Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Scandalously penalised for not being Mahler

East Anglia is currently in the grip of heavy snowfall and the extreme weather has brought the region to a standstill. What is particularly striking in our snow-covered Zen garden this morning is the total silence. Zen gardens were a particular influence on Toru Takemitsu (seen above), who once explained that 'I design gardens with music'. In his book In Quest of Spirit: Thoughts on Music composer Jonthan Harvey wrote that:
Toru Takemitsu was working in a Western musical language, but, like a Japanese novel translated into English, his compositions contain something different. Takemitsu said he only uttered 80 per cent of any idea, in what could be construed as powerful understatement; the rest is silence, the pregnancy of the unsaid, ma. Ma, a profoundly important concept in Japanese culture, is the silent understanding when friends are together, or when one is contemplating nature or art - when meaning is intense but nothing is expressed.
Toru Takemitsu is just one of many fine accessible composers who are scandalously penalised for not being Mahler. You are doubtless as weary of reading about dumbing down as I am of writing about it. But let's not forget that in the last seven years Paddington Bear has made more appearances at the BBC Proms than Takemitsu's music. It is very good news indeed that classical music's longstanding male/female imbalance is being tackled by a gender equality pledge supported by classical festivals including the Proms. Let us hope this will be followed shortly by a similar composer equality pledge enabling more exposure for Toru Takemitsu, Elizabeth Maconchy, Malcolm Arnold, Philippa Schuyler, Eduard Tubin, Elisabeth Lutyens, Arnold Bax, Alberich Magnard, Edmund Rubbra, Rebecca Saunders, Alan Hovhaness, Lou Harrison et al and less for Mahler, Shostakovich and their overexposed peers. And while we are on the subject of pledges; it may not play as well on media - social and otherwise - but an ethnicity equality pledge is also long overdue.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How many cock-ups can be squeezed into two hours of music?

A recent post explained how grovelling to 5% of your audience drives away 8%. Now if you think my criticism of the dumbed down BBC Radio 3 is extreme, try this one for size. On February 12th a Radio 3 broadcast of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius was introduced by presenter Kate Molleson as being conducted by "Sir Edward Davis". OK, we all make mistakes. But bear with me, because it gets worse. At the end of Andrew Davis' moving performance the final 'amen' died away to be followed seamlessly and without a linking announcement by another performance of the complete Prelude. OK, we all make mistakes, and perhaps the Radio 3 presenter was just having a bad Gerontius day and accidently let the music play on. But bear with me, because yet again it gets worse.

This could not have been a continuity error. Because the Gerontius complete with fore and aft Preludes fitted exactly into the allocated time slot: if it had been Ms Molleson's mistake the programme would have overrun by ten minutes. The duplication must have originated when the scheduling software was programmed. Music at the station is played in from a server and the Davis/BBC SO Gerontius would have been ripped from the Chandos double CD which includes as a final bonus track the concert version of the Prelude. So the complete Chandos CD including bonus track was ripped, and amazingly nobody at Radio 3 knew that Gerontius does not end with an orchestral postlude.

OK, we all make mistakes, and perhaps the programme editor was also having a bad Gerontius day. But bear with me, because, yet again, it gets worse. At the end of the second Prelude Kate Molleson back announced Gerontius referring to "that solemn amen", completely oblivious to the ten minutes of orchestral music between her back announcement and the solemn amen in question. Did this presenter for what was once the world's most respected classical station not know how Gerontius - a mainstream masterpiece - ends?

Yes, we all make mistakes. But I'm running out of excuses for this blatant incompetence, as still nobody at Radio 3 has realised that Gerontius does not end with an orchestral postlude. Because currently the uncorrected Gerontius broadcast is available on the BBC iPlayer* not only with the erroneous conductor attribution at 1:15:45 but also with the gratuitous Prelude starting at 2:49:45. To think BBC Radio 3's predecessor the Third Programme used to be the envy of the world. I could weep; particularly as the BBC has just announced an increase in the license fee for the second year in succession. But, as an earlier post lamented, classical music's biggest problem is that no one cares.

* The Radio 3 Afternoon Concert including The Dream of Gerontius is on BBC iPlayer until March 11th. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Gone whispering

'In a roomful of shouting people, the one who whispers becomes interesting' ~ Peter Schmidt
Photo taken at Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II in Fes, Morocco. Take care while I am away.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Jihadism has fostered an entire music industry

Art and music from the deviant Nazi and Communist Russian regimes has received considerable attention. But the culture of deviant militant Islamists has received virtually no attention. Now the Cambridge University Press is attempting to correct this with the publication of Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists. Edited by Thomas Hegghammer, an academic specialist on violent Islamism and Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, Jihadi Culture is an anthology of commentaries from various experts covering topics such as the role of poetry, visual art, cinema and music in jihadism.

Particularly interesting are the chapters on the role of anashi (singular nashid) - a capella songs. The Yemeni-American jihadi preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 in the Yemen by an American drone strike said to have been personally ordered by President Obama, wrote that: "Nasheeds are an important element in creating a 'jihad culture'". Many of the anashi used by jihadis originate outside extremist groups and a sizable industry has grown up producing these devotional songs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Wahhabism scholars forbid musical instruments except percussion but not a capella singing. As a result Saudi Arabia has a small but not insignificant recorded music market which generated revenues $12 million in 2017 primarily from sales of anashi.

Former CIA Operations Officer in Afghanistan Marc Sageman has observed that: "I have come to the conclusion that the terrorists in Western Europe and North America were not intellectuals or ideologues, much less religious scholars. It s not about how they think, but how they feel". A key proposition of Jihadi Culture is that 'ideology' is two different things: doctrines, which receive much attention, and aesthetics, which receive little attention. The book redresses this imbalance by focussing on the aesthetics - visual arts, music etc - of jihadism. Exploring how terrorists feel is just one way in which Jihadi Culture challenges received wisdom. This extract from the introduction shows how it challenges other comfort zones and stereotypes:

After all, who cares what warriors do in their spare time? This book does, and it will show that jihadis have a rich aesthetic culture that is essential for understanding their mindset and worldview. Readers who have not studied or frequented radical Islamists will find parts of this subculture surprising. We will see, for example, that jihadis love poetry, that they talk regularly about dreams, and that they weep -a lot. We will also see that jihadism has fostered an entire music industry, as well as a massive body of film production. Jihadis may have a reputation as ruthless macho men - and there is some truth in that - but they also value personal humility, artistic sensitivity, and displays of emotion.
Carl Orff, Paul Hindemith and Wilhelm Furtwängler were among the musicians appropriated by the Third Reich. Below is a nashid performed by the Saudi musician Abu Ali, whose music - notably Sharp Like The Sword - has been appropriated by the jihadis, reportedly against his wishes. Does being the product of an alien culture make this misappropriated devotional music from an Abrahamic faith any less valid than, say, Gregorian Chant?

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Thought for the day

Isn't the real problem that classical music is a subtle art and social media doesn't do subtle?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mahler is Mahler - no more and no less

'That uplifting and deeply-felt emotionally-charged live performance of Mahler's First Symphony was conducted by....' ~ BBC Radio 3 presenter

'Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn' ~ Basho
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Monday, February 12, 2018

Why grovelling to 5% of your audience drives away 8%

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to explain why BBC Radio 3 lost 8% of its audience during a 12 month period in which the total UK radio audience grew by 2%. Latest RAJAR data reports that BBC Radio 3 has 1.95 million listeners. Radio 3 currently has 101,617 Twitter followers. Which means only 5.2% of the station's listeners follow it on Twitter. Radio 3 has ambitions to reach a wider audience. The total UK radio audience is 48.86 million. So just 0.2% of the target wider audience follow Radio 3 on Twitter. Despite these readily available statistics, Radio 3 continues not only to use Twitter to influence programming, as in the case of the infamous Hovis tweet and the new example above, but unashamedly grovels to Twitter users for approval, see tweet below.

Daytime BBC Radio 3 is now a sequence of bleeding chunks of symphonies and concertos punctuated by the presenter's desperate pleas for interaction from the social media 5%. And if you think that description is extreme please read again the tweet below. To the other 95% of its audience Radio 3 now sounds like a spoilt child craving attention and approval. So hardly surprisingly, a significant proportion of the 95% - 169,000 listeners in the last 12 months - are voting with their feet. Things are only marginally better in the evenings, when worthwhile concert broadcasts are fatally marred by approval-seeking presenters adopting the vernacular of social media - "that uplifting and deeply-felt emotionally-charged live performance of Mahler's First Symphony was conducted by...."

There is a major problem besides that of small sample size with allowing a social media mindset to influence classical music programming and presentation. Responses on Twitter and other social media are self-selecting - respondents decide for themselves whether to respond. In the market research industry self-selection bias is a recognised phenomenon. To quote an academic paper: "Self-selection bias is the problem that very often results when survey respondents are allowed to decide entirely for themselves whether or not they want to participate in a survey". A poll suffering from this bias is termed a self-selected listener opinion poll or "SLOP". Social media responses to the tweet above will inevitably suffer from self-selection bias. Moreover the degree of SLOP is likely to be large. Views expressed by heavy social media users are typically highly unrepresentative and biased, because, as another study reported, the more time people spend on social media "...the more socially isolated they perceive themselves to be, and perceived social isolation is one of the worst things for us, mentally and physically".

Radio 3's current social media obsession coupled with its accelerating audience loss is a graphic illustration of the important but little-understood economic concept of opportunity cost. When a benefit is derived from investment, the cost of any negative impact of delivering that benefit is the opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of building an urban motorway is the demolition of houses and the rehoming of residents. The opportunity cost of changing classical music presentation to appeal to a new audience is the proportion of the core audience driven away by the changes. Attracting an impressive number of new young listeners - a metric often bandied around in self-congratulatory press releases - is only a measure of gross audience gain. The sole meaningful measure of audience growth is the net figure: new audience minus lapsed core audience. RAJAR's latest data for Radio 3 shows that as classical music becomes increasingly desperate to reach a new young audience, so the opportunity cost increases. But when did you last hear opportunity cost mentioned in any discussion of classical music's new audience?

We live in an age of instant gratification, and social media delivers instant gratification in the form of visible but highly unrepresentative responses, retweets and likes. Radio 3 may be an extreme example of social media SLOP. But the virus has spread throughout classical music where; because we live in a digital age, any digital technology is accepted - no indeed evangelised - as good without question . Social media is a useful tool in the communications toolkit. But it is no more than that. Classical music is an aspirational artform that guides its listeners on a journey upwards to a better place. Guides and upwards are the key words, and a social media mindset, with the narrative invariably being dragged down to the lowest common denominator, delivers neither. Social media responses are biased, unrepresentative and misleading. RAJAR's audience figures for Radio 3 are robust and statistically valid. Which is why they should be a wake-up call to the whole social media-obsessed classical music industry.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

One size does not fit all

Cyprus together with Greece has suffered from the one-size-fits-all doctrinaire economic policies of the Troika - the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But, as with the Greek island of Crete, creativity flourishes on Cyprus despite recent EU-imposed economic stringency. Cyprus is not noted for its music; in fact my ageing edition of the Rough Guide to World Music covering the Mediterranean makes no mention of Cyprus at all. Which gives totally the wrong impression as there is some exciting agitative new music coming from the island. One example is Monsieur Doumani, an acoustic trio of tzouras - a relative of the bouzouki - guitar and trombone/flute from Nicosia. This latter-day Incredible String Band mixes their traditional Cypriot roots with acerbic social commentary and a style that defies the one-size-fits-all mindset of the corporate music industry.

Below is a track from Monsieur Doumani's 2013 debut album Grippy Grappa. This was followed two years later by Sikoses, which was was nominated for the prestigious Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik 2015. To quote the band's website, their third album to be released this month has the symbolic name Angathin (thorn) and addresses more than ever, the political, social and activist concerns and sensitivities of the group members and is a call for rebellion against corruption, racism and injustice.

It is no coincidence that the track featured below is titled Το σύστημαν - The system. For a young band that is a product of the third smallest country in the EU, Monsieur Doumani's musicians have a surprisingly sound grasp of reality. The EU system is a curates egg, in which good - the empowerment of a rich diversity of cultures - and bad - corruption, racism and injustice - are inextricably mixed. If the UK's anti-Brexit camp had taken a more balanced view of both the good and bad instead of staying buried deep inside their self-reverential reality tunnels, the economic and political outlook for Britain would look very different today.

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Close encounters of a Buddhist kind

Last night's listening included the CD above of Lou Harrison's exquisite music for guitar and percussion. Lou Harrison's Buddhist tendencies - he famously set the Heart Sutra in Esperanto - prompted me to dip into Robert Thurmann's translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is a misunderstood text that is much better represented by its correct title The Book of Liberation Through Understanding in the Between. Its relevance extends far between the process of shuffling off the mortal coil, because we live in an age which culturally and politically is 'in the between'. In his commentary Bob Thurman, who as well as being a leading authority on Buddhism is together with Philip Glass a driving force in New York's Tibet House, makes a very important thought-provoking distinction between the superficial 'outer modernity' of Western culture and the reflective 'inner modernity' of Tibetan Buddhism.

Rereading Robert Thurmann's translation brought back a memory which I am now sharing. In 2014 I travelled with my wife to the remote region of Ladakh in India's disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. Ladakh is a high altitude desert at 11,500 feet bordered by the Kunlun mountains to the north and the Himalayas to the south. The Ladakh plateau is the flood plain of the Indus River which has its source on the contiguous Tibetan plateau to the east.

We were in Ladakh to attend the Tantric Kalachakra empowerment by the Dalai Lama, but there was also much else to see and do. One of my many eccentricities is, as a keen swimmer, to try and have at least a token swim in every place that I have been fortunate to visit on my wide-ranging travels. This eccentricity has had me swimming inside the shark nets of Hong Kong's Repulse Bay, in the revealing - follow the link to find out why - Yrjönkatu swimming hall in Helsinki, and in a very muddy creek in Guyana, South America.

As Ladakh doesn't have swimming pools - temperatures plunge to minus 20 degrees Celsius in winter - my swim had to be in the holy Indus River. Now, understandably, the Ladakhis are not keen swimmers. Which meant my enquiries at the Thiksey Monastery guest house where we were staying about swimming in the Indus were met with blank incomprehension. In fact the monks could not even tell me how to reach the Indus, yet alone if I could swim in it. My footer photo was taken from Thiksey Monastery. The guest house can be seen in the left foreground, and somewhere among that greenery in the middle distance is the Indus. Not to be daunted, I set off across the fields keeping an eye open for the feral dogs that roam the area. An extended hike finally brought me to the bank of the Indus which at this point is wide, fast flowing, very rocky and freezing cold as it originates as glacial meltwater.

There were only two other people at the Indus, and to my great surprise they were a Western man and woman of around my age - i.e. ancient. But to my even greater surprise they were 'canyoning' - jumping in and allowing themselves to be carried by the strong current down the rocky river. Now this seemed to me, putting it politely, rather a rash thing to be doing: not only is the water icily cold, the currents dangerously strong and the rocks large and sharp, but the far bank was inaccessible and the medical facilities in the region rudimentary, and to cap all they were not wearing any safety gear. Moreover I had had an aquatic close encounter a few years previously, and, very selfishly, I was not keen to become involved in another emergency.

But, as usual, my fears were unfounded. The two extreme sports addicts eventually came out of the water unscathed. The man came over, shook my hand and asked in an American accent "Hi, what's your name?" I replied "Bob". To which he responded "Me too - Bob Thurman". Yes it was the celebrated Buddhist scholar; he too was attending the Kalachakra empowerment, with a group from the States. We talked and I was introduced to his wife Nena. She was previously married to Timothy Leary; this may explain her penchant for things extreme, but I did not think it politic to go there. So this close encounter with Buddhism ended happily. I did finally swim in the holy Indus. But fear of saṃsāra, the Buddhist suffering-laden cycle of life, death, and rebirth meant I did not try canyoning.

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

If this is not dumbing down please tell me what is

As Alan Davey said when taking over Radio 3 and before losing 8% of his listeners, "I won't be dumbing down".

BBC Radio 3's mixtape in a tangle as audience plunges 8%

Those who read my recent post BBC Radio 3's big mixtake will not be surprised by today's news that the classical station's audience plunged 8% during a 12 month period when the total UK radio audience grew by 2%. I was certainly no fan of Nicholas Kenyon and Roger Wright during their tenures at Radio 3. But at least they dumbed the station down with flair. Current incumbent Alan Davey's mixtape-led dumbing down is not just 100% flair-free, it is positively cringe-inducing. There is nothing else to say other than repeating the final paragraph of my earlier post.

The livelihoods of five leading orchestras and a choir, and the future of the largest new music commissioning budget in the world depend on the healthy survival of BBC Radio 3. You only need to listen to Radio 3's daytime programmes to understand that the patient's vital signs look very bad indeed, and to realise that drastic and painful surgery is urgently required to provide any hope of survival.

How many more times does this have to be said before action is taken?

Header image comes from ABC Australia's love affair with mixtapes - it is not just Radio 3 that is knee-jerking in reaction to Spotify. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

How Facebook breaks the link between rhythm and algorithm

In 2005 Godfried Toussaint, a computer scientist at McGill University, published the paper The Euclidean Algorithm Generates Traditional Musical Rhythms. This showed how using the greatest common divisor of two numbers the Euclidean Algorithm can create the pattern of equidistant beats and silences found in all sub-Saharan African music in particular and world music in general. (The exception is Indian where beats and silences are asymmetrical).

At a time when changes to the algorithms that control Facebook newsfeeds is making the headlines, that linkage of algorithm and rhythms in the title of Godfried Toussaint's paper is significant. Many great musicians from Sufi visionary Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927) to avant-garde pioneer Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) have recognised the seminal role of vibrating energy - frequencies and rhythms - in music, and, indeed, in much else. In a sleeve essay for Randy Weston's 1992 recording of sub-Saharan Gnawa musicians in Marrakech*, the authority on their music Rhashidah Elaine McNeill wrote: "The Gnawa musicians are master musicians who believe that everyone has a colour and a note to which she or he vibrates. Each individual responds to his or her chosen colour and note as the healer musicians play the hag-hopuge (guinbre - a three stringed bass)".

The natural world is rich in vibrating energy and its associated resonances, which are found in everything from the sacred mantra Om, through a Stradivarius violin, to the spallation neutron source (SNS) accelerators and string theory (stringology) of contemporary nuclear physics. Facebook's newsfeed algorithms attempt to replicate these natural rhythms and resonances - 'you read and liked this story, so as it resonated with you we are putting other similar stories top of your news feed' - as do the algorithms of Spotify, Pandora, Google, Apple and all the other online gatekeepers that literally control our lives. Spotify is a particularly important case study: each Monday morning instead of popping into their neighbourhood record store to check out the new albums, more than 75 million Spotify users have online access to a new mixtape created by selective algorithms.

The danger of replacing serendipitous personal discovery by sanitised comfort zones created using questionable machine intelligence - 'you liked this track, so as it resonated with you similar tracks are in your new playlist' - do not need to be reprised here. But one point can be usefully made. It is that our love affair with algorithms is fatally flawed. This is because because Facebook and others are devoting vast resources not to replicating natural rhythms and resonances, but to creating self-serving algorithm-driven cash cows. But more importantly, these algorithms are fatally flawed because binary processes can never replicate the infinitely rich rhythms and resonances of the analogue natural word, just as a the most powerful supercomputer cannot write a symphony .

Algorithms are the voice of networked man, while music is the voice of God. Those uncomfortable with the 'G' word should substitute - as did Mahatma Gandhi - the word 'Truth' for 'God' in another quote from Randy Weston's Gnawa recording documentation, which is offered in conclusion as advice to all music's social media and mixtape addicts:

What are musicians but God's instruments? Perhaps this recording will remind us all that we have to get back to listening to the voice of God, that we may quiet the voice of man".
* The Splendid Master Musicians of Morocco with Randy Weston was recorded in the basement of La Mamounia Hotel, Marrakech in 1992 directly onto 2-track digital tape using two dummy heads fitted with Blanchet microphones created by filmmaker Vincent Blanchet for location recording. My CD copy reproduces an impressive sense of space and depth, but is marred by congestion in high level vocal passages. This congestion may be an artefact of the unconventional microphone array, or the unusual recording venue, or careless CD mastering, or most probably a combination of all three. Despite this the recording is well worth seeking out for its spontaneity. In an ironic sign of the times the CD is long-deleted and hard to find, but you can listen to it on Spotify and YouTube. And those who think that this and other posts linking modern technology to perennial wisdom are contrived should note that the word 'algorithm' is a conflation of the pioneering Persian mathematician and scholar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi and the Greek word for number arithmos. It is also worth noting that Godfried Toussaint is now Professor and Head of Computer Science at New York University Abu Dhabi.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Al-Fatiha ~ The Opening

When I mentioned A Love Supreme, Yusef Lateef gave me the same self-effacing response he offered in his memoir, The Gentle Giant: that the inspiration for the composition came from Coltrane's late Muslim wife, Naima. Coltrane heard her recite the fatiha five times a day. "I can only say that John and I, we were dear friends, we were trying to advance our music together. I don't know if I encouraged him to read the Holy Quaran. My guess is his wife, Naima, encouraged him to read the Holy Quaran, Khalil Gibran and Krishnamurti. The prayer that John wrote in A Love Supreme repeats the phrase 'All praise belongs to God no matter what' several times. This phrase has the semantics of the second sentence of the fatiha. The Arabic transliteration is 'Al Humdulillah,' and that means 'All praise is due to God.'"
That illuminating perspective on the genesis of a contemporary music masterpiece comes from Rebel Music, an important literary celebration of the global impact of Muslim music subcultures by Columbia University lecturer Hisham D. Aidi. Staying on the same path, a recent contribution by me to The Institute of Composing Journal suggested that classical music can learn from John Coltrane. Other illuminating perspectives on the unexpected Islamic origins of Western masterpieces from elsewhere on An Overgrown Path are the theories that Ravel's Bolero was inspired by the composer attending a Sufi dhikr in Tunisia, and that the Rite Of Spring's primeval energy had its origins in the sema (worship ceremonies) of the Turkish Cerrahîlik Sufi brotherhood. Even more outlandish, but still with some circumstantial support, is Abdalqadir as-Sufi's supposition that the Grail in Parsifal is nothing other than the Black Stone of the Ka'aba in Mecca.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Listen without judgement, without opinion

He learned incessantly from the river. Above all, it taught him to listen, to listen with a silent heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgement, without opinion.
That quote comes from Hermann Hesse's novel Siddhartha. Written in 1922, it introduced many - including this writer - to the teachings of the Buddha four decades later, while Hesse's 1932 Journey to the East led to him being dubbed the patron saint of the 1960's overland hippie trail to India. In a rare example of generational convergence three of Strauss' Four Last Songs set the poetry of Hesse, which allowed the delicious conjunction of Richard Strauss and psychedelic rock music in an earlier post. Selfies are frowned on, or worse, on this blog. But a relevant selfie can be seen via this link. There is more in yet another post on the vitally important but lost art of listening. We don't need to change the music or the environment it is played in, we just need to change the way audiences listen.

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Saturday, February 03, 2018

Talkin' 'bout my generation

News that Formula 1 has dropped its titillating 'grid girls' has received widespread media coverage. Which prompts me to republish the photo above. It first appeared two weeks ago in my article about the Marrkaech ePrix. This was a round in the emission-free Formula E motor-racing series that uses electric power for its cars. Instead of the traditional grid girls Formula E uses post-millennial 'grid kids' as seen in my photo. Formula E is a laudable exercise in showing there is life beyond fossil fuels. Oil is one our valuable natural resources and quite rightly considerable attention is focussed on its preservation; just as attention is focussed on the despoiling of other natural resources such as forestry and water reserves. But puzzlingly little attention is paid to the sustainability of those grid kids. We have forgotten that this young generation is our most valuable resource, because without them growing into wise and responsible adults there will be no need for oil, timber or water resources.

While in Marrakech for the ePrix I was exposed to thought-provoking polarities. During the day I was immersed in the high-tech world of Formula E. In the evening I was a guest of followers of the saint Sidi Muhhamad Ibn Al-Habib at a Sufi dhikr. This two hour remembrance of the power of the divine is rooted without compromise in traditional Islamic mysticism. Yet during the dhikr youngsters of all ages appeared and left seamlessly and silently. An elder explained that this Sufi group particularly focussed on engaging young Moroccans, who otherwise could fall into the polar opposite gravitational fields of Western materialism or Wahhabi extremism. There are countless other faith and non-faith groups doing similar priceless work with young people around the world. But they are in the minority; so increasingly our most valuable natural resource is being despoiled needlessly and thoughtlessly.

Today the young generation is seen as no more than an exploitable and dispensable market. This is a trap, incidentally, that Western classical music has fallen into by treating the 'young audience' as nothing more than a fungible commodity to be traded advantageously for the less valuable and shamefully derided 'ageing audience'. Pre-emptive disclaimer: I am no fan of Trump or Brexit. But as I read on social media the daily hate-filled anti-Brexit and anti-Trump rants by members of my generation - the baby boomers - I despair at the example that we are setting to the youngsters who will inherit the divine - or otherwise - global kingdom. My generation gave the world grid girls, David Cameron, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Tony Blair, Facebook and Twitter, not to mention Bashar al-Assad, Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Surely those youngsters in my photo deserved better than that.

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Thursday, February 01, 2018

Two sides of a celebrity pianist

A recent post asked why is jazz so underrated? Perhaps one reason is because jazz, thankfully, does not have the media-friendly celebrities who dominate classical music. But that is not quite true. Jazz has Keith Jarrett, whose Koln Concert bankrolled ECM for years*. That publicity photo above was taken from Jarrett's good side. The video below taken on a concertgoer's phone camera at the 2007 Umbria Jazz Festival shows his other side.

* Keith Jarrett has also worked extensively in the classical field. For ECM his recordings include Bach, Barber and Bartók concertos, and a double CD of organ improvisations for ECM described by me in a 2012 post as Messiaen takes a trip, and he also made a pioneering recording of the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann piano music for the German label. Elsewhere he has recorded Lou Harrison's incomprehensibly overlooked Piano Concerto which was commissioned by Jarrett and premiered by him, and Alan Hovhaness' Lousadzak. Header photo is by Thierry Dudoit/Redux via The New Yorker. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.