I Need The Disco Doctor': Space Raiders
'Song for the Orca': Travis Morrison
'Caught By The Fuzz' (Accoustic Version): Supergrass: Caught By The Fuzz
'I've Had A Few': Russ Tolman: New Quadraphonic Highway
'Indian Song': Elastica: Elastica
'Birdman' (BBC session version): Ride: Waves
'Showrooms': Sam Prekop: Sam Prekop
'The Viaduct' (Ian Carmichael remix): The Pastels: Illuminati
'Pale Blue Eyes': Marisa Monte: Rose & Charcoal (Verde Anil Amarelo Cor De Rosa & Carvão)
'You're The Top': Ella Fitzgerald: Sings The Cole Porter Song Book

Not at all how I thought it might come out. I did try a couple of other lists, but they ended up a) far too obvious, and b) far too dark for summer. Hope the two parties concerned enjoy this one, though.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Eh Eh Eh? 

My new sister-in-law is about a bizillion times cooler than I am, so milady and I have been listening to her copy of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Fever to Tell recently. And I for one am enjoying it immensely. I was quite relieved when I read the liner notes to see that Sonic Youth got a much deserved credit. Bits of this album sound exactly like how the follow up to Dirty might have sounded if SY had stopped taking themselves so seriously for a moment. There's even that trademark dissonant guitar slide at one point. Great stuff.

But this is all old news. What I actually wanted to write about was something rather more disturbing in the sleevenotes - the following disclaimer, which must be everywhere, but this is the first time I've seen it:

"Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure that the elements of this product are free from any defects and faults including computer viruses Polydor Ltd (UK) and its licensees do not take any responsibility for the same. Use of this product is entirely at the user's risk."

Now, to me this sounds like Ford attaching a disclaimer to their new cars stating that if the brakes don't work when you first take it out, don't come running to us. Or Express Dairies absolving all responsibility if their milk poisons you. Now, certainly there might be times when it's not Polydor's fault - someone could switch CDs before they get sold to you, say - but are they really able to absolve themselves of all responsibility like this? What if an unscrupulous (fictional) Polydor employee started burning viruses on the production line? Would we have no recourse? This all seems slightly fishy, but then, what do I know? I just want to listen to the music, if that's OK, but can I afford to take that risk ...?

Some sad news 

Nottingham's xylophone man has died, aged 73.

While this is not likely to be an obituary that will trouble me professionally, Xylophone Man, aka Frank Robinson was a famous musician in his own right. Almost anyone who has been to Nottingham city centre will have come across Xylophone Man. I lived there for three years (1995-8), and he was as permanent as the Trent. He used to sit in the pedestrian precinct outside the Broadmarsh centre with his toy xylophone (strictly speaking a glockenspiel) and 'play'. He had a unique style of hitting notes randomly, dropping in the occasional glissando for variation. Along with the penny whistle guy who sits outside the Oxford Street Debenhams doing a non-stop impression of a police siren, he may have been the least gifted busker I have ever seen. Now it's just possible that he was playing extracts from Stockhausen's series of Klavierstücke - and from memory this would be no mean feat - but I think it unlikely.

But he was always remembered with tremendous affection, and he even acquired some genuine local fame - the link above is to an interview published on BBC Nottingham, which originally came from LeftLion.co.uk, where there is a growing list of tributes to the great man (and a forum). And apparently the Evening Post (pronounced Eeeeeee Perrrrrrrrrrr!!! to those in the know) ran an obituary too. There's a growing campaign to get one of Nottingham's new trams named after him, and he is technically ahead of Robin Hood and Brian Clough according to Nottingham City Council's own criteria (dead historical figures) since he is both non-fictional, and sadly dead.

Rest in Peace feller.

Praise be: Cathy's back!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

This is quite groovy - it takes my del.icio.us tags and turns them into a scattered cloud of my thoughts.


By 'eck it's windy in Oxford today. I was just sat under a tree eating my lunch when a 30ft limb of ash blew off and landed just in front of me. No great tearing of wood - just a couple of cracks and a splash of hundreds of leaves. I took this as my cue to move from my seat, but a small group of us stayed gathered around, watching to see if any more trees would be blown to bits.

Oooh - I just made my first appearance on metafilter. Thank you Chris Brody for the plug!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Jessica Duchen picks up the never-ending thread (from AC Douglas, via Alex Ross), and makes some interesting points. Go and read them for yourself.

However, to bring things down to earth a little, it was this sentence that drew my attention:

"playground bullies will punch any musical kid to pieces for being what used to be called 'cissy' (is it still? dunno) and tell them that classical music isn't cool."

Ah, but the flipside is that good looking girls play the flute, and really cool girls play brass. The Rambler's top tip to any aspiring school musician? Learn the oboe ;-)

Forgive a moment of schmaltz - I'm still a newly wed, y'know! - but there are other ways culture helps you meet someone. When I first met milady, we spent loads of time swapping books and CDs back and forth (still do, although now they're all under the same roof). To mark the occasion, I took the first books of our courtship on honeymoon. I lent her Hopscotch, and in return got The New York Trilogy and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. If you've not read it yet, the first of these is the most spectacular book. It keeps flitting in and out of print, but is well worth tracking down. Introducing milady to Cortázar turned out to be a pretty wise move. For my part, when she roared with laughter after hearing the virtually pornographic climax of Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie I knew I was onto a good thing.

Saturday, July 03, 2004


I'm back. Had a magnificent time, obviously. Honeymoon was fabulous, wedding was perfect. Thanks to all who sent best wishes.

Obviously lots still to sort out in my non bloglife (a bizillion thank you notes for a start), but normal service will be resumed round here in the next few days. Cheers.

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