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Friday, May 16, 2003
  Tonight I caught Ugly Duckling at the Nexus... Some stand-up lines from the gig:

(accuracy severely limited by inebriation)

MC Abdominal:

"This is DJ Format, with Abdominal rappin' /
Like the gunners beatin Saints;
Forget it
...
Aint gonna happen"

(er, when he said it, it scanned)

[later puts on Saints kit, a vintage Draper tools away kit n all!]

Ugly Duckling:

"yeah, you know this kid. He buys one CD and he thinks he's a gangster. He's from Portsmouth, and he looks like this..."

[crowd lapping it up, as you can imagine]
 
Sunday, May 11, 2003
  The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Seventh Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)High
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)Very High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

um... I'm not sure this is good... 
Thursday, May 08, 2003
  Layers and Layers and Layers of Memory: Yo La Tengo, Shepherd's Bush Empire, May 7th 2003



Here are some thoughts I had whilst watching Yo La Tengo last night. I don't know anything about them, I've only heard bits and bobs, and mostly when I've been falling asleep. Going in, I imagined I'd probably assumed more about the band than was fair from the cover of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, their album from 2000 (see above). That artwork, which I love, speaks so clearly about lost things, forgotten things and remembered things. Sad things. A helpless nostalgia. So, armed with my preconceptions, this is what I felt about the gig. Please note this is pretty stream-of-consciousness, I just put it down as it came out. I might try and revise it into something shorter, a bit more coherent and less poncey later on...

In this music, the layers it's built from are made visible - central - by there only being 3 people on the stage. The relationship between what they're doing and what you can hear is explicit. The music comes in sheets. Songs sound less like they're shaped around melodies, but built on pattern and loop. It affects like architecture. Things build and fall away, and sometimes collapse. Some examples might help.

For instance: a lop-sided drum booms a looped beat. A thick bass squiggle is a counterpoint - marking the gaps between the beats and tying the two layers together to suggest something rising from the ground. Sudden flash of...what? Feedback? Tape noise? At first it's a non-sequitur, disturbing. It recurs and as it does it too settles into the music's pulse. This mechanical construct starts to flicker with colour. Three layers, over-lapping, needing each other. From nowhere the sound has suddenly become beautiful. The comfort of rhythm. The joy of repetition, of feeling what will come next before it comes. Song finishes.

Another: wave after wave after wave of droning, chiming guitar. Underpinned by throbbing four-note descending bass-line. Metronomic drumming is only there to make explicit what is embedded in the other layers: the transcendental release of holding a pattern. Something strange happens after several minutes (how many bars? 128? 256?). Nothing has changed in the music but the drone is now a euphoria. The guy starts to trash his guitar, the mess of feedback not unfriendly but a necessary, calming, guiding hand to help us climb down from that inexplicable meditative peak. Sadness follows. The come-down. We won't get back there, it's clear, not tonight.

They follow it with a short, exhausted, blue-lit lullaby. Off they go. It should be the end.

It isn't. Two encores, each song they play dragging us away from whatever terrifying insight they've been grasping at all night. The Ramones' 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend' turns up. Here's one of their blueprints: the wall-of-sound teenage wail of Spector's girl-groups filtered through the numb, trashed drone of NYC '77. It makes a lot of sense - a cute illustration of an alternative American pop family tree. Another nod to memory, to a sad nostalgia. Finally they sing (and it's the first time the words have really sounded out over the layers of sound) something like: "tears are in your eyes tonight. Tears are in your eyes every night." An excruciating memory, a deep remembered sadness transformed into something cathartic. Good night.

I spent the whole gig thinking about other people, other places and times (I was by myself - this probably helped, having no-one to chat to). My nostalgia and my memory pricked, haunted by the feelings implicit in that album cover. The layers are what have stayed with me. The core of the emotion in this music is in the layers, the repetition. Yo La Tengo make me think of how music is somewhere between us and the world. It works something like memory. Experiences played over and over in your head. Layers of feeling that only feel like they make sense when they've been repeated in your memory to the point of numbness. It's a comfort and a release. It's frightening too, because as each wave repeats, you know you're further away from the moment that caused it. I guess that's one of the things we use music for - to help us feel more in touch with things and feelings that are gone. Yo La Tengo's music, dependent on and rejoicing in a kind of sublime pattern-recognition, works because in celebrating and mourning things that are gone forever, it mirrors the way we actually think about those things. Huge emotional and necessary constructions, built on simple feelings and patterns. It's as hard to pin down, and just as sad, as memory.




 
Sunday, May 04, 2003
  the Fifth Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Extreme
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Extreme
Level 7 (Violent)Very High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Very High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test 
Thursday, May 01, 2003
  filip says:
would you not say though that 'complexity' is just another way of expressing the relative sizes of the technical palette the musician has at his disposal in evoking a musical emotion?
i just love your.... bren! says:
I would say that 'complexity' is an entirely misleading word to apply to music.
i just love your.... bren! says:
The pop musician has as vast a pallette as the classical musician, no?
filip says:
I'd disagree... if only because of the relative lack of musical knowledge that most pop-musicians betray...
filip says:
they have potentially as vast a palette yes
filip says:
as they all use the same notes
filip says:
but educational and contextual limitations apply

Peter has been added to the conversation.

i just love your.... bren! says:
no, not true. It's a blind over-simplification to say that because classical pieces are 'harder to play' they are more complex. For a start, the orchestration that classical pieces rely on is very limited; in pop music the orchestration is potentially infinite.
Peter says:
great opening gambit!
Peter says:
(oh i see i came in halfway through!)
filip says:
I completely disagree...
filip says:
admittedly within each strain of classical music there are certain fixities of orchestration that are adhered to, there are wide differences between periods
filip says:
also I don't mean complex in the sense of harder to play... I mean complex in the sense of just have a full command of music theory... like having a decent command of english before you start writing a novel
i just love your.... bren! says:
that's nonsense. Classical music's formal harmonic structure, certainly pre C20, is childsplay when compared to jazz music's harmonic adventurousness . It's entirely rooted in the diatonic scale, and hung around the tonic, dominant and subdominant. But that's not a valid criticism, because classical music is of a diffent time, addressing different conventions.
i just love your.... bren! says:
Similarly, to say that classical music's pallette is more diverse than pop music's would be a culturally ignorant formal criticism.
filip says:
yes and are we seriously going to sit here and argue that pop and jazz are intimately related, because I think thats crap
filip says:
they are related in that they are co-existant 20th century music forms
i just love your.... bren! says:
You misunderstand me.
Peter says:
i misunderstand both of you
Peter says:
(don't mind me, carry on please!)
i just love your.... bren! says:
I'm not saying that pop music is the same as jazz. I'm saying that pop music is as different from classical music as jazz is. To compare them by the yardstick of 'music theory' is to compare them on the terms of the classical composer. Mozart didn't use samples, and had no concept of stereo phasing or compression. His choruses weren't punchy enough to get to number one. These are all irrelevant
i just love your.... bren! says:
comparisons.
i just love your.... bren! says:
If you want to talk about theoretical complexity, i.e. how hard it is to read the notation, how subtle the harmonies are, then of course classical music is 'superior'. But this says nothing of the 'emotional palette' available to the popular musician that has nothing to do with phrasing or structure
filip says:
yes, but at the same time I feel that to get beyond this simple and I feel reductionist argument that I find the 'agnus dei' of Faure's requiem moving because I am socially programmed to do so, we have to address the facts of the content of the music
i just love your.... bren! says:
no dude, your approach is reductivist. In focussing on the 'content' of the music, you ignore the, more important, social framework around it.
filip says:
aaah but you cannot divorce the social framework of the reception of a genre of music from the initial qualities of that genre that the framework grew as a response to in the first instance
filip says:
its similar to the argument henry and I were having about genes...
i just love your.... bren! says:
it's a good point. Music redefines its audience, in a nightmarish chicken/egg scenario.
i just love your.... bren! says:
But I doubt that the formal aspects of music are what we're talking about; the formal critique arose from and for classical music. It has little to do with pop music.
i just love your.... bren! says:
That's not to say that classical music isn't gloriously technical, and awe-inspiringly vast and subtle. But its nuts and bolts structure can't be applied to pop music.
i just love your.... bren! says:
i finks
filip says:
yeah... I know... I'm still really trying to blunder around for an answer to my question... as I don't think social condition is a strong enough explanation
i just love your.... bren! says:
isn't the reason why music is so powerful that it convinces us that there must be more to it than just notes
i just love your.... bren! says:
...or just social conditioning?
 
  i just love your.... bren! says:
...and you find pop music more moving than classical...? Do you feel that the two can or should be compared?
Peter says:
probably not but how much fun would we have if we couldn't set up false dichotomies?
i just love your.... bren! says:
This is fun? :-) The point you make about rhythmic complexity versus melodic is telling. Do you feel that pop music springs more from the bass/drums rhythmic underpinning of jazz music than it does from the relatively harmonically conventional classical vernacular?
i just love your.... bren! says:
If this were the case, it is interesting that jazz music, in the process of deconstructing itself, notably in the free jazz era, disdained a regular drum beat, or one single time signature - the hallmark of popular music.
Peter says:
i don't think modern pop music 'comes' from jazz - they're both offshoots of the however-old 'vernacular' music tradition, ie folk musics. it's a parallel history to classical music.
i just love your.... bren! says:
Pop music as the modern folk.
Peter says:
not meaning 'folk' as in beardy types playing fiddles, just 'of the people'
Peter says:
the terminology is all fucked up tho - say 'pop' and people think britney and no further
i just love your.... bren! says:
I like what you're saying. And music for 'the people' is at the root of all music, but at the same time, continually, the people are detached from music by conventions of artistic/class tase.
i just love your.... bren! says:
Which brings me back to expectations, and what you were saying about how our responses to music are conditioned.
Peter says:
(yeah - that's phil point about how we listen to classical music like we read shakespeare, ie divorced from its original social context)
Peter says:
but anyway, obviously our responses are condidtioned!
i just love your.... bren! says:
("even our conditioning has been conditioned")
i just love your.... bren! says:
Is classical music more complex than popular music? Is it not the case that classical composers follow convention, be it in harmony or counterpoint or orchestration, to a far greater extent than do contemporary pop musicians? (how easy it is to generalise about 400 years or so of cultural history!)
i just love your.... bren! says:
(someone give me a degree!)
Peter says:
hahaha generalisation is as essential as false dichotomy !
Peter says:
i don't know anything about music on a technical level so i can't comment. i just don't buy the 'more complex = more emotional' line for a second. what i never got round to saying to phil was that, the reason pop music excites and resonates for me so much, is the way it uses UNIVERSAL experiences and feelings. hence the most banal cliche can have an emotional impact, which is derived from the fact
Peter says:
that you know there are a million others listening and feeling the same thing. in this way pop's relation to emotion is grounded in its POPularity and universality, whereas classical music priviliges the individual's response...
Peter says:
is this bollocks?
i just love your.... bren! says:
Since its earliest days, pop music, and more broadly speaking, 20th century pop culture's appeal has been that it claims to be the voice of a generation. Be it Hendrix's undressing of the Star spangled banner, or Nirvana's Smells like teen spirit, these are moments that compell because of their anthemic quality. However, it almost goes without saying that popular music has (developed?) the
i just love your.... bren! says:
potential to address itself internally. Punk is as much a response to convention and drab conformity as it is a violent attack on its own generation.
i just love your.... bren! says:
So in ascribing universality to pop music, it's worth also noting its ability to spark confrontation and weird sub-genres of confusion. Our ways of listening to classical music and popular music are no doubt conditioned. But what composers are surely to some extent grappling with is the interplay of compositional convention, listener expectation, and innovation. This for me is crucial to the
i just love your.... bren! says:
argument about complexity versus emotional response. For me it is the challenge that the composer makes to your [conditioned] listener's reponse to their music that the emotional 'value' of a piece derives from. Just strangling a cute kitten is simple, but too simple to evoke a considered emotional response; but the death of a woman who, in the course of a verse, you have come to love, might be
i just love your.... bren! says:
more poignant. We expect popular music to make us happy, to feed us simple but satisfying harmony. When it does this, but also confuses it with pain and loss, that is when it is at its most powerful. 
  filip says:
haha what I would really like to write is something that explains why I find classical music more moving than pop
filip says:
but I can't put my finger on it at the moment
Peter says:
wow, extremely interesting question!
filip says:
yeah, although obviously due to a number of academic reasons, the actual music, harmony etc are more complex... that doesn't mean that pop can't be that complex... and two of my favorite pieces are sung (mozart and faure's requiems)... so I am having trouble discerning what it is... formally both have things in common
Peter says:
as you'd expect, i couldn't possibly agree with you, but i'd love to see what you come up with! you should definitely explore this more.
Peter says:
(actually, the next thing i want to write is very closely related - it's about the emotional value of banality in pop lyrics, with particular ref to buzzcocks, ramones, beach boys, possibly some more modern stuff)
filip says:
yeah its a really interesting question... we have fairly similar upbringings and educations, and yet our tastes have diverged in a pretty considerable way, while retaining a few touchstones.
Peter says:
everybody loves the smiths!
Peter says:
(um, not true obv)
filip says:
hahah and I do love pop music
filip says:
in fact I listen to more pop music than I do any other kind... its just it doesn't seem to quite reach the emotional heights of some classical music I also love
Peter says:
(well, i do love classical music, i just know absolutely nothing about it. i've ear-marked it for proper exploration at some point in the future, but there's a lot of other stuff i want to get through first.)
filip says:
hahaha absolutely... though when I talk about classical music I get much the same feeling of fraudulence as when I talk about dinosaurs... do I mean romantic or jurassic; baroque or pleioscene
Peter says:
hahahahahaha
Peter says:
nice analogy!
Peter says:
on one level i do know what you mean about the emotional thing - i just think i'd approach it from a slightly different angle, maybe thinking about the way our notions of/responses to 'emotion' in music are culturally constructed, if you get me
filip says:
oh absolutely...
Peter says:
ie, to be crass, a huge swathe of strings = it must be sad! etc
filip says:
yeah, the way we approach classical music is shaped in exactly the same way we approach shakespeare... no one reads shakespeare anymore as if he was just a very popular common entertainment
Peter says:
exactly! so we're looking out for exactly the prompts we've been trained to expect, and our response is (well maybe not quite) pavlovian. it's self-fulfilling!
filip says:
true... but if the original function of both pop and classical is the same, its still possible to compare them on an even footing
Peter says:
of course...but then we get back to musical complexity. (at this point i should mention jazz, hip hop, techno and rhythmic vs. melodic/harmonic complexity!)
 

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