Posts

How Mahler became sound upholstery

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Two members of the original Third Ear Band were classically trained, Paul Minns on oboe and recorder, and Richard Coff violin and viola. With founding force Glen Sweeney on hand drums and tabla, and Mel Davis on cello they cut the bands first two legendary all-acoustic albums Alchemy and Elements in 1969 and 1970. For their equally legendary 1972 soundtrack for Roman Polanski's Macbeth , Richard Coff was replaced by another violinist from a classical background Simon House , and Royal College of Music cello graduate Paul Buckmaster  joined the band*. This classical connection was reflected in the venues where the Third Ear Band played, which included the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Festival Hall - where they appeared with musique concrète exponent Bernard Parmegiani  - and the Royal Albert Hall All three albums were released on EMI's newly-formed Harvest label aimed at the emerging progressive rock market. However the Third Ear Band's iconoclastic style di

'John Cage had been one of my heroes since the age of seventeen'

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Recently I have found new books far more engrossing than new classical recordings. One of my most rewarding reads has been the first volume of Richard Thompson's autobiography Beeswing .  Richard Thompson is best known as co-founder of the legendary folk-rock group Fairport Convention . A few years ago I wrote about his exploration of the Sufi path , and I have also recounted the untold story of the counterculture's Islamic connection in an exclusive interview with Ian Whiteman - aka Abdallateef Whiteman - who with Richard Thompson was a member of the fabled Bristol Gardens Sufi commune in 1970s London. Beeswing is much more than a rock memoir. It name checks, among others, Delius, Bliss, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Wagner, Satie, Granger and Stockhausen, and includes this John Cage anecdote:     "During that tour, our driver, Walter Gundy, needed to pick something up from his house in upstate New York, and I went with him. There were two units in his rental, and he men

What the law of diminishing diversity tells us

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A quick scan of the online postings from classical music's cultural commentators proves the law of diminishing diversity. This law tells us that a commentator's commitment to true cultural diversity is inversely proportional to their social media presence. In this context cultural diversity does not mean the standard 'Mirga', 'Sheku', 'Brexit doom' and 'woman composer' box-ticking. It means reflecting the truly rich cultural diversity of art music at the expense of the holy grail of audience size.  The mechanism propelling the the law of diminishing diversity is easy to understand. Popularity in the form of readership numbers, audience size, site traffic and other social media metrics is now the end game for cultural commentators . So if a topic pulls eyeballs, you provide more of the same to generate more eyeballs, which results in cultural tunnel vision.  This dynamic of giving more of the same in the interests of audience size is multipl

There is no happiness for those who do not travel musically

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Bill Laswell's City of Light is an electro-Vedic journey to India's holy city of Benares .   The evocative booklet essay is by the anarchist writer and poet Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson), whose book Sacred drift: essays on the margins of Islam was featured here some years back. Music on the margins of Islam has also been a preoccupation of Bill Laswell for decades. His 1992 album   Apocalypse Across the Sky offered a refreshingly lucent take on the Master Musicians of Jajouka, in contrast to Brian Jones' celebrated chemically-blurred production .  Staying on those creatively inspired margins, Laswell's  Gnawa Night captures the spirit masters of sub-Saharan Africa in the same lucence.   In his booklet essay for City of Light, Hakim Bey quotes from Diana L. Eck 's definitive portrait of Varanasi, Banaras: City of Light , and the quote resonates with my recent post Music is the best way to travel . It comes from the ancient Indian collection of sacred h

Avoiding the 'East meets West' music trap

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A recent post about the highly recommended recording of John Mayer's Violin Concerto No. 2 and Jonathan Mayer's Sitar Concerto No. 2 leads me to sitarist Jonathan Mayer's out of genre activities. On the 2011 CD seen above  he plays sitar, pygmy sitar, electric sitar, tanpura, guitar-zither, piano, Fender Rhodes and keyboards, and is joined by the much-missed  Kenny Wheeler  on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bernard Wystraete  on flute and bass flute, Mitel Purohit  on tabla, and Andy Bratt  providing drum samples. As well as compositions by Jonathan and other members of the band there are three  Bach transcriptions ; possibly the first recordings of Bach played on the sitar.  In the booklet notes Jonathan Mayer sums up this CD perfectly ''Out of Genre' relieves the sitar of its comfort zone'. Composer, producer and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra contributes another thoughtful booklet note. This provides an valuable perspective on the prejudices that continue to dog

Click bait pays but it also stinks

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A comment worth republishing has been added by a reader to my recent post ' Classical music must face the facts - click bait pays '. This thread is not about knocking Norman Lebrecht. Because as I said in my earlier post, I grudgingly admire what he has achieved. It is about the wider problem of what is happening to classical journalism. Because if classical music wants to thrive, it needs the support of intelligent, independent journalism free from hidden commercial agendas and political prejudice . And that is precisely what is lacking today.  Back in 2016 I wrote a post titled ' Music blogging #itsover '. Well, if music blogging was over five years ago, it is dead in the water today; despite the spectacular 'success' of Slipped Disc . In that 2016 post I wrote "Music blogs are now just another part of a tacky global marketplace where people have principles, but are prepared to change them if the price is right. There is no place in the blogging commun

Word quickly spread that the old composer had lost it

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October 2021 brings the centenary of Sir Malcolm Arrnold's birth. But it is unlikely that the photo above* will appear in any of the fulsome tributes to this still sadly neglected composer . It shows Sir Malcolm towards the end of his life with Anthony Day. In 1984 Anthony was appointed by the Court of Protection as Sir Malcolm’s chauffeur-companion, and he fulfilled that role until the composer's death in 2006. Anthony Day, who died of cancer in 2019, is known because of his involvement in the long and bitter battle  over the inheritance of the Arnold Estate. However, the Malcolm Arnold Society offers a refreshingly balanced overview of his role, saying that "Anthony was responsible for the not-always-easy Malcolm... Anthony’s life was not without its controversies, but through his long administrations, the distressing infirmities of Malcolm’s old age were at least tempered by the recognition and many honours Malcolm received as the grand old man of British music"