Monday, October 30, 2006

Save The Planet? Hit Them In The Wallet

It took me a long time to get the Simpsons. I didn't even get the Homer Simpson / Homo Sapiens pun. I didn't like crass Bart or sensitive Lisa, or Marge with her blue hair, or her croaky, chain-smoking sisters. Then one day, the penny dropped. I was slumped in front of the box too depressed to change channel, not enjoying the cartoon.

"QUIET!" yelled Homer, "I CAN'T HEAR MYSELF THINK!"

Everyone stilled in the Simpson's household, and a thought bubble emerged from Homer's skull... words formed... Homer's voice intoned as if from the depths of his subconscious mind: "Beer.. Peanuts.."

I laughed. The Simpsons remain a perfect American snapshot, full of joy, criticism and insight about human nature.

The news media are making a lot of economist Sir Nicholas Stern's report that global warming (this is has now become a replacement phrase for the impending ecopocalypse) will cost us money. Money!! God forbid. I've been rattling on for years, especially to the technophiles, that the wond'rous, Earth-saving advances they all assume will prevent global disaster will happen automagically as an inevitable result of our own resourcefulness. Only if the economic base remains, I replied so many times I got bored with the sound of my own voice, and that can only remain if the planet's resources continue to be consumed. So, to get to the point where we can utilise this technology, society, the economic machine, has to remain. Yet it is society in it's current set up which is causing the problem. This is an obvious contradiction that even Homer would understand it.

Believing an economist's prediction about the fate of the planet is like believing Charles Montgomery Burns has his employees' interests at heart. Stern's view on the state of the planet is far too limited in it's scope. He says the global economy could shrink by " as much as 20%". This is ludricous. He's not looking at the indicators. The global economy won't just shrink, it will totally disappear as we knnow it; 40% of species wiped out? Possibly more like 99%. Still, at least Sterns knows what REALLY scares people - cash - and it is a good thing that someone is talking the language of commerce from an ecological standpoint.

And now, I'm going to repeat myself. I wrote about this issue in June 2005 - it's worth a re-run. After all, it takes only 25 minutes of my time, and a small amount of electricity to get it to you. But - hang on - what about the huge, expensive, powered networks that sustain the web? What about the non-recyclable batteries in this laptop? Oops, I've given myself a reason to stop blogging.

"Forests precede civilizations and deserts follow" - Chateaubriand. I printed these words on A4 paper and glued them onto large cardboard boxes, on the other side adding the modern legend that 50% of urban waste is paper and invaded Kings Cross train station one evening with twelve enlightened eco-guerrilla friends dressed up as parcels, and this BBC report about the Kalahari reminded me of those art performance days in Euston Road and the wonderful quote.

However messy you are in your own bedroom, it does seem a tad careless to be destroying the entire house. And, however philosophical I am about my own demise, I can't get out of my head that we really are accelerating to an almighty mass finish, laying bare the green earth upon which depend, poisoning the fertile seas, taking all of the higher life forms with us, with the USA, richest country in the world and the biggest polluter, remaining in massive, deliberate, sustained denial.

The sheepish USA public rants on about the Downing Street Memo (while us more cynical Europeans say, well, we knew at the time - didn't you?) and yet nobody picked up on the re-writing of a paper by the President's office, which watered down the US government scientists' own advice that global warming is a reality.

Central to the exposure of this cover-up was the discovery of an email sent to Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, by Myron Ebell, a director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI is an ultra-conservative lobby group that has received more than $1 million in donations since 1998 from the oil giant Exxon.

This from the Guardian, Sept 21st 2003:

The email, dated 3 June 2002, reveals how White House officials wanted the CEI's help to play down the impact of a report last summer by the government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in which the US admitted for the first time that humans are contributing to global warming. 'Thanks for calling and asking for our help,' Ebell tells Cooney.

Some of the changes include deleting a summary that stated: 'Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.' Sections on the ecological effects of global warming and its impact on human health were removed. So were several sentences calling for further research on climate change.

A temperature record covering 1,000 years was also deleted, prompting the EPA memo to note: 'Emphasis is given to a recent, limited analysis [which] supports the administration's favoured message.'

White House officials added numerous qualifying words such as 'potentially' and 'may', leading the EPA to complain: 'Uncertainty is inserted where there is essentially none.'




Honey, I'm home!


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Friday, October 27, 2006

Purple Aki, The Liverpool Muscle Feeler

This struck me as very funny, surreal natural comedy of the most touching kind. Akinwale Arobieke - Purple Aki - has a thing about muscles and squat thrusts. He's been jailed for nuisance, chasing young people around the streets of Liverpool, asking to touch their toned young flesh. Now he's out, and despite the fact he's committed no sex crime, in the usual terms, Merseyside Police have applied to Liverpool Magistrates' Court for a Sexual Offences Prevention Order against him.

People are retreating into a sanitised reality which has no place for the local loon. When I was a young lad, half a billion peanuts backside, we used to have Purple Akis abounding in the streets, some dangerous, mostly just nutters, fall out from Broken Britain, mostly men, some of them troops from WW2 who had never demobbed and were now homeless and often helpless and stinking, with plastic-bagged feet and endless layers of dank coats. We knew who they were and their particular foibles, which ones to avoid, which ones where unstable. It was local folk knowledge. Despite their occasional high-profile madness, they were mostly tolerated.

These people weren't on the edge, they'd fallen off. We knew that they were persona non grata, and we'd be scolded terribly by concerned parents if they knew we were risking any contact at all; but we wanted to understand them, in our childish way; we wanted the thrill of contact with the outsider, though at a safe distance, courage bolstered by secretly carrying stones.

My friends and I were nice kids, no pouring petrol or pissing from on high, not like the thickos, who'd tie tin cans to a cat's tail for a sadistic laugh shattering the summer day's boredom with a fitful bout of cruelty. We even gave them food, though we'd leave it and hide, watching as it was discovered and stashed in some pocket or carried bag.

When we were feeling brave, and only with strength in numbers, every so often we'd approach one or other of these old freaks and engage them verbally. Used to mockery, we'd get snarls from them, or else a thrown bottle; sometimes we'd conduct a strange conversation, the memory of which would be seared into our impressionable young minds, repeated and exaggerated for weeks.

Purple Aki doesn't need suppressing with spurious court orders, he needs his own series on Channel 4. Let's hear it for some Unreality TV.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Going Backwards To Go Forwards

I've started doing things I used to as youngster, completely without concern for my middle-aged reputation. I know this cannot be my mid-life crisis, as I've had that. It involved me zooming around on a sexy, unstable Vespa and having inappropriate relationships with sexy, unstable women.

Now I am finding my old loves once again - although thankfully the wonky women have been replaced by GGF who whilst she has some psychological quirks is certainly sane. This youth redux includes being much more hairy and forswearing the depilatory process, cursing vigorously at the drop of a hat and complaining at length about anything, and the wearing of slogans on t-shirts and badges. I think I may be becoming a PunkHippy, the human equivalent of CatDog.

The badge above I purloined in Norway, stuck it on an otherwise conservative jacket and promptly forgot I was wearing it until way after several "important" meetings. Nobody seemed to object, despite the fact that the main purpose of the meetings was to make money.

The message "Greed! Consuming Humanity For Over 10,000 Years" is bang on for today's OLDS - i.e. NEWS that isn't new - the latest report by the WWF, which lays it on the line - we are eating our own home. "We are in serious ecological overshoot, consuming resources faster than the Earth can replace them," WWF International’s Director General James Leape said. “The consequences of this are predictable and dire." Comfy, cosy BBC puts it like this: if the world's population shared the UK's lifestyle, three planets would be needed to support their needs.

Sometimes the only way forwards is to go backwards, and this surely is humanity's future. How on Earth are we going to stop this entropic process? Is there any chance at all that we will be able to educate other nations without checking our own material aspirations? I might add another badge to this one to make the lapel-driven message complete - it's a picture of Andy Warhol, with the slogan, "Your Fifteen Minutes Is Up".

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Islington: Fifth Worst Place To Live In UK?

In Britain, we pride ourselves on the wonderful quality of our mainstream media output. In recent years, however, much to many commentators' chagrin, there has been a dearth of original programming, and an horrendous glut of copying. In the prime-time battle of the channels, there is now so much repetition of format, with the same small group of identikit TV-friendly presenters shoving their well-fed faces into one slightly different program after another, all on the same basic set of "domestic" themes, that a dreadful homogeniety is now the norm. Comedians Mitchell and Webb created a hilariously sharp send up of this tendency, spoof programs like "People Buying A House And Then Living In It".

One such team working for the usually half-decent Channel 4 have just run a program based on "rock solid" research which shows that this place of mine is situated in the fifth worst borough in the UK. The "worst" list (according to Allsopp and Spencer) runs as follows:
  • Hackney

  • Tower Hamlets

  • Merthyr Tydfil

  • Newham

  • Islington

  • Middlesbrough

  • Nottingham

  • Strabane

  • Blaenau Gwent

  • Manchester

Unsurprisingly, this has people from these places up in arms defending the honour of their patch. Regular readers will know that I do not hold back in my criticism of London; but I can understand this defensive reaction, and I think it has to be taken in context. These TV types make a living from peddling snobbery.

Those condemned to remain in these festered isles, either through poverty, lethargy, or liberal guilt at the huge carbon dioxide footprint our nation is excreting, are forced to find somewhere to squat, someplace to spit the chicken bones and dump the plastic bags in Blighty. This is generally referred to as home. At the same time, the huge cost of living means that we are in record personal debt (total UK personal debt in September exceeded £1 ¼ trillion for the first time) with households in London costing 20% more than the national average, and house-buying eating up around 30% of total income.

So, after paying your mortgage, food, fuel and transport bills, you are not left with too much and the only thing to with your leisure time is turn to the internet, read a rag, or watch TV. Apparently western Europeans as a whole watch 12 hours television a week. The result is that, as we stay home, unable to go anywhere else or do anything else through lack of cash, we are forced to watch endless hours of "property porn" catering to dreams of a better life somewhere (anywhere) else where mortgage payments are reasonable, and the fabulous profits to be made from ascending the ladder cheer everyone up at the end of the half hour, and especially those who are about have the electricity cut off.

TV is dead on it's feet, and yet around these parts, despite being cash-strapped and stuck here, we are very much alive. We are surrounded by urban beauty which is lost upon these would-be pundits, embedded in a multi-cultural community that they cannot comprehend, and united in our rejection of this false doctrine. I could endeavour to enlighten these mistaken TV presenters, but it would be without much hope of success, since their smugness will remain until the rising tidewaters of total public rejection lap stinkingly around their pomandered nostrils, and future history condemns them to serving time in an old second-hand HD DVD shop, flogging rejects from the BluRay wars to scrape enough together to pay off their debt to truth.

Here's something that happened yesterday - timely proof that Islington is both charmed, and magical.



I have been to all but two of the places listed, and I can guarantee you one thing - you won't find much snobbery in any of them.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Yes And Then Again No

I've been what they laughingly call "up against it" this week, and I have a problem with that phrase. Up against what? The tightly stretched, scented fabric of a fine woman's bosom? No. The back end of a sleek yacht as it crosses from Lanzarote to the north African coast? No. All the wrongs and misdemeanours of humanity? Feels more like it.

I get weeks like this, when however much work I manage to put away, the problems just keep rolling on in, like the great big conveyor-belt of Karma knows how. When I used to believe in astrology, I would remind myself that I am a member one of the two most "karmic" signs, Pisces - the other being Virgo - to whom stuff is just supposed to happen. What did I do to deserve that? Nothing, that's the beauty of karma. Karma means you were on the beach and you found the bottle with the map in it. Or else it means, you were on the beach when the tsunami struck. For this entire one sixth of the population, stuff just arrives to deal with. Fuck that for a game of foxtrot. I grew up in a house with two, maybe three (depending on which newspaper you read) male Pisceans and a Big Moma Virgoan. My family life was much like the tsunami, with us all regularly scrambling to get to the upper levels and onto the roof as the waters rose, lifting the TV and the dog basket with it.

This week has seen some great news and some shit news. I've had pithy comments and insights to impart all week, and not any more than two moments to actually make some sense or nonsense out of any of it, and that's why I feel so damned out of sorts. I even fantasised about my therapist of several years back, just a glowingly sentimental memory of there once being someone to whom I could complain about anything. He's had the common sense to relocate to India, sacred land of tea, far away from English nutters like me. I must remember to copy that enlightened behaviour.

My exasperation level is very high, I realise, for me to be thinking that I was much happier when I was un-messing myself up (messing myself down?) in therapy. Not that anything unmanageably difficult is happening - just the world doesn't fit me right now. I sense big changes. I feel the winter coming.

I called the doctor and made an appointment, to have a general check up. Better make sure they haven't missed some obvious and preventable evil, while they've been poking around with my thyroid gland and my voicebox.

I don't go on about it in this blog, but sometimes I think Deek Deekster has stolen my life, and other times, I realise he has rescued it. Deek tells it as he sees it, whether it's palatable or pathetic or pertinent or prattling. It's bloody frustrating to have good lines and not be able to use them. My real-life alter ego has to tread a much more careful path and that's why I sometimes wish Deek had never arrived. But, Deek's cool, really, with his shouty face and the teeth and the stripy orange jumper. I peeled him off a Swiss train years ago. A real one-off original drawing, stuck to the shiny metal surface by some ace illustrator, whom I can never thank.

What if there was just one version of me, I got to thinking, somewhere, anywhere, instead of this scattered persona, served up just nice for people. Deek says, you do it because it's fun and it works. But the other guy says, you're a coward and a fraud. Not that I am. I just sometimes hear the voices decrying all ambition and believe them to be sane.

In Deek, have I created an avatar to live up to, or a demon who thinks he's inviolate because he's fiction? Yes, and then again, no. Actually, Deek is the less fictional character, I realise. He's less paranoid than me and he knows what he's doing. Who needs clinical schizophrenia when you have a nom-de-plume, and a blog?

Speaking of which, someone told me they saw a t-shirt which read, "No I'm Not Reading Your Stupid Blog" and he wanted to buy it; I am having a t-shirt made which reads, "Podcasting Is So Yesterday".

You read it here first.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Podshow To Produce "Super Race"

Podcast giant Adam Curry has predicted that podcasters who sign up for his Podshow channel will form a new, genetically-superior super strand of the human species - while those who do not may become "dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures".

The descendants of the genetic upper class would be "tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative - quite like me" he said. Curry claims that physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.

Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds. Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people who stand out particularly well in silhouette against a high-chroma background.

However, Curry warns, in 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology for podcasting. "We may not even be able to speak without a microphone providing stimulus, and electronic amplification doing the work of the voice-box. We'll probably shit MP3s," he said.

Adam Curry is twelve.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Drink, Children, And Be Healthy


Children who drink alcoholic milk called Kefir are much less likely to get food allergies, says the Society of Chemical Industry. The fermented cow-juice inhibits the allergen specific antibody Immunoglobulin E (IgE). Reading this oddly reminded me of the conversation I had with The Mighty P.P. about decency.

I was recalling how in the first dot com boom, in 1998, a venture-capitalised US start up, using the domain www.www.com (it's no longer there) approached me to run their musical European operations. They had (don't they always) BIG plans to be the next big "content" channel. They offered me $50k p.a., a really nice place to live in California, shares in the company, and I was tempted. I was single, I was just coming out of my first sabbatical, and I was up for a change. This could have been it, so I researched the company and looked at what was on offer.

Pretty soon I realised a couple of things about this company which raised significant doubts about its long-term prospects. First, it was a put-together, top-down, formulaic affair, constructed by people with little or no knowledge of culture. This was evident by the fact that my would-be boss - in charge of the US - was possessed of one single claim to fame, viz, that he had sold Real Media to the US military. I searched in vain for some indication that he had editorial, journalistic or entertainment business credentials but found none.

Second, as I skimmed through the few deals they had in place, it was obvious that they were aiming this cultural offering right at the very narrowest, most conservative audience within mainstream America, and that this was not going to convince anyone outside of these communities, and especially not in Europe, used to art house radicalism and regular revolutions of the wheel which defy censorship. I remember having the nipple conversation with the lovely woman who was trying to recruit me.

Me: "The problem is censorship. For a European, a nipple or a bare bottom is quite normal and natural. In the States, it's indecency. How much leeway will I be allowed here?"

Her: "How do you mean? Are we talking pornography here?"

Me: "Um, no. Just the nipple. Not hard-core pornography. You know, like in paintings?

Her: "No I don't think we have those kinds of paintings here."

Me: "Ummm... you do. Maybe you haven't seen them? Paintings by Titian, for example, or any from the renaissance... you know, often they have religious or classical themes."

Her: "And these paintings show sex?"

Me: "No, just naked bodies."

Her: "I'm not sure about that."

Me: "It's just that we don't have any problem with these kinds of images. They have been part of our culture for hundreds of years and we can understand the difference between them and pornography."

Her: "I'm not sure that's a view we can take."

I decided not to take the job.

The Mighty P.P. is a British parent. He's fairly tolerant but he won't take shit, as we say in these parts. When it comes to drawing the line, he will do, but he rarely needs to - his kids seem pretty balanced. So, he was in the States, staying with some friends, and they were discussing alcohol. He said that he allowed his 13 year old to drink half a pint of cider (fermented apples) at a summer music festival. His American hosts were appalled by this - "Don't you know you can be locked up for administering alcohol or drugs to a minor?" - and so he ran through the arguments that supervised exposure is better than a ban, which fuels unguided experimentation, but they were having none of it.

As he told his tale, I recall being allowed the same indulgence as a child and smiled at the memory. I recalled my Italian friends calmly giving very watered-down wine to their five year old, just to make sure it was no big deal and that being left out didn't encourage over-curiosity. It had worked for them, they explained. Wine was food, was it not? A part of life which must be understood to be properly enjoyed.

So, The Mighty P.P. continued, he was staying with this perfectly nice, normal US family, and while they were chatting about these cultural differences, he heard sudden repeated shots and became alarmed. "Don't worry, that's just Tommy," he was reassured. "Tommy! Come here and show your AK47." Turned out that one of their two kids had a replica AK47 BB gun, and the other, a model Uzi. The kids, he was told, were encouraged to use these, and every so often, taken to a large canyon nearby, and given the real thing, with real bullets, just to make sure they could use guns properly. As the shots resounded and richocheted, a police car would sometimes turn up to check them out. Seeing a happy, gun-slinging, all-American family in action, the cop would simply say, "Be safe now!" and drive off.

Here lies an acute blindness on the part of the Great American Public, and some bizarre and twisted values. Sex, or more particularly, the public celebration of sexuality, is wrong and bad, and along with alcohol, drugs, gambling, part of the gushing font of liberal evil - but violence is absolutely wonderful. It's an embedded, condoned, feted part of the American psyche, this love of guns, and it goes to the very top - NRA being incredibly well-organised lobbyists - and down to the deepest roots of US family life.

I recall the murder rate on the Canadian side of the border being a hell of a lot lower than the American, with the same amount of guns available to both. I don't recall any children being shot to death in a schoolhouse by a nipple.

So complete is the conservative victory over the American mind, you'd think the 60s revolution, make love, not war, never happened.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Remixing Reich: Steve Reich, DJ Spooky, Coldcut, Konono No.1 at the Barbican 7th October 2006

I jumped for joy when I realised that Steve Reich was coming to town to celebrate his 70th birthday. I am a long-time fan. He changed my life. As a hard working art student, messing and scratching with audio and video tape, as soon as I heard what he was doing with sound and music, he entered my personal Pantheon reserved for spiritual leaders, gurus, shamans, and good cooks. He is of those blessed with the understanding that music is an energy that runs from the beginning of time to the end of time, and that musicians are lucky enough to get to play it.

Reich's first great period of minimalist compositions consist mainly of repeated tuned percussive patterns, with rising and falling chordal waves; the rhythms are constructed by addition and subtraction, they evolve and overlap, patterns catching one another up and overtaking, blending and phasing; this is what Reich is mainly known for. But, his subtle, jazz-inflected chords build a momentous emotional feeling over the cascading, African-shaded, travelling rhythms, and this harmonic sensitivity is every bit as important in his music. Drumming is Reich's most utterly hypnotic work, a seminal piece 90 minutes long, which in the days before audio CDs, let alone DVDs, I possessed in the form of four disks - eight sides! - of LP vinyl.

Some people, lost without a single clear progressive line to follow, can only witness a busy curtain of sound, and their concentration drifts off as the music weaves betweens tapestry layers. Others report heightened states as their consciousness peels back the veil between music and cosmic vibration. But this music is neither pretentious - in person, Reich is the plain-speaking New York antithesis of this - nor difficult to "get", and having much in common with more popular forms of music, has been widely accepted where other contemporary classical music has not.

Reich's modern compositions cannot these days be labelled 'minimalist' by any stretch of the imagination, and they have done much to assert Reich's legacy among classical academicians. But, the old compositions have sold steadily since the 1970s - at one point, it was de rigeur to possess a copy of Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, and something by Philip Glass - and remain his most popular. I personally recommend Variations for Wind, Strings and Keyboards (see below) if you wish to hear what all the fuss is about.

For me, though, as with his millions of fans, his music is vigorous and inventive, and full of the kind of detail you find at the Alhambra - arabesques, the joyful, endless permutation of essential pattern, the structural keys of life itself. In his later compositions, from The Desert Music onwards, the of which premiere I attended at the Royal Albert Hall some years ago, Reich moved into a less austere, more traditional symphonic mode, and began to utilise 'spiritual' texts. The following evening's premiere Daniel Variations was typical of Reich's modern work, combining quotations from the Biblical Daniel with the words of the murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl.

The concentration necessary to play this music is complete. Reich led his own ensemble, all white shirts and white-haired, now in their 60s and 70s, all filled with a consummate vitality and composure. It was was enthralling watching them calmly take over, one from another, after an intense 15 minute section hitting marimba or glockenspeil; I never saw a beat missed during the changes. The stage scene was also beautiful to watch, great, grand mallet instruments laid out on stage, back to back, rows of bongos. Drumming also contains four pianos, and the richness of four Steinway Grands powering the centre of this astonishing collection of instruments still fills me with awe several days later.

As the roaring ovation for Reich and his ensemble finished, I thought to myself, this could be the last time I see the original crew perform this work. My day was made, my heart satisfied, and we still had the second half to come.

DJ Spooky 'That Subliminal Kid' kicked off the second half with a gentle self-deprecating apology for being American at this time of gross national aberrance. He's one of several US artists I've seen recently who have stood before a tolerant UK audience and said, look, the Bush adminstration - we hate it too.

He played a wonderful combination of abstract turntablism with the Kronos Quartet, reprising Reich's City Life which worked surprisingly well in the concert hall setting.

Next up, and only after some agonising pre-gig computer technical hitch, Coldcut, remixing 18 Musicians. This was much more genuinely experimental than the DJ Spooky set but somehow just avoided falling flat on it's arse, but you got the impression this was more by luck than judgement. I could hear Matt Black (in his reggae hat) "playing" his Spectrasonics Stylus generative software, which I found mildly disconcerting as I know how easy this is to do, and so I questioned the amount of performance actually going on. But the sound was good, the visuals were excellent (of course) and my soft spot for these magpies of subculture remained undiminished, even by the ragged ending which left the audience unsure of whether to clap.

Finally, Konono No.1 from the Angola-Congolese border region of Bazombo who with typical African resourcefulness use repurposed metal kitchenware and 1950s loudspeakers to create the most driving and uplifting sound you can imagine. The musical relationship between this group and Reich was closer than Coldcut's or Spooky's, in the development of the patterns of beats, the minimal arrangements, the way vocals join and repeat choruses, the driving, organic vitality, thumb pianos played through amplifiers providing an exciting hybrid which every outdoor festival in Europe should book immediately. It took me in the end back to Drumming and Reich's African studies, and also back to my college days when I first heard the bright colours, unstoppable rhythms and phenomenal power of African music via Fela Kuti and Sunny Ade.

I've seen several of these kinds of retrospective concerts, which attempt to revisit a 'great' composer in the light of his interpreters and influences, and this Barbican series is without a doubt the most successful, because of the extent and the inventiveness shown in assembling such an astonishingly rich and full program. I've only covered one evening - I haven't been able to write about the next evening except in passing - and I didn't attend any of the supplementary gigs about town, with the exception of the excellent Bang On A Can in the foyer. Yet still, a week later, I am replete with experience, revitalised, and thrilled to be alive at the same time as this remarkable man and his music.



Steve Reich website
Steve Reich wiki

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bang On A Can

As promised, reviews from the weekend. Bang On A Can were playing in the Barbican foyer for free - a wonderful normality these days, in London concert halls there is often superb music going on around the rather expensively ticketed main attractions. While the Barbican doesn't have the light and air of the Queen Elizabeth or the Royal Festival Halls on the South Bank, the cavernous concrete interior actually produces a better sound. Saturday night, prepared for an evening of Steve Reich (pronounce it with a soft "shhhhhhh" at the end or you'll wake up the Nazis) Remixed, we came a little early and caught the final part of a beautiful show, the live rendition of Eno's Music For Airports. This seminal composition was originally intended to up the ante for "wallpaper" music of the kind you might hear in public spaces, and was very much part of the beginnings of Ambient as a distinct musical genre. Hearing it played live, I realised quickly that I was listening to something I knew intimately, without (as per guidance) ever having given it my full attention.

Despite it's slown tempo and the fact that the music was amplified to clear audibility - rather than quietly existing in the environment on the edge of hearing as Eno meant it - this performance was never ponderous or dragging, and this was partly due to the musicians' diligence, the way they kept the relaxed surface tension in the music, so that it retained its other-worldly spaciousness, and partly because of the understated, Calder-like structure of the composition which survives this kind of translation when so many derivative works do not.

Bang On A Can gave Eno's ambient piece a wonderful audience engagement. It was like looking at a miniature through a magnifying lens. It cast an instant spell, and I carried this elevated feeling of careful, peaceful happiness into the main hall, anticipating Drumming, DJ Spooky and Coldcut.

More to come.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Steve Reich Orgy

I complain a lot about London in these pages, but every so often it still provides me with something so deeply refreshing and life-affirming that I give thanks for my location. The Barbican have a cultural festival on at the moment which celebrates the 70th birthday of a composer who changed my life - Steve Reich. The reason Steve changed my life was that David Cunningham, the man behind a lot of progressive music in the UK, gave me a copy of Reich's "Come Out To Show Them" one day when I was at art school. I was already scratching with audio and video, using cassette and reel-to-reel tape and off-line video editing, and David just tipped me towards something which was to make a lasting impression on me and very definitely shaped my career. Within two years I was exhibiting internationally, and although my art career has been carefully neglected since that time, I've never stopped making recordings, making music.

So I spent the weekend at the Barbican - which incidentally is also showing Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings - multi-screen, generative art - in a state of exultation, feeling that I had very much returned to my roots. I rarely if ever think about having roots, I scarcely ever feel really connected to the crazy golden dirt heap of London, just merely passing through for the last 25 years... but this weekend, I was elevated by the experience of feeling a part of this living history.

I'll write a review later.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Whelks, Chips and Plums

People everywhere are amazed by the glowing, healthy-looking shine they have after following the Blog of Funk Diet for only five weeks.

Barbara Dickson, from Albatross, Florida:
"When I started using the Blog of Funk Diet, my eyes were weak and I had lost my shine. Now after only six months, even my gazes are piercing, and I have a deep lustrous finish my girlfriends don't recognise! I've feel like I've won the lottery so many times that I own you!"


Henny Privates, from Weddington, England:
"My husband's apathy was legendary even among the dead and dying, but now the Blog of Funk diet has made moribund food a thing of the past. No more funerary salads in this house!"


You too can benefit from the natural smell of seafish, the undisputed biological power of the potato, and a small oval fruit - delicious and proven to nutrify at any age - and now, all day long!

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Black Tea: Soothing

It's a good day for drinking tea. Scientists have been finding more things out about tea. This time, the more maligned black tea, often said to have much less of the goodie goodness of green tea, has now been shown to be bloody good for you.

If I asked for a cup of tea and was given "a caffeinated placebo identical in taste, but devoid of the active tea ingredients" I think I would definitely become stressed - but, since black tea lowers cortisol levels, I would, after drinking a cup of real tea, rapidly return to my balanced, beneficent, benign, benevolent and bumptious self, and move once again away from the inevitable chest-clutch-keel-over moment.

I think that tea should be put next to defibrillators, along with instructions on how to use proper boiling water and put milk in afterwards.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Podcast Of Pointless Singing

I've been working on a long-ish piece on podcasting, for a presentation I have to give tomorrow. It's going fairly well, but it's taken quite a lot of thought and several revisions to get it right. This weekend, as I took a break, stretching my legs and making a cup of tea, having written for hours, my mind full with sentence structures and paragraph considerations and alternative grammar, I found myself making the kind of semi-conscious noises in my throat which we all make, and which, if you bother to notice them, are a kind of primitive singing. I had a moment when I suddenly heard myself, and in that moment, still humming and making up random stuff, I realised that I needed to make another kind of podcast altogether - The Podcast of Pointless Singing.

This morning, I was also struck by the synchronicity of the news that Katie Melua has just played the worlds deepest underwater gig. This piece of oil-sponsored nonsense just goes to confirm that the time is right for this cultural contribution.

By pointless, I don't mean bad; I simply mean that there is no reason or aim for the singing. It's as non-specific and non-commercial as you can possibly get. Babies do it all the time and adults do it more often than they know. It often accompanies some low level chore. People do it while driving, cooking, gardening, shopping, and most often, walking. The only rule is that it must not be anything really recognisable - I'm just after the mumbles and croaks and whines and hums which come along prior to anything making sense - does that make sense?

Although I only set this up on Sunday, The Podcast of Pointless Singing is for some reason already at the top of Google's rankings, if you search for pointless singing - although having said that, after tomorrow, since Mr Google loves this blog, it will probably be second, but hey! Brand new and number one is a good thing. I'm enjoying it while it lasts.


So, if you'd like to join me in this project, leave a comment here, and I'll certainly be interested to add you to this exciting new joint podcast venture.

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