Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Pop music

Monday May 23 2016

I keep wanting to write about music, but (a) it isn’t easy, unless both you and your readers know all the technical terms of your preferred sort of music.  And (b) whereas words go fine with music, words about music, especially if they are attempting to be descriptive of a particular piece of music, can be devilishly hard to contrive in a way that is comprehensible without being banal and superficial and generalised.

A specialist blog or website devoted to a particular sort of music, with musical illustrations supplied to click on rather than only descriptive verbiage, whose writer(s) and readers are united by their taste in that particular sort of music, that makes perfect sense to me.  I don’t read any such blogs, but it makes sense.  I do read old school paper magazines (I see that there is a new one of those out that I’ve not yet seen) exactly like this. But a blog about other things which from time to time goes musical, not so much.  I have no problem at all with my favourite bloggers (6k and Mick Hartley spring to mind) doing postings every so often about music that they happen particularly to like.  Their gaffs, their rules.  But I mostly skip such postings.  I possess a lifetime and more of music in the form of a vast CD collection that I already want to listen to.

So, I do not wish myself merely to do postings about bits of music that I happen to like, hoping - implicitly or explicitly - that others will be infected with my tastes.  I love Western classical music more than life itself, often a lot more.  But most people don’t these days, and that’s fine with me.  If I thought that western classical music was about to be completely expunged from the earth any time soon, I might feel differently about trying to infect others with the love of it, but it isn’t.  Meanwhile, this music is, for me, mostly a personal thing.  It is not an evangelical religion.  If I meet a fellow devotee, we exchange enthusiastic exclamations of love for this or that piece or performance, but I mostly refrain from inflicting such True Believer talk on non-believers.

I am evangelical and anti-evangelical about some things.  If you are not a libertarian, I want that to change.  You should become a libertarian forthwith.  If you are a Muslim, I want you to know, now, that I think you should stop being a Muslim, now.  But if you hate Beethoven and adore hip-hop, that’s fine with me, so long as you have no plans forcibly to stop me listening to Beethoven or to force me to listen to hip-hop.  If you merely want me to adore hip-hop, or even to stop adoring Beethoven, again, fine.  Just so long as you don’t recommend the use of sticks or stones to make those points.  Insofar as you do, then shame on you. But exactly the same point applies to people who force Beethoven upon those who resist Beethoven’s charms.  I am evangelical about that sort of behaviour also.  Are you threatening others with Beethoven?  Stop doing that, now.  Do you favour such behaviour by others.  Don’t even think that.

However, more general postings about music (this one being an example) about the different ways we listen to it and enjoy it, how love of music spreads or should spread (that is what this posting has partly been about), about how those who contrive it contrive it, and so on, of the sort that all music lovers can read and tune into, even as they are hearing in their own heads quite distinct musical illustrations concerning whatever is being said, that makes more sense to me, and - memo to self - I want to do more of such postings here.

Monday May 02 2016

As frequently threatened, this blog is going more and more to be about the process of getting old.  Yesterday’s posting was about that, and so is this one.

I have spent the morning doing various household trivia, internetting, and then, in particular, come eleven o’clock, keeping up with county cricket.  This really takes me back, to the time when, as a small boy, I was glued to my radio, keeping up with county cricket.  Then as now, just the numbers were enough to tell me a lot of what was going on.

Second childhood is catered to by tradesmen with just as much enthusiasm as first childhood is, the difference between that we second childhooders now make all our own decisions.

When I was a child, a magic machine that trotted out not just county cricket scores but entire continuously updated county cricket scorecards would have been a marvel.  Now, I have it, and just at the moment in my life when my actual life is winding down, and county cricket again seems like something interesting.  Between about 1965 and about 1995, I paid almost zero attention to county cricket.  I could not have told you who was winning or who had last won the County Championship during those decades.  The newspapers and the telly had remained interested only in international cricket, there was not yet any internet, and above all, I had a life.  But now that life as such is slipping from my grip, county cricket becomes an attraction again.

Notoriously, old age is the time when you remember your childhood better than anything else, or at least you think you do.  And the things that had intense meaning then have intense meaning still.  So it is that much of commerce now consists of digging into the manic enthusiasms that reigned six or seven decades ago, and rehashing them as things to sell now.  On oldie TV, such as I was watching last night, you see shows devoted to the obsessions of the nearly (but not quite yet) forgotten past all the time, every night.  As the years advance, shows about WW2 are succeeded by shows about 1950s dance halls or crooners or early rock and rollers, or ancient cars and trams and steam trains.  Often the shows now are about how the steam trains themselves are being revived, by manic hobbyists who have just retired from doing sensible things.

I know the feeling.  One of the best train journeys I recall from my boyhood was in the Cornish Riviera Express, driven by a huge 4-6-2 steam engine (for real, not as a “heritage” exercise) in about 1952, out of Waterloo.  I can still recall leaning out of the window on a curve, and seeing the locomotive up at the front, chomping away in all its glory, gushing smoke fit to burst.  I never quite turned into a full-blooded trainspotter, but like I say, I know the feeling.

A bit of a meander, I’m afraid.  But don’t mind me.  You’d best be going now.  I’m sure you have more important things on your mind.

Monday January 11 2016

Today I was out and about in the grim greyness of Winter London, with only very occasional patches of blue in the sky.

Had I had only these three photos in their original versions to go on, I might eventually have pieced together that David Bowie had died:

imageimageimage

But I had already clocked this news from reading this posting at Mick Hartley’s.  Viewers who feel strongly that all commemorations of the recently deceased should be in good taste are urged not to click on the middle picture.  Whether the original you get by clicking is “what he would have wanted”, I do not know.  One thing I know for sure is that it is not what I wanted.  But it is what it is, and I had no other more suitable substitutes.

Later I took a more self-consciously commemorative photo to recognise Bowie’s death:

image

I’m not sure that it makes perfect sense to wish that a dead rock star should “rest in peace”, though.  Surely at least the occasional burst of raucous rock and roll would also be in order.  But, they only meant to say the right thing, and if not that, then what?  I don’t know.

My personal feeling about Bowie, as with many rock and rollers, was that I paid very little attention indeed to the words as anything other than an excuse to make a satisfying musical racket.  Also costumes don’t impress me, for better or for worse.  I love the music of Abba, despite their preposterous outfits.  And I love the Bowie tracks that I love, regardless of what “persona” he happened to be adopting at the time.  It’s the backing that I love, and Bowie was really good at making this happen interestingly, I think.

What did “Suffragette City” mean?  I never bothered to find out and I probably never will, but I love the sound it makes.  “When You’re A Boy” made a bit more sense (to me), but it still came as a surprise (to me) when I saw a video of some women dancing along to it, who turned out all to be Bowie in drag.  What was that about?  Some sort of rumination on the socialised nature of sex-roles?  Just a tease, to get the newspapers to denounce it and do the publicity for free?  Probably the latter.  Bowie was a dab hand at that.

Friday October 16 2015

More Dezeenery:

“Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architectures,” commented Bill Carter, manager of the Architected Materials Group at HRL.

image

“We are revolutionising lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the materials level and designing their architectures at the nano- and micro-scales,” he added.

In the new film released by Boeing earlier this month, HRL research scientist Sophia Yang describes the metal as “the world’s lightest material”, and compares its 99.9 per cent air structure to the composition of human bones – rigid on the outside, but with an open cellular composition inside that keeps them lightweight.

All of which has obvious applications to airplanes:

Although the aerospace company hasn’t announced definite plans to use the microlattice, the film suggests that Boeing has been investigating possible applications for the material in aeroplanes, where it could be used for wall or floor panels to save weight and make aircraft more fuel efficient.

And it surely won’t stop with wall and floor panels.

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

Sunday May 31 2015

Incoming from Michael Jennings:

Truly, that’s a glorious headline.

Indeed it is:

Enrique Iglesias sliced his fingers on a drone during a concert

The drone was not hostile.  It was part of the show, as was Iglesias attempting to handle it.  It was just that it all went rather wrong:

“During the show a drone is used to get crowd shots and some nights Enrique grabs the drone to give the audience a point of view shot,” the statement read. “Something went wrong and he had an accident. He decided to go on and continued playing for 30 minutes while the bleeding continued throughout the show.”

Iglesias was semi-treated immediately after the accident.

Definitely a future trivia question in a pop quiz.  But the worst that could have resulted from this would have been a couple of missing Iglesian fingers.  This ("NY-bound plane nearly collides with drone, FAA says") could have ended far more grimly.

There will be many, many more drone dramas.  They are colossally useful, and accidents buzzing around begging to happen. 

Monday February 02 2015

Incoming from Michael J:

Katy Perry and dancing Nazi sharks. I guess this is why you stay up for the Superbowl.

image

Actually I missed KP’s half time performance, but I have it on one of my various TV hard disks.  I did stay up until the Superbowl ended, but I found myself only giving it about a third of my attention.

I did tune in at the end.  That bizarre catch was fun.  But the game ended the way it did because, at any rate in the opinion of all the commentators, the Seattle Seahawks made a horrible mistake.  ("I cannot believe that call!") Truly great games are won because of something wonderful, not something horrible.  In an ideal world, you want the losers thinking, not: “Oh Shit, What Were We Thinking?!?!?  We’ll have nightmares about that for the rest of our lives.” You want them thinking: “Well, there was nothing we could have done about that.” And the winners can spend the rest of their lives remembering that they did it, not that the other guys did it for them.

And then this morning there was this:

6 1 6 . 6 6 | . 4 W 4 W 1 | 1 . 1wd 6 6 6

That’s the last three overs of the England Second Eleven‘s batting effort against the South Africa Second Eleven.  I love how you can now follow these bizarrely obscure games.  Ben Stokes, who has been having a rough time of it of late, is the one hitting six of those seven sixes at the end, and finishing on 151 not out (off 86 balls) , out of 378-6.  Perhaps someone in the England First Eleven (recently crushed by Australia in a triangular warm-up tournament) will get hurt during the forthcoming World Cup, and Stokes will be inserted into their team.  Such is the romance of sport.

Finally, here is a piece by cricket boffin Ed Smith, about how having fun is very important.  Because of fun, Alexander Fleming invented penicillin, etc.  But the real reason for fun is that having fun is fun.  It’s articles like this that cause insane parents to send their children to Fun Classes.

I shouldn’t mock.  It’s a good piece.  And fun is what this blog here is mostly about.

Tuesday September 09 2014

New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross writes about how he still loves his classical CDs.  Partly, he admits, it’s nostalgia.  CDs were such a huge leap forward when they first arrived that that moment of pure joy is very hard to turn your back on.  I can still remember what my first CDs were: Nielsen 3, Brahms Sextets, Barenboim complete Beethoven piano sonatas, Strauss Alpine Symphony … Then there was the realisation that classical CDs would just get cheaper and cheaper and abundanter and abundanter, and then very soon the reality of that happy circumstance.  Gramex Boss Hewland prices his stuff with more than half an eye to what Amazon charges, and it remains worthwhile to visit Gramex from time to time, even as all the other central London second hand CD emporia have faded away.  He piles them high and sells them cheap.

Yes, the physical space occupied by CDs is a problem.  Those piles can get very high.  (Visit my home to see that problem on an enormous scale.) But, for me, the internet remains an unenticing place to purchase and play classical music.  I have accumulated some virtual titles, as a result of buying them new on Amazon and having an additional “cloud” version of the same thing piped into my computer.  But I wouldn’t want to be without the CDs whose purchase provoked this additional twenty first century response.

I wrote recently about the value of keeping things separate, in my case my big home computer and my music making equipment.  Even as my big home computer continues not to materialise, I still have music as good as ever, with no messing with some new kind of system to make it work.

But the central problem with classical music on the internet is that it remains, I believe, a mess.  Pop music having overwhelmed classical music economically during the last hundred years or so, pop music is the big driver of internet music, and internet music is entirely organised for the benefit of pop fans, and their discreet tracks.  We classicists are liable, as Alex Ross explains, to get lumbered with such things as John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven Nine labelled as being the work of Lyuba Organosova, merely because she tops of the list of soloists for the final movement.  The labelling of classical tracks on Amazon, where they offer you little snippets to listen to, is routinely done by naming the pieces with such things as their tempo or loudness markings, while neglecting to tell you what the piece is or what number movement it is.  They just can’t be bothered to get it right.  Fair enough.  I understand why they can’t be bothered.  We classicists aren’t worth bothering with.  Buy the CD or don’t and consider yourself lucky, is the message.  Until someone really big and well organised does bother about it, classical music on the internet will remain an off-putting afterthought, piggybacking systems devised for something else, rather than an enticing attraction.

When things get reissued, the labelling is liable to go completely to buggery.  I, for instance, have that Barenboim set of Beethoven sonatas on EMI from way back, long before the internet, when it first came out as a set of CDs.  Since then it has been reissued.  So, when the internet tries to assist me in cataloguing recordings I myself have made of it onto my hard disc, it gets it all wrong.  Useless.

Classical music on the internet will eventually get sorted out.  And when it does, I will, if not dead, presumably hear about it from my classical music mags.  A consensus will be announced, saying things like “Classical CDs really are pointless nowadays”, and when you read such articles, it will, after about a decade of premature enthusiasm of the geek-bollocks sort ("all you have to do is blah blah dance on the head of twenty seven pins blah blah blah turn seventy three cartwheels blah blah blah what could be easier? … yes it might all crash but to solve that blah blah blah ..."), eventually become true.  A actual, real world majority of Classical freaks will be using this single, best arrangement, and it will work, all the time, like email.  Or not.

Even when such a new classical dispensation does emerge, I will probably not bother to switch.  It’s not just sunk costs; it will also be declining costs.  As internet classical music becomes ever more appealing, so the price of mere CDs will sink and sink, until all of them can be purchased by me from Amazon, for £0.01 plus postage.

Meanwhile, I like that my CD filing system (aka my CD collection) is always accurate.  When I dig up a CD that says it is so-and-so’s recording of Brahms 4, it is, and then when I play it, it will be played in the right order.  Notes will be to hand to read about this recording if I want to, conveniently stored right next to the CD.

I do have lots of virtual music, as an addendum to my CDs, like those files that Amazon spontaneously volunteers, and like stuff I have recorded from the radio.  But the latter starts out being called something like DAB002, and I have never sorted out how to file it conveniently, or even to edit it into individual performances.  Life is too short to be bothering.  Why edit, when CDs are already edited.  Virtual music is strictly an afterthought for me.  Plastic music remains the thing itself, for me.  And (see above) I don’t believe I’m just being sentimental, even if I am somewhat.

Tuesday March 25 2014

Because he is definitely some personal kind (is there any other kind?) of libertarian (he and this guy are mates from Eton), I have instructed Google to send me emails about popular entertainer Frank Turner whenever anything is said about or by him, which is quite often because he really is very popular.

Here’s an interview Turner recently did.  They asked him how it feels to play in an “arena”, i.e. a very, very big place.

Turner:

It’s a funny thing because I think whenever anyone starts out playing music you have a bucket list, or a ceiling of achievement that you might think of … and I’m really not trying to sound like Mr CoolHipsterPunkRock here, but the biggest bands I went to see when I was a kid played The Astoria, maybe Brixton Academy.

But then, straight after that, comes this:

I’d never been to an arena show before I played one.

How cool is that?

Which just goes to show that a precondition for being cool is not trying to be.

Shame about that Libertarian Party (see the “this guy” link above).  That didn’t turn out quite so cool.

Frank Turner on playing in an arena
Bits of music at non-musical blogs
Making sense of digital photography
David Byrne on the constraints of artistic form
Billy Fury Way
Classical CDs from Gramex
Quimper cat on Harley-Davidson
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
From pop to purrfume
Cricinfo gets its clock in a tangle and Pyrah bowls an unforgivable no ball
Cats and bridges on Pixdaus
Blur
In Gorbachev we trust?
Alex Ross on Sibelius
Linkin Park - one leg short of libertarian
Rock and roll will die very soon!
Never mind the telly
Daddy-o
I’d be cheering
Freedom of information
Here they stand
Eurovision sense from Squander Two
Ting Tings on Ross
Me talking about the great twentieth century musical divide
At Bethnal Green railway station
Paris Hilton and the Something Else First rule
Here it is Merry Christmas
The qualitative difference made by quantity
From 100 to 1 in movie quotes and Gordon is a moron
Girly songs
The Joyce Hatto affair - no big deal
Not cool and cool
He likes it - but does he understand it?
Back to the future with the virtuoso violinists
No more photos for a bit after these ones
Top tips from Viz
All hail to the Rolling Stones assembly line
Foreigners on film
Alex is too busy - Sting records Dowland songs
More ancient rock and rollers photographed from off of the telly
What it was only better
The Superbowl is live on the telly!
Talking about my generation
Thoughts after watching Abbado’s Lucerne Resurrection Symphony
Pink and green Richards
Why I liked John Peel
To love pop you mustn’t know too much