Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Commercialised art

I believe that Andy Warhol wrecked art. It was shorn from any aesthetic worth. You can now erect any random object in art gallery and accrue millions. It was mollified to the point of inanity. Warhol made art cute and cudly. Gone was the passion and hubris of the Renaissance, the Romantics and the Surrealists. Art became as cute - and disposable - as a coca-cola bottle or a cuddly toy.

When Andy Warhol arrived on the scene, it changed art irrevocably. His ilk dominate the market. People who dominate this market know how to control precisely because they are business people, not artists. What they offer isn't art. It is a vacuous commodity to be sold for billions. Warhol turned art into an advertisement and commodity. It tapped into the free market in a jiffy. Warhol revelled in the inanity of the free market. Unlike a great painter like Caspar Friedrich, he didn't discriminate from the drudgery of contemporary life. He merely swallowed it and regurgitated more pointless drudgery. I would take any day an artist who forensically examines phenomena and selects the remarkable, the transcendent. We are saturated with rubbish all the time by advertising. We don't need to go the art gallery to see more of it. If you want to use art to comment or critique the inanity of advertising - that's great. You shouldn't, however, mimic it.

Andy Warhol

The fact remains that these are businesspeople, not artists. 'Artists' like Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst are seen as exemplary by David Cameron. They are business people working in the private sector who make billions. They are reticent to pay tax. They just want to accrue as much wealth as possible, spend it as lavishly as possible, gain cachet and surround themselves with a coterie of sycophantic yes-men. Thatcherites see them as exemplary because they have managed to have some influence on the free market. Like a truly great businessperson, they have made billions out of something farcical.

There is a new breed of business fundamentalist/entrepeneur who is poisoning both culture and politics. It is the same sorry story as positivists and 'scientism,' but it is more sinister because it has a far wider reach. Business has to be applied to education. As soon as you sell education, it turns it into a worthless commodity. Education should be a right. Universities are now virtually shopping centres. With little wisdom or knowledge to impart, they are awash with business courses and shopping precincts. Ludicrously, they seem to have more clubs and dance halls than library space. Instead of teaching how to think critically or originally, universities just teach students to be consumers. This malign 'business positivism' has also crept into 'high' art. You don't sell art which tackles big social/existential/moral topics; you sell gimmicky products to be scrutunised by bearded hipsters.

These 'gimmicky products' are simply kitsch with no intrinsic value. What does an unmade bed or a shark in a tank have to say? The supposed commentary in these works are shallowly imputed by critics. They are not intrinsic to the art.

In the end of the day, this will all blow over. Hirst and Emin will die with a lot of money in the pockets, but they won't go down in time as great artists. Nor will Warhol. All they can do is create zeitgeists. Most of the trends of our time will not leave a slightest dent in history. Today's painters and artists who are trackling big important questions will be remembered. They might be unnoticed now, but their work will manage to transcend time. All the likes of Warhol, Hirst and Emin can do is to conquer the free market. It is ephemeral. The outsiders and fringe artists, people who are marginalised by the bloated art market, will go down as the great artists of our day.  

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Power and human fallibility

Marxists and anarchists see humans as being inherently good. Man is a benign creature whose freedom is being repressed by coercive institutions. If we replace these institutions with economic model x, man will be free. Not only that, he will behave as a moral and conscientious individual. We are all progressing to the next 'episteme.'

Post-modernists see all power as an inherently bad thing. Although they are opposed to revolution,they see any person in any position of power as being repressive. It doesn't matter if they propose a more ethical alternative, their being in power is inherently bad. All states must be criticised and dissented from.

What we see in all revolutions is that it unbridles violent behaviour. This is something that anarchists never take into consideration. Without a state and without order, violent behaviour comes to the fore. This capacity is always within us. Steven Pinker recently published a banal and trite book arguing that we are less violent than we used to be. It's only because we live in prosperous liberal democracies. As soon as there is no state, as soon as there is no mediator, as soon as there is no morality, we have famine and genocide. When the colonists arrived in Oceania and the Americas, they were that inhumane because there was no arbiter of morality. When there is no law, order and morality, where humans can do what they want, we systematically kill, pillage and rape. Anarchists see all states as inherently bad. I sympathise with that sense in that I see institutions in some sense repressive. (I take other positions out of expediency.) The crux of the problem, really, isn't the systems of power/economic models. The problem is our imperfect nature.

Post-modernists blame all power. Humans are imperfect and will make mistakes. We are not progressing to the 'the next episteme' which Foucault suggests is possible or the Marxists think we are incrementally progressing towards. (Some genuinely believe that this progress is genetic as well as political.) If we do implement a better model, we will have similar problems because we will make mistakes. We might take advantage of power, be corrupt, handle problems in a slipshod manner, etc. Parliamentary politics is the most democratic system we have. This is despite the fact that it's largely dominated by immoderate right-wing parties, which would have been considered extreme in the 70s.

Here's a chilling thought - Stalin and Hitler could think, had feelings, etc. It's tempting to paint dictators and autocrats as two-dimensional figures. The fact is that they're 'human, all too human'.

Friday, 19 December 2014

My favourite films of the year, '14

There are a few films I regret leaving out. This is especially true with Frank. How could I leave out a film about an avant-garde rock band which references Captain Beefheart?! I also found it very moving. It made the point that outsider artists do not act deliberately outrageous - they are genuinely troubeled people. I regret the absence of documentaries. Errol Morris' The Unknown Known was fascinating, despite the inevitable caginess of Donald Rumsfield. Camille Claudel 1915 was an austere film on religious belief and madness - I am interested in both themes - and featured a fine performance from Juliette Binoche.

Although many of these films were released internationally in 2013, this list covers films released theatrically in the UK in 2014.

10. Calvary by John Michael McDonagh (Ireland)

Calvary is a comforting and life-affirming film about the virtues of faith in secular societies. Infused with gallows humour, it oscillates between mainstream comedy and art-house fare. Its lead character is warm, down-to-earth type who becomes a priest to get away from marital break-up and the tensions of a capitalist society. To have faith seems to invite scorn and ridicule. And, indeed, the priest is threatened with murder from the film's outset. Its only - quite major - flaw is the over-abundance of stereotypical characters.

9. The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorcese (USA)

Whilst it may be a bit shallow and superficial to rank among his best films, this is certainly Scorcese's best film in a long time. It is set at the outset of the deregulation of the financial markets and 'reaganomics.' And whilst Di Caprio's character is rapaciously greedy and selfish, the film is pretty much pro-capitalist. It celebrates individualism. You could pretty much say that it has no moral core. (Scorcese, barring his gangster films, usually is quite moralistic.) But it is extremely funny whilst being lewd. He has made one of his gangster films but populated it with bankers instead. Di Caprio's hubris and fall from grace is all the more pertinent considering the number of bankers who still have not been brought to account post-2008.

8. Inside Llewlyn Davis by Coen Brothers (USA)

The Coen Brothers have been accused of repeating themselves of late and relying on the same tired formulas. But what we have in films like A Serious Man and now Inside Llewyln Davis is a subtler and more understated kind of filmmaking. No matter how much I love their earlier work, it always felt too high-octane and cartoonish. This film follows a folk singer in his peregrinations across the US. Although he is talented, he struggles to make ends meet. Set in the early 60s, it is all the more ominous considering the impact psychedelia and pop music would soon have. Folk would soon become even more irrelevant.The film follows Llewln roaming aimlessly. It has a circular quality when he ends up where he began with. The Coens once more allude to Homer's Odyssey (which they adapted in O Brother Where Art Thou).

7. Leviathan by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Russia)

Suffused with biblical overtones, this is a chilling study of corruption, abuse of power and clericalism in present day Russia. A family is forced to leave a spot of land after it has been claimed by the local mayor. Putin is a ubiquitous presence, as he hangs over the walls of politicians. Whilst the film does celebrate the religious impulse on a more personal level - it provides a sense of meaning for characters despite the bleakness of what they go through - the film is staunchly anti-clerical. The orthodox priest drives the politicians to do nefarious things. The film also alludes to Hobbes (whose most famous book is called Leviathan) in the way in which citizens lose their freedom once they have signed up to a social contract. Indeed, the characters are powerless and at the mercy of Russia's repressive political bureaucracy. There are also several lovely shots of the sea and hill-tops.

6. Maps to the Stars by David Cronenberg (Canada/USA)

Maps to the Stars is a brilliant critique on the narcissism and self-absorption of Hollywood. Instead of the parasites that feature in his horror films, here the characters are psychologically plagued by their own DNA. Hollwood is an insular place where the same people meet and the same people procreate. They are vain, neurotic and eager for nothing other than fame. Hollywood is an incestual microcosm which keeps perpetuating itself. Cronenberg hasn't merely made a film that tangentially addresses incest, he has made a film about incest. He takes a detached, scientific approach where he dissects the vicissitudes of incest and psychosis. As a result, he does not shy away from anything. This is exciting as he has not made a film as visceral as this in a long time. The film, of course, is also a satire on the cynical machinations of Hollywood.

5. Mr. Turner by Mike Leigh (UK)

This is a delightful film. It's always been said that a life of Turner would never make a good film because it was so uneventful. Leigh is a master at that kind of thing. It is mundane and quotidian, but the essence of his creative process and his idiosyncrasies are evoked wonderfully. It is set in the last years of his life when he was accused of making 'bad' art. As with all Leigh films, there is no script but the dialogue is improvised and rigorously rehearsed accordingly. The language is straight from a 19th century novel - it is very rich. It is also very funny and playful. One of the most mesmerising things about the film is the way Leigh frames landscapes as if they were one of Turner's paintings.

4. Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer (UK)

The greatest thing about this film is its point of view and its defamiliarisation. It is from the perspective of an alien. The film does this with cinematic, not literary, language. It achieves through its framing and the use of sound (it has a brilliant dissonant soundtrack). It is ambiguous and strange. Parallels could be made with 2001. Yet, despite this, it also has a documentary feel. Surprisingly, some of the scenes really took place. Scarlett Johansan really drove past Glasgow, picked up guys and offered sex. As you watch those scenes, they really do seem authentic. It is a science fiction film set in the here and now - as such, it is very Ballardian.

3. Nymphomaniac by Lars von Trier (International co-production)

This film, being four hours long and divided in two parts, can seem like hard work. It is also obscure and sexually graphic. (So, it's not for 'philistines' or for anyone prudish it seems...) I have always being fascinated by books and films which are both cerebral and sexual. This is why I love the work of both Georges Bataille and J. G. Ballard as well as the filmography of David Cronenberg. The Gainsbourg, the nymphomaniac, character divulges her experiences to a bookish type. As she does this, her host incongruously makes connections to what he has read. (Her sexual experiences lead to huge sprawling digressions on Bach/counterpoint, fly fishing, Edgar Allan Poe and mountaineering.) As such, because of its temporal breadth, watching this film feels more like reading a novel. I really found the reaction from most critics lame. They were disappointed because they didn't find it 'shocking' enough. What did they expect? Porn?

2. Twelve Years a Slave by Steve McQueen (USA)

This film is high up this list because it is so emotionally stirring and harrowing. Shockingly, it is the first ever film made about the slavery of black people in 19th century USA. McQueen, by providing an endless onslaught of violent and disturbing images, makes you empathise. As such, the film is a resounding success. The film is still slightly problematic. By focusing on the plight of an upper-class, educated black man it might be suggesting that his particular experience is more precious than the experience of millions of other slaves. It might be questioned whether the at times gratuitous violence really is needed to elicit this 'empathy.' (Instead of a more understated, distanced approach.) Still, this is an overwhelming film - with both rich dialogue and ravishing images - and should be mandatory viewing.

1. Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski  (Poland)

Ida is a film which depicts the endurance of faith. A seventeen-year-old orphan, about to become a nun, discovers that she is Jewish. She then meets her aunt - a Stalinist with blood on her hands - to track down the remains of her butchered parents. The eponymous character has the opportunity to take on a bourgeois lifestyle and get married. Instead, she to return to a convent. The film austerely emphasises the sacred and the transcendent in a secular society. It has the deft pacing and masterly cinematographic framing of space of Bresson and Dreyer. It charts the way an ascetic woman discover love, music and loss and, once she has done so, returns to her hermitage to lead a more enriched life.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Why ideology won't die

The fall of the Berlin Wall was a symbolic event. 'The end of history' was proclaimed. Liberal democracy had won the battle of ideas. Following the triumph of laissez-faire capitalism, this economic template would be exported world-wide. It would be pumped into Russia. It would be exported to the Middle East. Latin America would abandon its bloody dictatorships. Following the demise of the Soviet Union - the archetype of radical ideology - we would now live in a de-ideologised global community. There would be less wars. Wealth would trickle down to lower social strata. We would live in an meritocracy where everyone could rise to the top if he worked hard enough for it.

This 'de-ideologising' has spawned more radical ideologies. Its dogmatic belief in everything stated above has engendered a backlash. The naive belief that Russia would be set in the right-direction with unregulated markets and with the NATO treaty has not worked. The apparatchiks of the Soviet era continue to autocratically cling to power. Corruption is rife. Putin has imperial ambitions of his own and this has led to a new cold war. The belief that liberal democracy would easily be transplanted into the middle east has played a part in the shaping of ISIS. There is no way that ISIS  would have claimed so much of Iraq the way they did without the failed state that arose after American mismanagement. ISIS is funded by the gulf states that western countries support. Western countries strengthened them with weaponry in Syria. A lot of ISIS' military gained their acumen in the Iraqi army during the American-led invasion.

Michel Foucault said that power permeates everything. It permeates our institutions etc. The same can be said of ideology. Political legislation has a causal effect on the lives of its citizens. Political decisions are always ideological. In this sense, ideology permeates everything. This is true even if politicians might well have less power than bankers, managers, executives, etc. (Their power is still free market ideology.) Foucault also mentioned that, when a power-structure is toppled by revolution, the structure remains the same. You can't expunge social mores. Just like when the Soviets led their revolution, the bourgeoisie power structures remained. When liberal democracy arrived in Russia, the corruption and exploitation of power remained intact.

'The end of history' and 'de-ideolgisation' are themselves ideological positions. When the EU enforces austerity measures, it's ideology masked as pragmatism. When politicians say that ideology is dead, this just leads to confusion. In fact, using the terms 'left/right' are a very clear and cogent way of demarcating policies. Raising tax rates is generally seen as a more leftist policy. Lowering tax rates is a more right-wing policy. By saying 'I am a centrist - ideology is dead,' it is difficult to pinpoint where exactly a politician stands.

Needless to say, recessions foster extreme ideologies. They sway the public. Across Europe, radical right-wing parties are winning seats in parliaments. In Greece and Spain, leftist parties are winning seats. During years of economic prosperity and stasis, it was taken for granted that anything should be amended. Inequality had increased throughout the 80s and 90s. The market crash seemed unthinkable in the eyes of many. As a result, parties like UKIP and the National Front blame immigration. Marxists take their chance, sell thousands of books and claim that capitalism will soon perish.

The fact remains that utopian visions will always circulate. The martyrs and suicide bombers will continue to enforce their illiberal views and will continue to strive after their 'caliphate' and their ninety virgins. The fact remains that ideology won't die. Sectarianism will continue. The very idea that ideology is dead is, in itself, pure ideology.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The string quartet

The string quartet is my favourite classical form. Out of all the prototypes of the eighteenth century, the string quartet is perhaps the one which continued to be fruitful for post-war composer. (Even the symphony was largely jettisoned and perceived as being archaic.) They are also overlooked. The composers' symphonies and operas are celebrated while the quartets lie dormant.

String quartets have always been a medium where a composer reflects on his own language. It is not really a major statement of intent. Beethoven was being 'heroic' with the the Eroica symphony and the 5th, 7th and 9th. Or he was being contemplative with the pastoral and the 8th. Whereas with the string quartet, he was making no bold statements. He was just self-examing and commenting on his own art. As I will explore in this blog post, string quartets can track the musical development of an entire composer's career. The examples I will use will be Beethoven, Bela Bartok and Elliott Carter. Because the composer examines his own form, string quartets are often characterised as being emotionally dry. The examples I have chosen are all expressive and can be heard for emotional enjoyment. As someone who isn't very musically literate, I can testify that this is music which can be heard without a formal grounding in music theory.

I mentioned that the string quartet was a eighteenth century 'prototype.' Mozart and Hadyn churned out many. As with most of their pieces, for me they are uninteresting. Beethoven followed in the same lineage. As with his first two 'classicist' symphonies, you can tell that he is much more playful with the staid forms of the day.

The cream of Beethoven's music, for me, are his last five quartets. (During the same period, he wrote Missa Solemnis and Symphony No. 9.) These quartets see him abandon classicism altogether and see him adopt a romantic language. It's a real quantum leap from Mozart in that it's so much more expressive. He's not afraid to make unexpected chord changes or to modulate the dynamics.

My favourite Beethoven quartet is the 15th. The main leitmotif is announced as a tremolo in muted, brooding tones. It gradually gains some intensity, like a freight train about to start (sorry about the trite language, but as I'm not a musician I have to recourse to metaphors). The tempo modulates to allegro and the motif is repeated more vigour. The motif is revisted, with several permutations, until until it is resolved. The second movement is somewhat whimsical. It is more formally rigid, until it modulates to violins/viola playing levitating trills. These are contravened by an ominous figure played by the cello and is repeated by the violin/violas. The rest of the movement alternates between these three strands. The third movement is by the most beautiful. The main theme is announced. There are a few variations until it ends expansively expressively. The fourth and fifth movements alternate between more a more classical themes and a whimsical melody I adore.

All of Beethoven's musical development can be traced through his string quartets. The same is true of Bela Bartok. His first quartet straddles the line between late romanticism and early modernism. It is actually redolent of Beethoven's 13th. His second quartet is more oblique and has fragments of a melody scattered about (which is modeled on a Hungarian one). His third quartet is modeled on Alban Berg's lyric suite.

My favourite is the fourth. Bartok's music is aggressive and punchey. It is neo-romantic in the sense that it is highly expressive. The movements are all interconnected. The first and fifth movements mirror each other, as do the second and fourth. The lone third movement is quiet and hushed and seems to be a kind of intermission. Bartok was an admirer of Debussy and his music is not atonal but hovers around several keys. The main theme - presumably Hungarian - is of an eerie strangeness. Bartok is a real jewel within the classical canon in that he is very eccentric. He has not spawned any imitators in that he was highly individualistic. At the same time, he managed to write a modernist nationalist music for Hungary.

As Bartok is seen as a development on Beethoven, Elliott Carter quartets could be seen as a development on Bartok. His first quartet does have a smidgen of romanticism. As you progress to the second, third, fourth and so on, his musical language becomes increasingly fragmented, almost pitchless. He was influenced by Ives; they were friends when Carter was a teenager. As such, Carter was interested in the notion of different strands of music going on at once in different metres, keys, etc. Whilst Bartok's music can be contrapuntal, Carter takes this to extremes. In his third quartet, he divides the two strings in two. The instrument are visceral and harsh. In multiple hearings, you can hear the voices interacting. It is highly expressive and, dare I say, as moments of lyricism.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Big band free jazz

Improvisation has always been an integral aspect of jazz. In the early 60s, it became common for jazz musician to get together in big groups and collectively improvise without any playing in any fixed key. Free jazz is largely attributed to having started with Ornette Coleman in the late 50s.

Ornette Coleman certainly was one of the revolutionaries of jazz. Bebop was a major shock to consumers of jazz after the second world war. Unlike swing - Duke Ellington Woody Herman, Stan Kenton etc. - you actually had to sit down and hear it. Over the years, the structures of bebop became looser and looser. Ornette Coleman arrived in 1959. It sounds nowhere near as shocking now as some of the music of his progenies (say, the ilk of Albert Ayler). Most of his albums have tunes and melodies. They sound like bebop melodies. However, there was no overriding tonal centre. Ornette and his superb sideman Don Cherry would play solos which would have no tonal or harmonic relation to the main melody.

Ornette's most radical album, and the one he is most renowned for, is Free Jazz. (It's odd how some artists are most well-known for their most radical stuff while their more accessible output is overlooked. Think of Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica or Ayler's Spiritual Unity.) Ornette was uncomfortable with the label as he felt that many people overlooked him as a writer of tunes. Nonetheless, the label stuck and it bred a plethora of imitators.

The idea of having a large group of players improvising was ground-breaking yet, at the same time, primitivist. It led to new directions yet it also harked back to a more primeval form of music. It was a type of music that was less rigid. It was also very communal. It was a type of workshop in which a group of players with their own unique style could share their ideas. It was dialogic. An interesting conversation would be established. Unlike the later genre 'free improvisation,' it was still very much within the idiom of jazz. The players very much stick to scales and keys. In many ways, they play what they know. (Derek Bailey called free improvisation a way of 'erasing memory.')

There is a tune to the piece, which becomes increasingly knotted and garbled. The tune is revisted later on. Otherwise, the structure generally is that there is a collective improvisation followed by a solo improv.

The ingenious production technique that this album has is that there are two quartets in each channel. It could be seen as a 'doubling' of the standard Ornette quartet (sax, trumpet, bass, drums). In addition to the classic Ornette quartet (Coleman, Cherry, Haden and Blackwell), they are joined by big names in avan-jazz: Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard and Scott Le Faro. Dolphy is a highly idiosyncratic, creative and versatile player (he played three wind instruments expertly). His interactions with the rest of the ensemble are very sharp. On some occasions his bass clarinet can be heard laughing. It's an expression of joy. Hubbard was a more conventional player and he does not fit in as snugly with the rest of the msusicains. The pairing of Le Faro with Haden is particularly stimulating when they both get to solo together. They play with a bow or pluck the strings intermittently.

I mentioned in the preceding paragraph that in Dolphy's playing there is an 'expression of joy.' Coleman stated in several occasions that his saxophone playing was a way in which he could express his own feelings. Ayler said about free jazz that 'it became less about notes and more about feelings.'

Meanwhile, John Coltrane's playing was becoming freer and freer. An extremely dexterous and talented player, there was a sense that he took tonally-oriented jazz as far as it could go with his masterpiece A Love Supreme. There was always a spiritual dimension to Coltrane's playing. At this point, Coltrane was becoming more and immersed in oriental religions.  Like Ornette, he very much saw the practice of improvisation as a kind of spiritual expression. As a sideman for Davis, he once played a solo which lasted for over half an hour. When pressed by Miles as to why the solo went for so long, Coltrane replied that it took that long to express everything he needed to express. Davis understood where he was coming from and let him off the hook.

Ascencion initially can be a very intimidating album. One may buy a Coltrane record expecting it be lush and melliflous. This is anything but. The occasional tonal centres in Free Jazz are absent here. Once more, there is a peculiar structure. There is a leitmotif which I simply adore: ascending and descending lines. It is a somewhat melodic, but it all soon crumbles down. The structure is the same as Ornette's ensemble: there is a collective improvisation, followed by a solo allocated to each player. Once more, there are big names (Freddie Hubbard is on this album too). The wind instruments are the most abrasive - they squawk, shriek and wail. McCoy Tyner's piano solo is entirely tonal (it's actually hard to differentiate his playing on this from earlier Coltrane records). There is another bass duet, which is once more very stimulatingz. The chaos is resolved with a repetition of the title theme, which I characterised earlier as 'ascending and descending lines.' It is lushly embellished by Elvis Jones' crashing cymbals. Coleman's records at times sounds like a free-bop recording. This is pure, distilled free jazz.

Coltrane's premature death is something many jazz buffs plaintively mourn. What uncharted territory would he have pursued after this? Would he have reached a point of no return with his atonal playing? Had he perhaps transgressed so much, he would simply play ballads? (His record of ballads is great, by the way!) Would he take the exciting path that Don Cherry took and embrace world music? (He did this to an extent with the African polyrhythms in Kulu Se Mama.) Would he have embraced electronic music? I doubt the last possibility. Coltrane's music just does not seem compatible with electronic instruments.  

Another musician who embraced collective free improvisation was Sun Ra. He started out in the vein of swing, but very quickly become implementing exotic rhythms and unusual harmonies into his music. An Ellington-esque tune could swiftly turn into a polyphonic cacophony.

His most renowned collective improvisation is The Magic City. It is a lot stranger than the records discussed above. There are strange synth sounds which are abruptly interrupted by the squeaks and shronks of the ensemble. I obviously hate it when people like Wynton Marsalis pontificate about certain recordings that 'this isn't jazz,' but one would be hard-pressed to call this particular recording jazz. Incidentally, Sun Ra would probably pleased by that judgement. He'd rather call it 'space music.' Like a lot of Sun Ra records, it is an exhilarating practice in willful mayhem.

As you have noticed, I have embeded the YouTube videos of the full recordings. Somewhat sad that it is now quiant to recommend someone a record and to expect that person to save up money and buy it in a record store. If I had to pick a favourite from these three 'big band free jazz collective improvisations,' I'd pick the Coltrane record.

Monday, 10 November 2014

'Digital' by Michael J Brooks

This is a review I wrote for a book written by my friend Michael Brooks. You can buy it for a very reasonable price here.

Michael Brooks' debut self-published novel is a British dystopian novel the likes of which Huxley and Orwell wrote, except that it is designed for the present day. Whilst those authors were scarred by the horrors of two world wars, this novel is unhinged by the threat posed on civil liberties posed by security services. Given a number of recent incidents - the Snowden leaks, civil liberties privacy rights, Google goggles, etc. - it is a chilling vision of what would happen if this type of surveillance became even more intrusive. It also examines the effect such technology has on our ontology. `Digital' dissects the breakdown in communications and the resulting emotional coldness that results from our own over-dependence on this media.

Although everyone is wired up to each other's consciousness, and everyone can access the minutia of each other's private lives (including one's sexual life), there are no meaningful/healthy relationships. You are seeing this development right now - although everyone can access other people's private information, we all seem much more alienated from each other. There is a sense that, despite this heightened communication, people are even more alienated than ever before. It was interesting to see how the lead character, though introspective and of a thoughtful disposition, cannot free himself from these shackles. The level of the indoctrination, and the need a select few feel to dissent, certainly reminded me of Huxley's Brave New World.

Brooks treats consciousness and the way in which reality is perceived through the prism of this cyber technology. This is similar to the way the internet works today - a single image triggers a series of associative ones. This technology is wired up into the cognitive structure of the brain. The scenes with the Wheeler were very interesting. One of Brooks' several satirical bites is on the media craze on neuroscience. The new reality, superficially, is more kaleidoscopic and three-dimensional. The excesses of this result in a life bereft of inquiry, knowledge and contemplation. This is despite the fact that knowledge is far more accessible than it ever has been.

The Ballardian/Gray-esque themes on violence, primeval instincts and human progress were embedded very well. The exposure to hardcore violence, conversely, appears to dull these instincts. Again, this reflects recent phenomena where excessive exposure, instead of leading to desensitisation, seems to merely dull our appetite for adventure, freedom and excitement. Also like BNW, where everyone can engorge in an orgy and sex and drugs, the desire to dissent/rebel is vanquished. This reflects a lot of contemporary society, where rebellion is commodified as a distinct form of conformity.

In terms of the structure, the novel is holistic. The opening and the ending come full circle and complement one another (the suppression of violent impulses and, later, their realisation). The timing was excellent - particularly the way the narrative seamlessly shifts to the 2nd and 3rd parts.

The dialogue voices the thematic concerns of the novel. This is reminiscent of `the novel of ideas.' The characters are essentially ciphers through which Brooks voices his thematic concerns. This will irritate people who are interested in three-dimensional characters and naturalistic dialogue. This is, in fact, fitting - people have ceased to care and love for one another because of our increased exposure to violence and pornography. We are apathetic and numbed.

The novel is very zeitsgesty. This is why a prompt publication would be welcome. Many of its prophecies may well seem dated in twenty or thirty years' time. (Perhaps they might be prescient?) The societies BNW and 1984 have both materialised in certain societies. The former in the first world, the latter generally in the 2nd and 3rd world. However, those two novels had more timeless elements: the importance of art and Shakespeare in BNW and the idea of semantics and propaganda in 1984. Perhaps Facebook etc. will embed itself so irrevocably on our culture that it will indeed become timeless?

One of my few quibbles with the novel is that certain aspects could be developed further: its satirical swipes on the idea of `progress,' technology, `the death of affect,' etc. could be expanded on. Brooks' style is influenced by J. G. Ballard: an eye for scientific and methodical jargon yet still infused by a kind of lyricism. Whilst this works to great effect, I do find a tendency for similar lexical choices (`haemorrhage,' etc.)

These are only very minor quibbles, as this is an exciting novel - a coruscating attack on excessive surveillance and the effect technology has on human cognition.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

My problems with women

I have never had a girlfriend. Girls, on the whole, make me nervous when they come to my proximity. I haven't really had a close female friend. My friends have generally been men. On the whole, I have a very male perspective on things. As the years have worn by I have even developed an irrational contempt against the female sex. In this post I will speak candidly about my problems with women. It is not always a good idea to divulge these things online. I used to use this blog for that purpose (God forbid why), but all that bile has since been channelled through diary writing and (expensive) shrinks. I now use my blog for ideas. Even if I write about personal stuff, these are examples to illustrate ideas.

For years I have always told myself that I would want to have a relationship with a woman. But, when I think of it more close I think - why? I don't care about their feelings. If I were to commit to a relationship I wouldn't give this nebulous person the time nor the attention. The truth is that my desires are sexual.

I often latch onto certain women. Invariably, I know nothing about them. What has happened in the past is that I project onto them what I want. In the ideal world I would want a fucked up, neurotic woman who shares my interests and who's also pretty. Because I rarely fraternise with girls I somehow assume that they share most of these characteristics. And of course they don't.

The problem is that I idealise these things out of all proportion. I would imagine the affair to be intense, almost psychotic. Or I would imagine this nebulous figure to some sort of sychophant who'd be in awe of me and would shower me with praise at all times. Relationships seldom are crazy or intense. In fact, most of the time they are very quotidian, perhaps banal, I don't even need friends to tell them, or for them to tell me, that I went to the shop to buy so and so, that I brushed my teeth, that I had a cup of coffee. I would imagine that being side by side a person all the time and sharing that kind of information would become really oppressive. The ideal relationship would be to discuss Nietzsche and for her to read my writings. As regards the idea of having a sycophant as a girlfriend, I would imagine that that would become extremely irritating.

The reason why I have developed an 'irrational contempt' for women is because of the way some of them have treated me. When they are around me, they seem stroppy. I am badly groomed. I rarely shave, never brush my hair and my clothes are wrinkled. They want me to play the game. Yet that seems so vain and fatuous. And to show an interest - to 'chat up' - seems so contrite. It's fake. I don't like playing those games. I am also afraid of it. I am terrified of the ignominy of being rejected. What really pisses me off is that they seem to prefer the alpha male type, no matter how much they try to deny it. They like assholes. Or, at least, men who are confident and assertive. I know it's a crude generalisation, but thinking about my pool of friends corroborates this. The ones who are quiet, nervous and are not confident generally don't have girlfriends. Those who are more outgoing do. The truth is that women want to feel protected. If their partners are too weak and unstable, they fear they won't be able to procreate and lead a stable life.

Young girls are such vain and capricious creatures. I mentioned before that I don't make an impression to look good. Yet I find the idea of constantly applying eye-liner and mascara to oneself vain. I find it utterly empty. Why do they do this? Because they will attract men. As a consequence, they will have sex and keep our species alive and we They follow fashions and trends. What also does my head in is that it titillates perverts like me. They know that I will stare at their legs and their bosom. This is enough. They've done their bit. They consequently expect me to chat them up. There's no way that they'll initiate conversation.

And the worst thing is that I know that saying these things is puerile. I know that it's reductive. I know that women are just people. I know they are thinking beings. Yet I sometimes struggle to think of them as anything more than sex objects. Yet they preen so much, dress so lavishly, daub themselves with so much lip-stick, that sometimes it's difficult not to.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Internationalism vs. globalisation

It is a global trend. The effects, people say, are significant. Globalisation - and 'neo-liberalism' - have helped global GDP and wealth soar. National borders are being thawed and the whole world is one big community.

Though the actual impacts of globalisation are far from rosy. People talk of the 'trickling down' effects of neo-liberalism. People from lower social strata would accrue wealth. What we see instead is a 'trickling up' effect. Higher strata are becoming obscenely wealthy. What is the popular statistic right now? That 1% wealthiest in the world have more money than all of the lower strata (say, the bottom 50%) combined?

Examples like India, China and Brazil are cited as exemplars of globalisation. Yet, while it is true that there are sectors of the population which are far wealthier and have a better standard of life, there are other areas with rampant poverty. It is disproportionate to say that these countries are booming and it is disingenuous to say that they are enjoying the rewards of globalism.

Culturally, globalisation really has a habit of rooting out local culture. Think of every McDonald's installed for every restaurant of local cuisine torn down. Trends are generally set by the USA. So, Hollywood films dominate the global market place. People from other cultures jettison their values and mimic the American way of life. (Which was always rather artificial. The early settlers left behind their European culture and heritage and became 'Americans' - i.e. overly materialistic and with the desire to amass capital.)

The main beef I have with globalisation is that it erodes democracy. Political institutions have little power. Where is the power? It is with bankers and executives. They control the free market economy. 

What's more is that political institutions in themselves are becoming more centralised. In the EU, most monetary issues are dictated by the EU. Austerity measures are a pre-requisite to being a member. This also applies to many laws. If a country has a visionary outlook - like Scotland did, however fanciful their proposals of the SNP were - it does not have self-determination. It is mired in technocratic bureaucracy which is centralised in Brussels. 

This is why I think that it is important to distinguish between internationalism and globalism. Globalisation stands for everything mentioned above. Internationalists, meanwhile, are far from isolationists. They want to co-operate with other countries diplomatically. They also have a humanitarian streak and are keen to send aid to countries imperiled by war.

I would take this even further and argue that national borders are erroneous. I would call myself a 'cosmopolite.' It is an imperative to look into foreign cultures and familiarise yourself with their literature. It is a shame that this kind of outlook has been adopted by the globalism. 

But what we are seeing now is that globalism is actually helping to stoke up xenophobia. Far-right parties with racist views are winning seats in the European Parliament. The EU started with the benign premise that it would end war and instigate a more co-operative global alliance. What we are instead seeing is that countries are closing borders and becoming virulently xenophobic. Far-right parties want to become isolationist states and are intent on purging out foreigners.

What I think is quite sad is that the left doesn't really have a narrative on globalisation. The Labour party, for instance, is very wishy-washy. It insists that the EU needs to be reformed, but they are intent on wearing the EU credential proudly on their lapels. Anti-globalisation rhetoric has been appropriated by right-wing populism - and we are all the worse for it.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The nothingness of personality

It can't be denied that any text bears an imprint of the personality of the person who wrote it. Thematically, it bears an imprint of your interests. Stylistically, the way you write is a very personal way of expressing itself. It might be something you have honed for years. However, I do find that people can get too carried away with this line of argument. To persistently look for the personality of a writer is a grave mistake. What I think is an even greater mistake is to lump writers into groups based on gender or race.

Many writers are categorised as 'women' writers, 'black' writers or 'gay' writers. This is always a referent for their work. Their writing might not even touch on feminist or racial issues. Both women and racial groups have been subjugated for so long that people assume that their writing must express a sense of injustice. It might even be covertly sexist or racist to assume this. It even implies that the 'standard' writer must be white, straight and male. Anyone who isn't must explicitly write about their particular experience.

Ralph Ellison always claimed that it bothered him that he was labelled a black writer. The only way people gauged his work had to be through issues of racial identity. Writers like Ellison were always expected to be political, even partisan, in their work. They were virtually expected to carry placards proclaiming 'I am a black writer - I stand for civil liberties.' Just being black seemed to preclude spiritual and metaphysical topics, which writers like Ellison were greatly interested in.

We should see consciousness as a universal human attribute. It might be banal to say that, but it needs to be emphasised. Writing should represent the Platonic Idea. Ideas and linguistic symbols are universal. All abstract predicates belong to these universal concepts. Concepts like 'beauty,' 'justice' and 'freedom' are universal. It would be silly, and patently racist and sexist, to claim that only certain races and genders can write about these universals.

We should not see writing, then, as purely personal expression. It often is. But it is intellectually lazy to claim that Dostoyevsky is a crypto-murderer and that Vladimir Nabokov is a pedophile. The Romantic idea of an artist as a artistic genius stamping is individuality into every page should be dropped. Writing is fun because you get to play around with language and ideas. The Romantic idea of 'the artist as genius' seems to presuppose that the author has moral authority. He does not.

On the other hand, Ronald Barthes and his gaggle of post-modernist friends can get too carried away with their line of argument. They claimed that 'the author is dead' and that we should treat writing as forensic scientists methodically analysing grammar and semantics. One's writing style in itself is very personal and past experience can shape the content of writing. Although academics would rather not think about it, this is a significant aspect which shapes the writing. This way of reading texts also ignores historical readings. The socio-economic/political background of a text is always a crucial factor.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The novel

The prevailing epigram made by many novelists is 'the novel is dead.' It has been superseded by popular media like film and television. Its readership has been steadily diminishing. It now has a select readership, but soon enough publishers and promoters will lose patience and close the market down.

People who make these statements, I find, misapprehend what the novel is all about. 'Novel' means something new. If it were to die out now, it would have had a very brief existence. It only started in the eighteenth century. (Texts from antiquity have been added to the canon, but they weren't labelled 'novels' as such at the time.)

The novel is in a constant state of flux. It is a form which always adapts itself to contemporary society. It will always engage with the present day. It will represent society in new and unheralded ways. What's more is that, stylistically, it will always reinvent itself. This was the ethos behind the work of Cervantes, Laurence Sterne and Richardson and continues to be the ethos of Pynchon, De Lillo and Franzen. In the 19th century, social realists wanted to methodically recreate a picture of every day life through objective and descriptive language. This was rejected by modernists, who claimed that the perception of reality is not logical. Post-modernists took this further after the advent of mass advertisement, globalisation and televisual media. Everything is unreal. The novel accommodates itself to these developments and will give a picture of its time through these prisms.

The reason it can do all this is because the novel is a very malleable form. Unlike most poetry, there are no rules. It has never required a classical education. This is why it attracted female writers, who has been deprived from an education in the 19th century. You can latch onto your narrative as many ideas, characters, observations that you like. It is not formally rigid, nor is does it require a knowledge of classics.

'Latching on as many ideas as you like' is why the idea of the 'total novel' appeals to me. Many of the Latin American writers of the 60s were interested in the notion. (The apotheosis of this was quite likely José Donoso's The Obscene Bird of Night, which recreates the complex consciousness of a schizophrenic.) The idea that you can create a totalised narrative universe through multiple registers, time frames and narrators is very appealing. I very much like the idea of gigantic seamless works which brim with ideas. If we were to restrict ourselves to visual media, we would be severely limiting ourselves. There is so much you can do or say in a 90-minute narrative. Hopefully 'the total novel' will survive alongside the more popular forms (they have their merit, too) and will continue to engage with the big ideas of the day. It is the most equipped medium to say as much as it can in as many possible ways.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Accepting Reality: The University Years

 Cover illustration by Sofia Lindgren.

Accepting Reality is the long-awaited (awaited by four or five people…) sequel to Confronting Reality. It was written during Saimon A.’s undergraduate studies, between 2011 and 2014. Although there is veneer of surrealism and absurdity in these stories, Saimon A. has furthered his scope. There is more satire. Warped mysteries. Dollops of pornography. There are obsessive characters. There are neuroses and psychoses. Saimon A. throws a lot of disparate elements together. Sometimes they gel, sometimes they don’t. In the preface, Saimon A. writes that ‘there is an acceptance of reality’ instead of an ‘assiduous scepticism.’ Many of these stories can be said to be an attempt to reconcile the subjective with the objective, the macro and the micro. They are interested in the ways in which broader legislative political decisions affect the ontology of individuals. A lot of these stories are set in obscure moments in history and foreign countries, continuing with Saimon A.’s interest in what he calls ‘cosmopolitan literature.’ Many of these stories are based on real life figures. Some deal with Saimon A.’s obsession with classical, jazz and experimental music. Some deal with Saimon A.’s burgeoning interest in philosophy. Saimon A. continues to be interested in outsiders and those people who subject themselves to the outer extremes of human experience. All in all, this is another eclectic and eccentric collection from one of the most eccentric writers. Whether the world is ready to accept this unusual and unclassifiable book remains to be seen.'

Preface                                                                                                                                                9
Eight PM in Buenos Aires                                                                                                        15
Francisca Franzen                                                                                                                    18
Letters to Camila Vallejo                                                                                                         24
The Murmurings                                                                                                                      27
The Hermit and the Despot                                                                                                      33
The Bridge of Time                                                                                                                 40
Desperate Lives                                                                                                                       44
The Second Death of God                                                                                                       48
Burned Manuscripts                                                                                                                 54
Consigned to Mythology                                                                                                          57
Quartet for the End of Time                                                                                                     63
Rose of the Fair State                                                                                                               66
Alone in the Cyber Age                                                                                                             70
Hit the North!                                                                                                                          73
The Sleep of Reason Produces Wonders                                                                                    76
The Tea Boy                                                                                                                            79
Valparaíso                                                                                                                               83
My Vinyl Fetish                                                                                                                       85
The Death of Labour                                                                                                               96
The Thing in Itself                                                                                                                   99
Afterword                                                                                                                                101

One copy still available to any one who shows the faintest interest. 104 A4 pages printed and bound. Completely free, including postage. This even applies if you are a complete stranger.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Go for it, Scotland!

The question of Scottish independence has instigated universal interest and debate. It has prompted cod analysis from the most unqualified of sources. Although the NO campaign is still on the lead, Alex Salmond seems much more wily than the desiccated Alistair Darling. Although Salmond's statements and policies tend to be populist, he is a left-leaning politician who has chimed with the public in a way that Ed Miliband has persistently failed.

There is no question that, if Scotland were to become independent, it would face serious hurdles. There is the question of currency, an over-reliance on oil as an export, EU membership and the prospect of stagnant growth. If Scotland became autonomous it would have to sift through an endless array of bureaucratic reforms, which the NO campaign claims would take longer than the proposed eighteen months. People insist that the union is the biggest source for jobs and growth.

Though one of the strongest claims made by the YES campaign is a vote for independence would be democratic.  Scotland is a Labour strong-hold and is intent on maintaining institutions like the NHS (which is surreptitiously being privatised) and child care benefits. Scotland bears the brunt of policies like the bedroom tax, which is a deterrent to social mobility. Social institutions they cherish are being cut at break-neck speed. Scotland has not voted for any of these policies, yet they bear the brunt of them.

It would make sense that more powers should be devolved to Scotland. All political and economic power is centralised in London. When people talk of meager economic growth (which are actually lower than 2008 levels), this all takes place in London. Areas in the north and the midlands are stagnant It would make sense to have some sort of regional federation. The original proposal made by Salmond and SNP was 'devo max,' which was snubbed by Cameron. This meant that the only tenable alternative to the SNP was full sovereignty. The central ethos behind Cameron's otherwise rather pallid campaign was 'the big society' and British identity. It has only led to more frissures. If he loses Scotland, his term will be considered a disaster. He may even be pressured to resign.

Ultimately, Scotland is a different culture. Following the crystallisation of the union, it was thought that English and Scottish culture would amalgamate easily. That has not proved to be the case. Its culture and identity is entrenched. When you ask a Scottish person how they would identity as, their answer tends to be 'Scottish' rather than 'British.'

Scottish independence has instigated fierce public debate. So much so that it has even sparked tensions within family house-holds. It cannot be easily delineated as a left/right dichotomy either. Although Salmond's rhetoric is largely anti-Tory, people from varying persuasions support each ticket. The great thing about the referendum is that it has summoned interest from the most politically apathetic. It has risen the public morale.

This means that, even if NO claims a majority, the YES campaign may still be the real winner. It has caused an indelible change of mood. All the arguments posited above will continue to be discussed and will continue to resonate. There will be more referendums in the future. Scottish independence will continue to be a strong sentiment and will continue to be a scourge to the Tory right.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Why televisual media is generally a load of crap

There is a lot of great material broadcasted on TV. In fact, I am aware that some of the best dramas right now are on television and that many people consider these to be better than contemporary films. The trouble is not with specific programmes, because there a lot of quality programmes out there, the trouble is the system. Because of this system, it stymies the quality of the programming.

Every medium has its own set of advantages. With television, you can serialise narratives. You can create thematically linked series. What I most like about television - and this is what is missing now - is its potential as a conversational medium. I like programmes of quality discussion. The trouble is that now conversation is truncated to make way for sensationalism, snappy remarks and loud adverts. There is not much articulate discussion of pertinent topics. I think that this is symbolised by the most popular British chat show thirty years ago and the most popular chat show now. Parkinson had long conversations where the guest. The guest was the subject of interest and talked about him or herself or tangential subjects. In The Jonathan Ross Show, the presenter is the most important aspect and any semblance of discussion quickly degenerates into loud banter. The guests in Parkinson were culled from culture and the sciences as well as popular entertainment. They were engaging and fascinating speakers like Orson Welles, Gore Vidal and Richard Buton and Peter Cook. This is why You Tube is the main fountain of televisual material for me.

This should be attributed to the move from a welfare state to free market lines. In post-war Britain, BBC and Channel Four produced quality programming as there was ample investing for such ventures. With a free market system, there is less government funding for culture. Writers and artists are expected to virtually become entrepreneurs and sell their products. Market forces gain dominance and a preponderance of advertising saturates the media. In effect, the quality of the media is degraded. It gets dumbed down. The material becomes ephemeral. There is not much quality discussion and analysis.

Another major malaise contributing to this are media courses. (Shortly after completing GCSEs, I took a media course which I stopped attending after a couple of months.) A lot of people who go into media graduate from such courses. These courses teach you technicalities, but apart from very little else. In my course, they wanted you to make generic advertisements and such like. If you are a technical guy who knows how to operate cameras effectively, how does that presuppose that you will make an interesting programme? You learn to think creatively by studying literature, philosophy, art, history, science, etc. That would equip you with much better knowledge and foresight. All these media graduates know how to handle the hardware competently enough, but they have no original ideas. They have been trained to produce generic products.

Though, as a whole, people who control the reins in the media are Oxford and Cambridge graduates. A small percentage from other institutions break the mould. This means that media outlets as a whole tend to have a very narrow and parochial view. These people have attended the same courses, the same lectures and have read the same books. Whatever their political outlook, it is very insular. If they are conservative, they are jaundiced. If they are lefties, they have ideas which are off kilter with the reality of things. The same tired agendas are set by these people.

And just look what a great potential a channel like BBC4 has. It could be a vehicle for the kind of material I want to watch. There is a demand for it. There a good documentaries made, but on the whole it is a wasted opportunity. It is not the kind of conversational medium that Orson Welles envisaged. They re-run the same tired programmes and material that has very little to do with culture.

Culture is becoming more and more fragmented. There is a lot of sloganeering (stated in 140 characters). The quality on the internet, inevitably, is variable. Since everyone can post whatever they like, there is a lot of good commentary and a lot of crap. There are great publications out there. However, television could set the bar high and produce informative and enlightening material.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Freedom and madness

Freedom is in many ways an impossibility. We are always bound up to a socio-political system. Wherever we find ourselves, we will find ourselves bound to a social contract. If we are born free, any vestige of that freedom is lost once we are conditioned by society. Society prescribes a set of injunctions which we must follow. In liberal democracies, we can choose what oppresses us. Yet wherever we are led, we are still oppressed.

Still, we like to think that, despite this social contract, that we are autonomous agents. We can use our reason to act and think freely. Are we really free or are not in fact driven by a series of desires which pre-determines our behaviour? Are we instead driven by tactile, olfactory, sexual, intellectual etc. desires which predetermine our behaviour? Are we not ultimately figments? Are we not in fact comprised by a series of individual components which ultimately give an impression of consciousness and personality? All universal moral principles turn out to be illusory and moral judgements are merely acts of feeling and compassion.

In this sense, we have no freedom. The social contract is prescribed by political legislature and socio-economic causal factors. This means that we can never extricate ourselves from institutions, which are always repressive. We can't even behave freely in that it is predetermined by a congnitive make-up. If we choose to do certain tasks, we are driven by unconscious desires and mental and bodily needs.

Freedom must surely be subjective. It must be a priori, something that has no relation to the empirical world of cause and effect. It is not until we are in the empirical world that we are forced to act under duty. We can never be free because we are forced to act responsibly. We behave in certain ways because we are aware that, if we are truly free, it will have damaging outcomes. We filter what we can and can't say.  

If freedom is a priori, it must mean that only when we experience our pure essence that we are truly free. When we introspect, we have moments of freedom. When we dream we are not free, but we are apart from the world of phenomena. It is our innermost essence, untarnished by societal indoctrination. Lucid dreams could be seen as ultimate freedom in that we are able to control this 'essence.' It is not completely a priori in that empirical data has shaped our mind. However, we are neither experiencing daily phenomena nor are we required to behave like morally dutiful citizens.

Madness could be seen as freedom. As Michel Foucault has written, madness could be seen as an excessive use of reason which unleashes our inner animal. He sees it as a creative existential choice. Mad behaviour is completely indeterministic. We are not controlled by the processes outlined above because there is no mediator of noumena and phenomena.  We unleash desires which have been repressed by institutions. We do not act under moral duty nor even under any sense of feeling or compassion. In this sense, madness could be seen as the last possible reservoir of freedom.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

My vinyl fetish

I have grown to adore vinyl. I have grown to love its raw, full sound. It especially suits classical music. It feels so compressed when digitised. I inherited about forty or so classical records from my deceased Anglo-Chilean grand-uncle. My collection has grown considerably since. I scour charity shops for bargains.

I wrote a theatrical sketch recently called 'My Vinyl Fetish.' In the sketch, five surrogates of mine, and a woman (named 'Pussy'...) listen to seven of my records and discuss them. One of my fantasies is to stay up til the early hours of the morning, drink wine and listen to records with a group of people.

Below I will select a few corkers and offer brief comments. I didn't select any of the seven vinyls I wrote about in my sketch...

The collection, as seen from a distance...

This is an edition of Captain Beefheart's debut album Safe as Milk. It is retitled 'Dropout Boogie,' apparently because British distributors thought it'd more marketable/user-friendly as such.

Coltrane's Love Supreme. It is not at all controversial to say that this is quite likely the greatest jazz album ever made. It is a reissue. As such, it's digitised and it's not analogue.

Lovely packaging. These are recordings of Jelly Roll Morton at his prime (late 20s). New-Orleans/swing-inflected jazz is such a joy to listen to.

Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy. I believe that this edition is from the 60s! Sound-bites of verbal nonsense interspersed with Zappa's orchestra music.

This is a selection of Bach organ music. My lord, it sure is a treat to listen to this. It includes several of Bach's masterful toccatas and fugues.

Bach music for harpsichord, performed by George Malcolm. It includes 'Concerto in F major,' which is a particular favourite. 

Bach's violin concertos. Part of the canon and with good reason, too. I could have the second movement of the first concerto on repeat for hours.

I have all of Bartok's string quartets vinyl, performed by The Fine Arts Quartet. They're the cream of Bartok's music (and the cream of quartet repertoire, too). They're all exhilarating to hear and they chart the development of Bartok's career as a whole. My favourite is the 4th.

Bartok's 2nd and 3rd piano concertos. The piano parts are devilishly intricate. The pianist effectively must grow extra fingers to play them.

Beethoven's chamber music is so rich. Quite likely superior to the symphonies. These are sonatas for cello and piano.

Ach, just realised that I broke my own rules! I wrote about the 15th quartet in the sketch My Vinyl Fetish! This includes the 14th and 15th quartets. The former is one single movement, the latter a brilliantly crafted piece in A minor.

Blood and guts! This vinyl includes music by Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. I must say that I have never taken to much of Schoenberg's stuff - his disciples' music I find more interesting. Webern's concise, muted and atonal miniatures are fascinating stuff. This is classed under 'B,' 'Berg' (generally because I have more vinyls by Berg than the other 2).

These are pieces for orchestra by Elliott Carter and Aaron Copland, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein did much to promote American serious music. I love Carter's piece - a scintillating atonal feast.

These are madrigals by Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo. A composer who anticipated the development of chromaticism by more than two centuries. He was an unpleasant character - I wrote a short story about him called 'Desperate Lives.' This is an issue from the 50s promoted by Aldous Huxley! (He wrote about listening to Gesualdo whilst taking mescalin in The Doors of Perception...) To think that I bought this for 49 p!

These are several works for piano, in different genres, by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. They are performed by Arthur Rubinstein. These pieces are delightful.

These are two choral pieces for orchestra by the contemporary German composer - Muses of Sicily and Moralities. It comes with Henze's own liner notes. This was a real find.

This is one of Liszt's literary programmatic pieces. It is based on Dante's Inferno. A real innovator as to what a symphony could do. (Like Beethoven in his day, he was regarded as a bit of a noise maker...)

Messiaen's colossal Turangalilla Symphony. There are lovely tone colours here. Messiaen includes several unusual instruments, including a theremin and a keyboard he himself built.

Debussy's and Ravel's string quartets performed by Julliard. I believe that this is an authoritative recording. I much prefer Ravel's chamber music to Debussy's (the converse is true for their orchestral music). 

Scarlatti's music for harpsichord. Baroque music at its best.

Schubert's string quartets are an emotional powerhouse. I have an awful lot of Schubert on vinyl - more than any other composer, I believe - but this is top of the pile. Schubert really broke the mould of the staid classicist forms - he pretty much wrote music just as he saw fit.

Sibelius' 4th symphony. I love the ominous first movement and the resolution of the motifs in the 3rd and 4th movements. It builds up and up and then whittles down.

Ah, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring! If some one you know is convinced that classical music is purple music for blue haired ladies, play him or her this! Classical music is wild and young! It's all the more apparent here.

These are a few pieces by Toru Takemitsu. Wonderful composer. Some of these pieces are more influenced by Oriental music, others draw more Western music.

This vinyl includes some of Edgard Varese's most important pieces. His is a truly exhilarating, oblique soundworld. Just imagine hearing Ionisation in the 20s!

Hugo Wolf was one of the greatest songwriters. Beautiful pieces. This lieder is drawn from Spanish poets - Lorca et. al.

I have quite a few vinyls which are anthologies of early music - Renaissance, early baroque. This is from Spanish medieval times, played in the - highly unusual - original instrumentation.

This is an antology of modern British piano music. I can't remember any of the composers, but certainly none of them are house-hold names. Some of the pieces here are fairly accessible, others are very harsh on the ear. They're all highly exciting, though.