Saturday, June 30, 2012

Eugene Moloney

Eugene Moloney memorial
Last weekend I was cycling down Camden Street when I passed the junction with Pleasant Street, noticing some Guards milling around and an area sealed off with crime-scene tape. And a tent erected by the traffic light, within the cordon. Not good, I thought.

Later I read that Mr Eugene Moloney had been walking by there in the small hours of the night before, after a night out in the centre of Dublin, when he got into an altercation and received a blow to the head that caused his death. I did not know Mr Moloney, but the incident struck a chord with me, as the route he was taking home is one I have often walked while coming home from events in the city centre.

Eugene Moloney memorialIt is cruelly ironic that Mr Moloney died outside one of Dublin's most attractive pubs, somewhere that would have been long closed by the time he came by there.

Eugene Moloney memorialPeople, presumably Mr Moloney's friends and family, have left memorial items at the traffic light near to where he met his end.
Eugene Moloney memorial


Baby Bears In Danger!

Astonishing footage (preceded by annoying ad for beer*) has appeared showing a little bear cub trapped inside a garage in America when the automatic door closed. The little bear climbed up on things and called out to its mother, who forced open the door to rescue it.

You can see this important footage (and annoying ad for beer) here

Bear cubs seem to be no strangers to dangerous situations. In 2010, footage emerged of a bear cub that managed to get itself caught in a fishing net. Its mother eventually was able to bite through the net and free the cub. Footage of this event (and annoying ad for beer*) can be seen here.

Here is a picture of a bear cub who was not in any form of danger when the picture was taken:

image source

*other jurisdictions may see different annoying ad, or maybe no advertisement at all.

An inuit panda production

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Wind Is Rising

I think I use that heading every time I talk about Hawkwind. And I am now talking about Hawkwind, because I went to see them live recently. But first I must talk about Lemmy from from Motorhead (sorry, Motörhead). Because whenever I mention having been to see Hawkwind to people who are not followers, I am always asked one of two questions, viz. one or other of "Oh was Lemmy with them?" or "And were they any good without Lemmy?" The strong association of Lemmy with Hawkwind is understandable, given how famous he is in his own right, but it masks how marginal he was to the Wind. OK, so he wrote the song 'Motorhead' when he was Hawkwind's bassist, but he was never in any sense the leading member of that band. That honour goes to David Brock, obviously. And Lemmy cannot even claim to have been the second most important band member during his time with them, as Nik Turner and Robert Calvert (or even Stacia) must surely battle it out for that honour.

The concert itself was in the Button Factory, formerly the Temple Bar Music Centre. This was a good venue for the band to play - it has a nice big stage sufficiently large for an army of crusty old hippies and their young lady dancers to occupy without bumping into each other. And the venue is of a sufficient size to accommodate Hawkwind's Dublin fanbase - neither too big nor too small. Of the band themselves, I think David Brock would probably have been the only classic member, though the rest of the band were cut from a similarly ageing hippy cloth - no asymmetric haircut session muso ponces from central casting here.

The band played a selection of tunes (as opposed to, what, just playing the same tune all night? Though I suppose that would be just possible, given who we are watching), some of them old Wind classics but a lot of them more recent compositions. Oh no, the dreaded new song attack! Fortunately the new ones were also cut from a similar cloth to the old ones and had similarly spacerocky hard driving style, usefully combining synthesisers and guitars to create an all-enveloping sound. Added to this was the woaahhhh blimey visuals - projected images of a trippy nature intercut with pictures of revolt against the Man. Because say what you like about Hawkwind, they always retained something of a political edge, even if it is perhaps filtered through images of now largely forgotten conflicts.

And they also had the previously mentioned dancers. Back in the 1970s, Hawkwind were famous for Stacia who would dance more or less naked but for body paint, in a "careful love, you'll have someone's eye out" kind of way. I was not there but I think this genuinely was a bizarre avant-garde dance art thing rather than a case of the Wind going "Let's get a topless bird in to dangle her tits at the audience". That is partly the magic of body paint - it does seem oddly to clothe people without actually covering them with clothes. But times have moved on, and what would seem fascinatingly artistic in the 1970s would seem a bit crass and sexist now. So although Hawkwind had two women dancers now they were a good bit more covered than Stacia was, and while they were athletic young women I did not feel that there was an exploitative "for-the-dads" quality to their performance. And OK, so they were both women, I bet you are thinking, but I have seen previous performances where there were male and female dancers, so it is not like the band have some kind of opposition to prancing men.

But one thing the dancers did have in common with Stacia was unusual costumery. When they first appeared, one of them moved rhythmically at the front while the other was on stilts behind her, her form and face completely hidden by some strange insect deity costume. After that they became nature deities, silver machine robots, and various other things. Fascinating, but maybe you had to be there.

One final thing that amused me about the concert was the amount of civil servants that were there. I was in attendance with my friend Mr W----, who has responsibilities in a certain Department. But there were a load of people from my own Office there too. So is there something about space rock that appeals to the salaried servants of the state?

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

HÅXAN: Witchcraft Through The Ages

I went to a showing of this film back in the Dublin Film Festival - sorry, the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival - which was on in February. And I did not take any notes about it so I am going to just ramble away from memory about it. Or, rather, I will just reproduce what I wrote about it in the pages of Frank's APA, because that is how I roll.

And I know what you are thinking, why did I waste time in a music APA shiteing on about some film? Well, there was a lot of music stuff in this one. But let me come back to that side of things later and first of all talk about the film itself. It was made in the 1920s by Benjamin Christensen, a Danish film director. It seems to be mostly set in Germany, because I think that is where the money was. And it is a semi-documentary film, with narrative intertitles that come across like the sensible voice you get on serious BBC documentaries from the past, but with the film having a docudrama quality.

And the subject of the film was... witchcraft through the ages. It showed us a couple of scenes involving alleged or actual practitioners of the Black Arts, largely leaving open the question of whether the witches were deluded eccentrics or people who had actually harnessed obscene supernatural powers. It also has a couple of titillating scenes in which the alleged tendency of young attractive witches to cavort naked is depicted; I gather this proved to be a particularly popular scene when the film was first shown.

So yeah, yeah, what about the music? Well, it was being performed live and the programme promised that it would be performed by the Swedish film composer Matti Bye and his group. Now, live musical accompaniment to silent films can be as much of a threat as a promise. Such things often attract annoying trend people into the audience and the events frequently are over-focussed on the music, which ends up being played at a too loud volume that distracts from the film itself. Well this was not like that. The film being shown at a film festival and being famous in and of itself kept away the true event person (or the music event person), while the music itself was unobtrusive and atmospheric, played on a combination of electronic and acoustic instruments, generally adding to the cinematic experience rather than distracting from it.

But the really exciting thing was that the band included the Finnish Fonal sensation solo artist Islaja. Islaja's own music hovers between the electronic avant-garde and the neo-folky. She brought an element of this to the HÅXAN soundtrack, including the patent Fonal trick of running beads over a microphone to create a random sonic effect. But what for me was most exciting about it being Islaja onstage is that I know someone (not her) who is part of the Fonal world (Fonal being the kewl Finnish record label Islaja records on, keep up!), so therefore by extension Islaja herself is my best friend in the world! Sadly her minders would not let me explain this to her in person.

Back to the film. One part of it talks about witch hunts in mediaeval Germany, with a somewhat exaggerated tale of how one accusation could give rise to a web of arrests as confessions extracted under torture give rise to further accusations until there is basically no one left apart from the inquisitors themselves (who are ducking each other in witch ponds just to be on the safe side). I do not think this is how it worked in practice - while marginal members of the community, particularly older women of precarious financial means, might find themselves accused of witchcraft if someone developed an animus against them, they would be told to shut up pretty quickly if in their confession they were to start incriminating respectable members of society. Or so I understand.

But for all that, the film has a power, both in its depictions of the ostensible beliefs of the witch cults (with the appearance of THE DEVIL HIMSELF at one point being a classic and much parodied cinematic moment) and in the cruel persecution visited on those accused of belonging to them. And it gains a creepy prescience from events that happened after it was made (in the 1920s). All the stuff about historic witch hunts calls to mind the soon-after rooting out of real and imagined enemies of the state in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.

Even more unpleasantly prescient is a scene at the end where the film contrasts the treatment of the deluded in the past with those in the present - in the past such people were branded as witches and subjected to torture and violent death, but now they are packed off to psychiatric institutions. But of course, we know that in the 1930s the Nazis in Germany decided that psychiatric patients were useless eaters and got rid of them in a programme that laid down the template for extermination of Europe's Jewish population. That makes a scene in which a psychiatric inmate is forcibly subjected to a cold shower all the more disturbing.

Image of the Devil (this links to where you can download a copy of the film (it is now out of copyright), but that would not have the Matti Bye soundtrack, which is on the DVD released recently by the Swedish film institute, so go and buy that, you cheap bastard. Or track down a copy of the Criterion release, that apparently has a jazz soundtrack from the '60s and narration by… William S. Burroughs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Three Issues of "Before Watchmen"

Minutemen #1, by Darwyn Cooke
Silk Spectre #1, by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner
Comedian #1, by Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones

Watchmen is the name of a popular comic written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. If you have any interest in comics then you have almost certainly read it. It imagines what the world would be like if there really were weirdoes who dress up in funny costumes to go out and beat up criminals. It also has metafictional elements, being partly a commentary on the development of comics themselves up to the point it was created in the early 1980s.

People really like Watchmen. I will not go on about why people like it - if you have read it you probably know why already, and if you have not then I urge you to just buy or borrow a copy and read it. But people generally have a real fondness for the comic, which for many of them was a gateway into the idea that comics could be for adults while still referencing ideas originally appearing in comics aimed at younger people. So now, as the comics industry teeters towards extinction, it is not too surprising that DC Comics, Watchmen's publisher, have finally decided to try and milk its popularity by bringing out some more Watchmen titles - a series of prequels published under the collective title of Before Watchmen. Nor is it too surprising that this move has been greeted by many with a sense that some kind of terrible crime against art was being committed.

In some respects, the hostility felt by many to these prequels is a bit precious. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did not create the characters of their book from nothing, but rather took a number of pre-existing characters, changed their name, gave them more depth, and threw them together into the Watchmen narrative. But creating these prequels does still seem a bit cheap and tawdry, a rather sad attempt by DC to wring a few more dollars from a book with the great virtue of being wonderfully self-contained. Given that so much of Watchmen itself is devoted to fleshing out the characters' back-stories through flashbacks of one kind or another, many wondered legitimately what exactly these prequels were bringing to the table - would they just rehash stuff that was already in the original book, would they ponderously expand on things that were dealt with lightly by Moore and Gibbons, or would they piss everybody off by daringly presenting us with material that conflicted with things that appeared in the original work?

Well, now we kind of know. Three issues of the prequels have appeared, with some considerable talents involved in their production. The results are a bit mixed, but fundamentally none of these titles are essential. The most enjoyable is Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke. That uses the framing device of the memoirs of one of the first generation masked heroes (also featured in original Watchmen) to bring us back to the pulpy adventures of him and his fellow fighters of crime back in the late 1930s. It meshes perfectly with Cooke's own retro-sensibility, his art conjuring up an image of the past that is both naïve and also aware of its naivety - you catch enough glimpses in the art and narrative to know that all is not actually rosy back in the golden age of the superheroes.

The other two titles are less interesting. Silk Spectre focuses on the two women (mother and daughter) who at different types adopted that moniker, but ends up being an unengaging tale of youthful revolt against an overbearing parent. The relative slightness of this title is particularly disappointing, given that it deals with two of the more interesting and complex characters of original Watchmen, with Laurie (the daughter) in particular being one of the more human of that book's characters. The first issue of Comedian, meanwhile, is a surprisingly bland look at what one of Moore and Gibbons' more bad-ass characters got up to in the early 1960s. It turns out he killed Marilyn Monroe, at Jackie Kennedy's request, in a slightly so-what manner. And contradicting something implied (but not directly stated) in original Watchmen, we discover that the Comedian did not kill JFK himself, nor was he even involved in any plot to kill the president. Having a scene in which an arch-cynic like the Comedian is shown being sad because of Kennedy's death seems like a deliberate attempt to deflate a character who originally appealed because of his amoral nastiness.

One thing that surprises me about all this is that each of the Before Watchmen titles is itself part one of a four- or six-issue limited series. And there are four more titles to come, as well as a single-issue epilogue. So DC are taking original Watchmen, first published as a twelve-issue limited series, and are producing 35 issues of prequels. That really is too much, even if the material was better than what has come out so far. I cannot but feel that DC missed a bit of an opportunity here. What could have been more interesting would have been a series of issues, each focussing on an individual Watchmen character (perhaps with different writers and artists) but with a linked thread running through them that resolved at the end in some way. Of course, that would basically have made the prequels a knock-off of Alan Moore's 1963 (a relatively underappreciated because un-reprinted limited series pastiching the early 1960s comics of the Marvel explosion) as well as a sullying of the legacy of original Watchmen, which would have made the whole project doubly transgressive.

As is, I really cannot see myself bothering to read all of the Before Watchmen issues. As a first-issue-fiend I will probably pick up each title's first issue and then stop. Of the ones that have come out so far, maybe I will keep going with Minutemen, but even that is not certain.

An inuit panda production

Image sources:

Minutemen (Wikipedia)

Silk Spectre (Wikipedia)

Comedian (Wikipedia)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Whole Lotta TOAD

v/a Further Fore
v/a Fragrant Nimbus
v/a Whea Yo Ghost At
v/a Ray's Inmyday2011
v/a nlgbbbblth CD: The World We Knew
v/a nlgbbbblth CD 12.18 Don't Make It Work: Our Failed Pop 1980-87
v/a Otto Chikan's ATP Mix 2012
v/a Mangum Mix @ ATP March 2012 (Trevor A. Smith ATP mix)
v/a P--- W----Best of 2011

It's TOAD and CD-R corner - a round-up of such things I had on hand when I was working on my contribution to the most recent mailing of Frank's APA. This is not even everything, as I should have carried over stuff from last time I had not got round to reviewing, like the end of year discs of Mr S.W------ and suchlike. I think I have at least two more ATP mix CDs I should be talking about too.

I don't know what it is like for other Frank's APA members, but I am finding TOADs and the like a bit depressing - I appreciate the work that went into them but I really do struggle to find the time to listen to them properly. I mean, OK, I do listen to them, either on the stereo or on the iPod, but not closely in a "so what is this interesting track?" kind of way. And then I think, if this is what I am doing, then is it not also what people are doing with the CD-Rs I make? And so the depressing nature of the world becomes apparent in all its awfulness.

The P--- W----Best of 2011 has been getting a bit of airplay here in Panda Mansions. It features a lot of funny electronic music, which is not particularly surprising given who put it together. There is one particular track on it that stood out to me. It features vocoder vocals talking some kind of nonsense that sounds like it might be very deep if you were ever to listen to the lyrics properly. And it has this nice programmed electronic beat to it. The track turns out to be by David Lynch, the film director. I suppose he always used music well in his films, but it is a bit weird to have someone who makes films release a record and for it not to be complete rubbish.

Don't Make It Work: Our Failed Pop 1980-87is an interesting trip down memory lane if you are Irish and about my age. The title references the charity track 'Let's Make It Work', performed by Christy Moore and some other guy for the embarrassing Self-Aid festival at which musicians attempted to do something about unemployment. It features loads of tunes (but not 'Let's Make It Work' (or was it 'Make It Work'?) itself) from the period it covers, a time when Irish pop music was a bit aspirational and where it seemed genuinely kind of possible that local bands could hit the international big time (partly because one local band hit the international big time big time).

The one real problem with the music of this time is that it was rubbish. With the benefit of hindsight these are almost all a bunch of lamer second division acts trying their hand at making something that bands elsewhere are making a much better fist of. I was particularly struck by how tunes I remembered fondly turned out to be very unappealing. Like 'November, November' by Auto Da Fé, a thin attempt at creating a local electro-goth sound (amusingly made by some folkie-tradders chasing the golden rainbow). Or 'Comin' Thru' by In Tua Nua, a plodding piece of vaguely blues-related stodge.

On the other hand, I still have a sneaking regard for Light A Big Fire's 'Mr Twilight' (another vaguely goth tune, even if LABF were not particularly goth themselves). Vocoder nonsense pop tune 'The Canvas of Life' by Minor Detail has a certain cheesy appeal. And even if I scoff at much of the music on this compilation, I salute the compiler for putting it together. The snippets from TV theme tunes and bits of chit chat from RTE youth programmes do a great job of projecting me back into that rubbish time.

I enjoyed all the other CD-Rs and TOADs to at least some extent. I hope at some stage to do a C90-Go! style review of the ATP discs, if only so I can generate something "interesting" about them to post on the Internet. But I am always proposing to do this with CD-Rs and TOADs and yet I never seem to manage it. That is the story of my life.

An inuit panda production

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sad Animal News

Reuters are reporting that Lonesome George has died. George was the last of a the Pinta Island subspecies of Galapagos giant tortoises. With him gone his kind are now extinct. There had been attempts to mate him with female tortoises from related subspecies, but their eggs failed to hatch.

Lonesome George's exact age is unknown, but he is believed to have been around a 100 years old.


image source (from a Guardian article reporting false hope in 2005 that he would be able to breed with the tortoises from a related subspecies)

Friday, June 22, 2012

A HAWK AND A HACKSAW "Darkness At Noon"

This is a record by those people who were at the last ATP playing music as accompaniment to a showing of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by that crazy Armenian guy (whose name is Sergei Parajanov). The music is like what you would expect if you had a vague understanding of what this lot do. It is a bit folky in an Eastern European frantic gypsy kind of way.

Except - there is this strange moment in the middle of it, on this track called 'Goodbye to Great Britain', where it all goes a bit soundscapey, like it is one of those tracks you get on Acid Jazz albums called 'London, England'. I mean, for the brief few minutes of the track you could be listening to a Corduroy album track, or maybe one of those soundtrack records like Barry Adamson used to make. But the moment is short, the next track is the short 'Our Lady of the Vltava', in which Mr Hawk And A Hacksaw sings while someone plays the piano, and then it launches back into gypsy folky mentalism with 'Wicky Pocky'.

And then, when you think it is all back into a settled groove, you go onto the closing track, 'Portlandtown', a strangely elegiac piece. I don't know if when this record was made they had it in mind to do soundtracks for films about Ukrainian yokels in the olden tymes, but this record already sounds like it would be perfect for it.

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

v/a "Groove Club Vol.3: Cambodia Rock Intensified"

This is of course another compilation of pre-Khmer Rouge pop music from Cambodia - vaguely psych sounds with soaring vocals and infectious grooves. One might to some extent buy this by the yard, but it still sounds very different to anything else you will ever hear, unless you are a keen follower of popular group Dengue Fever. There is one total stormer of a track on this - 'Gunya Rouh Sroh' (Miss Beautiful in English) by Ros Sereysothea. This driving tune would be worth the price of admission on its own, especially if you were one of those "disc jockey" fellows who likes playing records for people to "get on down".

Monday, June 18, 2012


Huzzah, the My Bloody Valentine stuff has all been re-released. Some people are wetting themselves over the re-issues of Isn't Anything and Loveless, their re-mastering affording Kevin Shields another opportunity to tinker away at them. For me, though, the versions I have of those two are fine and do not need replacing. The actual excitement here for me was the collection of the classic MBV EPs together onto two CDs (called EPs 1988 - 1991). And they did it properly, including on this all the tracks from the relevant EPs, including the ones that were also appearing on the reissues of the albums. And they threw in some extra tracks too, of which more later.

Listening to the EPs again transports me back to the magical era that was the years 1988 to 1991. If you are my age then there is an element of nostalgia to immersing yourself in music from the time when you were beginning to explore less conventional music, but there is more to that with this. This stuff is genuinely great, and when you put it with the other bands who were pushing the guitar music envelope at the time (Spacemen Three, Loop, the Telescopes, etc.) it is hard not to think that this genuinely was an especially creative period.

With the EPs themselves, there maybe is a certain progression from one to another, though this can be overstated. 'To Here Knows When', the lead track off theTremelo ep, is a bit out there, but some of the other tracks on that disc had a kind of avant rock attack that would not have seemed out of place on its predecessors.

One of my friends mentioned on some social media website (dread phrase) that he had acquired this album and was looking forward to listening to this on headphones for maximum aural pleasure. That is not my recommended way of approaching it - I say instead to blast out it out speakers at high volume. Not at the stupid levels of volume Kevin Shields favours when playing live, obv. (if you are sitting at home listening to music while wearing earplugs you are perhaps not the brightest, but I reckon these recordings need a good bit of volume and they need the sound quality that comes from bouncing round the walls rather than going straight into the ears.

Oh yeah, the bonus tracks. Some people were very excited by them appearing, one obsessive MBV fan I know mentioning that even he had not heard one of the songs before. There are not sleevenotes with this compilation so I cannot tell you when the tracks come from - were they leftovers from the albums, or were they songs recorded for the EPs that did not make the cut? What I can say is that they are pleasant enough to listen to without being essential. They round off the second disc nicely but they do not seem to include anything that will become a new favourite MBV track. The extended version of 'Glider' is nevertheless of particular merit.

One final small thing about the bonus tracks. One of them is called 'Instrumental No. 2', and it features the same programmed drum machine pattern as Madonna's 'Justify My Love' and a Public Enemy track ('Security of the First World'?). When 'Justify My Love' came out I assumed that its producer (Lenny Kravitz or William Orbit or someone) had just sampled the Public Enemy record, but now I am wondering if this might be a preset on one of the drum machines popular in that era. What do you think?

An inuit panda production

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What is a TOAD?

Sometimes on this blog I refer to things called TOADs. This is an acronym that arose many years ago among the members of Frank's APA. TOAD stands for Tape Once And Distribute, reminding us of a by-gone era where people in the APA distributed compilations on tape, and where people could be expected to make a copy of a tape and then pass it on. The name has stuck, even though now when someone speaks of a TOAD they would probably be referring to a CD-R the recipient can keep or even something people can download. I do not approve of downloading, so any mention of TOADs here refers to CD-Rs.

Copying music you do not own the copyright to is illegal, so any reference here to such activities is obviously fictional.

Tall Toad

Where are the Pandas?

Due to continuous improvements by Google, the capability of Blogger to bring in pictures from other websites no longer works for me. So no more panda pictures for you unless I type in all the HTML codey stuff myself, which I am not going to do as my life is depressing enough as it is.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A short review of a Cate Le Bon album

Cate Le Bon has new album. And I have a copy. It is called Cyrk. If that is a word in Welsh then it is the only part of the album that I have noticed being in Ms Le Bon's native tongue. Taken as a whole the album is similar yet different to her previous Me Oh My record. The big difference to me is that it does not have the doomy quality so noticeable on many of the last album's tracks. Many of the songs on Cyrk sound actually a bit perky. The songs generally might also have less angular strangeness to them. That could be taken as a criticism or as a suggestion that Le Bon has sold out or gone commercial or something, but I think we are still in proper Cate Le Bon territory. Her voice remains the same, soaring and characterful, and her playing and that of the band is immaculate.

'Fold The Cloth' is the immediate standout track here, but maybe I am just saying that it because I saw her perform it on the Guardian website before I heard the album. Also interesting is a piece called 'Greta', where she seems to go all Broadcast-Ghostbox on us.

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From Jazz to Tchaikovsky

I am listening to The Thing play their album "Mono" on my iPod. I suppose I should really say something about it but anything I say will probably be along the lines of "It sounds a bit jazzy and forward thinking, with a lot of distraught parping", not really the kind of thing that would get me a spot as a guest-reviewer in Jazz Express. Likewise for the record I have by Tim Berne's Snake Oil (which is called Snake Oil). So maybe I will skip on to something else. Like my recent visit to the National Concert Hall.

I was there with my beloved and another mysterious lady for a performance of a number of pieces by the RTE National Symphony Orchestra. First up were some excepts from Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Everyone knows this music to at least some extent, with the music used for the grand finale being particularly famous now thanks to popular film The Black Swan. So I will not bother saying too much about. However, I was struck by a short interlude of quiet and peaceful music just before the end - not so much the music itself, but what it reminded me of, which was one of those special moments you get in songs by SCOOTER, where it all goes quiet and you imagine that you are at some monster rave and everyone is hands in the air, feeling the vibe, and then HP Baxter comes in with a "Yeah" and the beats kick in again and everyone goes mental. Well, HP Baxter did not come in with a "Yeah" in the National Concert Hall but the sudden return to the loud music of the finale was nevertheless a bit reminiscent of Germany's finest.

Then there was the world premiere of a piece called The Binding of the Years, by Irish/Northern Irish composer Deirdre Gribbin. I am not familiar with Ms Gribbin and her work, but the piece she composed was both interesting and entertaining. It was based on some kind of funny religious practice thing they had in the empire of the Aztecs. It was all a bit discordant (in a good way, obv.), calling to my mind The Rite of Spring without at any time sounding like it. Ms Gribbin received some enthusiastic applause from the audience (unlike the other composers on the bill she is still alive and thus able to take her bows) and I was happy that great contemporary music was being performed on the main stage of the concert hall, on a prime music night.

Third on the bill was Leos Janácek's 1926 Sinfonietta. It is a five movement piece, with each bit having something to recommend itself before they all join together in the grand finale. For spectacle, the first 'Allegretto' piece was hard to beat, with a row of brass instruments up in the choir balcony blasting out a fanfare to us. This sounded almost proto-Laibach to me, for all that the Slovenian sensations are maybe more associated with percussion than wind. The brass sat out the second movement, which to me seemed almost like proto-minimalism - there were parts of it that could easily have been passed off as work by Philip Glass or Steve Reich. The fourth movement actually sounded familiar - it relied heavily on the brass again, though not as relentlessly as the first movement, and after racking my brains I worked out where I heard it before - when I was a little lad, it used to be the theme music for Crown Court, the TV programme where scripted court cases were acted out before an actual jury taken from the general public. And then at the very end, the mass brass attack was back and everyone played at once, very exciting.

Janácek is someone I often think of engaging more with. I have a great CD of some string quartet music he did, acquired as a souvenir on a trip to Prague. But when I more recently acquired a recording of his Glagolithic Mass I had to conclude that it was a bit boring and I gave it away. This Sinfonietta, though, it was all that.

And then to the reason why we had come along - a performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. This piece of popular schlock appealed to us because of its connections with our reading War & Peace a chapter a day in this 200th anniversary year of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Sadly this was not one of those productions were the orchestra dress up as members of the Imperial Guard, the conductor is Napoleon, and they have actual cannons blasting out when things get a bit rorty snorty towards the end, but it was still all very exciting. I gather that Tchaikovsky himself hated the Overture and the notes give the impression that it is not really held in that high regard by advanced lovers of music, but the audience lapped it up and I think even the musicians enjoyed playing it. Top marks also to conductor Alan Buribayev.

In real "ME AM BRANE" action, I would also like to mention the pianist Finghin Collins, who was very memorable, except that I cannot remember which of the four pieces he played on. I should take better notes.

An inuit panda production

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jennifer Walshe v. the Old Dears

What is this? Why, it was one of those midday on Sunday concert performances in the Hugh Lane Gallery. Usually these feature a couple of people playing string instruments or perhaps a gentleman on piano. This one, however, was collaboration between Alessandro Bosetti and Jennifer Walshe. These two are voice artists and avant-garde types. Alessandro Bosetti is from Italy (srsly) and apparently released one of the top 15 outer limits albums of 2010, according to The Wire. Jennifer Walshe, meanwhile, is better known (to me), as she appeared on the cover of The Wire once; I had also seen her at that Hunters Moon thing last year. I think of her as the squawky lady. My limited exposure to her work had suggested that she is not really for me, but I came along to the concert anyway. Why? Well, I wanted to see how she went down with the nice old people who frequent the Hugh Lane concerts. I was also curious as to whether she does anything other than funny voice work.

Events unfolded in a not particularly surprising manner. Jennifer Walshe did a bit of squawking, a lot of what they both did was talking in and out of phase with each other (with occasional bursts of musicality), all with an air of uncompromising performance art nonsense albeit delivered in a fairly light-hearted way. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the audience hated it, with every gap in proceedings seeing a rush for the exit. After the first piece a load of old dears made a run for it, leaving room for another cohort of latecomers to enter; they ran for it at the end of the next piece. There were some people who were into it (either members of the normal audience or people who had come along specially), but the whole thing was so different from the usual kind of Hugh Lane Sunday at noon thing that it seemed like a terrible error in programming.

As I was saying, Jennifer Walshe's stuff is not really to my taste, though I do admire her technique. With this event I was primarily enjoying it from a stance of vague discordianism, getting quiet satisfaction from watching people finding things so much not what they were expecting and then feeling awkward about leaving.

Still, to go back to the actual performance itself, I did wonder why this was being presented as a musical event, as it was very unmusical. It all seemed to have a lot more in common with performance art than anything with even the remotest trace of melody. The programme notes quote Michael Dervan (the classical music correspondent of The Irish Times) describing Walshe as "the most original compositional voice to emerge in Ireland in the last 20 years" - a bold claim, you will agree. What I am wondering is whether she ever actually does any proper compositional work rather than performance work. It seems to me that the defining feature of classical music or modern composition is its composed nature - person A writes a score or whatever and then person B or group B then perform it, with person A's direct involvement in the performance not being necessary. My limited exposure to Jennifer Walshe's work makes it hard to imagine anyone else performing it - like performance art, it seems too bound up with her to have any kind of independent existence.

What do you think? Maybe someone reading will say: "But Ian, have you never heard the Kiev Symphony Orchestra's recording of Ms Walshe's piano concerto?". Or maybe someone will have some opinion on how something can be both composed and require the performance of the composer.

[I must apologise, incidentally, for not saying too much here about Alessandro Bosetti's contribution to proceedings. I am writing quite a bit after the fact and like the amateur I am failed to take proper notes.]

The curious can listen to some Jennifer Walshe music here.

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Irene reviews a concert by White Hills and Wizards of Firetop Mountain

Now I am recycling Irene's review of a concert I too was at but failed to write about.

The main attraction here was Wizards of Firetop Mountain, a bunch of hairy geezers (ian's voice: "and one woman") who live to rock 24/7. And just as they did at Hunter's Moon, they served up straight down the line ROCK in the spirit of ye Sabbath. Ian called them "beyond irony" and this would appear to be true.

White Hills had more of a modern take on heavy rock, putting together Hawkwindy effects, guitar pedals, slightly acid-y vibes etc (Wizards would have had no truck with that kind of nonsense). But still LOUD. The drummer with White Hills was amazing, and I remarked to Ian that he was almost as good as Oneida's own Kid Millions. Imagine my astonishment when, a few days later, I learned that Mr Millions actually plays on White Hills' album. So, er, was I stood in front of Kid Millions for all that time at the gig, not realising who it was? Probably, but I can't be sure because, in spite of having seen Oneida loads of times, I have no idea what Kid Millions looks like. Hence my question about band-member-specific prosopagnosia, because this seems to happen to me a lot. Does anyone else have this problem?

I have many problems, but I don't think prosopnagnosia is one of them. The only thing I have to say about this concert was that it is hard to communicate just how hard Wizards of Firetop Mountain rock. White Hills also rock hard, but in a somewhat spacier kind of way.

Later testimony suggested that we had not seen Kid Millions drumming with White Hills - suggesting that there are several very good rock drummers in the world.

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Friday, June 08, 2012

"Sacred Music: Polyphonic Voices of Georgia"

Now Irene is talking about music from Georgia. Horky!

This recording of Georgian polyphonic singing by the Anchiskhati Choir was recorded in Tbilisi and put out by a division of Soul Jazz called World Audio Foundation. The choir seems to be all-male, and some of the voices are very powerful indeed. The music in this recording is sung for Orthodox religious services, although the polyphonic singing tradition has pre-Christian roots and indeed there is a large fund of secular songs that are still sung (we learned some at the Georgian singing workshop I was at a while back). The liturgical stuff done here is really beautiful, with the voices singing in surprising combinations of tones.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Irene reviews Horses of Instruction and some other bands

Irene's takeover if Inuit Panda continues with this little morsel.

A trip to London at Easter found us at an alldayer in the Windmill pub and venue in Brixton, where Frank's APA friend Thom was moonlighting from A Fine Day For Sailing. We can report that his other band, Horses of Instruction, play poppy post-punky music that is very enjoyable. The co-ordinating red guitars were a welcome nod to Tony Hatch's dictum that band members should all wear the same thing "otherwise people will think you're in different bands". I also salute the referencing of William Blake in the band name – it's a much better name than the Tigers of Wrath, which sounds like a hair-metal band (maybe I am thinking of the Tygers of Pan Tang).

We stayed for two other bands, both acoustically inclined (as in, not playing plugged-in stuff). One, possibly called Singing Adams, featured a Zooey Deschanel lookalike who, spookily, even played the ukulele. The other guy, who could have been Y Niwl or maybe Dignan Porch (or maybe someone else entirely), had a very droll onstage demeanour and a set of comedically depressing songs. After a while we toddled off with the intention of paying a late-night visit to the British Museum, but it was closed for Good Friday. Bah.

And now I will write some more, but not in itals because that would make it too hard to read.

My favourite song by Horses of Instruction was the one that mentioned Jean Luc Picard, and not just because it mentioned Jean Luc Picard. Singing Adams I at first thought was the most rubbish thing I had ever seen, but then I moved up closer and away from the crowd noise coming from the event people drinkers at the back. Once I did that I found her music and performance very engaging.

I don't think the third and last act we saw was Y Niwl - Wikipedia describes them as an experimental surf band from Wales, and the guy did not sound surfy or Welsh (or like the kind of person who has a page in Wikipedia).

IN FACT - investigation makes me fairly certain that the woman with the fringe playing the ukulele was in fact Owl and Mouse, while the guy playing on his own was Singing Adams (or Steven from (the?) Singing Adams playing solo. He was funny and depressing at the same time, getting the audience to sing along with songs whose lyrics said things like "Oh my God, this is the most depressing day of my life" or "Clearly my life is over and I can never face my friends again" and suchlike (these are not actual lyrics but were the kind of thing he would come up with). Owl and Mouse were a bit more fey but managed not to head down the road of generic indie nonsense.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Irene reviews Grouper in a church

Now Irene is talking about a performance by underground sensation Grouper that took place a while ago.

Ms Grouper does electroacoustic noisyambient stuff using an array of switches and wires and tapes and things. We saw her in the Unitarian Church, which seems to have become the default experimental music venue. All of beardy-belly Dublin was out for the evening (a demographic first identified formally at the Hunter's Moon festival, a festival I still seem to be banging on about several months after the fact). She was, it seems, performing her album Violet Replacement - not that I'd have known this. Her set was the electronic end of electroacoustic, with the noise being made up of electronics, guitar, occasional vocals mixed very low, and possibly other stuff (The Wire says she uses Wurlitzer keys, if that means anything to you). The effect was intense, immersive and sleepy, with a same-but-changing, time-standing-still quality. The soothing starfieldy/water under a microscope visuals helped.

I feel that the support act should also be mentioned. I think they were Raising Holy Sparks, one of the groups who played at Hunter's Moon, but it is hard to be definite about these things.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Irene reviews two albums by The Fall

"Hex Enduction Hour" and "The Frenz Experiment"

I am so short of copy for that I have had to start raiding my beloved's record reviews.

So impressed was I by the Fall's ATP set (hooray for low expectations, probably) I ran to the merchandise table afterwards to buy some of the Fall's humungo back catalogue. Don't worry, I didn't make the same mistake this time as I did last time (there does not yet exist a device fine enough to measure the interval of time between my putting Are You Are Missing Winner on the CD device and flinging it into the discard pile). Instead I bought the much-lauded Hex Enduction Hour from 1982 and, hedging bets a bit, picked out the Brix-era Frenz Experiment on the basis that Brix-era Fall was their commercial heyday. By Fall standards, anyway.

And they're both great, albeit in different ways. Hex is very snarly and spitty and kicks you in the teeth at every opportunity. From 'The Classical' onwards you get a real sense of why the Fall were great: Smith's sense of humour ("made with the highest British attention to the wrong detail" indeed), how on several occasions a cheery jangly Marr-esque riff drops in and spoils the gritty thunk-thunk relentlessness, the combination of Dadaesque lyrics, krauty drone and rockabilly riffs, but mainly just the sheer attitude. And the feeling that, although they'd be annoyed if you said it to them, they were having a huge laugh. Listening to this reminds me that there used to be a thing called the indie charts that was completely alien to my Duran Duran-trained ears.

The Frenz Experiment is from 6 years later and is a poppier, more produced major-labelly affair altogether. In some places they sound like they're channelling Madness rather than Can, so you could see this as sell-out Fall if you were so inclined. And they do 'There's A Ghost in My House' by Holland/Dozier/Holland and an inexplicable paean to a place that serves steak ('The Steak Place'). But you get occasional ur-Fall waywardness in the likes of 'Bremen Nacht Alternative' which goes on for ages to no decipherable end. And it ends with 'Hit The North', so you can't help but love it.

Thus spake Irene. For myself I still find it hard to believe that something as strangely postpunk as 'There's A Ghost in My House' could be a Holland/Dozier/Holland tune (not that there is anything wrong with HDH tunes, they just do not sound like that. I also feel that attention should be drawn to 'Athelte Cured' from The Frenz Experiment, with its riff lifted from Spinal Tap's 'Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You (Tonight)'.

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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Important News

I have joined Twitter. I am called @ianmoore3000 there. You can follow me if you want. But you don't have to.