Thursday, November 30, 2006

Damo Suzuki

David Cronenberg's Wife want to be the Fall. They really want to be the Fall. Except for the bits where they want to be early REM. But the singer can't sing quite well enough to carry that bit off.

Kontakte take their name from a piece by Stockhausen, and have a heavy Eno influence. It's a bit like shoegazing performed by competent musicians, which is not meant as a sleight. They have moments that suggest brilliance. They need to have the courage to do less. The opening of their set was magical, then the drum machine kicked in and it became a bit more ordinary, albeit with flashes of magic.

I mention the support bands partly because they're worth mentioning, but mostly because members of them form Damo Suzuki's band. This is how he works: he turns up in whichever city he's performing in, picks up some local musicians, and then, in the fashion of a krautrock Mickey Rooney, does the show right here.

I'm being flippant. I shouldn't be, because this show was one of the best gigs I've been to in ages. I can't really describe it, because there's no set list, just a free-flowing stream of consciousness, the band flying while Damo sings, burbles and growls at whim on top of it all. It all ought to be a disaster and self-indulgent nonsense, but it isn't. It's magical. He's a shaman, and I find myself drawn into his sound-world, my mind in a trance, my body moving instinctively to the music. I feel as I think I might at some primitive ritual, where the sheer force of sound transports me from my physical existence to another plane. If you think this sounds pretentious, I don't care, really, because this is how it felt. It's primal, gutteral stuff, a relentless, hard rocking beat underpinning a welter of sound from guitars, one-string bass (a strange looking contraption that looks like a broomstick that's been strung and plugged in) and violin that's almost palpable in its intensity and volume (my ears rang all the way home). He played for an hour and a half, and I'd have been happy if he carried on all night. When he eventually draws the evening to a close (more at the behest of his band than any desire of his own, it seems) he is applauded rapturously by the audience. I'm at the front, and I get to take his hand, and bow to him in a gesture of gratitude. He bounds beyond me into the audience, and proceeds to hug pretty much everyone, as far as I can see. That doesn't make me feel less special. This is a man of huge generosity of spirit, and to him we're all special. This is the only show he's playing in this country this time, I have a feeling we'll all be back for the next one though.

Fuck it, this is how music should be.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hucknall the idiot

Ginger Charlie Drake lookalike, ageing lothario and all-round twat Mick Hucknall wrote this article in the Guardian the other day. It's worth reading for the comments posted after it comprehensively demolishing his "argument". Go on, read it. Read it and laugh at the stupid ginger tosser. And then tell him what a stupid smug wanker he is. Do it. Do it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Some random thoughts on No Music Day

Avoiding music's very difficult. I'm not sure if it's harder in a music library or not. the obvious course would have been to take the day off, but I've already used up my holiday allowance for the year, and anyway, where's the challenge if you take the easy way out?

Here are most of the incidents of inadvertent hearing of music that happened to me:

tinny sound leaking from iPod/Walkman headphones: 2 (less than I'd have expected)
colleague playing CD in stock room: 2
whistling: 12 (much more than I'd have expected)
sounds from colleagues' PC: 2
singing: 1
inadvertent playing of music by Resonance FM: 3
Mobile phone: 2 (much less than I'd have expected)

I found myself putting Resonance FM on the PC headphones for most of the day, just to block out the noise in the office. it really drove home how noisy the place is. This is what I use music for normally during the day. I feel very bad about this, but I'm not sure I could bear to sit here without that shield. Maybe I'm just basically intolerant and antisocial. I don't think I am, though. This is one to ponder at length. Is it just the lack of control over sound that grates?

Spoken word stuff doesn't smother ambient noise nearly as well as music.

It's much harder to listen to non-musical sounds and work at the same time. Does this mean that my mind can absorb music on a more basic level, or just that I'm not really listening?

I heard some very interesting things that I would probably never have listened to otherwise.

I really, really, hate the sound of whistling.

When you're trying to avoid it, hearing music can be rather painful and stressful.

If I'm using spoken word and ambient recordings to the same purpose as music, does that make them music?

Conversely, if I hear music and treat it as unwanted noise and avoid it, does that stop it being music?

How would my experience have differed if I'd stayed at home, in an environment I could control? Would it have been calmer, or more stressful?

I've always been aware of the way music is imposed on us - it's different from other art forms like that. If there's a painting in the room you can avert your eyes, but if someone is playing music you can't really avert your ears. Today really rammed that fact home, it's that imposition that robs music of its meaning, it just becomes more noise.

Why are we afraid of silence? If you read the statements on the No Music Day website, there are some extraordinarily aggressive posts against the idea of going for a day without. I had a mini-argument with one colleague who really seemed unable to comprehend the idea, and could only make smug snobbish comments along the lines of "oh well, I suppose some music's very easy not to listen to." I found myself thinking what a small world he inhabits, and how awful it must be to have such a blinkered outlook.

I think I've become more aware of a very fundamental need/desire for music as a result of spending a day shunning it.

Throughout the day I had various pieces/songs pop up in my head. If I have music in the front of my imagination, even though I'm not physically hearing it, am I really experiencing a day without music?

I've gone straight back to listening to music today. Am I really any better than a junkie?

There are too many unanswered questions here. I'm going to have to do it again next year.

Anyway, Hail! bright Cecilia, and all that.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No Music Day

Tomorrow is No Music Day. No music will be posted here tomorrow, nor anything on the subject of music. Please do not look at or attempt to perform or in any way interact with any of the music here, or anywhere. Thank you.

Friday, November 17, 2006

release the music

Copyright's a subject I've long had mixed feelings about, and indeed it was partly thoughts about it that prompted me to start this blog. The pieces I post here are intended to be free for anyone to use as they will for any non-profit making purpose, in the spirit of the creative commons principle, and I've long thought that current copyright law is not only inadequate to cope with a world in which sampling exists and the presence of the internet is making national differences in the laws governing creative activity unsustainable, but actively harms composers' (and any creative artist's) ability and freedom to create. Think of J.S. Bach's arrangements of Vivaldi or Mozart's rewriting of J.C. Bach, and you'll have an idea of the kind of thing I'm thinking of as work which is vital to a composer's development, but which is rendered illegal by current law.

Now the recording industry seeks further to limit artists' ability to react with the culture around them by campaigning to have the duration of copyright on recordings from 50 to 70 years. They claim this is in the interests of the artists, but the truth is that all they are really interested is maintaining their grip on a cash cow. I believe that to change the law in the way they propose would be not just capitulating to corporate greed, but an act that would actively damage the cultural life of this country.

I won't bore you with facts and figures, you can find all the information you need here. What I will do is implore you to go to the Release the Music website and add your name to their petition.

Of course it's important to protect artists' livelihoods, and record companies are entitled to profit from their business like any other. But it's also important that creative work be allowed to pass into the public domain, where it can become the seed for new work. because if we can't do that, what on earth's the point?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fast N Bulbous

I love Captain Beefheart. Let me make this clear. I need to convey how much I love Beefheart before I talk about this gig, so please bear with me.

When I was about 15, I liked to think of myself as someone who could get all the weird shit no-one else got. I listened to the Mary Chain, I listened to 8 Songs for a Mad King... I took pride in finding sense and truth in sounds others dismissed as noise.

And then, in the space of a few weeks, I did 2 things: I borrowed Bitches Brew from Birmingham Central Library and bought Trout Mask Replica.

These two albums were like nothing I could conceive of. There was nothing I could hang anything on, they were both just so far out. But I could hear, somewhere in this confusing noise, SOMETHING. Something very important that I knew I had to grasp, no matter how long it took.

In the event, it took me the best part of 10 years to understand those records. And it was worth every second when I reached that point when suddenly everything clicked and they became as clear as the simplest nursery rhyme to me. Since then I've always harboured a suspicion that any really great music takes a decade to understand, and if it doesn't, it's not really worth it.

Anyway, the point is that I love this music beyond reason. So when I heard that ex-Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas was coming to these shores with a new band dedicated to performing the Captain's music, I was intrigued, but also wary. I've seen Lucas perform before, both in his own right and with various collaborators, including the reconstituted Magic Band, so I knew that at least the evening would be a well presented, respectful display of Beefheart's music.

What I wasn't really prepared for was that the band would do something I'd have doubted possible: they didn't just play the tunes, they worked them to create something new. Everything they played was familiar, yet also sounded as if it were being recreated right in front of me. This show was presented under the aegis of the London Jazz Festival, and it succeeded purely in the terms you might expect from that: it presented Beefheart's music as a living, breathing thing, no museum exhibit.

I went expecting some good musicianship and some rekindling of memories. I got that - Gary Lucas played Evening Bell and Flavor Bud Living about 2 feet away from me, for chrissakes! - but I ended up buying the album, and more importantly, I went home dizzy in the joy of having been reminded in the best possible way why I love this music.

Do I sound lime a raving fanboy? I don't care. This was one of those rare evenings when I really felt the full force of what music is capable of. Did I mention that I LOVE Captain Beefheart?

Bowmans update: They're nearly there, but they still need your votes, and all your friends, people! Get on over to the Deli and do that voting thang! And then make your friends do it. And their friends. (&c.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Monday, November 13, 2006

Seems a while since I did one of these... there's always a slump when you've finished a piece, when suddenly something that's been in your mind for weeks or months (or longer) is no longer there, so this is the time when it's important just to write stuff, without worrying about quality. Keep the brain working.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hail! Herbie

Herbie Hancock took the stage at about 8.10, and looked about 20 years younger than he actually is. God, I hope I look that good if I reach that age. Seaton and I had me up in the aptly named World's End pub down the road at 6-ish. He was early, I was late, a first for both of us, I think. When we got there they were playing Guns N Roses as if the '90s had never happened, and Strictly Come Dancing was on the big screen, which led to some touching male bonding as we admitted our mutual addiction to the programme. Things got beyond parody when they started playing Spinal Tap.

Anyway, we moved on to have a very nice Vietnamese curry, then to the Roundhouse, the first time I've been there. If it had been a rock gig, I'd have said it was a small, intimate venue. But for a jazz gig, it was a cavernous barn, and this was a lot of the problem with this gig. The half-hour of African-influenced ambient stuff would have gone down very well in a venue like Ronnie Scott's, but in the roundhouse it was just a cue for many in the audience to have a very loud natter.

If I'm giving the impression that I didn't enjoy this gig, that's not right. I loved parts of it. There was a certain amount of Weather Report style noodling which tested the patience, but there were also moments of transcendence. Herbie is of course renowned for what he's done to make the synthesiser an acceptable instrument, and there was plenty of evidence to support this, but for me the best moments were those when he sat down at the piano and let rip. He's done an awful lot of groundbreaking things in his time, but at the heart of it is the fact that he's a phenomenal keyboard player, and it was in the moments that I heard that, unencumbered by sound effects or stylistic statements, that the force of the man was truly to be felt.

I took my camera along, but way at the back as I was, I couldn't get a decent shot. Them's the breaks.

p.s.: today's obligatory Bowmans plug: Please go to the Deli Magazine and vote for the twins in their Band of the Month poll. They're currently second, and they really should be first. Let's make it happen!

Friday, November 10, 2006

more gigology

Tonight I went to the Bedford in Balham, where a lot of fine people were playing, but I was mainly there to see the excellent Bowmans, whose album (which you can, and should, buy here) is one of my very favourite things at the moment. In fact, I rate them so highly I skived off my orchestra rehearsal to go. I was lucky enough to nab them for a quick chat, and I'm pleased to say they're as nice as they are talented. And their album's ace, did I mention that? Really, buy it.