The Rambler :: blog

Friday, July 29, 2005


Well, I've just found out that I wasn't successful in my funding application. Ho hum. At least they tell you how you graded, and I can rest easy in the knowledge that I didn't just miss out - nope, I don't think this was a close thing... So, the sober and considered stuff is out of the way for good - it's blood and thunder right up to the line from now on. Hurrah!

Notice of changes 

Just a post to draw attention to some tweaks and changes round here. These are mostly to do with the fact that I'm finding myself more and more wanting just to write quick posts to draw attention to something good that I've read, but which don't need much extra comment from me. Up to now, these have usually ended up in the 'Topics of the Day' box which has sat in the sidebar for some time. However, this is regularly clogged up with the obituary notices that I collect. Plus, I'm not sure how much value people get from referrals, Google rank, Technorati etc. when things are linked to via third party software, and half the point of linking posts and articles I like is to spread a bit of the link love... I also quite like reading posts that are a collection of links tied together by nothing more than the random path of a blogger round the net that week, so I've decided to move most of the stuff that was ending up in 'Topics of the Day' back onto the main page, as roughly weekly linkdumps, and to just keep the obituaries in the side bar as a sort of musicians deathwatch. Thanks to the good people at Feed Digest, I've also included one-line summaries of what the recently departed did.

So, some interesting links I've been clicking recently:

Online file sharers 'buy more music'
No kidding.

The LLama Butchers: Carnival of Music #8
This is becoming a regular thing now - and good. Might even opt to host one of these meself soon...

Myron Floren: obituary

Accordionist. Sad to hear about this: I only know about him via his appearance on Ubuweb's 365 days project, which featured his unique disco polka sounds. (I would post a more precise link than this, but Ubu's down for the summer.)

dj BC presents Glassbreaks

Philip Glass vs Hiphop: Glass gets the hiphop mashup treatment. I quite like this one - better than the Beastles thing of a few months back, and Glass's instrumentals works surprisingly smoothly.

See my del.icio.us feed for more.

In Every House a Dream House 

Via Kyle Gann, this is the neatest thing I've seen on the web in a while: a DIY kit for producing your own La Monte Young installations at home (sans, unfortunately, a kick-ass sound system). Kyle's advice on using the system:
For the late, complex installations, the base frequency should be 7.5 cps; for the others, something more in the 100-250 range, depending. Of course, to get anything resembling the real installations, you'd then have to run this through a big sound system with superb frequency response. ... How can you tell whether you're getting it? The volume level should be basically steady, without a pronounced regular crescendo/decrescendo beat, and you should be able to refocus your ears on different pitches by moving your head slightly.
My favourite so far is The Obsidian Ocelot, set at around 180 cps - seems to work pretty well with my desktop speakers - but the late works are a lost cause, particularly as low as 7.5 cps: you need a bass bin as big as your desktop for those. Also worth playing around with, from the same page, is an algorithm for Ligeti's Poème symphonique for, in this case, 100 clicks of static.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Thoughts out to Jason Spaceman. Keep waking up, keep taking your medication. Get well.

Helena Tulve 

My New Favourite Composer for the week. I came across her name as her piece Sula was last year's selection by the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers. Her site includes .ram and .mp3 format extracts of some of her pieces, and I like them a lot. Rolling waves of sound, chant inspiration (although, to much relief, not copycat versions of her compatriot Arvo Pärt's chant-inspired pieces), a gritty, tectonic approach to sound and structure, Eastern Europe.... In other words, My Kind of Thing. I can't see any mentions of commercial recordings at this stage, but I'm sure Sula at least will be available before too long.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Ashes 

I'll be honest - I can barely contain myself, and have been counting the hours until 10.30 tomorrow morning for some time now. I don't expect us to win - they may be older and weaker than two years ago, but there are still 7 or 8 players in the Australia team who'd make most world XIs, and England can't match that. 2-2 is our best hope, and I see most commentators reckon 3-1 to Australia, which seems distinctly possible. So I'm not looking forward to a series win - that's for 2006-7 - but I am looking forward to some proper clashes, the best players in the world having to raise their games, that sort of thing. And I'm also looking forward to seeing Brett Lee come out to bat as Michael Vaughan chucks the new ball to Flintoff and Harmison. Oh, I am looking forward to that.

While you lick your lips for that particular encounter, have a nibble at this selection of doosras from the papers:

Fantasy test match in the Telegraph

Dream/Nightmare scenarios for each ground in the Times: Lord's; Edgbaston; Old Trafford; Trent Bridge; The Oval.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins offers tips on how to play the Aussies; Matthew Syed offers tips on how to sledge them (funny, I don't remember much sledging going on in table tennis...), also in the Times.

And in the Guardian, Allan Donald and Jacques Kallis respectively offer useful tips ("Matthew Hayden: You absolutely have to make the new ball count; if you don't then he'll settle quickly and hurt you badly. You have to bowl just back of a good length and try to get the ball slanting across him. He loves coming forward and playing hard at the ball, which is why you must give him as few genuine driving opportunities as possible"); and obvious banalities ("Glenn McGrath: He's very competitive, and he likes getting up a batsman's nose") to help England's cause. Very kind.

If anyone wants me, I'll be on the couch.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Shout out to Fac-similé, who have just opened their web doors for the first time. Fac-similé is a site that collects links to online score reproductions (works out of copyright only of course; or at least while that still means something), and currently lists around 420 pieces by composers from Agostino Agazzari to Adrien Willaert. As explained in their FAQs, Fac-similé is not intended as a replacement for the long-established Werner Icking Music Archive; rather it is a way to find scores that you might be looking for. Certainly, on an initial spin round the site, it is laid out less intimidatingly than the WIMA, which will probably help many people find what they're after. And, since it is a catalogue of links, and not a hosting service itself, many of the items listed at Fac-simile are held in the WIMA in any case; so a more manageable front-end does not necessarily come with a loss in number of scores. Worth a browse in any case. More info via the Fac-simile.org blog.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Rob Musicircus on form again on Thursday's 2 silence. (Not just a London thing - I was observing it at home in front of the TV, and pictures of stillness and defiance were coming in from all around the UK.) Not for the first time recently (see also last Wednesday) I wished I didn't work at home.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Londonist: Free Ludwig!!! 

I've somehow completely missed the, ahem, furore, over the BBC offering everyone the opportunity to own some of the Single Greatest Achievements of Human Creativity (alright, the pop SGAHCs - we all know that String Quartets are the real bomb), and yeah, there are copyright issues here, because although Beethoven's estate expired about 100 years ago, orchestral musicians of all people need feeding properly. Still, that doesn't get you round the poor judgement of a music industry desperate to revive a rapidly dwindling sector (classical) then ringfencing some of their greatest assets... As Londonist music columnist Greg opines:
Could we please spend more energy on actually convincing people that classical music can matter, based on the vitality, energy, meaningfulness, and surprise in the music -- both on records and in the concert hall -- rather than arguing about a stunt that assumed the greatness of Beethoven a priori, and whose quote-success-unquote was predetermined by human nature?
Thanks to Rob for the pointer. Also, thanks to beepSNORT for linking the Independent story in the first place. In the same post, he has some good points to make citing Bach as the first mashup artist, and a link to DJ Earworm's Stairway to Bootleg Heaven, which is worth a listen if you've not heard it already.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Jem Finer wins first New Music Award 

Congratulations to Jem Finer, sound artist and ex-Pogue, on winning the first New Music Award. The prize is a cheque for £50,000, which is to be spent on realising Score for a Hole in the Ground, his 'post-digital' submission piece.

Commiserations also to the two shortlisted finalists, Terry Mann and Craig Vear who - despite the size of the winning pot - get zilch. This seems like a bit of a flaw in the concept of the contest. The idea was - at least implicitly - to set up a Turner or Booker prize for composers, but the important difference between the PRS award and other examples in the other arts is that they are awarded for work already done; the PRS award is for the realisation of a proposed composition. This is, I'm sure, why the shortlist at least was made up of ambitous (read: expensive) sound art works, and not chamber music scores. If you're bidding for a pot of up to £50,000, you want to spend it all, right? The shame about this is that both Terry and Craig's ideas, dreamt up with this financial support in mind, have virtually no chance of ever being realised, and so all their compositional work has been for nought. £50,000 is a very large arts prize - it matches the Man Booker Prize for fiction, but since all shortlisted books get a big kick in sales, the love is spread a bit; the Turner Prize on the other hand is 'only' worth £25,000, and another £5,000 is available for the three runners-up. Again, all four artists also get the immediate benefit of a headlining Tate show in the weeks before the prize announcement. Other than some intangible press coverage, New Music Award nominees still get nothing. This is only the first year of the award though, and hopefully oversights like this can be ironed out. Congratulations again to Jem Finer, whose work will be presented to the public some time before September next year.

More details on the award are at the PRS New Music Award homepage, including Finer's own film presentation of his piece.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hungaroton Records 

Recently I've begun collecting old Hungaroton and Polskie Nagrania LPs. Through the 60s and 70s great quantities of new music from the two countries was recorded and internationally released. Many of these composers, while heavily promoted and sometimes briefly successful, have fallen through the historical cracks, along with a lot of interesting, surprising and often very fine music. Much of this music stands no chance of ever being easily available on CD, so these LPs are pretty much one-off recordings. What's more, as un-hip as this stuff is (compared to the Glasses, Cages, Henrys and Stockhausens of the world), it's usually available for seriously knock-down prices. Most of the records I bought on my first run to Notting Hill's Music and Video Exchange had obviously been languishing in the racks for years, and several were only £1.

I've more or less cleared out MVE for the time being, and while in Paris recently I made a point of seeking out a decent second-hand classical record shop. I found one, and hugely recommend La dame blanche, a couple of minutes walk from the Panthéon. The owner recognised I was keen to walk away with a lot of Hungarian (and Polish) vinyl and directed me to their private stock room at the back of the shop, filled floor to ceiling with 10-20,000 records. Handing me a tall stepladder - which still didn't reach the top shelves - he indicated the two cases of contemporary music. Unfortunately, he could only grant me a short space of time and my wallet could only grant me a certain number of Euros so I couldn't go the whole hog, but I did at least have plenty to drag back to Waterloo at the end of the weekend. Saving for a future trip is in order.

In the midst of researching my PhD, I'm also collecting copies of every record review of new Hungarian and Polish music published in all the major journals in the UK which, along with score reviews and live reviews, I'm using to build a picture of the reception history of Eastern bloc contemporary music in the UK during the Cold War. Gradually the two collections are starting to overlap, and I can actually listen to the recordings in tandem with the reviews themselves. This is interesting to the extent that it gives me a picture of what aspects of the music reviewers were choosing to pick up on – and by extension what aspects they were choosing to neglect, but it's also interesting to see to what extent the picture of new Hungarian composition presented to readers of British music journals in the 1960s and 70s tallies with the picture I get from listening to the records today. Along with the fact that so much of this music passed under the radar and may well languish there for eternity, I smell fertile blogging territory, and I intend to explore that in forthcoming posts. Yes, it's another ambitious prog-blog concept that may never fully see the light of day, but you've got to have a go, haven't you? Expect bite-size reviews of some of these records to crop up here from time to time; I'm also working on getting some of this stuff digitised, so who knows what the future may bring...

Catching up 

Quite some week that.

No one needs to read another online tale of Live 8 (I was playing - and winning - at poker at the time), or the Olympics (disappointed that the fencing won't be round my manor as originally mooted), or the London bombings (I was in Glasgow at a one-day conference on Thursday. Believe me, being in the dark, unable to get to a radio or TV is the worst feeling of all.) Needless to say, I'm fine, as are all friends and family. Saturday's concert went off as planned - rehearsals on Friday weren't affected, and neither was audience attendance, despite the fact that with the closure of the Piccadilly line the venue was slightly trickier to get to.

Actually, the concert came off really well. Bach's Brandenburg no.1 is a real slog for the oboes - less so for the lowly third, but still a slog. And in typical Bach style he doesn't mind a swift kick when you're down, as in the last minuet-trio-polonaise-trio movement, in which - after 20 minutes of solid puffing away, he throws in a short movement for two oboes and bassoon, and then another for three oboes and horns (neither of which contain a beat's breath between them); the final hobnailed toe in the ribs is that as almost the last throw of the dice, Bach chucks in the only technically tricky run of the entire piece, just as tongue and lungs and lips and fingers are starting to tire and fall out of synch with one another. A month ago, when rehearsals started, this was a pretty daunting moment, and it wasn't until Saturday morning's rehearsal that all three oboes were able to convince ourselves that we were able to struggle through the whole thing. In the end we did the usual trick of splitting the parts, and secretly I bottled half the run (I'm really not that good...). So practice may not make perfect, but it does give you the confidence to bluff convincingly.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Jazz bassist Michelot dies at 77 

Sad to see the news on the BBC that Pierre Michelot has died. It seems like a really bad year for jazz bassists: we've also lost NHOP, Percy Heath and Jimmy Woode this year already. Sheesh.


Thanks to a pointer from Disquiet, I'm hugely enjoying the recent Tigrics release Mint Egy Befejezono. Tigrics is the Budapest-based Robert Bereznyei, and the mini-album Mint Egy Befejezono has been given a free web release on Highpoint Lowlife Records, so there's no reason not to grab a copy. The music itself is of the post-glitch/ambient type so enamoured of The Wire in recent years, but both warmer and less compromising than a lot of what crops up on their freebie CDs. The rhythmic layers are thick, and the sound sources are rich - few ultra-filtered clicks and pops here. Sometimes the tracks are part Aphex, part Underworld, part Kid 606 ('Hé, jelfej!'); sometimes in Max Tundra/Telefon Tel Aviv territory ('Ebek1.30 (Megvágtam mix)'); and on the 11 minutes of 'Kossuth Lajos utca mix 29' part everything you can imagine, from glitchy hip hop to noise to minimalism. It's a great little record, full of generous detail.

And if you like that, I'd recommend trying out more of Highpoint Lowlife's catalogue: a lot of things are available on web release, or single track samples.

Brian Ferneyhough: Shadowtime 

Of course, if you're not up for seeing some Baroque music on Saturday evening, there are still tickets available for the UK première of Brian Ferneyhough's widely acclaimed opera Shadowtime. This is a major event, even if it is only a concert performance and not a full staging (we only seem to do concert performances of major new operas in this country these days anyway, so it's a backhanded honour really...), and I'm a bit gutted not to be able to go. I'm trusting Rob to rise out of his blog-hibernation to post on this one.

[Update: He has]

More details.

More by me on Ferneyhough.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Monday linkage 

Lots of work time spent surfing today; here are some extracted fruits of my labours:

Probably well-known to David Tudor fans already (and if not, why not?), the J. Paul Getty Research Institute site on him is magnificent. Highlights include video excerpts of Tudor's electroacoustic installations, including Rainforest IV. ... A. W. Pollack's Notes on ... series of analyses of the complete (212 songs and covers) Beatles output is already well-known, but still worth a link. soundscapes.info has the most nicely presented version of these, with additional front-end indexes and articles. If you haven't read these things yet, they are a monumental piece of work. ... In honour of last month's Radio 3 shenanigans, here's an entire Playford manuscript Catch book photographed for posterity. ... And if you thought this guy was a rockin' fretboard innovator, you need to see this bit of weird, made in 1690 by Alexandre Voboam.

Concert on 09 July 2005 at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, London 

Shamefully plugging myself once again, now that details of the concert I'm playing in on Saturday are now listed online....

Friday, July 01, 2005

My Live 8 Post 

One way or another the whole Live 8 thing leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, doesn't it? I was only eight for the original Live Aid, but the papers then surely weren't awash with the stories on the predicted disasters, discrimination, colonial smugness and cynicism of the whole thing, or lengthy opinion pieces every day on why Live 8 is a completely misguided adventure?

St Bob is certainly losing the run of himself, regularly swearing at us from the front pages, and calling for a spontaneous million-man bundle on Edinburgh, when the good people of Make Poverty History have been carefully planning organised protests for months. The lineups are unimaginative, overwhelmingly old (or wannabe old), white, and apparently chosen on sales figures (although Geldof himself fancies a go himself despite not charting for more than 20 years). I don't know; I fully support the goals of Make Poverty History, but I can't help feeling that Elton John and a reformed Pink Floyd are no longer the way to help Africa, and that the whole event is being willed into damp squibness by the press as Geldof lurches further and further into wild-eyed lunacy.

And we call the 1980s cynical.

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