Saturday, November 18, 2006


There is plenty of moaning about "the state of music" from those of us who see it as more than a purely consumer-led distraction, and the condition of music education (or lack of it) in schools is also hotly debated. But what, constructively, is being done to address the situation? One person who is using the medium of TV to promote better understanding of music in popular but non-patronising ways is composer Howard Goodall. His latest venture, the series How Music Works (showing for an hour on Channel 4, four Saturdays from 18 November 2006 at 20.25), is an excellent case in point. Tonight's programme explored melody, and included references from classical, blues, Gregorian, African, Asian, jazz and rock idioms. Goodall is a gifted communicator. And the fact that he can genuinely appreciate Sting's adoption of the Dorian mode as well as the intricacies of Bach and the demandingness of Schoenberg really helps. He is not trying to build bridges across divides. He is delving into the multiple musical environments in which he lives, moves and has his being. My own choices of Twentieth Century Greats (2004) would have been different. You can't, in my view, overlook Messiaen. But that series, too, was enlightening and well crafted. More, please.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


In the view of many people, there is nothing less musically acceptable than Yes's 1973 four-side near 80-minute epic album, Tales From Topographic Oceans. I couldn't agree less. What gets called 'progressive rock' has committed more than a few atrocities, but this isn't one of them. It's coherent, evocative, complex and brimming with ideas. So it was with delight that I discovered, while surfing on Amazon, that at least one thoughtful reviewer agrees. Dr D. B. Sillars' oeuvre is worth visiting anyway, and here he is on TfTO.

Critics have called this album difficult and stated that there was an overstretching of musical ideas. This is not the case. I think the album evolves naturally over each of its tracks. It is complex, thematically and musically, but I think the whole thing holds together... It has stood the test of time very well. It is the album by [Yes] that I re-visit the most, finding new nuances from each listen. This remaster has done the album the justice it deserves. The sound is full and clear, with all the detail finally brought out of the mix. The studio run-throughs are interesting takes on how the pieces have evolved. The digipak packaging is sumptuous. Rhino has done a remarkable job with this and the other releases in the Yes re-issue programme. Take the opportunity and listen to this bold album from Yes’s classic period. It really deserves to be re-evaluated and given the recognition it so widely [merits].

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Friday, November 03, 2006


That being the name of the major Michael Tippett 90th birthday festival held in 1995 (the year The Rose Lake was premiered - one of my all-time musical memories: 19 February, Barbican Arts Centre). Anyway, it came to mind when I was trying to think of an appropriate quotation to mark the fourth birthday of this - now rather occasional - eclectic music weblog. And here it is (below), from Tippett's collection of essays Moving Into Aquarius. I'd take it as a decent job description for a poet, a theologian, a philosopher and an artist, too. But a musician has the advantage of working with the only truly asbstract language, when you think about it...

"I know that my true function within a society which embraces all of us, is to continue an age-old tradition, fundamental to our civilization, which goes back to pre-history and will go forward into the unknown future. This tradition is to create images from the depths of the imagination and to give them form whether visual, intellectual or musical. For it is only through images that the inner world communicates at all. Images of the past, shapes of the future. Images of vigour for a decadent period, images of calm for one too violent. Images of reconciliation for worlds torn by division. And in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty.”

[Image, 'Tippett in the Countryside', with acknowledgements to (c) Schott Music]

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