Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Those fair corpses that litter the grooves of our records

My recent listening has taken me deeper into vinyl territory and today I bought my first new LP in more than 30 years. The identity of that vinyl will not be revealed until a post some time in the future, although some of my ultra-knowledgeable readers may be able to identify it from the graphic above. For some of us vinyl adds something that digital formats lack, but for almost all of us live music adds an essential but intangible quality that recordings lack. Quite why the most high-end audio system can never match the sound of live music is a mystery. But the following explanation of the shortcomings of sound reproduction systems from Harmonies of Heaven and Earth by Joscelyn Godwin may provide the answer. And please, before dismissing the explanation as amusing nonsense remember that some greatly respected musicians, including Jonathan Harvey and Bruno Walter, were profoundly influenced by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Take care while I travel...
The inevitable question, which could not have arisen before Edison's phonograph (1877) is, What happens when the tones are reproduced mechanically via a record or tape? Rudolf Steiner, speaking in 1923 shortly before his death, had condemned the gramophone as a source of music. Of course the gramophone of that time could only produce a travesty of live music, but according to his follower Ernst Hagemann the rejection was more than aesthetic. In an extraordinary passage on the borderline between occultism and farce, Hagemann solemnly described his own research with clairvoyantly gifted people in order to find out what happens to the elementals' function when music is mechanically reproduced. Not every detail was satisfactorily explained, but the consensus of several clairvoyants working independently was as follows.

On applying their second sight to the surface of gramophone records, they found them thronged with elemental forms - all dead. Looking through a magnifying glass, they could see even more of them! These, they said, are the lifeless replicas of the elementals who were constellated in the air, entered the microphone, and were 'shadowed' upon the record matrix during the original live performance. In order to carry over these dead copies into the physical world via the reproducing device, one needs the cooperation of other living elementals - tiny Gnomes, to be precise - whom the clairvoyants were able to perceive in the diamond or sapphire stylus. (One recalls that gemstones are traditionally associated with these earthly spirits). Through the Gnomes' agency, the very same kinds of elementals - presumably Sylphs and Undines - could be seen emerging from the loudspeakers as had been originally captured in the recording process.

So far the inadequacy of recordings was not proven. But the clairvoyants had more to say. At live concerts they did not just enjoy the visions of beauty which the music throws off into the air above the stage, visions which several artists have tried to capture. They also saw the concert hall beset by Spirits of Undine, vile, spider-like beings who swarm around whenever beauty is manifest, and crawl into our ears and noses while we are entranced by it. Everything must have its opposite, in order to create beauty. Man has to have the stimulus of the ugly. The greatest artistic natures, Hagemann says, are those who have felt this conflict the most keenly - even to a physical degree. During recording, however, it is only the beautiful forms who enter the microphone and whose fair corpses litter the grooves of our records. The ugly spirits (who actually are no more evil than the manure with which we nourish our roses) are absent, and so the full artistic experience is lacking.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How the recorded classical music market was destroyed

Both the anti and pro-Brexiteers are doing a splendid job of confirming Jiddu Krishnamurti's thesis that leaders destroy the following and followers destroy the leaders. Just one example comes from the Creative Industries Federation - one of several music-related anti-Brexit pressure groups - which has published seven principles for Brexit. These include the objective that the UK should continue to influence the shape of the EU's Digital Single Market, but completely fail to mention safeguarding the future of physical product and non-digital distribution.

As is proven by numerous examples such as the one above, the move towards a single digital market is a major factor in the destruction of the recorded music market. One of the consequences of this has been the forced closure of virtually every independent bricks and mortar record retailer. Despite mouthing platitudes about 'maintaining a robust and properly enforced intellectual property (IP) regime' the music sector of the creative industries has willingly handed control of recorded music distribution - the channel through which IP moves - to mega-corporations such as Apple and Amazon whose only passion is for the bottom line. The destruction of the physical supply chain has resulted not only in the closure of priceless high street retailers, but also the demise of the unsung distributors (wholesalers) whose knowledgeable and passionate sales representatives played a crucial role in getting small labels and niche repertoire physical display space in front of customers.

Yes, those small labels can still be listed at penurious financial cost on Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon; but they are just a few files in a gargantuan online data warehouse with no visibility and hence little chance of achieving sales and income; which leaves the vitally important long tail of music dead in the water. And the move to a single digital market is not an inevitable consequence of technological progress: because it ignores the continuing and increasing consumer demand for tangible product as demonstrated by the renaissance in vinyl sales and underlined by the faltering demand for eBooks. And in their enthusiasm for the digital nirvana the Creative Industries Federation conveniently overlook that those pesky CDs and LPs provide employment for creatives who produce album artwork and sleeve notes.

Greece is a country with a distinctly ambiguous relationship with the EU. Ross Daly is a celebrated musician and savvy resident of Greece, and this statement on his website is a pithy summary of the damage to the creative industries wrought by the obsessive pursuit of a single digital market:

As of today whoever so wishes can download any or even all of my music completely free of charge (the only recording which remains for sale is my most recent one...) I have decided to do this because I would like all of the rest of my music to be easily available to anyone who wishes to listen without any financial dimension whatsoever. After so many years, I’m really really fed up with the financial side of the recording industry but I still love sharing my recordings with other people. This is the only thing that I could do in order to be able to continue enjoying that and that is more important to me than any amount of money.
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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I believe in freedom of silence

You live in time; we live in space. You're always on the move; we're always at rest. Religion is our first love; we revel in metaphysics. Science is your passion; you delight in physics. You believe in freedom of speech; you strive for articulation. We believe in freedom of silence; we lapse into meditation. Self-assertiveness is the key to your success; self-abnegation is the secret of our survival. You're urged every day to want more and more; we're taught from the cradle to want less and less. Joie de vivre is your ideal; conquest of the desires is our goal. In the sunset years of life, you retire to enjoy the fruits of your labour; we renounce the world and prepare ourselves for the hereafter - from Reflections on Life East and West' by Hari N. Dam, Professor of Philosophy at Brighham University, USA. Ensign Magazine, 1971
Photo was taken by me recently ago at one of my favourite 'thin places', the town of Katwijk aan Zee in the Netherlands where the Sufi teacher and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan taught in the sand dunes and where his followers later built a Universal Sufi Temple. However the photo was not taken at the Sufi Temple: it shows the memorial on the seafront to the 275 sons of Katwijk who have been lost fishing the North Sea. On Overgrown Path will now lapse into blessed silence while I go off-grid again. But before leaving these shores I will be at sitar master Nishat Khan Aldeburgh Festival concerts; I am particularly looking forward to Meeting of Angels with the Saint Ephraim Male Choir as Nishat Khan's long-deleted CD of the same title with Ensemble Gilles Binchois is a personal desert island favourite. Snape Music has quite rightly taken some stick here recently but is to be praised for this adventurous piece of programming. Any copyrighted material is for critical analysis only and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Just add complexity and stir vigorously

Music is a multi-sensory experience. Many visionaries have exploited this, notably Alexander Scriabin who extended the multi-sensory experience into the olfactual domain in his uncompleted masterwork Mysterium. In the late 1960s light shows were an integral part of rock music performance, while in the classical tradition visual artists such as the still photographer Siegfreid Lauterwasser - celebrated for his images of Herbert von Karajan - and cinematographer Ken Russell - famed for music related movies such as the Tchaikovsky biopic The Music Lovers - exploited the common ground between the auditory and visual. But the advent of the digital age has diluted music into a mono-sensory experience: the art of the album sleeve is now dead, bland PR images are the stock-in-trade of the music industry, concert halls remain temples of sound and not multi-sensory temples, and Western classical music offers little to nourish the visually literate multi-sensory younger audience.

But all is not quite lost. The photos reproduced here are from the website of the photographer Stéphane Louesdon who splits his time between France and Morocco. These remarkable images were captured at a Sufi sama - ritual of divine remembrance - led by Sheikh Hassan Dyck in Essaouira, Morocco. Sheikh Hassan is an adept of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order and a classically-trained cellist, and at the sama he played with his Muhabbat Caravan ensemble and Afghan rabab master Daud Khan.

Stéphane Louesdon's atmospheric photos are a salutary reminder that music is a multi-sensory and highly complex emotional force. And that force loses much of its power and appeal when distilled down to a commercial property crammed into the size constraints of Instagram and Twitter message and MP3 files. For years Western classical music has been relentlessly pursuing an audience-chasing strategy of reducing complexity by selective dumbing down. There is no evidence at all that this strategy is working, so surely it is now time to try the alternative of putting brains in gear by adding complexity and stirring vigorously.

Related Overgrown Path resources include:
* See the light
* How sleeve artwork changes the sound of CDs
* Learn as if you were to live forever
* Why classical music needs to see the light
* Classical music must return to its esoteric roots
* Music should be dangerous

All photos are (c)Stéphane Louesdon. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, June 09, 2017

And now for a different kind of reality

Paul Richardson's travelogue Not Part of the Package tells how:
The world has always needed pockets of a different kind of reality. A place where there is relative peace and relative freedom. A place that's available for freedom of the spirit.
One of the drivers of the 1967 'Summer of Love' was a search for places - both geographic and experiential - where the spirit was truly free. Among the places where that freedom can still be found is the south coast of Crete, which is where my photo was taken. Crete stands at a cultural crossroads and the island's new modal music reflects that trans-cultural position. In the TED talk below long-term Cretan resident Ross Daly explains how modal music is a musical crossroads.

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