Friday, April 30, 2010

Sounds of Sufism

One of the disciples would start to sing a devotional song in praise of their Sheikh. Many of Abdul Qadir's followers were musicians. There was Richard Thompson who sang with Fairport Convention, Ian Whiteman who was with Mighty Baby; Roger Powell who was with a group called The Action; and Peter Sanders, a photographer with a beautiful voice. In fact the Zawiya was a veritable den of stunning voices. In no time, the zihr session would be raised to another, more etheral plane. Then the fuqara would stand up, form a circle holding one another's hands, and be led by a high-ranking member of the Zawiya, standing in the middle of the circle, in chanting La ilaha illa'llah ('There is no God but Allah'), La ilaha illa'llah.

The dancing disciples would inhale with La ilaha and collectively exhale with illa'llah. The chanting would start gently but as it gathered pace, the circle would become more of an octagon, and fuqara would begin to sway, throwing themselves backwards as they expelled their breath for La ilaha, thrusting forwards as they expelled their breath with illa'llah. When the chanting reached frantic pitch the walls of the Zawiya would reverberate with La ilaha illa'llah. Soon the assembly would be in a state of total frenzy. Finally, Allah, uttered sixty-six times, would bring the exhausted assembly to a serene calm. Quiet would fall over the gathering.
That graphic description of a Sufi ritual led by Abdul Qadir in London in the 1970s comes from Ziauddin Sardar's thought provoking book Desperately Seeking Paradise - Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim. A Zawiya is the Sufi equivalent to a mosque and is used for meditation and rituals. The band Mighty Baby were influential in bringing Sufism to the rock scene and they were the closing act on the first day of the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Abdul Qadir, who is on the extreme right of the photo above, has led a colourful and somewhat controversial life. Born Ian Dallas in Scotland in 1930 he was part of the London media scene in the 1960s. His work there included adapting classic novels for the BBC and appearing in the Federico Fellini classic 8½. Folklore of the 60s has Ian Dallas giving Eric Clapton the copy of the ancient Persian Sufi parable 'Layla and Majnun' that inspired Clapton's song 'Layla'.

In 1967 Ian Dallas converted to Islam in Morocco and became Abdul Qadir. After living in London he changed his name to Abdalqadir as-Sufi. He then founded the Ihsan Mosque here in Norwich in 1977 before starting the orthodox Murabitun World Movement in Granada, Spain. He went on to open a centre for the education of Muslim leaders in Cape Town in 2004 where he now lives. Abdalqadir as-Sufi's articles on his official website clearly position him on the radical side of contemporary Islam. The photo of him above was taken at Jumu'ah Mosque, Cape Town in 2010.

Like other religous groupings Sufism has its dark side, but it has also been misappropriated and distorted, in large part due to the mysterious and ecstatic nature of the movement. In an attempt to shed a little light instead of heat I am presenting an hour of Chance Music inspired by Sufism this Sunday May 2 on Future Radio.

There is some fascinating music, both traditional and contemporary, connected with Sufism. But before discussing the music it is useful to understand its context. Sufism is Islam's mystical arm and its origins and beliefs are surrounded by mystery The name Sufi is thought to come from the Arabic word for wool which is suf, because the first Sufis wore white woollen robes. There are many definitions of Sufism. An early follower explained ‘Sufism is to eat little, to seek peace in God and to flee from the people’. Another described Sufism as ‘when you do not possess anything and when nothing possesses you’.

Under Islam Sufis are usually grouped into brotherhoods and it these orders which provide the popular image of whirling dervishes. But Sufism crosses all religious boundaries in its search for a higher level of existence. The term is used to describe a wide range of people who question prevailing social norms and who place greater emphasis on love than formal religion and material possessions. The Trappist monk, teacher, Joan Baez fan and author Thomas Merton had a deep interest in Sufism and a fascinating book has been published titled Merton and Sufisim: The Untold Story.

In recent years Sufism has come under increasing pressure both from Islamic fundamentalism and secularisation. In secular Turkey for instance, Sufism was banned by law in 1925. Turkey provides the opening music for my programme in the form of two tracks from Mercan Dede's album Seyahatnameh. Mercan Dede, seen above, was born in Bursa in Turkey in 1966 and is a composer, DJ and plays the ney, the Turkish flute used in Sufi rituals. Seyahatnameh is guided by the Sufi principles of balance and love, but mixes these with dance beats and ambient electronic music. I brought the CD back from a visit to Istanbul in 2007.

This is followed by more contemporary music from Dahfer Youssef’s album Electric Sufi which featured here in 2008. Dhafer Youssef is a master of the oud and on this album is joined by musicians playing a mix of traditional and modern instruments, incuding Markus Stockhausen, the son of Karleheinz Stockhausen, on flugelhorn and trumpet.

The core of the programme is a rare chance to listen in on traditional Sufi ritual music. This opens with a reading from the Qu'ran followed by an instrumental taqsim. Then comes extracts from the liturgy of the dervishes of Damascus with an instrumental introduction followed by singing based on the ancient art of Qu’ran recital. The performance is by the Syrian muqri (Koran reader) and munshid (hymnodist) Hamza Shakkur and the Ensemble Al-Kindi who are seen above. It comes from the CD of Taqsim and Sufi Chants on the German Network label.

Concluding the programme is an improvisation based on the ecstatic dance performed at the tomb of the Afghan Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. This is played by Titi Robin, a young French gypsy guitarist, and Pakistani vocalist Faiz Ali Faiz , who trained in the sufi art of quwwali devotional music, they are seen together below. The track is from their album Jaadu Magic which featured here in December last year.

* Chance Music from the Sufi world was broadcast and webcast on Future Radio at 3.00pm on Sunday May 2. A podcast of the programme is now available here.

Photos 1 & 3 were taken by me in Morocco and are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Photo 2 was is from the Muslims of Norwich website . Desperately Seeking Paradise by Ziauddin Sardar was borrowed from Norwich library. All CDs mentioned in the article were bought atretail price. 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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

He loved music from the non-formal scene

He also liked synthesisers because he loved Brian Eno's, or Philip Glass' music, but also that of Nina Hagen and other artists from the non 'formal' scene. I believe it was enough to present him with a subject which he would like for him to catch on it.

I also feel that it is this dilettantism, in the most original sense of the word, which made him so accessible for every audience, because Scott disassociated his instrument from music at large, hence I might also say that he played in the same manner that the 17th and 18th century musicians did in their own time. An era which, far from being restricted to lace and sweeps of the leg, was just as brutal and hard for the body, included among the well to do, than what exists in the Third World today, and a fortiori for musicians; if we shall take this into consideration, it might help us to get away from any insipid prettiness. He, for one, had done this - from Scott Ross - An Unfinished Destiny by Michel Proulx.
The quirky prose of Michel Proulx's own English translation of his Scott Ross, Claveciniste - Un Destin Inachevé provides the answer to yesterday's question of which sadly departed classical musician was a fan of the 'mother of punk' Nina Hagen? Michel Proulx's priceless little biography featured in The perfect ethical and musical Christmas present. Scott Ross, who is seen in my header photo, appeared in If you only buy thirty-four CDs this year - buy these, and sadly in The rumours about Aids were spreading, while back in 2007 I followed in his footsteps in France.

There are few photos of Scott Ross. The header image is taken from a small and unattributed photo in Michel Proulx's book which I have not seen anywhere else. The extraordinary power of the image more than makes up for its poor technical quality. Details of photographer and provenance will be added if they come available. There is a powerful but less evocative image of the harpsichordist here. 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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

God save punk classical

The recent death of the The Sex Pistols former manager Malcolm McLaren, the launch of the 2010 BBC Proms season and the future of classical music blogs come together on this path. My 'love it or hate it' header image was created as a parody of the famous Sex Pistols album cover by Francisco Arriba from Buenos Aires in Argentina. Francisco writes an excellent and little-known English language blog titled I Hate Music! and that brings me to the future of classical music blogs.

Over on the similarly excellent Renewable Music composer Daniel Wolf penned an excellent post last week which said:
I may well be missing some activity, but judging from the blogs I follow, there has recently been a aggregatel decline in the frequency and volume of independent classical music blogging, with the number of institutional music blogs increasing.
In a comment on his blog I agreed with Daniel. By any measure the momentum is going out of the classical music blogs and the rise of the institutional blog, as opposed to the independent species, seems to have a lot to do with it. On BBC Radio 3 there is a classical music chat show called In Tune around which a fun little game can be played. Go to the In Tune website, see who the guests are, then work out what concert, CD or book they are trying to flog while being egged on by the fawning presenter. In the same way more and more blogs are now doing little more than flogging concerts, CDs or books, and the readers know it.

It is probably inevitable, but the commercialisation of music blogs means they are no longer 'hot' media. Having finally received my EMI pension (which now buys a few of their CDs each month - that's renewable music for you), my thoughts sometimes turn to which other independent blogs will still be around when I retire my keyboard. The fallible top 25 music blogs ranking contains a depressing mix of longstanding blogs (including this one) and an increasing number with barely disguised commercial agendas.'s top 25 does not yet list Renewable Music, I Hate Music! Antoine Leboyer's Beckmesser's Rants, Gavin Plumley's Entarte Music and Tam Pollard's Where's Runnicles? I hope they make it there because all five are examples of a species that is under threat, the free thinking music blog.

This post started with the BBC Proms, so take your seats and hold on tight because I now want to return to that subject. I'll happily drink to God Save the Proms, especially if someone else is paying. But what a shame so much fine music is being subordinated to the hoopla and super-sized egos that are as much part of today's Proms as the bust of Sir Henry Wood in front of the Albert Hall organ. Beyond the hoopla there are some pretty punk programmes in the 2010 season. Here are just five 'must listen' examples:

Arvo Pärt, St John Passion - August 17
Cage, Cardew, Skempton, Feldman - Aug 20
Dowland, Britten, Gesualdo, Brett Dean, Monteverdi, Betty Olivero - August 21
Judith Weir, Thea Musgrave, Bayan Northcott, Brian Ferneyhough, Jonathan Harvey, Gabriel Jackson - Sept 4
Penguin Cafe - Sept 8

Yes, God Save the Proms. But as Radio 3 is currently a 24/7 orgy of Proms self-congratulation a little balance can surely do no harm? Not one of the concerts I have highlighted is in the main 7.30pm Albert Hall slot. So what happened to the end of ghettoising challenging music at the Proms? For some the hoopla of Radio 3's classical jocks is literally a turn off. Could not the BBC use its bandwidth on the Freeview service to provide an alternative announcer-less 'clean' audio feed from the Proms for those of us who want to hear the music and hall ambience without the patronising presenter? If we have to accept 'progress' in the form of Classic FM-style concerts of music from Broadway musicals cannot a publicly-funded budget of £9m also buy us progress in the form of more than one concert of non-Western art music? - again plus ça change. Talking of non-Western art music isn't there a risk of conflict of interests in the BBC Radio 3 World Routes Academy around which that late night Prom on August 9 is built? I would like to hear answers to all those questions; but I'm not expecting them to appear on a certain institutional blog.

But talking of questions and answers let's return to punk. Here to end is a little Overgrown Path game, and, as usual, I have nothing to flog except some great music. My question is which sadly departed classical musician who has featured here several times was passionate about the music of Brian Eno and Philip Glass, and was a fan of the 'mother of punk' Nina Hagen seen below? If you don't know the answer and can resist the power of Google I'll give the solution here tomorrow. And that mention of Brian Eno and solutions takes us down a path that is very 'hot' for UK readers.

I did not receive an invite to the 2010 Proms press lauch, described by an institutional blog as 'one of the best music biz parties of the year'. Francisco Arriba gave me permission to use his God Save the Proms image. Any other 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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jewish music under the sheltering sky

In 1959 Paul Bowles was awarded a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation to make field recordings of Moroccan music. Bowles was a sometime housemate of Benjamin Britten and a protégé of Aaron Copland, the relevance of whose Lithuanian Jewish descent will become apparent in the next paragraph. In 1947 Bowles had settled in Morocco where he established his reputation as a writer and influence on the Beat generation with his first novel The Sheltering Sky. In addition to a grant for the recording project the Rockefeller Foundation provided a professional-quality but mains powered Ampex tape recorder, which limited field recordings to locations where 110 volt mains was available .

This handicap notwithstanding, Paul Bowles and two companions travelled 25,000 miles across Morocco over a three year period making more than 250 recordings of the country's musical heritage . But despite support for the project from both the Library of Congress and the Rockefeller Foundation the potential of the recordings was not exploited and 97 two track 7" reel-to-reel tapes containing approximately sixty hours of music were archived for more than a decade after the project's completion. Finally in 1972 the Library of Congress issued a two LP set of highlights from the recordings. Almost three more decades passed before Massachusetts based independent label Rounder Records released a 2 CD set of Sacred Music of the Moroccan Jews which can be sampled and bought as a download from the label's website.

Sacred Music of the Moroccan Jews was recorded in the Jewish communities of Essaouira and Meknes. During my recent visit to Essaouira I followed in the footsteps of Paul Bowles and took the colour photos accompanying this article. At the end of the nineteenth century around 7000 Jews lived in the Jewish quarter, known as the mellah, in Essaouira. The creation of Israel and the continuing tension between Arabs and Jews has decimated the Jewish community in Essaouira and now only around twelve Jewish families live in the city. The remaining families live outside the mellah and, as can be seen from my header photos, many of the houses in the old Jewish quarter are derelict and in dangerous condition. But there has been some recent rehabilitation of the city's Jewish heritage with the support King Hassan II of Morocco's economic advisor André Azoulay, who is himself a Jew.

The photos above were taken in the meticulously restored Chaim Pinto Synagogue in Essaouira: this may have been the location for Paul Bowles' field recording of the unaccompanied Jewish liturgy. The building was the home and synagogue of Rabbi Chaim Pinto. His followers built the Pinto Torah Center synagogue on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles and Essaouira is the destination for an annual Jewish pilgimage. Below are two photos showing the well-maintained Jewish cemetery outside the city walls. The top one is of the plaque marking the tomb of the son of Rabbi Chaim Pinto.

Interleaved between my own colour images are three wonderful old black and white photos of the Jewish community of Essaouira I found in a backstreet shop in the medina. The prints have no captions or dates but evoke wonderfully the Jewish culture of Morocco that Paul Bowles captured in his field recordings. Sadly it is a culture that has since almost completely disappeared.

Random paths - Paul Bowles was a friend of Colin McPhee, as was Benjamin Britten. Read more about McPhee, whose Tabuh-Tabuhan is generally recognised as the first minimalist work, in East meets West. There is a modern setting of the Kabbalat Shabbat together with other Jewish music here, and the music of the Sephardic Jews is here.

Colour photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Copyright on the b & w photos is unclear. Their age probably puts them out of copyright and Morocco is hardly renown for its copyright enforcement. But they are reproduced in a low-res format which makes commercial copying difficult anyway. No review samples were supplied for this article. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, April 26, 2010

A bus named Havergal Brian

Havergal Brian's music may not feature in the 2010 BBC Proms season, but as a consolation prize the composer has had a bus named after him in Brighton. He joins other musical celebrities including Ralph Vaughan Williams (no symphonies at the 2010 Proms and just one more performance than John Foulds), Frank Bridge (no music at all at the Proms), Albert Ketèlbey (ditto), Dusty Springfield (well OK) and the WHO (that's a good idea) whose names adorn Brighton's bus fleet. The full list of named buses is here, we can only speculate why certain names (including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip) are no longer displayed. Thanks go to reader John Shimwell (who brought us Noddy and Berg's ears) for giving us the ticket to ride. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of Havergal Brian. But I wonder whether his bus works a very long route? More on the composer of 'The Gothic' symphony here.

Image credit Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company. 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

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Breakfast time blues

Wake up feeling all is good with the world. Decide I really should be more positive about BBC Radio 3. Switch on their breakfast programme presented by Martin Handley. First music is more than promising, Rachmaninov arrangement of Mendelssohn followed by Malcolm Arnold film score. Then Martin Handley announces next track will be a listener request from a disc of children's favourites featuring Zippity Doo Dah and Santa Claus got stuck in my chimney. Throw myself across room and stuff first CD I can grab into player. Abdoulaye Diabate, Djeli Moussa Diawara and Moussa Cissoko's delicious brand of jazz from the unlikely combination of piano, kora and percussion fills the room. All is good with the world again.

* Confession time: my copy of Kora Jazz is a pirate CD bought in Morocco. The RIAA should just view it as a promotional copy.

* Trivia time: OAOP will be taking an extended summer intermission in a few weeks while we pursue some paths in Europe. One of them leads to a monastery where the kora is used to accompany the Divine Liturgy. More kora here and here.

Oh dear ... 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

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cracked Media - the Sound of Malfunction

In a small warehouse gallery space in the centre of Sydney a noise turntablist, Lucas Abela, stands over a stack of vinyl that is bolted to the rotary device of an industrial sewing machine, Instead of spinning the records at 33 or 45 revolutions per minute this "turntable" spins the records at up to 2,850 revolutions per minute. The stylus itself is made of a meat skewer directly connected to a guitar amplifier, Abeka holds the makeshift needle against the records with difficulty; the speed of their rotation constantly whips his stylus off the vinyl discs. The sound is dominated by intense noise: loud bursts of sound join occasionally recognizable high-speeed cartoon-like tunes. The force with which the needle is applied to the discs causes them to shatter at regular intervals, and as they do shards of vinyl are propelled across the room; some are firmly embedded in the gallery walls. In total the performance lasts around eight minutes before the combination of vinyl and a broken needle causes the end of the piece [see photo above] ...

Throughout the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first it became almost common to see performances that used some element of the manipulation, breaking or destruction of sound mediation technologies in live performance. The image of the performer bent over newly released audio technology, or alternatively, over beaten up domestic hi-fi equipment, producing an array of noises at extreme volume or at palpable near silence, was a regular part of many experimental music performances.
Those excerpts come from Cracked Media - The Sound Of Malfunction by Caleb Kelly and published by The MIT Press. I found the book by chance as a new title in Norwich Library and was struck immediately by how it reflected many recent themes here On An Overgrown Path - chance music, feral choirs, the lost art of listening, no selection has been made, silence is no longer a possibility, does the sound matter anymore? and of course the 'cracking' of established media. The best thing I can do is reproduce MIT's synopsis of the book:
From the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first, artists and musicians manipulated, cracked, and broke audio media technologies to produce novel sounds and performances. Artists and musicians, including John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yasunao Tone, and Oval, pulled apart both playback devices (phonographs and compact disc players) and the recorded media (vinyl records and compact discs) to create an extended sound palette. In Cracked Media, Caleb Kelly explores how the deliberate utilization of the normally undesirable (a crack, a break) has become the site of productive creation. Cracked media, Kelly writes, slides across disciplines, through music, sound, and noise. Cracked media encompasses everything from Cage's silences and indeterminacies, to Paik's often humorous tape works, to the cold and clean sounds of digital glitch in the work of Tone and Oval. Kelly offers a detailed historical account of these practices, arguing that they can be read as precursors to contemporary new media.

Kelly looks at the nature of recording technology and the music industry in relation to the crack and the break, and discusses the various manifestations of noise, concluding that neither theories of recording nor theories of noise offer an adequate framework for understanding cracked media. Connecting the historical avant-garde to modern-day turntablism, and predigital destructive techniques to the digital ticks, pops, and clicks of the glitch, Kelly proposes new media theorizations of cracked media that focus on materiality and the everyday.
Caleb Kelly is a lecturer at Sydney University. It is good to feature a project from Australia, a country where there are many regular readers On An Overgrown Path, and where, incidentally my brother has lived for the last thirty-odd years. And it was interesting to learn that the unlikely figure of Paul Hindemith was one of the first proponents of cracked media. He presented an event called Neue Musik Berlin 1930 with Ernst Toch that used manipulated turntables as sound sources.

Cracked Media - The Sound Of Malfunction is well worth exploring irrespective of your preconceptions on the subject. As Jeff Greenwald wrote:
Artists in the Western world work by bending the banister, confident that anyone sitting on it will slide into a new awareness.
* I know you are just itching to hear what cracked media sounds like. The good news is there are audio files and more in author Caleb Kelly's Free Music Archive.

* Website for Cracked Media is here.

* More resources on cracked media at Impermanent Audio.

Images are from Cracked Media and the header is by Mr. Snow. 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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Five Movements (For Morty Feldman)

My former teacher, Robert Keyser, introduced me to Feldman's music when I was an art student in 1971 with an old copy of a record. I've been interested in his music ever since then. Feldman's article, "After Modernism", written for Art in America in December 1971, had a big influence on me as an art student at that time.

Those words come from American painter Marc Salz (b. 1949) His Five Movements (For Morty Feldman) in oil on Baltic birch is seen above. There are more Morton Feldman resources here including links to nineteen other artists who have been inspired by Feldman's music.

Morton Feldman features in the late night BBC Prom on August 20 in this refreshingly adventurous programme from the refreshingly adventurous BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra:

John Cage First Construction (in Metal)
Cornelius Cardew Bun No.1 (London Premiere)
Howard Skempton Lento
Morton Feldman Piano and Orchestra (London Premiere)
John Tilbury piano
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov conductor

Hindemith the painter is here.

Thanks go to David Cavlovic for pointing out this path from Morton Feldman at the Woodstock Festival? I apologise to Marc Salz for cropping his Five Movements (For Morty Feldman). The blog page format is not kind to images with a strong vertical element and squaring them off gives them a lot more impact, hence my insensitive cropping. Also I am afraid the image quality is not particularly good, that's because of the small low-res original on the artist's website, presumably to stop copying. 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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

All the fun of the BBC Proms

Today the Cirque du Soleil announces a touring show featuring the songs of Michael Jackson and the BBC Proms 2010 season is launched featuring a concert of film music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, including Carousel, The Sound of Music and South Pacific, plus another paying tribute to Stephen Sondheim. All great fun, but what is the real price of the BBC Proms?

* Full programme for the 2010 BBC Proms season available here.

Base layer image credit: Al Seib and 2005 Cirque du Soleil Inc via Kam Family Blog. Montage is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. 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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Let's talk new music

How to find your own composing style, the challenge of choosing texts, culture under a Soviet regime, Latvia's 'singing revolution', the role of sacred music and the importance of music education are just some of the topics young Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds (above) covers in his Britten Sinfonia pre-concert talk which is now available as a podcast. The talk lasts for 30 minutes and there is an introduction by me followed by a discussion with Ēriks. The podcast takes a little while to load but is definitely worth waiting for. Very exciting things are happening musically in Latvia and this podcast gives us a rare opportunity to hear about them straight from one of the country's leading musical figures. Listen to the podcast here.

Read about Latvia's El Sistema here, my post-concert thoughts are here, and more of my podcasts are here including Pierre-Laurent Aimard discussing Elliott Carter and Tom Gould on Piazzola, Golijov and what it takes to get a Canadian audience to their feet.

Photo credit LETA. 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

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Armenian Fantasies

Armenian duduk master Djivan Gasparyan is best known for being championed by Brian Eno and for his crossover collabarations with the Kronos Quartet, Canadian guitarist Michael Brook and others. Which is a pity because, as is so often the case, the genuine article is better than the crossover concoctions. For the real thing try the two gems of CDs on the German Network label seen in my accompanying images. They are titled Armenian Fantasies and Heavenly Duduk, both are quite wonderful but the latter is the one to go for if you like your duduk straight with no chasers.

Among the haunting tracks on Heavenly Duduk are two interpretations of songs by the celebrated Armenian musician Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935). Other Armenians influenced by Komitas include the composers Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) and Tigran Mansurian (b. 1937). Alan Hovhaness' music is well represented in the catalogue while ECM has done a commendable job of making the quite outstanding music of Tigran Mansurian available on disc. Monodia, an ECM double CD is an excellent introduction to Mansurian's music with contributions from Jan Garbarek, Kim Kashkashian and the Hilliard Ensemble. But the essence of Tigran Mansurian's music is captured best in the Rosamunde Quartett's ECM disc of his two bewitching string quartets, works which inexplicably have yet to find their rightful place in the quartet repertoire. Tigran Mansurian also features on a 2009 multi-composer CD release titled Neharót on which he plays his own piano arrangement of Komitas' lullaby Oror.

Komitas was a composer, musicologist and teacher and is recognised as the father of modern Armenian music. He was a priest in the Armenia Apostolic Church and his setting of the Divine Liturgy is still used today in the Armenian Church. At the start of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 Komitas was arrested and imprisoned in northern Central Anatolia. Following protests from influential figures including the US ambassador Komitas was released after fifteen days in captivity. But he never fully recovered from his experience and died in a psychiatric hospital in Paris twenty years later.

Despite continuing denial elsewhere Genocide Remembrance Day is marked in Armenia on April 24, which is also the very day in 1915 on which Komitas was arrested. On April 24, 2010 Tigran Mansurian's new work for cello and orchestra Ubi est Abel frater tuus? (Where is your brother Abel? Genesis 4:9) is being premiered in Cologne. In a programme on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday Norman Lebrecht contrived to link this premiere with the interruption of a recent Wigmore Hall concert by Palestinian protesters and argue that music and politics should not be mixed. Sadly it is a futile argument. Deeply disturbing things happen in the real world and if classical music is to have any relevance at all those nightmares must be reflected in the concert hall.

* The premiere of Tigran Mansurian's Ubi est Abel frater tuus? is being broadcast/webcast live at 20.15h German time on April 24 on WDR 3 Konzert. (Time converter here). Jan Vogler is the cello soloist and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln is conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The other works in the programme are Silvestre Revueltas' La noche de los Mayas (1939) and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps (1911-1913).

Now read another view on the political dimension of the artist.
Both Djivan Gasparyan CDs were bought at retail as were all Tigran Mansurian discs mentioned with the exception of Neharót which was supplied as a review sample by ECM . 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

Monday, April 19, 2010

Silence is no longer a possibility

* A library in East Anglia has been revealed as UK's most popular for the third year running. The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library had more visitors and lent more books than any other in 2008/09. It attracted 1,519,524 visitors and lent 1,124,233 items, including books, DVDs and console games ...

Derrick Murphy, cabinet member for cultural services at Norfolk County Council, said: "This news is not only a great success for the people of Norwich and Norfolk but is also a tribute to the commitment of our library staff in attracting and retaining readers through their innovative programme of activities and promotions that run throughout the year" - from BBC News.

* A life without pauses and empty spaces is a meaningless and chaotic life. More and more, we poor modern concussed beings are subject to a barrage of sensory input. Some of us may welcome this onslaught but I imagine that if you're reading this book, you, like me, have to put in a fair amount of effort to keep the chaos of noise and clutter at bay. Take my library in Norwich.

Actually in some respects, I like the library in Norwich. It's housed in a building called The Forum, which has a handsome glass exterior overlooking a proud fifteenth-century church ... The open-plan interior of the building also creates a pleasurable sense of expansiveness and space. And the library, which is housed on two floors, is large and well stocked.

The trouble is that the library is not at all conducive to reading or studying. It's just too difficult to concentrate. The sounds of mobile phones go unchecked, there are three or four large screens constantly showing movies, and there's a 'Pizza Express' on the floor above the library.

In a sense, the Norwich Forum is a bold initiative in support of the argument for the virtues of pauses and empty spaces, but there's a constant tension between the architect's vision , and the noise and clutter of the interior which denies the character of the building. This is typical of public life at present: there is less quietness, stillness and spaciousness anywhere. Silence is no longer a possibility in public libraries - from Meaning in Life by Sarvananda.
I suspect the question of whether public libraries should be silent is about as divisive as asking whether there should be applause between movements at classical concerts. But I'm not afraid to admit to being on the side of silence in both cases. As an example just visit a public library in that culturally exceptional country France to see people of all ages happily reading and studying without the soundtrack of mobile phones, conversations and movies. I don't know whether public libraries in America and elsewhere are on the side of silence or popularity. So updates in suitably hushed tones from readers are very welcome.

Sarvananda (aka playwright Alastair Jessiman) is ordained in the Western Order of Buddhists. His recently published book Meaning in Life - A Buddhist View, which draws on sources including Woody Allen, Allen Ginsberg, Germaine Greer and Edmund White, is a brilliant exercise in bridging that uniquely Western gap between religion and everyday life. Sarvananda teaches at the FWBO's Padmaloka retreat centre near Norwich which featured in Going Buddhist with Lou Harrison.

I bought Sarvanda's book at the Norwich Buddhist Centre. Be aware that the Friends of the Western Order of Buddhists (FWBO), like the Catholic Church and many other religous groupings, comes with some baggage. David Revill's book John Cage - The Roaring Silence, A Life on which my header image is based featured here. 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

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Classical music marks Smolensk tragedy

Polish Radio Two is webcasting two concerts tonight (April 18) in memory of victims of the Smolensk tragedy‏.

At 19.00 Polish time a live concert:

Andrzej Panufnik - Epitafium katyńskie
Henryk Górecki - III Symfonia pieśni żałosnych (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) op. 36

Łukasz Borowicz conducts Polish Radio Orchestra and Wioletta Chodowicz soprano

At 22.00 Polish time a recorded concert:

Krzysztof Penderecki - Polskie Requiem: Lacrimosa
Johannes Brahms - Ein deutsches Requiem

Alexander Liebreich conducts National Orchestra of Polish Radio, Krakow Philharmonic Choir, Christiane Oelze soprano and Stephan Genz - baritone

Find Polish Radio Two here, convert Polish time to local here.

It is noteworthy that three of the four works being broadcast in the tribute are from the twentieth century. As stations such as BBC Radio 3 abandon challenging programming so internet radio grows in importance as part of the classical music survival network. I have been hearing good things about internet radio application RadioShift which claims to provide listings and recording facilities. Any reader reports on RadioShift and news of other internet stations offering challenging classical programming are very welcome. More on this in The Long Tail of Radio,

Thanks go to reader Dorota McCarthy for POlish Radio 2 information. 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

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Postcards from record stores

To celebrate international Record Store Day here are five postcards from music stores that have featured On An Overgrown Path recently. In the blog's typically footloose and fancy free way the stores are in Belgium, France, Britain and Essaouira and Marrakech in Morocco - just click on those country links to read the postcards. And if anyone is still wondering why we need Record Store Day here is an article I ran in November last year, and for which I make no apology for running again today.

Another UK record store closes every 2.7 days

Rock star Sting has called the X Factor "televised karaoke" and said judges like Simon Cowell have "no recognisable talent apart from self-promotion". The singer, 58, told London's Evening Standard that the Saturday night show was "a soap opera which has nothing to do with music".
This no-punches-pulled story on the BBC website raises some interesting points. Let us forget for the moment that Sting has a new Christmas CD to flog, that he records for Polydor who are the bitter rivals of Sony BMG to which X Factor finalists are contracted, and that the X Factor show is aired on ITV, which is the BBC's biggest rival. Beyond these obvious points there is an even more insidious side to X Factor, and it is one Sting is not going to talk about because Universal Music, who own Polydor, play the same game. Graham Jones, one of the founders of independent distributor Proper Music, who distribute ECM in the UK, takes up the story:
Finalists in the X Factor are all contracted to Simon Cowell's company, Syco, as are all of the writers and producers, and the resultant CDs are all released and distributed through Sony BMG. The X Factor is, effectively, an hour-long television advert for Sony BMG - its artists dominate the choice of guests and, if you listen to the songs covered by the guests, you will find that a very high percentage of the material used in the show is from original recordings by Sony BMG artists.

To reach the widest audience, Sony BMG market X actor contestants through the supermarkets rather than through more traditional outlets. Its CDs will always be in a prominent position in store, often next to the till. To secure these positions Sony BMG will have offered the stores substantial discounts, which are not made available to independent stores who, therefore, cannot match the price offered in supermarkets.

Even more damaging is the impact this has on the reputation of independent stores. If CDs are £4 more expensive in independent stores, customers are likely to perceive that they are being ripped off and so, in the future, their first port of call for buying music is increasingly likely to be the supermarket instead of the independent shop.
Which is also how Sting's If On A Winter's Night CD found its way into your local supermarket. The quote above comes from Graham Jones' excellent new book Last Shop Standing - Whatever Happened to Record Shops and the following extract says it all:
In 2003 I had an idea to write a book. At that time, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), the body that represents record shops, there were 948 independent and privately owned small chains selling music in the UK. By 2007 this number was down to 408. That equates to one record shop closing every 2.7 days. The carnage is continuing, and I felt it was important that somebody should document the interesting and varied stories behind independent record shops.

Last Record Shop standing is essential reading, and provides a priceless snapshot of the quirky and fast-disappearing network of independent music retailers in the UK. It is more lament for the past than action plan for the future; which means successful initiatives such as Harmonia Mundi's record label owned stores and their merchandised presence in independent bookstores in France, which could also work for ECM and other independent labels, are not covered. My photo above shows the Harmonia Mundi section in the independent Libraire Larcelet, in Saint-Dizier. Also missing is coverage of the turmoil in the distributor/wholesaler sector which is making it increasingly difficult for independent label's to get their CDs distributed to retail outlets.

Yes, I know the death of the independent record store is part of 'progress' and the endgame is online music distribution But, as Lech Walesa once said, it is easy to turn the aquarium into fish soup, but it is more difficult to reverse the process. Last Record Shop Standing should be compulsory reading for every record company executive and artist, including Sting. It was recommended to me, as were many CDs found on the Path, by Prelude - still crazy about classical music after all these years - Records in Norwich, who epitomise everything that is great and valuable about independent record stores. As does the one below.

Middle and lower photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. 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

Friday, April 16, 2010

Morton Feldman at the Woodstock Festival?

'We've decided to go classical with the festival this year, maybe a string quartet, more contemporary, like Morton Feldman? Very avant-garde'.
Dialogue from Ang Lee's new film Taking Woodstock, that's the theatrical release poster above. The festival that's going classical is Elliot Tiber's White Lake arts and music event which became the Woodstock Festival after plans to hold the concert in nearby Wallkill were blocked by the town's residents. The Earthlight Theatre Troupe did make it from the White Lake festival to the big one, but sadly Morton Feldman's music did not. Probably for the reason that the dialogue in the impressively researched film does not seem to be in Elliot Tiber's book of the same title on which the film is based. However the connection is plausible as Elliot Tiber studied art at Brooklyn College with Mark Rothko, and Morton Feldman's music was influenced by Rothko's paintings, including of course his choral work Rothko Chapel - see CD below. Morton Feldman and the Woodstock Festival may not have come together, but the equally unlikely combination of Pete Seeger and Benjamin Britten did.

Image credit Wikipedia. I bought and enjoyed Elliot Tiber's book Taking Woodstock some time before Ang Lee's equally enjoyable film was made. Taking Woodstock was borrowed on DVD from Norwich Library. The New Albion CD of Morton Feldman's music was bought at retail. 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

Music under the black cloud

This was the view from our garden in Norfolk, UK this morning. Acts of God can bring benefits. We are at Orlando Jopling's concert of the Bach Cello Suites at St Mary's Church, Redgrave this evening. The church is in deepest rural Suffolk, a beautiful area but one where the silence can be disturbed by low flying jets from the nearby airforce bases. Problem solved.

Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The heart stops beating

Twentieth century music for flute and piano in today's lunchtime concert at the King of Hearts in Norwich was overshadowed by news of the venue's impending closure. For the past twenty years founder Aude Gotto and her dedicated team have been presenting leading artists in recitals of early and contemporary music in the lovingly restored Tudor building. But the money has run out and a looming £60,000 anuual deficit is forcing the unique centre for the people and arts to close at the end of the year.

Over the years music making at the King of Hearts has inspired On An Overgrown Path posts about Martinu, Messiaen, Ligeti, Bach and many others, and Aude Gotto herself has contributed articles on topics ranging from India to the film Into Great Silence. Sadly, soon the magnificent Tudor music room, seen in the centre of my montage above, will be as silent as La Grand Chartreuse. For those who still think that reports of the end of Western civilisation are exaggerated here is the programme for today's recital by Anna Hopkins flute and David Morgan piano:

Sonatine - Henri Dutilleux b. 1916
Divertimento - Jean Françaix 1912-97
'Le Merle Noir' - Olivier Messiaen 1908-92
Sonata - Francis Poulenc 1899-1963

There is nothing else I can say.

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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

His works revive past music

Pliable's second law of music says you can measure the worth of a composition by the number of paths it opens. In which case Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds Passion and Ressurection is a pretty worthy piece. Yesterday it sent us to Castel del Monte in Italy for jazz/classical fusion. Today it sends us to a country that like Latvia was once under Soviet control, for a truly great and inexplicably neglected Requiem.

Valentin Silvestrov, whose Fifth Symphony has already featured here, was born in Kiev in Ukraine in 1937 and composed his Requiem for Larissa between 1997 and 1999 in memory of his wife the musicologist Larissa Bondarenko.

Writing of Ēriks Ešenvalds Passion and Ressurection I said:
It is familiar because it sounds so right. Music written from the heart as opposed to written to catch the prevailing wind of stylistic fashion will always sound right.
Requiem for Larissa is another of those unfamiliar works that immediately sounds right. In a typically illuminating sleeve essay Paul Griffiths explains why this is:
Silvestov's creative destiny for many years has been the postlude: his works revive past music, especially Romantic symphonic music, in the very act of lamenting its disappearance.
But again like Passion and Ressurection Silvestrov's Requiem for Larissa is not music of the past. This remarkable work, scored for mixed choir and orchestra including synthesizer and piano, is timeless. For me the Largo fourth movement, which develops the setting of verses by the Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko heard in the composer's Silent Songs (1974-77), is among the most moving music ever written, irrespective of period.

We are fortunate that Valentin Silvestrov's Requiem for Larissa is given the performance and recording* it deserves by the National Choir of Ukraine "Dumka" and National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko on the ECM CD seen above**. Last year I pleaded "no more masterpieces please" to no avail as we now have "major masterpieces". However, I am not going to apply the m word to Requiem for Larissa. Instead I am going to apply two other words - buy it.

* Production is by Radio Ukraine team of Arkady Vichorev and Valery Stupnitsky, executive producer is, as ever, Manfred Eicher. Although Requiem for Larissa was released by ECM in 2004 it was recorded in 2001 in an unspecified venue in Kiev.

** The image on the ECM Requiem for Larissa CD cover is a still from "Histoire(s) du cinéma" by Jean-Luc Godard. The soundtrack, which has what must be the most eclectic composer credits ever, was released by ECM as a 5 CD set.

Now follow the Passion and Resurrection path to Rudolf Mauersberger's 1961 Dresden Requiem.

Requiem for Larissa was bought at retail price. 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

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Music to the power of eight

ECM's pioneering Officium, which mixed the classical Hilliard Ensemble and jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek, made a welcome guest appearance here recently. Officium was recorded in the 16th century monastery of St. Gerold in Austria, and writing about it prompted me to listen again to two jazz/classical fusion discs recorded in another historic building. The Castel del Monte is a 13th century castle built by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the Apulia region of southeast Italy. The castle, seen in my header image, is remarkable for its symmetrical design which is informed by the number eight. Each floor has eight rooms and there is an eight-sided centre courtyard, and, as seen below, the ground plan of the fortress is an octagonal prism with an octagonal bastion at each corner.

French tubaist and serpent player Michel Godard trained as a classical musician and has worked with many leading orchestras, but he is best known as a progressive jazz musician*. He was attracted to the ambience of the Castel del Monte and in particular the building's unique acoustics. Clearly the castle was not designed as a recording studio, but there is a scientific explanation as to why it makes such a good recording venue. Parallel surfaces and the standing waves they cause are the enemy of good acoustics. Although the plan of the Castel del Monte is strictly symmetrical the eight walls in each octagonal space minimise parallel surfaces and encourage random reverberation. To see what I mean compare the groundplan of the 13th century castle above with that of the acoustically excellent 1965 Berlin Philharmonie Hall (architect Hans Scharoun) below.

The result of Michel Godard's obsession with Castel del Monte was two albums recorded in 2000 and 2002 in that unique venue for Enja Records. This maverick German label is a near neighbour and almost exact contemporary of the much better known ECM in Munich, and some artists have recorded for both labels. Michel Godard's first Castel del Monte CD for Enja, seen in my header image, has subtle Arabic undertones and uses eight musicians, but not, alas, cutting eight tracks of eight minutes length. The second release seen below is more plainsong influenced and increases the complement of musicians by additional vocalists to an unsymmetrical thirteen, but compensates by offering sixteen tracks. Much of the recording for the two CDs was done in the open-roofed octagonal central courtyard with some tracks using smaller ensembles recorded in the ante rooms off the main courtyard. The mystical symmetry of the Castel del Monte (which supposedly is the model for the old fortress in Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose) undoubtedly adds something special to the sound of the discs while the music, which blends folk, contemporary, medieval and free jazz influences, is also pretty special. Well worth exploring if you want to take the path beyond Officium.

* Michel Godard played on Alpha Blondy's 1987 album Revolution. We came to know Alpha Blondy's music from our visits to France and Morocco - he is hugely popular in both countries. Born Seydou Koné in Dimbokro, Ivory Coast, Alpha Blondy has been dubbed the Bob Marley of Africa and he has recorded with The Wailers. His songs carry strong political messages, he has been an activist for a variety of causes and in 2005 was appointed United Nations Ambassador of Peace for the Ivory Coast. He coined the French term democrature (English translation 'democratatorship') to identify some African governments.

Serial music as architecture here and the art of activism here.

Both Castel del Monte CDs were bought online. Groundplan credits, Castel del Monte from Wikipedia,. Berlin Philharmonie from Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales. 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