Saturday, April 25, 2009

Heiner Goebbels: Songs from Wars I have seen (QEH)

It's an essential part of the contemporary so-called-classical scene that the show you're at will overrun. A good yardstick of the quality of what you've been listening to is therefore how much that irritates you. I found myself not at all bothered by the fact on this occasion, so well done Heiner*.

To be fair, at least part of the overrun was down to the man who walked on and announced "My name is Andrew Burke Chief Executive of the London Sinfonietta" (how remarkable to have a name that suits your job, I thought) and proceeded to beg for money in that way that people desperate for money who don't want you to have the impression they're begging for it do. A lot of talk of wanting to connect with those who buy their tickets on the door (subtext: please book in advance, we've been shitting brick about advance sales), building relationships with their audiences (subtext: we're really worried about how the hell we get people to come to these things) and so on. All couched in friendly, "hey, we love you and we want to connect" language, but going on slightly too long not to come across as a bit desperate. Maybe I'm completely wrong, the London Sinfonietta feels completely recession-proof and has a mailing list as long as your arm, but it sure as hell didn't come across that way.

I have a problem with the London Sinfonietta; they make me slightly suspicious. Partly this is because they're the Establishment: I think of what Morton Feldman said, that the music you hear in London sounds official, like it was written for the London Sinfonietta. And the Establishment can't ever do anything really innovative or different, because innovation and difference challenges the established order. It's hide-bound by its position, by the deadweight of the one-of-each-instrument lineup that fills so much of its repertoire, from which so little interesting comes. Then there are things like those collaboration nights with Warp Records, which seem slightly pointless: is the Sinfonietta desperately chasing after the cool kids, or is it saying that by rearranging electronica for "classical" forces it's conferring a greater artistic legitimacy on it than it otherwise has? Which would seem to imply some level of contempt for the other, cooler music. The classical world is infested with the notion that its music is inherently better than any other kind.**

That said, it would be dumb to dismiss anything they do because of who they are, and tonight's concert of two pieces by Heiner Goebbels is an impressive one that shows that there's still life in this thing if you're clever enough to know where to look. Which Goebbels is. He understands that this genre of ours is essentially dramatic (why else dos it take place on a stage?) and both the pieces here are to some degree overtly theatrical. The use of samples of other records, as well as quotations of other musics performed by the musicians, emphasises this. It's to Goebbels' credit that these elements don't distract - although it's impossible not to have a moment of trying to remember where that drum loop's from - but manage to integrate in a way that earlier stylistic cross-dressers like Schnittke don't really manage, so the flow from tonality to atonality, from baroque to postwar modernism and back comes to seem natural.

Maybe this just where I'm coming from these days, but it's at its most impressive when there's less going on. "Songs of Wars I have seen" underpins Gertrude Stein's words with subtle, elusive sounds that seem to drift in and out of focus, lending a dreamlike quality. The combination of modern instruments with the period ones of the OAE lends another layer: the quieter baroque strings and winds lend an inward quality. Having the narration provided by the musicians rather than actors or singers is a masterstroke. It helps draw the listener in, almost as though we're being read bedtime stories. It manages to be hugely evocative without ever labouring to make a point. And the final moments, when a lone trumpet spins a melody over the ringing of prayer-bowls, coming over like Miles Davis sounding the last post, are magical, intimate and tender.

*I'm being over-familiar there. I don't actually know him or anything.

**Plus they don't play my stuff. Motherfuckers.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trapped in the aviary

Hell, I swore I wouldn't do this, but I ended up crawling back onto Twatter again. If you're one of the 3 people (apart from my parents, I should imagine) who've never heard of it, it's kind of like blogging for people too lazy to write a whole paragraph. It's clearly vile and narcissistic, but equally clearly an easy way to massage my monstrously huge ego.

Every day we get nearer to the logical conclusion of the interweb networking madness, where everyone in the world simply hits a button every few minutes to make the message "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! I'M ON THE INTERNET! LOOK AT ME!" appear on www.ihavenothingtosaybutthat' If I had any sense I'd set the damn thing up myself, wait for the inevitable rush, and then sell it to Murdoch or whoever for a fucking fortune, just as the Guardian picks up on it (which is always a sure-fire sign that something is over).

Still, it beats doing anything constructive.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Good Friday

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Brahms and Liszt: The Russians are Coming (2)

Eliza Carthy, Mick Jagger Centre

I don't mean to be rude, but Dartford really is a horrible place. In my kinder moments I think of it as being what Brighton would be like if it wasn't next to the sea. But that makes it sound nicer than it is.

No matter, because we're here in the arse end of nowhere to see the splendid Eliza Carthy at the Mick Jagger Centre.

Mick Jagger's from Dartford, you know. He set this arts centre up. you know. They sure as hell don't let you forget who paid for the place. The walls are festooned with murals of Mick's face with its big mouth, and everyone working there wears a T-shirt with Mick's face with its big mouth. Sorry, that's Sir Mick. I'm sure he wouldn't want us to forget that.

Having attempted to negotiate the giant roundabout full of chavs being stalked by the police and arrived late, we find everyone else milling about, There are technical problems. Eventually we get into the hall and settle down for the support, the trickily punctuated mawkin:causley.

They're good. We like them. They play good music well. It's a nicely put together sound. I'd probably have bought their new CD if it had been on sale in the foyer afterwards. But there's something not quite there. I can't quite put my finger on what it was. It's that edge. They're a bit polite and tame. I wish they were a bit rougher and sparky. To be fair, they're not helped by the audience, which is as flat a crowd as I've seen in a while. Somehow I expected the audience at an Eliza Carthy gig to be reasonably young, but I find myself in a position I rarely do these days outside a classical gig: I'm bringing the average age down. Age is no excuse for being as subdued as this, though. "Good evening!" the lead singer says. "Good evening." they mumble back politely. "How are you?" he asks. "mmmwmmmwfffverywellthankyou," is the gist of the murmur that follows. It's like a primary school assembly, only with pensioners. Is this what they mean by second childhood? Maybe it's just what Dartford does to you.

Eliza Carthy does have that thing I can't put my finger on. Ah yes, I remember: presence. There's that extra bit of electricity in the air from the moment she appears, the sort that comes from being experienced and utterly confident at this.

Unfortunately the technical gremlins are still hanging about, and there's a bit of a hiatus just as the band's warming up: microphone problems threaten to put a halt to the set altogether. She handles it well - I'm not sure I'd stay so level-headed in this sort of situation - and manages somehow to give the impression that the gig's still happening when it's clearly not. Eventually they manage to sport things out, but by then there's been some momentum lost and there's a bit of a sag until they get back into the swing of things. That may also be partly because by then I'm feeling a bit hot and stuffy though. It may also be the continuing lack of audience reaction -just a smattering of polite applause between songs. I wouldn't want to have to work this crowd, it's like a morgue. Or a classical concert. It's OK though: by the end the energy's all back again, and we even get an excellent encore about blow jobs to send us out into the night, where the pubs are starting to empty out. We get the fuck out of Dartford.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A dog's life

Once upon a time, Man and Wolf came to an accommodation: Man provided food and shelter, and in return Wolf became dog and provided companionship and protection. Over time Man realised that he could manipulate dog to become all kinds of useful shapes.

Eventually the uses themselves disappeared, but the shapes remained. Nobody could remember why that particular dog was that particular shape and had those particular features emphasised, only that it was good and desirable that it should be so.

So the dogs kept being bred into more and more unlikely shapes, until eventually they ended up wonderful to behold, but completely impractical, and so far removed from their wolvish origins that they were incapable of surviving without Man to provide food and shelter.

Then one day Man decided to stop feeding dog and kicked him out, and he died a slow, painful death from starvation and neglect.

And that's pretty much the story of (so-called) classical music.

Why don't young people listen to classical music?

Well, why should they?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Post-It Score #3: Blue

The thing about Post-its is that they come in different colours:

After I did this one, I started wondering to myself: is the mood determined b the colour or the colour by the mood? So here's the same image on yellow. Does it make a difference?