Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The battle against the bland

What ties these experiences together is this: in each case, something distinctive has been replaced by something bland; something organic by something manufactured; something definably local with something emptily placeless; something human scale with something impersonal. The result is stark, simple and brutal: everywhere is becoming the same as everywhere else.

The small, the ancient, the indefinable, the unprofitable, the meaningful, the interesting and the quirky are being scoured out and bulldozed to make way for the clean, the sophisticated, the alien, the progressive, the corporate. It feels, to me, like a great loss, which seems to suck the meaning from the places I care for or feel I belong to. It matters.
Once again two paths converge. I have been reading Real England: The Battle Against the Bland by the environmental campaigner Paul Kingsnorth. In this chilling book, which supplies my opening quote, Paul Kingsnorth paints a vivid picture of how, due to the ever increasing influence of government-supported giant corporations, the English are becoming "uniquely among European nations ... almost a decultured people".

While reading The Battle Against the Bland I listened to Undiscovered Islands, the new CD of music for piano and flute by the English composer Graham Lynch. As I played the disc and read the sleeve notes it struck me that there were striking resonances between Undiscovered Islands and Paul Kingsnorth's book. So I asked Graham Lynch, seen below, about the new CD.

On An Overgrown Path - Graham, your CV says you have 'chosen to live in remote and elemental locations'. London dominates the UK classical music scene? So does living in Cornwall pose problems?

Graham Lynch - Although I'm a UK composer I have a very low profile over here, despite having written works for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Singers. By the wonders of the internet, most of the musicians I connect to are in other countries, and although I often get several performances a week these are mostly abroad. I compose full time, but living in Penzance is probably not as useful as living in London; but it's quieter! I'm hoping that this disc will help redress the balance a bit. It's not that I'm totally unknown over here, another piece by me, Invisible Cities, was used as the modern test piece in the recent Leeds Conductor's Competition and generated some potentially useful spin-offs, but I don't tend to be in the mix.

OAOP - You say you don't tend to be in the mix, but your music has been performed by some pretty eclectic ensembles. How would you describe your composing style?

GL - I write classical music and tango nuevo pieces, and things that are a bit in between. This might sound a little strange, but for me it’s all part of one style, one way of thinking. Behind all these pieces there is a melodic and modal way of writing that has been influenced I think by southern European music such as flamenco, fado, and Mediterranean music generally.


OAOP - In your early days you mixed learning the piano with playing keyboards in rock and jazz-rock bands. What part does dance play in your music?

GL - In the past many composers wrote works that engaged directly with the idea of the dance, and I now see the tango as being part of this tradition. As you will hear with works like Alba and Spanish Café these are very much concert pieces, and quite complex and demanding to play in their own way.

OAOP - Your music is tonal, so what is your relationship to the contemporary mainstream?

GL - I should say though that it’s not that I dislike atonal modern music, I have been very influenced by composers such as Boulez, Birtwistle, Ligeti, Carter, etc. It’s that I don’t feel I have anything to say in that particular style, and perhaps times have moved on a bit. Pieces like Invisible Cities, and some of the ‘White Books’ allow me to think more about pure musical structure, the tangos allow me to explore different and more visceral human emotions. It’s all sides of life, and I enjoy that.
In The Battle Against the Bland Paul Kingsnorth talks about the distinctive, the quirky, the meaningful and the interesting, which is also a perfect description of Graham Lynch's Undiscovered Islands. This exquisitely turned and fiercely independent project shows, once again, that musically there is an alternative to the clean, the sophisticated, the alien, the progressive, and the corporate. As Graham Lynch says 'It’s all sides of life, and I enjoy that'. Or as Paul Kingsnorth says 'It Matters'.


* Undiscovered Islands, which is the first commercial recording devoted to Graham Lynch's music, is released on the independent Priory label. Mark Tanner is the pianist and Gillian Poznansky the flautist, they are seen below. Priory's founder Neil Collier engineered the excellent sound in the peerless acoustics of St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol. A special mention should go to Priory for the excellent documentation and artwork which is seen above. Priory do not support download purchases of the album, so Graham Lynch's own website is currently the best place to buy the CD; there are also audio samples from the disc on his site.


Now follow the path from Undiscovered Islands to Inner Cities.
Photos of Graham Lynch credited to Simon Green. Paul Kingsnorth blogs here here. A review copy of Undiscovered Islands was supplied by Graham Lynch at my request. Real England: The Battle for the Bland was borrowed from Norwich library. And yes, that is the Mezquita at Córdoba in the CD cover montage. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

9 comments:

Pliable said...

Paul Kingsnorth has contributed the following extract from a poem by Robinson Jeffers, plus a link:

‘The beauty of modern

Man is not in the persons but in the

Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the

Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.’


www.dark-mountain.net

davidderrick said...

Bob

Don't you find that these laments for England always cling to a rather fixed idea of what rural England should be like and always mention the same things -- rural post offices etc?

He talk about "the headlines about yet another traditional industry going to the wall".

What traditional industry? Nearly all of them (if the phrase means vaguely what I think he means) disappeared 100 or 150 years ago and we are more likely now to read about their forced revival.

He talks to "fruit-growers, lock-keepers, stall-owners". Why not to people doing modern things who live in what used to be called the country? The reference to Chinatown sounds interesting. Perhaps I should read the book.

Pliable said...

David, it is well worth reading the book. It is not actually a lament for rural England. Much of it is about the scandalous redevelopment (i.e. destruction) of city centres such as Liverpool.

The book is a castigation of how the corporate has replaced the individual, and, most importantly, how the concept of 'one size fits all' is being extended from the physical environment (chain stores and restaurants) to the cultural environment.

Paul Kingsnorth also makes the point that 'deculturing' is more pronounced in the UK and US than in mainland Europe. In France, for instance, farmers go out and bulldoze new branches of McDonalds. In England, when people dare speak out about it, they are dismissed as being hopeless nostalgics.

One evening, no one hour, spent trying to watch today's UK television is proof to me that "hopeless nostalgia" may not be such a bad thing.

davidderrick said...

Are you a Roger Scruton fan? I'm not entirely, but he has interesting things to say about all this. He wrote a book called Elegy for England. He's a conservative-minded philosopher. Ie a trained, proper philosopher. Happy to recommend titles by email if you don't know him. You probably do. Recommendations might not include the Elegy book. He is also an very interesting writer on music.

davidderrick said...

Are you a Roger Scruton fan? I'm not entirely, but he has interesting things to say about all this. He wrote a book called Elegy for England. He's a conservative-minded philosopher. Ie a trained, proper philosopher. Happy to recommend titles by email if you don't know him. You probably do. Recommendations might not include the Elegy book. He is also an very interesting writer on music.

Pliable said...

David, I find some of Roger Scruton's writing on current affairs interesting.

But even if I didn't feel uncomfortable with his sometimes Right-leaning views and his strong opposition to the ban on fox hunting, his involvement as a lobbying consultant for Japan Tobacco International means I am definitely against rather than for.

All of which, for me, rather overshadows his writing on music and composing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Scruton

davidderrick said...

Not at all surprised you say this, and I agree, but I suppose the answer is: things are complicated and people are not one thing. His BAT work is seedy. Something smells with some of his writing on Islam. But not with all of it. A lot of what he writes in his Modern Culture you would have to agree with. Or at least, I think you would. I suppose Terry Eagleton is an inexact English equivalent on the left. For anyone curious and reading this, I would probably recommend Scruton's Modern Culture. He's wonderful on VW in the England book. And also on Britten. I quoted a Scuton email to me in a post I wrote on Elgar: http://davidderrick.wordpress.com/2007/06/02/edward-elgar-june-2-1857-%E2%80%93/

Sorry if you're getting comments more than once: I'm getting strange Java messages!

Pliable said...

The battle against the bland and against 'one size fits all' culture continues. This email has just been received from Holland:

Hello Bob,

The Alternative Dutch classical music station "de Concertzender" is under attack again...
Although there was a promise from Dutch minister Ronald Plasterk to support the station,
this promise was broken and the Concertzender has to stop it broadcasts on radio and internet.
1st of November... for anyone who knows this station, it would be a terrible loss if this would happen.

http://www.concertzender.nl/?language=en

Well, time to take action again!!!
Please let the Dutch government know that the decision to stop the Concertzender is wrong
and unnecessary. Don't let the voice of this innovative station be shut down...

You can support the Concertzender by:

Become a member of the Facebook support group:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=121297152739

Become a member of the LinkedIn support group:
http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2131037&trk=myg_ugrp_ovr

Send an e-mail with your support for this station
concert.post@concertzender.nl

I hope you will help the Concertzender in their fight for survival,
they deserve it!!!

Rolf den Otter

See also -

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2008/11/classical-music-community-1-philistines.html

Pliable said...

David, I think the politics of this blog are pretty well unclassifiable. So it fascinates me to find OAOP linked from this Lib Dem blog -

http://liberalengland.blogspot.com/

Perhaps they have answered a question I can't answer.