Thursday, March 31, 2011

Classical music parrot fashion


rchrd has left a new comment on your post "Well, music next by Rachmaninov...":
We leave the radio on for our two parrots while we're not home. Not to BBC Radio 3, but the local San Francisco equivalent of top forty classical music, KDFC. They start laughing (if parrots laugh) when the announcers come on with their inane chatter. I once heard them (announcer, not parrot) say: "That Mozart! What a great guy!". However, I've found that their (the parrots') favorite musician is Ornette Coleman. Something about the sound of his music makes them very happy and talkative. And, you won't ever find that on KDFC
Ornette Coleman was Favourite Stoned Listening and also features in Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Now read about a classical radio presenter who made his mistakes with style.

Header image is Musical Instruments and a Parrot by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Once Britten twice shy


A reader reports that Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst make a surprise appearance in the adult humour comic Viz. Copyright, not to mention good taste, prevents me from reproducing the whole comic strip, but the heavily edited samples above gives the general idea. Imo and Ben appear together in rather more congenial surroundings here.

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But tether your camel first

Much comment elsewhere about the Arts Council England funding cuts. Of course any threat to the vibrancy of the arts is to be deplored. But among all the gloom three points should not be ignored. First, the Britten Sinfonia's grant has increased by 31.6%. Second, Aldeburgh Music's funding has been maintained. And third, the chair of Arts Council England Liz Forgan declined to appear on a BBC Radio 4 programme alongside Norman Lebrecht. All of which suggests Arts Council England are not as stupid as some people are making them out to be. Or, as the Prophet Mohammed said "Trust in Allah, but tether your camel first".

My header photo was taken outside the apartment we rented in Tamraght in southern Morocco during our recent visit. The boy in the picture and his sister were shepherding on their own a large herd of dromedaries, sheep and goats that had travelled up from the Sahara to the south in search of grazing. For more on a way of life that can teach us a lot about the use of available resources as well as the behaviour of flocks read Nobel literature prize laureate J.M.G Le Clézio's novel Desert. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Well, music next by Rachmaninov...

'Man's happiness is to move higher, to develop his highest faculties, to gain knowledge of the higher and highest things and, if possible, to 'see God'. If he moves lower, develops only his lower faculties, which he shares with the animals, then he makes himself deeply unhappy, even to the point of despair' - from E.F. Schumacher's 1972 A Guide for the Perplexed.
'A little while ago I mentioned Christine in Devon who emailed wondering whether plants enjoy listening to music. She certainly has evidence of it as her radio is often tuned to Radio 3, she has some tomato plants and the nearest ones to the radio are doing the best. And you are not alone Christine, Carol has just texted in to say "I always have Radio 3 playing throughout the house and was known as the plant doctor who took friends ailing plants for a break and returned them healed - yes, they liked music". And Jack texted in to say cows give more milk if listening to music. Well, music next by Rachmaninov...' - BBC Radio 3 presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch at 9.18am March 30, 2011.
Header photo was taken outside Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech and the lower one in the souk at Ait Ourir, Morocco. Listen to music from the souk system here. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Leaving on a plainsong

It may conceivably be possible to live without churches; but it is not possible to live without religion, that is, without the systematic work to keep in contact with, and develop towards, higher levels than those of 'ordinary life' with all its pleasure or pain, sensation, gratification, refinement or crudity - whatever it may be. The modern experiment to live without religion has failed, and once we have understood this, we know what our 'post modern' tasks really are.
My epigraph is taken from E.F. Schumacher's exploration of the twilight zone between science and belief A Guide for the Perplexed and the featured CD is the syncretic mix of Ustad Nishat Khan improvising on sitar in response to the Ensemble Gilles Binchois' Gregorian chant. Plainsong and its influence is something of a leitmotif on the path and there is a thread that takes us back in time from the Orlando Consort's Mantra project and June Boyce-Tillman's Revelations of Divine Love to Jonathan Harvey's Passion and Resurrection and Edmund Rubbra's Ninth Symphony Continuing back we come to Gustav Holst's Gnostic masterpiece The Hymn of Jesus and Charles Tournemire's epic L'Orgue Mystique before finally reaching pure Gregorian chant as sung in a Benedictine Abbey in France, and did I mention that Ravi Shankar included a plainsong quotation in one of the albums he made with George Harrison? I am going to leave you now with those links as I will be away from blogging for a while searching for new paths.

* Trivia (or not?) - Meetings of Angels is multi-tracked in the manner of a rock album. Ensemble Gilles Binchios layed down the chant tracks in the Abbey of Anzy-le-Duc in France and Nishat Khan added the improvised sitar and tambura parts in the C.M.C. Studios in Rome, thereby dispensing with one of classical music's "silly" convention, the recording studio as surrogate concert hall. The only problem is the result sounds multi-tracked with the voices and instruments in a noticeably different acoustic. It is not a deal breaker, just another manifestation of Beethoven's grand slam.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ambiguous music


Digital culture hates ambiguity. What could be less ambiguous than a binary digit, a YouTube promotional video or the 44.1kHz sampling rate of a CD? What could be less ambiguous than the last X Factor winner or the next André Rieu album? What could be less ambiguous than consensus culture where power lies not with the individual but with the commercial/intermediary complex?

Creativity loves ambiguity. Ambiguous overtones, not precisely defined fundamentals, give music its uniqueness, and it is no coincidence that ambiguous music is currently producing the most creative sounds. But not the contrived ambiguity of musical tourism. Rather, the spontaneous ambiguity of musicians who could not give a damn that their latest album eludes capture in 140 characters. Like Allos Musica's new CD in fact.

Lamentations is an exercise in ambiguity. Allos Musica, which is led by Chicago based clarinettist and composer James Falzone, is a flexible ensemble that changes its instrumentation from project to project. For their new disc Allos Musica comprises James Falzone with Ronnie Malley on oud and vocals and Tim Mulvenna on hand drums and percussion, and they mix Falzone's original compositions with collective improvisations based on Arabic musical forms such as the longa and muwashah. There is also a nod to Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem and a shimmering continuo of Messiaen indebted musique chatoyante.

In his sleeve note James Falzone talks of a lament as a "longing for change in a world I often do not understand" and elsewhere expresses concerns about Western involvement in the Middle East. Unambiguous concepts such as classical or world music, autocracy or democracy, Eastern or Western, good or evil, Christian or Muslim, and winning and losing are central to a binary culture. Let us hope Lamentations is the pre-echo of a move away from dualism towards a more ambiguous and more inclusive future.


Lamentations was supplied as a requested review sample and my thanks go to Scott Menhinick at Improvised Communications for responding to a request from far away across the ocean. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Get high on the music, it is enough

Since East and West increasingly meet under unlikely circumstances it might be wise to remember two myths - one Eastern, one Western - which provide a caution to the human race. The Indian myth maintains we are living in the age of Kalyug, which presages the end of the world. Kalyug is characterised by speed. Speed, being the enemy of reflection, will spread fantasy with such velocity that humans, in their pursuit of escape, will ultimately destroy themselves. The Western myth, as expressed in Goethe's Faust, introduces the devil as a poodle, welcomed as something harmless and amusing until it turns into the implacable force that exacts damnation as a goal - from Gita Mehta's Karma Cola.
Collaborations is a lavish boxed set compiled by Olivia Harrison to mark Ravi Shankar's 90th birthday in 2010. Available in a limited edition, the multi-disc compilation celebrates the collaboration between George Harrison and Ravi Shankar with a beautifully produced 56 page hardcover book and re-releases of three Harrison/Shankar albums plus the first DVD release of archive footage.
The three albums, which are seen in the accompanying images and have been out of the catalogue for some time, are Chants of India (1997), The Ravi Shankar Music Festival from India (1976) and Shankar Family and Friends (1974), and the video sequence is from a 1974 Royal Albert Hall concert. Ravi Shankar and George Harrison can be seen in the middle of the front row in the cover photo above.

Loving is the only word to describe the presentation with the CDs presented in three-quarter size reproductions of the original LP sleeves together with facsimiles of the original sleeve notes. Academic rigour is less in evidence however; although the provenance of the albums can be pieced together from the supplied documentation some information such as recording venues and technology is incomplete - presumably Chants of India was recorded digitally in 1997 whereas the other albums were mastered from analogue originals? And with a total playing time of just over two and a half hours for the three CDs and a price of
£48.97 from Amazon UK Collaborations will not win any value for money awards.


Sonically however the transfers,
including the DVD content, are superb, with the two albums from the 1970s delivering the signature slam, clarity and separation found in the great studio recordings of that pre-digital era. The line up of musicians is also pretty starry, Shankar Family and Friend includes Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann and "Hari Georgeson".

Musically there is no pretence of authenticity. Although the highlight of the box, Chants of India, sets traditional Sanskrit mantras, the music, complete with heavenly choir, is all composed by Ravi Shankar, as it is on the other two albums. Musical authenticity is a dubious concept at the best of times; in Indian music, which relies on improvisation rather than notation, authenticity becomes a solecism. Shankar and Harrison's syncretic Chants of India may be stylistically and spiritually incorrect by today's standards, but they are no less valid than Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble's re-imagining of the music of the Mother Church and countless similar ECM albums.

Collaborations is one of those releases that listeners either love or hate. Which is not a bad thing, we need more polarising projects like this and less consensus culture informed music salads. Love it or hate it? I know which side I am on. For as Ravi Shakar said - "Get high on the music, it is enough".


* Now for the album the Beatle's legendary producer George Martin described as "the finest album I ever made".

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Freewheelin' links


Suze Rotolo has died. A search on the path returns some appropriately freewheelin' links.

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Altered states


From Sacred Journey by photographer and seeker David Howard. This gorgeous book from Taschen is well worth seeking out despite the Freudian typo. Now beware, this man is dangerous.


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