Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
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Everything I Say is Right
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Category archive: Pop music
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.
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.)
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
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