Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Come On Everybody – Let's Rock

With a whole host of forward thinking people I made my way to Whelan's to see Oneida, in the expectation that they would play some songs – by Oneida. They were awesome. Before talking about them, though, let me quickly blitz through the two local support acts. First up were Seadog. These fellows play instrumental metal work-outs. Their unique selling point is that they do twin guitar solos like Thin Lizzy, and in fact have their guitars sounding just like those of that popular band. I found them entertaining.

Next up were Pas Cas Cap (or Cap Pas Cap; or Pac Cap Sap – it's so difficult). Some time back I bought their debut 12" and thought it was not up to much, and when I saw them live previously I found them actively annoying. I liked them more this time. They seem to have taken on a more electropop direction, and their lady guitarist has taken over on vocals. While not necessarily the world's greatest singer, she is way better than the guy they had before. Cap Pas Cap may not be opening any new musical windows, but they are pleasant enough to listen to.

And then to the headliners. Oneida are these weirdo nerds who love to rock. Although generally awesome, many know them only through their appearance in an Onion article – the one about the guy who ruins a gig for everyone by enjoying himself. If you are the kind of person who goes to concerts and likes to stand around with your arms folded, having a great time then Oneida are not for you. They are instead for people who see music as an occasion for Dionysian excess and communing with the spirit of Pan.

I have hitherto only seen Oneida at festivals, where they tended to finish each song by saying something like: "Thanks. We're Oneida. And now we are going to play another song. It's by… Oneida". They did not do so much of that this time, maybe because they reckoned that they did not need to emphasise who they were to an audience that had paid to see them. However, the totally baked nature of the keyboard player (who normally does the talking) provides an alternative explanation.

I cannot really say too much more about this. The band rocked out, the people who like fun enjoyed themselves, there was moshing and crowd surfing – yes, crowd surfing (albeit by just one guy) – for the first time in years. The band played various long instrumental pieces, and a few with vocals, treating us to many tunes from their new, oddly House-influenced, triple album, Rated O. And they finished with 'Sheets of Easter', which maybe has become their big song, for all that it is like the My Bloody Valentine holocaust turned into a tune.

One truly amazing thing about this concert was the presence of a hen party. We thought initially that they might have wandered in by mistake (Whelan's (or Waylans, as they call it) is, after all, featured in that lovely film P.S. I Love You, so it's not impossible. But it was hard not to notice that the hen was really getting down to the music. Maybe she is a forward thinking person who could not miss seeing Oneida and made the others come along. Whatever the reason, Justina (the bride-to-be) had several songs dedicated to her by the band, and I could not but notice she and the keyboardist in earnest conversation after the show.

The other great things about all this was how mad for it all the crowd were, and how out of it the band's keyboardist was. He had that great must-keep-it-together look to him that people only have when keeping it together is becoming very difficult. I suppose it was the last date on their tour, and it's not like he was detracting from our enjoyment – far from it. His greatest moment was perhaps when he jumped up and started air drumming along to a drum solo the actual drummer was blasting out.

So yeah – Oneida.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Phonogram: Rue Britannia"

This is a comic book by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It is a work that might be of interest to Frank's APA members (and other people who like music), as it is about music and how we relate to it. That much of the music with which the book concerns itself is bad music is not a problem here – anyone with an intense relationship to any type of music will see something of themselves here.

The story concerns David Kohl, who is a phonomancer – a magician who draws his power from music. The Goddess manifests and gives him a mission – someone is messing with Britannia, one of her aspects, and he is to stop them. He soon discovers what is going on – retromancers are trying to reanimate Britannia's corpse and bring on a Britpop revival. They must be stopped. There is, separately, an odd subplot about one of Kohl's old friends, whose ghost is haunting Bristol despite her being still alive.

The plot trundles along, serving mainly as a backdrop for meditations on the role music plays in our life and as an excuse for cameos by various stars of the Britpop scene, typically appearing as mythic or semi-divine versions of themselves. What struck me mostly about this book, though, was the theme of aging that runs through it. Kohl moans that he cannot score with the young ladies any more. As the retromancers resurrect Britannia, their bald patches and chubby tummies disappear – in recreating their youth, they are trying to literally recapture it. Almost heartbreaking are the scenes where Kohl meets his old friend (the one whose ghost haunts Bristol). She was once an obsessive Manics fan, and now has no interest in music. The horror. You can decide whether she is betraying herself, or if she, unlike Kohl, is displaying maturity by moving on from the obsessions of youth.

OK, I will leave it at that. Check out the book. Or don't. You might like the art, it has an endearingly uncluttered style, and the chapter title pages (originally covers of the issues) are takes on Britpop era record covers (e.g. see this)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Very belated film review: "Synecdoche New York"

I went to see this film by that Charlie Kaufman guy who wrote Being John Malkovich and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In this one, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theatre director obsessed with his own mortality, whose artist wife is in the process of leaving him. Then he wins some award that means that he basically has unlimited time and funds to realise any theatrical project he wants to have a crack at. So he takes over this huge warehouse and builds a replica of New York inside it, and then he starts getting increasingly large numbers of people to play everyone he knows in scenes where they workshop their way to what he is sure will eventually be the greatest play ever made. Time passes, or it seems to. Soon the director has someone playing him, and even someone playing the guy who plays him. His replica of New York has a warehouse in it in which there is a smaller replica of New York, complete with its own warehouse, and so on. It is all very odd.

The film maybe goes on a bit, but it is very striking and has many fascinating moments. The bit where the guy playing the guy who is playing the director is introduced is comic genius, and I also liked the bit where the director is walking through the real New York, past lines of dejected people being herded onto buses for "Funland" by thuggish clowns. The lady character's permanently on fire house is maybe a bit more like Kaufman by numbers, but I love the crazy psychiatrist lady and the film's closing nod to Julian Jaynes' The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. I also got really confused by how the film had Samantha Morton playing a character and then Emily Watson playing someone playing the character that Samantha Morton was playing (or vice versa); what made this all the more confusing was that Morton and Watson always seem a bit interchangeable.

People can discuss what the film is about, but to me it is pretty clear – the Hoffman character dies (or kills himself) early on, and everything afterwards (from around when he wins the huge award) is either a dying hallucination or else a somewhat depressing afterlife experience. Overall, the film is not as impressive as the other Kaufman films mentioned above, but it is a very striking piece of work, and I recommend it to those of you who enjoy the cinematic arts.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Double Portrait: Lang/Andriessen

This was a concert by the Crash Ensemble, where they were playing music by David Lang (from the USA, and present) and Louis Andriessen (apparently the Netherlands' greatest living composer, too busy partying to make it over to us). My beloved and I were able to play Dublin avant-garde music scenesters bingo with the audience, easily worth the price of admission on its own. The music was great too. Looking back, the David Lang stuff was the more memorable, in that I remember it better (though I also remember liking the Andriessen pieces a lot).

Much of what Lang did was strikingly percussive, but the real highlight was the last piece, 'Forced March'. Stealing a life from those Warpy fellows Autechre, Lang composed this so that it would play through without repeating any of itself, even while sounding broadly like something that was going through cycles. Its instrumentation was almost like that of a rock band (or a rock band whose sound is heavily filled out by orchestral elements), with a lot of lead guitar action going on in it. It was pretty in your face, and I reckon it would have gone down well at a standing concert or to a festival crowd. I must look and see if a recording of it is available anywhere.

A Long Post About Conceptual Art

Have you ever been to London? If so then maybe you have been to Trafalgar Square. It has a statue of Lord Nelson on top of a pillar, and it also has some other statues there. The other statues are on plinths, as is often the case with statues. The square has four plinths, so you would think that there would be four statues – but no. Only three of the plinths have permanent statues. The fourth plinth lies vacant, or is used for temporary exhibits.

At the moment, the fourth plinth is hosting Antony Gormley's One and Other. Gormley is perhaps best known for monumental wrought iron sculptures like The Angel of the North, but One and Other is different. Gormley has basically let random punters apply to appear for an hour on plinth and do… whatever they want.

One of my pals from the internet got a slot on the plinth and decided that what she was going to do was read out letters from people. I decided to send a letter to Lord Nelson, and she read it out, which was very exciting – I feel like I am a foot soldier in conceptual art history.

I happened, coincidentally, to be in London on the day Tricia was plinthing, and made it along to see her read many other letters (semi-accidentally missing my own being read). It was an interesting business. Some of the other letters were very impressive. One of the most striking being one that some guy wrote about his estranged parents (they have disowned him for repudiating their religion), a powerful and affecting piece of writing. In complete contrast, I also loved the letter written by some fellow to a local pub, complaining about the unsatisfying meal he received from them. She also read a letter from that blog that reprints famous letters from the past (can't find the URL for this, can anyone help?).

So yes, deadly fun. Over the time I was in the big smoke, I drifted over to the Fourth Plinth a couple of times, and it was very striking how far above the average Tricia was in her endeavours. The other plinthers seemed generally not to really have any idea what they were doing up there, just passing the time waving at their friends or taking photographs. This does of course beg the question of what I would do if I was up there. Mmmm. I suppose one obvious thing would be to adopt a succession of human statue poses.

Anyway, should you want to watch Tricia reading her letters, you can do so here, and you can watch random other people plinthing here. You can also look at more of my Trafalgar Square pictures here. If for some reason you want to read my own letter to Lord Nelson, scroll on.

"To: Lord Horatio Nelson


"I am writing to you care of Miss Stubberfield, the lady you should see in the square below you reading this letter to you. I must confess to having had certain difficulties finding an appropriate subject for correspondence to you, and for finding the best words to use. I was going to discuss the differing sentiments towards you felt by people in this country and my own (Ireland), drawing a contrast between the relative fortunes of your great column here and the pillar upon which you once stood in the main street of my country's capital. However, a discussion in that area seemed to yield no great insights, for it is hardly surprising that Irishmen and women are less than fond of a man whose signal victory over Napoleon's fleet arguably served to bind Ireland to England for another hundred years.

"Instead, perhaps, it would be better to discuss a more human subject, and one closer to your own personage. No one can doubt the great service that you gave your country. We all know that your greatest victory was also your last, that you led your fleet against the enemy in a manner calculated to destroy them utterly while at the same time exposing you to mortal peril. But while your last battle saw you lose your life, we should remember that in earlier engagements you suffered various other losses. As you lost more of your body in each battle, you must surely have known that sooner or later an engagement with the enemy would claim your life. At Trafalgar, did you calculate in advance that your audacious plan would see your greatest victory crowned with your own life blood?

"That someone should choose glory at the price of their own death is something very alien to me. More credible is the idea that someone would choose to die for some great ideal. Was that the case with you? The standard picture is that you died for England (or Britain, or King and Country, whatever). If so, what were you dying for? A land of rotten boroughs and semi-feudal deference to the gentry and nobility, but in a land where creeping industrialisation was creating new forms of misery and despair – was that your England?

"These are unanswerable questions – even if you were able to reply to this letter I suspect that you would find it difficult to explain your own motivations. Still, I would love to know whether, as you lay dying, did you feel that your death was worth the glory you had won or the nation you had saved, or did you silently curse the roll of the cosmic dice that had seen you take a fatal wound?

"I remain,

"your obedient servant.

"Ian Moore, esq."

Friday, September 25, 2009

When People Die

As you know, Steven Wells died. He was a longstanding writer for the NME. Most people seem to remember him fondly, but I can't claim any great affection for his writing. I reckon that James Brown (one time NME writer, before he became the editor of Loaded and other dreadful magazines) put it well when he said that Wells did not really like music that much. He certainly seemed to write the same article over and over, one in which he excoriated all the bands that NME readers like for not being down with the kids in some worrying ultra leftist manner. NME readers lapped this up, suggesting they may not be the brightest.

Michael Jackson also died. Although overshadowed by the well known beer expert and also by the so-called General Sir Mike Jackson, the musician Michael Jackson achieved some fame both as a solo artist and playing with his brothers (in a band, not at Risk or other family games). I do not really have too much to say about his sad end – I was never a big fan of him or his music, so his passing means less to me than it does to others. But Michael Jackson fans will not understand why I am so sad when Morrissey dies. Such is the magic of life.

more obituary action coming soon!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dracula's Music Cabinet "The Vampires of Dartmoore"

This is a Finders Keepers record. And I have not listened to it yet, because it is on vinyl and the Panda Mansions record player has not been reconnected since we moved to our new abode. From looking at the sleeve, this seems to be a piece of German horror-erotica exploitation music by some library music session musos, a soundtrack to a non-existent film. The sleevenotes suggest that it might belong to the same universe as the wonderful Vampiros Lesbos/Sexadelic Dance Party record by Manfred Hubler, so I am hoping for good things here. The opening track is called 'The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sex*', draw your own conclusions.

*Or, as the Germans say, 'Die Folterkammer des Dr. Sex'

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"God Help The Girl"

I may have said once that after not liking Belle & Sebastian's The Life Pursuit I would not be having anything further to do with new records from that band. Despite all that, I have nevertheless bought this record. It features songs written by Stuart Murdoch and has many members of B&S playing on it, but on (almost all) the songs the lead vocals are taken not by Struan or any of his B&S pals, but by some random women pulled in from off the street (or from other bands).

The limited amount I had heard about it in advance suggested that Murdoch was going for a kind of 1960s girl group atmosphere here. Some of the tracks lean a bit in that direction, but the overall feel is a bit different. And, on a casual viewing of the sleevenotes, this looks like it might actually be some kind of concept album, with the various songs joining together to tell a kind of story, or maybe joining together to comment on the story in the accompanying booklet. And what is this story about? Why, teenage girls, of course!

My initial impression here is that this is a most enjoyable record, suggesting that Murdoch might have his songwriting mojo back. Or maybe he never lost it – the record features two songs written for the dreadful The Life Pursuit but rearranged here and sung by women. These sound wayyyyy better than on their first outing, suggesting that either TLP's production was not up to whack or that they just did not suit Murdoch's voice. The version here of 'Funny Little Frog' is particularly revelatory, with the soul inflections of singer Brittany Stallings giving this song a groove it rather lacked before.

In fact, so enjoyable are the women singers here that the couple of tracks featuring Stuart Murdoch vocals really jar. Go away Stuart, leave the singing to the ladies!

[It's only fair to say that I have not heard anyone else say anything positive about this record, so I do not entirely trust my favourable impression of it]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Cure "Staring at the Sea"

This is the Cure's singles compilation, containing stuff they released from when they started up until just before Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. I have wanted a copy of this for ages, as the Cure have loads of great singles but are maybe not the kind of band you want albums by. Anyway, you probably know many of these songs if you are roughly as old as I am. If not, I suggest seeking them out, the band do a great job of lurching between engaging poppiness and accessible doom.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wil McCarthy "Bloom" (slight return, with spoilers)

Do you remember me talking about this book?

It was not too much of a surprise that the mycora nanotech bloom turns out to be sentient, with the consciousness of people eaten by it continuing to exist in a kind of disembodied ("unpacked") form. The book has us ultimately see the mycora positively, as a heroic next stage in human evolution etc.

On reflection, though, I was stuck by what an anti-ecological cockfarmer the mycora is. The people they eat see their consciousness ascend to a higher plane; that's nice, but it does not really do much for all the plants and animals and habitats the mycora destroys. So for all its evolved nature, the mycora community remains annoyingly anthropocentric.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Sweet Tooth" #1, by Jeff Lemire

As a first issue fiend, I had to pick up this new Vertigo title's debut. It's an odd one. The main character is a little boy with antlers, funny ears, and a doe-like cast to his face. He lives with his father in a forest and has never seen his mother, or anyone else. One day he finds a bar of chocolate, an object that seems to terrify his father, for it is a sign that there are others out there. Then his father dies, of some kind of mysterious ailment.

The set-up here seems to be more post-apocalypse rather than fantasy, but as at starts this still seems to belong more to the realm of the unreal than of gritty survivalism. I find this title promising, and commend it to you for further attention.

Proclaimers Loving Cat Walks 500 Miles

A cat that went missing in Scotland has shown up mysteriously in Devon. It is not clear how Sampson made the journey. He is now on his way back home again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Superman: World of New Krypton" #6, by James Robinson, Greg Rucka, and Pete Woods

One really annoying thing they sometimes do in the big company comics is have a story start in issue X of Title A, and then have it advance in an issue of Title B, so that if you only read Title A you miss key chunks of the narrative. So it is with this one. The last issue ended with Kal-El putting on the Superman costume to fly to Earth in investigation of the attempted murder of New Kryptonian hero General Zod. In this one he has just returned to New Krypton again, so god only knows what happened in the meantime. Kal-El now finds himself appointed head of the New Kryptonian military, and trying to avert a war between his superpowered fellows and the people of Earth. Various other exciting things happen, but I found this a bit less thrill-powered than some of this title's earlier episodes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"The Unwritten" #5, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

This is the title about the bloke who starts discovering that he might just be the fictional character with the same name who appears in his late father's books (kind of like if Alice Liddell were to discover that the Wonderland stories really happened, or something). This episode, though, is about Rudyard Kipling, with various writings also making an appearance. It is an odd story, suggesting that the great poet and storyteller of empire was being manipulated in what he wrote by a mysterious, shadowy, and very powerful conspiracy. And for what ends, precisely, remain unclear, though maybe this is one of those fictions mould reality type of things. Anyway, I liked this a lot, and I thought that basing a story on someone now so marginalised and misremembered as Kipling suggests real nerve on the part of the creators.

There is a preview at the back from some text novel based on Fables, the popular comic about various fairy-tale characters having moved to New York. It did not grab me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Incognito" #6, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Final Issue! Feel the thrill power! As you will recall, this is the one about Zack Overkill, a supervillain who grassed up his old boss and then was put in a witness protection programme for the superpowered. Following a complicated series of events, Zack found himself on the run with Ava Destruction, the hot yet psychotic girlfriend of his late twin brother, being hunted by both the agents of the former boss (a terrifying unkillable maniac the authorities are just about managing to keep locked up) and Zoe Zeppelin, leader of the government agency that deals with superpowered crims. As expected, this features a lot of superpowered bad-asses laying into each other, providing a suitably explosive climax to what has proved a most excellent series.

One great thing with Incognito has been the essays at the back by Jess Nevins, discussing different pulp characters and themes from the early to mid-20th century. This time round he talks about the little-remembered genre of the Zeppelin pulps (an expanded version of this essay appears here. The greatest of these (and the one that spawned the genre) was Professor Zeppelin, who appeared in Complete Zeppelin Stories. The Prof was basically a knock-off of Doc Savage, except that he flew around in a zeppelin. I would love to see these stories reprinted, if only to see if the Prof's villains live up to their names. I am thinking of such astonishing characters as The Black Death, "the living disease"; Wu Fang, the Helium Mandarin; Baron Nosferatu, the Flying Vampire; Amenhotep, Simian Pharaoh of the Congo; and the most awesome of them all, the Nazi aviator Pontius Pilot – truly they do not make them like that anymore.

Brubaker-Phillips fans will be excited to hear that their ordinary bad-ass title Criminal is resuming later this year. I get the impression that Incognito has maybe done better commercially (as supers strike more of a chord with comics fans), but Criminal's noir-tinged tales of low-rent crims seems a lot closer to their hearts. On balance, I think they are producing better comics over time. The first few Criminal stories I read started well but maybe trailed off a bit. That was definitely not the case with either Incognito or "Bad Night" (the most recent Criminal story). So I urge you to climb aboard the crime-bus.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Girls! Pentagram of Death!"

The current SF book club book is Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. This is the book where, with slight additions, Jane Austen's masterpiece becomes a comedy of manners and an account of a long battle against the living dead. If you live in Dublin and want to join in the fun, the book club will meet next on the second Tuesday in October (the 13th) in the ILAC library. So get a copy of the book and get reading.

Initial investigation suggests that this book is beyond awesome. I find, oddly, that it very much calls to mind the dinner party scene in Carry On Up The Khyber, with its depiction of people keeping up appearances in the most desperate of circumstances.

image source

Wil McCarthy "Bloom"

This 1998 novel was our most recent SF book club subject. It is about out-of-control nanotechnology, and is set in a future where an army of teeny tiny self-replicating robots have eaten the Earth. Humanity has escaped to the moons of Jupiter and the asteroid belt, where people eke out an existence and battle continuously against stray bits of nanotech blown up to them by the solar wind. The title comes from the way nanotech outbreaks resemble fungal blooms, with the little robots eating everything they come across and converting it into more of themselves. The characters refer to the nanotech as mycora, from the Greek word for mushrooms.

That's the initial setup. The plot of the book concerns a manned mission sent down from Ganymede to the inner solar system, to drop probes onto the infected worlds. The narrator is an amateur journalist who conveniently finds himself added to the crew. Things happen to transform a routine if dangerous trip into something that bit more exciting. You know the score.

I found this book very enjoyable. Its strengths lie in its ability to evoke the unusual (always a good thing with SF). The future society on Ganymede (and the rather different one on one of the asteroids) are well realised, with the culture shock the Ganymeders feel on arrival in the asteroid particularly striking. Likewise, the book is good on the no fun aspects of being stuck in a tiny spaceship with a load of weirdos for months on end. I also liked the lightness with which the panicked evacuation from Earth was described.

The book really comes into its own, though, when evoking the mycora – the nanotech life that has taken over the inner solar system. When the spaceship flies past the Earth, the crew find themselves looking down at what has become a pulsating mass of mycora. There was something very cinematic about the description, for me calling to mind Tarkowsky's Solaris (as does another scene, one I will not mention as it is a bit spoilery). The book is generally very visual, with the various computer simulations the characters run being easily visible to the mind's eye. I reckon that adapted for the cinema, Bloom would give us some great visual moments.

Maybe less good is the book's occasional lapse into cliché… did the narrator really have to get it on with the sexy lady in the spaceship crew? I could also mention another cliché-tastic twist, but that's a bit too much of a spoiler.

Clichés aside, I recommend this book highly.

image source (Wikipedia) warning - here be spoilers

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Ergodos Festival – Trailing Thoughts

I have been thinking a lot about how few people were at the performance of In A Large, Open Space, the James Tenney piece where the audience walk around a large open space while the scattered performers play the same not over and over. I remain undecided as to whether the low attendance resulted from a failure of publicity on the part of the festival organisers or an essential lack of interest in forward thinking music in the people of Dublin.

In some ways, though, it was just as well that not too many people came along. Things could have got a bit awkward if even a couple of dozen had made it – we would all have found ourselves getting in each others' way as we walked around, and fights would probably break out when people bumped into each other. I suspect that when Tenney wrote the piece he had more in mind a completely open large space – either a warehouse, say, or a church with the seating taken out – and you would need somewhere like that if you were having a large audience.

It was a bit of a shame that the Ergodos people did not ask us along to the massive kegger they obviously must have had on after the festival ended… I mean, there were so few people at the last concert that it would not have made much difference to how quickly all the booze ran out. It would have been great to hang out and discuss double-barrelled name issues with the organisers, and to discover what the various other attendees' games were.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Quartet Eolina and Valya Balkanska & Petar Yanev

This was a concert being held on the occasion of the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture, with the kind sponsorship of the Bulgarian Embassy. It was one of those Hugh Lane Gallery at noon on Sundays concerts that we sometimes go to, although like many of the recent ones it was on in City Hall (an all-foyer building featuring many statues of prominent Irish historical figures, including one guy who looks like he has had to quickly grab a towel after being caught wandering around without any trousers).

The concert was a game of two halves. The Quartet Eolina are a chamber ensemble playing classical music, albeit with the unusual feature of having a harpist as well as a flautist, pianist, and violist. The other two were a singer and bagpiper respectively, playing Bulgarian folk music.

The Quartet played first, and stunned me with the beauty of their playing. They began with variations by Corelli on "La Folia". This did not seem to be a particularly adventurous piece, being entirely melodic and belonging clearly to the world of tonal classical music, but it would be difficult to exaggerate how much I liked it. It seemed to be almost like a perfect piece of music, simple yet stunning in its music and expertly played by the Quartet. I think maybe set and setting were important here, as the concert was providing a much needed break from the stressful business of packing and moving.

The Quartet Eolina played some other pieces, including one piece by Vladislav Andonov of the Quartet, amusingly composed in an imagined Celtic style. Valya Balkanska and Petar Yanev then took over for a bit. Ms Balkanska sings in a style broadly reminiscent of the Trio Bulgarka. It is an unusual vocal form – singing in a folk tradition but in a manner reminiscent of operatic vocals, given the level of control and virtuosity involved. The programme describes Ms Balkanska as having a 'cosmic voice' – that does give you a sense of what she sounds like, though it was meant as a nod to her great claim to fame, her inclusion on the golden disc of Earth music that was sent out into space on one of the Voyager probes*.

Petar Yanev complimented Ms Balkanska well. Like her, he was dressed in traditional Bulgarian costume, though his featured not one but two pistols rakishly stowed at his belt. Perhaps these come in handy at the notoriously rowdy folk music clubs of Sofia.

The concert finished with a piece for Valya Balkanska and all the musicians, composed by Petar Yanev and Vladislaw Antonov. And then the Bulgarian Embassy hosted a reception where they plied us with most excellent Bulgarian wine! Result. Sadly we had to return to our move before I got so tanked that I started explaining their country's history to the various Bulgarians present.

* It's worth looking up the tracklisting of this record on the Internet, as it provides an interesting idea of what people in the 1970s thought was the greatest music ever produced by humanity. It seems like every country in the world, or at least a great many of them, got to nominate tunes for it. And many of them nominate piece by Bach, even countries with no link to that composer.

This reminds me of recently hearing a very old Denis Healey on Desert Island Disks. "Bach would have to be one of the three greatest musicians the world has ever produced", he argued, "together with Beethoven and Har Mar Superstar".

The Voyager music is, sadly, not commercially available as a compilation.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

World's Oldest Dog Dies

Chanel, a New York State dog, has died. She was apparently 21 years old, 147 in dog years. Her owners attribute her longevity not to healthy living, but to divine intervention.

Chanel's status as world's oldest dog was not unchallenged. Max, a native of Louisiana, reportedly has papers proving that he is 26 years old, though these remain as yet unverified.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Chances of Anything Blah Blah Blah etc.

But still they – you know the score. I took myself down to the new O2 place (formerly the Point Depot) to see the live version of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne. It was great, but Frank's APA member "Thom" made a better job of describing it than I could. In broad terms, it consisted of people playing music on a stage (conducted by Jeff Wayne) while animation and stuff, usually pretty lame, was projected on a screen behind them. There was also a weird computer generated three dimensional projection of a young Richard Burton saying his lines, and occasionally people would run onstage to sing and act out their parts. And there was a giant Martian war machine, lowered down onto the stage to frighten us all with its implacable might.

I found the newly redeveloped venue a bit disorientating. The exterior is the same as it ever was, more or less, but the interior is totally different, so much so that it is like a different place entirely. Once inside, I felt a bit like a cat who had been pushed through a catflap, like I had ended up somewhere very different to where I was meant to. The place is like a huge amphitheatre now, nothing like the empty barn it had been previously. And it all seems to work a bit better now – it is much easier to do important things like get a drink.

The War of the Worlds show was great fun. Obviously, if you are some kind of retrograde thinker this might not be your thing, but if you have grown up thrilling to the sounds of Martian invasion then you would have loved it.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Our astonishing world

Like many people, I have an account on popular social networking website Facebook. I have set my account there so it imports things I post here as "notes", so that my Facebook "friends" can "read" them.

One fascinating thing is that those imported notes attract there attract substantially more comments than the posts here do. I think this may illustrate some fundamental truth about the nature of the universe.

Astonishing Culinary Discoveries

The last time my beloved and I were in Glasgow, there was one occasion when, after a visit to Edinburgh, we arrived back in Scotland's real capital hungry but too late to eat out in a restaurant. We ended up munching pakoras from the pakora place just over the west side of the motorway.

I can reveal that, when eaten sober, its pakoras are not actually a positive taste sensation.

more earth-shattering insights into the human condition coming soon

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Morrissey "Viva Hate"

It does all go a bit tits up with the fourth track (the vile 'Bengali in Platforms'), but I do not know if any album has ever opened with such an amazing triple whammy as this first solo album by Mr Morrissey. The first track with 'Alsatian Cousin', a screaming wail of despair over someone playing away from home (or someone putting out for some other guy and not for Mr Morrissey), while 'Little Man, What Now?' works as a bridge to the epic 'Everyday Is Like Sunday'. With 'Suedehead' thrown on, this would have made a world-beating EP.

more quick discussion of old records coming soon