on now, breaking down jason moran [america]

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LIFE

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Jason Moran is new to me, or to be precise he is twelve days old, thanks entirely to AM [yo!]…

I feel like Patti Smith is said to about hearing something new; wondersomely happy. ‘Break Down‘ is a great way in, from a remarkable album called Artist in Residence [2006] and worth digging behind for more. For the moment I’ll only add that if, like me, you missed Ten, from 2010, then you should check out its compelling blend of forms and inspiring newness… [RFK In The Land Of Apartheid, to Crepescule with Nellie thru. The Subtle One and on.]

Else, all I’ll say now is Continue reading “on now, breaking down jason moran [america]”

on silence or not, cage blake alÿs and on…

Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing…” made sense, mainly because it was such a great track back in the mid-90s, right? Cage Against the Machine, the attempt to block/buy the No. 1 slot for a recording of John Cage’s 4’33” -a rigorously orchestrated slice of atmospheric sound, often described as silence- was always a bit too clever and so a bit too dumb to work, no?

Kenneth Silverman’s recent biography of Cage, Begin Again, is a pretty straight celebratory record of an entirely remarkable life [and not published in the UK!]. Cage spans [subverts?] or strides [meanders?] the 20th Century in very particular ways, making work from beginning to end nearly and constantly mining the same seam of inventive attempts.

Always beginning again, afresh, anew -so the thesis runs. KS makes an epigram of Gertrude Stein’s gorgeous line from The Making of Americans; “Beginning was all of living with him, in a beginning he was always as big in his feeling as all the world around him.” The way in which this actualises is exemplary even while it creates doubt in me too -as the book goes on dutifully detailing yet another I Ching derived whatever!

4’33” was achieved using a deck of tarot cards, which even Cage said “seems idiotic” but he composed each movement by joining up randomised periods of silence with precise measures which totalled four minutes and thirty three seconds. The point, one made more precise by his subsequent visit of Ryoanji and fuller acquaintance with Zen, was that the ‘silence’ is a pregnant one, like the stone garden’s potent ‘blankness’.

Two thoughts; one links directly to the gorgeous version of Feist’s song, There’s a Limit to Your Love, that James Blake put out a month ago. As you know, the track is a departure from his flurry of promising EPs released this year alone, including CMYK and Klavierwerke, for foregrounding his voice against a piano track redolent of Nina Simone and an electronic bassquake. Apart from just enjoying it and its arguably rather more local newness I was struck by the ‘silence’ it contains. Or near silence, Continue reading “on silence or not, cage blake alÿs and on…”

on warbling from a to d [ari-up to devendra banhart]


Some deaths are bludgeoning and Ari-Up’s recent dying was one such. You can hear why just by listening to that great first album, Cut [1979], the maddened monkeying in heaven singularity of her manifested voice on ‘New Town’ etc. All those sounds went in to me so faithfully and long ago that really I don’t need to hear them from without as it were.

However, listening to ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ today sounded more like tomorrow than yesterday; striking for one of the least digitally conceived songs ever [despite its very crisp production]…

I realised too that the warbling Continue reading “on warbling from a to d [ari-up to devendra banhart]”

cerith wyn evans’ final week at white cube central london; go, go, go!

S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E Cerith Wyn Evans 2010

“Everyone’s gone to the movies,

now we’re alone at last…”


I finally made it back to see Cerith’s show at White Cube’s Mason’s Yard which is, I want to emphasise, just off Piccadilly in central London. The show closes on May 22 and I urge you to drop by to catch a stunning and substantial installation of recent works which makes the space live so well that it claims possession of it.

My hopes were high for this show but I had to rush through an opening that was as busy as you might expect to be somewhere else. As a result I didn’t quite trust my impression that CWE had drawn all the currents in his work together into something quite so winningly complete. That is -at its most elemental- influence and intellect, taste and fancy all deliver something complex here that is coherent only as visual art. It’s clarified resonance would justify permanent -or DIA-style- installation in the site.

A peculiarly all over the place month made returning impossible, but the work lingered and I had to see it again especially if I were to scribble something here…

Continue reading “cerith wyn evans’ final week at white cube central london; go, go, go!”

morton feldman vertical thoughts, horizontal movement? imma dublin ongoing to 27 june

I just want to flag up this exhibition curated around Morton Feldman which I haven’t and won’t see [partly because I’m away doing a Residency myself during June] with its intriguing catalogue which I’ve also not seen yet.

Vertical Thoughts; Morton Feldman and the Visual Arts looks like a full-blooded collection of visual materials linked to Feldman and any focus on Feldman is welcome. I wonder why it isn’t travelling to other museums of modern art; Tate Modern for instance?

Kevin Volans has a piece in the catalogue [and a slightly out of date website here]. I caught his 60th birthday performance a few months ago [Wigmore Hall, Nov 09] which was excellent. Afterwards he described how he’s increasingly reliant as a composer and performer on visual art’s receptivity and commissioning resources.

Music-wise, there’s still a performance to come of Rothko’s Chapel and Words and Music by Samuel Beckett on 30th May by the Crash Ensemble here.

polar bear ‘want to believe everything’ april 2010; it was “following…”

Polar Bear gave a free concert in the QEH foyer as part of the Ether Festival on Friday 23 April and it was … “following”. They have their new cd Peepers out and are on tour until October to celebrate it and you can join in through their website here.

I’d never caught them live before and they were brilliant; tight as performers, expansive as musicians, maxed-up jazz-men especially with their unlikely innovations involving a guitar and box of electronic tricks. Jumping, infectious, toughened up by indigenous anarchism and … “following.” Peepers captures all the peculiar liveliness of the band live very well.

If you know Polar Bear already then you don’t need me to say anything, if you don’t then I have a feeling there’s nothing I can say that will get you over the levée. Except this; trust me!

I took along someone who for reason of age alone is new to jazz -certainly live- and once the buzz of a packed-in audience faded a kind of bodily confusion set in which took a track or two to change and for my little friend to find his own way in. A particular unusually compressed sound made and repeated by one of the sax players triggered the change and then my friend quickly engaged the jazz of it; the expansive wrapping and precise rolling of Seb Rochford’s drum playing, the brittle electronic sounds of Leafcutter John and his skanking guitar, the biting double bass of Tom Herbert and the explosive tenor sax playing of Pete Wareham [and stand-in? Shabaka Hutchings too].

There was a nice moment when Seb Rochford introduced the track ‘want to believe everything’ saying “when I wrote it I was thinking about keeping faith in people and with, like all the bad things happening in the world, people are always telling us to just keep your faith … so that’s what I’m finding, you know, just to try to keep that. So that’s what this tune’s about” and as he did so the sun fell into the window behind him in such a way as to backlight his architecturally frizzed hair from behind. It didn’t seem inappropriate or anything less than just jazz.

There are lots of ways of trying to say this but Polar Bear are uniquely of the now. They’re doing their own thing on a new label, are as good as it gets and gracious with it. Don’t catch up with them later/one day, be sure to catch them now.

Here’s a clip from Later … in which they perform the title track from Peepers. As good and faithful as this is, it looks and sounds as if they’ve been confined to a small box…

varèse; very much in london april 2010

VARESE The One All Alone docu 2009

I want to share some modest thoughts about the Varèse 360º mini-festival at London’s Southbank Centre 16-18th April.

According to the programme, Edgard Varèse [b. Paris 1883, d. New York 1965] was “a sonic pioneer”. In 1955 John Cage wrote that Varèse had “established the present nature of music … this nature … arises from an acceptance of all audible phenomena as material proper to music.” His entire known work sits happily within 2 cds and has been spread over three concerts here. I caught the two featuring the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton at QEH but not the larger orchestral pieces performed by the NYO.

I know the work quite well in the form of the Chailly and Boulez recordings. There are things to admire and thrill at in all his recorded work, my own favourites fell into the performances I saw and Density 21.5 -composed in 1936 for a specific platinum flute- is on regular rotation in my life. I’ve listened to these recordings with headphones and in a domestic environment but never heard it performed before now.

The first evening included a startlingly precise and mesmerising performance of Ecuatorial, in which a pair of theremin ‘cellos’ were gorgeous contributors, and ended with one of his last works; Déserts, written after 15 years in a wilderness of depression. The tightness of the performance made for a thrilling experience [Gillian Moore writes of a “blazing austerity”] in which I found myself pursuing sounds around the stage in ways unique to Varèse’s invention of what he called “organised sound”.

The second programme included Hyperprism, Octandre, Offrandes, Intègrales, all performed with the same peculiar vigorous purity. Sitting very close to the stage I could hear the instruments themselves more acutely; their timbre, distribution of sounds and peculiar rhythms, the lingering murmur from inside a mute cello at the end of one inverted crescendo.

Witnessing this made me feel as if  [or realise that] I hadn’t actually heard the music before. In a related panel discussion both biographer Malcolm Macdonald and composer Julian Anderson described how their respective favourite pieces of Varèse’s [pressed, they offered Ecuatorial and Intègrales respectively] always sounded new or completely fresh whenever they heard them. These differing newnesses may be related but in any case, I felt exactly the same way hearing old favourites of my own live for the double first time.

Varèse’s central notion of creating aural space means that it is particularly essential to hear the music performed. This is obvious as well as not because however improving it invariably is to witness performance there is something completely transformative of the music -and more- in Varèse’s case. In 1958 Morton Feldman wrote that Varèse “alone has given us this elegance, this physical reality, [in which “noise … bores like granite into granite”] this impression that the music is writing about mankind rather than being composed.”

The recording of Poème électronique played over QEH’s pretty good system sounded exactly as it always does, however, therefore comparatively shrunken and dissipated. It was accompanied with an irritatingly weak series of images, used in preference to Corbusier’s montage which was made to accompany the music at its birth in the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair of 1958. I’m including the latter because while the use of images of genocide is problematic, it’s a more convincing attempt to relate to the scale of the music [on Ubuweb here].

There were moments, passages of stunning originality and potency in this second performance, notably of Octande but also Intègrales -an effective condensation of Varèse’s range. It’s an exhilaration that can only be experienced in live performance of the highest standard like this [bad or okay performances of Varèse would be hard to take]. However these are works that should be performed regularly, even in Britain which only caught up with the 20th Century when it ended.

Varèse should be heard widely and regularly not only because of his very clear and often acknowledged influence on a mass of music throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries but also for the force and beauty that it possesses in itself. Macdonald argues that his work represents a comparable step-change to that of Beethoven or Wagner. The absence of Varèse from the British repertoire is equivalent perhaps to letting Emily Dickinson’s poetry fall back into the obscurity of her life and confining Jorge-Luis Borges or Gertrude Stein to dusty national libraries.

Edgard Varèse and Antonin Artaud 1933.

[fingers and pinholes are not mine]

Beyond the music and a panel discussion worth catching, there were also film screenings. I missed Mark Kidel’s early documentary, EV A Portrait, and only caught a few minutes of Frank Scheffer’s very recent documentary which takes its title from a never realised but ever-present all-encompassing notional work of Varèse’s; The One All Alone.

One of the impressive range of potential or partial collaborators that Varèse worked with towards this project was Antonin Artaud. Artaud is the king and fool of the 20th Century for me and it was the discovery of this image of him with Varèse, taken in 1933, just before both men began descents into physical and mental torments lasting a decade and half in each case, that really locked off my interest, passion, even enjoyment of Varèse [something comparable happened with Anne Carson]. A friend of Artaud’s is a friend of mine.

I was able only to see the beginning of Scheffer’s film in which Cage and Feldman discuss the figure who was a major influence or inspiration on and to both. It was one of the free screenings in the RFH and I’d love to be able to see it in full but as yet it has no distributor in the UK. Varèse is only very rarely performed in the UK so no surprise there, but he’s regularly performed and heard across Europe where the film has been screened but distribution is not yet finalised either.

This is the poster for it and below is a pdf of the other part of the flyer with contact details to the production company and a short director’s statement. I knew that the Varèse would be sold out -as it was- which is why I did something very strange for me and booked it months ago. However I had no idea whom it would be sold out to and the audience turned out to be pretty diverse in fact. I believe the panel’s description of teenage members of the NYO’s gradual but then real grasp and excited engagement with the music, but there were very few people under 25 in the audience.

However, the lack of appetite shown by all those really clever, super curious and on-the-ball distributors, festival organisers, British TV lunchboxes might be justified if only 17 people turned up [or, worse, the entire 117] but as it was it’s pitiful and repeats the offence of neglect that Varèse suffered throughout his extraordinary and difficult life.

The best way to encounter Varèse is live in performance, as I now know with indelible clarity, but a documentary is a foolproof introduction to the subject, the most easily negotiated threshold.

Press to enlarge

BIBLIO

 

Varèse: Astronomer in Sound by Malcolm Macdonald [Kahn & Averill 2002 pp 448]

Edgard Varèse Composer, Sound Sculptor, Visionary Ed. Felix Meyer & Heidy Zimmerman [The Boydell Press 2006 pp 505] here.

Give My Regards to Eight Street Collected Writings of Morton Feldman Ed. BH Friedman [Exact Change 2000] here.

Silence John Cage [Marion Boyars 1968] here.

gil scott-heron; ‘won’t play in Israel “until everyone is welcome there”’

Protest makes no difference right?

I hope you’ll consider whether you want to continue to finance Palestinian dispossession and massacre next time you hold red peppers, avocados, sweet potatoes, sage or tarragon etc. in your hand in any of the big British supermarkets. Think of them as live ammo or broken bones if it helps… In any case; think.

Here is a statement reporting that Gil S-H announced he won’t be playing Israel after all. So we can continue playing that unique back catalogue and if you haven’t yet, get hold of I’m New Here [link to earlier celebratory post].

Gil Scott-Heron announces cancellation of Tel Aviv concert

[http://tinyurl.com/37gxhot]

Artist won’t play in Israel “until everyone is welcome there”.

“Fans of revolutionary poet and singer-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron welcomed his decision tonight to cancel the concert he had been scheduled to play in Tel Aviv this May. Heron announced the decision during his set at London’s Royal Festival Hall, the opening date of his World tour.

Activists from the Gil Scott-Heron Boycott Israel Campaign had picketed the event earlier in the day, attracting considerable public interest and support. Ten activists from the Campaign then continued their protest inside the concert, raising the issue of Israeli apartheid right at the start of Heron’s set and after the first song.

The activists were great admirers of the artist who were shocked by Heron’s decision to play Israel, given his longstanding commitment to equality and civil rights in both the USA and South Africa. Leading members of the ANC have stated that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is even worse than was their own treatment under South African apartheid.

The Campaign is now awaiting confirmation from Gil Scott Heron’s management that the concert has indeed been cancelled.”

[thanks J. for this happy news]

gil scott-heron to play sun city; by no means necessary

UPDATED

I write this in sadness rather than anger. Gil Scott Heron is due to perform in Tel Aviv on May 25th. For a man of consistency and courage to capitulate to such a regime is really shocking. It undoes the achievement of a lifetime of truth-telling and difference-making -notably in the long struggle against apartheid. It might be testament to personal tragedy, but there’s no excuse for being quite so blind, deluded or careless. “Don’t you wanna be free” Gil?

Read ‘Gil Scott-Heron: don’t go to the moon’ here.

Read PSC letter here.

Leave Gil a comment here.

On his myspace page -which also lists the gig- here.

Or on xl recording’s GS-H page here.