My month in music – December
photo credit: flashbak
This month I have begun to try to make a little more space in my life, and one of the things I’d like to do with this space is concentrate more on music. I’m writing this blog in the hope that it will encourage me to be a little bit more systematic in my musical explorations, as well as keeping a log of what I’ve been into at various points. I hope to write at least once a month (maybe more often) sometimes with a theme, sometimes just with what new stuff I’ve been listening to. To begin with, I’ll take a little exploration through what has been impressing me in the last month or so (i.e. November/December).
Townes van Zandt was first recommended to me ages ago by a co-worker, unfortunately he didn’t spell it properly in the note he gave me, so I couldn’t find it at first. Another reference on an internet forum reminded me, and I got hold of a best of. While all the songs are pretty good, I was most struck by ”Waiting Around to Die’. Van Zandt, as well as being a great songwriter, also had severe problems with alcohol and drug abuse and manic depression. Knowing this, the lyrics from Waiting Around to Die are mighty indeed, and this rendition will really knock your socks off.
More follow after the leap..
At the library, I got hold of two Ligeti albums, a compilation of string quartets and a compilation of piano music. Although I wasn’t that much interested in the string quartets (except the ‘naive’ pre-avant garde college pieces which I enjoyed, which I suppose makes me a pleb) I was really swung by a lot of the piano music, particularly some of the pieces in ‘Musica Ricercata‘. The twelve segments of Musica Ricercata are based on the gradual addition of more notes from a 12 note scale. The early pieces in the cycle still manage to be stirring while employing less than a handful of tones and their octaves, a good lesson for all budding composers out there. If Movement II is familiar, that’s because it’s used to great effect in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. The piece is based on a discordant interval between an E# and an F# with a G breaking through to fill your pants with terror.
I was reminded of a fantastic album I also got from the library while making a mix CD for a friend. The album is ‘Warp Works and 20th Century masterpieces’ played by the London Sinfonietta and released by Warp Records and the London Sinfonietta. The album is based on recordings of a concert series that put works by some of the 20th century’s biggest names alongside orchestral adaptations of works made by contemporary artists influenced by the avant garde. Thus works by Stockhausen, John Cage and Varese rub shoulders with pieces by Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. Steve Reich also has two tracks, his wonderful ‘Violin Phase‘ and a piece ‘for Six Marimbas’. Aphex Twin tips the hat to Cage with the inclusion of two deadly pieces for Prepared Piano, which in fact remind me of a cross between a Baroque harpsichord piece and an Erik Satie piece. Nice one. The only version I could find on youtube is as backing to a rather strange set of holiday snaps, here you go. Anyway, the album is definitely recommended. It would have been nice to have heard some more pieces from other contemporary artists influenced by the avant garde, Bjorke for example has taken a lot from 20th century masters, as have Murcof and Scanner, but there was nare sight nor sound of these deadlies, seems like it was only artists signed to Warp Records that were featured.
In Jazz, I have been listening to Rabih Abou Khalil’s ‘Al Jadida’ on another friend’s reccomendation. This album is from the German/Moroccan oud player and is really great, blending Arabic and Western forms with oud playing and fantastic percussion. You can get a flavour of the band on this recording. I have also been listening to Charles Mingus’ Mingus ah Um and Masada’s Live in Sevilla album. Both of these albums are well worth a listen. Mingus Ah Um is an absolute classic, the first track Better Git It In Your Soul is apparently an homage of sorts to musical gospel preaching that Mingus was familar with growing up. This reference to gospel music crops up again in another great Mingus track ‘Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting’ on ‘Me, Myself, an Eye’ (thanks Helene!) which begins with an intro of wordless chant and clapped hands before breaking into a wonderful call and response melody on the horns. Magic.
Masada is a band formed by jazz saxophonist John Zorn to explore a fusion between jazz and traditional Jewish klezmer music. I was first introduced by a band called Hadasha playing Masada’s songs in Cork’s Glucksman Gallery about a year and a half ago. The band was absolutely stunning, and made fantastic use of Zorn’s compositions. Anyway, in true plebby fashion I’m more into the stuff on the records that’s closer to the klezmer music than some of the free jazz squeakings that Zorn gets up to on some of the tracks. Here’s a taste.
- SSH Special Edition: Suburban Superheroes go to the Nightmare Before Xmas
- Rise of The Mustachios.
- Real Scenes.
- Dublin Slowly Becomes A Ghetto