April 24, 2013

Musicians Are Scum

Monday night, courtesy of the lovely Antonio -- everyone has lapses in taste -- was spent at the Barbican for a (big, sold out) concert by vapid "alt-classical" pablum purveyor Ludovico Einaudi and his ensemble of talented but tragically misguided musical reprobates. From which introduction, you can probably tell how much I liked it.

Christ, what valueless drivel. It was like someone had dumped a bunch of Richard Clayderman tapes and Elton John backing tracks into a half-baked and bugridden Nymanizer. The result transcended mere boredom to reach a lower plane where tedium takes on new and threatening forms. It was so relentlessly and aggressively unchallenging that I found myself positively enraged. Dreary, banal chord progressions crescendoed for 10 minutes at a stretch. This was cinematic background music of the drabbest kind, desperately in need of pictures, characters, plot and dialogue to sketch something -- anything -- into its abysmal emptiness (and cover it over with more listenable sounds). In fact, it was so consistently like the soundtrack to semi-dramatic moments in some dull MOR B-movie that it could almost -- almost -- be read as a sly avant garde deconstruction of the interdependence of lazy music and cheap sentiment in shitty films, were it not for the fact that the whole thing was so fucking po-faced and humourless and Ludovico clearly takes it so seriously. It was utter, utter, utter, utter rubbish. But the full house in the huge Barbican Hall was rapturous, leaping to a standing ovation and demanding and receiving a smugly interminable encore. Clearly I am just a snob; which implication only pisses me off the more.

Thankfully, an antidote to this musical affliction was duly administered on Tuesday in the form of Pere Ubu at the much smaller but at least well-attended Bush Hall. (Last time I was there was to see Michelle Shocked; hopefully Crocus B won't be spiralling off into crackpot homophobic religiosity next.) The audience here was a kind of exaggerated version of the one I attributed to Sean O'Hagan, underperforming on the blood relations side but certainly making up the numbers in ageing musos and misfits.

As it happens, the bill offered two fat weirdo noise bands for the price of one, with David Baker's new combo Variety Lights wailing and torturing their collection of beat-up instruments like a middle aged Sisters of Mercy who'd long since given up on being gaunt and stylish and settled instead for bewildered and resentful. (That's not a criticism: I enjoyed their bilious caterwauling a lot.)

David Thomas, of course, is no longer actually fat -- in fact, he's looking distressingly old and frail -- but at least remains steadfastly weird.

In the real world, we wear eyeglasses not so that we can see, but so that we can't see; we have stage monitors not so we can hear, but so we can't hear; and we have fans not so they can love us, but so we can hate them...

DT's frailty aside, Ubu collectively seemed in rude health, much stronger and fiercer than for Bring me the Head of Ubu Roi a few years back, with livelier material more confidently performed and generally better received by the aforementioned ragtag fugitive band. Old classics featured alongside some pretty decent new stuff, and though David forewent the melodeon there was some pretty wacky instrumentation. Never have I seen a theremin so foregrounded, and Robert Wheeler's playing of it was actually quite amazing, contributing a vital sonic thread to many of the songs. He had a few other toys to play with -- literally, in the case of a circuit-bent raygun -- and there were many other bits of creaky tech onstage to add to the nuttiness. (Several pieces looked very like some of the obsolete electrophysiology equipment stacked up in the corners of our lab, and it struck me that there's a clear aesthetic crossover between experimentalists in music and science. Perhaps that's just an age thing, but I don't think so.)

Anyway, it was a great evening and I am now satisfactorily decompressed. Yet more culture tonight, in the form of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Puz/zle. I predict that the audience will be generally younger, prettier and more fashionable than for either of the preceding; but that's almost inevitable when going from music to dance. I think that's changing, slowly, but the day when a dance crowd are as cranky, unfit and badly dressed as the average rock gig are a long way off. At least I do my bit.

Posted by matt at 9:31 AM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2013


Perhaps slightly out of a sense of duty to Robin, and despite the last-minute bailing of my intended companion, I wandered westerly last week to catch High Llama Sean O'Hagan's odd little quasi-acoustic turn at hipster book nook The Idler Academy. The venue was, let's say, cosy, and the small but keen audience a ragbag fugitive band of ageing musos, misfits, oddballs and blood relations. I seemed like pretty much the only person present who wasn't obsessively familiar with every detail of Sean's oeuvre -- other than a few small children, and I don't think we can rule them out for sure.

I knew almost none of the material, and I'm not sure it was all equally suited to solo acoustic guitar -- the results were a bit lacking in tonal variety -- but on the whole it was an enjoyable set. As I was practically face to face with the singer, I didn't feel able to take notes along the way, but here's what he played to the best of my recollection:

The Goat Looked On
Berry Adams
Sailing Bells
Cookie Bay
Woven and Rolled
The Ring of Gold
Sparkle Up
Rotary Hop

Memory failures aside, there were a couple of songs I couldn't identify (and Google was no help at all): [X] was probably the one I liked best of the whole set, and included a line along the lines "From the Moon to Mars is just a slip, But we hardly ever make the trip"; while [Y] was about getting lost on a run in Australia and had lyrics about having a bush stick to hold and being able to see the transformers half a mile away in Kayleigh (or something). Answers on a postcard, please.

In the end it wasn't a strictly acoustic performance -- he had a microphone and a small amp for the guitar, but it was pretty low key. Anyway, I was randomly reminded of what I still think is a pretty funny gag -- not mine, obviously -- from an old 'Wuthering Hillocks' game on MCiOS (or somesuch site):

Jean-Michel Jarre Unplugged

Presumably this popped into my head because I've lately become enamoured of synthesis software, especially various analogue synth emulators on the iPad. There are, it turns out, rather a lot of these, some inevitably feeble but others actually pretty astonishing. The whole iPad music "scene" (I have no idea if such a thing really exists in any meaningful sense, but let's take the word as shorthand) seems to be the locus of some remarkable creativity -- in software development, at least, if not necessarily the music people are making with it, though no doubt some of that is fine too.

My particular favourites at the moment are NLog Synth Pro (which as a bonus is also available for Mac OS, where it can be used as an instrument directly within Logic) and the mighty Magellan, which really is a thing of beauty. The fact that for just a few quid (plus, obviously, the cost of the iPad, but you have one of those already, right?) you can pretty much replicate with a device the size of a pamphlet what not too long ago would have taken a roomful of hefty temperamental boxes and three miles of patch cable, is testament to the all-conquering power of the Virtual Age. (And if a few diehards grumble about inauthenticity and lack of "warmth", well they're welcome to sell their children into slavery to cover the cost of an elite analogue studio to retreat into.)

All of which is by way of noting that, appearances notwithstanding, the making of music, or at least noises, has continued in the background in the many moons since I last posted some here. It's even gradually coagulating into what we might think of -- in the loosest possible sense -- as an "album". (Yes, yes, I know. As Bugs would say, it is to laugh.) I may or may not upload the whole lot at some point, but in the meantime this is the most recent track, and probably only the third or fourth most ill-advised so far...

Posted by matt at 10:17 AM | Comments (2)