Sunday, 7 October 2012

Journal note: Jonathan Carroll

'A Child Across The Sky' again. Why? Jonathan Carroll's books are full of such wise and kind characters, though they frequently have the flaw of being wealthy enough to be able to be wise and kind. Evil is a thing grown in the dark soil of dreams.
(...dream sequence deleted...)
But Carroll's stories cut close to the bone because they are not afraid to face our fear of death. Amidst the madness, horror and hopelessness of our world he can still delineate hopes, dreams and what it is to be fully alive. Like those poems by Rilke, maybe.

John Cage 4'33" - a memory

Again I think of the lovely things I found in John Cage's 4'33" and the amusement I found in being aurally aware of the audience, who only coughed once or twice, then de-focussing the audience, staring at the pianist's flaming red hair, thinking how young he was, treading back to my own mind and seeing a silent black volcanic desert in Iceland where only the wind made the faintest sound through the soft sable sands, and back again to the black grid at the rear of the stage and being aware of the microphones recording this silence for Radio 3, and was that my stomach gurgling or was it my neighbour on the front row, and...wasn't this surreal and peaceful, wrapped in wafts and sheets of silent sound.
And then, too soon, the pianist arose and took his bow.


The rain outside invaded Seed's inner world, washed away the glowing landscape that had lingered on from his recent sleep. He dreamed; therefore he was made whole again, ready to face another day's corrosive dose of reality.

But now?

The mirror over the hearth, opposite the lounge door- it threw back oppressive shadows. He didn't like what he saw there in the gloomy depths of its reflection. He didn't like it at all.

So, quickly averting his face, he looked for a comforting object in the room to hold. A hairbrush perhaps? Or the novel he was currently reading?

The telephone- should he call her?

His keys- should he go outside, get in his car and drive across town to see her?

Seed sank down into the armchair beneath the mirror, opposite the door, not really seeing anything.

Outside? It could wait, he thought, but could he? Outside, the rain still played its games on the rooftops, windows and pavements; still played the slippery customer to the hilt, still played hide and seek with Seed's thoughts.

Wait? No, he could not wait. Waiting wasn't his game. Action was needed; but he remained in the armchair, tensed and ready to spring, as taut as a loaded crossbow, a frozen anticipation of violent motion, staring the door down.

'Seed, old man' said the door blandly, 'get a grip on yourself.'

Seed shut his eyes to hold onto that voice of reason and recalled the landscape of his dreams. Here there was escape, said another voice in a silkier tone: here...peace...and tranquility. He looked for a hand to guide him through the door of dreams. He could almost feel that hand - no, two hands- caressing his brow and hair. Almost, but...there was darkness. No sunlight penetrated this grove, and he was lost in a cold neck of the woods, where...

Shockingly, the door was flung open to reveal...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Humphrey Searle - a forgotten composer and cat lover

While listening to the CPO set of Humphrey Searle symphonies I was prompted to do some googling, and I rather liked the following paragraphs from Robert Clements:

'Ken Russell's music documentary "Classic Widows" is Crazy Kenny doing what CK does best: putting on a cap and bells and making an absolute idiot of himself for the music he believes in. The documentary is structured around the four "classic widows" [Susana (Mrs William) Walton; Bertha (Mrs Bernard) Stevens; Xenia (Mrs Benjamin) Frankel and Fiona (Mrs Humphrey) Searle] of the title; and looks at their individual (but painfully paralleled) struggles to keep the music of their late husbands before the public ear.
Towards the end of the film, Fiona Searle has clearly had enough: twelve years have passed since her husband died; and no one will play his music… so instead of the scripted biography she is awkwardly trying to deliver, she looks across at the director and explodes: "and what the fuck are we going to do about it, Ken?". In that one exasperated line, she seems to be summarising not only her own experience but that of all four "classic widows"…. '

So who was Humphrey Searle? Well, he was a pupil of Anton Webern, so naturally he became a frontrunner of British serialism. He also gave informal composition lessons to William Walton.
And he was a prime advocate for the music of Franz Liszt before the musical community began to realise how important and forward looking  a composer Liszt was, and increasingly still is.

And though he may not be in the major league, the music he left behind is well worth investigating, and deserves a great deal of respect.

 And I think Gerard Hoffnung had a real affection for him, judging by the cartoon he did of Humphrey with a cat on his lap. I wish I'd got to meet him.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Out of the lion's mouth?

The title of my blog came from a little truth-or-dare story I wrote as a teenager. The lion's mouth was carved from stone and located in a Mediterranean possibly Italianate city, for where else in the world would such an object be located?

In a sense it was oracular. People came to ask it questions but it never spoke. Those who dared put their hand in the lion's mouth and legend had it that if they entertained falsehood the lion's jaws would clamp shut on their wrists.

The reason I brought this up is that yesterday I discovered via Google that there was a novel published in 1917 called 'Virgilia, or Out Of The Lion's Mouth' by a writer called Felicia Buttz Clark (it's a free Kindle download), so I thought it timely to explain the origins of the title. I've not yet read it but think it's set in ancient Rome on the cusp between paganism and the beginnings of Christianity.

But that's not my story.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Flames and Flowers

I remember when I wrote this I was captivated by the poems of Pablo Neruda:

You lit a flame within-
Unaccountable rhythm of my soul,
Moving the tides of my identity
To a land-locked conclusion.
Blood of my blood that sings
Like a bird in my skull.
Simple heart that I hold;
My hands are warm with you.
If words mean nothing, my love,
Then let us talk like mutes;
Writing on windows
Condensation of our love.
Writing on walls
Illustration of our feelings.
Walking on pavements,
Listening to pomegranates
And radio symphonies
As orchids bloom in your hair
With the wildness of woodland dreams.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Music criticism

Notes toward an evaluation of music criticism.

01. Every piece of music has an intrinsic value for someone.

02. It is impossible to impose an impartial value system on any performance of music, whether recorded or live.

03. Each one of us has their own value system, based on their own likes and dislikes.

04. Sometimes the individual's value system overlaps with the value system of others.

05. Every value system is shaped by the society we live in and the tools it uses (institutions and media) to empower its ideology.

06. But we have the individual choice of joining cores of enthusiasts (peer groups) outside the ideology of the power structure, where our value systems can overlap with people of similar tastes and preferences.

07. We also have the choice of being open-minded- a floating value system, if you like- of being free not to choose. This, however, denies the selection process essential to logical thought, or places us in the realms of the arbitrary.

08. The value systems we use can either inhibit or liberate us, though, by the nature of the value system being a system, they would tend to inhibit us.

09. A newly adopted or forged value system then CAN initially liberate us but by nature eventually ossifies and inhibits the user. Every value system is inherently entropic.

10. In an ideal world the value of music criticism should be to inform and educate the listener/audient, to widen and stretch their existing value systems.

11. In reality the writings of a music critic say more about the value systems of the writer than about the music.

12. The published observations on a piece of music or a musician by a music critic attach themselves to, and become part of, that music or performance without the consent of the composer or musician. That is the price of positive endeavour, that it attracts a negative or inappropriate opinion.

13. The audient/listener can have their perception of the music coloured (or muddied) by the observations of the music critic. It is very difficult to listen to music with open ears.

14. To be truly receptive to new music (this term also means music unfamiliar to the listener as well as freshly penned music) one has to be disciplined to listen only to the 'voice' of the music, and no other voices can be allowed to intrude.

15. The audient/listener discovers new music either through contact with their peer group, or through the media. This music will then already be encoded with values, some appropriate to the new piece, some inappropriate. The listener may decide to listen or not to listen to new music based on the encoded information. Inevitably this information will colour the listening experience; the degree of t(a)inting depends on whether the listener can follow the 'voice' of the music without the background noise of encoded information.

16. The music itself is already loaded with cultural signifiers, creating a specific set of expectations. The signifiers may be in the instrumental scoring used or in the styles or forms of music adopted. A string quartet, a sitar and tabla, a symphony, a Wurlitzer organ, a waltz, a brass band, an opera, a country & western ballad, a pavane: already we have certain expectations of form, shape, colouring. Already we are making decisions based on our preferences.

17. The composer or performer working within the western musical tradition may feel inhibited by the burden of these cultural signifiers. It is only by looking between the notes and beyond the enclosed resonances of the notes that one can lose the inhibitions and let go.

When music does this, it touches a realm beyond language.

Neil Talbott
(see also Dr David C Wright and 'I hear music...' elsewhere in this blog. Also well worth exploring are the blogs 'On an overgrown path' and 'The rest is noise')