The Rambler :: blog

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Contact details for Mark Plummer? 

I realise this post resembles one of those 'Almost met' ads in the back of Time Out, but if Mark reads this, or if someone knows how to contact him, I would be very grateful for the information. I'm just after some information on his Melody Maker review mentioned below. With thanks in anticipation...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


That's a very Web 1.0 word, I know, but is there a better replacement? Anyway, I've finally got around to putting one of these together. It's pretty rudimentary, and mostly points back here, but those of a curious persuasion might fancy a look.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The good old days 

Morning spent at the British Library's reading rooms in Colindale, hunting out reviews of Ligeti and Polish music from back in the day. Mark Plummer's review of the London premiere of the Ligeti Requiem in the 20th November 1971 edition of Melody Maker was a nice read. The Ligeti was only the first half of the concert though, but I doubt a review of Beethoven's Ninth - or any Beethoven symphony - appeared in the Melody Maker on many other occasions. Plummer liked it, but "preferred the Requiem". Stout fellow. "The Pink Floyd have got miles to go if they are ever going to reach the heights of Ligeti's use of tonal colours and emotion."

Running through the microfilm my eye was caught by one of the letters pages, in which a correspondent had written extolling the virtues of home taping. "If the music industry is going to charge us an extortionate 2 pounds an LP," the gist of his argument went, "when the tape revolution is happening at this very minute, then it deserves to be consumed by its own greed. The era of the disc is over, and so are the greedy, profiteering record companies."

Or words to that effect, anyway. In the next letter some poor beggar had paid nearly a fiver for the latest Yoko Ono album. Now he was cheesed off...

Other highlights of the day, presented for fun, and taken dramatically out of context: Ligeti briefly gets the exotic East European vampire treatment in a 1974 Christopher Ford interview for the Guardian as a not-so-non sequitur between his preference for the 'diabolical' tritone and his Transylvanian birthplace; and Peter Heyworth, reviewing the Warsaw Autumn Festival for the Observer in 1959 daydreams about a world of musical SocRealism:
In the afternoon the Leipzig Gewandhaus Wind Quintet turned up with a programme of works almost exclusively written to meet my unspoken wish for a little ease and jollity [in contemporary music]. Here were pieces whose very titles ... proclaimed their obedience to the Communist principle that one of the composer's tasks is to provide nice, catchy music that is easy on the people's ear. How passionately I agree with this admirable doctrine! How I long for another Rossini or Johann Strauss, another Offenbach or Kurt Weill, and if his pants are red and his tie embroidered with hammers and sickles, it's all one to me!"
Needless to say, the composers of East Germany did not produce a Rossini, Strauss, Weill or even Offenbach for Heyworth that day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Blackdown's end of year 

Most sane people's choice for blogger of the year, Blackdown has, since last week, been posting a daily end of year commentary from a big grime or dubstep player. Kicking things off strongly on Friday was a call from Logan Sama for the grime scene to get its act together, and the posts continue "once a day every day for the rest of the year, until they run out. Because fuckitt, I'm bored of waiting for Q, the NME, Mixmag or The Guardian arts review to represent us - we can represent ourselves."

I guess this must be the review of the year of the year. Oh my gosh.


Some potentially very interesting development being trailed in two posts at beepSNORT. It's all to do with Jeff Harrington's latest web/new music/interconnectivity project, cac.ophono.us, linking del.icio.us and new music recordings on the net. Read the beepSNORT posts for more explanation, but basically the deal is that cac.ophono.us is designed to become a live holding site for recordings of new music as they are posted to the web - all musicians have to do is tag them appropriately in del.icio.us (comme ça). Sounds pretty cool to me. At the moment everything is, as Jeff says 'not even pre-alpha', so there's not a great deal to see or hear yet. But I look forward to watching how things shape up.

Links for the week 

Birtwistle, Finnissy, Tarik O'Regan and Errollyn Wallen were among the winners at the British Composer Awards; more through this Gramophone article and this Radio 3 page.

French MPs blame hiphop - not poverty, racism, or segregation - for the country's recent riots.

Washington radio station WETA loses ratings after dropping classical music from its broadcasts (thanks ionarts for the link).

Here's a new Stockhausen interview for y'all, published in La Scena musicale (thanks Avant Music News for the link).

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Links for the week, Postclassic edition 

Kyle Gann has written a couple of interesting posts recently (well, more than two, but two of interest to me). They're deserving of a little more comment than a single link, so I'm putting them together here:

The first, on Postclassic Radio's brush with the DMCA, brings up the tricky issue of how the bit of the DMCA being applied (no more than two songs from one album consecutively) legislates against broadcasting all multi-movement classical works. As John Maxwell Hobbs observes in comments to Kyle's post, a pop paradigm is being applied across the board - he asks: why not, then, manufacture classical CDs as one track per work, rather than one track per movement? This might be the easiest solution (and not a bad one), but a better one might be to write a law that can take account of all music that actually exists. The best one would be to scrap the whole thing.

The second is on Paul Griffiths' take on Messiaen's added sixth chords. Like Kyle, I never heard these as problematic - maybe slightly kitschy, but not in a bad way. The odd thing about them, and the equally frequent dominant and minor seventh chords, is that they don't sound like what they are. In context they sound exactly like another part of the great man's harmonic vocabulary (and I think this is the point Griffiths was making in the passage quoted by Gann); I was always suprised by that, even when, sat at the organ on a Sunday afternoon, I had the darned chords in my hands. Context, as so often, was everything. That and a warm and fluffy vox celeste stop.

Links for the week 

First up, this Guardian article on Judith Weir's TV opera Armida, to be screened on Channel 4 on Christmas Day. Looks good, thought-provoking stuff. Probably one to video and watch slightly later on.

Now, silliness:

First Mark E. Smith does the football, then Blixa Bargeld does DIY store adverts! Catch them at The Standing Room! Next week - Björk does the speaking clock.

Breakdancing robots! [via Voltage]

And has The Onion - not for the first time - come close to the truth?

Classical music and grime 

Urban Classic will unite grime producer DaVinChe with jazz musician Jason Yarde and conductor Charles Hazlewood.

Highlights from the 16 February concert will be broadcast on BBC digital station 1Xtra and BBC Radio 3.

London MCs Bruza, Tor, Pase, Purple and beatboxer Faith SFX will perform the finished suite with the BBC Concert Orchestra, with DJ sets from 1Xtra's Semtex and Cameo.
This BBC story has been getting some interest at Dissensus recently, with reactions varying from "Oh God, no" to fantasy fulfillment. It's one of those ideas that is so hard to imagine how it will turn out that it's guaranteed to produce a wide spread of opinion. Some people are sceptical about whether it will work at all. Others - notably Logan Sama and Martin Clark, who are more involved in the scene than some others - cautiously regard it as a good thing: this is a chance for MCs to get some national coverage, all publicity is good, and big up the BBC for continuing to invest in the music.

For myself, my own thoughts at Dissensus have been pretty uncertain, but here with a bit more space I can really explore the question.

One of the first things I thought of was that here are two musical genres with difficulties reaching out to a new audience, despite wide critical acclaim. Classical's problems are well trodden ground; grime's problem seems to be that it lives in the shadow of both drum and bass and US hiphop. The hope for critics (and likely some artists) is that grime's emergence will be both a powerful British riposte to US hiphop's domination, and a spiritual return of sorts to the good old days of '93-5 when jungle ruled the charts and the streets. The problem is that despite several false dawns, this hasn't quite come to pass; grime's presence hasn't yet met its ambition.

Is this then a mutually-beneficial publicity stunt? First up, this has all been arranged to help music education charity Bigga Fish, so they are the foremost beneficiaries. And at first glance, grime could stand to benefit - as has been mentioned, it becomes difficult for people to complain that MCs don't get the coverage they deserve when projects like this are put their way. But who will actually listen to the finished 'suite'? Will a new audience actually be opened up?

The finished, 70-minute concert will be broadcast on both 1Xtra and Radio 3. I'm not sure what part of Radio 3, but I suspect not as a lunchtime concert; more likely in the sort of graveyard slots reserved for Hear and Now and Mixing it. In fact, if this were a simultaneous 1Xtra/Radio 3 broadcast (although it's not clear that this will be the case), the late Friday and Saturday night slots for Radio 3's new music programmes might be perfect for 1Xtra's audience. What this would do from the Radio 3 perspective is guarantee that - smallish - audience of devoted new music nerds like myself, plenty of whom may not have crossed paths with grime before (or, indeed, the BBC Concert Orchestra). This could well attract some new listeners - the interesting thing is that it will attract people who like the deliberate fringes of music, rather than the mainstream. This might be a barrier to it gaining more widespread acceptance, enhancing its image as a difficult, minority genre; or it might return some credibility to a scene that has been badly damaged by association with gun crime. It might also flop badly with an often snobbish new music audience, who might predictably have problems with MCs spitting bars over an orchestral track: this could be both a social obstacle and a sonic one, since this sort of close-up viscerality is not part of most instrumental new music - and when it is (in, say, Ferneyhough or Dillon) it is heavily mediated.

My hopes are actually higher for the reception of 1Xtra listeners. Despite the cries of horror amongst some Dissensus posters, I think in general there will be a greater will amongst grime's listeners to make this project succeed, so, unless it does completely flop, they will give it more of a break. Orchestral textures, and deep, detailed production are familiar turf for grime and dubstep fans, so sonically there won't need to be too much of a realignment of values, providing some electronic rhythms are coming from somewhere, and the beats are not left to the orchestra. Experience with the London Sinfonietta has shown that orchestral players, used to infinitely fine nuance of pulse and emphasis, find the machine-tooled beats of techno extremely difficult to replicate convincingly. Grime beats are no different - except that they are often even more tightly gated and 'precise' - and the BBC CO could well struggle too. What is intriguing on this score is that beatboxer Faith SFX is involved, which suggests that some of the beats at least will be human-produced, perhaps to help bridge the gap between studio-produced rhythms and live acoustic instruments.

I'm also intrigued by the role of DJs Cameo and Semtex, who according to the BBC's blurb will be playing live DJ sets as part of the finished work. Will this be with live orchestral accompaniment over dubplate riddems? 'Cos that could be cool. Or will things be juxtaposed hard against each other? Because that could work too. Certainly including the DJs - who will naturally have to work with prefabricated materials, and thus to some degree bend the whole project to the will of grime's vinyl presence - seems like a shrewd move. I'd be less optimistic if they weren't there: grime's lifeblood is that clash between preformed 12" and live performer that has also fed dancehall for decades. An orchestra can join with the MCs on the live side of the equation, but they can't replace the recorded side.

The more I think about this, the more I like the sound of it.

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