Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Not a bad way to spend an evening alone

Tonight, I took the short drive out to Uffington White Horse., a favourite place of mine, essentially a hill 800ft high made special by an enormous 3000 year old white horse carved into the chalk. I walked to the top, which takes about half an hour, and on the way, following Jon's comment in the AMM Poll thread I listened toThe Great Hall, the second disc from the Laminal set. (I only read Robert's further endorsement of this great piece of music on my return). Its weird, as the disembodied radio voices kicked in at around 17 minutes I swear it was Derek Bailey's voice talking...

I took a few photos as well, of which the one above is rather stunning. Combining such a view with such great music made for a pretty special evening. Just thought I'd share that.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A little bit of fun

Waaaay too serious around here lately, so thanks to a nice new feature of the great Blogger software I am proud to announce the first (wait for it, drum roll.........) Learning to Listen Poll.

Its over there on the left, and we begin with one of improvised musics toughest questions, "What is your favourite AMM album?"
I know, I know, its a tough question, and I fully expect very few votes for a few days as many of you have sleepless nights deliberating over your decision, but it'll be there for a week so you have plenty of time to choose...

There are six albums to choose from, which I would have thought covers the most common choices, but if you don't like any of those click Other and you can always leave a comment here to say which album you prefer for whatever peculiar reason.

I'm intrigued to see if we can get the votes into double figures...!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Divine Interventions

I'm not a religous person, not even slightly, but sometimes I get the feeling that someone somewhere is directing me towards certain things. Over the last few days since returning from France and as the weather has been so rotten I've worked my way right through the six disc box set of Shostakovich's String Quartets performed by the Borodin Quartet again interspersed with other music and several spins of Keith Rowe's The Room. I enjoyed the experience immensely (my favourites are now 8, 14 and the unbelievable 15th by the way) Whilst in France I got to hear one of Shostakovich's symphonies on CD and really enjoyed it too.

So this afternoon Julie and I went to her parent's house to check up on the place as they are away. Whilst Julie did all the boring stuff like water plants and pick up the post I undertook the important task of sitting in the back garden, which has a stream running through it, feeding baby moorhens pieces of bread. The weather has been lovely today (amazingly!) and so I stretched out on a sun lounger and put the radio on as I fed little hungry beaks. There was symphony on Radio 3 that immediately struck me as incredibly beautiful, but having joined halway through I didn't know for certain what it was. I guessed at Shostakovich, but not trusting my knowledge of this area of music enough yet I kept Julie waiting until the piece ended so I could find out what it was. Sure enough it was indeed Shostakovich, his fiftteenth and final symphony to be precise. So we left and I made a mental note to get myself a box of the symphonies as soon as I could, despite the fact I have been trying to cut down on CD purchasing and increase CD listening of late. (and I've been successful too! see how few discs I bought in July compared to other months this year!)

Later this afternoon I popped into Oxford for something and took the opportunity to nip into the Blackwells Music Shop (the best of a bad bunch of places to buy music in Oxford) to look for a set of the symphonies. Just inside the door I virtually tripped over a large stack of the Shostakovich Edition 27 CD + 1 DVD box set that contains a recording of everything Shostakovich ever wrote including all of the symphonies conducted by Rudolf Barshai. Not only was this stack placed right in my way where I nearly collided with it, but the sets were reduced from £71 to a mere £21...

I'm sure you can guess how the story ends. I'm now convinced that there obviously must be a God and his main interest in life is directing my musical discoveries.... Oh and two posts back I asked the rain to stop and that happened too, what more proof do we need? ;)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Trawling murky waters

The following was left as a comment by Tom7865 in the Stop raining! post below in response to a comment I made on the Different Waters blog. I've moved it here to keep it in context and to address some of the issues it raises and add some clarity to my feelings on the subject.

dude- i know you're grumpy but next time just ask me to remove the post...... i respect the small labels which is why I try to buy from them and also local record stores (btw i spend several thousand of dollars a year on cd's i'm not the slimey evil pirate you accuse me of being)... just be nice, being nasty may have the opposite effect to other people who really don't care... i was posting Tudor because I know the most people who frequent different waters are into that and they also do go out and buy the cd if they like or delete it if they don't.... anyway cheers I also like your record site too... good luck (the post has been deleted)

The post at the Different waters blog effectively consisted of a link to a Yousendit (or similar) shared file containing Mp3s of the recently released David Tudor double CD set on Editions RZ, plus an image of the sleeve art and a couple of paragraphs from the CD sleeve notes. For the record, I did not ask for the post to be removed, and I didn't accuse anyone of anything. I merely (and politely) asked two questions: Firstly did the poster have permission to upload the files (and I offered to give Robert Zank's email address in case he wished to ask for it) and secondly (and most importantly) I asked if he himself had anything to say about the CD, some of which I consider to be amongst the best music ever made. I asked this as unless you knew the sleeve notes it could have been construed from the post that the text there had been written by the blog poster.

Anyway, Tom has deleted the post and chose to engage with me here rather than at Different Waters so I thought I would discuss this thorny subject a little here. Its no secret that I am no fan of indiscriminate file sharing of currently available music. Tom states that the readers of Different Waters will go and buy CDs if they like the download or will delete the file if they do not. I don't doubt for one minute that this often happens (although reading my way through the many comments in the many posts at DW I see no evidence of this happening, but thats by the by). I have also read this argument many times and I know several CD label owners who do not mind their releases being shared in this way as they have seen sales produced from the extra exposure. I do not doubt this happens... but I do doubt that it happens ENOUGH. Having spoken with many CD distributors and label owners over the last few years I am confident that overall CD sales are in decline. Whilst a lot of downloaders will indeed go and buy music they really like, many others do not. The cumulative effect, unfortunately is that less CD sales are happening and less money is fed back to labels and ultimately the musicians.

These issues can be debated to death, but having listened with an open mind to many people this is how I feel. I have one question though. What is to stop someone wanting to post an Mp3 file at a blog in this manner from contacting the musicians or the label to ask if they mind? If the label/musicians believe that their sales could increase then surely they will happily give permission? What I see though is people just posting files without asking and then getting upset when they are asked about it. It would be an awful lot more polite and respectful if a simple email was sent first.

I have a further, deeper concern about the free sharing of music as Mp3s though, and Tom's post at DW kind of illustrates this concern well. In my opinion the Mp3 is creating a generation of poor listeners. In these days of fast gratification on demand it is easy to read about a piece of music, go online and find it in a space of minutes. There are people out there downoading dozens of albums a week, giving them a cursory listen and then deleting them or filing them before moving on to the next file. Whatever happened to the real engagement with music? Why is the fantastic David Tudor album, a hugely important release with much to be said about it reduced to a copy and pasted paragraph and a bunch of comments merely saying "wow thanks dude" or something similar? I personally have a half written review of the Tudor sat on my computer that I have been struggling with for about two months, and I would much rather read someone else's thoughts on the music than just download the files. The Tudor post at DW said absolutely nothing new about the music in either the main post or the comments that followed. Am I the only one that finds this kind of thing depressing?

I should make this clear that my thoughts are not fuelled by some capitalist urge to make money. I run a record label, and even my recent release by MIMEO of which I only have about 100 copies remaining will make me a loss. If I cared about the money aspect a great deal I really wouldn't have any involvement with running a label. As much as anything I get upset by the impoliteness of "illegal" filesharing, and depressed by the lack of real discussion about music as people put as much effort into writing about music as they do obtaining it.

Thank you Tom for giving me the opportunity to discuss this, and yeah there are a lot bigger things to worry about in the world. I fully realise you are not slimey (sic) or evil. You are a music lover at heart and there are a lot worse people out there with respect to downloading etc... so this is not merely about you or Different Waters, merely a comment on the state of play these days. To answer the obvious question, no there's abosolutely nothing that can be done to change the way things are, but that doesn't stop this grumpy old man complaining about it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stop raining!

Its a bit wet here. Oxfordshire has been hit by floods this last week, not as bad as over in Gloucestershire, but some of the villages closeby have been pretty badly affected. Anyway after receiving a few emails asking if all is OK here I thought I'd post to say all is fine and although driving about the county is pretty tough right now the town of Didcot remains OK. The photo there is from the next town over in Abingdon.
But really, I wish it would stop raining soon, this stuff is getting depressing. Since getting back from France I've barely been out. Roads are closed all over the place and walking anywhere involves squelching about in mud. Where did the summer go?

I think I'm going to get Lee Patterson down to do some hydrophonic recordings on the local cricket field... :)

Et ainsi au samedi

And so to Saturday. The day started with a leisurely meal before we all made our way down into Parthenay's ancient old town for a solo performance by Angharad Davies that took place at the top of the Tour de la Poudriére, the only remaining and restored tower of a 13th century castle that otherwise sat as remains. The venue was beautiful but also proved somewhat problematic for this incredibly subtle, quiet set. The problems were created by the tiny narrow spiral staircase that brought people up to the top room of the tower. Every time Angharad looked to begin to play people appeared and took their seats, some of them music fans, others just tourists wondering what was going on. As the concert was free people came and went as they pleased.

This was the first time I've seen Angharad play a solo set. She sat in the centre of the round room with the audience sat 360 degrees around her. The music consisted of small two minute-ish sections in which she repeated single phrases, sometimes bowing, sometimes tapping, sometimes noteless. The performance resembled a composition, perhaps one by a Wandelweiser composer, belonging more to the classical oeuvre than any other, but I am assured it was entirely improvised. I really enjoyed this set. The careful, considered playing required real focus from the listener however as this was not "easy" music. Some of the sounds were very quiet, others less so, but at all times a respectful audience was required. Unfortunately the music didn't always get the response it deserved. Whilst most sat quietly some people whispered to each other, camera clicks were regular and on two occasions someone broke wind loudly, the second time followed by a chorus of stupid giggles. Such is life with a free concert.
As Angharad played she very slowly turned on the piano stool placed in the centre of the room. Over the course of the 42 minute performance she turned a full 360 degrees, stopping once she had returned to the position in which she began. This turning was almost imperceivable and I only noticed after having had my eyes shut for a while I repoened them to find her facing away. This motion obviously made no difference to how the music sounded but added a nice subtle twist to the concert overall. This was a really good performance by one of the UK's leading improvisors right now.

We then made our way the short distance down a hill to the Maison des Cultures de Bois where the duo of Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura were to play. This was the third time I had seen this duo play, each time two years apart from each other, and each time better than the last. I have to admit though that even though my expectations were high for this concert I simply had my breath taken away. Beginning with a thick, deep sinewave from Toshi with only minimal bursts of electronic crackle from Rowe the music dropped down into near silence, with only a very high almost inaudlble strand of feedback whispering from Toshi and quiet chirruping sounds and the occasional burst of static from Rowe. After ten minutes or so when the activity had fallen to pretty much complete silence a single strike on the strings of Rowe's guitar produced a deep bell-like sound that lead into a period of low level interplay with the volume never really rising above an intense murmur. Radio interference and the internal sound of a laptop hard drive were used with seemingly effortless precision from Rowe, with Toshi tending to stay in either the very high or low throbbing registers, allowing the odd cry of sound to escape occasionally.

This music and the space it existed in were filled with tension. The exchanges between the two musicians were almost visible in the darkened room, two improvisers with a fantastically deep musical relationship testing and stretching each other to create this dark, brooding field of restless activity. The reduced volume throughout seemed to increase the palpability of the tension, allowing the musicians nowhere to hide. The perfomance lasted just thirty three minutes but left me exhausted. Something special happens when Rowe and Nakamura play together and I'm so pleased to have been able to witness the latest chapter. Magical.

Following such a set was never going to be easy, and its possible that my intense negative reaction to the performance by a solo Andy Guhl was affected by the mental exhaustion brought on by response to Keith and Toshi. The rest of the hall seemed to like it, whooping and cheering as it ended, but I found very little to enjoy.
Guhl used video as well as sound in his set, using a camera mounted on a revolving platform to capture images from his table of electronic clutter and even the front row of the audience. These images then fed, with some rough effects added to a projector that placed the image onto a large screen in the hall. Guhl used perspex prisms to refract the image from the projector further and (I think) used a light sensor placed in the beam of light to drive some of the dirty, ugly sounds that made up the audio part of the performance. For me this set only had any appeal whilst I was trying to work out what was going on to make the images and sound. Once I had an basic idea of what was happening there was little left for me to enjoy. The music was made up of what can only be described these days as generic electronic sounds, all open circuit blasts of noise and roaring loops. I'm sure those jumping to his defence would suggest that as a member of Voice Crack Guhl was making similar sounds a decade ago, and indeed he was, but thats where the problem lies. While the addition of the video element has brought something new to Guhl's music its not that interesting a concept and the music doesn't seem to have come very far at all.

One rather nice pizza in a quiet part of town later we headed back to the Salle Diff'Art for the last set I caught of the festival by Trio Sowari, a group made up of Burkhard Beins (Percussion), Phil Durrant (Laptop) and Bertrand Denzler (Saxophone).I've been a fan of this group for quite some time and they produced another nice performance here, this time with all three musicians playing through the PA, something I'd not seen from them before as their intimate music previously lent itself better to acoustic settings in smaller rooms. The set began with a nervous section of jabbing interplay between the trio until after five minutes or so Durrant produced a loud drifting sine wave that was instantly joined by Beins' high pitched bowing of a cymbal. From here the sounds used were allowed to linger more, with the musicians imitating each other often, but never for too long, allowing the music to progress through different sections effortlessly. For me Trio Sowari are about the use of simple tools, uncomplicated sounds wound together in real time to create something greater. The balance between the three instruments is perfect, with no obvious hierachies in the music and a focus just placed on the combination of texture and dynamic to form a gradually shifting study using a muted palette of limited colours.

I didn't stick around to hear the last two sets of the evening, an audio/visual show from Texturizer didn't inspire me much, and my general tiredness leant itself better to wandering off for a drink long before Merzbow came near the stage. Before I am accused of anti-noise snobbery again I actually caught much of Merzbow's soundcheck earlier in the day and tried hard to grasp something in the music, but for the life of me I'm not sure what there is to grasp beyond a few rumbling textures blasted out at extreme volumes, sorry.

Overall the festival was great. Even when the music wasn't so fantastic (and it frequently was fantastic!) the opportunity to laze about in the sun in stunning surroundings chatting with some great people was gladly taken. It was nice to say hi to a few musicians I'd not spoken to much before and to catch up with others I knew well. Of the new faces to me it was nice to say hi to Jacques Oger of Potlatch Records who will I'm sure report back that I wasn't wearing odd shoes. :)

Thanks also due to Nicolas, the festival organiser for putting on such a great event.

Et maintenant la musique

And so to the music at the NPAI festival. (I still have no idea what NPAI stands for by the way, if any French readers should happen to know please tell). The music was a mixed bag. It was always going to be that way simply as so many styles of improvised music could be found on one bill. I made my way by bus-train from Nantes down to the town of Pathenay. The "bus-train" is essentially a bus service put on by the SNCF railway service to replace the trains that no longer run as they closed that part of the line. I guess it must just be cheaper to run a bus back and forth than maintain the line. As a result however the journey took about two and a half hours, and as there was only the one service a day this meant I arrived in Parthenay too late to see Tony Buck's solo (which is a shame) and a few other acts that I'm not so worried about missing.

The main reason for going on the Thursday was to see the Sound Like Water quartet made up of Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece, Rhodri Davies and Toshi Nakamura. As the bus was running late and I was cutting it fine anyway I feared I would miss their performance as I had no idea where the venue was situated. However when I arrived at Parthenay's beautifully derelict railway station I was personally met by one of the festival's organisers with a car who drove me first to my hotel to deposit my bag before taking me to the venue in time for the performance. Its this kind of example of considerate generosity that made the festival a really enjoyable event irrespective of the music. I never did discover that guy's name, but thanks all the same.

The Salle Diff'Art venue, where much of the music took place is actually just a large graffiti smothered corregated iron barn situated on an industrial estate on the outskirts of the historic town. My initial thoughts were just how far removed the place was from any UK Festival venue I've ever attended, but with a mobile kitchen cooking food and a bar selling a range of drinks set up outside the facilities were actually in advance of most events over here. Every set I saw at the festival was well attended, with maybe 200 people seated in the barn for the SLW performance.
I was a little brain frazzled from my bus ride and the following mad rush to get to the venue so I sat through the SLW performance in a slight daze, but enjoyed the music quite a bit. The PA was a little blurry to my ears which made the detail of the music a little hard to pick out, and the musicians seemed to compensate for this by playing very loud in places. These four musicians are possibly the best out there right now on their respective instruments and this quality did shine through into a varied set made up of occasionally textured drones, intimate little sections of interplay within which some of the group would drop out and allow smaller secnarios to develop and on a couple of occasions some full on testing of the PA's ability. Near the end during a quiet passage Capece made a series of sounds remarkably close to the sound of water dripping giving literal meaning to the (slightly naff!) group name. This group clearly has a lot of promise and I very much look forward to their forthcoming disc on the Formed. label.
I didn't stay in the hall for the last two sets of the night. I forget what they were, but when I saw Toshi Nakamura running from the venue, beer in hand crying "Argh Prog Jazz!" I figured it would be better to follow him to the beer tent.:)

The next day a full size bus turned up outside the only hotel big enough to handle the large influx of people into Parthenay and we all headed out into the countryside for a half an hour or so drive to the tiny village of Le Retail (an intriguing name for a place that didn't even have a village shop) where we unloaded at a disused, beautiful old farm where the next three sets were due to take place in one of the animal sheds. The first performance came from the saxophone / double bass duo of Eric Brochard and Eric Vagnon. This pairing played very much in the traditional free improv style, all bold gestural blood and thunder that was nice to see, especially in such an environment, but to be honest bored me from a musical perspective right from the off.

There then followed a wait of an hour and a half before the Cranc trio played. These long, lazy waits in the sun proved to be a theme to the festival, symptomatic of the laid back French way of life and providing ample opportunity to get myself a rare suntan with which to goad the rain drenched people back home.
Cranc, the trio of Rhodri Davies, (Harp) Angharad Davies (Violin) and Nikos Veliotis (Cello) make the most beautifully simple acoustic music. Veliotis plays his cello with a specially made bow that allows all strings to be played at once, and his carefully refined and highly skilled action results in a warm, low drone that sounds quite unlike a traditional cello note.. Rhodri played his harp with a single eBow, picking out single tones carefully and slowly to pair with Veliotis' hum, and Angharad flicked and scraped her bow across the violin to produce minute details in the group's music. Every so often Veliotis would break off and silences would sit in the music for a minute or so before beginning again with a slightly shifted cello chord. The affect of this music in low light and in such a beautiful venue was stunning, refined acoustic playing of the highest order. My only problem with Cranc's set was its length. At under half an hour I would love to have heard more, the soft drones lending themselves better to an extended performance and the silent intervals possibly more impactful if they had been allowed two or three minutes in length. This feeling was made stronger by the hour long wait in the courtyard before the final set of the afternoon, but who am I to complain? Lovely music.

I have to admit I was concerned before the performance by Diego Chamy and Tamara Ben-Artzi. The programme seemed to list one of this pair of Argentinian cousins as performing "dance" and the other "movements". This kind of event would usually have me running for the nearest pub before it could begin, but as we had all been effectively just dropped into the middle of the countryside with nowhere to go until the bus reappeared later there was little to do but sit and watch...

I really have no idea what the resulting performance was all about, but it kept me gripped throughout, although I must admit that this was often due to confused amusement as much as anything. Chamy spent much of the set reading aloud odd lines of poetry in French (I think... could have been Spanish) in a stuttered manner, often "jamming" on the first syllable of the line and repeating it over and over. Whilst this was going on Ben-Artzi danced quietly to herself in a cheesy "teenager in a disco" manner whilst listening to something on an mp3 player around her neck. She would occasionally strike up odd postures around Chamy and hold them as he did similar things, and they would both occasionally run off stage and sit in the wings for a few moments. Later in the set Chamy stood on a chair and feigned a striptease in slow motion standing for a while reading aloud as his fingers were slipped into the top of his underpants before Ben-Artzi handed him a laptop computer and he held it high to the audience as an old film of Brigitte Bardot singing played...
The performance ended in a fitting manner when one of the lights fixed high above the performance area broke away from its cable with a bang and swung violently for a few moments before coming to a rest. This accidental but opportune moment brought an amusing end to a humorous set. I have absolutely no idea if there was anything to take from the performance beyond mild bemusement, but it was a fun thing to see.

Late that evening back at the Salle Diff'Art there followed three more concerts of music that I doubt I would have attended had they not been part of a festival and I enjoyed to varying degrees. First of all we were herded (a careful choice of word) into a building opposite the main hall, which turned out to be a storage barn for goats and chickens before being sold on to markets. As we sat in this massive metal shell of a building awaiting the performance of Eric Cordier and Denis Tricot the occasional sound of chickens could be heard coming disconcertingly from a pile of seemingly discarded metal cages on the far side of the building.
The performance soon diverted attention away from this however. Cordier stood at a mixing desk behind the audience undertaking a "diffusion" of a pre-recorded piece. The music had an industrial feel, the sound of metal and wood crashing about empty spaces with various clouded field recordings thrown in. The music in itself wasn't so interesting, but Tricot's performance on stage was quite an eye-opener. He began by bending large planks of wood into arc shapes and tying them at each end with a piece of string, effectively creating a number of very large bow shapes, more Robin Hood than Violin bow in form. As he made these, he lined them up towrds the audience in formation, until after he had a dozen or so he began to cermonially push them towards the crowd, one at a time, in a careful, considered manner as if playing a strange oversized boardgame.The thing is, he didn't stop at the crowd, he kept going, pushing these constructions into and over the audience and out the other side, causing a few moments of mayhem as the onlookers found themselves part of his elegant sculpture.

After this Tricot turned to a further pile of these bow-like creations that he had made in advance of the show and began to dance with them about the space, taking first one, and then bundles of these large and probably quite heavy objects into spiralling, dancing patters that created quite beautiful Calder-like shapes, with massive shadows cast upon the metal wall behind. At times this dance became quite violent, on one occasion only quick reflexes kept a watching Jérôme Noetinger from a nasty bump as a flying plank swung at his head. Tricot built haphazard sculptures from piles of these pieces as they fell into heaps, and he also ran around them at quite incredible speed considering he was a man probably in his fifties dragging large planks of wood behind him. I found this performance rather nice. Separated from Tricot's exploits the music would probably have bored me to tears but here it worked well as a driver for his energies. Another intriguing show anyway the like of which I'm not likely to see again soon and I'm glad I witnessed.

After this we moved back to the main shed for a trio performance by Gunda Gottschalk (Violin), Peter Jacquemyn (Contrabass) and Ute Voelker (Accordion) I've little to say about this set beyond the fact it was a proficiently executed further example of the older free jazz related styles of improv I've witnessed any times since the late eighties.I have no problem with this music, and in fact I quite enjoyed the opportunity to hear something I usually would never have made the trip to see, but the enjoyment was short lived. The best of the three musicians was Jacquemyn who showed a real mastery of his instrument, but even he lost my interest when he took a small squeaky rubber ball from his pocket late in the set and used it to add to his input.

The final set of the day came from the intriguing Qway Neum Sixx group made up of Daunik Lazro's saxophone, Michael Nick's violin, Sophi Agnel's piano and the electronics of Jérôme Noetinger. This performance provided something of a metaphor for the festival in general, a clash of older and younger instrumentation and musical styles. Without Noetinger's rough, rumbling textures the remaining trio may have sounded closer to the preceeding set, but the mix of electronics into the sound gave the group an interesting palette to work with. Nick was particularly impressive, weaving angular idiosyncratic notes between the sax and Agnel's well chosen piano sounds, mostly coming from playing keys whilst addressing the strings with an assortment of objects. Noetinger was the glue holding this performance together however, steadfastly maintaining an even pace to the music, keeping it from running away into a velocity driven skronk-out but also bringing his own brand of electronic danger to the set. A nice way to end a day of musical overload.

Another amusing drinking session followed and then back to bed again. I'll write more about the final (and best) day of the festival a little later as this post is getting a little long.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thanks Dan

A short note here to say that four brief reviews of mine can be found in the new and possibly the final edition of ParisTransatlantic, which can be read here.

Whilst I can totally understand Dan's need to take a break from writing right now I'll miss PTA if it doesn't continue. Down the years its been a great source of info for me, and whilst I quite often disagree with Dan's musical opinions I envy his ability to listen to so much for so long with such passion and somehow put his thoughts into words for others to share.

Hopefully PTA will continue in some form or other, but if not cheers for all the hard work Dan.

Return of the stress-free blogger

I returned last night from France, where I spent a week in the west of the country enjoying sunshine, great food, a relaxed way of life and some great music all in the company of some wonderful people. The experience was fantastic, and one I would not have been able to do if I hadn't chosen to take this break from work. I took in a good part of the NPAI Festival in Parthenay whilst there which included several really good performances including a stunning set from Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura. Thirty three minutes that made the trip well worth while alone.

More about the music in later posts, but I was very much taken with the slow pace of life and sense of local identity to be found in the area. Everything moved so much slower, and if people felt stressed in any way they certainly didn't show it. Shops opened and closed as and when they felt like it, seemingly immune to the need to maximise profits that the rest of the world is driven by. Every morning around between around eight and ten the inhabitants of every small town seem to make their way to the local boulangerie to buy a stick of bread, before walking back home again (usually very slowly). This practice seemed to be repeated identically at midday as people wandered out to find bread for lunch. Sitting having a coffee one lunchtime (and oh the coffee is good) in the ancient town of Clisson we watched people make their way around in this most inefficient yet somehow very admirable manner.

Clisson is a beautiful town ten miles of so from Nantes built around the ruins of an old chateau situated atop a hill. I took the photos in this post in Clisson whilst slowly burning in the sun in a none too healthy manner. Oddly Clisson also appears to be the venue for a heavy metal festival subtley titled Hellfest once a year.I really can't think of a less suitable venue for such an event, but it does amuse me to think that once back from the baker with their bread the locals sneak on a copy of Napalm Death's first album as they add cheese and whatever the correct wine may be for lunch.

Food is really important in France, and on the whole really good food too. Besides the exceptional meals cooked by my host Keith Rowe whilst I stayed with him a few days (if you think he makes good music you should try his quiche...!) I ate really well whilst over in France, and very cheaply too. One wander around the local hypermarket failed to produce any sign of Marmite however... Despite this one obvious error, food, wine and the correct use of both played a big part of life there. When I think of my eating lifestyle here, with at least three meals a week consisting of hastily thrown together unhealthy half-dinners or take-aways I feel a little embarrassed in comparison. Even the mobile kitchen meals served up at the festival were better than anything similar I've had before, serving up food I would personally have been proud to have made (although thats not actually saying much), and it must be said that improv festivals in the UK rarely get held in disused old farms in the middle of the countryside so the need for outdoor catering is quite small.

There is a real sense of placing location before anything in else in France. By this I mean that local traditions and ways of living are all very particular to the region you are in. Wine is considered by where the vineyard is situated rather than the type of grape for instance. Local cultures are deeply respected and preserved, people rarely move about between the small towns in the country. Building styles, and the colour of paint used for doors and window shutters tend to follow localised patterns, giving towns a real character, something we are rapidly losing over here. One of the big arguments in France right now centres around how the country could be left behind in Europe if it does not develop a cutting edge. Personally having spent just a few days there I think I know which way of life I would prefer, give me good food and a stress-free lifestyle any day. Not sure I'll ever work out the appeal of the Tour de France however...

Anyway enough of the geography lesson and apologies for the lack of musical content in this post. I certainly took in my fair share of music over there, both at the festival and also being educated by Keith, as we spent some time listening to everything from Brahms to country and western to some (pretty great) Argentinian tango music... fantastic times.

Big thanks are due to Keith for everything, and to Stephanie, Barney, Clem, Mati and Marmalade for making me feel very welcome.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Disappearing again

Well I'm off wandering again for the next week or so. Fed up with all of the hassle involved with sorting myself out with a new job, Julie and I are heading for the New Forest tomorrow for a few days break away from music and away from the internet (that last break badly needed!) This last couple of weeks have really brought it home to me that sitting in front of a computer for half the day is seriously bad for your mental and physical health. It makes you grumpy and impatient and so an escape is needed.

I get back next Sunday night and will be about for one day before heading off again for a week in France. Whilst there I'll be catching the last three days of the NPAI Festival down in Partheny. The schedule for this great looking little fest can be found here.

There's quite a few sets there I am really looking forward to hearing. Alongside some really strong established groups such as Trio Sowari and Cranc and the latest chapter in the Rowe/Nakamura story i am very intrigued to hear the Sound Like Water quartet made up of Toshi Nakamura, Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece and Rhodri Davies, a group with a dodgy band name but four fantastic musicians I am looking forward to hearing together.

Anghrad Davies solo should be great as well. i've not seen her play solo before so I'm intrigued to hear what she will do. Andy Guhl solo and Tony Buck solo are two other sets I'm interested to hear though I suspect there's as much chance I'll dislike them as much as there is I will enjoy them. Its this kind of set that make festivals so much fun though.

So if anyone else is going to be at the festival drop me a line beforehand, would be good to say hi. Otherwise I'm off to practice my 'O' Level French........ "Bonjour, est-ce que je peux prendre un sandwich à marmite s'il vous plait?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Listen with your eyes

I've never made it a secret that one very big reason I have for running my little CD label is so that I can design CD sleeves. Ironically there hasn't been a Cathnor sleeve yet that I have been completely happy with, but the act of responding to a piece of music with visual images is a very enjoyable and rewarding experience for me.

There are probably many ways to respond to music visually. More often than not I do not connect music to particular images straight away. What I do see however are colours and textures. I spent a few hours today playing about with some very early ideas for one of the next Cathnor releases. The music of this recording comes across to me in shades of deep purples (no, there's no axe solos there) with occasional flashes of bright orange and red. As it happens those colours will probably not appear in the design as they don't fit with the various ideas I am playing with, but they are definitely there for me as I listen to the music.

Textures are more obvious, easier to explain. Smooth sounds will appear shiny in my visual image, gritty sounds well, gritty. The colours I hear though are a more obscure and undoubtably very subjective phenomenon. Keith Rowe's recent masterpiece The Room for instance I hear in deep and dark crimson tones, possibly I am being influenced by these colours' appearance in the sleeve design that tips its hat deeply to Rothko, but maybe they would have been there anyway.

Another favourite of mine from this year, the Toshimaru Nakamura / Axel Dorner disc Vorhernach on Ftarri I hear in many shades of grey. I can virtually picture the music as sheets of textured grey sliding over each other, each a different tone, with some of the layers more transparent than others. The sleeve art to that disc though is bright turqouise and features a rather beautiful line drawing of a shark....

People process music in different ways I guess, but my listening experiences often have a visual element. I am often found with my eyes closed at concerts, a feature of my listening I have never fully understood, but perhaps this is to block out other visual stimuli, and experience the music as my brain would like to see it? Who knows.

I'm interested to hear if others see similar things in music or is it just me going slightly mad?


By the way, if evidence was ever needed that this prolonged period of rest is turning me slightly senile... This picture of me was taken by Julie tonight, half an hour into our country stroll...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bowing at the heartstrings...

Whilst in Ireland, after reading some of my posts about my classical music investigations I was asked if I was beginning to recover some of my enjoyment of melody in music. Possibly this is the case, but I'd be more inclined right now to say that I am merely enjoying the passion that emanates from a strong, emotional performance of intelligent music, and for the first time in a few years I have opened my ears to really spend time with other musical genres than that which I devote most time to.

Its also very noticeable that as I've been able to spend a little time this year with knowledgeable people that I respect (something that is pretty hard to do generally here in deepest South Oxfordshire) then their recommendations will rub off on me. My recent investigations of Shostakovich for example comes directly from a Keith Rowe recommendation, and spending time with Paul in Dublin last week has only lengthened my list of music to try and check out.

This leads to Tommy Potts. I think I first heard Potts' album The Liffey Banks back in February when I went over to Dublin for The Sealed Knot gig. I know that in March this year I certainly heard it, in the same place, playing on David Lacey's stereo late at night after one or more of the i and e Festival shows. A large whiskey undoubtably helped my mood, but this music, this sole forlorn fiddle, played quietly in the room as we relaxed exhausted. I was captivated at the time by this album, and another by the Art Ensemble of Chicago that we listened to that night.

Subsequently I found the AEC disc, A Jackson in your house / Message to our folks, bought it and have enjoyed it, though not as much as I did that evening in good company fuelled by the latter stages of a bottle of 10 year Jamesons. The Tommy Potts record though I didn't look for. Not because I didn't ike it, but because I thought it was a long out of print release, as David played it on old well worn vinyl.

Unbeknown to anyone other than myself the record had preyed on my mind somewhat since then, and particularly recently as I have been enjoying such powerful, emotional music away from my usual musical comfort zones. When I left for Dublin last week I made a decision to get David to record me a copy of the album if after playing it I liked it as much, but when I mentioned this, to my great pleasure he informed me it was in print as a CD and available from Claddagh Records, a local traditional music shop that also put out the release.
So after another great evening slumped on David's sofa whiskey in hand and Potts lighting the room up in his own gentle fashion I went the next morning to Claddagh, a nice little shop staffed by a somewhat miserable gentleman, but I am pleased to say I came home from Dublin with a copy.

So what's all the fuss about, and does it still sound as good played here in suburban Home Counties England? Well to answer the second question yes it does... The Liffey banks is basically a 42 minute disc featuring 22 recordings of Potts performing his solo renditions of traditional Irish music. What lifts this disc so high for me is the deeply emotional playing, with Potts presenting his own take on the music, at once both raw, gritty performances and heartfelt sorrowful playing. This is basically one man and his simple instrument playing simple songs, yet there is such passion and feeling pouring from my speakers right now as the disc spins for the umpteenth time this week. I find The Liffey Banks best late in the evening, or right now at 2AM after a bottle of wine, played quietly, allowing the music to seep up from the corners of the room and get under your skin rather than blasting it loud.

Maybe this sounds like drunken nonsense from someone that can attain equal levels of enjoyment from the more ascetic corners of music's avant garde but its an honest response to what I think is a great piece of music. It doesn't surprise me to learn that Potts caused a considerable stir in the Irish music communities because his unorthodox, semi-improvised performances of the music broke the unwritten rules of the music. I hear on this CD a deeply honest and inspired musical voice.

The sleeve notes tell a tale of how Potts (who died in 1988 at the age of 76) would regularly come home in the evening to his Dublin house, and play alone in his sitting room until his tears kept him from going on. Need I say more?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Everyday life on the blog

A quick plug for a new blog by my audition sparring partner and all round good egg Alastair Wilson. Commuted to Life consists of a photo and a brief paragraph posted every day that Al goes to work, the picture taken during the day, and the words full of his renowned dry wit.

I'm intrigued as to how long Al keeps this going. His journey to "work" is not the most exciting in the world so it'll be interesting to see what develops and how he continues to find insight in the everyday mundanity of commuting life. (By the way, I put the work "work" in inverted commas as Alastair is in fact a civil servant, so its not really real work as most of us know it ;) )
Its also very interesting to compare his carefully selected photos with the choices of music he makes every day for his journey. Quite often his choice of photograph is tasteful and subtley elegant, a beautiful reflection of inner city life... his musical choices however merely reflect his musical taste ;)

You can follow his progress here
Nice one Al!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Home from the Emerald Isle

So I got home yesterday after a great few days in Dublin, my third trip there in five months. Only the one gig to go and see on this trip, a quartet of Angharad Davies, David Lacey, Lee Patterson and Paul Vogel, but more than anything I went for the break and good company, spending three days in total in ireland at a relaxed pace. We ate well, drank well and had a fine time all round, with the highlight being the concert at the Goethe Institute on Tuesday night. I find it hard to write in detail about the music, partly as I've already discussed it with the musicians, but it was made up of two very different sets, each benefitting from two long days recording in the studio beforehand.

The first set was made up of a series of sections where the quartet split into duos and trios, with a lot of space and room in the music, individual sounds clearly defined with the smaller groupings naturally evolving and changing rather than following any predetermined structure. Paul Vogel played clarinet alone throughout this set, before moving to computer, field recordings and his now trademark glass vase held over upturned speakers for the second set. Lee Patterson worked with a stripped back set-up from the one I saw him use just a week or so ago, with some of the more familiar items on his table left behind at home. This deliberate attempt to change things resulted in a quieter, more reflective and very impressive performance from Lee, with his input pinned back to occasional sounds rather than the layered textures of other performances. It also meant he managed to pack up his table in under three hours, a quite remarkable feat for Lee. David Lacey and Angharad Davies were also both on good form and the quartet sounded like a group that had really begun to gel well together over the past few days.

Lacey and Vogel know each other very well, having played together often for a good few years now. The rich understanding of their musical relationship shone through in two places in particular Tuesday night. The first came during the first set when Paul pressed the bell of his clarinet against the surface of Lacey's snare drum as he played, with Lacey adding weights to the surface of the drum to change the vibrations produced by Vogel's playing from time to time. Later near the end of the second set, which had an overall fuller, denser sound Vogel unexpectedly introduced a recording of Lacey playing in exactly the same manner he was at that point in the performance, but taken from a recording made a couple of days earlier, causing the percussionist to effectively play in collaboration with himself. Vogel also brought into the performance the sounds from the street outside via a mic sat at the window, and also left a pair of headphones amongst the audience, through which he played barely discernable field recordings, adding an extra dimension to the performance.

One theme of the performance was how the four musicians interchanged their sounds, mimicking each other at times, and in other places sounds heard earlier in the performance reappearing, sometimes coming from a different musician on each occasion. The second set ended stunningly, with a softly played rhythmic tapping from Angharad's violin reappearing from beneath Vogel's recording of Lacey, Lacey himself, and a beautiful soft ebow tone from Patterson, with each of the musicians dropping out from around the violin, with Angharad slowly reducing the tempo and volume of her playing.

Hmmm, and there was me thinking I couldn't write much about this concert! A great set in a nice venue, highly enjoyable.

I stayed with Paul whilst in Dublin, who looked after me beautifully as ever, this time feeding me with an endless supply of classical music recommendations that I tried to seek out in Dublin's not so great music shops with partial success. Mahler, Bach, Shostakovich and Bartok were added to the pile of classical discs I have to listen to now, more about these in a later post. Another great disc I purchased is by the late Irish traditional fiddle player Tommy Potts. The Liffey Banks is a CD that had soundtracked some late night whiskey sessions at David's house on my last visit to Dublin and had stayed in my thoughts this visit, so I am pleased to track it down. Again, more on this disc in a later post, but as I type this late at night its raw emotional beauty is drifting about the room around me, almost bringing a little bit of Dublin back with me...

We ate well, investigating Japanese, Chinese and Italian restaurants over the three nights, and on the Wednesday, after Lee and Angharad had gone home and the stress of their organising the concert had passed, David and Paul took me out by train to the nearby coastal town of Dun Laoghaire where we spent the day wandering the shore, walking out onto the two now disused piers on a windy, but otherwise beautiful day. Whilst we were there many children could be seen being supervised in various boating activities, and the following day as I flew home I heard that a freak period of high winds had resulted in 110 of these children being swept out to sea the next morning where they were fortunately all rescued in a massive emergency services operation. Seems we chose the right day to go for our walk.

A big thanks to Paul, Miso, David, Clionna (spelling?! sorry!) Lee, Angharad, Dennis et al for another great time in a beautiful welcoming city (and I don't care what you say, I still find it welcoming ;)

Some of my photos of the trip can be found here

Fergus Kelly's excellent pictures of the event can be found here from which the pic above of me watching the show is extracted.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Escape to the Emerald Isle

Well tomorrow, as long as the currently pretty hysterical situation at UK airports doesn't get in the way I am going to pop over to Dublin again. (third time this year, is it obvious I like the place yet?) Although there is a concert happening, (David Lacey, Paul Vogel, Angharad Davies and Lee Patterson at the Goethe Institute) I am going for the break more than anything, staying with Paul and looking forward to spending a little time in really good company. Back late on Thursday.

Decent Exposures

Posting this month's photo just below made me think about how much time I've spent lately browsing through Flickr, the photography showcase website. Just as the digital age has changed how people can access music forever, broadband internet services and the proliferation of digital cameras has done the same for photography. In a similar way to other media storage sites like Myspace or YouTube, Flickr seems to have cornered a market despite not really offering that much different to other sites. If they haven't already I guess they'll sell out to Google or Rupert Murdoch soon, but for now if you're willing to put the time in digging it out there's a wealth of great photography shared at Flickr.

The way I pick my way through Flickr is to find a photographer I like and look at his list of "favourite" other pics on Flickr and follow the links to other likeminded artists' photostreams. If you have even the slightest interest in photography this can lead to many hours digging and delving, so be warned...

The pic to the right is mine, but here are just some of the Flickr pages I've enjoyed recently:

Fergus Kelly's "Dead" Collections
Smoking Drum.
Daddy W
Chambe Noire
Johanna's Hackney pics

and these are just individual photographers, there are groupsand sets of similar photos to wade through as well.

I'm interested in links to other Flickr pages anyone can recommend...

Photo of the Month No.4

Blue and white fairly lights hanging in a tree late in the evening. Taken with a slow shutter speed on the South Bank, London.

Reviews Elsewhere

A list of reviews I've written (and will admit to writing!) that have appeared elsewhere at other sites

CD Reviews

Los Glissandinos - Stand Clear. Bagatellen, July 2005.
The Scotch of St. James - Live at AMPLIFY 2004: Addition. Bagatellen, August 2005..
Sabine Ercklentz - Steinschlag. ParisTransatlantic January 2007..
Radu Malfatti - B-boim 1-12. ParisTransatlantic, April 2007.
Axel Dörner, Toshimaru Nakamura - Vorhernach, ParisTransatlantic, July 2007.
phono_phono - phono_phono, ParisTransatlantic, July 2007.
Ellen Fullman, Sean Meehan - s/t, ParisTransatlantic, July 2007.
Klaus Lang - einfalt.stille, ParisTransatlantic, July 2007.
Mitsuhiro Yoshimura, Taku Sugimoto - Not BGM and so on. Bagatellen, November 2007.
Angharad Davies, Tisha Mukarji - Endspace, Bagatellen January 2008.
Jez riley French - Field Recordings Vol.21 / Generator Pieces 2727807, Bagatellen January 2008.
Mattin - Broken Subject, Bagatellen January 2008.
Radu Malfatti - Claude Lorrain 1 / Kid Ailack 5, Bagatellen January 2008.
Tandem Electrics - Intaglio, Bagatellen February 2008.
Kevin Parks, Joe Foster - Ipsi sibi somnia fingunt, Bagatellen March 2008.

Concert Reviews

Erstquake 2 Festival, New York. Bagatellen, November 2005..
Erstquake 3 Festival, New York, ParisTransatlantic November 2006..
LMC Festival 2006, London. ParisTransatlantic February 2007..
i and e Festival 2006, Dublin. ParisTransatlantic February 2007..