Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Excuses, excuses...

So, I really haven't written anything of length for a long time on here. This is puzzling, and of course disconcerting.
I started writing something about Chris Petit's incredible 'Content', but it stalled. It's a film which you really ought to see, if you're the sort of person who might hang around here on this blog. It is a work firmly located within the 'Architectural Melancholy' mode, experimental and haunting. I let out a sigh when reading the description of Petit as a "lugubrious aesthete fixated with the increasing intangibility of a post-industrial world" in Owen's Icon review, it seemed so tailor made to the E&V sensibility. If I can drag my fingers to the keys properly, then I'll write up the full length thing, which was to be about investigating Petit (and Ian Penman, who collaborates in 'Content') attitude to the spectrality and loneliness of the internet, the yawning absence of a true modernity, and the troubling form of the distribution sheds. In the manuscript wot I just wrote, I touch upon the distribution sheds in terms of their resemblance to hi-tech architecture, but I never really investigate further. But if I'm serious about an 'ugly functionalism', or the 'fantastic dreariness' of Cedric Price, then I'll need to tease out some kind of meaning from these objects.

I haven't been writing quite so much outside of the blog either, although at the moment I'm fairly busy with a few interviews and even a forthcoming cross-european visit to write about a new building, which is either a work of solutionist charlatanry or perhaps the first time someone's done something new with the housing estate in a long time. There might be a few more public appearances and drips & drabs of teaching, which I'll tell you about in due course. And, if you need someone to write, I can wrote proper good word.

But I have actually been reading a lot - blogs even. My Google Reader list has been getting quite large, and actually quite depressing. Day after day certain websites throw another twenty or so press releases out into the world, a seemingly endless stream of quite-ok work, which you either like or you don't, before promptly forgetting about it seconds later. I remember the thrill of the very early days of file sharing (Napster, Audiogalaxy, that kind of thing) where two regimes of cultural accumulation overlapped for a while - the genuine joy of finding something rare, something you might have heard about but never been able to find, and the sudden abundance of anything and everything. Nowadays of course the very notion of rare culture is disappearing. We might call it democratic, but there is of course a deadening of mystery that comes from this accessibility. If we know anything about desire it is that its easy and immediate satisfaction is not particularly healthy. Or maybe I'm just losing my edge.
I've also been reading more novels recently. After going through the ordeal that was 'The Kindly Ones' I'm currently reading Lanark, which has managed already to be very moving. It's such a strange feeling to be reading about Glasgow from the perspective of an exile, albeit one only six hours away by train, but today it was so very very strange to be reading Gray's quasi-autobiographical description of attending the Glasgow School of Art. Although he's describing the '50s, it didn't stop floods and floods of my own memories hammering down on me like the storm that was battering my train carriage as I read.

Music is another thing that has been keeping me from writing here recently, although a wounded index finger had put a stop to that for a while. You might have had a listen to my Wagner / Iron & Glass thing the other day, and most of what I've been playing has been along those lines, although it has been a mixed bag. I'll probably start trying to record more of these pieces, if only to document the quite possibly 100+ nearly-finished arrangements that I've got sitting around. I suspect that most of the people who read my architecture stuff aren't particularly interested in German Late Romantic music being played badly on an instrument to which it is not suited, but those are the perils of the self-published internet after all. Which brings me to...

I must say that I nearly jumped out of my skin when heard about this record, and came minutes away from getting it on vinyl, despite not being a DJ, or having a turntable in my room. I'm not a huge fan of Matthew Herbert, although I appreciate his conceptual approach to music making. I generally find some of his dance/pop music to be a little bit twee at times in its mannered funkiness. But an album, part of Deutsche Grammophon's Recomposed series, that digitally re-imagines Mahler's Tenth Symphony? Mein Gott! It's almost as if they had made it just for me!
So: what is it? It's basically a recording of the Adagio first movement of the tenth symphony, acoustically situated. The only aspect of it that is recorded anew is at the beginning, which features the opening melody played on a single viola, apparently at the composer's graveside. Over the course of the next forty minutes or so, recordings of the piece are played into various acoustic settings - notably the inside a coffin and behind the curtain at a crematorium. All of the conceptual re-recordings in some way relate to Mahler's death-fixation, which is an over-stressed theme, but did of course exist.
Each re-recording changes the acoustic qualities of the record, sometimes sounding tinny, occasionally as if it's underwater. You can sometimes hear vehicles and animals in the distance. In this sense it relates strongly to Gavin Bryar's "The Sinking of the Titanic", which conceptually recreates various acoustic properties derived from the story of the Titanic and the performance of 'Nearer My God to Thee' which supposedly continued as the band sank with the ship. Unfortunately some of the Herbert recording works well, while some of it doesn't. When the piece has the high frequencies lopped-off, and one can hear the sounds of rain, it's a successful example of some of the things that I try to achieve when I write music. But when Herbert takes the gigantic 9-note chord from late in the movement, his way of destroying seems underwhelming; a throbbing noise over a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm that fails to live up to the expanded palette that Herbert seems so keen to achieve.
It also seems strange that Herbert has steered clear of hauntological territory here; he's surely not unaware of that now rather distended genre, which at its best in, say, Philip Jeck, is some of the most conceptually interesting and yet also gut-wrenchingly moving music of the last decade, but that also has the capacity to lapse into the decay-chic Wagner of Indignant Senility. But Bryars, who worked with Jeck on the most recent recording of 'Sinking of the Titanic' seems to have appreciated the resonances of crackle, of decayed media, of haunted sounds, while Herbert's is remarkably clean, mannered. It just seems that a lot more could have been done with this record - they should have gotten me to do it!

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