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For our anniversary treat tonight, Andrew and I went to see Martin Carthy at the Band on the Wall -- a venue Andrew had been to before but I hadn't, and I really liked it. Seemed to have nice veggie/vegan food (I had just eaten today but I want to try it another time) and the beer was good, as well as having a lot of the kind of music I normally like better than Andrew does, despite not having been there myself!

We got settled into seats right in the front row, folding chairs in tightly-packed rows. The woman next to me started chatting; she was friendly and enthusiastic about her boyfriend's tastes in music, totally new to folk. Hadn't heard of Martin Carthy before. I almost envied her the revelation ahead of her, but had to hope she'd see it that way: as Andrew and I told each other on the walk to the bus stop, there must be people who don't like Martin Carthy, but we can't understand how.

I was just playing The Imagined Village songs to Stuart yesterday; he'd done me the favor of giving me a good excuse to get out of the house and away from social media on such a dark day for my country and the world and I repaid the favor, inadvertantly, by introducing him to this music. Looking through my Recently Played, I thought this would be most to his liking and it turned out he hadn't heard of them and was delighted.

So the version of "John Barleycorn" we got as the second or third song tonight was familiar to me from one of the Imagined Village records...but so much more captivating in person of course. I'm someone who's lacked the attention span to read a paragraph lately, whose biggest problem with running 5k is I get bored and want to see if I've got any new things to look at on the internet about one hundred times while I'm running. But here I was tonight, listening to all umpty-million verses of "Sir Patrick Spens" and all that time I am not doing anything else. I'm not thinking of anything else, I don't want to be anywhere else.

There's something compelling to me about folk songs, old songs: you can almost feel the weight of the years on them, the different people who've sung them in different circumstances. Carthy introduced "Sir Patrick Spens" by saying that if this were a real event it would've happened in 1282, and my mind got a bit dizzy trying to imagine such a year, much less that anything could tie such a time to us sitting now in our folding chairs. Of course the song itself is nothing like that old (Wikipedia tells me a version was published first in 1765), and of course many older artifacts of our culture persist, not least the language we speak! But still I am a little in awe of how casually this man carries around in his head versions of things that have been in so many other people's heads, and ears, and voices.

My attention span didn't last the whole evening (and this was an old-person's gig for old people; it had a curfew of 9:45, so it wasn't a long evening!), but it did spike up again when I heard another Imagined Village favorite, "My Son John."
If you listen carefully you might recognize elements of the song's plot: Carthy mentioned it having been recorded by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior in the sixties, and apparently the sleeve notes of that album explain it a little.
Fred Hamer collected this song in Bedfordshire from the singing of David Parrott. A father and his disabled son are before a naval surgeon who is trying to cheat him of his disablement pension by claiming that he was careless to stand in the way of the cannon ball which shot his legs off.
It fits right in with Atos and the DWP today, doesn't it, to blame a man for getting his legs shot off so that they don't have to give him any money.

I always come away from folk gigs wishing I listened to more folk music. Andrew likes it fine (of course he's the one who's introduced me to Martin Carthy and all the British folk, just as the nice lady next to me (Debbie, she was called) is being introduced to it by her boyfriend tonight) but it's not as well represented in his music collection as other things, and it's usually his music that's playing. He's always careful to tell me I can play whatever I want, and of course I know I can, but if I'm not bothered about whether there's music playing and he is, we mostly hear his music.

But, the Unthanks are playing in March. I really like them. I think I'd like to go see them.

Poppycock

Jan. 8th, 2017 11:22 pm
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Before I forget: I went to see Poppycock on Friday!

This is a big deal because I've been meaning to since my friend Stuart joined the band a while ago. He's the drummer, and the only man of the eight or so of them in the band. It is a thing that's brought him much happiness and sense of achievement at a time in his life when there are not enough things to do that, so for that alone I'd be grateful but it turns out they're a great band too.

It was the first time I'd been to A Gig By A Band That My Friend Is In for quite a while, and it was possibly the best one yet. All three bands were from the label Poppycock is on, which Stuart told me has rules like "If you sound like Oasis, Coldplay or [something else he forgot but you can probably get the idea], don't bother with us." Andrew and I had both bought tickets but he wasn't feeling up to going which is a shame because I think he'd have really appreciated this. He used to be an a band, and thus listen to other bands, at a time when everybody did want to sound like Oasis, or the Fall, or whatever. Except him. He still wants to be in bands that don't have guitars in them and wishes for things like a bass harmonica or a harpsichord.

Poppycock have guitars, a fairly standard line-up really -- though everyone but the rhythm section and one singer played more than one thing and there was a flute put to good use in some of the songs -- but they still stand out. Just having that many women on stage gave me a weird feeling I am starting to have more often, like when I saw Ghostbusters last year: there's something crazy about seeing more than one woman in any group, and her not being "the girl one." And they are great at it, and Una writes good songs, and it was so good to see Stuart play guitar again.

I call him a friend but he's not just that; he's an ex too, singular in several ways because he's the only one I really talk to and also the only one I really miss. It was bittersweet to watch him play again, reminded me of going to see his old band (and there I really was there just because he was in it! -- they were all right but not really my cup of tea) and feeling like I might burst with pride and happiness at getting to know and be involved with such a person, and just having the joy of watching someone do something they're really good at.

Extra-surprisingly for going-to-see-your-mate's-band, the other two on the bill were pretty good too! First was Four Candles, whose set I arrived halfway through and the second half I confess I mostly spent catching up with Stuart and [livejournal.com profile] scarletts_web because it was the first time I'd seen her in four years, how did that happen!?

It's extra a-thing-that-should-not-have-happened because she's a huge fan of Poppycock and travels from the other side of Warrington to see them play in Manchester all the time and this was the first gig I'd managed to get to and that only because it's literally a five-minute walk from my house.

Anyway, Stuart said of the first band "brilliantly venomous and heartfelt lyrics combined with fantastically inventive playing from guitar, bass and drums." The singer had been in a band called The Hamsters before and people seemed to know and like him.

And the second band, Patchwork Rattlebag (good name but oh my god everybody I talked to kept forgetting it, it's just lots of interchangeable nouns!) I probably liked more than most; [livejournal.com profile] scarletts_web pronounced them a bit fey but I love that kind of chilled out music, it's what I play whenever Andrew's not around. So that wouldn't have been his favorite, but he'd have had to agree the singer had an incredible voice, strong and laden with emotion over the electronica background, I was a bit disappointed none of the merch at the little stall was their music (though I was reassured it's on the way) or else I'd have bought some. Which is really much more an Andrew thing to do than a me thing to do; I think the last time I bought a CD at a gig was at the IPO (International Pop Overthrow, a fun thing in Liverpool) maaany years ago and mostly that was because the guy made me laugh by asking if anyone had heard of Des Moines and then didn't believe me when I said I'd been there.

And then Poppycock, but not before some in-between, setting-up music which I thought I recognized as one of my favorite albums from last year -- it's a few years old but I didn't hear it until last year -- by The Imagined Village. As it was playing I was chatting to someone who said "oh, this is Poppycock...they've started?" I chuckled and said no, this was Eliza Carthy singing, but that as far as I was concerned if they could be mistaken for sounding like this I'd be pleased.

And I was!

Afterward I helped a little (hoping I wasn't more of a hindrance) get the gear packed up and out to the car, stuck around for a drink (someone I remember from the last time I was at this place, getting drunk on Han's birthday, bought me a pint and we talked about 80s Bob Dylan; old men with beards and rollies are so easy for me to get along with) and I'd meant to stick around and say hi to Stuart again but there was Important Band Meeting going on so I just went home. All gigs should be so fun and so easy to get to.
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I found myself humming "awesome, wow!" when I was walking the dog this morning and realised that if Groffsauce doesn't spend the twentieth of January singing "do you know how hard it is to lead?" and "oceans rise, empires fall" and basically all the rest of "What Comes Next?" for us, I will be sorely disappointed.
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,I've watched a few episodes of Futurama, b I didn't know that Leela's full name was Turanga Leela. It makes a pretty name, though!
Messiaen derived the title from two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which roughly translate into English as "love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death", and described the joy of Turangalîla as "superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned"
I'm going to see Turangalila-Symphonie tonight because a month or two ago I turned on the radio, as I instinctively do when I'm in the kitchen because cleaning and cooking are so boring otherwise, and found the BBC Philharmonic halfway through Turangalila. Doing the dishes had never seemed so fun, or dramatic. When Andrew got home I asked if he could download the recording from the iPlayer for me, and after a bit of typing he realized that we could go see this live at the Bridgewater Hall in the vaguely near future. And now it turns out that vague future is tonight!

Nobody that I've overexcitedly mentioned this to, when they've asked about my weekend plans, has heard of it, so here it is, if you're interested.
about this today and, even though this is Not Her Period, she listened and told me "31.20 sounds like music from a futuristic western!" which really made me smile. That's not a bad description of a lot of Messiaen's music, actually. Again an apparent juxtaposition of opposites. From The Rest Is Noise I learned that Messiaen (who was French) traveled to the national parks of Utah and was hugely inspired by the landscapes there; he wrote Des canyons aux etoiles ("from the canyons to the stars") about those landscapes, which sounds like the perfect name for the futuristic western. The canyons and the stars both evoke the edges of our knowledge, the sites of our discoveries, the strange things we'll never quite make familiar.

Messiaen would sound futuristic whatever instruments he used (the Quartet for the End of Time proves this!) but I want to talk about the ondes Martenot because it is the coolest goddam thing and really important to Turangalila.

The ondes Martenot is a early electronic instrument, sort of like a theremin but a lot more so -- in that it both is more complicated than a theremin and can make a lot of other kinds of noises besides the theremin-like ones. I've read a lot (well, a lot more than I ever expected to, not actually very much) about them but the best way I've found to learn about them is this video.
Turangalila is one of the musical homes of the ondes Martenot (the others seemingly being Radiohead and movie scores), and if eighty minutes of Turangalila is too much for you, I'd suggest this movement, "Joie du Sang des Étoiles," which displays the ondes Martenot to great effect (you see a lot of it here; it's the yellow thing that looks like a piano but with a box of electronics coming out of the left side of it).

There's so much going on here, (another of Bethan's comments: "Don't care if it's in 4/4, wouldn't want to play it"...which I can totally understand that from my limited experience playing some of these instruments!) but Messiaen never complicates things with overlong explanations of what he was thinking or intending.
When asked about the meaning of the work's duration in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, "It's a love song."
In the end, that has to be enough. And it is, really.

The Current

Jan. 3rd, 2015 07:52 pm
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I'm unduly excited that I finally got my favorite radio station working on the internet for me. I do a lot of digital-radio-listening on my phone, and it hadn't worked for me since I got this phone last March! That's a long time to go without the steady, reliable flow of music I love, music I am content listening to, and music I need to know about. One reason 2014 didn't seem a very musical year was that I didn't have easy new(-to-me) music discoveries from The Current.

Today I found a workaround (as a note to myself, since I'm sure this won't mean anything to anyone else: the main Twin Cities station doesn't work, but the Northfield one does! I don't get it, but whatever) and I'm basking in aural joy.

Bill DeVille's on! He's a DJ (my favorite even before The Current existed! I remember him on Cities97!) He played "September Gurls" a bit ago and though I hear Big Star a lot now cos Andrew loves them, it was this guy who introduced me to their music. He seems to like similar things to me, but he knows about a lot more than me! An ideal musical guide. Plus his voice kinda reminds me of my dad.

I love The Current partly for being full of the kind of DJs associated with rock music's early days on the radio; maybe not quite as larger-than-life as those characters -- this is still Minnesota! we're never more than the same size as life -- but there is a sense of personality and enthusiasm behind the music that's lacking from more rigidly programmed stations.

(Plus I'm utterly fascinated by the weather reports. They're so unlike anything else I hear these days that I can't help but stop reading my book when I notice one, and I am somehow soothed and homesick at the same time.)
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"Does the Goldberg Variations count as one song?"

Andrew laughed at me. "No."

"Well, one of them then," I said.

I'd never before had the terribly British experience of being asked what my Desert Island Discs would be, and I was making this up as I went along.

My first couple of answers were similar to what James and Andrew had given -- pieces of music that were particularly important to me, or particular favorites of mine -- I have to include "Born in the U.S.A.," and "Finale" from Dvorak's New World Symphony, and the song that a favorite musician of Andrew's and mine wrote for our wedding.

I think I asked about the Goldberg Variations right after that, though, because on some level I realized that if I was on a desert island I'd be really upset and I'd really miss Andrew, so "Now's Eternity" (the song at our wedding) would just hurt and make me sad. So I thought of soothing things, and of course the first that leapt to mind was Goldberg.

I recently heard a story about how the Goldberg Variations were written, thanks to one of my new obsessions: Jarvis Cocker's Wireless Nights, an occasional series I love and find really captivating; that link has all the episodes as podcasts and I can't recommend them enough if you like humans or music or poetry or life. Anyway, the story Jarvis Cocker whispered into my ears (I find to my amusement I can only listen to Wireless Nights when it is night, or when I'm on a train -- something about the expansiveness and intensity of it seems to suit those things particularly -- and at those times I use headphones) goes something like this:
[For this work] we have to thank the instigation of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, Count Kaiserling, who often stopped in Leipzig and brought there with him the aforementioned Goldberg, in order to have him given musical instruction by Bach. The Count was often ill and had sleepless nights. At such times, Goldberg, who lived in his house, had to spend the night in an antechamber, so as to play for him during his insomnia. ... Once the Count mentioned in Bach's presence that he would like to have some clavier pieces for Goldberg, which should be of such a smooth and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights. Bach thought himself best able to fulfill this wish by means of Variations, the writing of which he had until then considered an ungrateful task on account of the repeatedly similar harmonic foundation. But since at this time all his works were already models of art, such also these variations became under his hand. Yet he produced only a single work of this kind. Thereafter the Count always called them his variations. He never tired of them, and for a long time sleepless nights meant: 'Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.'
As a chronic insomniac, I was intrigued and maybe even delighted to find that I wasn't the only one who wanted something soothing and yet distracting to listen to during my sleepless hours. I've often wondered what I'd do before the podcasts and audiobooks I use: turns out, if I were lucky enough to be a Count who knew J.S. Bach, I could've had him write me something. What a delicious idea.

But, whether the story is true or not, I can imagine they'd be good for insomnia: soothing and yet cheerful. The Goldberg variations are not stupefying or dense; they may not inspire awe like some of Bach's other skilled and impressive work, but I wouldn't want to be left alone on an island with the distant, inspirational Bach. I'd want this cozy, bedroom-antechamber Bach. I'd want the company on the desert island.

And from there the rest of my "Desert Island Discs" amused me by sort of missing the point of the game, which is to pick songs you particularly like or that say something about you or have a meaning or a story or something entertaining associated with them. I picked songs to comfort me in my isolation and get me through what would no doubt be a terrible experience for me. Quartet for the End of Time* (which should be awfully sad, drenched in the Holocaust as it is, but inexplicably is a favorite of mine; still if I want less somber Messaien, there's always Turangalila). I think I said Ave Maria, too. And maybe The Flower Duet. And Gymnopédie, naturally.

It's strange to think of the things I fall back on. I wouldn't have expected it to be all western art music I find so durable, able to withstand the hatred I have for anything played too often.

But still, I am happy I am not stranded on a desert island, and able to listen to lots of music, and talk to people, and do lots of things.


* That's a particularly cool video I stumbled across there, I think, because it shows you the sheet music so if you're a music nerd like me you can follow along as they play...or just sit back and be even more impressed than you were that people manage to play these things at all, especially in the circumstances of the original performance:
Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered World War II. He was captured by the German army in June 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland). While in transit to the camp, Messiaen showed the clarinetist Henri Akoka, also a prisoner, the sketches for what would become Abîme des oiseaux. Two other professional musicians, violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier, were among his fellow prisoners, and after he managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic guard, Messiaen wrote a short trio for them; this piece developed into the Quatuor for the same trio with himself at the piano...

The quartet was premiered at the camp, outdoors and in the rain, on January 15, 1941. The musicians had decrepit instruments and an audience of about 400 fellow prisoners and guards.
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Despite Andrew getting fed up with the mosh pit, and us getting separated when I failed to follow him away from it on account of having insufficient mass to overcome the momentum imparted on me by selfish men all around me, it was almost worth being right at the front for the beginning of the Hold Steady gig.

Craig Finn comes onstage with his arms outstretched like a magnanimous messiah who really does love us all. There's such intensity in the frenzied way he thrusts his arms, hands, fingers at us as he delivers his lines with the speed and power of a machine gun. His eye contact seems genuine no matter how quickly it moves from one area of the crowd to another. It wasn't long before his gaze fell upon me, with a renewed smile and a thumbs-up for the Twins jersey I was wearing.

Finn doesn't sing as much as he tells stories, and for a while those stories were loosely connected by a small group of characters, one of whom is called Holly (short for Hallelujah). A lot of the stories center on Minneapolis, "my hometown" Finn always explains in the live gigs in the middle of "Your Little Hoodrat Friend." So much as I admire him, and as much joy as his work has brought to me, I've no desire to meet him; having to introduce myself as Holly from Minnesota would hardly be believed, especially so far from home.

Yet you don't have to have my name and my provenance, or even my Twins paraphernalia, to feel special. If you stand within Craig Finn's sphere of attention at a Hold Steady gig, you won't go home without feeling you matter, and you are important, and you belong somewhere or at least you can if you want to.
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Out in the cold on my way to work, listening to the music mixes [livejournal.com profile] ultraruby made for (of?) 2013. It's totally different from music I normally get to listen to (which is usually dictated by MPR, 6music or Andrew), but I still really like it.

How wonderful, that there are good things in the world that I know nothing about. So distant from my experience so far and yet still compatible with it, adding something good to it.

Especially with how shit I've been feeling lately, I could easily get dizzy on what other such wonders there might be of which I am wholly ignorant. It's a very welcome train of thought.

Cerys

Oct. 6th, 2013 10:53 am
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It says a lot about how diverse and interesting Cerys Matthews' radio show is that today's, full of songs picked by members of The Clash including Captain Beefheart, "Telstar," Little Richard, the Temptations, etc.

...is actually much more boring and generic than I usually expect her show to be.

It's pretty cool that I get to think What the hell? All these songs are in English! I recognize all the instruments! I can't wait for next week, when normality will be restored.

Perceptive

May. 27th, 2013 12:03 am
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Andrew likes to play all of his mental mp3 collection on shuffle, so I hear everything either excruciatingly often or bizarrely rarely. I think tonight might be the first time in many, many years that I've heard "The Girl is Mine," Michael Jackson's duet with Paul McCartney from Thriller.

Thriller was the first album I ever owned (on my dad's recommendation). So this is probably the first time I've ever gotten around to consciously realizing that, even then, I thought Paul should win the girl.

Of course now I'm enlightened enough to think that the girl should have a say in it, but I am glad to realize that tiny me already was so perceptive.

At least, I'm hoping it's "perceptive" rather than "likes older dudes who sound wiser" or "goes for silly accents." Subsequent evidence doesn't really allow me to rule those out, though.

Influences

May. 21st, 2013 11:03 am
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[livejournal.com profile] uglybuffy's band is playing at the International Pop Overthrow tonight!

I'm very fond of the IPO, having been a few times to see friends of Andrew's play and indeed to help him out a bit with his own headline slot there at the Cavern one night. The friend who was staying with us last week is here for the IPO, and if Andrew hadn't been feeling poorly on Saturday that's where he'd have been.

I found the description of the band she's in, Midland Railway, on this page. It was so different from the others I'd read ("puts the POWER into power trio" "dares to combine the genres of indie rock and classical music" and please no one tell me what "space rock" means; it's bad enough that I now recognize "shoegaze") that I read it out to Andrew.

"A delightfully quirky and enigmatic pop band from Manchester who describe their music as what it might sound like if really camp aliens, in miniskirts and feather boas, alien-napped Weezer and Rilo Kiley and Blur and put them all together and shook them up with a dash of alien music and some prettier people."

I was a little surprised when Andrew said it didn't sound very good. I teased him about how he only likes bad music (he played his new Beach Boys CD at me repeatedly yesterday, which was almost worse than the migraine except that it doesn't last as long) and he took umbrage of course, and I thought that was the end of that, but then he said "It was sounding okay until 'Kylie'!"

But since I was hearing this, though, rather than reading it, it took me a second to figure out what happened there.

I assured him that Rilo Kiley is different and much better. Made me laugh though.
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After we went to see Quartet for the End of Time, I was all enthused about going to classical music concerts, and soon after we bought tickets for one tonight. It being about six weeks ago, I promptly forgot about it and it came as a very welcome surprise tonight.

It was a trumpet player and pianist who did a huge range of music, from Bach to jazz. I admired the versatility required to do such different styles well.

Yet for all its diversity we chose this concert because it was all things Andrew likes -- he's very particular about his western art music tastes: he likes baroque, he likes 20th century atonal stuff, and not a whole lot in between (except maybe some aggressive Germans like Wagner and Beethoven). And a lot of classical concerts program Brahms or Mozart or Debussy or something sweet and lovely like that; the kind of thing people think of when they think "classical music" in the vaguest sense.

Tonight was that rare thing, all good bits and no bad bits for him: Bach and Satie, Handel and Aaron Copland, couple of Gershwin and Cole Porter songs at the end. And the piece these two performers wrote (about which more soob), and a sonata by Paul Hindemith, who we both agreed we'll have to investigate more because neither of us knows much about him but we both really liked the sonata.

The woman playing the trumpet said there's not a lot of music for this combination, trumpet and piano. Which seems odd to me as they both seem quite "obvious" instruments to me: they're popular and versatile and, I thought, ubiquitous. But it did help explain why a lot of the music they played was stuff she'd transposed from other instruments: the Bach piece had been written for a cello, Satie is solo keyboard, the Handel piece had been for an oboe (which was interesting because it seemed so well suited to the trumpet, but I could when I concentrated imagine how good it'd sound on an oboe too, and that was fun). It was another way the concert was really varied and enjoyable.

The first thing she played, the Bach, was actually solo, before the pianist had even emerged onto the stage, and as she played I marveled not only at the technical skill she needed, but of how gentle and yet piercing the trumpet sound was. it reminded me of something, but it took me a while to realize what it was: Miles Davis. So I was delighted when she finished that piece and stepped to a microphone to say that the trumpet, usually a heroic, militaristic instrument, was more interesting to her as a "storyteller" -- an intriguing word-choice, I thought; so unexpected and of course I'm such a sucker for stories -- and that the first person to play the trumpet in this way was Miles Davis. And that, both the clear but gentle and almost exploratory sound, and the element of storytelling, remained through everything she played this evening.

When the pair came to play their own composition, the pianist stepped to the microphone and explained that though it'd been premiered last autumn, they'd since revised it...so much that it was now unrecognizable to that version and they didn't feel it fit its name ("Nocture") any more but they didn't know what to call it and were open to suggestions. So I played along, listening very intently.

It's funny how much your expectations of a piece of music come from being told it's popular or important, who it's by or the context behind its writing (being told in its introduction that the Hindemith sonata was written about World War II made me think a bit differently than I might have if I didn't know it), who it influenced or anything else about it. To come to something without pre-judgement of any kind...well, it probably still carries with it the judgement that it's not very good or we'd have already heard about it by now, given how woefully conservative "classical" music is. So I tried to think up a name for this piece as I was listening to it.

I got very generic, very sixth-form-poet ideas of summer thunderstorms, from the rolling piano chords at the beginning, and maybe because of my upbringing or because having just heard Copland (who also wrote about the American "prairee") I thought of the wide horizons and seas of grass in the prairie; I could imagine the grass bending and rustling in the winds from this thunderstorm I'd imagined. In the next bit the trumpet's whirling circular flights of melody make me think of a tornado -- another summer weather feature on the plains -- and at the end the trumpet did one of the things trumpets do best: bright, ringing notes that put me in mind of (and are often used to accompany films of) the sun breaking through, over a horizon or through dark clouds, so I imagined the happy ending to the tumultuous weather story I'd been telling myself.

"Prairie Skies" is a name both boring and ill-suited to the educated British accents of the performers, so I won't suggest it.
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I love this song.



Beyond all reason.

Three days ago it was the second song I heard on the radio and I've played it a million times on Spotify today.

It's been ages since a song grabbed me like that. I do so enjoy it when one does.
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I wish I could remember what I'd wanted to say about this, I thought when I got home and found myself staring at a blank screen.

And then I remembered: it makes me forgetful, but it remembers things for me.

I don't really feel like a musician when I hear Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. In most music I listen to there is, if not a roadmap, at least a foothold or two that i can use to find my way into the music, my musical training picks up on its key or rhythm or tempo or chord progression, just as when I read a poem I can analyze the word-choice and imagery and line-breaks and metaphor. But some music (and some poems) are totally opaque to my scrutiny.

Indeed Quartet for the End of Time seems opaque to everything: absorbing all, reflecting next to nothing. I can't hum any tunes from it, yet I've listened to it so many times that I could often anticipate the next phrase upon the completion of the one I was listening to. It's as if the memory is encoded in the music itself, and doesn't exist outside it.

Thus making it almost impossible for me to drag this information here to tell you about it. The usual questions about music -- "what does it sound like?" or even "why do I like it?" feel all wrong, like trying to answer "what color is a rainbow?"

Where do I even start?

Messiaen himself describes the eight movements of the quartet a bit mystically; they're still hard to get a hold on.
In my dreams, I hear and see ordered chords and melodies, known colors and shapes; then, after this transitional stage, I pass through the unreal and suffer, with ecstasy, a tournament; a roundabout compenetration of superhuman sounds and colors. These swords of fire, this blue-orange lava, these sudden stars: there is the tangle, there are the rainbows!
(The blue-orange is also used in reference to chords in an earlier section; this is not mysticism but synesthesia. No wonder the "angel" he envisions for this piece is covered with a rainbow.)

Eight years of playing the clarinet got me nowhere near good enough to play this but I know enough to tell right away that there was something wrong with this clarinet. At first my own lips tightened in sympathy with the sounds of air escaping, but of course such a skillful player wasn't lacking in embouchure; my suspicion that one of the keys wasn't making a proper seal seemed confirmed by the way the poor clarinetist was fiddling with the thing between movements. The attack and strength Messiaen demands so often in this clarinet part were absent sometimes with the breathy sound of escaping air, like someone trying to whistle who can't do it.

But then if ever there were a piece were deficiencies in an instrument could be not just tolerated or forgiven but respected, it is in this piece. Even Wikipedia is evocative:
Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered World War II. He was captured by the German army in June 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland). While in transit to the camp, Messiaen showed the clarinetist Henri Akoka, also a prisoner, the sketches for what would become Abîme des oiseaux. Two other professional musicians, violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier, were among his fellow prisoners, and after he managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic guard, Messiaen wrote a short trio for them; this piece developed into the Quatuor for the same trio with himself at the piano...

The quartet was premiered at the camp, outdoors and in the rain, on January 15, 1941. The musicians had decrepit instruments and an audience of about 400 fellow prisoners and guards. Messiaen later recalled: "Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension."
Nothing to make you appreciate a cello that was made in 1695 ("when Bach was ten," the cellist told us before opening the concert with a Bach cello concerto) like the thought of those decrepit instruments, and the small pencil with which such beauty was transcribed.
hollymath: (Default)
This morning, [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours sent me an hour-long piece of music which I so enjoy listening to that I've nearly avoided doing other things today in favor of curling up and listening to it.

I'm still only as far as William Burroughs and musique concrète!
hollymath: (Default)
A friend of mine says her work requires her to answer a question about why she likes Belle and Sebastian.

My work, while asking a lot of me (this week I pointed in the general direction of Altrincham, gave a talk about how to write press releases, and corrected a person much cleverer and better than me when he said Cicero but meant Aristotle) but it's never asked me that.

If it did, I'd say that I like Belle and Sebastian because song came on Andrew's random mp3 shuffle that was the favorite of the guy who introduced me to them by giving me CDs from the record shop where he worked.

And even though the shop has been closed for years and the guy's turned out to be a world-class asshole, the song's as good as it ever was, unmarred by the nostalgic and lamenting bullshit I now can't help but pile on it.
hollymath: (window)
Before I recognize that I recognize the song that's just started playing on the radio, I've already turned the volume up and renewed my conviction to listen to more current music, not because it's good for me (though I think it is; I don't like feeling out-of-touch and curmudgeonly) but because it ensconces slices of time in their individual pop plastic wrappings. A few months can be saturated with a song you rarely hear again afterward, which means when you do hear it again it's a little time machine.

And I've just heard one that took me back to my days on college radio, before I had tasted real failure or depression or anxiety, when my brother was still alive. It doesn't matter what the song is; it's a good place to visit.
hollymath: (window)
The evolutionary impulse to end the day when it gets dark outside seems strong with nme. Not until the last half-hour or so have I started to tackle the chores I intended to do today, and I always feel somehow less satisfied with days like this, as if what's done while the Sun is on the other side of the world does not count. Maybe it's just the psychic weight of all those lethargic hours I've stocked up, not helped by the tyrannical hold Sunday trading hours have on my plans, requiring more discipline than I could provide today, ensuring chores like grocery shopping roll over to tomorrow and I have all night to miss the bread and cheese I didn't get today.

Strange how so much of the music Andrew likes -- his new hobby is making digital mixtapes/radio shows/DJ sets -- I dislike. Considering that music was one of the things that we had in common and first talked about and felt close thanks to all those conversations. But maybe that's why. I remember him sending me a CD of mp3s he liked (with "The Food of Love" scrawled on it) and I listened to them a lot. I listened to Frank Zappa while I wasn't going to class and I listened to sunshine pop while I was trying not to think about how I'd fail out of college; no wonder I don't like them now.

Andrew doesn't seem to have as many emotional connotations with the music he does or doesn't like; I tell him "this is a bad song but it reminds me of someone I loved and never see any more" or "yes this is disposable pop music but it was popular for three happy months of my life" or "I can see why you like the clever lyrics and sublime harmonies but it reminds me of sad things" yet I never seem to convey the time-capsule or instant-recall nature of music that, for better or worse, is part of the reason it means so much to many humans. He just likes what he likes. Sometimes I envy that but mostly I'm glad music allows me to store parts of myself and what's important to me outside of my feeble brain.
hollymath: (Default)
Listening to it for the billionth time today, I realized I could write a whole essay about how much I like this song.

Then I reailzed I could write a whole book of essays about how much I like certain songs (I've already got one about "Sisters of Mercy" somewhere).

It sounds fun, but Nick Hornby already did it, and 31 Songs isn't that great a book. With nothing to connect the songs but one person's preference for them or important teenage moments connected with them or whatever, even a writer as engaging as he is can only just hold the attention of a music fan as whole-hearted as I am.
hollymath: (Default)
Making lunch with Radio 4 on, as usual.

Only half an ear on Desert Island Discs, as usual. Until I heard, as I was dishing up my pasta, the beginning of Dvorak's Seranade for Strings in E, and am suddenly transported, almost painfully, to my late teenage years, which this melody reminds me of so forcefully.

I linger in the kitchen until the music stops, glad of the time travel music allows.

...but also glad I snap back to the present as soon as it is done. The past is not a country I want to dwell in.

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