Friday, November 24, 2017

Travels beyond Trip Advisor

These photos were taken on my recent spirit quest in Morocco to the Sufi shrine of Sidi Chamharouch, which is seen above. A 75 minutes drive from Marrakech brought me to Imlil where the road ends and the mountains begin. The hamlet of Sidi Chamharouch - which is one of those blessed places which returns a blank in a Trip Advisor search - is at an altitude of 2350 metres and is reached by a tough and potentially dangerous two hour climb up a rocky path. Access is impossible for wheeled vehicles and supplies are brought in by the mules seen in my photos. Beyond Sidi Chamharouch is Jebel Toubkal, which at 4,167 metres is the highest mountain in North Africa. During my trek I was struck by the similarity between the High Atlas and Ladakh on the border of India and Tibet. Film director Martin Scorsese was also struck by the similarity. With Tibet a no-go zone he used this region for location shooting of his 1997 movie Kundun; this depicts the Dalai Lama's flight into exile from Tibet and is graced by a Philip Glass score. Below is a still from Kundun; the same peaks can be seen in my second photo above.

The High Atlas is Berber country. Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa and it is not commonly known that they were Christian prior to the Arab conquest of the Maghreb and its conversion to Islam in the 6th century. Three early Popes were Berber as was Saint Augustine who was an important figure in the development of western Christianity. A recent Catholic Herald article was titled 'Was St Augustine black?' Which makes good click bait but is somewhat misleading, as Berbers are usually fair skinned. Sidi Chamharouch is a name for the sultan of the jinns (evil spirits). Animism is the belief that objects, places and creatures possess a distinct spiritual essence, and in another example of the mixed metaphysics of the region Sidi Chamharouch was originally a pre-Islamic animistic place of worship. Synchronicity abounds here as the Tibetan Buddhism of the Dalai Lama is strongly influenced by the pre-Buddhist animistic Bon religion. However the soundtrack for my quest was not Philip Glass' Kundun score. While trekking it was the ethereal silence of the mountains counterpointed in the evenings by Paul Bowles' 1959 field recordings from the region in their recent invaluable digital reincarnation. My time among these awe-inspiring peaks not only reminded me forcibly of how insignificant we are as individuals, but also highlighted how insignificant are the differences between the great wisdom traditions. Islam, Christianity, animism and, by the beguiling power of Hollywood, Buddhism mix freely in the High Atlas. But as Robert Graves tells us in his poem Outlaws:
For though creeds whirl away in dust,
Faith fails and men forget,
These aged gods of fright and lust
Cling to life yet.

My thanks go the ever-hospitable Berber team at Dar Adrar guest house in Imlil who made sure that an almost 68 year old solo trekker didn't do anything too stupid. One of the many blessings of Dar Adrar is that internet access is virtually non-existent. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Classical music journalism is an irony-free zone

Richard Bratby is a contributor to the Gramophone and Spectator. (Which does raise the question as to whether the Gramophone now has more contributors than readers.) He also posts on Slipped Disc and elsewhere as Haldor.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here's something you may not know

Every single time you go to Facebook or or wherever, you're unleashing a mad scramble of money, data, and pixels that involves undersea fibre-optic cables, the world's best data base technologies, and everything that is known about you by greedy strangers.
Every. Single. Time.
Quote is from the recommended Chaos Monkeys: Mayhem and Mania Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine by Antonio García Martínez. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also reluctantly on Facebook and Twitter; but I won't mind or be surprised if you don't 'like', 'share' or 're-tweet'.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

This land Is your land

'It has been my hard luck many times to choose between what I thought was the truth and a good pay cheque' ~ Woody Guthrie

Thursday, November 09, 2017

I regret being a son of the West

Antal Doráti's contribution to classical music is seriously undervalued. A consummate conductor, his achievements included the second complete cycle of the symphonies of that peerless composer Joseph Haydn (the little-known cycle conducted by Ernst Märzendorfer was the first) and a 1959 Firebird which remains the benchmark against which other recordings of the complete ballet are judged. He studied with Béla Bartók and went on to conduct the world premiere of the composer's Viola Concerto. In 1963 the arch-modernist William Glock appointed Doráti principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra; in his four years in the post he conducted premieres of works by composers including Michael Tippett, Roberto Gerhard and Nikos Skalkottas. Doráti's own considerable output as a composer is even more seriously undervalued, and his two symphonies would surely find favour with today's late-Romantic indoctrinated audiences if they were but given the chance.

If Antal Doráti's contribution to classical music is seriously undervalued, his contribution to humanitarian thinking is virtually unknown. In 1987 he was approached by the Nobel Peace Prize winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) to participate in their concerts and recordings for peace. This working relationship acted as a catalyst for him to write what was literally his last testament titled For Inner and Outer Peace, which is dedicated to IPPNW. This outpouring of a lifetime's previously unvoiced thoughts was written down with great urgency in the last 18 months of his life. In it Doráti states many times that he felt compelled to share his urgent message, and writing the manuscript literally occupied him to his last breath.

For Inner and Outer Peace was published in 1991 three years after Antal Doráti died, and it has long been out of print. In his last years Doráti found solace in Christianity and later compositions such as his beautiful setting of the Pater Noster, and his melodrama Jesus or Barabbas reflect this. But For Inner and Outer Peace is much more than a fascinating footnote to the career of a forgotten musician. The subject of Jesus or Barabbas is the power of the mob, and we now live in a world overshadowed once again by the fear of nuclear conflict, over which the corporeal and virtual mob rule. Which makes the following wisdom from For Inner and Outer Peace painfully relevant:

It is a remarkable fact that - so far - perhaps every real champion of human peace (and there have been few of them compared to the innumerable false ones) began with the quest for that same "inner peace" which they themselves were never able to achieve. The one exception I can think of might be Buddha, whose faraway image emits the rays of complete inner peace. Sometimes, when looking at a pebble, an insect, a plant or a blade of grass, that dream of inner peace - so different to that for which we in our western corner of the earth strive, and yet so complete - I am transported to such high and subtle regions that, upon "awakening", I regret (for a while) being a son of the West. In these moments I resolve to learn more about the East. And I do, a little: but never much, because I am too strongly and obsessively fascinated by the mysteries of the culture that has raised me.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

New classical audiences want more bang for their bucks

Are Mahler and Shostakovich so overwhelmingly popular because their symphonies deliver more bang for the audience's bucks? That outlandish proposition is worth serious consideration, because it is very relevant to classical music's commitment to broadening its audience. The concert hall is caught in a pincer movement. On the one hand the elusive new younger target audience is conditioned to bass heavy rock music heard on up-close-and-personal earbuds/headphones and sub-woofer reinforced home cinema systems. On the other hand, the dictates of authenticity mean orchestral sound, particularly in music from the classical and baroque periods, has become leaner; while at the same time concert halls have become bigger and less sonically intimate in response to commercial imperatives. This pincer movement means the new audience wants more bangs, but classical is delivering less bangs. The holy grail is a new younger audience, but that audience craves a more visceral sound. So a Haydn Symphony on period instruments in the Albert Hall fails to cut the mustard. But a full-on Mahler Second in the same hall does. Which may well be why so much Mahler is programmed these days.

Now the purpose of this post is not to moan about the hegemony of Mahler, because that is self-evident. Instead, let's accept for the moment that new audiences want more bang for their bucks. Which means delivering more bangs is the right way forward, but inflicting death by Mahler on both new and old audiences is not. So the answer is very obvious. Give new audiences what they want in moderation; but be a lot more imaginative in choosing the bangs. If Mahler is the gold standard for today's audiences, surely Malcolm Arnold's Mahler-indebted symphonies should be the silver standard. And a revival in big band/big bang classical and baroque is also overdue. If Rodgers and Hammerstein can become a BBC Proms fixture, why not transcriptions of Bach by Stokowski and others? There is a rich vein of other transcriptions by Stoki to be mined, while legitimate arrangements such as Hamilton Harty's Handel suites would surely be new audience pleasers. Also long overdue is a return to big band Haydn and Mozart, as practised so sublimely by one of the greatest-ever Mahler interpreters Bruno Walter.

If Proms audiences want sonic fireworks, Alan Hovhaness' 'Mount St. Helens' Symphony can certainly deliver - the final movement 'Volcano' on the Delos CD seen above on which Gerard Schwarz conducts the Seattle Symphony has some of the most impressive bass ever captured on disc. Forget all those tired and irrelevant arguments as to whether Malcolm Arnold and Alan Hovhaness wrote masterpieces. They wrote excellent, honest and well-crafted music that speaks the same language as Mahler. For the purists, less Mahler and more Hovhaness may represent dumbing sideways. But if it connects with a wider audience, does that really matter?

My thanks for inspiration go to music therapist Lyle Sanford and the link he sent me to the article Music is not for ears. Any copyrighted material is included as for critical analysis and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Today's Internet is too big to provide warmth and intimacy

Communities are supposed to be places of intimacy, warmth, and relationships that sustain... In the Middle Ages, monasteries that grew to more than 500 monks would send some off to create new foundations. More than five hundred brothers could no longer be a true community. The globe is too big a place to provide for warmth and intimacy. The more we connect with those far away, the more we seem to disconnect from those close to us. Will the Internet do on a global scale what the telephone did to the French in Algeria?

When telephones were introduced in Algeria, the French army's Arab Bureau got lazy. The Arab Bureau was responsible for maintaining good relations with the indigène [local people] and for knowing what was going on in the villages. Traditionally, this had been done by officers riding their horses into the bled [backcountry] for several weeks, traveling the circuit, sipping tea with the local leaders for long hours, and building personal relationships. But the telephone made it possible to do away with long, hot, and dangerous rides into the backcountry, thus weakening the ties that only effort and face-to-face relations can create. It was considered more efficient simply to call, have a little chat on the phone, so officers didn't have to waste all that time.
That was written in pre-social media 2002 and comes from The Monks of Tibhirine by John W. Kiser. There is much we can learn from monastic communities: limiting social media contacts to 500 would shift the balance in virtual communities from quantity to quality and suppress the all-pervasive mob rule that blights online discussions. It would also destroy the business models of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which depend on scale to drive their obscene tax-exempt profits. Which is why it will never happen.

Some readers will have seen the deeply moving film Of Gods and Men about the murder in 1996 of seven Trappist monks from the monastery at Tibhirine by unidentified Algerian terrorists. The film, from which the header image is taken, was based on John Kiser's book which contains far more background research and detail than could be included in the cinema version. The Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962 and the subsequent Algerian Civil War from 1991 to 2002 are largely forgotten. But John Kiser reminds us that important lessons about the dangers of post-imperial religious extremism could and should have been learnt in Algeria. As President Bouteflika of Algeria explained to the French National Assembly in 2000:
The colonialism of the past century opened for us the doors of modernity, but it was a modernity that came into our home like a burglar, a modernity that caused fear, uncertainty, and frustration. And it is true, as well, that modernity discredits itself and denies its own essence when it presents a face that is vicious by its oppression and rejection of others who are different...
No review samples used in this post. 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.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Vie with each other in good music

It is heartening that in our troubled times this new festival is being launched in Paris. Because as the Quran tells us:
Had God pleased, He could have made of you one community: but it is His wish to test you by that which He has bestowed on you. Vie with each other in good works, for to God you shall return and He will resolve your differences ~ Quran 5:49
But it is sad the music industry supports a website that provides a platform for comments of a hateful and divisive nature while disingenuously hiding behind a flimsy facade of debate and free speech. All who contribute to Slipped Disc, including those who flow review material and news stories/gossip, make comments and share posts, are passively supporting this divisiveness. However nothing will change; because no one cares.
Have not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenenant of our fathers? ~ Malachi 2: 10
More details about the Sufi Festival of Paris via this link. 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, November 03, 2017

Why we must tune in to our inner Spotify

Why do I bristle when my news feeds are inundated with puffs for Simon Rattle and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla? Why do I switch off when a Radio 3 presenter tells me what my emotional reaction to a piece of music should be? Why is the negative sum of these ostensibly trivial intermediations so great? These questions have puzzled me for some time; but time spent with Heidrun Kimm recently at her studio in the mountains of Crete has provided some answers.

A 2015 post described my experiences of nada yoga - the ancient yoga of sound - under Heidrun's guidance. Heidrun is also a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine, a therapy which she initiated me into during my recent visit to Crete. Ayurveda is one of the world's oldest holistic ('whole-body') healing systems which focuses on balancing energy flows within the body. These energy flows emanate from the primal energy source known as the kundalini - coiled serpent - at the base of the spine. Ayurvedic yoga releases this hidden strength to empower other energy centres within the body, with the ultimate objective of channeling the energy to the seventh chakra in the skull, thereby opening the door to a higher level of consciousness.

Now please bear with me for just a few more paragraphs before dismissing this post as just more fake science. The Vedic sub-agenda with its chakras and yogis is an optional extra which you do not have to buy. But there are two irrefutable core truths in Ayurvedic medicine which cannot be dismissed. One truth is that all matter is energy, and energy expressed as vibrations is the DNA of music. This is illustrated in the graphic above. And no, this is not a new-agey Buddhist mandala. It shows the vibrations in the music of archmodernist Karlheinz Stockhausen as captured by the German researcher and photographer Alexander Lauterwasser, who coincidentally is the son of Herbert von Karajan's court photographer Siegfried Lauterwasser. Alexander Lauterwasser is a student of the science of cymatics - the study of wave formations. He created the image by transferring the sound waves produced by the music into water, and photographing the results using reflected light. These snapshots of vibrations illuminate the vital path from the musical to the metaphysical. The one below look like a variation on the Stockhausen pattern; but it is, in fact, created by Ravi Shankar's sitar music.

And the awkward but unavoidable link between great music and the ineffable is illustrated by the striking similarity of the two vibration patterns above to the one below, which captures the vibrations of the sacred mantra OM. (All these images and more can be seen in my 2009 post Music and its symbols; the asymetry of Boulez's music provides particular food for thought.).

The second irrefutable truth at the heart of Ayurvedic medicine is that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but can change form. So if classical music wants a new constituency, it must release the primal latent musical energy within its new audience. That energy cannot be transferred by the machinations of social media algorithms or the effusion of radio presenters. In fact these futile attempts actually cause the inner serpent to coil more tightly in protest - which is why the negative sum of these ostensibly trivial intermediations is so great. Our latent musical energy can only be released by the vital activities of music education, learning to play an instrument, or exposure to great, preferably live, music with minimal intermediation. Music appreciation must be released, it cannot be imposed from outside. The hyper mediation currently being imposed on classical music is an obstacle to tapping the audiences' primal musical energy. Many of the current methods of consuming music such as MP3 files are specifically designed to reduce energy flows in the interest of limiting bandwidth requirements. Which explains why live music sounds better than music recorded using lossy technologies. The graphic below shows the energy spectrum of bell percussion captured in a high resolution recording format - source Channel D.

Below is the same bell percussion after standard 44.1 kHz sampling for digital reproduction. This dramatically shows how digital sampling dramatically reshapes the energy spectrum. (Eagle-eyed readers will spot that much of the lost energy is above 20 kHz, which is the approximate upper limit of human hearing. But there is important but little-known evidence that sound above 20 kHz - ultrasound - affects our perception of music.)

There have been three primary influences on this post. One was my exploration of holistic therapies with Heidrun Kimm on Crete. Another was Markos Madias' book George Seferis: The Strong Wind from the East which examines the influences of Eastern philosophies on contemporary Greek culture in general and Greece's Nobel Laureate poet in particular. The third influence is the music of Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma. Like Heidrun Kimm, Ross and Kelly live on the margin of the great mountain range that runs east/west through Crete. This is a region of palpable creative energy - the mountains were thrown up aeons ago by the collision of the European and African tectonic plates. Crete is equidistant from mainland Europe, Africa, and Asia and the island is a cultural fault line between the cultures of those continents. It was ruled by Iberian Muslims for a century (c820-961CE), and returned to Muslim rule as part of the Ottoman Empire for two centuries, and only became part of Greece in 1913.

This interculturation is reflected in Crete's new modal music. In a 2005 post I described how this new music had evolved from Ross Daly's study of the world’s modal traditions. Over the years the music of Ross and his Labyrinth alumnae has increasingly embraced the modal traditions of the East while retaining its centre of gravity in the music of his adopted island. But in a new double album cut with his life and musical partner Kelly Thoma, Ross breaks free of the pull of Cretan gravity and flies into the orbit of global music.

Global music is very different from commercially tainted world music which Ross Daly views as "an offshoot of the pop music industry with an emphasis on party music". Appropriately the new album is titled Lunar and it takes its title and inspiration from the moon, with tracks paying homage to Hindu deities and mythology, Persian symbolism, a pre-Olympian goddess, Persian folklore, and Turkish mythology. Ross and Kelly's instrument of choice for this essay into global music is the Cretan lyre. Their instruments are a contemporary version of the lyre which Ross has developed with his pupil Stelios Petrakis. This adds eighteen sympathetic (resonating) strings to the three bowed strings, and those resonating strings are transducers for the primal energy that permeates this outstanding new release. Tune in to your inner Spotify via this link or, even better, buy the double CD Lunar from Panos Evdemon's most excellent online Greek Music Shop.

Header image via Ajayan. Lunar was a requested review sample. 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.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Play it again, Sakari

I'm in Boston. Please, GOOD GOD D*MN, enough Mahler. I have enough exceptional, remarkable performances of Mahler at home, recorded over 60 years, and not likely to be bettered on any night I'd attend. More Antheil, Atterberg, Bathory-Kitsz, Bax, Bendix, Berwald, Brian, Cooman, Doyhnanyi, Enescu, Gould, Harris, Harrison, Hartmann, Holmboe, Honneger, Ives, Janacek (not just the Sinfonietta), Jolivet, Kalliwoda, Martinu, Mennin, Nielsen (either one), Panufnik, Petterson, Piston, Quincy Porter ... and that's just to P. If the visiting conductors stamp their little feet about Mahler symphonies, give them Emerson Whithorne's 2nd [listen here] and lock them in a room to study it.
A reader left that comment on my post 'Should a modern maestro decline to conduct Mahler?'. That post has been well-received, so I am now featuring a CD from a modern maestro who is not afraid to defy the all-pervasive Mahler algorithms. Sakari Oramo is, as he proved at this year's Proms, a very accomplished Mahler interpreter. But he is also not afraid to deviate from the algorithmically defined straight and narrow. These deviations brought an invaluable overview of John Foulds' music while at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a memorable William Alwyn First Symphony at the Proms in his first season as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Moreover during his tenure at the Finnish Radio Symphony Oramo programmed music from, among others, Kaija Saariaho, Kimmo Hakola, Jouni Kaipainen, Armas Launis and Ernest Pingoud.

In 2013 Sakari Oramo recorded the First and Eighth Symphonies of Per Nørgård (b. 1932) with the Vienna Philharmonic no less. Per Nørgård was influenced by Sibelius - the First Symphony briefly quotes from Tapiola - and came into contact with the great man during the Finnish composer's last years. But the much clearer influence is the more abrasive music of Per Nørgård's teacher and fellow Dane Vagn Holmboe (1906-1996). Per Nørgård's First Symphony, which is subtitled Sinfonia austera, dates from the mid-1950s. While showing the influence of established masters such as Sibelius and Shostakovich, it is in no way derivative. In the symphony Per Nørgård's unique voice is heard emerging, a voice that reaches its apogee in his Eighth and to date last symphony composed in 2010-11. In the Eighth tonality is more distant, and the symphony - particularly the chimerical Adagio - inhabits a sound world that we can speculate Sibelius sought but never reached in his own abandoned Eighth Symphony.

The First and Eighth Symphonies were recorded by the Danish Dacapo label as part of a cycle of Per Nørgård's symphonies; the other symphonies are conducted by John Storgards - who is the dedicatee of the Eighth - and Thomas Dausgaard. Dacapo is a proponent of the SACD format and the sound captured in the Wiener Konzerthaus is both impressive and totally natural. Per Nørgård is prolific and among his 400+ compositions is the opera/ballet Siddhartha also released by Dacapo. This featured in a 2010 Overgrown Path post.

No review samples used in this post. 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.