22 May 02012

Tom Phillips and A Humument: Essays, notes

A Humument, page 4 'Nine Eleven'A year ago, almost to the day, I got an email out of the blue from Lucy Shortis, who runs the office of my favourite artist, Tom Phillips. She said some nice things about a very old blog post of mine, and asked if I would consider writing a "short biography of Tom" for a new website for him. I drummed my fingers on my desk for half an hour before replying, thinking it might seem creepily over-keen to accept the challenge within five minutes. Still, I was round at the studio to discuss the work with Lucy the next morning, a Saturday.

I already had several books of Tom Phillips' work, none of which I'd given as much attention as I would have wished. (I used to think of these enormously rich works as resources to keep me alert in my retirement. Via this commission, I enjoyed the luxury of bringing forward a few weeks of that retirement.) One of the first things I did was track down and buy some more of his books. To a dabbling hobbyist like me, Aspects of Art was particularly useful in providing a concise, straightforward account of both Tom's perspective and the grammar of art history that he draws on.

It took me weeks of research before I felt ready to start writing, and, thus when I did I was so marinated in the rich play of ideas in Tom's work, that I couldn't quite bring myself to write a 'straight' biography. My first attempt was well over the word limit and so wide of the mark that I had to put it to one side. No matter. Try again. With a little guidance from Lucy, I came up with this attempt which went live with the new website a couple of weeks ago. Moreover, Lucy was kind enough to indulge me by finding a home for my original essay.

The new website is one of a series of happenings this month that mark Tom Phillips' 75th birthday. (There's a neat symmetry about this number for me, since I first encountered Tom's work at his 1987 exhibition in Sheffield, "50 Years of Tom Phillips, 100 Years of the Mappin Art Gallery".) Other birthday events include two exhibitions in London and the publication of the fifth edition of Tom's book A Humument, which he's been working on for 46 years and counting.

Regarding the last of these, I pitched to The Spectator to write an article about A Humument and you can read it in the current edition of the magazine or online. Once again, my first draft of this went way over the word limit and included playful embellishments that had to be cut for publication. Now I've gone back to that draft to create a "Director's Cut" version. Like most Director's Cuts, it's by no means better than the version where I had my wings clipped: it rambles along down several diversions; it has pretentious flourishes; its editing is baggy. If you want a decent overview of A Humument, read the Spectator piece. If you're part of the niche audience that's interested in a few of the many different directions in which A Humument leads, this is for you.

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18 February 02007

Review of Barb Jungr: Walking in the Sun

Barb Jungr: Walking In The SunBack in November — it may have even been October — a CD arrived in the post, addressed to me at DJ Alchemi Ltd. It was the new Barb Jungr album, Walking in the Sun. Now Lucy and I both count ourselves as Barb fans, so this was an unexpected pleasure. But it was also unexplained: no note or anything with the CD, no return address. The only thing I could think of was that someone had seen my Mark Abis album review, and wondered if I might review this one as well. I have no way of knowing whether that was the intention, but, three or four months later, here is a review.

Barb Jungr may need some introduction, as she's not as well-known as she deserves to be, particularly outside the UK. Though Barb is often tagged as a 'chansonnier' and therefore associated with a continental European repertoire (think Brecht and Brel), I think I first came across her via her album of Bob Dylan covers, which is a special favourite of mine, and she's also done an Elvis-Presley-themed album.

Blues and gospel music are the obvious themes of Walking in the Sun, though it also captures a broader sense of the American South: one that encompasses the voodoo imagery of the first song, Who Do You Love? to Randy Newman's Old Testament satire in God's Song. This gothic and/or spiritual feel suffuses even self-penned songs like Beautiful Life and the version of Many Rivers to Cross with its re-written lyric about the white cliffs of Dover.

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30 December 02006

Quantity not quality: a year's worth of CDs and where they came from

CD collection
Photo copyright and cc-licensed
by Enrico Fuente.

I don't make a big deal about New Year's Resolutions, at least not in public. But I do aim to buy progressively fewer CDs each year. Five years ago, in 02001 and 02002, my 'habit' almost got out of hand: I was buying over 150 CDs a year. That's three a week; too many to digest the new acquisitions, let alone have time to enjoy the old albums in my collection. So I've been cutting down. Not that I'm withdrawing my patriotic (or whatever) support for the music industry, you understand. I spend much more on live music these days (as previously documented), and, since September, I've been signed up on eMusic's 40-tracks-for-£8.99 package — itself a good rationing discipline. I just don't want too many more CDs and records, thanks.

So for 02006 my records (unreliable but not drastically so) tell me I'm down to 68 new CDs and records. That's my lowest figure since 01999. However, I don't think the year-by-year comparison is a direct one any more, since I acquire CDs in different ways these days. I bought just 19 of the 68 myself from physical or online retailers; a few years ago the vast majority would have come via that route. Where did the others come from?

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5 December 02006

Steven Johnson and Brian Eno at the ICA

Yesterday evening the ICA put on an event that was part book launch for Steven Johnson's new book, The Ghost Map (subtitle: A Street, an Epidemic and the Two Men Who Battled to Save Victorian London — these long 'pitch' subtitles are getting out of hand), and part first UK event for the Long Now Foundation. It was a similar kind of discussion to last year's Longplayer conversation.

As the sole non-US founder of the Long Now Foundation, Brian Eno started the discussion by outlining its short history. It was started ten years ago by ten people, including Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis (presumably the Board includes most if not all of the founders). The main aim is to 'dignify' long-term thinking. They have a set time frame of 10,000 years as the horizon for their projections. Projects include Long Bets, the Clock of the Long Now, and a series of talks in San Francisco available as a podcast.

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3 September 02006

Review of Mark Abis: Changing Inside

Mark Abis: Changing InsideSeveral months ago, on the back of my review of Joe Boyd's book, I was contacted by singer-songwriter Mark Abis, of whom (Mark explained) Boyd had said, "[He] got my attention. His melodies are original, his voice warm and distinctive, a real musical sensibility is obvious, with literate lyrics to boot. My vote for one of the best of the new generation." Mark asked if I'd like a copy of his CD, Changing Inside, to review. On the understanding that any review would get no further than this blog (not an especially promising outlet for breaking new music), I agreed.

Joe Boyd is not an easy person to impress. He describes how he used to receive many demos from people citing Nick Drake as an influence (Boyd was Drake's producer), most of which he chucked into a box marked "WPSEs" — white people singing in English — for missing the point about what made Drake special. But part of the reason it's taken me so long to get round to writing this review is that Changing Inside isn't an album that reaches out and grabs you. You have to go and meet it on its own terms.

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28 April 02006

Neil Young: Living With War

Cover of Living with War album by Neil Young[Click the image to hear Neil Young's new album in full.] Even if I didn't like all the results when Neil Young first donned a vocoder and got a synthesiser in 01982, when he put out a rockabilly album months later, followed by a country album, and so on, I liked the fact that he was brave enough to make life difficult for himself. While a lot of people were sniffy about his Greendale album three years ago, I saw him play acoustic versions of the whole album before it came out, and it was astonishing. The point being that, at 57 years old, most people would be looking to rest on past accomplishments, but Neil decided it was time to have a go at narrative performance art.

And now that he's built a reputation for these curve-balls, his record company have finally realised that they can build on this, rather than always being painted as the villains of the piece. So the new myth is that Neil wrote an anti-Bush "metal folk protest album" in a week or so — he got fed up waiting for a younger singer to do it — recorded it in five days at the start of this month, and it will be in digital stores next Wednesday. At 60, he's done it again.

They're leaving no 21st Century promotional stone unturned. Here's the blog, the MySpace profile, the YouTube interview (worthwhile just for the CNN interviewer's question, "there's a song called Let's Impeach the President — what is this song about?" and Neil's predictable response). As of today, the full album is streaming from the Neil Young web site, though the buffering of tracks is slowing as more of America wakes up (the double entendre was unintentional and probably wishful).

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22 April 02006

Review of White Bicycles by Joe Boyd

White Bicycles at AmazonWhite Bicycles at AmazonIn the April issue of Prospect, Philip Oltermann observes a trend he calls the network biography, focusing more on artists' social networking to gain influence, and less on individual talent and its fruits. Along with this, "anecdotes have become more than mere padding", he claims, and have moved to centre stage in biographical accounts.

Joe Boyd's White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s could be seen as a kind of network autobiography or memoir. In the 1960s, which more or less coincided with Boyd's twenties, he had an uncanny knack of being in the right places at the right time, and worked with movers and shakers across generations of the music world. He was road manager for European tours by Muddy Waters and the 'blues caravan', Coleman Hawkins and Roland Kirk, as well as for Bob Dylan's electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival. He produced Pink Floyd's first single, as well as all the early landmark albums by Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake. As co-promoter of the UFO Club, he hosted everyone that mattered in British psychedelia during the Summer of Love.

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25 February 02006

Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates

The title of this article is one of film-maker Werner Herzog's quotes. He rails against the "worn out" images that are served up by TV, and his advice to budding film-makers is, "You will learn more by walking from Canada to Guatemala than you will ever learn in film school," and "Work as a taxi driver, work as bouncer in a sex club, work as a warden in a lunatic asylum: do something which is really into pura vida as the Mexicans would say, into the very pure essence of life" (source).

I thought about Herzog's attitude when reading the following passage from J.D.Lasica's Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation:

Lots of people will experiment with creating visual media. Much of the new video verité will be bad. But some will be watchable, perhaps even addictive. Where big media will continue to offer polished, mass market shows with linear narrative, high production values, and orchestrated story lines, the video of participatory culture will be marked by the quirky, personal, edgy, raw, unpolished, unscripted, unconventional, hyper-realistic, and genuinely surprising. (page 95)

The footage of grizzly bears, and of himself, that Timothy Treadwell shot in Alaska seems to live up to all of Lasica's adjectives.

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31 December 02005

6 down, 994 to go

Trinity Buoy lighthouse with Paul MakepeaceReflector of Trinity Buoy lighthouseHere are a couple of pictures taken this afternoon at the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse. It was six years ago today that Jem Finer's Longplayer composition started playing continuously, and it's planned to keep playing until 31 December 02999, when it will start to repeat from the beginning. I wrote more about Longplayer after my first visit in October 02003. By coincidence the Longplayer web site is hosted by Paul Makepeace, who also hosts this site, and it was good to see him at the lighthouse today — you can see him in the photo on the left.

Longplayer still runs on an old iMac — here's a photo of that iMac, and here's my full set of Longplayer pictures. Please consider making a donation to Longplayer to help keep it running for the rest of the millennium. Happy New Year!

28 December 02005

Great gigs in London for a tenner or less

This is normally a quiet time of year for gigs in London (as for on-topic blog posts) but one of the highlights of the first week in January is the Winter Sprinter series of gigs organised by Track and Field at the Water Rats Theatre (which claims to be the venue of Bob Dylan's first ever UK performance, in 01962).

This is the seventh year of Winter Sprinters, and it will be the third year Lucy and I have gone to one of the shows. The last two years we saw Herman Düne, and they're playing again this year, but tickets for that sold out in a few days, so we're going to see the show headlined by The Broken Family Band instead.

One of the great things about the Winter Sprinter shows is that you get to see three bands — some you know, some you don't — for under a tenner. Now there are some gigs I've enquired about in the last year where the surcharges alone — for (self) "service", (agency) "convenience" and mandatory stuffing of tickets into an envelope — were more than the face value of a Winter Sprinter ticket. (At this point I resort childishly to writing abuse in the Address and Credit Card fields and thus not completing the transaction.) With that in mind here are some other places where I've seen great acts at low prices.

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15 December 02005

Resonance FM — five more years

Congratulations to Resonance FM on being awarded a five-year licence to continue its broadcasts. Resonance is a 'radio art' station catering for minority interests (I like Peter Cusack's environmental recordings series and my friend Eric Namour's [no.signal] shows of ambient, improv and electronica music, for example), and it started broadcasting three and half years ago. It's only available over the airwaves in London, but you can hear it anywhere online. Here's the Ofcom press release.

Musical Battleground — article in The Spectator

My article under the title Musical Battleground is in the arts section of the Christmas issue of The Spectator, out today. It covers the remixing potential of digital media, using the BBC Creative Archive and The Grey Album as examples. Here's an excerpt:

But are the products of this 'remix culture' any good? Though technology has made it almost embarrassingly simple to re-appropriate media in the way that Kurt Schwitters and William Burroughs did more painstakingly, few of the works made with the new tools come near to matching those predecessors. Now that the means to collage and cut-up our news, audio and video are installed in many a suburban living room, the ends of these practices seem to have been shorn of the radical, disruptive credentials that were once claimed for them.
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5 December 02005

Why birds, and neanderthals, sing

The 'music instinct' is far more ancient than previously suspected, and neanderthals and birds may have been jamming before they were talking. But why do humans and birds converge on the same acoustic and aesthetic choices and why do babies respond to musical sound?

… quoted from the blurb for the Play on: a journey into the mystery of song event at the Royal Institution last week. Here are my touched-up notes from it.

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23 November 02005

Theatre of Voices UK tour performing Stockhausen

I was just clearing out my email in-box and found an unsolicited request to plug a tour on this site. Normally such messages would be deleted straight away, but I must have noticed the polite tone and decided to stay its execution until the next clear-out. Then, on re-reading it, and in the spirit of more or less random ways of discovering new music, I thought: why not?

Dear Sir

I manage Paul Hillier's ensemble Theatre of Voices, and I'm writing to tell you of Paul's exciting plans to perform and record Stockhausen's Stimmung in early 2006. Paul has a long history with the piece (having performed it many times with the Singcircle ensemble) and for a long time wanted to direct performances himself. Anyone who knows Theatre of Voices' fantastic recordings of Cage, Reich and Pärt will understand what an exciting prospect this is. Paul has chosen now to revisit the piece as the firts step in a new direction for the ensemble — to explore extensively a repertoire (both new commissions and classics) for vocal ensemble + amplification / electronics.
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21 November 02005

No Music Day

I found out rather late in the day (via the Soundscape UK email list) that today is No Music Day. This idea began with Bill Drummond, who apparently chose 21 November as it is the eve of St Cecilia's Day — St Cecilia being the patron saint of music.

The idea of No Music Day is to create some space in your listening so that you can, in Drummond's words, "do nothing but think what it is you want from music, and develop ideas of how that could be achieved".

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14 November 02005

Discovering new music: rationality and randomness

Do you behave completely rationally when you buy music? These days it's a lot easier to base your purchases on sound evidence (pun unintentional). You can Google an artist you've heard of, check out their reviews in the press; read about their development and discography on All Music Guide or Wikipedia; see if there are any freely available MP3s or streams on the artist's own site or on Epitonic; or, failing that, listen to 30-second samples on the iTunes Music Store or Amazon. If you haven't got a particular artist in mind, you can listen to Last.FM or Pandora for a bit and hear the music that people who share some of your tastes like, or you can just ask them on your favourite fan chat forum. There's really no excuse for not being fully genned-up before you splash your cash.

But do you sometimes like to let a little randomness into your life? Is there anything you've bought that was based on some looser intuition about what might appeal from you, or what might broaden your horizons beyond what you normally listen to? Do you even buy music on the basis of a good track title, or the singer's haircut? If you've got any good anecdotes to share, please send them to me, as I'm collecting little stories that illustrate different ways of discovering new music.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of stories of my own, going back to the days before everything you needed to know was available on demand.

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11 November 02005

The spectrum of song: Jeays, Jenkins, Roberts

I have a theory that there are three men in the UK each of whom represents one of the primary colours — red, green and blue — in the spectrum of song. From blending their work in different proportions, you could make any other colour you wanted. But, even though all of them wear the influence of strong traditions on their sleeves, what sets these performers apart is that they don't sound like derivatives.

Blue is the South-East London blues of Billy Jenkins, who plays the guitar like a clown, a truly sad clown. Green is the twist on traditional folk songs (parables of hunting and shapeshifting) performed by Alasdair Roberts. Red is the English chanson repertoire of Philip Jeays, with its shades of Jacques Brel, Jake Thackray and Brecht/Weill.

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30 October 02005

Recording the Lea Valley: sound and vision

The new film by Saint Etienne and Paul Kelly, What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?, is billed as an homage to the Lea Valley. Seeing it led me first to dig out Peter Cusack's 02000 album The Horse was Alive, The Cow was Dead — which is an audio document of the same area — and then to consider the different ways in which the two pieces work.

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6 October 02005

Age and tradition in music buying

One other thing about the 'infomercials' that I mentioned in my last entry: the LA Times article reports that the informercials "will be largely targeted at the baby boomers who 30 years ago fueled the music industry but who today buy fewer albums". A Universal Music president is quoted as saying, "Nobody has found a way to capture the 40-year-old and older audience". Though a slew of statistics that have been issued recently suggests that the older audience isn't sitting passively waiting to be 'captured' but is actively researching and buying more music than ever before.

This connects with my essay at the start of the year about the increasing breadth of both the ages of popular music buyers and the eras of music being listened to. The argument there was that a combination of demographic, technological and cultural factors that resulted in the upheavals of rock'n'roll and punk. At the time, these youth-led 'revolutions' seemed to change the landscape irrevocably, but from further away it's easier to see the continuities and the traditions that stretch back well before Elvis released his first single.

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9 September 02005

In-depth music documentary sources

While I was working through all the pages on this site I listened to the last six or seven episodes of The Story of Atlantic on the BBC Radio Player. They were broadcast on 6 Music Plays It Again, and you can still catch some episodes if you're quick.

This was a 14-hour series made by the BBC — presumably before the days of extensive independent production — in 01988. It's a salutary sign of the scope and seriousness of commissioning back then, in the days before the market was flooded with specialist music magazines forever digging up in-depth features on lost Syd Barrett sessions recorded in a sauna in Croydon. Rarely does any music documentary subject get more than one hour-long radio programme these days.

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21 August 02005

Werner Herzog film season and conference

Coming up in London this September is a season of all Werner Herzog's feature films, around a third of his documentaries, plus the two Les Blank documentaries about Herzog. The latter form part of a weekend conference on Herzog's work, which also includes the UK premiere of the director's most recent film The Wild Blue Yonder. Herzog has been invited to be interviewed before this screening.

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10 August 02005

Blog of Forced Entertainment new show re-starts

As performance company Forced Entertainment have re-started 'R&D' on their next project, the blog documenting this workpreviously mentioned here — has also got under way again.

22 June 02005

An American ballad collection: Playlist #3

A few weeks ago, I started reading the collection of essays The Rose and the Briar, which re-imagines America through the lens of its ballads — mostly from the twentieth century, though the origins of some go back much further (and to parts of the British Isles). As soon as I started reading, I realised that it would be a frustrating experience unless I could hear the songs being written about.

There is a CD to accompany the book, but it's only available on import in the UK, so I couldn't get it quickly. Instead I turned to the web, since several versions of the ballads, particularly the older ones, are freely available in various audio formats. I compiled a selection of them in a playlist on webjay, so that you can hear them on your computer. (This is the third in a series of shared online playlists — see #1 and #2.)

There are clearly going to be more of these book-CD tie-ins — see the Love Supreme book-CD-radio promotion, for example — but what scope is there for audience-generated resources that augment products in the market place, while also helping to broaden and deepen the audience?

The rest of this posting starts to address this very general question in the specific terms of compiling a Rose and the Briar playlist, focusing on availability of material, its quality and the legal issues.

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9 June 02005

Slow walk for longplayer on summer solstice

I've written a few posts recently (1, 2) related to the Longplayer 1000-year-long piece of music, and here's one more, including a request for your credit card contribution.

On 21 June, Ohad Fishof will be doing a fundraising slow walk across London Bridge and back, a total distance of 563.8m. For a contribution of £5 you can enter your estimate of how long this will take him, and, if you're closest to the actual time, you win a free flight to Brisbane (from London, so may be of limited interest to any international readers). Enter via the Slow Walk web site. As far as I can tell — though don't blame me if this is wrong — you can work out the shortest and longest possible durations from the fact that the walk starts at 8am, entries are allowed until 1pm, Ohad is having a one-hour break at the half-way point, and you can join him for a celebratory drink on the terrace at the Old Thameside Inn at 6.30pm (these latter timings are taken from an email from Jem Finer, composer of Longplayer and member of the Longplayer Trust). Please have a go.

The Slow Walk site has some links to 'slow culture' and long-term thinking, to which I would add the slow sound system.

4 June 02005

Incense and Playlist #2

An anecdote from yesterday evening's Twisted Folk gig. Arriving a few minutes early, and alone, I went straight to my seat rather than hang around in the bar. There were only four or five people in the stalls when Devendra Banhart jumped down off the stage, and criss-crossed the rows of seats carrying a smoking incense stick to fumigate the space. Now I liked the idea of this: it demonstrated an unusual attention to detail, a bit of an Alan Watts touch, and not many acts care about how their gigs smell. But just as he was disappearing back up on stage, a security guy appeared at the back of the stalls, with the exasperated air of someone who's spent the whole afternoon curtailing the eccentricities of a bunch weirdy-beardies. You know the type: haircut like a worn bogbrush, and an abrasively nasal tone as he spoke into his walkie-talkie, "Gary, can you ask him to extinguish that?!" (And yet this was the same venue that, eighteen months ago, tolerated Julian Cope performing with one leg slung over the parapet of the circle — not to mention his unconventional cohorts.)

Loosely connected — M.Ward is the common denominator — is the second instalment of my playing around with different online playlist services. Compared with the first one, this was dashed off very quickly.

Continue reading "Incense and Playlist #2"

1 June 02005

Doris Lessing and Laurie Anderson: rough notes

Here are my notes of last week's Artangel Longplayer Conversation 2005, which I previewed a few weeks ago.

Michael Morris of Artangel introduced the event by saying that, after five years of Longplayer — just 995 to go — they're instituting conversations like this as an annual event.

Doris Lessing and Laurie Anderson hadn't met until earlier in the month, when Anderson arrived in London to prepare for her recent shows. They had clearly decided that they wanted the conversation to be spontaneous and unscripted, and the only prompt they used was a flipchart behind their chairs on which they'd written a series of loosely-associated topics that they thought might trigger interesting exchanges.

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29 May 02005

Playlist #1: Neil Young celebrity playlist

I'd lay a large bet that Neil Young doesn't have an iPod. He's been waging a war on digital compression since the early days of CDs, and is on record as saying that MP3s are even worse than CDs: "MP3 is a dog; the quality sucks. It's all compressed and the data compression — it's terrible".

But in a fictional universe where Young did have an iPod, what would he have on it? Previously I suggested that an 'imaginary' celebrity playlist be more interesting than a real celebrity playlist. (Here are some examples of such imaginary playlists.) To play with this idea, I've created my own fictional version of what Neil Young might compile.

There are several web-based services for playlist creation, sharing and community review. I've tried out a few of these and you can view one version of this playlist on the Art of the Mix site. Another version on the Soundflavor site has clips of the tracks, but since the library of clips doesn't cover all the tracks I wanted, the listing is slightly different. [Update, 9 June 02005: for comparison, I've added a third version on Upto11.net.]

I'll write a review of my experiences of the utility and usability of different playlist services another time, but for now here is my playlist and the liner notes to explain it.

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13 May 02005

Old singers, old songs

Yesterday I went to see the first of Linda Thompson's three-night series of music-hall revue shows, which cited the Cole Porter quote, "strange how potent cheap music is".

Not just potent, but — at least in some cases — much more persistent than the disposable, ephemeral stuff it was thought to be. This comes at the end of a twelve day period in which I've seen concerts by Ornette Coleman (75 years old), Mose Allison (77), and Van der Graaf Generator (a group of late-50-somethings, playing together for the first time in 28 years). Had I the inclination, I could have fitted in Little Richard (72), who also played in London last week.

Even old NME journalists are coming out in The Guardian to say it's OK for older fans to stick with the old tunes and opt out of keeping up with the zeitgeist [thanks to Five Eight for this link].

Much of this chimes with my earlier essay on Musical Youth and Middle-age Spread, which looked at demographic, technological and cultural shifts in the audience for popular music and the maturing of the pop canon. With that in mind, here are some brief review comments on the recent gigs I've seen.

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27 April 02005

The Roots of London Calling

A few weeks ago, I advocated the creation of 'imaginary' celebrity playlists, which could become an interesting form of musical essay on both the celebrity and the acts in his/her playlist. I'm working on one for Neil Young, which so far may include tracks from The Shadows, Roy Orbison, Otis Redding's cover of Satisfaction, Bobby Darin, Linda Ronstadt, Devo and, of course, The Premiers' Farmer John.

In the meantime, Andy Kershaw's latest programme has a fairly literal take on this theme, which he refers to as "the roots of The Clash's London Calling" — Andy's "most complete rock'n'roll album of all time". He plays three Clash songs from the album, and four original reggae, ska and rock'roll tracks on which these were based. The rest of the show is pretty damn good too: you can hear it online until Sunday.

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17 April 02005

Time and Timelessness: Laurie Anderson, Doris Lessing, Jem Finer

Alongside her performances at the Barbican next month, Laurie Anderson is participating in a public conversation with Doris Lessing on the theme of Time and Timelessness (26 May, at the Royal Institution). The blurb for the event proffers:

Since the year 2000, the lighthouse on Trinity Buoy Wharf in London's Docklands has been home to the continuing performance of Jem Finer's Longplayer, a 1000-year-long piece of music commissioned by Artangel [donate]. Impossible to listen to in a single lifetime, does this constitute timelessness? Or maybe its simply a way for us to think about more than just our own experience, as science has always done.
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8 April 02005

Radio David Byrne and Celebrity Playlists

Following the thread of my last-but-one posting, about sharing music in an office, it's interesting to see how David Byrne introduces his Radio DavidByrne.com:

A friend who relocated to California from NY said she missed hearing all the odd variety of music that was played around the office here.  "I miss hearing what you all are listening to," she wrote. This "radio" is my response.

But, as the research I mentioned implies, sharing music with an anonymous public carries different weight and nuance from sharing it with a small group you have eye contact with on a day-to-day basis. In the same way, the relationship between writer and reader of a published article is not the same as writer and reader of a daily stream of office emails.

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8 March 02005

Notes on Playback (Mark Coleman)

The subtitle of Mark Coleman's book, Playback is "From the Victrola to MP3, 100 Years Of Music, Machines, and Money". It's a story that moves to and fro, from technology (the format wars over cylinders and discs in the days of Thomas Edison) to culture (the role of the DJ in disco, reggae and rap) and back to technology (Napster, iTunes and piracy).

Along the way, Coleman mixes anecdote and analysis, covering key personalities and broad social trends, as well as the power relationships in the music and technology industries. His century-long overview offers some perspective on the current tribulations, by showing that tribulations and turmoil are almost the norm — so the current impasse is in many ways 'business as usual'. The history of music and playback technology is a history of old wars and reconciliations, of markets contracting and expanding again.

Coleman's century covers the rise and fall of records as the primary music reproduction technology. Records first competed with live music, and with wax cylinders: they won. They competed with radio, skirmished for a while, but ended up in peaceful co-existence. Finally, records competed with cassettes and CDs, and, DJ culture notwithstanding, they lost.

What follows is not a review of Playback, but my notes of the points I found most salient.

Continue reading "Notes on Playback (Mark Coleman)"

5 March 02005

How to teach art: notes from RSA lecture

The two-headed lecture on the topic Is the Art School Dead?, at the RSA this week, was a bit of a curate's egg. Neither of the speakers — Professor Roger Wilson and Brian Eno — presented a very coherent argument, but they strung suggestions on loose scaffolding. (Eno appeared to be recording himself on mini-disc: does he like to improvise and then review what he's said to pick out the good bits later?)

Roger Wilson suggested that the question Is the Art School Dead? is based on a particular art school identity prevalent in the '60s. Of course that was the decade when both speakers attended art school themselves. However, contrary to the image of art schools being laissez-faire incubators of cultural anarchy, Brian Eno said that his experience of being taught by Roy Ascott at Ipswich Art School had been distinctly disciplinarian. As a sixteen-year old student, he was obliged to take part in group behavioural profiling exercises, and then everyone had to spend the rest of the term inhibiting their natural proclivities, which in Eno's case seemed to involve being strapped to a trolley for much of the time…

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26 February 02005

More reviews of cultural 'companions'

Here are some notes that form another instalment in my occasional series of postings about commentaries and 'making of' features that aim to help people get more out of cultural works (albums, films, books and so on).

Previous postings in this series include

These notes are about two books I've read this year: Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, about the new Hollywood era of films that held sway between the late '60s and late '70s; and Douglas Wolk's Live at the Apollo, an account of James Brown's career-defining album of that name. As far as I'm concerned, Biskind fails and Wolk succeeds. Here's why.

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21 February 02005

Blogging Forced Entertainment's new show

Over the last the last three weeks, Tim Etchells, creative director of Forced Entertainment has been writing a blog of the company's rehearsals for its next show. His entry for 1 February sets the scene for the weeks of the collective improvisation from which they create their performances:

Rehearsal room activities:
Drinking coffee
Getting coffee
Wandering the studio, whilst talking
Wandering the studio, whilst listening
Throwing the craft knife that someone (Richard?) has left in there into the small table, into the floor. Dropping the craft knife into some cardboard boxes left on the table. Dropping the craft knife so that it sticks into the floor.

Then two weeks later — after a pause in the entries — "Several days of abject stuckness", evoking, for me, the knottiness of Wittgenstein's "mental cramp". Apparently every Forcedents show goes through this stage, but it doesn't make it any easier knowing that when you're in the middle of it.

This is latest instalment of several self-explications of the company's working practice, following their video and CD-ROM, as well as Tim Etchells' excellent collection of essays and performance texts. Worth keeping an eye on.

[Update, 8 November 02006: following a redesign of the Forced Entertainment website, many of the links above have been updated. They still more or less fit the context, but apologies for any non-sequiturs in your hyperlinked journey.]

13 January 02005

Musical youth and middle-age spread

Is the cultural role of pop music maturing, or is it stuck in perpetual puberty? Has it usurped and squandered the 'shop window' profile that used to be reserved for more deserving artforms? Or is it just that, as it has moved into mainstream acceptance, it has lost its bite, its ability to express difference or opposition?

Fifty years after Elvis first had hits, the rock'n'roll energy that he brought to a white audience for the first time has been absorbed back into a tradition of 'folk music' in the broadest sense, with the effect that this tradition is now less starkly segregated in terms of race and, to a lesser degree, of age. The wave that brought Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan, and later punk and hip-hop, has broken, and we're now into a period of consolidation.

I'm going to argue that it was a combination of demographic, economic, technological and cultural factors that led to the birth of rock'n'roll — as distinct from folk/blues, pop and dancehall — and it is a similar combination that's leading to its re-integration. I'm also going to draw in different ways on two articles: one by David Hepworth in Word Magazine on listening habits across generations (this article is not available on line) and one by Michael Henderson in The Spectator decrying pop music as culturally juvenile.

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29 December 02004

Lists, lists of lists and meta-lists

The list industry goes into overdrive at this time of year, and Rex Sorgatz has compiled nearly 500 lists, covering everything from architecture to photographs, video games, wine, law and different categories of people. At least a third of the lists are of 'cultural product' — books, films, DVDs and music albums — that you can buy for between £5 and £20.

HMV has compiled a 'poll of polls', based on the end of year lists from the UK's major newspapers and magazines.

Warning: reading these lists can absorb an inordinate amount of time. Making notes will also lead to spending lots of money. Buy only the stuff that that makes such an impression that you remember. The rest will be available at discounted rates later.

24 December 02004

What's on my iPod

For my last posting before Christmas, here's my entry in the online parlour game of sharing what crops up if you shuffle the whole of your computer's music library:

  1. Release yourself — Graham Central Station
  2. Suikinkutsu Water Chime — nature recording by David Toop
  3. Free Culture, Chapter 11: Chimera — Lawrence Lessig, read by Dave Winer
  4. Can't seem to make you mine — The Seeds
  5. Pursuance — John Coltrane
  6. Little Moses — The Carter Family
  7. It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier — Tom Lehrer
  8. Get ready for love — Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  9. Heart of Gold — Neil Young
  10. Priznak Aluminium — Violet
Continue reading "What's on my iPod"

11 December 02004

Christian Marclay at Tate Modern

Christian Marclay at Tate Modern 02004.12.10Here are a couple of grainy longshots taken with my so-last-year's-model camera phone at last night's Christian Marclay gig at the Tate Modern. The gig was tied into Marclay's Sounds of Christmas project, which is showing at the Tate until Christmas.

Marclay is another example of an artist who presents his collections as art: in this case, his collection of over 1,200 Christmas records, gleaned from charity shops over the years (though I spotted at least one Christmas record missing from the collection — perhaps beyond the pale of kitsch?).

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27 November 02004

Confusion is merely the state of being well informed

Humument Fragment by Tom PhillipsIn an interview in the catalogue for his current exhibition at Flowers East gallery, Tom Phillips attributes the quote in the title of this article to Winston Churchill in response to a troubled subordinate. Whenever I engage with Phillips' work, I get a confused feeling of being both inspired by the elegant simplicity of some of the technique and intensely humbled by their breadth of scope and beautiful execution.

There's a lightness of tone and refinement of taste that tickles you in lots of places. That may seem a strange thing to say about a piece like Manpower, which stitches prostitutes' phone-box flyers in a quilt, with stealth bombers woven into the American flag, but I'm standing by it.

Continue reading "Confusion is merely the state of being well informed"

12 November 02004

The Music of Loudspeakers (notes from CyberMusic event)

Having organised the three-day symposium for Cybersonica '03 and edited the proceedings, it was a more relaxing experience to attend today's event as a punter. (Apparently Cybersonica '05, scheduled for late April, will return to full-length format.)

My notes from the event focus mainly on Robert Worby's talk on "The Music of Loudspeakers" and Jon Cambeul's Wacom tablet guitar.

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31 October 02004

Of Walking in Ice, in Hertfordshire

"Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue," said Werner Herzog, in one of his famous dictums. So would he see 1st Framework's Of Walking in Ice day-long event, themed round his book of the same name, as a mixed blessing?

Our group of around twenty met at 8.30 at Kings Cross station on a Sunday morning — grateful at least for the extra hour in bed granted by the end of British Summertime — and the first leg of the day was a train journey to Welwyn Garden City. But the Herzog-themed 'happening' got under way properly when we set out on a seven-mile walk from Welwyn to Kimpton. This was a rather modest correlate of Herzog's own three-week walk from Munich to Paris in 1974. After soup and cheese on arrival, there was a screening of Herzog's film The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, a documentary about a Swiss ski-flyer (a more dangerous version of ski-jumping), followed by a performance-reading of extracts from Herzog's book.

Continue reading "Of Walking in Ice, in Hertfordshire"

28 October 02004

Towards a taxonomy of 'making of' features

I'm reading Ashley Kahn's A Love Supreme: the Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album, and finding it fascinating. Kahn provides pictures of his sources, from the handwritten covers of the session tapes to the records of which musicians got paid how much for each session. The album was conceived in '64 and released in '65, just like I was, and the book recreates the cultural era of another time, place and race.

Which leads me to ponder what makes a valuable essay on the making of an artwork. Particularly in the DVD age, these 'making of' accounts are increasingly common. Here's a list of a few I've come across — mostly recent ones, with no claims to be the best in their field — and what I think distinguishes them.

Continue reading "Towards a taxonomy of 'making of' features"

25 October 02004

Forced Entertainment: Indoor Fireworks festival

I'm just back from seeing Instructions for Forgetting, the opening piece of Forced Entertainment's two-week Indoor Fireworks festival, which made me realise I should have plugged the festival before now, and I've been neglecting the Cultural Calendar section of this site.

As well as six performances of their new work, Bloody Mess, next week — I'm going on Thursday — there are other performances by the company, some of their video work, shows by other performers that they've selected for the festival, and on the final day (6 November), talks by academics, the eight-hour durational work Marathon Lexicon, plus a big party to celebrate twenty years since the company was founded.

Further details of Bloody Mess (including trailer) and archive pages. See also Forced Entertainment's Imaginary Evidence CD-ROM, in the design of which I had a small hand.

16 October 02004

Review of online artwork by Stanza

My review of Stanza's collection of twenty online audio-visual artworks, Amorphoscapes, is now available on the Furtherfield web site. Furtherfield is building an extensive resource covering many areas of art in online and convergent media.

Apologies for the recent scarcity of postings on this site — I've been ill.

29 August 02004

An embarrassment of riches

I am listening to Track 8 on a D.O.R. sampler CD that came free with The Wire magazine. The packaging gives no track information, so the piece is anonymous to me. If, 15 or even 5 years ago, I had heard it on an a radio programme adventurous enough to play this ambient mix that starts off evoking Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis with noodling bass and Indian hand drums, and accelerates towards a more qawaali feel, I would have pricked up my ears and been excited by it. I might have followed up by trying to find out more about the artist. Now I'm not sure if I'll even bother to put the CD in my Mac to see if there's a tracklisting on its data partition.

This stuff used to be rare. Now you can't move without tripping over free samples of it.

Continue reading "An embarrassment of riches"

26 July 02004

The Sound of Life

Just started this evening: a series of programmes on BBC Radio 4 called The Sound of Life, which covers the history of sound and hearing. The first programme goes back to the first sounds on earth — all water related: waves, rain, rivers and glaciers — before any ears had evolved to hear them. Here's the BBC programme page, from which you can listen to this programme (and the others in the series, once they have been broadcast), and the Open University (as co-producers of the series) have also created a web site of extensive further information, resources and links.

17 July 02004

Saluting the Placard London Headphone festival

Placard festival flyerI'm just back from the 02004 Placard Headphone festival. Attendance seemed to be up on last year's festival which is a just and gratifying reward for the organisers who make nothing from this free event. As I write, there's still nearly 4 of the 14 hours left, and 11 of the 39 artists to perform to a silent room where the audience sits on the floor listening on headphones.

This is one of the things I love about living in the east of London: being able to drop in on the stuff that people like [no.signal] (Eric) and yaxu (Alex) put on in their own un-showy but determined and persistent way. Thanks.

29 June 02004

Friends of the BBC Creative Archive

As the BBC announces a "radical manifesto" for its future, heavy on digital Britain and "public value", I've come across a campaign for the BBC Creative Archive. So far the main action has been an open letter, urging that the archive should be: broad, accessible, free (for non-commercial use), whole (i.e. not just excerpts of material), soon, complete (i.e. including independently produced material commissioned by the BBC) and sustainable.

It's too late to sign up for the letter, but you can join a free mailing list to keep in touch. [Update, September 02005: This mailing list has now been superseded by the UK FreeCulture list.] There is also a project page at the Union for the Public Domain, with several links to features on the Creative Archive. See also my earlier posting on the archive.

Continue reading "Friends of the BBC Creative Archive"

12 June 02004

David Toop radio interview

For the next week (until end of 18 June) you can hear David Toop being interviewed on the latest BBC Mixing It programme, focusing on his new book Haunted Weather. The extended discussion touches on the effect of digital technologies on music, improvising traditions and what he likes about the Japanese music scene. The interview as discursive and episodic as the book.

I'm planning to post my own review of Haunted Weather here in July, but until then you can read Colin Buttimer's review.

26 May 02004

RSA 250th anniversary event

The RSA has been going for 250 years. I joined it because it seemed to be one of those Establishment institutions that had license to promote dangerous and subversive ideas without being pilloried by conservative forces.

The RSA has now revisited its 01754 mission mission to focus on social and economic challenges such as sustainability and global citizenship. The announcement of their international conference in October provide links to these challenges and the distinctly mixed bag of 21st century visionaries they're assembling for it. I will go... probably.

Continue reading "RSA 250th anniversary event"

17 May 02004

Authorial archiving

One more perspective on my current pre-occupation with cultural collections and how we learn from them… Robert Fripp's diary entries for 7th and 14th May 02004 chart his current work on what appears to be a multi-volume archive: The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson; Crimson being Fripp's on-again/off-again band for the last 35 years.

Amidst his notes on the scope of the project and associated web site, I like Fripp's characteristically sanguine yet fatalistic assessment: "Commitment: Likely to be 1-2 days a week on an ongoing basis. Riches, Fame, Wealth: Unlikely for anyone." (See my earlier posting about Fripp's lessons of running artist-focused businesses.) This is different kind of undertaking from Tom Phillips' collection of postcards, but it's kind of fun to compare them.

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16 May 02004

Learning from Tom Phillips: We are the people

Sample postcard from We Are The People exhibition - click to enlargeFrom abstract theorising about cultural collections to concrete practice. Tom Phillips currently has 1,000 (out of his collection of 50,000) postcards on display at the National Portrait Gallery, as part of an exhibition called We Are The People.

Alongside the exhibition, Phillips guides how people can interpret and learn from the collection. There is a book with essays by himself and others, as well as shorter articles and an audio interview on his web site. The web resources also help put the exhibition in the context of Phillips' long-term artistic engagement with postcards.

This is not just a case of an artist switching hats to become a part-time archivist and interpreter. The collection and exhibition are also about collecting and interpreting, for much of Phillips' work is concerned with layers of meaning and the chance connections that occur when you pile one layer on top of another, endlessly. Playful means lead him to serious ends and vice-versa.

Continue reading "Learning from Tom Phillips: We are the people"

6 May 02004

Alain Resnais film season

As a prelude to a season of Alain Resnais films that will get under way in earnest next week, Michel Ciment (editor of the French film journal Positif) gave an introduction to Resnais' fifty year career, followed by a screening of Providence.

Ciment's overview of Resnais' work and practice was erudite in nailing his unique gifts, while correcting what he sees as common misconceptions.

Continue reading "Alain Resnais film season"

15 April 02004

Online art review

The Furtherfield web site is an online platform for the creation, promotion, criticism and archiving of adventurous digital/net art.

I've joined the team of reviewers, and you can read and discuss my first review — of Linda Duvall's Stained Linen.

6 April 02004

David Byrne and the (bogus) PowerPoint art debate

Last autumn there was a flurry of comment spurred by Wired pitching Information Design guru Edward Tufte against artist and musician David Byrne on the pros and cons of Microsoft's PowerPoint software. Tufte argued that PowerPoint is Evil for "elevating format over content", while, in Learning to Love PowerPoint, Byrne said "I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful... and use [PowerPoint] as an artistic agent."

The gist of Tufte's argument is easy to grasp for anyone who's sat through interminable slides of bullet points. But David Byrne's brief essay is more oblique, and the examples of his slides available on the web — links below — don't make much of a case themselves. thumbnail of one of David Byrne's PowerPoint slidesAs a consequence much of the commentary declared Tufte the 'winner' — here's a typical example. Intrigued by the difficulty of pinning down Byrne's use of PowerPoint, I shelled out the £50 for his Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (EEEI) book/DVD package to take a closer look. It's clear from looking at this that there never was a real 'debate' of any kind between the Byrne and Tufte positions, as Byrne's purpose is in many ways orthogonal to Tufte's.

Continue reading "David Byrne and the (bogus) PowerPoint art debate "

29 March 02004

More Werner Herzog Quotes

I recently read Paul Cronin's Herzog on Herzog and collected a few choice quotes about filmmaking and the perspectives that inform it. I've added these to my page of Herzog quotes — which seems to meet some kind of demand, if the number of Google searches it attracts is anything to go on. The page has roughly doubled in length. I've also added a postscript to my Herzog essay.

The book shows up some of the legends about Herzog as false or at least questionable. I started to wonder if my selective quotes were an example of irresponsible myth-making. But let us print the legend, lest we fall into another trap: that of dealing in what Herzog calls "the truth of accountants."

28 March 02004


Photo of boats on Dungeness horizonPhoto of English Channel from DungenessHere are a couple of photos, taken with my mobile phone, from a trip to Dungeness this afternoon. We visited Derek Jarman's garden. Google has just found me a Guardian article which gives an excellent introduction to the area and the story of how Jarman came to live there.

14 March 02004

Sunday afternoon anarchists

I'm spending part of my Sunday reading Boff Whalley's book Footnote*, and am tickled as usual by the awkward frisson that someone as bourgeois as me loves Boff's band Chumbawamba and the anarchist ideas they stand for. (It was the same when I bought the Dead Kennedys' Holiday in Cambodia, with its lyric: "Play ethnicky jazz to parade your snazz on your five grand stereo..."; and I realised they were singing about me.)

So it comes as a kind of reassurance to find that even a Liberal Democrat MP like Richard Allan also reviews Chumbawamba's English Rebel Songs approvingly. Where his appreciation seems even more out of kilter than mine is that he provides a link to buy the album at Amazon.co.uk so that he makes money every time someone decides to buy the album from this anti-union corporate retailer on the basis of his review [update 18.3.02004: this is no longer true — see comment]. I recommend buying the album, and the book, direct from the Chumba shop (no commission).

16 February 02004

Douglas Coupland play: September 10

Douglas Coupland is scheduled to perform his first play September 10 at the RSC in Stratford-on-Avon in October. Neither the news page on his web site nor a Google search reveal any more details at the time of writing. Whereas his recent novels have been preoccupied with how people respond to trauma, the title suggests he may be shifting focus to the eve of the shock. There's also a new novel, Eleanor Rigby, scheduled to be published in the UK by the end of the year.

I've been a fan of Coupland since 8 November 01995, when Alex Usborne gave me his tickets to DC's reading at the Showroom. The first thing that impressed me was that — instead of the zeitgeist-addled, hipper-than-thou preoccupations I'd been led to expect from reviews — DC read the introspective passage of Generation X about Christmas morning with the family. But the second thing was that he complimented me on my suit while signing my copy of Microserfs. I'd read everything he'd ever written within six weeks.

13 February 02004

Review of John Cage weekend

Here's a review of the John Cage Uncaged weekend festival that I wrote a few weeks ago.

In hindsight perhaps it was inevitable that the most successful parts of the BBC Symphony Orchestra's long weekend dedicated to John Cage would be the music that was made in the intervals between the headline concerts. Cage and orchestras struggled with each other during his lifetime, and he found more receptive performers outside concert hall traditions, working with dancers and percussion ensembles, or producing his 'circuses' and 'happenings.' Though this pattern persists, the gradual, cautious and halting assimilation of the orchestra into Cage's project — or vice-versa? — shows that his impact is far from being played out or a spent force.

Continue reading "Review of John Cage weekend"

4 February 02004

Yoko Ono - Odyssey of a cockroach

I was sent an invitation to the press view of this installation — apparently by accident, but they let me in anyway — so I thought I'd write about it. Here's the 'virtual tour' and here are the details of the installation's current showing.

Cockroaches are a strong and resilient species; they will probably outlast us. The installation shows us the world through a cockroach's eyes, though the 'odyssey' is not clearly articulated. I read the installation as a restating and revisiting of Ono's celebrated anti-war statements from a few decades back, which are directly invoked by the 'Imagine-Peace' stamps that we are invited to use on the maps of US and Second World War locations. Not as playful as her early Fluxus work, but more poignant and still, impressively, as humble.

2 February 02004

Antonio Calderara

La finestra e il libro by Antonio Calderara - copyright materialI found this painting, Antonio Calderara's La finestra e il libro, in the Morandi Museum in Bologna, while there at the weekend with Lucy. I like the formalism and artifice of the proportions and the composition, and it reminded by of After Raphael by Tom Phillips, one of my favourite artists.

Calderara's work ranges from figurative — Milano, il Naviglio (1928) — to abstract variations on Mondrian and Rothko — Tensione verticale al margine (1969). In this sense too it shadows Phillips' work, although Calderara prefigues Phillips: La finestra e il libro was painted in 1935, two years before Phillips was born.

The stuff I like most is the middle, transition period between these extremes, where Calderara's paintings use muted, crepuscular colours and blur the line between geometrical forms and representation. The best place to see the work on the web is the Fondazione Calderara site. Unfortunately the pop-up, Flash-driven navigation is beastly for searching, bookmarking etc, so here are direct links to my favourites: Crepuscolo (Lago d'Orta) (1927), La luna nel lago (1933-4), L'isola di San Giulio (1954), Lago d'Orta (1956). Here's the full set. (Of course, the paintings look very different in real life, where their light is reflected rather than projected as it is on screen.)

15 January 02004

Web resources for Theo Angelopoulos films

Still from Angelopoulos's film Ulysses' Gaze, copyrighted materialI've added some more web links to the he Showroom Cinema's web links directory. The BFI tour of Theo Angelopoulos films hits the Showroom with six films at the end of this month and during February. Here are the new links, and here are some more sublime images.

3 January 02004

Gloria Grahame's Eyebrows

Lucy and I went to see A Woman's Secret yesterday, which was better for its sharply scripted dialogue than its plot.

I've always liked Gloria Grahame in the past (especially in In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat and Human Desire), but I've never seen her use her eyebrows quite so egregiously as she does in her main singing scene in this film. Titters spread round the cinema as she out-did Roger Moore and that bloke who plays Bones in Star Trek. Here's a short profile of the actress that covers her stormy presence on screen and off, and makes reference to those remarkable brows.

22 December 02003

Music from North Korea

I remember hearing John Cage being interviewed sometime in the late '80s: he was asked what type of music he recommended people to listen to. The question seemed to expect an answer in terms of current schools of composition, but Cage typically confounded this and shifted the frame. Listen to the music that your political leaders and environment make it hard for you to hear, he said.

So listen to Andy Kershaw's Radio 3 programmes recorded in North Korea. Interesting, funny and occasionally scary. Good old BBC!

28 October 02003

Korean Cinema and Carl Dreyer Web Resources

Falconetti in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, copyrighted materialI've added two more groups of links to the Showroom Cinema's web links directory, which tie in with their film programme. The new links are for Korean Cinema and the work of Carl Theodor Dreyer, the acclaimed Danish director of early silent masterpieces and a few later 'talkies.'

The intention behind the web links is to enrich the experience of people who come to see the more left-field films at the Showroom, and thereby to encourage them back for repeat visits, thus creating a virtuous circle of audience development. By far the most popular links so far have been those for David Lynch — and the No.1 most requested resource is the hints that may (or may not) help you follow the plot of Lynch's Mulholland Drive!

19 October 02003

Boyle Family - London Sound Study

Of all the shows on offer in East London's just-completed F–EST weekend, I was most excited by the prospect of a sonic art piece by the Boyle Family.

The Boyle Family are best known for their forty-year (and counting) series of three dimensional relief sculptures of squares of ground, chosen randomly. These include concrete pavement (as on show today, including manhole cover), rippled sand, and arctic tundra. The whole basis of the work is how closely it resembles the real thing as a 1:1 representation. So it was a bit of surprise — and not a very happy one — that their presentation of their London Sound Study (79 one-minute recordings made at random locations in the city) was played back using a small CD 'boom box' in the corner of their project space.

I found a recent interview with Sebastian Boyle in which he refers to the Sound Study, but sadly gives no insight into the Boyle's motivation or goals for moving into this new dimension. Anyone know any more?

John Cage Uncaged - January 2004

I picked up details of this major three-day weekend festival of Cage-related events around the Barbican.

Over ten concerts (some of them free), four feature-length films — plus a 3'50" film version of Wagner's Ring Cycle — and a string of talks. As well as Cage, there are performances of pieces by Satie, Varèse, LaMonte Young and Morton Feldman. Performers include Rolf Hind and Joanna MacGregor.

Continue reading "John Cage Uncaged - January 2004"

17 October 02003

Life After Fire: Werner Herzog

I've made a couple of additions to the Werner Herzog weblinks that I originally collected and curated a couple of years ago for the Showroom cinema. [Update, 02005: I'm no longer maintaining the Showroom weblinks site, but have transferred and updated all the links in my Werner Herzog Archive on Furl.]

You might not want to live in Herzog's world all the time, but you shouldn't forget it's there, and you should visit regularly. I've also added minor postscripts to the notes I wrote about Herzog in 2001, as well as a few new entries to my list of favourite Herzog quotes.

12 October 02003

#2 My Neil Young Archives

The second of my articles about Neil Young from thirteen-or-so years ago is now available on this site, again in slightly revised form. See my earlier posting for details of the history of these articles.

7 October 02003

Longplayer: 1,000 Year Composition

The Dome from across the Thames This picture was taken last Saturday, when I visited the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse to see Jem Finer's Longplayer. Since then, the Longplayer web site has been overhauled, and the message about the funding of the project prompts me to explain why I think you should visit and/or donate funds, as I have done.

I first heard the idea of making music for 'the big here and the long now' from — you guessed it — Brian Eno. That phrase is intended to conjure a way of seeing ourselves beyond the confines of parochial concerns and short attention spans. Some of Eno's chums decided to do something about this, since cultural re-engineering is very much the bag of people like Stewart Brand and Bruce Sterling (you can just imagine the dinner party where this was conceived, can't you?), and they established the Long Now Foundation. You can spot a citizen of the Long Now by the way they write their dates, with a leading 0 on the year — as in 02003 — to remind us that the two millenia in what people like Julian Cope refer to as the 'Common Era' are just the blink of an eye in the big picture. I'd do this myself on this site if I could only work out how to hack the Movable Type code to do it! [Update: I eventually figured that out.]

Continue reading "Longplayer: 1,000 Year Composition"

30 September 02003

#1 My Neil Young Archives

Over fifteen years ago, I spent some evenings and weekends writing a couple of articles about Neil Young. I was particularly interested in demonstrating the links between some of his 'genre' songs and particular approaches to film-making, which seemed to influence some of his work.

These articles were published in the Broken Arrow Neil Young fanzine and its 'best of' compendium, and were subsequently cited in a Neil Young biography (I was chuffed to find my name in the index between Jefferson Airplane and Jennings, Waylon!).

I spent part of last weekend producing a revised version of the first of these articles, aiming to correct some errors of emphasis in the original. If you have any interest in Neil Young, please have a read of the article and post a comment about it here. The companion article will follow onto this site in a few weeks.

25 September 02003

Text and Index: supporting the reading of culture

In 1987 when I made my second, eventually successful, attempt to read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, I started keeping notes. These notes comprised a brief précis of the developments in each passage and the cast of characters (new and reappearing) involved. I have a good memory but I needed this charting to keep track of the multiple enfoldings and criss-crossing of the narrative.

My recent web searching shows that I was in good company, and there are a very rich set of online and offline resources devoted to helping readers get more out of this book.

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19 September 02003

#1 Reasons to live in England

I love Chumbawamba. The first thing that impressed me was their snappy way with a title, releasing first album Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records after Live Aid, and following it with Never Mind the Ballots... Here's the Rest of Your Life to coincide with the 1987 General Election (you can now get both of these albums on a single CD for less than a tenner).

What's impressed me ever since is the mix of joy and seriousness that they bring to their music as well as their politics. It's not an obvious journey that they've taken from punk-pop in the 1980s to the a cappella folk performance they gave tonight at the Barbican (notwithstanding a glorious version of the Clash's Bank Robber), but it's an English journey, and in the process they're renewing the country's culture, making it a better place to live.

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6 September 02003

Robert Wilson at Sadlers Wells

Robert Wilson makes theatre like none other I have seen. I can't think of anything I've seen on a theatre stage that's captivated me more than his Saints and Singing show in 1998. So I'm very much looking forward to seeing The Temptation of St Anthony next Thursday.

Digital Film Distribution: mitigated success

BBC News tells the story of the first official launch of a feature film on the internet which apparently was a victim of its own success — or more precisely the success of its promotion — on its opening yesterday evening. "Overwhelming demand from the public to see the movie caused the site's streaming facility to crash."

The film is This is Not a Love Song, but whether or not it is working again now, I can't tell you because the site tells me "This is not Windows". Damn right. You have to have an operating system and application software from Microsoft, so the multiplex mentality is still present in essence if not in the practical details.

Mind Your Head festival, South Bank

This festival of six concerts has the more revealing strap-line of Exploring New Meanings in Sacred Music.

Most interesting to me are the shows by Carter Tutti and Current 93 on 9th October, and by Acid Mothers Gong and Damo Suzuki on 21 October.

Carter and Tutti were members of the soon-to-reform Throbbing Gristle, while Damo Suzuki was the much-feted singer in Can during their 1970s krautrock heyday.

28 August 02003

Neil Young 'Rust Fest' 26-28 September

I was accosted at the Cambridge Folk Festival by Paul Docker because I was wearing a rare Neil Young t-shirt that he hadn't seen before. Yesterday I spent an enjoyable evening with Paul and friends — enjoyable for such as me who like debating the relative strengths of different Neil Young albums (as well as Bob Dylan, Keith Jarrett and many points between).

But the point of this post is to draw your attention to the London Rust Fest that Paul is organising next month. A convention for Young fans, featuring rarely seen films, tribute-style bands. £10 for three days, with any surplus going to Neil Young's Bridge School charity.

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18 August 02003

Folk music and protest festival, Barbican

The Barbican has a four-day festival dedicated to the role of folk music in popular resistance, Freedom Highway. Seeing the Levellers and the wonderful Chumbawamba in the Corporation of London's arts venue should be unmissable (if not great for dancing) — that's on 19th September.

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16 August 02003

The Draughtsman's Contract

Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract is re-released at the ICA this month. As a big fan at the time, I was curious to see how this standard-bearer for British art cinema in the '80s (and for FilmFour) looks in hindsight. In short, it's easier to see why people loved it — in particular the bravura confidence of the compositions — and why people hated it. I find myself less impressed now than I was: hindsight robs the obsessive schemes of their promise of enlightenment. We know it all goes round and round in post-structuralist circles, leading nowhere much, which was the intended 'lesson' all along. And without the tease of that promise, why bother even to try to unravel the clues?

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15 August 02003

Cambridge Folk Festival - Review

A great festival, once I'd battled the trains to get there. I was attracted by the headline names — particularly Julian Cope, Linda Thompson (who subsequently cancelled), Laura Cantrell, my first chance to see Alasdair Roberts, and to a lesser extent Steve Earle and Rosanne Cash. But it was the time I spent in the club tent watching acts not even mentioned in the programme that I enjoyed most. In particular I'll keep an eye on Note for a Child (you can get their CD EP at the time of writing free from the web site), and the incredible combination of celtic harp and uilleann pipes from Harriet Earis and Colman Connelly. There was more energy in their set than you'd see from The Darkness (I imagine).

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Julian Cope, live, 30 Oct - 1 Nov

JC is promising three nights of his ur-pagan rock at the Lyric Hammersmith. Details here. I'll be going on 31st.

28 May 02003

Visconti weblinks

I've curated a set of weblinks for the Luchino Visconti season at the Showroom Cinema - reviews, essays and historical background to the major films.

21 May 02003

Neil Young — live review (19 May 2003)

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14 May 02003

Laurie Anderson - Live review (9, 11 May 2003)

I went to see Laurie Anderson on Friday. And because it was the kind of show I'd been waiting 18 years to see her do, I went again on Sunday (same show, but different perspective from the cheap seats). In between, I'd had the opportunity to review some of the material (all new) from my recording. It was an affirmation of those mid-80s concerns of hers about lack of metrics and exchange rates in the economies of experience, feeling and influence, and the uncanny sublimations that take place between these levels.

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7 May 02003

Yo La Tengo - Live review (7 May 2003)

Yo La Tengo show how to make good music by relying on good taste. They look like they're not really trying very hard. The vocals - especially when Georgia is singing - are indistinct. Their songs don't give up their secrets easily (and the muddy acoustic of the Shepherds Bush Empire doesn't help). But they choose their sounds (muted guitar, unusual percussion etc), their grooves (gentle latin, jazz), their cover versions, and their influences very well.

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