BOULEZ EST MORT (1925-2016)

I found out about Boulez after a 12 hour day at work, which led to going to the gym afterwards, and then, an ill-advised decision to get some local takeaway. At that local takeaway the news happened to be on, and I found out that the great tower of classical music (or art music or modern classical or whatever its called now), had died.

 

Boulez was quite a notable composer. Dancing between the modernism of the serialists and the aleatronic avant-gardists. Boulez was a conductor as well as composer, which seems to be increasingly rare. Boulez was a classical composer in an increasingly changing world. Boulez represented for me that ever so receding (like a mature man’s hairline) link to the old classical (17th/18th century) past of the great composers.

 

I think the circumstances in which I found out about Boulez says a lot about the time we live in. But I am convinced that Boulez’s life is one of those accounts that will be remembered for centuries.

 

I thought I’d link to a few articles about Boulez while I have your attention.

  • Mark Brown from The Guardian has an obit here [its basically the law for me to refer to anything from the Guardian now]
  • Tim Page from the Washington post refers to a wonderful anecdote from Darius Milhaud (of les six)
  • Justin Davidson from Vulture notes how Boulez navigated through the conservatively musical trends of his time.
  • Andrew Clark from the FT hints at how Boulez may serve as a visionary for the future in a tradition of music obsessed with the past.
  • Paul Griffiths of the New Yorker highlights how Boulez seemed to be part of the very fabric of art music in the mid-century, name-checking the greats of Messiaen and Bernstein as if it were some superhero team up movie or Forrest Gump of music.
  • The BBC’s Front Row remember Boulez’s life with George Benjamin and Nicholas Kenyon.

Hello All,

So its been a long time since I’ve posted on here. Due to life being very busy and work being more prominent – I have been focussing on things other than philosophy. I am expressing myself these days through the more accessible and ‘easier’ medium of instagramming and tumblring.

I have an upcoming book review on O’Connor’s Adorno title from the Routledge Philosophers series (headed by B. Leiter, which also contains the very excellent ‘Kant’ by Paul Guyer in the series).

I have also gone into a small foray of reviewing music – particularly albums of the ‘extreme metal’ genres. I feel that writing about music and reading about music has taken more of my attention intellectually lately. I would hope that I can have the attention and intelligence to write about Kant and the sciences someday in the future.

Regards to any of you still reading this blog. I’m not dead yet.

M

Nightwish’s album Once (2004)

Being the summer of 2014, I can’t but help think how much has changed since 2004. A couple of things in particular come to mind. The summer of 2004 was when I did my ‘A’ Levels and I was as far as the law is concerned, a recognised adult. 2004 seems like a long time ago now and although I didn’t turn 18 during the 80s or 90s, I wonder if there was still a bit of naffness about my age.

 

On that related note I was notified that it is the 10 year anniversaries of the album Once, from Finnish heavy metal band Nightwish. I must admit that I did not discover Once until maybe 2005 or early 2006, but it became one of those era-defining albums for me that captured what it meant for me to be living in the 2000s and getting out of the teens.

 

I loved that album and then I then came to know the band Tarot through Nightwish. I think that I’m a bigger Tarot fan and their appeal still endures. However I find something curious about Once. There are moments when I listen to it and I wince. I wince because I find it is a little bit naff and at other points, more than a little bit naff. I’m not a big fan of the direction that Nightwish went into since Once but I still would eagerly follow any next albums or solo projects that the band has. Once in my view was the start of what made them really big. I could argue that it was actually Century Child but that was 2002 and I should have wrote that blog 2 years ago.

 

Lately I’ve had less time to write about philosophy and blog on Noumenal Realm, because I’ve been busy living. Living is not conducive to having particularly deep thoughts. I have realised that while living, the world inevitably changes around me and to a large degree I change around it too. When I reminisce albums like Once I am brought to bear on how much the 2000s changed from the 2010s. The sentiments, the fashions, the philosophies. I used to really love that album Once. I still like it for what it was, but admittedly, my music tastes have moved on significantly since then.

 

Goodbye Camden Crawl

So it has turned out that the Camden Crawl has gone into liquidation. I’m a little sad, although I didn’t go this year, which is perhaps a bit telling.

 

The Camden Crawl has for maybe the past 4-5 years (basically since I started living in London again) been a tradition to visit every year. Do it once and it’s a one-shot activity. Did it twice and it’s a thing that has to be done again. Did it more times and it’s a ritual. I love Camden, for the utterly personal and self indulgent reason that it’s one of the few places this side of the Channel to hear some really neat European metal bands that I like, particularly the black metal side of things. Of course there are lots of other kinds of music and subcultures there.

 

I once referred to Camden semi-jokingly as the place where subcultures go and they don’t die. One of the things I loved about the Camden Crawl (CC as it came to be called in recent years) was that it was in the most sincerest sense, eclectic. I hate using the word eclectic because to me it suggests somebody who thinks they like a wide variety of music for the sake of appearing diverse, and has little familiarity or depth with the things they apparently like – all artifice.

 

When I went to the Camden Crawl I loved how I had no idea who the bands were, what anything meant. If a band was described as shoegaze-dreampop meets DIY Fugazi fem-punk), it was in its purest sense just about the music. I loved how I had no expectations at first and went to see music just on the basis of its name, and talking to other gig-goers about where the hype is.

 

I loved how there were a few established acts who peeked about from time to time. One year I saw Ms. Dynamite [ed. teee-heee!] and another Tinchy Stryder and everybody was having an awesome time. There are the absolutely eccentric moments like the Elvis impersonator who would dance to anything. I loved seeing acts that I never heard about before and then finding out they later got a big amount of recognition. King Charles played Glastonbury this year, I remember seeing them around 2010 (?).

 

The Camden Crawl was fundamentally a hipster pursuit, yeah, I said it! I loved how different and strange much of the music was, some of which would in a couple of years eventually feed into the mainstream, or in one case, a Carlsberg advert! (Alice Gold – fabulous performance in KoKo 2012).

 

In a way I’ll definitely miss the CC. In another way there’s an extent to which I wouldn’t have gone in future festivals anyway.

 

For me the Camden Crawl was about meeting up with my friend Phil. Phil is one of my oldest friends and one of those folks that even if you don’t see for years it is like not a day has passed when you see them again. Lately life has gotten in the way of a lot of our free time. Or to put it simply, doing the Crawl was our early-20s thing and I am definitely out of that period of my life. Now we have expanding families, non-overlapping working hours, long distance relationships and all other things that prevent us. This year we couldn’t go, I’ve been working weekends and Phil’s visiting his new little nephew in North America.

 

In a sense the personal memories between myself and Phil are not communicable being a long series of ‘in jokes’ and ‘you had to be there’s. But the one thing I will miss the most about the Camden Crawl is being able to claim some cultural cred and say: I was there. I was there when Ghostpoet was an obscure artist above the Barfly; I was there when Eliza Doolittle did a set and I was more focussed on having a Magners and feeling awkward about someone chatting me up; I was right in the front when Saint Etienne did a set and I happened to be on a roof of the Roundhouse playing obsessing over a gum brand’s promotional freebies (I can’t remember their name) while a certain Dry the River were playing in the background and handing out cards and demo CDs (I really should have bloody kept them).

 

Goodbye Camden Crawl. Thanks for the memories

 

Some thoughts on my music playlists

Lately I have not listened to as much underground black metal music as I would like to. This is for a variety of reasons (scarcity being the main one). I always make a point of keeping a diverse set of listening interests. Sometimes if I hear a conversation about a band going on and I don’t know much about it, I will make a note in Google Keep and check on them later. I also have a rolling task every month of making a ‘big fuckoff playlist’ which lasts anything from 8-12 days (as in up to 300 hours).

 

I like to organise my playlists in ways that try to acknowledge the greatest amount of unity through the greatest variety of depth. I’m sure Kant didn’t envisage the application of schematic concepts in this way. I listen to music with a variety of different personas and hats. With my spotify subscription I try to organise my music in as rational a way as possible.

 

I am interested in learning about early 20th century music from the perspective of being a fan of Modernist thought. My interest in modernism also informs my interest in black metal (but that’s another story). I am also interested in connecting to understand my old piano teacher’s Jazz heritage. I had initially been listening to the early jazz of Jelly Roll Morton and Benny Goodman, and then I evolved to exploring John Coltrane most recently.

 

I am also exploring composers that I haven’t known very much about and trying to get an informed opinion of. I listened to the works of Krenek, CPE Bach, Aaron Copland and I am currently exploring Jean Sibelius, Gerald Finzi and I have about 3 different Leonard Bernstein playlists. There seem to be three Leonard Bernsteins: the conductor who was well known for performing the greats and the classics of European artmusik; Bernstein the composer who wrote works that reflected this meshing of his distinctly American and urbanite sensibility with someone who is steeped in the history and heritage of the Europeans; and finally the ‘popular’ Berinstein who lives on as the dude who did West Side Story and those other Jazzy tunes. I think that through listening to all three of these Bernsteins concurrently I am having a better appreciation of his perspective and the interesting cultural soup that formed his outlook.

 

I was recently watching a MOOC on modern music which discussed the recent composer George Crumb (Whom I know nothing about). Crumb said in an interview how growing up in the USA with parents who were local band and orchestra musicians influenced him, as well as the multicultural agenda of the music department at his university. Music is alive insofar as it is both current and historical. I love listening to music through different personas, similar to how I have conceptualised Bernstein. I enjoy listening to music as someone who is a bad amateur musician. I enjoy listening to music as someone who is interested in its history and culture. Then there are the sensibilities of someone born in the 1980s and was a kid of the 90s and a 20-something through the 2000s trying to negotiate getting a bit older and uncool.

 

When I listen to all this music I explore things I like and things that I don’t like but still try to be informed about. I love the idea of trying to find some kind of unity in all the musical personas that I have, but on the other hand I think it is not possible or desirable. I want to have Shining’s Förtvivlan, min arvedel as something relatively recent that I absolutely adore and feel encapsulates me as a person, but at the same time I also feel the same kind of identification and emotion (albeit different emotional colours) about Beethoven’s Sonata no. 8, which I am currently working on and trying to deal with the tremolando of the left hand in the first movement (the word pathetique comes to mind!). Often people talk of historical periods and some have referred to the present as ‘postmodern’. Let’s say that I accept this label. Being a post-modern means that I can go to the gym listening to the music representing my outlook through Black Metal when I’m walking around with my headphones in; but also write blog posts at 3am while listening to Blaise Pascal on audiobook and listening to the music of Darius Milhaud (of les six) fame. Postmodern is one word to describe it perhaps, or perhaps muddled, confused. But not to say that these are necessarily bad things to mix it all up.

The Facemelter (May 2014)

Through a friend of a friend, I was introduced to a promotions group who organises a pretty diverse and awesome set of gigs. I recently visited their monthly Facemelter. Perhaps the most unusual coincidence about Chaos Theory, who organised Facemelter was that an unrelated friend from school has played with them, and I have already unwittingly been aware of their work through his jazz ensemble.

 

Facemelter had a nice and cheerful set of metal bands this month. Facemelter is their rock/metal/post-rock type month and the three bands that played (as well as their accompanying audiences) reflected a nice amount of diversity.

 

The first band, Darkeye was the old school kind of wizard metal that I love. First bands have a hard time getting a crowd together at the front but these guys didn’t live up to that curse. As the band started up they had a friendly greeting and thanked everyone for coming and then it went deep into the noise as soon as the song began. Luckily I brought my ear protection. The highlights of Darkeye were the dirty bass lines that was the real drive to the riffs and rhythms.

 

The second band, Invocation had a pretty neat sound. Wouldn’t have thought anything heavy and loud could come from Milton Keynes. I talked to one of the friends of the band between sets who was telling me about some of the rock scene there. I was particularly impressed at the technical drumming and quite harmonically interesting riffs. The set itself was very diverse and showed different shades of the band, there was even one song that might be considered ballad like. By contrast Invocation later had songs where the Bassist jumped to the floor with the audience pumping out that sound!

 

The final band, Karybdis, had some nicely designed shirts in their merch list and really knew how to bring an audience. I was taken aback by how intense the audience got. There was a good old wall of death through the set and even the meanest looking folk there were nice enough to pick up the couple of guys who fell down. I think it’s fair to say that people lost their shit at the last band and it really made for a good final set. I would quite like to see Karybdis perform again sometime.

 

After the gig I got some badges of the various bands. I look forward to seeing more of the Chaos Theory promoted events, especially their jazz and experimental work. I want to thank Kunal Singhal and David Johnson or being so nice and for getting me on the guest list of this event. I blame myself for going to a metal gig wearing brogues, however.

 

Ed: check out Chaos Theory on @chaos_theory_

 

In Praise of: Joel McNeely’s ‘Shadows of the Empire’

Through Spotify, I have recently re-discovered an album that I have had different degrees of familiarity with. That album being Joel McNeely’s ‘Shadows of the Empire’. How can I explain what this album is? In the mid 90s there was a revival of interest in Star Wars in the lead up to the period of time that led to the prequel trilogies. There was a project based on multiple media around a brand new story explaining the events between Episode V and VI of the Star Wars saga (saga as it is now called). This story was a novel by Steve Perry, which was then made into a money making machine – there was a Nintendo 64 game based on the novel; later on some comics; action figures; trading cards and was even referred to in later Star Wars franchise type things.

 

I used to have a big thing about Star Wars and back when Shadows came out it was a big deal for me. I came to know the soundtrack through the game, which played it at a really low volume compared to the rest of the audio tracks. I then discovered it years later in the Napster age. When I recently rediscovered it I had a whole new layer of appreciation for it.

 

I’ve written in the past about a reading of Adorno’s Wagner. In a way this soundtrack is a similar culmination of all those ideas about Wagner’s music. The leitmotif applied to indicate characters Xizor, the motifs that reflect certain kinds of plot moods in a sound world already created by John William’s soundtrack, and let’s not of course forget the interesting scoring and instrumental part writing of the composer.

 

The beauty of this soundtrack is manifold. I thought I might make a list:

 

  • The soundtrack works as something independent from the Star Wars films if you want it to be so, and can also be seen in continuum with it (although more as a fork in the road).
  • McNeely’s piece is said to be an interpretation of a series of events, that sense of interpretation allows for a different kind of emotional narrative different to the medium of the story through the video game and the novel.
  • McNeely’s soundtrack is evocative of the programme music composers and intentionally so. This is the ultimate modern programme score as it is not a soundtrack to a film but a sonic narrative.
  • The motifs applied repeat through the piece and give a sense of internal unity to both the narrative of the novel and the music as a piece of music. Such as the repetition of the ‘Xizor’ motif, the established ‘Imperial March’ (Vader’s theme) invented by John Williams, and the unique Shadows’ motif. There are points where the motifs fight for dominance in a similar way to the three-parties of the Rebels, Imperials and the Black Sun are fighting against each other.

 

I am such a fan of this work. What makes it particularly interesting for me is how the album works in the commercial and modern confines of soundtracks, film franchises and other money making machinery, yet works successfully as a piece of music. I would hardly consider it anodyne either. There are subtle dissonant and modernist cues to the soundtrack. I later found out that McNeely was involved with re-recording scores from Bernard Herrmann films (a composer with deeply modernist idioms). Perhaps it is my personal favouring bias that sees this work in a positive light. Or it could be that the message of modernism was historically situated to a degree that using modernist techniques today do not communicate its political significance. Either way, I am greatly taken by the soundtrack as a musical medium, as well as the ways that it allows different aesthetic standards to it that ‘absolute music’ might.

Crystalisation entails death

I have recently read an essay ‘Aesthetic Transcendence’ by Trine Paulsen and Kim Solve, part of Trine + Kim Design Studio. They are (among other things) involved a lot in the graphic design aspects of many Black Metal acts. In their discussion of black metal aesthetics, Solve points out how the iconography and messages have developed a distinct form of currency, but in the process it cannot be said that Black Metal exists as an underground movement or a form of rebellion.

 

Solve makes the point that Black Metal is a visible subculture with imagery in children’s programming, entries in Eurovision and talked about by academics. These are hallmarks of something that can hardly be addressed as revolutionary.

 

This gives me pause to think. I could try and resist this conclusion and address metal subcultures where there is a genuine underground such as Africa, depressive-suicidal black metal, non-European and non-North American metal or even specific genres like NSBM being inherently underground due to the political beliefs associated with it. In fact I would try to resist this conclusion and say there are many different concentric circles of BM in the world and the Nordic type may be the hegemony but it is not the only type.

 

What if we accepted the conclusion that BM had lost its revolutionary edge? Perhaps this is inevitable. Could we say that Schoenberg is still radical? It is true that Black Metal probably wouldn’t have a mainstream AOR radio station presence, but it could have enough of an audience to fill out say, a 300-capacity venue and work within the engine of the indie label toilet circuit tour, for instance.

 

If it were the case that BM can be part of the cultural industries, even to the extent of being talked about by academics and having mail-order t shirts. What does that say of the potential of the revolutionary fervour in general? Is everything reducible to a t-shirt slogan? Well I suppose my only answer to that is: sapere aude (have the courage to use your own understanding).

 

P.S. 7 years ago to this day the blog was born. Belated happy birthday.

 

Thinking Musically

I’ve written in the past about the adjective ‘musical’. Lately I’ve been hosting and helping people with improvisation. The odd thing is that I am no expert in music and I am an amateur and dilettante. I love to watch youtube videos about improvisation and playing technique and reading things here and there. I feel that one of the things that really enhances my ability to play is just to listen. There is a skill in being an effective listener of music and for me that is more of an accomplishment than whatever I happen to perform.

 

I have often said something to the effect lately, that the emphasis in performing well is to think musically. I keep saying this so much I don’t even know what I mean sometimes. I thought I might clarify what this could possibly mean in this post.

 

Thinking musically is about a commitment to music itself, music as a human activity and tradition that goes back to – God knows when! As a human activity we have forbears and we are inevitably indebted to them. It is fair to say that I am a paternalist about music often. Many things go back to Bach. Even the things that are developed as a reaction against something else, show that something else as a form of influence (Neoclassicism vs. 20th century Avant-Garde for example).

 

To think musically is to have your own voice. To think musically is to have a sense of conviction. My old piano teacher always used to emphasise the conviction of a performance over technique. Sometimes your conviction can be so strong that you might go against the standard interpretations or customs already established. Thinking musically can therefore be a means of expressing individuality.

 

As well as a commitment to traditions, genres and so forth; there is often an internal logic. There is an internal logic to an individual piece of music, sometimes in the phrasing, the articulation. Sometimes the internal logic is to one’s own playing style. An internal logic may be towards the interpretation of a composer or period.

 

I like to apply thinking musically to when I write my blogs. One thing that is a cliche of mine, is that I go for extended digressions that don’t always have a comprehensible take home message. Another example of applied musical thinking to a non musical discourse, is Glenn Gould’s ‘The Idea of the North’. This documentary on the Northern wastes of Canada applies an idea from the musical genre of the Fugue. The subject of the documentary focuses on vox pops of various people who have an experience of living on the northern frontiers of Canada and the aural testimonies are layered on top of each other in the form of subject, counter subject, answer. Of course I presume that when Gould did this documentary, not many of the intended audience would understand this Bachian influence on the art of radio documentary making. In lieu of this obscurity, it causes me to laugh at Glenn Gould’s sincerity. That so few would understand him yet he still continued his commitment to thinking and living musically.

 

Perhaps thinking musically is not a thing-in-itself, but a media through which ideas come forth. I think of how Haydn’s music often contains humour, not within the musical form but by virtue of being funny.

 

Perhaps I have a specific view about thinking musically. Lately my idea of musical thinking is a commitment to form and using form as a tool of expression. I often feel that things such as genre and style can often be the product of our cultural education and upbringing and instead of contributing new music to add to a historical process of cultural idioms and styles, we simply replicate them. While this in itself is not aesthetically ‘wrong’ or bad (see my post on musical conservatism), it is the unconscious and indeliberate nature of these influences that is deleterious. Like Walden, we must live deliberately in our music. If our upbringing is blues and our heart is in blues, then make it so, but deliberately.

 

On having differing musical preferences

I have an improperly empirical thesis: performers often like things different to what they are working on. I suppose it’s maybe like the barber not being able to shave their own head, or working at a food preparation factory and completely avoiding the produce made from brands one stocks for (I actually know someone like that – interesting stories he has).

I remember having a few conversations with people I know to be musicians and musical performers, who can have vastly different tastes to what they are immediately working on. Perhaps the infamous stock example is when Fenriz of Darkthrone said in an interview that he likes to listen to house music, but for the purposes of appearing as Fenriz and being in the black metal mystique, he will downplay that fact. I used to be part of a choir in which we were working on some distinctly sacred works of music, and then in the conversations afterward it was established they liked very trashy (their words not mine) music like show tunes and things from Disney soundtracks.

I often meet people who read my blog, and I suspect they are probably surprised of how little I want to talk about philosophy in certain social situations. In fact I am increasingly unwilling to talk about philosophy or music or particularly blogging-preferred topics. Preferring to be a different person within blogging and without it. Likewise I probably don’t talk enough about my involvement with the Community Garden project when I muse more about Schoenberg and Adorno, part of that is a deliberate choice, the other part is deciding my niche when it comes to blogging about things.

Performing-wise I suppose I have my own such distinctions of character and sensibility. Last week I was at this impromptu jamming session where a lot of non-english language songs were performed and it getting involved with the jam was so much fun it was more about the participation. For me it was also fun to work out the harmonies and how to do continuo style accompaniment on a melodic instrument rather than a typical ‘continuo’/accompaniment instrument. So I would say to my trumpet buddy: PEDAL POINT G MAJOR TO D MAJOR DOMINANT. HARMONISE THE MELODIC LINE PARALLEL THIRD, and so on.

I find it a lack of imagination to be interested in only one kind of music, especially in the age of genrefication where there’s a tendency to be all about a certain kind of vibe and stuck in that feeling continuously. I also think from a cultural perspective it is extremely limiting. I think it is deleterious to the genre of indie how it is increasingly and incredibly posh, for example. Diversity is beautiful, although it seems having too broad a mind offends people.

Something does seem troubling to me about how I might like playing all this 17th-19th century music where what I actually listen to on my mp3 player is a mix between video game soundtracks, black metal, metal songs of various genres that impress certain memories on me and ‘trash’. My personal ultimate test for how I like music is if I choose to put it on my tired old MP3 player. Having said that, I might write and muse about how certain pieces of music or songs might be great works, but not choose to listen to it so much. I recall in an interview with (I think) Vladimir Ashkenazy, he said that while people appreciate the greatness of Bach it is ultimately ‘boring music’ to fill a full concert! I’m inclined to agree. I listen to Glenn Gould by tracks on spotify, rarely by album!

Perhaps an culinary analogy is due here. My meat and potatoes of what I like in music I know are very often not great works of art. However I can appreciate that there are ‘finer foods’ that I may desire to partake in, but it would probably be undesirable or impossible to live on fine foods all the time, even though it may be desirable in terms of cultural capital to be seen doing so.