Friday, March 27, 2020

In search of the lost recordings


That photo of Dean Dixon was taken during his tenure as music director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 1964 to 1967*. Despite being a maestro abroad but a Negro in America, Dean Dixon's conducting was, thankfully, captured on numerous recordings. Just one example is his 1969 interpretation of Haydn's Symphony No 53 with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks which can be heard online through this link provided by stalwart Overgrown Path reader Antoine Leboyer.

Sadly Guyanese Rudolph Dunbar, who became the Berlin Philharmonic's first black conductor before his career was sabotaged by racism in the BBC, was not well served by recordings. There are a few of him playing jazz clarinet. But I have no knowledge of any recordings of Dunbar as a conductor. A report reached me of a researcher claiming that recordings of Dunbar conducting exist in an unnamed archive, but so far that has not been substantiated.

Recordings of Dunbar's broadcast concerts could exist. In a 1986 interview Dunbar recounted how in 1942 after conducting the London Philharmonic, Goebbels' propaganda machine responded with vile racist propaganda. Did the Nazis know of that concert because it was broadcast? If so is there an off-air recording somewhere?

Dunbar conducted in Europe: notably four concerts in Paris at the Salle Pleyel of American music including Virgil Thomson's Second Symphony. There is a reference to Dunbar conducting the London Philharmonic again in 1955 with Leonora Milà as soloist in de Falla's 'Nights in the Gardens of Spain'. Are there recordings of any of these concerts? For the wrong reason we all now have time on our hands for research online and elsewhere. Discovery by readers of any extant Rudolph Dunbar recordings would do the memory of this pioneering musician a great service.

* Photo of Dean Dixon by David Moore is in the National Gallery of Australia collection. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Early musician who could have become a great conductor


David Munrow is best known as an early music virtuoso but his genius knew no bounds. His producer at EMI Christopher Bishop mentored both Riccardo Muti and André Previn early in their careers, and therefore his view that had David Munrow not died tragically young he could have become a great conductor cannot be dismissed easily. That view was expressed by Christopher in a 2007 radio interview with me - sound file via this link. Below is my transcription of that radio interview, see footer photo taken at the time.

Christopher Bishop is best known for his work with Sir Adrian Boult, and the interview touches on the recording he produced of the Brandenburg Concertos conducted by Sir Adrian with David Munrow and John Turner playing the recorder parts. That recording was reissued in the 2012 EMI Classics box 'Sir Adrian Boult from Bach to Wagner' which was lovingly curated by my EMI colleague Richard Bradburn. Richard died last week of a Coronavirus-related illness and this article is dedicated to his memory. In December 1978 with Richard I attended Sir Adrian's last recording session; Christopher Bishop was the producer, and the repertoire was Sir Charles Hubert H. Parry's Fifth Symphony and Elegy for Brahms. Richard Bradburn was a determined champion of British music and the Parry recordings were included in the 2013 Warner Classics anthology 'Sir Adrian Boult: the Complete Conductor from Tchaikovsky to Gershwin' that he also curated. Parry's achingly beautiful but mysteriously unfashionable Symphony from that compilation plays as I write. It is a poignant and painful reminder of what we have lost and continue to lose.



Bob Shingleton: In the early 1970s the scores for the BBC TV series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elisabeth R brought David Munrow’s music to millions. His Pied Piper radio programme was broadcast four times a week for five years, he presented a successful TV series, and wrote music for several major feature films including Ken Russell's The Devils - together with Peter Maxwell Davies - and Henry VIII & his Six Wives directed by Waris Hussein. David Munrow's interest in early music started when he taught in Peru before going up to Cambridge. He combined reading English at Pembroke College with independent studies of Renaissance and medieval music, and went on to form his famous Early Music Consort of London. Under his leadership the Early Music Consort became best-selling recording artists, and David Munrow’s records were considered so important that copies of them were sent to Saturn on board two NASA spacecraft in 1976.

Today David Munrow is remembered by the records he made for EMI that started in 1971 with the LP Two Renaissance Dance Bands. He was brought to EMI by their double Grammy winning recording producer Christopher Bishop who produced Munrow's first records for the famous dog and trumpet label. Christopher who also worked with Carlo Maria Giulini, Charles Mackerras, André Previn, Yehudi Menuhin, Riccardo Muti, Sir Adrian Boult and many other great musicians, and I am delighted to welcome him to the Overgrown Path today. Welcome Christopher, and can you start by telling us how you first met David Munrow?

CB: It was rather strange, it wasn't as obvious or direct as you might think. I used to conduct a madrigal group. We'd done lots of different broadcasts of straightforward madrigals, and the producer Basil Lam said to me it would be very interesting to try doing some madrigals with instruments, and I thought oh... He suggested viols and other stringed instruments, and also recorders. And I thought "oh no" - I used to be a school master, and the word recorder has a horrifying significance for me. So I asked "must we?", and Basil Lam said there is this young man called David Munrow who is an incredibly good player - come and hear him. So I went along to a concert he was doing, and, of course, it was fantastic; so I said that would be great. So the first time I met David Munrow was at the BBC recording sessions. We did some madrigals with viols, and some without any instruments, and we got on very welll indeed. He mucked about all the time; - he was great fun - and he also mucked about musically. One of the madrigals we did was 'Hark All Ye Lovely Saints' by Weelkes, where the choir sings the verse and fah lahs at the end - which are really instrumental in a way - were played by David and his group. We let him do that, and in the second verse he really goes to town and decorates it in a way that I am quite sure no singer would ever have done.

That BBC session was a very important occasion both for me and in a way for David, because he asked for a lift afterwards to the station. We were chatting about his programme and I said how much I enjoyed his playing. I think I took him about a mile and a half, and in that very short distance he managed to convince me that it would be a very good idea if EMI, where I was then a producer, made a record of his group, and I agreed. He had another record he had already made - I can't remember if it was released commercially - and I took that record around the company and persuaded people that it would be a good idea to use him. A year later we did actually make the first record; he was tremendous fun to work with, and, surprisingly, the record became extremely popular.



BS: At that time there wasn't a great market for early music; in fact there was hardly a market at all. What convinced you to record what at that time must have been a very minority market?

CB: I think it was just that it was so very jolly and clever, and full of life. You know, it just had it; in a way I suppose we looked at in a way that pop producers do. They don't ask 'is there a market for this?'; they say 'that's good, so we'll do it', and then the market is made. I don't suppose anyone thought there was a market for the Beatles when they first started; they just thought this is a great band and it took off. In a way David was like that: he was his own advertiser he did these broadcasts called Pied Piper that you mentioned, and he also went round performing all the time. He was never not working, and that sort of energy committed itself.

BS: That level of risk taking is something that is really disappearing now from the classical music scene. There is virtually no backing of hunched and those golden days of risk taking have gone presumably.

CB: Yes, that was the late 1960s and early 70s when we did that. It was a very different world indeed, and people don't dare do anything like that now, particularly in the large companies. I think all the adventurousness now tends to be in the smaller companies, but EMI in those days was a very adventurous company indeed. It made the first recording of the Elgar oratorios and that sort of thing, which, of course, have also been recorded by other companies since then. It was a very, very great company.

BS: Did you have a job of selling the concept of David Munrow to the powers that be at EMI? It was EMI UK that recorded him for presumably?

CB: Yes, it was the British company, a man called John Whittle who was a tremendous enthusiast. It was quite easy to make John enthuse; if you enthused to him he would pick it up, as would another chap called Douglas Pudney who worked very hard in the same way. I just played the record to him and he said "wow!" The record I played had on it the first piece we did for the 'Two Renaissance Dance Bands' album. It was called La Mourisque; it's a very noisy piece and I always think of David red faced and puffing away when I hear it

BS: Christopher, in the studio you had been dealing with the conventional symphony orchestra and conventional chamber music and suddenly you were confronted with these extraordinary instruments that David Munrow suddenly introduced. Wasn't this all a bit of a culture shock?

CB: It was indeed; it was such a culture shock that at one stage in the game I said wouldn't it be a good idea if you did a record (in due course it turned out to be two) with samples of all these peculiar instruments - things like nakers for example which are a percussion instrument, and various kinds of string instruments, and regals and crumhorns. I knew what a crumhorn was, but before working with David I had never seen one actually being played. One got quite used to all these things, and I used to say I can't quite hear the second crumhorn, can you just play it a little louder or move the mic and that sort of thing. It became a completely different world and eventually David did do a wonderful box set called Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, which is a very po-faced title. I wanted to call it 'A Young Person's Guide to Old Instruments' but they thought that a little too populist. Nowadays I am sure they would have used that title; but remember, this was a long time ago when we were much more po-faced really. It was terrfific fun working with David, you can tell from the enthusiasm you can hear on his recordings.



BS: What was David Munrow like in the studio? Did you have to restrain him? - I always get the impression of someone running away with all these weird and wild instruments and wanting to do extraordinary things. Did you give him his head in the recording studio, and what was the chemistry like?

CB: No, he wasn't like that at all in the studio. He was full of enthusiasm and so on, but he was so professional - he could never have done all he did if he hadn't been absolutely disciplined. He used to do ridiculous things like staying up all night writing out parts, and he wouldn't really trust anyone else to do his work for him. He did all the copying; think of nowadays what you can do so easily with Sibelius (the music writing software), he used to do all that by hand, there were no mechanical aids at all. Nothing was printed; it was all written out by him and it really was an amazing experience working with him because he was so full of energy. It was terrifying, he used to put the music stands out, he'd appear early and put out all the music and the music stands, and he'd suddenly think he had got them in the wrong place and rush out and move them all again. Then we might ask him if he wouldn't mind moving a seat because, you know, we wanted to get nearer to a certain instrument which might be quiet, and he'd have to go out and reorganise it himself.

BS: Listening to your recordings of the Early Music Consort I am struck by the freshness and spontaneity of it all. They sound almost improvised in fact. Did David Munrow come into the studio with a clear plan for the record? Did you know what he was going to record?

CB: Oh, absolutely. Everything was completely organised - totally. But what you say about improvisation is actually true, because in some pieces he used to decorate. He and John Turner (the second recorder player), they used to fiddle around and decorate in the most delightful way. Whether they rehearsed the basic idea, or whether it was second nature to them I just don't know really, but it was extremely free. Some of the improvisation was very jazzy, I can't really believe some of the improvised rhythms were used in the 16th century. His music was improvised, because if you did two takes the second would be different to the first. Now that posed slight problems for us sometimes if we tried to edit between them, and it wasn't always easy. But as all the pieces were very short, if it went wrong he did it again.

BS: So there was very little editing. We hear so many stories today about very short takes and it all been spliced together - was there very much editing required after those David Munrow sessions?

CB: No there wasn't - very little indeed. Because we really didn't need to: because they were so good and you could redo the whole piece if it only lasted two or three minutes. It's not like a symphony where you have to slice in a chunk.

BS: There is this stereotype of David Munrow as being an early music specialist. But in fact this is not true at all. He was involved in modern music and he was involved in film scores. He was a much broader musician than this early music category wasn't he?

CB: He started with early music and moved on from there. In the same way I suppose that Neville Marriner started with 18th century music and moved on from there, and Raymond Leppard the same. But the fact that he was able to change his interest and his concept was fascinating.

BS: How important were the film scores?

CB: Well, the only one that I had anything to do with was Henry VIII. That consisted almost entirely of old music except for one piece, which is the music for the joust where Henry VIII is sitting there looking jealous; there is sort of tortured music, he is sitting there looking at Anne Boleyn flirting with young courtiers. Then, eventually, that music is used on his deathbed. It is very effective; he says that it is aleatoric, which means it has been done by the throw of the dice. But I don't believe that is true at all: I don't believe he made it up, I believe he wrote it - but it is extremely effective.



BS: That is very interesting. I hadn't heard he claimed it was aleatoric music; obviously there are connections there with John Cage and other contemporary composers like Alvin Curran, whose Inner Cities piano cycle I broadcast on Future Radio recently. It's amazing how all these threads come together; we are not talking here just about early and medieval music, it's much broader than that.

CB: Well I think it would have been. I think it had only just started, I'm not sure how much he would have known about John Cage in those days to be quite fair. But I think he had begun to develop into a different kind of musician from just the recorder player. Because he was so intelligent and had such a lot of energy, and the Pied Piper programmes were amazingly broad - he was quite happy to talk about Mahler and Wagner and so on - he was by no means narrow. Was he frantic to deal with?

BS: Tell us about more about working with him in the recording studio. We get the impression of someone who was incredibly driven: you say he was working all night, he was working across radio and television and cinema, he was recording LPs, and, of course, performing in the concert hall. That was very unusual in the 1970s, he was a true multi-media artist.

CB: Well he was pretty terrifying to deal with, because he got himself into a pretty high-pressured state - I think his blood pressure must have been horrendous. But his face - partly because he played a wind instrument and of course he was puffing all the time - his face was usually a sort of red colour. He was very, very driven, that is a very good word for him. He was totally driven; he spent all his time working at music. I don't know what he did to relax; one never saw him relax; but then I only saw him in the studio and doing concerts

BS: Some of the music David Munrow composed is quite extraordinary. If you played a piece like his music for the jousting scene from Henry VIII that we talked about earlier to someone without telling them who the composer was, I suspect they would never suggest it was by him.

CB: Well you are used to David Munrow the performer, and, of course, he wouldn't have performed that sort of music in his early music concerts. I produced the music for the film and I think the music was composed - by chance or otherwise - for the film and not the BBC programme, although I can't quite recall. I can remember the film appearing on the screen in the recording studio as it does, and you see little bits the wrong way round and think who on earth is that? - it is someone who has come in at the beginning and you hardly see again. It all had to be done in that highly complicated way, but he was completely on the ball about it and knew exactly what he was doing.

BS: We are starting to move away from David Munrow as an early music performer. One of the interesting things is that he worked with such a wide range of musicians. He worked for instance with Sir Adrian Boult - David Munrow and Sir Adrian Boult is not a combination you would expect. How did that come about?

CB: Well it came about through me I suppose. Because Adrian Boult was one of my artists and I thought what a wonderful thing it would be for him and John Turner to do the Brandenburg Concerto recorder parts - because they are really recorder parts and not flute - and I suggested it to Sir Adrian. I think I must have played a record to him and he said 'this is fantastic'. When David and John Turner came into the studio Sir Adrian was wonderful with them; he treated them perfectly normally, as if they were great artists, which of course they were. There was no patronisation at all, and John Turner said he was always terribly amused by the fact that Boult always said to him [imitates Sir Adrian] "Well, we will try that again and I am sure it will be even better", and the result is a wonderful performance.

BS: The classical music scene today is divided very sharply between period and modern instrument performances. It must seem surprising to the younger generation that David Munrow, who in some ways was a pioneer of period instruments, performed Bach with a modern symphony orchestra. Were there any obstacles to that?

CB: No, it is strange now, but I think the thing was Boult was doing a set of Brandenburg Concertos, and therefore we had to have a recorder or flautist for numbers 2 and 4. I think that Boult was amazingly adventurous to accept the idea of doing it. But he immediately said 'that's a wonderful idea'. I think these days it would have been recorded by a tiny 'Bachy' type orchestra with Harnoncourt or someone. In those days symphony orchestras did still play Bach, and jolly well too.



BS: Tragically David Munrow took his own life in May 1976. Presumably this came as a terrible shock to his fiends and colleagues.

CB: It did; but in a way, when you think about it afterwards, he drove himself so terribly that any emotional problem would have had a much greater impact on him than for someone who was on a more even keel. We were all absolutely devastated by it, particularly the peformers he worked with who saw him as a life force, and if a life force dies or kills himself it is simply terrible - it couldn't be worse. I know that it knocked some of them - the countertenor James Bowman for instance - absolutely for six. He couldn't sing for quite a long time afterwards; he was absolutely devastated by it, and i am not surprised.

BS: And the news of his death came totally out of the blue.

CB: Completely, one day I had a phone call from John Willan who had taken over producing his recordings towards the end of his time, and John said: "You will never guess what has happened, the little blighter has killed himself" and I knew exactly who he meant. I said "you mean David" and he said "yes". It was really absolutely frightful.

BS: He was just thirty-three when he died. If that tragedy hadn't happened what do you think he would have gone on to do?

CB: Now that is a very interesting question. I think he would have become a very, very distinguished educator,and also conducting full-size orchestras. It is almost impossible to imagine, but his agent and I agreed always, if about nothing else, about the fact that he had definitely got the potential to be something more even than someone like André Previn. Previn was a great populariser and I think Munrow would have gone slightly deeper than that. I am not sure what repertoire he would have done, certainly opera and things like that, he would have loved anything that could have broadened his musical outlook.

BS: We can only speculate, but as a conductor, do you think he would have had a career across all categories and across all ages of repertoire. Would he have moved out of the early music and baroque category?

CB: Yes, I think he probably would. You think of Daniel Barenboim, but his career followed a fairly straightforward path: he started off as a pianist - a great Beethoven and Mozart pianist - and he then went on to conduct - a not unusual course. But Munrow's world was absolutely different; I don't think I have ever come across anyone like that. Neville Marriner is a sort of parallel, someone who in early music, although obviously he was an orchestral player who played everything when he was at the London Symphony Orchestra; Neville's conducting career began with early music and gradually went into the modern era. I think David Munrow would have become a very great conductor and also a great populariser.

BS: Christopher, we've heard how David Munrow was an extraordinary talent and extraordinary person to work with. How would you like to remember this extraordinary talent? What would be your abiding memory and the piece of music to remember him by?

CB: Well my abiding memory really is, of course, of him in the studio. I can remember him so well coming rushing in to listen to takes, and on one occasion something wasn't very good. I said to him "David that's not really up to standard", and he said [angry voice]: "What do you mean, what do you mean not up to standard. What standard is it not up to, EMI's?" And I said: "No, it isn't actually. It's not up to your standard either". He said "Oh balls!" and went back into the studio and immediately played the whole thing perfectly.To rile him and to get him angry was a pretty sure way of getting him to perform perfectly. He was so proud; he was a very, very proud person oddly enough of his ability and of his standards. The music which makes me remember him most was La Mourisque from 'Two Renaissance Dance bands". I can see his red face puffing away at the crumhorn or recorder - I can't remember which - and that music captures him perfectly.



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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Revisiting the Master Musicians


Two of the albums that I return to time and time again during my explorations of mystic turuq are Brian Jones Presents the Pan Pipes at Joujouka from 1971 and Bill Laswell's 1995 Apocalypse Across the Sky, both of which capture the literally entrancing sound of the legendary Master Musicians of Jajouka in their home village in Morocco's Rif Mountains. Six years ago I collaborated with Led Zeppelin biographer and Michael Jackson ghost writer Stephen Davis on a two-part profile of the Master Musicians. Between 1973 and 1989 Stephen made a number of visits to Jajouka, and he is therefore an important and reliable source on an important cultural tradition in which the music is sometimes drowned-out by the sound of axes being ground.

When I asked Stephen to choose between the Brian Jones and Bill Laswell productions he plumped for the more atmospheric and authentic 1971 recording, but conceded that Apocalypse Across the Sky "sounds great". Personally I love Brian Jones' psychedelic vision of Jajouka, but as a self-confessed sound freak I am also very fond of the awesome sound that Bill Laswell captured. Laswell is still very active and has built a considerable reputation for producing visceral sound mixes. He has now joined up again with the Master Musicians and Bachir Attar supplemented by Laswell's own Material musical collective which includes Senegalese percussionist Aïyb Dieng to revisit the Apocalypse material. The recording was made at the 2015 Gent Jazz Festival and is only available as a high-resolution download (FLAC etc) from Bill Laswell's M.O.D Technologies label which is dedicated to exploring the outer reaches of both music and audio technology; Soundcloud sample via this link.

To celebrate this new addition to the Jajouka discography I have conflated my two-part 2011 collaboration with Stephen Davis into a single article which appears below. This is long-form blogging with a vengeance, and I make no apologies for that. If the music and backstory are important enough, the word count should not matter.


Brion Gysin died in Paris in 1986. I remember he always use to say that if the Master Musicians of Jajouka ever stopped playing, the legend that holds the world will end. He often worried about the chronic poverty of the musicians, and the diluting effect of contact with the modern world upon the ancient music. But the Pipes of Pan survive to this day. Listen to this music, the primordial sounds of a 4000 year old rock 'n roll band... listen with your whole body, let the music penetrate and move you, and you will connect with the oldest music on earth.
That is William Burroughs writing about the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Today the Master Musicians are known to a wide audience through the albums produced by Rolling Stone Brian Jones and record industry maverick Bill Laswell. Their 1971 LP Brian Jones Presents the Pan Pipes at Joujouka has been described as the original world music album and the executive producer for its 1995 re-release was none other than Philip Glass. But despite this acclaim Brion Gysin's worries about the effect of the modern world on the ancient music proved to be well founded and the recent history of the Master Musicians has featured primordial music making and bitter internecine feuds in equal measures. These feuds prompted protests at Philip Glass concerts some years ago and still continue in muted form today, with two competing groups of musicians performing on stages around the world, each claiming to be the authentic 4000 year old rock 'n roll band.

The Master Musicians of Jajouka are an ecstatic brotherhood. They hold the hereditary position of guardians and performers at the tomb of the Sufi saint Sidi Hmed Shikh in the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco where they perform ritual dances at religious festivals celebrating the goat-man Bou Jeloud and the demoness Aisha Qandisha. In the past the Master Musicians have been the official Moroccan court musicians and the sound of their distinctive oboe-like double reed rhaitas accompanied the Sultan's progress to the Friday mosque. Their performance tradition may predate even Sufism and the eminent Finnish sociologist Edvard Westermarck (1862-1939) suggested that the Master Musicians' wild music has its roots in ancient Greek Dionysian rituals.



The transition from ancient to modern cultural icons came when Brion Gysin, whose circle included Paul Bowles and William Burroughs, hired the Master Musicians in 1954 to play in his legendary Tangier restaurant The 1001 Nights. Gysin's attention had been drawn to the Jajouka musicians by his friend the Moroccan artist Mohamed Hamri and when the Rolling Stones visited Tangier in 1967 Gysin took Brian Jones to Jajouka. The result was the album that started the world music bandwagon rolling and which also set the Master Musicians on a collision course with the modern world.

Brian Jones and recording engineer George Chkiantz taped the musicians in Jajouka in July 1968 and Jones mixed and edited the album in London. But he died in 1969 and Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka (that original spelling of the village has an importance that will emerge later) did not finally reach the stores until 1971, when it appeared as the first release on the new Rolling Stones Records label. With its insistent rhythms, beat generation connections and aroma of kif, the album quickly attracted a cult following, and a song with the refrain 'Ah Brahim Jones, Jajouka really stoned!' soon appeared in the Master Musicians' sets.



Despite being a field recording Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka was never intended to be a work of ethnomusicology and the liberal use of stereo phasing and panning in Jones' remix is typical of studio rock productions of the time. But the album succeeded in bringing the Master Musicians to the attention of the music cognoscenti and in 1991 the pioneer of 'collision music' Bill Laswell and engineer Oz Fritz travelled to Jajouka to record them using 12 track digital equipment. Laswell eschewed the post-production studio trickery of the Brian Jones album and instead presented the Master Musicians in startlingly lifelike sound on Apocalypse Across the Sky. William Burroughs supplied the title and sleeve notes, and the album is a sonic triumph although it does lack the atmospheric hashish haze that makes the Brian Jones production so special. The CD was issued on Laswell's own Axiom record label, it is now available as a high-res download and copies of the deleted  CD can still be found - either format should be snapped up if it is not already in your collection.

After a period out of the catalogue Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka was reissued in 1995 under license to Point Music, a label which was a joint venture between Philip Glass, Michael Riesman and Philips Classics. This re-release, which is now only available as an MP3 download, changed the title of the album to Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. The retitled and repackaged disc created considerable controversy; because some of the original musicians were denied royalties from the reissued disc and Brion Gysin’s original sleeve note was edited to remove references to Mohamed Hamri, who is generally credited with playing an important role in bringing Brian Jones to Jajouka. In addition Hamri's artwork for the original sleeve seen as the second graphic in this post was replaced by the design seen below.



These controversial changes, which sparked the protests at concerts by Philip Glass and the Master Musicians' leader Bachir Attar, were just one manifestation of a long-running feud that had split the musicians into two factions. This dated from 1988 when a progressive younger group led by Bachir Attar broke away from the more traditional Master Musicians. Triggering the split was a disputed double-booking involving a folklore festval in Marrakech and a TV film in Jajouka. All of which makes Brion Gysin's worries about "the diluting effect of contact with the modern world upon the ancient music" seem remarkably prescient.

Despite attempts at reconciliation the split escalated and continues today with two competing groups claiming to carry on the ancient Moroccan musical tradition. In one corner are the Master Musicians of Joujouka led by Ahmed Attar, and in the other corner are the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar (practically everyone in the village of Jajouka is an Attar) who recently played a Brion Gysin tribute concert in Tangier. The acrimonious split among the Master Musicians can be sampled in this post on the Joujouka group's blog.



All of which rather overshadows the music that the Master Musicians have produced in their various groupings. Following their acclaimed collaboration with Brian Jones the Jajouka band appeared on Ornette Coleman's 1977 album Dancing in Your Head and the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels in 1989. In recent years the musicians from the Jajouka and Joujouka groups have worked independently with a wide range of musicians including Talvin Singh, Marianne Faithfull, the Klezmatics, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the soundtrack of the 2001 film The Cell. In 2009 the Jajouka group released the first disc on their own label Jajouka Records and went on to venture into dubstep with their Jajouka Soundsystem project.

As I researched this article three things particularly struck me. First, the acrimony among the Masters and their followers is remarkable even for an industry that is famous for its dog eats dog culture. Secondly, almost all the published accounts of Jajouka and its music are written by transparently partisan supporters of either the Jajouka or Joujouka factions. And thirdly, what could be one of the richest available sources on the career of the Master Musicians before the 1988 split is usually discredited or ignored.



In early 1973 music journalist Stephen Davis, producer Joel Rubiner and photographer David Silver spent several weeks in Jajouka on assignment for National Geographic. Stephen Davis went on to write best selling biographies of Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones, and to ghost write Michael Jackson's autobiography Moonwalk. In between building his writing career Davis returned to Jajouka a number of times over two decades and in 1993 published Jajouka Rolling Stone, A Fable of Gods and Heroes. The dust jacket describes the book as "a magical debut novel", yet Jajouka Rolling Stone reads like a chronicle of Stephen Davis' time with the Master Musicians. The cast of characters includes Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Brian Jones, the events and dates correspond almost exactly with other factual accounts, and there are extensive quotations from Gysin, Bowles, Burroughs and others. Yet the book was published as fiction.

If you are confused, so was the public when Jajouka Rolling Stone was published by Random House in 1993. Although the book survived three hardback editions it eventually went out of print and is almost forgotten today. Which is something of a puzzle as Stephen Davis is one of the few people who was actually there with the Master Musicians in Jajouka. The provenance of the 300 page "novel" has always intrigued me, so after re-reading Jajouka Rolling Stone during a recent trip to Morocco I contacted Stephen Davis in the States and asked if he would finally tell the true story of the book. To my delight he agreed and our exclusive email discussion follows.



Bob Shingleton: Stephen, let’s tackle the big question first. Jajouka Rolling Stone is subtitled A Fable of Gods and Heroes and it is categorised as fiction. Yet the book is a description of real events featuring real people, and a cross-check between the novel and factual accounts elsewhere shows it to be pretty accurate. Why was it published as a novel? Is the word on the street that the fiction label was a ruse to avoid litigation from some of those portrayed in it correct?

Stephen Davis: Jajouka Rolling Stone, as a text, is a compilation of journal notes written on my trips to the Ahl Serif tribal area of the Djebala hills of northwest Morocco between 1973 and 1989. Some of these journeys were professional assignments, while others were personal visits and musical tourism. Some of the writing originated with encounters in London and Paris as well.

In the early 1990s, I was working with the drummer Levon Helm on his memoir about The Band. We usually worked in late afternoon and evenings at his house in Woodstock, New York. I was staying in nearby Bearsville, and had the mornings free. I liked to write every day while I was researching another project, and so I started typing up my old Jajouka notebooks, just to have something productive going on, and also because I had been missing some of my old friends in the mountains, who were beginning to die off. Making the notes into sentences and paragraphs had the effect of running the movie of my Moroccan adventures through my mental projector.

I showed these pages to my agent, who thought they might sell. Only one editorial assistant, at Random House, thought the text had any merit. Fortunately, her boss ran the company, and allowed her to acquire the book. She made no editorial changes in the text. The graphics at the chapter heads were from prints in my collection. They were altered to look dreamy, and the indelible image of the praying chief of the tribe was stamped into the case, or cover, of the book. [BS - see image below] I thought it was a really cool production. We put Brian Jones and the old chief on the jacket.

But … my young editor went to Costa Rica, caught a microbe, and almost died. Then she left the company to study to be a teacher. So Jajouka Rolling Stone was published in 1993 as an “orphan” book, with no editor in the firm to advocate for promotion etc. Such was its fate. No one reviewed it, as far as I could tell. Who would even be qualified to review it? But it sold enough to go through three printings in hard cover. No soft cover has been issued to date, and the book is not currently in print.

Now, the memoir/novel question. I decided the text had to be portrayed as fiction for three reasons. First, there are time compressions and other techniques that require an acknowledgement that a few minor things didn’t quite happen exactly the way I say it did. The differences can be minute but still real. Plus the name of almost every “character” was changed. Second, Paul Bowles was touchy about visiting writers portraying him smoking kif, at his home in Tangier. Calling the text a “novel” gave me, and him, a certain deniability. Third, the text portrays a character called Mohamed Hamsa, and his wife, who are similar to people – at least one of them -- still living.

Also, I thought the text worked better as a fiction -- a story -- than as a memoir. Books about Morocco have a tiny audience, as Paul Bowles often said. I thought a novel might reach a wider readership, and it did.



BS: Now we understand why Jajouka Rolling Stone was published as fiction are you able tell us if and where it deviates from real events?

SD: Actually, Jajouka Rolling Stone is a memoir. Everything in it – everything and more – happened. I went to Morocco in 1973 on assignment from National Geographic magazine to write about the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Photographer Martin Rogers and I stayed until the late spring of 1974. Our work was never published, I heard, because of the references to kif smoking in my text. I returned to Jajouka in 1977, 1979, 1981, 1986, and 1989. The text of the book is basically a rewrite of my notebooks from those journeys.

BS: When Jajouka Rolling Stone was published reviews focussed on the fact versus fiction aspect. It is fair to say that the reception for the novel was less than rapturous and it seems to have been less successful commercially than your other books. Were you disappointed with the market reaction?

SD: You mention reviews. I never saw one that I can remember. I never saw Jajouka Rolling Stone in a bookstore. No one got the book, especially the publisher and the booksellers. I asked a clerk in a snooty, hipper-than-thou (and now defunct) bookstore on Madison Avenue in New York, and he said, “Oh, we’re not carrying that book.” I never understood it. It was like a fatwa. There was no British edition, no translation rights in any language. I thought I was going to be the next Bruce Chatwin. But then I remembered how small the market for fiction about modern Morocco must be. Morocco didn’t pass the who-cares test in the West. In the end, I was amazed the text was published at all, and proud of how great the book looked and felt. As you point out, it was less successful commercially than some of my other work. (I’ve never even seen a royalty statement.) I love it anyway.

BS: Jajouka Rolling Stone was published several years before Brian Jones’ seminal Jajouka album was licensed to Point Music and re-issued. That 1995 re-release caused considerable controversy because it did not include some of the original musicians in the royalty deal, and Brion Gysin’s original sleeve note was edited to remove references to Mohamed Hamri who played an important role in bringing Brian Jones to Jajouka. The Point Music CD sleeve notes also included an extract from Jajouka Rolling Stone. What was your take on the controversy surrounding that 1995 re-issue which resulted in protests at Bachir Attar and Philip Glass concerts?

SD: This is a hard question because the story of the Jajouka/Joujouka schism is so complex. I won’t go into it here. The recent history is retailed on competing websites and is still going on, the flames being fanned mostly by outsiders, but real enough in the village as well. My take is that I support the work of Bashir Attar, son of the late chief Abdeslam Ahmed Attar (“Jnuin”) and consider him the leader of “The Master Musicians of Jajouka,” legatee of the tribal rhaita band that played for, and were recorded by, Brian Jones in July 1968.

As for the re-release of that album by Point Music in 1995 – it was a gas. The extract from Jajouka Rolling Stone, recounting a conversation with Brian Gysin in his Paris apartment in 1979, was used without my permission. I never saw what the big deal was about editing Hamri out of the Gysin text. All he did was bring Brion Gysin up the mountain. Years later, Gysin brought Brian Jones. Hamri wasn’t a musician; he was like a crooked talent manager. He was an asshole. (I never bought into his self-proclaimed “Painter of Morocco” label either, but I would give a leg for one of his paintings.) The Point Music thing was amazing, and it was even more amazing to see a troupe from Jajouka, starring the legendary drummer Mohammed Berdouz, playing in New England and New York in 1995. I never thought I would see it happen, and it did.

A further note. The original master copy of the music Brian Jones recorded in Jajouka – before it was electronically phased and re-channeled for psychedelic effect – was no longer in the archives of Rolling Stones Records in London, so Philip Glass’s people were forced to digitize a vinyl copy of the original album in 1995. Three years later, I was in London working on my biography of the Rolling Stones. I interviewed George Chkiantz, the recording engineer who went to Jajouka with Jones and actually made the tapes. He didn’t know about the Point Music CD, but mentioned that he had kept a “slave” copy of the original “master,” and I realized that no one has ever heard this music except George and Brian Jones, and how intriguing this was (and is). George Chkiantz’s account of Brian Jones in Jajouka is in my book Old Gods Almost Dead (2001).



BS: One thing that struck me about Jajouka Rolling Stone was that you are fulsome in your praise of Apocalypse Across the Sky, but you do not credit Bill Laswell for producing an album that sonically stands head and shoulders above Brian Jones’ Jajouka recording. Was the omission of Laswell’s name an oversight, or was there another reason?

SD: Laswell/Shmazwel. It is true that Apocalypse sounds great, but the quality of the music is only … ok. The band that recorded this music in Jajouka was cobbled together by Bashir Attar, with a couple of his brothers, and – I was told – some outside wedding musicians from Ksar el Kebir, the nearest big town. Bashir did it for the money, which was good.

There are many recordings, made from 1968 to 2010, of ensembles calling themselves The Master Musicians [“Malimin"] of Jajouka. For me, only three stand out. First, Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka (Rolling Stones Records, 1971). Second, The Master Musicians of Jajouka (Adelphi Records, 1975), recorded by Joel Rubiner, mostly in 1972, just before Ornette Coleman’s recording session in the village. Third (and perhaps most important) is Tribe Ahl Serif: Master Musicians of Jajouka (Musical Heritage Society, circa 1976). This is a two-record set made by Arnold Stahl around 1971, when a Danish film crew was working in the village. The second record in this set consists of about 25 minutes of the Boujeloudiya, or music for the goat god Bou Jeloud, which formerly danced in the village during the Aid el Kebir festival. The recording quality is excellent, and it features the large formation – 20 rhaitas and about 15 drummers – that Brian Jones recorded, and that I later chronicled beginning in 1973.
BS: In his sleeve note for Apocalypse Across the Sky William Burroughs tells how Brion Gysin was concerned about the diluting effects of contact with the modern world upon the ancient music. Since then the Master Musicians of Jajouka have embraced fusion and worked with Talvin Singh, Howard Shore, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and others. Do you think the ancient music of the Master Musicians has been diluted since you first heard them in 1974?

SD: Bill Burroughs’ notes on Apocalypse were not his best work. He gets Brian Jones’s dates wrong, and doesn’t give much sense of the village or the music before turning on the colored lights, the purple prose. And its not like the music has been diluted; its more like it has disappeared. Brion Gysin used to say that Bou Jeloud will dance in Jajouka until electricity comes up the mountain. That happened about ten years ago, and there is also now a mosque in the village. So, the old rituals – starkly pagan rituals involving wild music and animal sacrifice -- no longer really exist except as an occasional show for foreign visitors. The long, big-band anthems like “The 55,” which once accompanied the sultan to prayers and the army on the march, have obviously lost their ceremonial and authentic meanings, and are now performance pieces preserved by Bashir Attar and his troupe, which still puts on a great and stirring show, to their everlasting credit. And if you go to the village, they’ll still give you a cup of tea and a pipe and play some Jibli mountain music on gimbris, flutes and violins. So, in a “diluted” form, it is still there in some sense.



BS: Steve, you are a best selling music writer. Your books have portrayed, among others, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones, and you showed how highly you rated the Master Musicians of Jajouka by writing a book about them. Now, almost twenty years later, are you still listening to the Master Musicians or has your assessment of them as up there with the greats changed?

SD: Yes, I still listen, especially to the many cassette tapes I recorded in Jajouka over the years. And of course I buy Bashir’s recordings as they become available. He’s a soulful guy and a great musician. He was 12 when I met him, a dancing boy in a frilly pink dress.

BS: Over the years you have been very close to the action in the record industry. That industry has changed dramatically since Brian Jones produced his 1968 album, which you describe in the book as possibly ‘the original “World Music” album’. The Master Musicians of Jajouka, like many others, now have their own record label. But times are not getting any easier in the music business; so how do you see the prospects for niche acts like the Master Musicians and how do you see the future of the World Music segment?

SD: I still think the Brian Jones recording is the alpha recording of the World Music movement that probably peaked with the Ry Cooder / Ali Farka Toure Talking Timbuktu album back in the Nineties. I have no idea where recorded music is going now, except that in order to keep their families in food and drugs, musicians now actually have to go out and play to make money, which has to be a good thing in the end.

BS: You first visited Morocco almost thirty years ago. Have you been back recently and how do you think the country is changing?

SD: I first visited Morocco almost forty years ago. I went back in 2008, and again typed up my notes, which were published in 2010 under the title To Marrakech By Aeroplane. And anyone interested in Jajouka should see the great documentary The Hand of Fatima (2009), a film by Augusta Palmer, the daughter of the late writer Robert Palmer, who first showed me how to find the yellow brick road that leads up Owl Mountain to Jajouka. And thanks for your interest in Jajouka Rolling Stone.

BS: Stephen, thank you for your participation which made this important feature possible.



Sources for this article include:
* Nothing is True but Everything is Permitted - The Life of Brion Gysin by John Geiger
* Paul Bowles' Travels - Collected Writings 1950-1993, * The Shambala Guide to Sufism by Carl Ernst
* Jajouka Rolling Stone, A Fable of Gods and Heroes by Stephen Davis
* The sleeve notes of Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka and Apocalypse Across the Sky, and the header quote is from William Burroughs' note for the latter album.
* The website of the Master Musicians of Jajouka is here and that of their Joujouka counterparts is here. This material was first published in a slightly different version in May 2011.

First posted in April 2017. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar.No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Classical music must break through the electronic glass ceiling


Why does classical music have such entrenched antagonism towards electronic sounds when one of its most successful recent compositions is closer to ambient electronica than a Beethoven symphony? Now don't get me wrong. For me John Luther Adams' Become Ocean is a masterwork which thoroughly deserved the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the 2015 Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. But after listening to it many times I have come to the conclusion that John Luther Adams' orchestral tour de force is, in fact, electronica by another name. And what's wrong with that?

In his ecstatic review of Become Ocean Alex Ross describes Become Ocean as possibly "the loveliest apocalypse in musical history". But there is also a strong case for arguing that this apocalypse could be created with similarly magical impact by electronics instead of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, if only deeply reactionary factions within the classical establishment would allow it. Classical music has a love/hate affair with electronics. There is the passionate and long-standing love affair with digital technology which, of course, has electronics at its heart. The classical industry simply can't get enough of streaming services which are domiciled on global data centers consuming 3% of all electricity generated on the planet. Then of course there is the art form's devotion to social media which is driven by electron flows. But electronic sounds in the concert hall are a very different matter indeed.

Historically electronic instruments have, understandably, been treated with suspicion by the classical world because of their potential impact on employment of musicians. But still today, despite the hegemony of digital technologies, suggesting electronics and its bastard offspring amplification have a place in the contemporary concert hall is a dreadful form of heresy. This despite electronic instruments being given the stamp of approval by a number of great and visionary composers including Messiaen - the ondes Martenot in his Turangalîla Symphony, Valentin Silvestrov - a synthesizer in his unrecognised masterwork Requiem for Larissa, and Michael Tippett, whose opera New Year calls for - horror of horrors - electric guitars. And electronics in the concert hall is still heretical despite successful applications of electronic variable hall acoustic systems from Meyer Audio in the States and CSTB in France. And did anybody mention that iPhones, the mobile listening device of choice, digitally manipulate and amplify the music?



This technophobia in the concert hall is very puzzling. Because classical music's great and good are continually banging on about a new and younger audience, and the default music of that target audience is electronic dance music, a market worth $7.4 billion. However there are, thankfully, some inspiring exceptions to art music's rampant technophobia. One notable example is the Ambient Church concert series masterminded by Brian Sweeny which has been running in New York and elsewhere since 2016. Ambient Church concerts provide the visuals for this post*, with the header photo showing the 'diva of the diode' Suzanne Ciani at one of the events.

The Ambient Church website describes the series as 'a nomadic experiential event series dedicated to working with artists to bring new ecologies to architecturally unique spaces through transcendent audio and visual performance', while Pitchfork more succinctly dubs it 'Where weird music meets mindfulness'. That latter description highlights the double whammy delivered by Ambient Church. Because not only does it provide a concert showcase for electronic composers such as Robert Rich and Steve Roach who are best known for their recordings; but it also taps into the human potential movement, a very large market assiduously ignored by Western classical music. (Prior to Ambient Church Brian Sweeny ran the Body Actualized Centre in NYC which a magazine article explained "From all-night raves to cosmic yoga, the Brooklyn DIY Venue rolled partying and self-improvement into one".) Visual artists are commissioned to create complex light shows and projections specific for each Ambient Church event, bringing a much-needed visual element to art music. All of which provides a refreshing contrast the increasingly po-faced and self-reverential attitudes in classical music.

Ambient Church can be sampled on its YouTube channel. But the best way to sample weird music meeting mindfulness is in the newly-released double CD The Sky Opens which captures Steve Roach's 2019 Ambient Church set in the First United Methodist Church, Pasadena, California. It is particularly impressive how Steve 'plays' the Methodist Church's generous acoustics. For instance the opening track, which is his signature Structures From Silence, is slower than on his celebrated 1984 studio recording, thereby allowing the church's acoustic to contribute. In the context of classical music this album represents electronica coming of age. To date acoustics and hall ambience have been integral to defining the classical experience. At one fell swoop Ambient Church brings electronic music into that defining experience. Suddenly Steve Roach is making classical music - whatever that is - with electronic instruments. If semantics obsess you The Sky Opens can be defined as electronic chamber music, as he plays eighteen electronic instruments during his set - extended audio sample via this link.



You may gather that I am very impressed by The Sky Opens. For me this is an important album; far more important, in fact, than yet another interpretation of a Beethoven symphony. (Before the Twitter hunting pack is let loose, I do believe Beethoven is god. But you can have too much even of god.). This album is important because it shows how electronica can shine in the same acoustic context as Western classical music, but it is also important because it raises crucial questions about how where we listen, affects what we listen to.

In recent years there has been a massive shift in how we listen to music, with mobile devices becoming the listening mode of choice. But there has been no inquiry into how mobile listening is reconditioning the audience, not just in terms of sound quality but also in terms of repertoire. Classical music is a fuzzy science, and in recent times much less fuzzy science, notably Heisenberg's 'uncertainty principle', has proved a clear relationship between the observer - listener - and the observed - music. Yet classical music remains wedded to the dogma of independent absolutes whereby the absolute of the music and its impact on emotions remains unchanged irrespective of whether the other absolute, the listener, is sitting in an acoustically perfect concert hall or a noisy train.

Last year I expressed surprise at the extensive coverage I was devoting to electronic music. One reason is that I am fortunate to be able to travel extensively, and electronic music survives well in acoustically hostile environments such as aircraft. Yes, I know noise cancelling headphones exist: but listening to Beethoven's op 131 Quartet on a Boeing 737 is an emotionally barren experience even wearing wearing state-of-the-art noise cancelling headphones.

The Chilean biologist, philosopher, and neuroscientist Francisco Varela was a leading exponent of the emerging scientific viewpoint that 'objective knowledge' cannot be acquired independently of the person acquiring it. This radical viewpoint proposes that the observed (music), the observer (listener) and the result (the emotional impact of the music) are in a relative relationship. Which means the emotional impact of music on a listener depends on who is listening, and where and how they are listening. In simple terms, as an Overgrown Path has previously pointed out, my music is not your music. In fact this reality challenging assertion goes further, because my music is not my music when I listen to it in a different place or on a different device. Those who dismiss this as New Age babble, and there will be many, are referred to the work of F.M. Alexander. He developed the Alexander Technique which exploits the mysterious and seriously under-researched link between the intangible mind and the physical body, a discipline which has benefited many leading musicians including Julian Bream, Colin Davis and Sir Adrian Boult.



Aaron Copland told us 'When the audience changes, the music changes'. Classical music's target audience has changed dramatically in recent years. But has the music changed at all beyond cosmetic tweaks such as relaxing concert dress codes? No, and let me hasten to add I do not advocate ditching Beethoven for Steve Roach. But I do advocate classical music embracing far more adventurous repertoire - Beethoven and Steve Roach. Art music should be a very broad church, and Ambient Church is an inspiring example of challenging elitist comfort zones.

Let me leave you with the observations of someone far wiser than me, the visionary and much-missed composer Jonathan Harvey who made a major contribution to the synthesis of classical music and electronics. In a 2010 radio interview with me - listen via this link - Jonathan made predictions about classical music's future that can be interpreted in different ways. His vision of listeners moving around and leaving during a work is prophetic of the mobile listening, playlists and mixtapes that have dramatically changed classical listening in the ten years since the interview. And his vision of a performance space freed of the dogmas that still haunt classical music is realised by Ambient Church and similar experiments. Here are Jonathan Harvey's words, and if, no matter how heretical to some, Ambient Church makes young people realize what they’re missing in classical music, it is job done.
I think what the future must bring is things which are considered blasphemous, like amplifying classical music, in an atmosphere where people can come and go, where they can even talk perhaps, and it wouldn’t be sacrilege, and they can certainly leave in the middle of a movement if they feel like it; these are the sort of situations where young people’s music takes place, and it’s of course not expecting as much of music as those of us who are musicians would want. But it is a kind of compromise that I think will have to happen, and if it happens, I think young people will really realize what they’re missing.

* Photo credits from top to bottom are:
1. Ambient Church website
2. Greg Cristman via Brooklyn Vegan
3. Ambient Church website
4. TeleFantasyStudios

** An accessible introduction to the Alexander Technique is Principles of the Alexander Technique by Jeremy Chance.

No review samples used in this post. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Let's get real - money calls the tune in classical music


It makes very good sense to use free streaming of classical concerts as a substitute for concerts with an audience during the current Coronavirus pandemic. But it makes no sense to welcome the 'new world of free streaming' as the start of a beneficial 'behavioural revolution' as classical music's mouthpiece Slipped Disc does. Because free streaming is revenue averse, and money calls the tune in classical music. Let me give three examples of that money habit. First, in the concert season 2016/17 the ten most highly-paid music directors of American orchestras earned between them US$18.2 million (£14.8m). Secondly, Simon Rattle, who is feted on Slipped Disc for a free streamed Berlin concert, is demanding a new London concert hall to match the Elbphilharmonie which cost €860m (£781m).

Thirdly, even a passionate proselytizer of free content like Slipped Disc has significant revenue streams. There is the banner advertising on Norman's blog plus paid for advertorial, and drilling down into the privacy settings reveals that no less than 98 'vendors' with company names beginning with 'A' (I gave up counting at that point) 'use' - ie generate revenue from - data on Slipped Disc readers. All this is reflected in the most recent accounts for SlippedDisc Ltd (Company number 10086567) which shows cash in the bank and in hand of £143k. And let's not get all self-righteous about this. The infinitely more modest On An Overgrown Path may not have banner advertising and advertorial content. But my blog is hosted by Google which will be monetising reader data just like Slipped Disc. All this is perfectly legitimate and in the public domain if you know where to look. So it should come as no surprise to anyone, except those who believe that a revenue-free business model holds the future for classical music.

The argument that streaming increases concert attendances is unproven. Even if it does increase attendances, free streaming reduces the perceived value of classical music. Why pay top dollar for a concert ticket plus travel and other city centre costs when you can stay at home and watch the same performance for free in high definition and with excellent sound? There may be marginal income from advertising linked to streaming; but this reduces orchestras to just another YouTuber dragged into the race to the bottom for online viewer numbers.

Yes, let's give audiences free streaming while force majeure applies. But once we return to normality classical music should be pursuing a strategy of increasing perceived value, not eroding it. Slipped Disc claims an enormous readership; it is accepted by the classical industry as its de facto mouthpiece, and it can therefore be assumed the views expressed therein reflect industry thinking. As I write there are 23 comments on Norman's hymn to the brave new world of free streaming. Of these only two express any reservations about the financial implications of this 'behaviourial revolution'. Which means, based on this sample, 91% of the classical music community is in favour of moving to a revenue-free business model. Which part of common sense doesn't classical music understand?

Header image adapted from Forbes - How To Build A Top Quality Classical Music Library For $100 (II). No free samples of $100 bills used in this post. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).