<$BlogRSDUrl$>

The Rambler :: blog

Monday, November 29, 2004

Blogroll rejigged 


In response to recent posts by Alex Ross and Scott Spiegelberg, I've tried adding author names to the blogroll. I'm not happy with the way it looks - too much like a block of indecipherable text - so it will probably get tinkered with before long. Maybe a darker text colour would do it? I'm reluctant to ditch blog titles all together since that's how most people recognise the blogs they read, and the title often carries more identifying weight than the author name. Any suggestions?


Things on my radar today 


Via Crooked Timber comes this list of OCLC's top 1000 most popular books owned by their member libraries. It makes for fascinating and very revealing reading. If you break the list down into just musical works on the list, some surprising (and satisfying) things appear - Carmen as high as number 2, the Rite of Spring ahead of West Side Story, Bach's Mass in B Minor and Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas making the list at all.

There's an early Christmas pressie for Mike Skinner;

and keep an eye out for all of this lot.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004


*licks lips*


Monday, November 22, 2004


And speaking of Covers, don't forget The Covers Project:
We're building a database of cover songs (songs performed by an artist other than the original performer) with the intention of creating cover "chains." A cover chain is a set of songs in which each song is a cover of a song by the band who covered the preceding song.

and Copy, Right, the MP3 blog for all your cover version needs.


Covers 


Probably unrelated to the current monkeySARS theme, the Telegraph have put up the top 50 covers of all time. This should prompt, of course, the usual wailing and nashing of teeth at such lists - here's my bit:

1) Why oh why isn't the Carpenters' 'Ticket to Ride' in there? Lightweight pop transformed into heartbreaking epic with just a single chord change and a little orchestration.

2) Speaking of the Carpenters, how about Sonic Youth's version of Superstar?

3) Speaking of Sonic Youth, how about Thurston Moore drawling over 'Get into the Groove'?

4) And speaking of Sonic Youth and 'Ticket to Ride' and etc. how about SY's demolition of TtR on Master Dik?

(OK, maybe that's a step too far)


Composition + language = national identity? 


Hmmm. Of course, a healthy scepticism is required when ever scientists start to deal with music. However, in this case the phenomenon has already been approached by musicologists, and even in one major case by a composer. Janacek, it is well known, wrote many of his vocal lines according to the rhythms of Czech speech. He used to sit in cafes transcribing conversations to give his operas a sense of realism.

But in purely instrumental music, the idea that a composer's spoken language might influence their musical one is commonly found in discussions of Chopin - in particular the mazurkas. Or, more accurately, there is something Polish about the mazurka rhythm, that in turn became an important part of Chopin's musical language (and later Szymanowski's), defining and reinforcing its Polishness - and adding weight to its significance for Poles for the next 150 years.

Polish, unlike English, is a phonetic language. Once you get the hang of how the letters should be pronounced, they are used consistently. No through/enough/cough/hiccough/Slough trickiness in Polish. In addition to this, Polish also has a completely systematic approach to accenting words. The accent always falls on the penultimate syllable. Thus, PendeREcki, and its genitive possessive, PendereckiEgo. Once you figure out these two things, Polish is pretty easy to pronounce - which is good, since the rest of it is dead hard.

As for the mazurka, well this is a dance rhythm written in 3/4 time. But, unlike a waltz, in which the accent falls heavily on the first beat, a mazurka rhythm is accented on the second (ie penultimate) beat. This gives it an unexpected lurch, which fits uneasily with our waltz-trained minds, but which is wholly characteristic of the accent style of Polish speech. Penderecki in west European waltz-time would be pronounced PENderecki, PENderecki; in a mazurka it's pronounced PendeREcki, PendeREcki.

So there may be something in what Dr Patel is saying in the Guardian article above - but let's not forget that music does not exist in a vacuum. Science like this is interesting as far as it goes, but it cannot explain everything - but neither can I. National identity in music is forged in countless different ways - conscious and unconscious, poeitic (composer-side), esthesic (listener-side), and neutral level (the score itself). Chopin sounds Polish undoubtedly in part because of the accenting patterns; but equally to most contemporary Poles he sounds Polish because you can't avoid hearing him everywhere on the streets and in the shops of their hometowns; for their parents and grandparents, Chopin sounds Polish because that is what was played by State-controlled radio whenever live broadcasting was pulled, as it frequenty was in the early 1980s. (One Pole has wryly observed that he dreaded hearing Chopin on the radio, because it meant that something bad was about to happen.) There's a wealth of complex and unmappable interrelations between life, sound, speech and music that go towards making Chopin 'sound Polish' today (for a fuller analysis than this, see "National Anthems: The Case of Chopin as a National Composer" by Zdzislaw Mach, in Ethnicity, Identity and Music: the Musical Construction of Place, ed. Martin Stokes.)

So maybe something in the rhythms and melodic shapes of Elgar makes it sound English - but equally, isn't there something much more complex and revealing about this embedded Englishness at work too? Elgar hated the idea of being co-opted by the nationalist lobby, for example. And will Elgar's music remain equally Engish for all time? If the Englishness is embedded in the score itself, we might say yes (insofar as the speech patterns of British English remain relatively unchanged), but can we be sure?

Update: Here's a copy of the original Patel paper being referred to.


Friday, November 19, 2004

Toot! 


That was the sound of my own trumpet being blown, for which I probably owe and apology.

I've been playing a bit more with Google Scholar, and it didn't take that long before I - in hope more than expectation - scholar-Googled myself. Top two results for '"Tim Johnson" music'. Score! Once the new surname kicks in in print, I'm gonna be all over this like a rash, heheh... ;-)


Popular: the Merseybeat Years 


Y'know the best things about long journeys? Spotting landmarks, reaching landmarks.


Google Scholar 


Calling all academics: we all need to bookmark this.

Wow.


Reminder 


John Peel's final show to be aired at 10.30 tonight.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Blogging and Perspective 


I came across this post by Steve Rubel earlier. Rubel's suggestion is that bloggers should be TIME's people of the year, and he has opened up a campaign to e-mail the editors and put blogging's case to them.

Unsurprisingly, his post has generated a decent amount of interest in the blogosphere. It is the latest in a line of self-congratulatory burblings to have emerged - mostly from the political blogs - in the wake of the US election, giving the impression that now the election is over, the blogosphere needs something new to talk about and in desperation is turning to its navel. As loose ideas swirl around the blog universe, they start to coalesce and cool, and form solid core principles. The core formed from the nebula of ideas like Rubel's is that blogs are replacing print journalism and the mainstream media, or at the very least have the absolute power to influence it. Here's why I think this is, for now at least, ridiculous.

I work for a publication that exists in both print and online formats. It's very large, expensive, and definitive. Most good libraries need it, in one form or another. The print version was published several years ago, and is of course static. The online version is frequently updated - to the best of the abilities of a limited staff no doubt - and it is already some distance removed from its print shadow. As well as all the searching and browsing options required from an online publication, there is also a certain amount of multimedia content, substantial new text content, and most of the inevitable errors of the print version have been corrected. In print it is the biggest, most authoratative publication of its kind in the world; online it is bigger and even more authoratative, as well as more accessible and considerably cheaper.

Why even bother with the printed copy then? Well, most libraries actually own both online and print. My college library has two print copies - as well as online licenses. Both print copies are passing rapidly out of date, but both are heavily used by students: volumes are always waiting to be reshelved, and my own students (hardly short of web skills) always cite the print rather than the online version in their essays. In my office I obviously have access to the online copy on my PC in front of me, but I also have the printed version on a shelf behind my head. Most times if I just want to check a quick fact I turn round and reach up. Many of our readers admit to doing the same - my editor even turns to the book as much as the site. There is something about leafing pages that confers authority on a text that the web is, as yet, unable to do.

As far as blogging is concerned, I am now talking about blogs vs newspapers, about blogs as conduits for news and opinion. On the latter, I think there is no doubt that blogs have the upper hand. Without the pressures of deadlines (no matter how closely you might be watching sitemeter tick over), or editors, or space, or focus, good blogs can voice opinion more thoroughly, widely and controversially than I think print will ever be able to do. This is, for someone with a tagline such as mine, A Good Thing. Regarding news, however, the story is very different.

If you're reading a news story you are, presumably, doing so (on one level at least) in order to establish facts - you may also be looking for news stories to confirm your own suspicions or prejudices but I'll come to that in a minute. Establishing facts can be done in two ways: you go out and do the research yourself and compare with the original (most of us don't have the time or skills or inclination to do this), or you take on trust what the author has written. Inevitably we all take things we read on trust too easily, but there are still checks that most of us run through on a text as it is presented to us so that we might try to establish the veracity of what we're reading. One of these checks is 'does it confirm something we already believe?'. This isn't necessarily bad - if we're well-read on a subject and through diligent research have established what the facts of a case more-or-less are, then something that fits that pattern will seem more plausible than something that flies brazenly in the face of established knowledge (that of course doesn't mean it can't be true. But it usually isn't.). This is applicable to all texts, online and in print, and it's just something we do.

Most of the rest of these checks, however, are print- or online-specific. Here are a few examples to show what I mean:

1) A printed book, vs a blog. Simply from the fact that it has been printed and distributed and you bought it from a major bookstore confers a certain authority on the text. But, who published it? University press publications, for example, might be assumed to have more authority than small independents (and certainly more than self-publications). By their very nature as independent, homemade productions, blogs simply don't have this authority. By these rules, they are all bunkum.

2) But we suspect that that's not true. They can't all be junk. Something we're much more likely to do is to check a blog author through Google - I don't think I've ever looked up a book author this way. What else (where else) have they published? Do they have any apparent agenda which might conflict with their portrayal of the facts? Can we find a picture? (Book authors all get a flyleaf picture, so we don't pay much attention to them.)

3) What about design? All books essentially look the same, but blogs don't. My experience of recently filtering through more than 6,000 links sorting good from bad told me how important design was to one's impressions of a site. If a site is clean, navigable, doesn't swarm with geocities pop-ups, and has a named author and a date, it immediately feels more authoratative. Poorly coded Yahoo homepages, no matter how good their content, have an uphill struggle and the same goes for blogs.

And so on and so on. Blogs are obviously filling spaces the mainstream media cannot reach, and will eventually begin to replace parts of it (especially now that many newspapers are starting to run their own blogs). Already an important job blogs do is draw attention to stories that the MSM may not cover, or cover too lightly; but in most of these cases, this is done by linking to already published print journalism. Very rarely do you see actual new stories broken by the blogs - and certainly I've yet to see one posted by those doing much of the trumpeting now. The role of most blogs at the moment is as secondary source channels and to commentators, not primary source authors. This will no doubt change, but until a mindset is in place for reading websites that is analogous to pulling a leather-bound volume from the shelf, blogs will remain the introspective opinion-pushers that they are today.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Stop! Thief! 


Re. all of the below, the photo accompanying this story is just too funny not to share.

[Thanks NTK!]


Copyright newz 


There have been a whole load of copyright/music/downloading/sampling/thekidsarealright/wejustwannalistentothemusicOK? things popping up recently, so here's a linky linky post bringing them all together.

First up, that Wilco interview for Wired News has been popping up everywhere. Even if you live in an online cave you may have seen it. As a confirmed admirer of Hans Robert Jauss and the Konstanz school of reception theory, I welcome sentiments such as this from Jeff Tweedy:
A piece of art is not a loaf of bread. When someone steals a loaf of bread from the store, that's it. The loaf of bread is gone. When someone downloads a piece of music, it's just data until the listener puts that music back together with their own ears, their mind, their subjective experience. How they perceive your work changes your work.

Treating your audience like thieves is absurd. Anyone who chooses to listen to our music becomes a collaborator.
It's a clear choice as the headline-grabbing quote; but unfortunately I don't think executives are heavy on German literary theory, and the idea of 'concretization' is not one they've ever brought into a business model. For me, the stronger point is this
WN: How do you feel about some of the new kinds of rights management alternatives some are proposing, instead of our current copyright schemes -- for instance, Creative Commons licenses that would allow your fans to remix your material for personal, noncommercial use?

Tweedy: Commercial use is one thing, but I have no problem with fans tinkering with it on their laptops, then sharing it with their friends -- that's just a new way for them to listen.
It's still concretization obviously, but it's also more tangibly productive: people are making stuff. Hey, you might even be able to sell it. Consider this: there's just a chance that someone sampling the Beatles isn't actually going to hurt Beatles record sales one little bit; what if you stopped thinking of it as theft, and thought of it as a creative act - bingo! A new record to sell.

Seek out creativity, foster it. It will reward you, dumbo.

Speaking of the Beatles ... It had to happen; and now it has and it is pretty fly I reckon. DJ Danger Mouse has remixed a vid for The Grey Album's 'Encore'. Featuring DJ Ringo on the wheels of steel. I need y'all to roar.

On a more theoretical/activist tip, Downhill Battle have announced pubication of two new sites, "in response to the attempts by lobbying groups for Hollywood and the software industry to force misleading and propagandistic curriculums about filesharing and online rights into public schools." More:

The first page is called Kids Smell Bullshit and, as you may have guessed, this one's for the kids. Complete with a letter / photo contest (win an ipod mini!), a wiki to transform the bogus curricula, and a ton of crazy crap that kids love.

The second is a slightly more serious page called the Collaborative Copyright and Technology Law Curriculum. This one's for the grownups in the house who want to do some serious ass-whooping. It's a wiki (a collaborative editing/writing tool) for building a balanced, accurate copyright curriculum for teachers that want to address these issues in their classroom. Help us make a real alternative to the self-interested materials foisted on teachers and students.

For some background on these projects, the MPAA has hired Junior Achievement to go into schools and teach an anti-filesharing, "safety on the internet" class, intimidatingly-dubbed, "What's the Diff?". The Business Software Alliance, meanwhile, is paying the Weekly Reader to include their anti-piracy curriculum in the publication which goes out to millions of students. Putting aside the extremely problematic nature of a education system that lets companies buy their way into the classroom, both of these curriculums are narrow, misleading, and intended simply to scare students away from using filesharing software (and the internet). They do not discuss the purpose of copyright law, the role of fair use rights, or the many different ways that filesharing technology can and is being used. On the plus side, both are lame enough that they probably aren't making much of a dent into these impressionable young minds-- nevertheless, substantial alternatives are in order.
All looks very good in principle - although one voice has already commented that "this would be considerably easier to implement in my classroom were it not for the word "bullshit"!" Fair enough.

[Oh, and if you think that stuff about force-feeding the curriculum was all scary, read what the BPI are apparently up to. Nasty.]


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Band Aids 3-19 


The best Band Aid post you can hope to see. Nice one.


Monday, November 15, 2004

21st Century Music: Aesthetics and Reception 


Now this looks like an interesting conference:

'21st Century Music: Aesthetics and Reception'
Keynote speaker: Trevor Wishart, author of On Sonic Art and Audible Design

Royal Musical Association Study Day
Royal Northern College of Music, UK
Saturday 14 May 2005, 10.00am - 4.30pm

Call for papers

Are we still caught up in the binary business of Modernism? Or are there other ways of thinking about contemporary musical practices?

Dare we admit the consequences of having entered a new age of musical practice, bounded on one side by historical events, such as the death of Stravinsky, the fall of the Berlin Wall, New Labour, the digital revolution and 9-11, and on the other side...by the future?

Does each globally available localised music demand its own listening strategy, its own micro-aesthetic? Is it possible to generalise about musical practices, languages, and styles? Or has the consumption of music become a matter of individual cases? What has become of the relation between / separation of life and music? Has life become expressly musical?
(How) has music become the very core of everyday life?

What about the implications of the digital economy of music, now that with technology we can manipulate musical parameters more delicately than the ear can perceive? How should we understand the relations between music, sound, and noise? Do we (still) confront issues like beauty, form, taste, and judgement in a meaningful way? Or should we forget aesthetics and move on?

With such questions in mind, what might we make of the aesthetics of music today and tomorrow?


More details through the link.



Spotted via del.icio.us/tag/music, here's a blog whose title immediately demanded my attention: Musicologyman.

Just over a year ago I was lamenting the lack of classical music blogs. Now I seem to find new ones every week...


Warning 


Warning kids: thinking about music downloading too much can turn you into a survivalist crank.

I am preserving our history. When the world goes up in flames in this jihad against all things Western, music will be one of the first casualties. I want to preserve that. No matter what it costs.


Y'know, we already have libraries an' that...


Friday, November 12, 2004

Wire Office Ambience 


Thanks to Jonathan for the pointer: this initiative from The Wire to stream online the current 'office ambience' listing is a top idea. It may be copping a bit of flack in many quarters at the moment, and it's far from perfect (what isn't?), but I'm still glad The Wire exists.


Thursday, November 11, 2004


86400 seconds has a couple of interesting observations following up on that Beatie Boys/sampling story; but you really want to go there to read some peachy (and not at all libellous) irreverence in the comments box - ha!


Wednesday, November 10, 2004


"I'm appeared"?

It sounds like some sort of reverse-Stalinist anti-purge, but actually it's just a typo.

Sorry, no other content today - still busy - but there are plenty of new links popping up over on the left there

<
<
<
<
<

including the news on the latest micro-battle in the Sample Wars...


Monday, November 08, 2004

New linkage 


No time for actual content today - November means my teaching slot begins again, I've got four weeks to put together all my work for my MPhil/PhD upgrade next term, and at some point in the next couple of months I've got to write a new lecture on Szymanowski, and edit my first volume of British Postgraduate Musicology (any British music postgrads who want to contribute, head here). Busy busy busy, and that doesn't include Christmas.

So, here are some new(ish) blogs and a bit of reciprocal linkage. Go see:

terminaldegree - about-to-complete US music Ph.D. candidate.

Sounds Like New - Texas-based composer

Locust St. - 1940s MP3 blog

Side Effects - Dylan Trigg's new one

and I'm appeared on loveecstasycrime's linkage, so that gets a plug too.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Avet Terterian 


Right now I am listening for the first time to a piece by the Armenian composer Avet Terterian. On the strength of the first few minutes of his 8th Symphony he's shaping up to be my favourite recent discovery.

The 8th Symphony was composed in 1989 for orchestra, 2 sopranos and tape and is heavily indebted (as I understand much of Terterian's work was) to so-called Polish 'sonorists' (Penderecki, Szalonek, Serocki and so on). But what's striking initially is that for all but the odd lone individual in Poland (namely Szalonek), sonorism died a pretty quick death after its emergence in the late 1950s. To hear it so clearly in a work of the late 1980s is unusual. Terterian's work has absorbed the impulse shared by so many works from 1980s Central and Eastern Europe (see pieces by Górecki, Pärt, Kancheli, Gubaydulina and so on) to move towards a lush, but critically cool soundworld, but this symphony remains uncompromising in its discordance. I'm absolutely loving this. If you haven't heard any Terterian, I'd advise clicking on the link above and making your way to the audio section of the site. All 8 symphonies are there, although most are in single files, so be prepared to spend a lot of time downloading.


American music bloggers on the election 


The gamut of emotions in the best posts I've read in the last 24 hours:

Spluttering rage (followed by flight instincts),

gallows humour,

irreverence

grim honesty,

and tears.

You're all welcome on my London couch. Speaking as a European trying to keep a cool perspective (not easy), I reckon Jay has made the strongest points I expect to read anywhere, blogs or MSM, for weeks. Everyone should read his post.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Music and online promotion 


Actually, I've come across plenty of terrible sites for opera houses. It almost seems a prerequisite for the job. Heaven forbid that someone without time to download every available plug-in, or someone visually-impaired, or using a text-only browser might want to visit the site. It's even worse if you want to find out what's on, or even buy a ticket. Like the recently discussed horrors of classical music 'promotional' press releases, we should also add the ghastliness of music's institutional websites.

Here are three other stinkers I've come across today. I could have listed dozens more.

Teatro San Carlo - Firstly, there's the cardinal sin of using images where text would be fine (top left corner). But the peach on this site is the explanatory text at the bottom (again, an image when actual text would be fine), which is needed to explain how to find the current listings - probably the most important bit of the site, promotionally speaking. If you need to explain it, change it.
Teatro Real - Yes, it's the usual over-fussy, pointless flash interface. But the gem is the right-hand column, which leaps around to make space for itself when you mouse over it. Why? Why why why? A couple of hundred pixels' extra height would have done just as well. Even better, a straightforward HTML page with the information on it that we can all read.
Teatro Massimi Bellini - Well, there's the pointless front page 'Click here to enter' nonsense (why do people still do that?). But the thing that really got me about this site is that it took about a dozen clicks and several minutes to find out how to navigate it. It's less than obvious. The even funnier part is that even when you find the navigation, it still appears in Italian, no matter what language you've selected. Cheers!

I have a pet theory that the web has gone through stylistic phases similar to musical and artistic periods - Usenet etc. was pre-Renaissance, CSS and web-standards are bringing us into a sort of neo-classicism - that sort of thing. If that's so, it's interesting that music's promotional websites should be so tied to an overblown, Romantic model of exclusive elitism. The actual experience of buying a ticket from sites such as these (and I emphasise again, these are a truly representative slice of the dozens of similar sites I've seen for opera houses and concert halls around the world) eerily echoes the sort of thing that rightly deters many people from visiting the venues in question - dress code (Windoze, IE, Flash, cookies enabled, etc etc), elitism (don't be disabled, on a slow connection, or short of time), and absurd self-importance, an emphasis of superficial achievement over experience and value.

(Oh, and in case you think I'm singling out classical music for these crimes, try Sting's website. Particularly like the Thai lovebead-style navigation that disappears after three seconds, like world-championship Kim's Game.)

(Second oh - I know this site's hardly perfect, but at least I've the good grace not to ask to be paid for its design ;-))


Other things 


Other things I've been noticing recently: really really horrible web design. OK, nothing new, but this site for La Scala takes the biscuit. What the hell's going on there?!


Quick linx 


No matter how much the Guardian would like to wish it otherwise, today's a normal day for we Brits, so here's a short list of things that have caught my attention recently:

The Brit Awards are dumping their dance music category in favour of a 'best live act' award. Why do they have to make room? Why not just introduce a new category? (Didn't they do this recently anyway?) The implications of ditching dance for live acts might also be of interest to this dissensus thread.

Kyle Gann on pop criticism and classical criticism

and Aaron Wherry on Eminem's new one.


Monday, November 01, 2004

Birtwistle Games, South Bank Centre 


[Festival still ongoing, more details here]

Birtwistle, Scelsi, Feldman, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 28/10/04, London Sinfonietta

And thus London's official celebration for the 70th birthday of our leading composer begins. The Queen Elizabeth Hall is hardly a large venue, but even so it's at least a third empty. For the opening concert of a 3-week-long festival, this is quite a low-key programme – the big crowd puller was on Sunday with Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Antiphonies alongside Earth Dances. There's also a feeling that perhaps, in this anniversary year, we are becoming a little Birtwistled-out; and of course there's the simple fact that for 40 years Birtwistle has long drawn disfavour from audiences who think this is still the 1940s, or cannot forgive him for blowing an exuberant 30-minute raspberry at the establishment with the Proms commission Panic.

For all that he sticks in the craw of the English musical mass, Birtwistle's music has always sounded English to me. It's something to do with its harsh verticality – a memory of flint. Granite in November rain. His genius has been to meld this with pagan ritual, extending Stonehenge and the Saxon barrow back to ancient Greece, singing it through the interlocking pulse patterns of change ringing or grandfather clocks in hallways. Tonight the Sinfonietta make the second half of that formula click, but at times they step back from the edginess. My companion - who knows the piece better than I - describes Silbury Air as 'flat'. It sounds too timid perhaps - drifting into that picture postcard image of England. Vaughan Williams, not Walton. Secret Theatre is better, although I'm not convinced by Birtwistle's composed stage management - here or in Ritual Fragment, which opens the concert. In other pieces - such as The Silk House Tattoo - this works well, but here I found the movements of players in and out of the orchestra more distracting than enlightening, and in Ritual Fragment especially all too predictable.

Of the other two pieces, Scelsi's Kya was disappointing. It started well, gently evolving strands of sound, but revealed itself, inexplicably, as a three-movement work – the second two of which introduced a soloistic clarinet part, but felt more indistinguished because of it. Feldman's The Viola in My Life II was, well, wonderful. It's a very hard trick to fill a musical space with such small ensembles - especially when you give them so few notes to use as Feldman does - but Feldman manages it by working with the grain of the instruments, never against it. This is most obvious in the viola writing, which is so spare that it allows its performer (Paul Silverthorne on this occasion) to invest it with maximum lyricism, naturally filling that space with secure, rich tone. We'll probably never see the day when Feldman gains the mass acceptance of Tavener or Górecki, but with works like this it remains a mystery why not.

Birtwistle, big band jazz, Royal Festival Hall, 31/10/04, Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra and Big Band

It strikes me, while waiting for the concert to start (jazz first, then Birtwistle), that Panic is beginning to take on a role as an establishment football. And not just in relation to The Establishment, the outraged flag-waving Prommers who protested Panic's appearance on their Albert Hall turf in 1995. Because, for all the work's shortcomings, it also represented a tremendous victory for the modernist establishment. There was one of our lot, cocking a snook at all the fuddy-duddies in their Union Flag bowler hats.

The marvellous thing about the piece itself is that it's so comprehensively divisive. Simply as a result of that Proms performance, you have to have an opinion on it. And for those that believe people should be listening to Birtwistle (they should be, but Panic is certainly not the place to start) it has become a symbol of unity, the means to bring together the opposing groups under a common musical banner. This was the thinking behind programming it on the Last Night, alongside Jerusalem, and Pomp and Circumstance.

But it didn't work then, because its very nature is aggressively divisive. It is a literally shattering composition; time and again knots of energy are built up and exploded into shards of noise. This evening's programme is another attempt to reconcile the definitively non-establishment Panic with another realm - this time the big band jazz of Stan Kenton and Lester Young. At first I thought it might work. From a distance it looked like a wickedly brave bit of programming, and it drew in a curious crowd - with the obligatory 'I've been cheated' walkouts five minutes into Harrison's explosions. Of course against the warm string sounds of a Promenade concert, Panic sticks out; with 15 minutes to tune our eyes into the particular sound world of brass and percussion, perhaps it would seem less of a shock.

I'm happily surprised to report that it was not so. Although an initially weak wind orchestra sound took some of the snap out of the gear-change, the Birtwistle still sounded as uncomfortable and discomforting as ever, and gained momentum throughout. The two soloists – Rob Buckland and Ben Grey did particularly well; Grey, who had also drummed for the big band set, looked much more in his element here, and as pivot between the two ensembles in part justified the programming. Ironically, the Birtwistle gave him much more opportunity to swing, and at points his playing was nonchalantly and pleasingly louche.


Music and Politics 


These days there isn't much else. Thankfully, Alex Ross has neatly brought them together. I love the sound of Phil Kline's Rumsfeld Songs:

By some arcane alchemy, Kline draws clean melodic lines from such unpromising material as Rumsfeld’s analysis of the looting of Baghdad: "It's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase." I caught myself singing this the other day, to my alarm.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. All non-proprietary code is valid XHTML.