Saturday, 5 November 2011

5 Resonance Studies - London Nov 29th


A new work - 5 short pieces exploring different aspects of the piano's resonance - will get their premiere on Nov.29th, by the wonderful Roderick Chadwick as part of an Ensemble +- concert at City University. More details about the concert are available here:

http://www.city.ac.uk/events/2011/nov/plus-minus

These are sort of preparatory pieces for a much larger work, including ensemble and electronics as well, that will get its first performance with Roderick and +- in October next year at Kings Place.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Some States Can Be Resolved Rhythmically

Here's a video (with a few missing second very near the beginning for the keen eared!!) of this little duo from Kammer Klang last month. Many many thanks to Lucy and Aisha for the wonderful playing.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Past and Future Politics in Pop

I'm about to slightly repeat myself here, with respect to the analysis of Ghost Town that I wrote about a few weeks ago, but the example I've found to pair with it is so good that I don't care...! These two songs are both political protest songs - Ghost Town (1981) about race relations in the depressed, early-Thatcher UK, and California Uber Alles about what the Dead Kennedys saw (rather hyperbolically!!) as the hippy fascist Jerry Brown, who was about to be re-elected as Governor of California in 1979 and had Presidental ambitions. What goes around comes around, literally in the case of Jerry Brown, who is Governor again!!

This is all well and good, but what I'm interested in is the way both songs project outside their focus on current events, and how this fits with the music. Ghost Town steps back into the past, for a middle 8 that reflects on how the Coventry dance clubs - now empty, like a Ghost Town - used to be thriving and multi-racial:

Do you remember the good old days
Before the ghost town?
We danced and sang,
And the music played inna da Boomtown



What is remarkable about this temporal digression is that it is mirrored in by the music. The beginning of the song prepares C minor - its tonic - through a series of diminished chords. The same sequence - starting at 1.17 in the video - prepares the middle eight, but instead of C minor, it leaps to F# major, over a C# pedal, as great a harmonic displacement as one can have. This moment is very brief however, and it leaps back, via a G7 chord, into C min again.

So, here, 'alien' harmony serves to represent a utopic past tense as a critique of the present. A very similar critique is made by opposite means in California Uber Alles. The jump here is into the future, and a dystopic one at that. This begins in the present (1979), and the first person. Jerry Brown is telling us what will happen if he is reelected as Governor, as a launchpad for the Presidency - basically California as a proto-fascist state and model for the rest of America, albeit one with hippies as the master-race. At 1.58, though, the song slows down radically, without changing the riff, and the lyrics move forward to 1984, which would have been both the end of Brown's term as Governer, hypothetically the beginning of his as President, and conveniently Orwellian :



Now it is 1984
Knock-knock at your front door
It's the suede/denim secret police
They have come for your uncool niece

Come quietly to the camp
You'd look nice as a drawstring lamp
Don't you worry, it's only a shower
For your clothes here's a pretty flower.

This whole, double length, verse becomes a massive accelerando, returning us to the originial tempo - although not the original timeframe, for the final verse. So this is a slightly less 'pure' digression than Ghost Town, which returns to it's original temporal place as it returns to the tonic. However, the relationship between them are really fascinating to me - the similarities of intent and attitude, the differences of means.

Both are using time to be political, and written only 2 years apart. Ghost Town uses harmonic displacement to contrast a happy past with the bad present, whereas California Uber Alles temporal distortion (interestingly, slowing down to move forward) to suggest that the present could entail a catastrophic future.

I'm often banging on, when talking about the relationship between music and narrative, about the inability of music to do tense, that musical time is always operating in a - albeit radically intensified and constantly linked to what has been and will be - present, and I still believe that music on its own can't tell us 'it is happening in another time'. But these songs show how music and lyrics can work together to create time structure in ways that are really fascinating. Any other good examples anyone?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Shklovsky, Digression and Coin-Operated Boy

Last month I gave a rather dense paper called 'Enstrangement and the Narrative Frame', about, loosely, the shared nature of musical and literary digression, and how the theories of Viktor Shklovsky - the same thinker who inspired Everything in Life Can Be Montaged - helps us to understand this. A pdf of the full paper can be downloaded from the sidebar. Part of it, however, is about popular music, and works better with video, so I thought I'd put that up here directly. It's a little long, so click on the title above for the continuation.

Knight's Move - New York Performance



Rather belatedly, I discovered there was a very high quality video of the - even higher quality - performance of Knight's Move that Either/Or gave in New York a year ago. Many thanks to David Shively and Alex Waterman for their superb playing, and also to Rick Carrick, along with David the ensemble's director.

Some Performances


A performance coming up soon - Some States Can Be Resolved Rhythmically, with Lucy and Aisha again at Cafe Oto on May 10th, 8pm on - more details here.

And - much - further in the future, a new piece for Earplay, 1958-1961, will get its first performance at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco in February next year, and a piano concerto for Roderick Chadwick and Ensemble +- in London at King's Place in May next year.