Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- Oxo Tower with bus advertising The Expendables III
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
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Art Of The State Blog
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Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
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Confused of Calcutta
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Counting Cats in Zanzibar
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Category archive: Pop music
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.
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.
I have my favourite bloggers. Mick Hartley, 6k and David Thompson being my most regular visitees. Two of these three (see those two links) often put up clips of their favourite bits of music, which I pretty much always ignore. Often, when confronted by other people’s favourite musical snippets, I already have music playing, on my separate music box which is nothing to do with my computer and which therefore works when I most need it, which is when my computer is not working.
I tend not to do stick up bits of my favourite sort of music, which is classical. Partly I’m lazy and am not very clever about putting up Youtube clips here. But I could put up lots of links (one follows below) to classical stuff. But, I tend not to. There are enough reasons for people to strike this blog off their weekly-read list or whatever, without me putting them off even more with bits of classical music.
Now, first off, I have no problem with bloggers posting whatever they like. Their gaff their rules. I put whatever I like (as in like to put) here, and they can put whatever they like to put at their places. But, am I the only one who almost always ignores music at other people’s blogs? Most of us like lots of random bits of pop music, old and new. In my case, there’s also a ton of classical classics I like a lot, and others also have their favourite genres that they know all about, adore some of and like a huge proportion of.
I mention this because, entirely for my own selfish reasons, I particularly want to be able to remind myself of this clip of someone called Yulianna Avdeeva playing Chopin, particularly well to my ear. And maybe that’s it. Bloggers use their blogs as personal filing cabinets, just as I do. They put up bits of music because they want always to be able to get hold of that bit quickly, and now they know they can. The readers can just wait for the next posting, and pick up where they left off. (That link, by the way, is to a bit of classical music at a blog that specialises in classical music. Quite often I do play the clips she features, because her kind of music is my kind of music. What I’m on about here is musical clips at blogs which are mostly about non-musical things.)
I think another point being made with these bits of music is the point I make with my occasional Friday cat blogging, which is that a lot of the appeal of blogging in particular and life in general is pure enjoyment. And music, perhaps more than any other art, and especially when no words are involved or in the case of the more upbeat and silly pop tracks, is all about pure enjoyment.
By the way, when I started writing this, I thought that David Thompson also featured occasional pop snippets. So I went looking for his latest pop snippet, but found that actually he does not do this, or not lately, hence no link to any music at his blog in the second sentence of this posting. But I did find this talk, by Greg Lukianoff, about the growing menace of the I-Am-Offended industry on American campuses. Quite long, but recommended.
SInce I started on this posting, Mick Hartley stuck up another pop clip. Again, I have not listened, and probably won’t ever.
As my talk deadline (tomorrow evening) approaches, further insights keep rearranging themselves in my brain.
Not long ago, I read Alex Singleton’s new book (he will be speaking at my home on Friday 31st of this month) about how to do P(ublic) R(elations). (Not so long before reading that book, I read another book in which PR meant, throughout, P(hoto) R(econnaissance). How the world keeps changing (see below).)
I don’t recall any of the facts in this book of Alex’s about how to do PR being any sort of shattering revelation. Rather was the book a relentless drip-drip-drip of what is called “commonsense”, that is, of facts which might well be true, which would make sense if true, and which are, in the opinion of one who knows, actually true, as opposed to some other equally commonsensical notions about these or those circumstances, which, in the opinion of the same expert, are not true. Yet Alex telling me all the things he knows about how to do PR hardly begins to turn me into a PR expert, even though I am now at least passingly acquainted with every important principle, or even fact, that he has gathered up during his PR-ing over the last few years, and furthermore now know (or think I know) where to look to reacquaint myself with all these facts.
What distinguishes Alex from me as a PR-er is that he not only has his facts right, but that he also has them, as the saying goes, “at his fingertips”. That is, he knows how to deploy the pertinent fact at the pertinent time, again and again. He makes connections between his facts, and knows, from experience, which fact matters at which particular moment. He has his facts properly arranged and cross-referenced, inside his head. He knows his way around his facts. All I have is an ill-remembered list of facts.
Trying to “make sense” (as I now am) of digital photography is like that. I already know everything about digital photography that I need to know, pretty much, as (I’m guessing) do you. The problem is making sense of what I know, of putting it all together and relating this fact to that fact, in a way that is slightly interesting and surprising, yet also true.
I now find myself thinking about digital photography as part of that wider historical change known by labels like: the Information Revolution. The Information Revolution kicked off, I would say, on May 11th 1844, when the first message between two different cities (Washington and Baltimore) was sent by electric telegraph. It is intrinsic to digital photography that it is photography that can be communicated.
The effect of the Information Revolution has been to unleash a succession of changes in the texture of everyday life, with each successive decade being defined by whatever stage the Information Revolution happened to have arrived at at that particular passing moment. Photography is both an example of such a change, and the means of recording and remembering and celebrating such changes. Photography remembers things like tablets and iPhones, just as in earlier times it remembered and still remembers big mobile phones, antique microphones, dance crazes, the social structure of successive pop combos, fashions in costume and make-up, and so forth and so on. (Photography also remembers successive iterations of the Industrial Revolution, like trains, cars, airplanes and wars.)
Photography remembers, among many other things, itself. Digital photography remembers, among even more other things, itself.
I like this, from David Byrne:
I’m not saying that the artist doesn’t put their feelings into it, or any part of their biography, but that there’s a lot of constraints and considerations and templates that they work with – unconscious decisions or constraints put upon them that guide what they’re going to do.
Otherwise, why didn’t people in the 14th century start writing full-blown operas with giant orchestras and whatever? These things just weren’t available to them. Our imaginations are constrained by all these other things — which is a good thing. There’s kind of a process of evolution that goes on where the creative part of you adapts to whatever circumstances are available to you. And if you decide you want to make pop songs, or whatever, there’s a format. You can push the boundaries pretty far, but it’s still a recognized thing. And if you’re going to do something at Lincoln Center, there’s a pretty prescribed set of things you are going to do. You can push that form, but kind of from inside the genre. So I guess I’m saying that a lot of creative decisions are kind of made for us, and the trick is then working creatively within those constraints.
Happy is the artist whose inner inclinations happen to fit perfectly with the artistic forms he is offered, with audiences as they are - or as he can easily make them.
And, happy is the artist whose artistic wishes are in alignment with his artistic talents.
It is constantly said that “if Mozart had been alive today” he would have done this or that, and in all cases: a lot. But maybe he would have done nothing. Maybe he would have turned away from music-making nowadays in disgust and contempt, or maybe just frustration that it could not be what he wanted it to be. We can never know.
Photoed by me last night, pn my way from West Hampstead overground to West Hampstead tube:
Time was when that would that. Hey, look at that. Billy Fury Way. And a painting of Billy Fury. Was Billy Fury a local, or an American, or what? Oh well, on with life.
Is Trivial Pursuit still a going concern, what with pursuing trivia now being so easy? I could look that up too, but choose not to.
It is now Monday afternoon, but the end of my Thursday Odyssey is hardly yet in site.
My next stop was at Gramex, where second hand classical CDs are on sale, in particular abundance during the last week or two, as it happens.
The BBC is making a big fuss of LPs just now. Fair enough. LPs had a huge influence on the music being created at the time. Pop music was transformed, for a while, by the album, as was Pop Art, the album cover being a new arena for graphic fun and games of all kinds. Remember all those concept albums?
I just about do, but for me, Pop etc. was a parallel universe. I never disliked it, in fact I admired and admire it very much, and I like occasional pop tracks hugely. Pop is hugely better than recent “classical”, classical being basically a museum now. But despite all that, then as now, I still preferred and prefer classical, and for all but a few vinyl-obsessed classicists, the LP was never more than a means of reproduction, a window to look out at the classical garden, and a very ropey one at that what with all the clicks and scratches, particularly during your favourite bits. Classical music was a going concern long before recordings of any kind existed, and classical LP graphics never amounted to much more than pictures of the musicians, fancy ye-olde typography and/or kitschy chocolate box type landscapes. So when classical LPs were replaced by classical CDs, little was lost and a universe of distraction-free clarity was gained. CDs, certainly classical CDs, after a brief interlude of euphoric demand-driven bonanza profits, quickly got cheaper than LPs if you knew anything about how to buy them, on account of them being so much cheaper to make and distribute.
At first, people thought CDs would eventually disintegrate, but actually what was disintegrating was the CD players. CDs last for ever, provided you are minimally careful. Certainly mine all have, the only problem CDs being the ones that were scratched when I bought them. Crucial to the cheapness of CDs is that you can buy them second hand with reasonable confidence. On Amazon, sellers are terrified of a bad rating, and in shops, you can search out scratches for yourself. Often a shop will let you buy and try, and return if it is too much of a mess. Often what looks like a mess plays just fine. (The trick is to realise that scratches often don’t matter, provided they point towards the middle, as it were. The ones that go with the groove, sideways, because they seriously interrupt the one stream of digital stuff, are the killers.)
So for me, classical CDs were love at first sound. I keep wondering if I may soon stop buying them, but the sort I continue to buy, second-hand at Gramex or (more recently) from Amazon, continue to drift downwards in price.
Here is what I bought at Gramex on Thursday:
I paid only eight quid for those. And the one on the left is a double, which I have been looking for cheap for quite a while. Look for them on Amazon, here and here, and you discover (today anyway) that you would have to pay more like thirty quid for those. Plus, there is no postage to pay if you buy them in Gramex, like there is with Amazon. The cheaper the stuff you like to buy, the more that matters.
Which, along with the exercise I get from going there, is why I keep returning to Gramex. Boss Roger Hewland knows exactly what he is doing. He knows all about Amazon, and regularly checks prices there so as to go below them. He buys big collections for about one quid per CD, often within a minute of looking at them. He then piles them high, sells them cheap, and turns over his stock fast. He knows that getting four quid for something he sells in two days is a better deal for him than getting a tenner, but a month later. And he charges more like one quid for less desirable CDs, just to get rid of them and to make it worthwhile for his regulars to keep on visiting.
More and more regular shops won’t or can’t think like this, and in the face of online selling are just folding their tents, to be replaced by gift shops, restaurants and coffee shops. The latter two being what I did next.
First I went to Marie’s Thai Restaurant, a minute away along Lower Marsh from Gramex, and had my regular chicken and cashoo nuts with rice and a glass of orange juice, and then killed some more time in a Cafe Nero, while continuing to read about Tamerlane, in a book I recently bought for four quid in a remainder shop. He was born. He deceived. He tortured. He slaughtered. He conquered. He died. His vast empire immediately fell apart amidst further slaughter. What a pointless monster. Read about all that and tell me there’s no such thing as progress.
Coffee shops do puzzle me a bit, though. How to do they pay their rent? The morning and lunchtime rushes I suppose, which I avoid.
I don’t always do cats here on Fridays, but I often do. For me they signify the fundamental point of this blog, which is to entertain, and in particular to entertain me, rather than just to be serious and political about everything. There is more to life than the fact, if fact it be, that the politicians are making a mess of everything. So it was that, when on my recent trip to France, I kept half an eye open for cats.
Another thing I found myself snapping was motorbikes. The French really seem to love their motorbikes, perhaps because their roads are longer and emptier than they are in Britain.
So imagine my delight when, wandering around the centre of Quimper of an evening, I came across this:
And I wasn’t the only one who felt that this was suitable material for digitalised immortality:
My favourite snap of a fellow digital photographer in Cat-on-Harley action being this one:
Was the cat in any way disconcerted by all this attention? On the contrary:
The cat loved it.
Here, I hope you will agree, is the appropriate song, sung by one of the all time great French sex kittens. (I actually have this on CD.)
Some months ago I began reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, which is a blow by blow account of twentieth century classical music. Reading and greatly enjoying.
Trouble is, it’s a very big book, even in paperback, which makes it not-ideal for carrying around London, travelling being one of the main ways I read books. (No internet to distract.) So, despite liking this book a lot, I now realise that I stopped reading it and that I switched to a succession of other equally enticing volumes that were not so big. I am only now back with it, having resumed at a time when I was at home, but de-internetted by new computer turmoil.
On page 317, Ross says something I have long thought, but never myself put into written down words, or even said out loud very much:
Hollywood may have been hazardous territory for composers, but they at least felt wanted there, as they never did in American concert halls. The shift to talkies had created a mania for continuous sound. Just as actors in screwball comedies had to talk a mile a minute, composers were called upon to underline every gesture and emphasize every emotion. An actress could hardly serve a cup of coffee without having fifty Max Steiner strings swoop in to assist her. ("What that awful music does,” Bette Davis once said to Gore Vidal, “is erase the actor’s performance, note by note.")
Well said, Bette.
But things improved. Ross continues:
Early movie scores had a purely illustrative function, which composers called “Mickey-Mousing”: if a British frigate sails into the frame, “Rule, Britannia” plays. Later, composers introduced techniques of musical distancing and irony, along the lines of Sergei Eisenstein’s counterpointing of image and sound. Music could be used to reveal a hidden psychological subtext, ...
Indeed. There then follows an admiring description of the music written for The Grapes of Wrath by Aaron Copland. Very influential, says Ross.
This soundtrack-composer-usurping-the-actors style of movie music only completely died out in the sixties and seventies, when they started using pop music for soundtracks, music with an insistent beat of its own which is quite unable to supply this kind of detailed and non-rhythmic “help” for actors. What a relief that was. Suddenly the actors were revealed as able to act perfectly well without such help. Every so often, I watch an old movie on the telly, starring someone like Doris Day, and suddenly we are back with that awful oh-look-she’s-adjusting-her-hat, she’s-a-bit-sad, ooh-now-Rock-Hudson-has-just-cheered-her-up style of movie musical accompaniment. I realise now that Doris Day was perhaps not a completely god-awful film actress with all the subtlety of a container ship trying to win a round-the-harbour speedboat race. It was just that the people writing, directing, editing and musically accompanying Doris Day’s performances were all tasteless idiots.
Another reason I am now reading The Rest is Noise is that I recently attended a lecture given by Ross at the British Library. The lecture rather outstayed its welcome, for me. Ross had about twenty interesting minutes worth of stuff to say about descending base lines as a way of signalling sorrowfulness in sorrowful songs, but took an hour to say it. Nevertheless, the point was a good one and there were many delightful musical illustrations, my favourite being when he played “Hit the Road Jack”.
Afterwards, having already read and liked some of the earlier Alex Ross book, I bought a signed copy of the latest one. But, not having finished reading the previous book, I wanted to do that first.
No welcomes outstayed in either of these books, or not so far. Almost every page of them contains stuff just as worthy of blogvertisement as the above bit that I happened to choose. And if, when you are reading a book, you fancy a break, you can have one. Lectures happen in lecture time. Books can be read in your own time.
From pop to purrfume
Cricinfo gets its clock in a tangle and Pyrah bowls an unforgivable no ball
Cats and bridges on Pixdaus
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
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
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