on life, music etc beyond mainstream


Harold Budd’s „Bandits of Stature“ isn’t the most immediate of listens. Not because it’s like not any good, obvz. No, more because it is so advanced that listening to it involves a degree of neuroplasticity. Your brain has to form new neural networks in response to it. It is, literally, a mind-expanding work.

I have a problem with neoclassicism – mainly because the term itself is an oxymoron. So any work that’s comprised largely of compositions for string quartets is going to have to make a formal leap way beyond the strictures of genre, lest it becomes cod-classical or sub-soundtrack fluff. Bandits of Stature makes this formal leap, and – perhaps even more incredibly – uses concrete psychoacoustics to lift it out of the composition box. It’s not simply a compositional exercise – everything from the placing of the microphones to the air pressure in the room and the phase of the moon are central to this work.

Is music pre- or post- or super- or meta- or ultra- or sub-linguistic? Does it project senses onto the listener or do we project senses into the music? Does it tell a story? I don’t know, and I don’t much fucking care. What I get from this is what I get from it. And what I get is a sense of noir placed in blinding light, aridity and blazing heat. Of mystery hiding in plain sight. Of wide streets at the edge of the desert. Of illumination so intense that the inner self diving further ever further downward to escape the glare, only to resurface in the time of gloaming.

One of my favourite novelists is Lawrence Block. It’s probably a disservice to call Block a novelist. The dude is much more than what that slightly stupid word is supposed to mean and/or connote. Block is a magician. One of very few writers of stories who fully knows not so much that fiction is fiction but the how of fiction being fiction, and it’s only when a writer of stories has this in their writing that fiction can be more than the communication of the writer’s values or imagination. It’s uncanny and mediumistic, and if you try and work out how some writers can do this, you can’t. Some writers conjure a universe in miniature that you can hold in the palm of your hand. They give you worlds to play with. And none of this is done via ambition or an attempt at immortality. Neoclassicise your writing and it will be dead before you pick up your fucking typewriter.

And Bandits of Stature reminds me, in a way, of Block, for the reasons stated above. And Rothko too, to an extent. And Hopper. All stand at just the right angle from their subject matter, letting the infinite in.

Oh, and this:

Totul este rupt, totul este reparabilă. Ceașcă rupt. Solidaritate, amiciţie, dragoste, pace -intact.

2016 26 Jun


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2016 19 Jun


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The cup is broken. Everything is broken. Everything is repairable. Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory this week detected two black holes colliding, one of whom is 30 times the size of the sun. With some work, we can translate the LIGO-detected waves to sound, allowing us to actually hear the gravity of the universe. Where are we? In an orchard, drenched in blue light. Why? Fuck knows. And these are the footsteps you follow – the tracks of impossible love. In the black sparkle of deep space, oh so lonely.


Some songs, you just can’t stop listening to them. This week I can’t stop listening to Midnight Train. And Glass in the Park. The best songs, well the best written ones anyway (as opposed to haphazard / praxis songs that do what they do) are Schneekugeln. You pick them up, there’s a world inside, and they shake the emotions inside you – you become that snowstorm, a world within a world, a universe in miniature, and moonbeams shoot out from your soul.

Midnight Train is a song about transience, about passing, about lots of things. It enacts its subject matter by passing too quickly, you just about think you’ve captured its essence, then it’s off. So you put the needle back to the start and time travel back three minutes and 49 seconds. „Midnight train / going, going, gone / The beating of my heart is like a drum / I never know the meaning of your kiss / Midnight train, must it end like this?“ It’s like there’s no value in permanance, only in fleetingness and glimpses. Presumably this is why the central character in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu is so miserable. He is potentially immortal – it’s only the garlic and the crucifix that can save him. Save him by simultaneously finishing him off for good: one eternity swapped for another. Ordinary mortals just get on with the business of life’s cosmic blink.

Glass In The Park. Great title – we’re talking second law of thermodynamics here. And vicissitudes. „There’s glass in the park / and now that I’m up off my knees / I’ve picked up the speed to jump your pallisades / Then I shoot through the night / and suddenly all those once-lost concoctions froth / and chase the day away …“ A genius lyric. The glass shards in the park are the unforeseen hurts of love. But the central character is soaring above all the sorrow below, leaving the glass fragments behind, which then magically reform as brittle sci-fi Pyrex receptacles: the unbroken cups where the „once-lost concoctions froth“, the shake of the emotions in a universe within a universe, a trillion moonbeams bouncing off everything everywhere and passing right back through the centre of the soul.

Varèse –

I LOVE Amériques. Love it. I love it the way I love On the Corner by Miles Davis. Or Neonlicht by Kraftwerk (whose only fault is that it doesn’t go on longer than it does). Amériques is mental. Mental. Mental mental, transcendental. If Steve Reich’s (infinitely listenable) Different Trains addresses the psychogeographical effect of moving like a phantom thru railway infrastructure, then Amériques does something more challenging (if less accessible). It takes on the Grid System – where anything can collide with anything at any time. Hadron Collider stylee. Slap bang wallop. Boom.

Better than that, though, is how Amériques does time travel. Few are the works that address the past and future with nonchalance. The future didn’t exist until around the time automation was invented – the mid 19th Century. And there was no real ideation of the past until dinosaurs were invented in 1822, around the same time. Amériques starts primordially. Out of the mist, a city. A city ambiented in the darkness of its own light. Every precious dream and vision underneath the stars. Pterodactyls and yellow taxis. And cold/warm lithogenesis. The rooftops are for dreamers. Varèse looks into and beyond the city. Planets collide, collide, collide.

Neonlicht, schimmerndes Neonlicht.

„I met ayont the cairney, a lass wi‘ tousie hair
Singin‘ til a bairney that was nae langer there
Wunds wi warlds tae swing dinna sing sae sweet
The licht that bends owre aa thing is less ta’en up wi it“

(I met beyond a neolothic structure, a woman with wild hair. Singing to a child who was no longer there. Winds with worlds to swing [i.e. gravity/orbits within galaxies] don’t sing so sweet. The light that covers everything is less taken up with it [i.e.gravitational deflection of light] Where’s your gravity?)



I’ll Take New York. It’s not about New York, it’s about hell. It’s disturbing and dark as fuck. You can’t help but be drawn in by the character’s weird, tacky idea that the city is the place where dreams will come true. The tacky Coney Island Farfisa is a clue to the fuckedupness of the guy’s dream, where light doesn’t look like light – his imagination can’t light up a turnip, never mind a sidewalk. But you go along with it, just to see what happens.

Waits‘ genius here is in the telling, He has to go with the character otherwise the narrative is banjaxed. So there’s no judgement or moralising or social realism. There is no gravity, no New York, just a dream dwarfed by a reality it will never meet, hubris too big a word, dream too big a word. A swerve into the unlightest bible unlight, a void.

But what I want to know is: did Tom Waits intentionally reference Varèse here? Because I’ll Take New York and Amériques both have heart and neither of them really let daylight in. You could see F. W. Murnau in the background, laughing.

2016 16 Mai

Sellotape and Photographs and English Rain

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You weren’t on my mind. It wasn’t raining. And it was totally great to be back in Liverpool again yesterday, 6 years (give or take a fortnight) since we first met. It was raining when I met you, you were soaking wet – no time to be impressed. And I remember like 3 hours later on, you were someone I would not forget. I remember stupid things: the radio played Spoonie Gee that morning of the day we first met, 12 hours before you fell from the sky. Your constellation, your warzone. Your smile. The black cab we took had bulletproof glass, the city popped and fizzed, its flagstones and skyscrapers bursting with radioacivity, the faint smudge of an echo of the moment of creation. The sky looked like the cymbal sounds at the start of that Coltrane record. Your constellation, my warzone. You fell from the sky.



If you get the Newcastle-bound train from Liverpool you can be at Manchester Piccaddilly in no time. So I did. And You weren’t on my mind. And today in Manchester I see, in neon, in fucking neon, a representation of radio waves from a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star.


No bible-black frieze, no widescreen here. The mirror that fell from the wall was raggedy, that’s all.



2016 12 Mai

The speaking Trabant

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And I’m sure I’ve bored you before about the Russell Hoban novel where the characters include a speaking hospital and a speaking London Underground. But I thought I’d share this one with you. Because on the Strada Maria Rosetti, București, Romania, on Monday this week (9th May 2016) a Trabant talked to me in words.

Its words were garbled. It spoke of pocketsful of solutions to the problems of the world, of train journeys into the sun, of life erupting all around us, of words that fall broken, of how this isn’t Budapest or Vienna or Bratislava or Belgrade or Ulm or Linz or Regenburg. Or Novi Sad.

The starless bible-black frieze isn’t just for us, Trabant said. It’s in us. Hin und zurück is an emptied binary, it said. A binary perched on a green/blue glass balcony, pal. This is broken. Because why not. Because everything is repairable. Everything is broken. There’s a dead man in the cable car and the chicken is still dancing, and even dwarves started small. Descended from the dust of stars. In another lifetime when blackness will be a virtue but the road still full of mud.

Trabant spoke. But words. Words are mirrors showing pure blank space, words are as tears wet on your face, said Trabant. I spoke back, but Trabant went silent. Hidden in plain ear sight. I walked round the other side of the car, and all there was, was … was its jokingly passive-aggressive ‚hello‘ sign. Dâmbovița, I said. Dâmbovița. And all the candles and fires. And every prayer and every song, I said (for no reason) then left. Here’s Trabant’s hello sign, fwiw:


Mireia Moreorless is/was from the far future. But she has a salient relation in the now: Anna Lemma Clepsydra, who possibly saw you yesterday/tomorrow, wherever the fuck you were/gonna be. Anna Lemma Clepsydra. Anna walks unseen through ordinary moments of your life, anyone’s life. No-one’s half-life.

She’s might be on the Paris Metro innit. But ain’t fixed at Pont de Neuilly. Did you move across the black floor of the Fnac on Champs-Élysées and ask for the new Radiohead CD in broken French this week? Me neither. But if you did, and the assistant looked broken by boredom at the sight of you, Anna probably clocked it, walking past.

Mireia is the girl you see all over Paris, the one who never sees you. Future or past. But did you ever break a cup in Starbucks, or trip on a flagstone, or sneeze in a library? Anna saw it with her side-eyes. Just passing through. Miriea’s dad invented a tourbillon that counters the effects of gravity so well that time escapes space. Mireia’s mum was a nurse. A comfortable way to know from where you came from. And from. Anna was a foundling.

Anna doesn’t know the date of her birth or who her mum and dad are or were or from where. Sorry, but that is pain and excruciating mystery. She now runs a business called Ébauche – a time travel agency. Its revenue stream is largely theoretical, for now. But big stars have booked their trips to near-time, and the agency serves great coffee, and venture capital is making its way in.

All of which has nothing to do with anything, much. Except that on Saturday I managed to book a place on a private tour of a Soviet-constructed (and now long since decommissioned) nuclear facility 180 miles north of Bucharest, Romania.

You are expressly told not to take photographs of the exterior. But, on leaving, well, I did. And the security staff ran me off the premises: out into the scarred grey street.

Luckily a municipal bus was at the stop not far off. I boarded the bus in the hot Romanian sunshine, wheezing and laughing, laughing and wheezing. Sweaty hands. Touchscreen temporarily fucked. And Anna, Anna Lemma Clepsydra, Anna who walks unseen through ordinary moments of your life, anyone’s life (no-one’s half-life) was probably on that bus, or on the pavement, laughing at me, with me, like far-future Mireia, descended from the dust of stars.


2016 3 Mai

Physiognomy of the Prestidigitator

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The title „Physiognomy of the Prestidigator“ has nothing to do with the above. I can’t remember what I made it up for, or when. I remember this, though: the prestidigitator is a nobody – a sub-subcharacter referenced in a piece of dialogue in one of the 5 Truffaut films about the crazy life of Antoine Doinel. A nobody referenced in the conversation of a nobody. Severe delays on the Circle Line. Everything is broken. Everything is repairable.


When Nietzsche said ‚hey, God is dead‘
He forgot to mention this:
Satan died in the same accident –
Everything’s all it is. All is garbage, all is bliss.


2016 24 Apr

Reggae’s Finest Hours – Bim Sherman: „Across The Red Sea“

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Across The Red Sea is the work – intentionally or otherwise – of a mystic. It’s only Bim Sherman’s 3rd or 4th LP (it depends how you count these things, and tbh I can’t be bothered with chronology anyway – it’s just as arbitrary a way of ordering things as by weight, dimensions or colour. Fuck chronology. Everyone should organise their record collections by spine colour from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet, then the black and white ones should be used to transmit a message, like this:


01101001 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01110010 01100101 01100111 01100111 01100001 01100101


of course some spines may be multicoloured, in which case the exercise is void, taxonomy is void, the idea of genre itself a crock.)

If you live on an island, you’re aware of things that mainlanders maybe aren’t quite so aware of. Seagulls are bastards. The lunar pull is stronger when water surrounds you. And the actuating spirit works its way in from the sea: the font of all life, the place where the first strand of mitochondrial DNA – ever – came into being. Can you hear the mermaids singing?

Across The Red Sea – well, let’s not get into music critic mode here. It’s just a beautiful record, one that has fascinated me for a long, long time. The production is lush – detailed, engineered with space in all the right places like a fine Swiss cheese. The mood of the album seems to go between contemplative and quietly devotional. Some of the songs deal with heavy themes but the trick here is to survey a broken fucked up landscape/cityscape but not do an impotent protest singer routine.

Creatively, Across The Red Sea is a triumph. All killer, no filler. Irie.

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