Wednesday, December 24, 2003

[240.1] NFE BACK IN 2004

NewFrontEars will be updated again after the Winter break, and will be fully operational again in the New Year. Meanwhile, if you catch the 'Nine Lessons and Carols' from Kings College Cambridge on BBC Radio 4 today, you will hear a new carol by Harrison Birtwistle. Seasons Greetings.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


Charlotte Higgins on the vexed question of concert encores:

"Perhaps we should be thankful that spontaneity is generally an illusion. The best encores are often the most considered. On September 12 2002, a day after the anniversary of 9/11, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gave a concert at the Proms.

"For an encore, instead of dredging up some predictable signifier of grief or contemplation, such as Barber's Adagio, the orchestra, under Sakari Oramo, played a little-known work by Charles Ives called 'The Unanswered Question'. A tiny, exquisite, palpitating study in ambivalence, with no obvious musical or emotional resolution, it was cliche-free and utterly apt."

I've never thought of 'The Unanswered Question' as obscure myself. It's a lesser repertoire piece, for sure. But it was, after all, the founding musical text for Bernstein's classic Norton Lectures on the innate grammar (or otherwise) of music in general and tonality in particular. I agree with Higgins' general sentiments, though.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2003


A bit of an ambitious title, there. But nevertheless the allrecordlabels weblog ("what's new in music on the web") does manage to highlight an extraordinary range of genres -- not to mention the 12,000 labels indexed on its parent site. An invaluable service.

NFE readers will be especially interested in the contemporary classical, jazz and experimental listings, no doubt. You can also browse by format, country (and, in the US, city or state).

The log itself contains regular, economical snippets of news for the butterflies among you... The main site is here. Drop them a note if you want to add your label details.

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Monday, December 08, 2003


Drummergirl is the aptly-named and well-resourced site "for women who drum" (articles, advice and encouragement for those working in a variety of musical genres). I came across it via Evelyn Glennie's interesting percussion links page, and before that from the peerless Music Web classical connections. I forget what I was looking for, but there you go. It was almost certainly there.

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Sunday, December 07, 2003


It's that time of year already. Having disgracefully missed the Ultrasound electronic event, I'd better not miss the annual Spitalfields Festival. The full calendar is here.

There's an spnm at 60 event ('Minstrels and Revelry') at 19:30 on 10 December 2003, at Shoreditch Church, London E1 6JN.

Jane’s Minstrels
Jane Manning, soprano, presenter
Roger Montgomery, conductor

The works featured, which include a number of premieres, are:

Iain Matheson, 'Play'
Kerry Andrew, 'Fruit Songs'
Jan Podlipny, 'Frisson'
Daniel Andor-Ardó, 'Un Autre Jeu'
Anthony Payne, 'Scenes from the Woodlanders'
Joanna Kate Lee, Y'our Little Voice'
Clive Wilkinson, 'Two Haiku'
Enid Luff, 'The Footprints of the Storm'
Webern, 'Six Songs after Georg Trakl', opus 14

Tickets: £9 (free for spnm members, subject to availability). Telephone: 020 7377 1362

spnm New Notes listings are always worth checking.

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Saturday, December 06, 2003


Composer biographies, 2000 photos, 400 librettos, 300 catalogues and 5,000 lieder texts are among the goodies you'll find at Even more interestingly, there are 1000 free dowloadable music files on their MP3 Archive -- both well- and lesser-known pieces.

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Friday, December 05, 2003


If you missed their November 2003 tour, you'll be glad to hear that eclectic vocal ensemble The Shout return to London's Drill Hall from 13-21st this month with their Christmas show -- it sold out last year. Acapella material is sourced from New Testament Apocrypha, Jean Cocteau, Brian Eno, Robert Scott (the polar explorer)... and a scientific analysis of the problems of flying reindeer. Or should that be musicological? You'll just have to find out...

Effortlessly combining jazz, gospel, blues, contemporary, operatic, Indian and classical voices, The Shout do things choirs normally don’t do while pushing the boundaries of what a choir might be.

"Ensemble sound and attitude like no other. Entertaining, funny and deadly serious."

For booking information and the usual blather, go to the Drill hall site. If you're just too far away from London to contemplate this one, you could always pick up a Shout CD. See also this natural voice resource list.

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Thursday, December 04, 2003


From The Guardian's online section today:

"An online radio station that plays music created by software may sound like a plot device from a William Gibson novel. But now it is actually here. Taking its name from the randomise command in the computer language C++, RAND()% is the first online radio station to devote itself exclusively to generative (meaning self-generating) music. This alluring net station plays only music produced by software, although musicians and artists have a hand in setting the programme's parameters. On the hour, a speech synthesiser reads the news from BBC online, complete with snatches of the HTML code. The success of London's Resonance FM, which is struggling for funding but not for an audience, proves there is an appetite for this kind of avant garde radio." (c) Sean Dodson

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Arturo Stàlteri, piano, and Yasue Ito, violin, play 'Rings - il decimo anello' (inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien) at St Giles' Cripplegate, Fore Street, Barbican, London, EC2 on 10 December 2003 at 19:30. Ticket Prices: £7 (Concessions £5) available on the door. I've no idea what this will be like, but it landed in my mail box and I thought I'd pass it on.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003


3D Music, a Braunarts project, is an innovative, interactive performance space combining specially commissioned music and visual images. Composer Sam Hayden worked with 3D artist Eduardo Carillo and creative director Gabi Braun to come up with the idea. It was launched with a concert a year ago under the direction of Gillian Moore (artistic director of the London Sinfonietta), Terry Braun (director of Braunarts) and coder Adam Hoyle.

The site includes technical suggestions for its use and appreciation. It works best on a fast games level / multimedia enabled computer. Broadband is a necessity (obviously), and the site is supported by NTL. There are six different performance spaces.

Says Hayden: "A visual element certainly makes music more consumable although there is a risk that this is at the expense of the music itself. Despite some reservations, the use of multi-media in non-classical venues (e.g. clubs, art spaces, theatres etc) was one of the ideas behind Rout, an ensemble that I formed with Paul Newland and Paul Whitty in 1995. It is certainly an effective strategy as our first performance was a sell-out, bringing new music to an audience educated in the contemporary arts but rarely present at traditional new music venues." (See the full spnm 'New Notes' article here.)

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003


Extraordinary nonogenarian Elliott Carter's opera 'What Next', premiered in 2000, is newly available on ECM, along with 'Asko Concerto'. And no, it doesn't have a question mark in it. Amazon has a good Carter Soundworld list, too.

Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfonietta gave the UK premiere of 'What Next' in 2001. Matthew Rye of the Telegraph wasn't hugely impressed at the time. Let's hope he has a different experience this time.

Meanwhile Carter remains a strong advocate of maximalism:

"If you write one bar and then repeat it over again, the music ceases to have anything to do with the composer, from my point of view, anyway. It means a person's stopped living. It doesn't have anything to do with music. Well, it obviously does, because some people think it's very good. But I don't understand that. I think that one of the big problems we live with is that that kind of repetition is everywhere, in advertising, in public address systems, and in politicians always saying the same thing. We live in a minimalist world, I feel. That's what I think. Those other people can think what they think." (From an interview with Geoffrey Norris earlier in 2003).

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Monday, December 01, 2003


Amidst the bland corporatization of music in the everyday world we know as Entertainmentville Inc, the web continues to offer byways of unexpected sound. One such is the fine weblog be-jazz, which insists on "reporting from the trenches of the Belgian jazz scene." Not too warlike a culture, fortunately, but be-jazz profiles it well (and in English): reviews, links, recordings and opinion runs free. There's a thought piece on jazz-in-the-feet and its relation to jazz-in-the-head, for example.

Also crossing my path for the first time recently is Schizoidman, "A mind-altering journey through one muso-geek's ever-growing record collection." Given the Crimsoid title it won't surprise you to know that this includes alt and prog rock, among other diversions. Nifty design, too. I must figure out how to brighten up NFE. Any advice or HTML workarounds welcome. I prefer to spend my time in the concert hall or at the console, so those techie skills are a slow train coming.

Much excitement when I saw a weblog called Difficult Music a few minutes ago. But it doesn't seem too preoccupied with either the sonic or the complex, let alone the two together. Perhaps I'll have to trawl bl.ogs favourites again, continuing that endless quest for informative and interesting new music qwertys.

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Sunday, November 30, 2003


Harrison Birtwistle's fascination with Greek myth and drama continues with a major new work, Theseus Game, the latest in the celebrated series of pieces written for the London Sinfonietta. The soloists spin an endless melodic line while groups of instruments, directed by separate conductors, weave a labyrinth of sound.

The London Premiere is at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 2 December 2003. The concert starts at 19:45. Birtwistle talks to Nicholas Kenyon at 19:00. And earlier, at 17:30, there is the launch of the new internet site birtwistle-online, with performances of new music inspired by the composer and written by London school children. See Boosey & Hawkes news release on this.

The programme is:
Harrison Birtwistle, Tragoedia.
Peter Eötvös, Wind Sequences, London premiere.
Harrison Birtwistle, Theseus Game, London premiere.

Performed by:
The London Sinfonietta with
Martyn Brabbins, conductor.
Pierre-André Valade, conductor.

Theseus Game has been co-commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, Ruhr Triennale, Ensemble Modern and the South Bank Centre. The UK premiere was at the Huddersfield Festival on 30 November 2003.

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Saturday, November 29, 2003


Tonight at 23:45 (UK time) BBC Radio 3's Hear and Now, introduced by Sarah Walker, presents Big Noise, the collaboration between UK-based Icebreaker and Dutch ensemble Orkest de Volharding as they embark on their Contemporary Music Network tour. The programme includes four world premieres including two Radio 3 commissions by Joe Cutler ('Jack The Diamond's Jamming Station') and Yannis Kyriakides ('Lab Fly Dreams'), as well as new works by Dutch composers Cornelis de Bondt and Diderik Wagenaar. The concert took place at the South Bank in London last week, and I was lucky enough to be there. A review will follow.

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Remiss of me not to mention before the three-part series on BBC Radio 3 exploring the influence on, and presence of, jazz in the music of the late Frank Zappa. It started last week in the Jazz File slot and is hosted by journalist and cultural commentator Charles Saar Murray. The lastest instalment runs at 18:00 this evening (UK time) and will be available for a week over the intenet on the BBC playback service. No doubt the whole series will be archived and analysed for us by some zealous Zappaologist in the near future...

"The second programme focuses on the role Zappa's star sidemen played in creating his unique music. As a bandleader Zappa was like Ellington in the way he assembled groups of virtuoso musicians and then wrote compositions for them to play which would highlight their individual strengths. He always wrote pieces which allowed his sidemen to shine."

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Friday, November 28, 2003


De profundis from Utne. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's only known musical composition -- just a handful of notes -- was performed in London the other day. Say the Utne web-observers:

"Lasting less than thirty seconds, four bars of music Ludwig Wittgenstein scrawled on a notebook in 1931 was given life for the first time in what The Independent's Simon Tait calls, "little more than a powerful, fiery flourish." The two-line score, titled Leidenschaftlich (in English, "Passionate"), is no undiscovered masterpiece. Says composer Anthony Powers, "We haven't found a snatch of a lost great work. But it's like the continuation of an incomplete sentence, as if he had started to say something and hadn't the words to finish it, and turned to music. That's what is really interesting."

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Thursday, November 27, 2003


This season the London Sinfonietta has been celebrating the extraordinary achievements of the generation of composers which changed musical history after world war two, with major features on Ligeti, Xenakis, Cage and Berio. The ensemble is also in the midst of performing important premieres by Elliott Carter, Harrison Birtwistle and Jonathan Harvey combined with new works from young composers.

And, in their own words, "By mixing Berio with folk music from Kurdistan, electronica artists from the Warp Record label with classical 20th-century avant-garde works and collaborating with cutting-edge rock and jazz musicians, the Sinfonietta continues to put contemporary music into new contexts."

The season is profiled in more detail online.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Ah yes... Geoff Brown in The Times reviewed the recent South Bank concert put on by the Britten Sinfonia, Joanna MacGregor et al. Bach, Moondog and Stravinsky, just to remind you. Thanks to Henry Potts for this tip off. My own musings on this and other recent new music concerts will follow when time allows. It's a bit tight at the moment.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003


I suspect most readers of NFE would have better things to do with their time than to track the winding career of prog rock behemoths Yes. But, well, I'm still devoted to their '70s excursions, in particular. So if you have any desire to find out about what they've been up to lately (and in their 35th year), my Amazon review of the new Yesspeak DVD is there for you to ponder. To be honest you'd be better off simply buying 'Relayer', 'Close To The Edge' and 'Topographic Oceans', but whatever... One for the strange band of aficionados.

Now, where was I...?

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Friday, November 21, 2003


The very fine London Jazz Festival ("music from out there, in here") is in full swing -- so to speak -- and a few reviews will be forthcoming of NFE shortly. In the meantime, let me draw your attention to the Monk Liberation Front and their forthcoming endeavours. On Sunday 23 November 2003, on the ballroom floor of the Royal Festival Hall, this intriguing ensemble will perform the entire works of the mercurially fascinating Thelonious Monk (plus a new piece by Philip Clark) from 13:00 to 19:00. What's more, it's absolutely free.

Led by pianist Jonathan Gee, saxophonist Tony Kofi and composer Clark, the Liberation Front includes a host of UK and European musicians, including Ben Hazelton and Michael Olatuja on bass, drummers Winston Clifford and James Joseph, Italian pianist Antonio Ciacca, Finnish trumpeter Mika Myllari and British stars Evan Parker on soprano sax, Tim Garland on bass clarinet and Orphy Robinson playing marimba.

"This event honours in a unique fashion one of jazz's greatest composers," say the promoters. "Wow" is about all I can think to add on the subject. I will be on a train bound for south-west England at the time, but if you catch any of this and want to offer comment, please drop me a note.

Other LJF free events here.

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Thursday, November 20, 2003


It may be that the renaissance in British and European jazz over the past ten years or more has still barely seeped below the surface of US culture, but in a remote nearby island things are apparently different. Ibrahim Ferrer, one of the unlikely heros of Wim Wenders' marvellous film The Buena Vista Social Club is interviewed in the Metro this morning. He comments:

"Cubans are curious by nature... They are also very knowledgeable about jazz, so [when I return from a trip] they'll ask me about Courtney Pine or Andy Sheppard. They also have fond memories of the late Ronnie Scott, who helped to organise one of the first Havana Jazz Festivals - so he will get a mention too. But me? I usually get left alone."

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003


Avant piano polymath Joanna MacGregor teams up with the Britten Sinfonia, jazz saxophone legend Andy Sheppard and Shrikanth Sriram (Shri) on tabla for the current 'Art of Fugue' series which visits the CBSO Centre in Birmingham on Thursday 20 November 2003, and goes on to play in Norwich, London, Chelmsford, Cambridge, Luton, Manchester and Bristol over the next week.

The concert includes MacGregor's arrangements of Bach and Louis T Hardin (Moondog), as well as Stravinsky's 'Dumbarton Oaks.' The aim is to cast new light on intersecting cultural traditions concerned with contrapuntal exploration - Baroque, neo-classical and what could perhaps be termed neo-minimalism.

"The energy and chemistry between these three luminous soloists is so infectious it leaps off the stage and into the audience: this will be a night you won't forget in a hurry," we are promised. Full concert details here.

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Friday, November 07, 2003


It's curious. An otherwise glittering performance of Mahler's Second Symphony ('The Resurrection') by the Philharmonia -- under the baton of long-term enthusiast Gilbert Kaplan -- at London's Royal Festival Hall on 3 November did not use the new, definitive Deutsche Grammophon score of the work. This seems odd because many had assumed that this concert had been timed to coincide with the publication.

As is well known, Kaplan (an amateur conductor and musicologist solely devoted to this work) has paintakingly reconstructed the most authoritative version of 'The Resurrection' ever published, using the 14 different printed sources going back to the composer. He has been assisted in this herculean task by co-editor and world-renowned Mahler devotee Renata Stark-Voit.

Rumour has it that the Vienna Philharmonic may have lobbied hard to preserve the world premier for themselves. The official reason is that the orchestral parts were not available in time. Diana Damrau (soprano) and Nadja Michael (mezzo-soprano) were the soloists at the RFH, along with the London Philharmonic Choir and the Brighton Festival Chorus.

Also worth a look is Donald Mitchell's essay, "The Twentieth Century's Debt to Mahler: Our debt to him in the Twenty-first", from the 2000 MahlerFest.

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Thursday, November 06, 2003

[219.2] HOWE AT 2003 'MUSIC NOW'

In the midst of a mini-sabbatical from his commitments with Yes, eclectic guitarist Steve Howe will be performing a short live set and offering a masterclass at the forthcoming 2003 Music Now equipment exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham, England, later this month.

Howe's most recent solo projects include the 'Masterpiece Guitars' duo album with jazz guitar legend Martin Taylor (showcasing the Scott Chinnery collection) and 'Elements', the debut project from Howe's new blues, jazz and rock oriented band of the same name -- featuring the sax, clarinet and flute of Gilad Atzmon, who deservedly won a 2003 BBC Jazz Award for his Orient House Ensemble album 'Exile'.

Steve Howe is due to appear on the NEC's Live Stage from 11.00 to 11.40 on Saturday 22 November, and then in one of the two Seminar Rooms from 13.30 to 14.00. The emphasis will be on acoustic pieces, apprarently. The Music Now event as a whole runs from 21-23 November. Tickets cost £10 per day and are available online. Travel details are here. The organisers stress that places for seminars and performances "are available on a first come first served basis."

Sound samples from Steve Howe's Elements are available here.

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[219.1] A LA MOOG?

Synth guru Bob Moog's latest mass market product, PianoBar, which was launched at NAMM on 28 October and hits the stores this month, transforms virtually any 88 key acoustic piano into a MIDI controller. According to November's edition of The Wire, a film project involving a range of left-field electronica worthies is now underway (a kind of follow-up to 1994's 'Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey', perhaps). But the weblink they include seems dead at the moment, and nothing has turned up in my online searches so far...

Meanwhile, check out Rob Hochschild's interview at the Berklee College of Music site, and, er, an intriguingly terrifying project called Thelonius Moog - a sort of 'beep bop' tribute. If you hated Wendy Carlos in an admiring sort of way (and who didn't), this could really press your auto-destruct button... Is Moog a stylist for the new or an engine of kitsch? You decide... and send a postcard to the delightfully eccentric JahSonic, maybe.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Continuing NFE's ongoing attention to composer sites, Tony K Leung, "an art music composer engaged in Western, Chinese and electroacoustic practices" has a serviceable cyber home which -- in addition to the usual biography and discography / CD list -- contains a good selection of links, downloads, a listening post, and articles about his compositional process, spiritual and other influences, news and instrumentation.

"Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to remain silent." Victor Hugo.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003


October saw a further batch of intriguing releases from low-price classical label Naxos, whose commitment to English and American music (and less well-known, but high quality performers) continues. Among the recordings that have grabbed my attention are a superb collection of 'Chamber Music' by Toru Takemitsu (New Music Concert Ensemble, N855859) focusing on pieces for flute and small ensemble. This is a scale to which Takemitsu is well suited. His music suspends time and carries its conviction through subtley shifting shape, texture and form. 'Toward The Sea', 'Rain Tree', 'Rain Spell' and 'Bryce' are the featured works.

Also noteworthy: the collection of Lennox Berkeley 'Sacred Choral Music' (N8557227) to coincide with his anniversary; the Ned Rorem 'Symphonies Nos 1-3' (N8559149) -- which give us a chance to hear what all the recent fuss is about concerning the re-discovery of an American voice nurtured from song to composition by Leonard Bernstein; and Einojuhani Rautavaara's 'Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3' (N8557009), Ah yes, Nordic themes also loom large on Naxos.

The release of Samuel Barber's slightly old-fashioned but charming opera 'Vanessa' should not go unremarked (N8669140 - 2CDs), either. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and soloists generate a rich tapestry of sound from the Pulitzer Prize winning work -- and show that Barber is not the one-trick pony he is often caricatured as (through the current obsession with 'Adagio for Strings').

Talking of which, the ubiquitous 'Adagio' features in an a cappella choral version on the new CD from Laurence Equilbey's Accentus Chamber Choir, in a rendition created by the composer. This is certainly a good way of unfamiliarising ourselves with the over-familiar. 'Transcriptions' (Naive V4965) also features an interesting range of pieces not originally intended for vocal performance, including the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth and works by Chopin and songmeister Hugo Wolf.

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Monday, November 03, 2003


On 6 November 2003 (and every other Tuesday) the Zapaduchi duo perform traditional Russian music at Red Square Restaurant in Exeter, proving that creative music turns up in all kinds of unexpected places. This caught my interest because I have just moved to Devon... and because I dined at Red Square the other evening. A very pleasant experience.

Zapaduchi features John Holden on prima Balalaika with Basil Bunelik on accordion. John is one of the few virtuoso balalaika players in western Europe. He has played professionally for over twenty five years touring with dance companies such as Kasatka Cossacks all over the world. He teamed up with Basil Bunelik and Jonathan Coudrille in 1993 to play a residency at the Royal Savoy in Switzerland. They have performed a variety of venues across England since then.

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Sunday, November 02, 2003


Normally, wild horses wouldn't drag me to the television to watch the MTV Europe awards (6 November 2003), you understand -- but the first ever live TV performance by stoically postmodern German techno-crats Kraftwerk is just a little too intriguing to miss, especially for those of us who have always wondered what blistered paint would actually sound like, in somewhat magnified form. Or something like that.

Talking of the iconic past re-visited, I caught John Cale (whose new album HoboSapiens is a kind of avant folk outing) on 'Later With Jools Holland' on Friday. As ever, he is rather more interesting conceptually than sonically. Moody, atmospheric, tantalising... but finally earthbound.

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Saturday, November 01, 2003


NFE is pleased to announce, courtesy of Adey Grummet, the Winter 2003 coming of 'Deep Blue: Sea Songs, Love Songs' (music by Orlando Gough, Richard Chew and The Shout). The Shout is an extraordinary phenomenon. A choir of diverse voices and fantastically talented individuals, it has been called a 'vocal big band', a 'club choir', a 'vocal Stomp', a 'dangerous choir', a 'choir of Babel', a ‘choral phenomenon’. It is all of these things.

'Deep Blue' is a semi-staged concert of songs about the sea and about love. Love songs with a difference: about falling in love in a sweetshop, about an old man caring for his wife after she has had a stroke, about housework, about electricity, algebra, obsessive work and desire….. The lyrics come from, among other sources, the Song of Solomon and a packet of Love Hearts.

11 November: Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton 8.00pm Tickets £13/ £12 / £11.70 / £8 023 8059 5151; University of Southampton, Highfield Road, Southampton, SO17 1BJ.

12 November: Komedia, Brighton 8.30pm (Doors 7pm) Tickets £10/ £5 01273 647100 , Gardner Street, Brighton, BN1 1UM.

17 November: Cambridge Music Festival, The Cambridge Corn Exchange, 7.30pm Tickets £9.50/£5 01223 357851; 3 Parsons Court, Wheeler Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QE.

18 November: The Spitz, London 9.00pm (doors 8.00pm) Tickets £10 020 7392 9032; The Spitz, 109 Commercial Street, Old Spitalfields Market, London, E1 6BG.

19 November: The Michael Tippett Centre, Bath Spa University College 7.30pm Tickets £12/ £8/ £2 01225 463362; Newton St Loe, Bath, BA2 9BN.

28 November: National Portrait Gallery, London 6.30pm free event, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE.

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Friday, October 31, 2003


Passion-music magazine is an online resource linked to a CD distributor (who also offer MP3 samples, links and ordering information) specialising in European folk music. Currently available texts include an interviw with Speranta Radulescu of the Romanian label Ethnophonie, and (fabulously) the preface to Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály's work 'Hungarian Folksongs', which was first published in the 1900s in Budapest.

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Thursday, October 30, 2003


Though accused in the media of deliberately trying to undercut English National Opera and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, impresario Raymond Gubbay (known for his brassy and loud mega-opera 'spectaculars' at Earls Court) was suitably modest on BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday.

His company, in legion with the Royal Philharmonic, has taken over the Savoy Theatre in London's West End and will offer an eight-performance weekly schedule of the most popular operatic works (Mozart, Puccini et al) between February and April next year.

Gubbay avered that he wants to work with rather than against the established Houses. But Today, which revels in dumbing-down when it comes to music (though not other art forms) made the underlying message clear by holding up an excerpt of Schoenberg's 'Moses Und Aaron' for implied ridicule... Just to show their ignorance, they chose a moment of exquisite melody: "though not as we know it, Jim" (or John, in this case).

Interesting additional fact: Today's John Humphries also hosts the TV show, Mastermind. But his own masterful mind had never heard of Fairport Convention, he confessed, when the folkie coruncopians were chosen as a specialist subject a few weeks back. So he's obviously never come across their instrumental of Berg's ditty 'Liege and Lief', then... ;-)

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Wednesday, October 29, 2003


Yes, I know; a not-too-subtle Messiaen allusion. But the Phil Bancroft Quartet, a newish international jazz outfit who began to make an impression on the Scottish scene last year, do indeed conjour up the past and presage the future. Featuring Bancroft on sax, Mike Walker on guitar, Thomas Stronen on drums and Steve Watts (who has replaced American bass player Reid Anderson), they play Henry's Cellar Bar on Morrison Street, Edinburgh, tonight (29 October 2003) and tomorrow, starting at 8.30pm. Tickets are £8, and you can book on 0131 467 5200.

The Quartet's new album is due out on the fine Scottish label Caber Music early next year. A recent BBC Radio 3 review described them as purveying "dangerous rhyhm, waves of melody, hypnotic moods, sonic violence and shocking tenderness." Kay Smith has written, of their appearance at the 2002 Edinburgh Festival:

"As is to be expected, coming from the Scandanavian jazz scene, Stronen’s percussion was vibrantly adventurous. At first he whispered along with delicate brushwork; sticks were used too, to merely stroke the edges of symbols [sic!]. Later Stronen conjured up shades of American avant garde composer John Cage with, at times, sounds prosacically reminiscent of the crashing and clattering of dropped kitchen ware." (c) Kay Smith.

Also check out The Oracle, a good guide to jazz and more in Edinburgh.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003


Brian Lee writes with information about a UK concert of music by Jean Catoire in celebration of his 80th birthday. This takes place on 29 November 2003 at Colet House, 151 Talgarth Road, London W14 (nearest underground station - Barons Court).

Explains Lee: “Catoire, a one time pupil of Messiaen, worked in isolation in France. He pre-dates the minimalists of the 1960s. His music, in its geometric, repetitive simplicity and stillness, draws the listener into a state of meditation where higher mind and emotion become one with the music's archetypal nature. The programme comprises four sonatas for piano, voice, clarinet, flute and keyboard."

The Virgin CD 'A Requiem Sequence' brings together the work of Catoire and the twelfth-century German abbess, Hildegard Von Bingen.

The performers at the London concert will be: Stephen Bennett (clarinet), James D'Angelo(piano), James Gregory (flute) and DerShin Hwang (voice).

Admission at the door is £5 (£3 concessions). For further information ring: 01594 517333.

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Sunday, October 12, 2003


The primeTime sublime Community Orchestra (ptsCO) is, so it proudly proclaims, "one of the oddest, most intriguing groups of performers to arrive on the music scene in years." Combining skilled professional musicians, enthusiastic amateurs and a bank of computers, ptsCO seeks to bring a fresh sensibility to what it sees as "the often pretentious and self-absorbed world of modern music."

PtsCO: "Quintessentially normal" - NFE (c) ptsCO

PtsCO, ferociously loyal to its reversed upper and lower case aesthetic (but still, er, transgressively permitting a capital at the beginning of a sentence like this), notes that "Hip-hop and Techno artists have long demonstrated that, by piecing together wildly eclectic sounds, one can create bracing and fully modern music. So ptsCO takes the same approach, except that a standard, classical chamber orchestra is augmented with electric guitars, synthesizers, samplers and various non-western instruments, and the limits of music style are exploded to the point of no return."

D. C. Ruiz interviews ptsCO luminary Paul Minotto in The Independent Mind. The ptsCO website contains sound samples, weird tributes, and an insight into the Orchestra's recent unexpected masterpiece 'Holy War In Your Pants.'

"Very visual and cinematic stuff. It reminds me of a cross between The Residents/ Frank Zappa/ P.D.Q. Bach," observes Ontario DJ Chris Meloche. And he should know. They locked him up in the bar after a concert...

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Thursday, October 09, 2003


Classical Source is a good portfolio site which I came across while looking for reviews of concerts marking the 60th birthday of composer Robin Holloway. This has included events on London's South Bank and at the Wigmore Hall. The Britten Sinfonia's current season includes a concert (on Friday 14 November at 8pm) in Holloway's honour, since he is Cambridge-based.

"A fluent and versatile composer, Robin Holloway is noted for his rapprochement with tonality... The programme, devised by Holloway (and one of a series of events that celebrates the composer’s birthday during the Cambridge Music Festival) is infused with the romantic spirit. Alongside Holloway’s own 'First Idyll 'and 'Romanza', the Britten Sinfonia performs Berlioz’s song collection 'Les nuits d’été' (with mezzo-soprano Christine Rice), Wolf’s 'Italian Serenade' and Wagner’s 'Siegfried Idyll' (all pieces that Holloway loves). Paul Watkins, winner of the 2002 Leeds Conductors’ Competition, conducts. Robin Holloway talks about his work in a pre-concert event at 7.00pm."

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Friday, October 03, 2003


New York avant post-minimalist music collective Bang On A Can have a fine online store, which includes (a further layer back) sound samples of their material. The example I have chosen is Lisa Moore's Frederic Rzewski album, featuring 'De Profundis' (from the text by Oscar Wilde) and 'North American Ballads'. Moore is perhaps better known as pianist with the Steve Reich band. She also sings, shouts, purrs and declaims. Very Cecil Taylor and Schoenberg...

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Thursday, October 02, 2003


Courtney Pine interviewed in the Metro newspaper this morning:

"I realized that jazz gave me the most freedom - stuff they couldn't even teach you in school or university. The more I listened to Sonny Rollins or Miles Davis, the more I wanted to be like them. Jazz forces you to research the essence of what we are as human beings. I'm now called a jazz musician, even though I started as a reggae musician. You can play jazz and incorporate reggae or Indian influences (say) - all the soul music in this world.

"I try and play music for now, not in past styles, so it's a modern attempt at jazz music...

"I'm Britain's number one-selling jazz artist and nobody wants to give me a record deal. Jamie Callum, a young white pianist, has signed a deal for £1 million to the same label that is looking after my material. You can't make money out of black artists, so it is just not going to happen. Take this whole 'urban' thing now. That's what they call it because they don't want to call it 'black' music."

I suspect the issue also involves arcane music biz definitions about what they think of as 'commercial' (Pine isn't supposed to fit the bill, whatever his influences), and the question of TV and advertsing spin-offs. Nothing to do with anything so imaginative as music, of course...

Courtney Pine's new album, 'Devotion', is out now.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2003


Asaf Sirkis and the Inner Noise are live at the Tap 'n' Tin, 24 Railway Street, Chatham, Kent, UK on 8 October 2003 at 8.30pm. Door £5. Tel. 01634 362704, 01634 847926. The band, who fuse jazz with rock, classical and Eastern influences, comprise: Steve Lodder - Keyboards; John Parricelli - Guitar; Asaf Sirkis - Drums. New CD available now on:

Lodder is well known for his association with British saxophonist Andy Sheppard and a host of top-ranking contemporary music performers and composers.

More information on Inner Noise is available at Sirkis' website.

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Monday, September 29, 2003


That arbiter of critical-edge musical taste, The Wire, goes up in price to £3.60 an issue (unless you subscribe at a preferential rate) this month. Still a bargain at the price, no matter how modishly irritating it can be from time-to-time. An added incentive this time is a free double CD, number 10 in their sampler series, which features thirty ear lobe sized morsels from a vast array of (obscure and) creative musicians. You'll have heard of David Sylvian (a track from his new album, the first since 'Beehive' in 1999) and Jah Wobble, at least.

October's print fare includes a good feature on 'lost recordings', not least those of Miles Davis. Positively mainstream, eh fellas...?

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Friday, September 26, 2003


spnm (which prefers this acerbic abbreviation to the Society for Promoting New Music) celebrates its 60th birthday in 2003 with a season that features both its past and its future. spnm is inviting back more than 10 Vice Presidents, previous Artistic Directors and associated composers to curate individual events, workshops and talks that reflect their experiences of the organisation and their own diverse visions of a musical future. Programming emerging composers with established figures in events across the nation, and with styles ranging from jazz crossover to the avant garde, spnm's season "promotes new music for all."

15 October: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and the Kreutzer Quartet
21 October: New Music Theatre
23 October: Studio Recital
27 October - 8 November: Wired Up To Wapping
23 November: Home Made Orchestra at London Jazz Festival
26 November: Music | Text | Subtext at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
29 November: Harrison Birtwistle's 'Refrains and Choruses' at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
10 December: Jane's Minstrels at Spitalfields Winter Festival

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Thursday, September 25, 2003

[202.1] U. R. A WALRUS?

Electric Walrus is "a record label based out of Needham, MA and New Haven, CT, existing for the purpose of releasing music by Alex Temple and related artists. The focus is experimental electronics, avant-rock, genre-bending contemporary 'classical,' etc., but don't hold me to that," says its leading protagonist. The site contains sound samples, details of existing and upcoming projects, and so on.

Temple's newest release is 'Agape Ludens', which he describes as "computer music that draws from noise, avant-rock, classic tape music, industrial, free jazz and contemporary composition." The albums are put outs as CDRs, but with professional packaging -- similar to Burning Shed's approach. Very worthwhile.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003


Avantists extraordinaire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor are (in case you hadn't noticed it) featured in the soundtrack of the latest Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach) film, '28 Days Later'. The band, whose studious anti-commercialism usually makes them reluctant about tie-ins, agreed to allow Boyle to use 'Easting Hastings' ('Sad Mafioso,' specifically), but regrettably the piece does not appear on the accompanying CD. Apparently it appears briefly in some of the trailers for the film, alongside Brian Eno.

Kitty Empire writes about Boyle's collaboration with Godspeed here. The film was released in the UK last year, and in the US a little later.

"Their febrile, anguished instrumental pieces - sometimes using field recordings of old men ranting about the end of the world - provided a perfect pre-millennial soundtrack ... the sound of impending doom. But Godspeed themselves propose nothing less than a new rock, one that unites the disgust and uncompromising spirit of hardcore punk and a sense of tragedy best expressed by strings. They borrow heavily from the cinematic sweep of Ennio Morricone. Their refusal to give anything away is at once intriguing, heroic and infuriating."

Godspeed You! Black Emperor have no immediate plans to tour outside Canada, their home country, before 2004, I am told.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2003


The ever-inventive new music collective Bang On A Can tell us that 'Decasia', to which they contributed the music, is now available on DVD.

"Don't miss this one-of-a-kind film by Bill Morrison, made to music of Michael Gordon. The Village Voice writes, 'Bill Morrison's 'Decasia' is that rare thing: a movie with avant-garde and universal appeal... The film is a fierce dance of destruction. Its flame-like, roiling black-and-white inspires trembling and graditude.' Definitely not to be overlooked."

If you want to catch up with BOAC, the raw data is in the archives. There are upcoming events in Hungary, Austria and (22-25 October 2003) the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival in NY.

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Monday, September 22, 2003


Ever popped along to Kalvos and Damian's fabulous New Music Bazaar? Hosted by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn ('The Clones of the Wild Enharmonic') it's a net-based, non-pop international network, heard every Saturday from 14:30 to 16:30 EST on WGDR FM 91.1. Previous shows are archived on RealAudio, so there's no reason to miss out.

Last week was Kalvos and Damian's 8th anniversary on line, too. That's 432 shows broadcast, 188 guests already heard from (some several times), 47 newly recorded and ready to be heard, and over 563,000 site visitors.

There's also a new site-wide search feature. K&D is essential listening for the creative music fraternity.

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Sunday, September 21, 2003


Much publicity surrounded the launch of OMM (Observer Music Monthly), "the first British magazine published by a British newspaper." Why, even NFE gave it an anticipatory plug. In the actual product, which landed on my mat this morning, editor Caspar Llewellyn Smith wasted little time (and a whole column) telling us all how ab fab it all is: "the best in music from around the world", "the sharpest, funniest writers", "a magazine reflecting such diversity with style and authority is long overdue."

You can boast, Welly. You did in fact. But the content is dismal in its total predictability. Oooh, here's Britney! And Blur! And Bowie! and Dizzee Rascal! And a bit of hip hop! And "African pygmies" making weird noises in "the world's scariest place"! Still awake? Well, how about a bit of tokenism towards 'special interests'? Billie Holiday for yer dad. Arvo Part tacked at the end of a 'best albums' list, 'cos he's classical but kinda laid back, right? And tiny bits on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (exotic!) and the Esbjorn Svennson Trio (jazz!).

Next, I suppose, they'll be telling us that The Darkness are post-ironic and having a daring pop at proggies in the highly innovative 'Lost Tribes of Pop' column.

Meanwhile... what did Saddam have on his Walkman when the bombs began to fall? Why does Carole Caplin find Andy Williams "simply inspirational"? Is John Tavener the new Marc Bolan? Just what did Paul Morley throw up twice at breakfast? Will Norah Jones ever play with the Beatles like her dad? OMM looks the sure-fire place to find out. Just don't mention "music". Except in the title. 'Cos it sells well, apparently.

(OK CD, though.)

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Saturday, September 20, 2003


Artists: Duo46
Title: Untaming The Fury
Composers: Lanman, Daniel Adams, Richards, McGarity, Schaefer, Jalbert, Penaman, Flory, Sarre, Garrop.
Label: Summit Records
Catalogue: DCD 346
Annus: 2002

As if to prove that the revived American interest in classical tonality is not simply the reduction of artistic possibility to a 'good chune', Duo 46 (Matt Gould - gtr; Beth Ilana Schneider- vl) tear hugely imaginative patches from the tonal repertoire of the past few centuries, studied and vernacular. Not that they are without their hooks and riffs, too.

Ten composers responded to commissions for a series of demanding chamber miniatures. The result is hugely varied -- from sunny Iberia to melancholic central Europe -- and rarely short of compelling. The scores are all available through Alfieri e Ranieri Publishing.

The temptation in this context is throw as many ideas into a small ring as possible, both for writer and performer. Occasionally these pieces succumb to that temptation. But they can also be profoundly developmental and contemplative at the same time (Russell Sarre).

Gould and Schneider are musicians of rare sensitivity, unforced reflexivity and effortless virtuosity, coaxing unexpected twists and twirls from the Mikhail Robert guitar (1999) and the Alceste Bulfari violin (1985). These performances have a paradoxically controlled yet 'near live feel'. The recording and mastering allows the different accents and colours to flood through. You easily forget that you are listening to just two varieties of wood and string.

Some of the compositions on this disc betray their origins, loves and influences with declamatory force. Others (Joshua Penman's 'Was The Sky As Liquid') reinterpret them with surprising subtlety -- drum'n'bass and Baroque harmony, curiously interwoven.

Duo 46 is all about breaking boundaries - emotional, harmonic, rhythmic, and textural. But there is nothing contrived or forcedly 'transgressive' about either their playing or what they play. 'Untaming The Fury' is ensemble music for grown ups who like to dabble and frolic, but not in a dilettantish fashion. At its heart is perception; a still centre.

And incidentally: if you've ever wondered what a Venn Diagram would sound like, Neil Flory has the answer pinned down in just 7 minutes -- an overflowing circumference of dreams.

On the title track (by Stacy Garrop) the acoustic suddenly flattens. The notes indicate a 9/11 connection. The buck stops here. Each piece is introduced by a pithy liner comment; just enough to leave the ears to do the most important work. Professor William S. Haney's paean of praise lends floridity a new gear -- but you can see his point. The sunny cover is tastefully restrained (but just as atmospheric), in contrast.

I missed Gould and Schneider's debut album, 'FM1: Homage To The Fifties'. Seeking it out is now a clear priority. The duo also works in other contexts (the None and Strung Out Trios, for example) and has performed on four continents. 'Untaming The Fury' encapsulates their art in just over an hour. In their end is their beginning... I shall return to this disc often, I am sure.

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Friday, September 19, 2003


The Northern Sinfonia is well-established at The Sage, Gatehead, these days. Their new season of concerts begins on 25 September 2003, and features works by Berio, Stravinsky and Philip Cashian (of 'Dark Inventions' fame). New music director Thomas Zehetmair is pushing the boat out with his programming. Let's hope he pulls it off. The orchestra's imaginative playing certainly has the capacity to enthral and entice. They have an excellent website and a good range of educational activities going.

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I have no idea what The Observer Music Monthly (free with the London-based Sunday newspaper) will turn out to be like. But its first issue is published this weekend, and it comes with a free CD from Blur, the indie band who turned left-field at 'Thirteen'. Their new album is 'Think Tank': "Employs cross-rhythms evoking images of the desert and sound textures from unorthodox sources. Blur are now using sounds to create their music rather than the standard rock line-up," says Caroline Sullivan. Deserves a look and a listen, no doubt.

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A number of people have suggested that I syndicate this blog. I'd like to, but I am advised by technical support: "We don't currently offer a way for users to add RSS to their weblogs. We're hoping to add a syndication feature soon." If any readers have better advice, please let me know. Incidentally, the quality of Blogger's service has improved a good deal since Google took it on -- in all but one respect. You now get anonymous, 'press button' responses to enquiries which irritatingly ignore the actual question you've asked.

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Just what happens to be closest to the sound system right now, including a number of borrowed and blue items which will shortly be finding their way back to a rightful owner.

Duo 46, 'Untaming The Fury' (Summit Records, 2002) -- review to follow
Andy Sheppard, 'Delivery Suite' (BlueNote, 1994)
Michael Tippett, 'The Ice Break' (Virgin Classics, 1991)
Anne Dudley / BBCCO, 'Club Classical' (BBC, 2003)
Akira Inoue, 'Tokyo Installation' (AI, 1986)
Airto Moreira and The Gods of Jazz, 'Killer Bees' (B&W, 1993)
Onion Jack, 'Country Miles' (Mrs.Vee, 2003)
Harrison Birtwistle, 'Earth Dances' (Collins Classics, 1993))
Allan Holdsworth, 'Hard Hat Area' (Cream, 1993)
Jason Rebello, 'A Clearer Day' (Novus, 1990)
David Torn, Mick Karn, Terry Bozzio, 'Polytown' (CMP, 1994)
The Mahavishnu Project, 'Live Bootleg' (Aggregate Music, 2002)
Art Bears, 'Winter Songs' / 'The World As It Is Today' (Arcades Music, 1979-1980).
Thomas Ades, 'Powder Her Face' (EMI Classics, 1998)
Yes, 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' (Rhino, 1973/2003)

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

[195.2] SWAN'S WAY

Well worth catching: 'The Silver Swan' with the Clod Ensemble, 20 & 21 September 2003, 19.45hrs, at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre. The madrigal we all know and love is blown open in a rather haunting and weird way. All Tickets: £5. Visit or call the ROH Box Office: 020 7304 4000.

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Sting has done it. Just about every ageing rocker and worn out celeb you can think of has done it. But the latest version of Prokofiev's jolly old warhorse, 'Peter and the Wolf', must cap the lot for sheer dumbing up. On September 1st Pentatone Classics released Kent Nagano and the Russian National Orchestra's version [PTC 5186011] - featuring an introduction by Mikhail Gorbachev, narration by Sophia Loren... and the premiere of 'Wolf Tracks' by Jean Pascal Beintus with a vocal overlay by Bill Clinton. That's the alt version where the wolf pulls through, incidentally.The cover has a fetching blue creature on it (possibly elephant, possibly wolf - I'll let you decide.) How can you resist? Answers on an e-postcard, please.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

[194.2] GOULD GOLD!

Hot on the heels of just about every interpreter since Glenn Gould, former Van Der Graff Generator organ player Hugh Banton has recorded a version of Bach's 'Goldberg Variations' which was released by Fie! Records on December 9th last year. Evophonic contains comment on this from Peter Hammill. Thanks to Charles Imperatori for pointing this out some time ago...

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In my earlier mentions of 9/11-related music, I unwisely made no reference to John Adams' proms premiere. This significant work received mixed notices outside the homeland. Many thought that its emotion fell short of genuine artistic expressivism.

One such was Andrew Clements: "One of the season's biggest disappointments [was] John Adams's ... memorial 'On the Transmigration of Souls', [which] certainly took the prize for queasy questionability, and only just stayed on the right side of mawkishness; it was the kind of tribute piece, heartfelt no doubt, that really should have stayed in New York."

I think this may prove a rather unyielding judgement. There is more about the project here.

Further afield (indeed right outside NFE's usual orbit) there's a bit of me that feels, in spite of the musical evidence, that everyone should go out and purchase at least one Dixie Chicks album – and then send G.W. a cheery postcard to tell him you've done so. The country stars endured vitriolic abuse in the US after Natalie Maines said she and her bandmates were ashamed that President George W. Bush was from Texas like them. She made the off-the-cuff remark in London shortly before the Iraq war. A semi-climbdown was to be expected, but at least the free speech principles haven't been entirely forsaken -- unlike the message board on the band's site, which rapidly filled up with obscenities and had to be scrapped.

This spat views very differently from inside and outside the US, of course. In Britain we take Blair-baiting in our stride. But as film-maker Michael Moore observed in his even more tactless Oscar speech: "Shame on you, Mr Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up ." The Chicks went on to offer £1million dollars to the US Red Cross from their 'Star Spangled Banner' cover, as a gesture of goodwill. Incredibly, it was turned down after alleged pressure from the White House. Write that check for UNHCR now, gals.

Nor is this just a squabble in the political gutter. There are wider musical ramifications, too. It is reported that major record labels are now introducing clauses into artists’ contracts that cover 'inappropriate' comments or incidents by them. This so-called 'Dixie Chicks clause' would make them financially responsible for downward CD sales spikes that might stem from 'negative' remarks or acts by the artists.

But the Dixies are not bowing low. Nigel Williamson wrote of a recent Memphis concert: "The show - which is prefaced by Elvis Costello's version of '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding' -- is well received, even when a song called 'Truth No 2' is accompanied by a video featuring Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Malcolm X and footage of civil-rights protests. The film also shows archive footage of Nazi book burning before it ends with shots of the destruction of Dixie Chicks records and the on-screen messages: 'Seek The Truth' and 'Tolerance'. Throughout the show, Maines sports a 'Dare To Be Free' T-shirt, and it is lost on no one that we're in the city where King was assassinated."

The Dixie's have just finished a fairly low-key four date UK tour. They have been received respectfully, if not rapturously --by US citizens abroad, too. One in the eye for lumpen leaders, who talk about 'freedom of speech' and then bend all their best efforts to surressing it. "If you can't question your government then you are just mindless followers." -- Emily Robison.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003


Nick Kimbereley (The London Evening Standard) on the Harrison Birtwistle European premiere on Friday night, 12 September 2003. This is another work with roots in Durer's painting 'Melancolia', incidentally. Musically, it is based in part on John Dowland's 'In Darkness Let Me Dwell'.

"Those who equate Birtwistle with shreiking modernism might have been mollified by 'The Shadow of the Night', which opened the Proms' last-but-one night. This was Birtwistle at his most sensuous, the music's progress simultaneously anguished and gorgeous, with melodies aplenty, albeit not of the singalong type. Mournful glissandos from low strings opened proceedings, the brass responding with distant moans. A brief trombone motif was passed around and reassembled; the piccolo turned it into an extended cry, clearing the way for a succession of fletingly lyrical solos. The Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Christoph Dohnanyi played with loving dedication." (c) Nick Kimberley.

It was Dohnanyi, of course, who led the Cleveland Orchestra in the premiere of Birtwistle's earlier orchestral tour-de-force, 'Earth Dances'. Lasting some 25 minutes, 'The Shadow of the Night' is a far more remorseful (and less astringent, frenetic) proposition. But I suspect it will carry the same critical weight in the future. Andrew Clements adds: "'The Shadow of Night' is generally subdued and sombrely coloured, linear in its musical development, where the earlier work is fundamentally cubist."

The world premiere of 'Shadow' was given at Carnegie Hall, New York, on January 24 and 25, 2002. It is reviewed by Classics Today here.

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Onion Jack are Daniel and Peter Vincent. They make ether-melting mind music. Their fine, multi-layered EP, 'Country Mile' (Mrs.Vee, VOJCD02, 2003) is quite simply one of the best albums I've heard this year in the principally indie[scribable] category.

The atmospheric title track combines carefully calculated beats, electronic FX, guitar (both electric and acoustic), synth washes and haunting lyrics. A chainsaw buzz coda lays the central theme to rest in a welter of high wire emotion before the declamatory finale.

'Fake Moon Landings', an entirely instrumental piece, is reminiscent of Floyd's 'Echoes', but much more knowing and melodically creative. These guys sure like to modulate on the major-minor. Difficult to say whether the landing is ultimately successful (in purely stratospheric terms), but musically it is sucked up its own vortex. Painful to contemplate, stimulating to listen to.

As it happens I had Jane Bown's retrospective photo shoot from The Observer open on the table when 'In The Country' first came on. Several spins later I'm still convinced that this is what Lennon would have sounded like if he had got into new folk. Deceptively simple. Angular. "She believes that Jerry Springer's real." Not after this, she doesn't.

'One Evening In May' returns to the guitar / electronica soundscape: clouds and clocks. In front of the harmonics lies an enveloping drone, a bass pedal, and a cut glass exit on a sixpence.

There's nothing pedestrian about 'Ordinary Jack' either, though the segue from metallish slowed-down drum'n'bass to a gothic bit of wah guitar isn't entirely unpredictable by now.

Onion Jack are developing an original, thoughtful, compelling musical voice. They intertwine their influences well: industrial rock, nu-trance, indie acoustic and post-prog. 'Country Mile' has a kind of improv spirit too, though it is rather evidently through composed. And they certainly know how to get the most out of a studio.

A duo to watch, without a doubt.

[Onion Jack play the Black Sheep Bar in Croydon on 27 September 2003.]

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Monday, September 15, 2003


Autumn on the South Bank is a strong programme series of the best contemporary music. The London Sinfonietta, Associate Artists at the Royal Festival Hall, offer a tribute to that 20th century individualist Iannis Xenakis, and a major premiere by Harrison Birtwistle. The Philharmonia's free 'Music of Today' series looks at two contrasting British figures, Steve Martland and Robin Holloway, and there is a chance to hear the colourful music of HK Gruber performed alongside Stravinsky by a starry lineup of chamber musicians. The series starts with Jonathan Powell's Sorabji recital (see below).

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Steven Poole of The Guardian on elusive composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988): "Cut off from the world and supported by a private income, he composed dauntingly huge pieces which were regarded as all but unplayable. He forbade the performance of his music lest inferior musicians ruin it. He remained alone, despising the trivial productions of others, in his artistic castle of ideal, Platonic complexity, a lone voice in the wilderness until his death."

This week, at London's South Bank, pianist Jonathan Powell undertakes the Herculean labour of performing what many regard as Sorabji's masterpiece, the four-hour piano work 'Opus Clavicembalisticum' (1930), by some distance the longest piece in the piano repertoire. The concert takes place on Tuesday 16 September at the Purcell Room, 6pm.

"No genius has any right to lock up in one difficult and costly-accessible corner of the world, a work of supreme art, even his own. Great Art is universal. It should not be made the monopoly of a few." - Kaikhosru Sorabji, letter to Philip Heseltine, 1913.

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Thom Yorke: ""We stole a whole lot of Polish composer Penderecki's string ideas. Rock arrangements haven't changed much since the days of The Beatles and 'Eleanour Rigby'. And if bands do want to get weird things with strings, they just put them through FX. We've found all these composers that are still getting new sounds out of violins. On the last chord of our song 'Climbing Up The Walls', there's this block of white noise when 16 violins are playing quarter tones apart from each other. It's the most frightening sound - like insects or something. But it's beautiful. We used to play Messiaen over the sound system before a gig..."

Radiohead Play Manchester on Saturday 22 November 2003, Newcastle (23), Cardiff (24), London Earls Court (26), Nottingham (29). Tickets: 0871 2200 260.

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Sunday, September 14, 2003


I have been reading BBC Music Magazine since the first issue, and I bought it regularly up until the end of 1999. However, due to an overload of books and papers (and an impending house move), I am wanting to find a good home for most of my back issues - minus the discs, I'm afraid. Anyone who can make a small conrtibution and cover postage would be welcome to have them. Please email me: see Comment, below.

The sets I have at the moment are as follows: September 1992 (the first issue) to March 1994, complete; June 1994 to December 1996 (complete except for Feb '95); 1997, January - December; 1998 - 8 months (minus June, September, December); 1999 - January to June (plus September). Miscellaneous 2000-2003.

Please note that this is updated from the post on 21 August 2003. Drop me a line if you are interested, or know someone who might be.

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NFE has just updated and extended its permanent links (below the archive, on the left). The twenty-three new or revised links include:

Avant Music News (from Mike Borella), Greg Sandow (music critic), Postclassic (the one and only Kyle Gann), European Jazz Research Network (as on the can), Women Write Music (C2oth composers, etc.), Cool Noise (indie and beyond), Kyle Gann (composer, critic, raconteur -- his home site), Christine Tobin (amazing jazz vocalist), Stefan Beyst (music critic), Adey Grummet (soprano supreme), Ben Wolfson (critical playlists), Gyorgy Ligeti (composer), Asaf Sirkis (drummer, composer), Electric Walrus (Alex Temple et al), London Musicians Collective (as on the can), Resonance FM (radio in resistance), Verge Music (alternative distributor), Classical CD Review (as on the can), Squidco (independent, unusual), Signal To Noise (improv magazine), Digitonal (electronica revisited), Suzanne Vega (folk hero), Onion Jack (indie indefinable), and The Curates Egg (vocal extravaganza).

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Saturday, September 13, 2003


At long last Grummetworld has been launched on an unsuspecting universe. NFE's (and, let's face it, every sensible person's) favourite Australian soprano, Adey Grummet, now has a site dedicated to her malleable and expansive talents in the realms of opera, contemporary music, writing, education and conducting. She's a pretty nifty poll-dancer too, but don't tell yer mum. The discography is rather bereft of on-links at the moment. But it is pleasing to see a page specifically dedicated to The Curate's Egg, a vocal ensemble often unfeasibly compared to the Medieval Babes, but with that all-important added ingredient sometimes known as talent. Adey's latest musical adventures are charted on the site... as encapsulated in an earlier NFE posting.

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You could almost taste the self-congratulation in the air as the Panasonic Mercury Prize cocktail set lauded 2003 winner Dylan "Dizzee Rascal" Mills' album 'Boy In Da Corner'. The enthusiasm was so great, I'd even bet that as many as 10% of them had actually listened to it once.

The gloves were certainly off this year. An even-less-imaginative-than-usual shortlist included Coldplay (who had the decency to question their inclusion, since 'wer're just a soft rock band'), Terri Walker (who?), Martina Topley-Bird (what?), Floetry (hmmnnn...), The Thrills (yawn), and the unspeakably execrable The Darkness -- all lycra and 'ironic' metalboy posing. At least Coldplay called in from Cancun, though Channel 4 were obviously keen to cut out the politics, too.

It's as if the promoters and judges had finally decided to respond to all the past criticism by saying: "You think it's bad now? You wait 'till you see what we've lined up this year. Even the avuncular Jools Holland will be left wooden and speechless by the bottom of this barrel." And no one can deny they pulled it off with style.

There were redeeming moments, of course. The hugely talented Eliza Carthy, from England's first family of 'Anglicana', performed a marvellous 'Worcester' (originally recorded in 1913) with her band. "Here's some folkin' tokenism," she announced. Never a truer word spoken that night. The audience went to sleep. Everyone knew she didn't stand an earthly. It was all too tasteful.

Radiohead , with many better things to do than be stood up by these monkeys, sent a video. Their 'Hail To The Thief' cut was so far to the left of the rest in terms of musical ideas, it was almost embarrassing.

Alto-sax innovator Soweto Kinch (the token nu-jazz-hip hop album) beamed, but his performance lacked the intricate energy that he would have worked up given a little more time. He knew he was destined to lose from one glance at the fawning drunks in the audience, never mind the 'jury'.

Meanwhile Lemon Jelly's re-make of the gloriously panasonic, psychadelic 'Ramblin' Man' provided a touch of light relief. Sadly, they've just cancelled their UK tour. And Athlete proved the surprise draw: articulate, playfully melodic (or "Supertramp-ironic, and much less rubbish", as somebody tactlessly put it) but nowhere near gauche enough for this lot.

And that was it. Not even a token 'contemporary classical' or mainstream jazz release this year. Simon Frith and co seriously reckon that this lot consitututed the best releases of the year? They really should get out more.

As I observed to the BBC in 2002: "If further proof was needed that the Mercury is a popularity prize rather than a serious award for musical talent it will come with the inevitable failure of either Joanna MacGregor or Guy Barker to win. In any sane universe they'd be so far ahead you wouldn't see the rest of the pack."

Mercury is now wholly off its trolly. But they needed a winner, and they probably chose the right one -- given that, mind-bogglingly, some of them thought The Darkness were 'up there'. Rascal's urban/hip-hop (don't call it Garage) is from 'da underground' (as he reminded us endlessly in his post-show interviews), and it's brimming with raw enthusiasm. But it's also probably nowhere near the best album to come out of that arena in 2003.

As Simon Singleton acutely remarks: "It's impossible to believe that the judging panel own one other garage record (apart from maybe The Streets), in the same way that they didn't own one other drum'n'bass record other than Reprazent when they won. 'Fix Up Look Sharp' aside, 'Boy In Da Corner' is a depressingly dull album, even by UK Garage's extremely low standards, and its Mercury Prize just stinks of middle-aged, middle class people tapping the young MC on the head and patronisingly saying, "Well done talented urban British man". There's been so many better UK urban albums this year and it just proves how well XL's marketing team have done in pushing the Rascal onto the mainstream."

Harsh, maybe. But closer to the truth than all the hype. Rascal has certainly changed the tenor of music discourse. And, as we are endlessly told, the less mainstream artists will experience an increase in sales from the publicity. But that doesn't alter the fact that the Mercury is a charade. Be ashamed, Panasonic. Be deeply ashamed...

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