The Rambler :: blog
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
This is probably my last post before Christmas. Tomorrow I'm off to the snowy wastes of North Cumbria, and milady and I will be putting our faith in the tender mercies of Virgin Trains. Say a prayer for us.
I'll probably be back, bloated with turkey and christmas pud, some time before new year, but in the meantime have a click on this lot:
Grey Album-style mashup fever: this time DJ BC gives the Beastie Boys the Beatles treatment;
The Standing Room blogs on Phil Kline's Unsilent Night in San Francisco;
Carl Wilson blogs on Ukrainian post-election protest music;
Kyle Gann does horizontal time;
Marcus Maroney responds.
Plenty to chew on when the mince pies run out. Have a great one, y'all.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Back in March, my Job required me to start collecting obituaries of musicians. I've blogged already about the oddities of obituaries. What I want to do here is put up, by way of memorial, a list of all those we have lost this year. Not because I have a morbid fascination in this sort of thing; rather - as I mention in that previous post - because of a lively interest in memory, memorial and the achievements of great people. Memory is one of the most important materials in music - it's like marble for a sculptor - and remembering the dead is one of the most important human functions. Remembering musicians seems important on so many levels.
The list below is in rough reverse chronological order. It was compiled by me throughout the year using a combination of e-mail mailing lists and the obituaries RSS feed available from Moreover. It goes without saying that the list is far from complete, and unfortunately only goes as far back as March.
I've tried to link to available obituaries wherever possible.
2004 felt like a bad year for musicians. John Peel, Ray Charles and Elvin Jones will probably head any list of high profile losses in the end-of-year papers, and they will all be sadly missed. It felt like a bad year for punk too, with the deaths of Robert Quine, Arthur Kane and Johnny Ramone in quick succession. Zombies guitarist Paul Atkinson also said his goodbyes.
Reggae took a couple of big knocks with the losses of Coxsone Dodd and Errol Thompson. Elsewhere, metal, industrial and hiphop were shocked by the sudden deaths of Darrell Abbott, Jhonn Balance and Ol' Dirty Bastard.
In classical and opera, Robert Merrill, Renata Tebaldi and Carlos Kleiber were among the significant departures. Composers Denis ApIvor, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and Jonathan Kramer will also be missed. Kramer's contribution to musicology will also be missed; musicology also lost Denis Stevens, Percy Young, Cyril Ehrlich and Albi Rosenthal.
Sadly, every year too many jazz and blues musicians die. Elvin Jones is of course the most significant of 2004; mention should also be made of Illinois Jacquet, Sacha Distel and Robert 'Willie' Egan.
Unfortunately, it was also a sad year for those of us who were still boys in the mid-80s. Etienne Roda-Gil and Ritchie Cordell, the composers of 'Joe le Taxi' and 'I think we're alone now' respectively both passed away. For various reasons these two songs had a major influence on so many of today's 20-something men. God bless you both.
Finally, do spare a thought for the Zawose family. Hukwe Zawose, who died late last year, was one Tanzania's greatest musicians. His nephew Charles died in October of this year from an AIDS-related condition. Charles Zawose, singer and ilimba-player, was accompanist of choice for his uncle, and was a fine musician. Both their deaths have brought to an end one of Tanzania's greatest musical dynasties.
Musician Deaths in 2004
Singer of Carnatic music
BBC Symphony Orchestra harpist
Margaret Fay Shaw
Collector of Gaelic folksong
Country and Western singer
Motown singer, songwriter and producer
Symphonic wind conductor
Jamaican recording engineer
Lyricist, worked with Dylan and on Broadway
Billy 'Uke' Scott
Ukulele player and music hall star
Composer of Filippino national hymn
Film composer (New Jack City), and "Godfather of French Fusion"
Ol' Dirty Bastard
Wu Tang Clan rapper
Doo-wop bass singer with the Diamonds
Manager of Grand Funk Railroad
Jazz pianist and accordionist
New Model Army drummer and songwriter
Pianist and teacher
Garage rock entrepreneur
Soul CD compiler and music journalist
Arranger, composer and conductor who worked on Broadway
Guitarist with the Ramones
Pianist and composer
Songwriter - taught the world to sing and buy Coke
Lead singer with the Move
Singer, songwriter and actress
Bluegrass singer and guitarist
African salsa singer
Cellist and music editor
Composer of 'Singing the Blues'
Oscar winning film composer
Emmy-winning guitarist who played with Sinatra
Robert 'Willie' Egan
Film composer, wrote 'Laura'
'Super Freak' songwriter
Italian film composer
Master of the Portuguese guitar
Oscar-winning film score composer
Pianist with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers
Smooth French crooner
DJ credited with establishing Elvis Presley
Claude "Fiddler" Williams
Original bassist with the New York Dolls
Composer and musicologist
Violinist and conductor
Economist and music historian
Guitarist with Richard Hell and Lou Reed
Chanson writer - wrote 'Joe le Taxi'
Moody Blues bassist
Pianist, "the Alkan man"
Instrumentalist and musical polymath
Letitia S. Bernhardt
Founder of Baltimore opera
John la Porta
Elgar scholar, composer and editor
R 'n' B legend
Queen of African pop
"The best guitarist in the world"
Oscar-winning film composer
Songwriter of 'I think we're alone now' and others
Vocal coach and accompanist
Trumpeter with Acker Bilk
James H. Bey
Saxophonist, singer and songwriter
Soviet era composer
Actress and singer
Singer and songwriter
Conductor, composer and champion of Czech music in Britain
Folk singer and songwriter of ‘Lord of the Dance’
Co-founder of Stax records
RIP, all of you.
I really hope this isn't true. And secondly, why?
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
So, quite a few people around the place have been buying big harddrives and transferring all their music onto MP3s - with attendant worries about organisation, and backups.
Well, much as may, in the past, have come across as an MP3-head, I'm very reluctant to lose my physical format music. I've been getting kinda bored with iTunes recently - finding myself playing CDs live on the computer rather than as MP3s, or just listening to the radio. Strange that. Something about the overabundance of choice iTunes presents you with. You can't scan your racks and let something catch your eye. Or, even better, let someone play you something you've not heard before.
This really hit me when (shameful admission coming up), I was making some cheeky copies of discs I'd bought friends and family as Christmas pressies. Well, I've spent the money on them, why shouldn't I get a listen...?
Ahem. I'm sure they do the same.
Anyway, thoughts of Christmas benevolence to one's kith and kin aside, the fact that I now have MP3 copies of records that I'm not going to own physical versions of is really unsatisfying, and leaves me feeling pretty cold. For the purposes of research, and a basic desire to hear all music ever, then great, I've got some copies of some stuff I've not heard before, but I don't actually have anything particularly nice to go alongside the basic acquisitive impulse. One of my greatest pleasures - in an OCD kind of way - is unwrapping new CDs, peeling off all the price labels and other crap, reading every single word in the inlay, looking for names I recognise in the acknowledgments. It's stating the obvious, but MP3s don't let you do that.
And this isn't an ethical question for me. It's one about the pure experience of music - and more and more I'm feeling that sitting in front of a computer watching it run through a giant database table is a pretty unrewarding experience - no matter the quality of the music. Music is best heard moments after slotting or placing a disc into or onto some sort of hi-fi machine and sitting down with a cup of tea; or through headphones on cold autumn streets.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that after thinking about such issues - and the aforementioned backup question - I decided I needed a decent CD burner. Not a second hard drive. 3/4 of my MP3s I already have on original CD, so no back up needed there anyway, which saves me a ton of data that I would otherwise need to store. And, properly organised, burnt CDs would bring everything into the living room and cups of tea on the sofa, and give me something round to slot into a machine. Enter ebay, and 30 minutes later I've bid for and won a nice Lacie drive. Isn't the internet great?
I need to spend a bit of time reading this over at clap clap. Which I will do, when I have a bit of time...
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Can anyone reading help me with this, or at least direct me somewhere useful? Thank you!
I've been sent a document in Word, it includes a couple of lines of text and a picture - is there any way to extract the picture (it's a bitmap image, probably a scan) as a stand-alone jpg or gif? Any help (in comments or by e-mail) greatly appreciated, thank you!
Sunday, December 12, 2004
A whole of bunch of new stuff that has crossed the Rambler desktop this weekend:
David Jennings @ DJ Alchemi writes up on the Christian Marclay gig at Tate Modern
Voltage has a nice slice of ambient IDM from Ulrich Schnauss at the moment. Cheesy, slushy, mebbe - but it's Christmas time, innit. You can't beat jingly bell sounds*.
Greg Sandow draws a line between the recent deaths of Jackson Mac Low and Dimebag Darrell.
Copy, Right? has a bunch of alternative Christmas tunes.
In the news:
Ummmmm! I'm telling on you!
On the web:
Mutopia is the sheet music answer to Project Gutenburg. Top hole!
* "If there were no bells
I myself would invent them." (Attila József: Bells)
Friday, December 10, 2004
Ah, December. List time.
I'm terrible at making end-of-year lists. For one thing, I don't tend to follow trends very well. If I can afford music that day, it gets spent catching up one of those millions of musical paths I've always promised myself rather than opening up new ones. I think I bought maybe half a dozen new CDs this year. Fortunately, among them were The Streets and Kanye West, so without too much shame I can post my top two records of the year:
1. Kanye West: The College Dropout
2. The Streets: A Grand Don't Come For Free
I'm confident that as top twos go, that's pretty representative.
The other problem I have when compiling best-of-year lists is that I can't remember what I've seen or heard that year. I think my film of the year was The Station Agent, but I'm probably missing one somewhere (and not Eternal Sunshine - I remember that, but enjoyed TSA more). Yancey Strickler is running a good take on the year-end thang - a top twenty of things that shaped 2004, with a post on each. Well worth checking out. I don't have the inspiration for that sort of thing, but here are three thematic top tens:
Le Tigre: live at All Tomorrow's Parties
A bit of an unlikely one this. I've seen more live music this year than I've bought new records, so almost inevitably a live show was going to reach the top. ATP was hugely enjoyable throughout, and there was a bunch of strong acts who might have made top ten. Sonic Youth were excellent, in an unsurprising, absolutely on top of their game, secure sort of way. Dizzee was brilliant, and technically the best act by a mile; Fiery Furnaces and OOIOO shone amidst a lot of early afternoon drudge; and LCD Soundsystem were let down by horrible PA problems. But Le Tigre's show is what I remember most fondly. From the opening rush of their 'I'm so excited' cover they were easily the most fun on the menu, and while most acts inspired wall-to-wall beard stroking, Le Tigre spread a rash of grins that took a long time to wash off. In the end it was the fun that won it.
John Cage, Uncaged: Barbican
Kanye West: The College Dropout
Dizzee Rascal: live at All Tomorrow's Parties
The Streets: A Grand Don't Come for Free
Michael van der Aa: One
Bollywood Freaks: 'Don't Stop till you get to Bollywood'
If 2003 was the year of the music blog, 2004 was undoubtedly the year of the mp3 blog. The year in music and the net has been dominated by copyright and downloading issues like no other since the arrival of Napster: mp3 blogs rose to the top of, and above the debate all year. Whereas music blogs made a minor splash on the pages of the Wire and occasionally even the Guardian, mp3 blogs hit genuine mainstream media radars - heck, even the Sunday Times's pedestrian online section managed to notice Scissorkick and A Million Love Songs the other week. Services like the MP3 Blogs aggregator and forkslovestofu's stunning Musicblog roundup on Monkeyfilter have helped to spread the word, and now mp3 blogging is big. The most remarkable thing is that with a few exceptions it all seems to have remained out of sight of (or tacitly sanctioned by) the record companies - a good word on Fluxblog, say, is worth thousands in promotion - and in some instances companies have enlisted bloggers to lauch new tracks. Long may they all continue.
Dj Dangermouse: The Grey Album
Cheap trainers on Ebay
-- I’m not going to bore you with the details on this one ;-)
EU accession for East-Central Europe
XML for Blogger
The birth of a new Ukraine
DAB radio, and having Test Match Special back in my life.
Here's to 2005!
Further to the closure of Exeter University's music department posted about below, a 'sad and disgusted' Evelyn Glennie has returned her honorary degree too.
Monday, December 06, 2004
The University of Exeter - University News
Amidst all the recent and ongoing kerfuffle about Exeter University voting to close its Chemistry Department (the fourth Chem Dept to go this year - prompting Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto to return his honorary degree), Newcastle losing Physics and Cambridge considering dispensing with Architecture (prompting high profile protest from Norman Foster, Antony Gormley and Griff Rhys-Jones) at least two Music Departments have also been chopped in recent months.
Reading University voted to close its Department earlier this summer. And the meeting that saw Exeter's Chemistry course vanish also did for their music too:
The Senate of the University of Exeter, at its meeting on Wednesday 1 December, supported a package of measures designed to position the University to take maximum advantage of its strengths in teaching and research.
Music making will continue and be strengthened by the appointment of a full time Director of Music but the academic study of Music will cease. Italian will continue to be taught as part of the School of Modern Languages.
Senate voted on the proposals as follows.
* Music: 33 votes for, 10 against, and 5 abstentions.
The University's Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Smith said: "These were difficult issues for Senate to deal with. Our proposals have been the subject of regional and national debate and have served to highlight the pressures facing all universities in the UK."
The proposals put before Senate are designed to refocus the University's academic activities, enabling it to reduce financial losses in some departments and allow those making a surplus to invest in their future success. They are a response to recent changes in the higher education marketplace, principally the increasing concentration of research funds into 5 and 5* rated departments. The University's senior management want to make changes now in advance of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise so that Exeter can protect and enhance its position as one of the UK's top research-led universities.
Arrangements will be made to enable students on affected courses to complete their degrees. We expect there to be no drop in the quality of teaching under these arrangements.
We will now be sitting down with the students to discuss how this is achieved. There are a variety of options. These include:
* 'Buying back' existing lecturers or employing lecturers from other equivalent universities to complete the teaching.
* Enabling students to transfer to courses at equivalent universities. Two universities of similar standing to Exeter have already offered to take students.
* Transfer to other courses within the University where appropriate
Whatever the eventual solution, the University will manage the process. Student liaison groups are now being established within the affected areas to ensure that students have an input into the process and that their concerns are heard at the highest level. A great deal of senior management time will be devoted to managing this situation and the welfare of the students is our paramount concern.
What's most worrying in the long term is that the Exeter decision was made on the basis of departments achieving less than 5 or 5* RAE ratings. The Reading statement is less explicit, but the phrase "Reading, like many institutions, has to direct its limited resources to academic areas where there is a realistic potential for excellence" sounds as though similar considerations came into play. This has huge ramifications for so many departments in all subjects, and the effect on the national university system could be devastating.
Friday, December 03, 2004
Seeing you through into the weekend, here are some great posts for you lucky people:
Dylan Trigg on melody, Schnittke and the self;
Robert Gable on Sun-Treader, modernism and the 'poietic fallacy';
on a lighter note, Largehearted Boy's albums of the year is all over the net at the moment - and there are handy sample MP3s if you want to judge LHB's choices for yourself;
and finally, that Resonance FM show on music blogs is now available for download, courtesy of Woebot Matt, who's been spurred into elegy.
As for me, I have 60 pages of my MPhil/PhD upgrade submission to proofread, correct, fuss over and faff with (can't get the discourse of sonorism out of my head), and print x3. Then tonight I drink.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Ah, the Guardian. Never ones to court controversy with consistent, well-considered points of view have done it again. In response, Kyle Gann gives us Virgil Thomson's posthumous riposte.
Forty years of modern composition and what this music means to me
Brian Ferneyhough. One of those names that strikes fear into performers and audiences alike. Ferneyhough is the senior figure of a group of composers who are sometimes linked together under the name 'New Complexity'. Other members of the group include Michael Finnissy, Richard Barrett, Chris Dench and James Dillon; it's a loose group musically, but it is the notational complexity of their scores that has given rise to the name.
Here's an example of some Ferneyhough (taken from the last page of this Italian article on 'The Concept of Ornament in Music'). For what it's worth, he's probably the toughest of the new complexity group; Time and Motion Study II for solo cello is one of the most notation-heavy scores you're ever likely to see, with the solo performer having to negotiate several simultaneous staves for cello and the effects pedals and electronics the instrument and the performer's body are wired up to. I think they're some of the most beautiful scores written, and although they are not, strictly speaking, graphic scores (everything in them accords exactly to the familiar rules of notation, even if this is pushed to its limit), there's no doubt that the visual image is a crucial part of the musical effect. His music is, in many ways, about tension. OK, most music is about tension on one level, but Ferneyhough makes the creation and manipulation of extreme levels of tension central to so much of his work. Just think how tense a player must feel trying to navigate this stuff in live performance. It is music truly on the edge. Although his music owes a great deal to the serial procedures of Boulez and Stockhausen, and the 1950s avant garde they spearheaded, a lot of Ferneyhough's earlier music, like Cassandra, struggled with articulating form in ways that the avant garde had failed to do. Much of this involves a sophisticated approach to time, but what Ferneyhough also brought out of the avant garde was a sense of theatre and musical drama. In turning the new performance challenges of avant garde music to his own ends, he returned the performer-score relationship to centre stage.
As a result, several of Ferneyhough's earlier scores are for solo performers, and Cassandra belongs to this group. It is for solo flute - a favoured instrument in Ferneyhough's output. I couldn't find an image of the score online, but the extract from Unity Capsule linked above (also for flute) gives you an idea.
As with so many composers, I first became fascinated with Ferneyhough when I saw a page from one of his scores. He's cropped up on a few occasions throughout my work, even though I've always been daunted by the note-to-note detail of his music, and the equally tough theoretical position the composer shrouds himself in. Cassandra was a work I analysed as a Masters student - to the initial anxiety of my tutor - but which I think I did OK on. Why did I choose this piece, when several easier examples were suggested to me? Again, because of those intoxicating scores. The draftsmanship is exquisite, and any analysis of Ferneyhough would have to follow suit; I was always a great (if cynical) believer in the value of presentation to the success of any analysis, and the chance to transcribe and pick over a work of Ferneyhough was too much to resist.
The results of that analysis are too meaningless to give any exposure to, but what I love about Ferneyhough is the tightrope he walks between ultra-modern control and postmodern freedom (hence that Steve Reich essay I've mentioned before). Large chunks of his music - particularly the solo works - sound like free improv, and yet (and crucially you know this) they're highly organised, extremely precise and demanding scores. There's a sense of theatre that Ferneyhough ekes out because the music is so difficult to play - the Time and Motion series of pieces were all about exploring the 'efficiency' of music. Is anything to be gained from expending huge amounts of compositional energy on writing this music, then making similarly huge demands on your performers, when the result could, arguably, have come from improvisation? Passionately Ferneyhough would argue yes, and so would I. With improv, you can always doubt the commitment of the players (the best players are deservedly respected, but you know what I mean - how can we be sure they’re not doing this half-arsed); with Ferneyhough, there's no doubt about commitment. It's all or nothing. Steven Schick, percussionist for the Bang On A Can Allstars has written of his six month odyssey to learn Ferneyhough's Bone Alphabet; that’s how much commitment is required. It's an original and fruitful take on composition, and one that draws so much more into the performance of a work than simple reproduction of a composer's instructions; it's hard to imagine future re-re-re-recordings of the same old lazy interpretations of Ferneyhough works, a fate that too much great music is burdened with today.
What of Cassandra's Dream Song itself? Well, it's an unusual work for Ferneyhough in that it employs an open, mobile form. The score is on two large sheets, each with a handful of short musical sections. Starting on sheet one, you alternate between the two sheets, a section at a time. The catch is that sheet one is to be played in order, sections 1-6, sheet two in any order. It's a bit like that disrupted narrative effect that I mentioned with reference to Lutoslawski in an earlier post. Within the extremely tight constrictions of the notation and the density of his musical argument, Ferneyhough thus introduces an element of freedom – both choice for the performer, but also in subverting the musical structure he has set in motion.
All of this aside, what I enjoy most about Cassandra are the surprises it deals out. In the opening section, a sphincter-tight study on the note A suddenly and briefly transforms into an F major arpeggio. For a second, it almost sounds like Jesus Christ Superstar, albeit played on 'quasi-pizzicato' percussive tongue clicks. Then there are the moments of pure lyricism - as the piece progresses, the melodic space opens, and flirts with not-quite tonality, but at least a pitch-centred organisation. By the time we reach section 5, the grace note runs and flurries are almost Debussy-like.
Ferneyhough is a greatly misunderstood, often feared, composer. I think he'd be horrified were he to gain any widespread acceptance, but that's not really the point of this post. The point is to suggest that once we make the leap past the superficially daunting aspects of contemporary music, there is simple, sensuous, human pleasure to be found on the other side. Cassandra's Dream Song is, in spite of its robust compositional method, music of fragile beauty. This relationship between strength and fragility goes to the heart of the work and is what makes it so successful.
This is about a million cool. Haha.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
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In my inbox today:
I think this officially the strangest spam I have ever received.
In my inbox today:
THIS IS AN OFFICIAL WARNING!
A huge 300 ft. high ocean wave is moving towards Scotland.
Edinburgh and many other cities are in a real danger.
Approximate wave moving speed is 700 km/h.
Please read more about this catastrophe here: [URL removed]
chores Semitic underlying Snodgrass dancers
We are strongly urging you to evacuate yourself and your family as soon as possible,
even though you may live far away from Edinburgh.
The tsunami will reach the continent in approximately FOUR hours.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! arcing daring Lipscomb siphoning complicity
I think this officially the strangest spam I have ever received.