Bod Dylan has released a new 17-minute song, Murder Most Foul, about the killing of John F. Kennedy. It’s a slow, haunting, dirge-like ballad, essentially a talking song, where the lyrics sound almost improvised as the song goes on. There’s a playful use of rhyme and cultural reference, and in this time of great sadness, it brought tears to my eyes.
These are difficult times for many people, who are now required to stay at home. Music can help us get through this. In this “two guys not in a pub” episode, Doug and Kirk reflect on social isolation and music.
Simon Reynell, of Another Timbre, a great little British label of avant-garde music, posted this on Facebook:
I’ve just uploaded to Bandcamp a 5-hour ‘coronavirus’ playlist of recent pieces from Another Timbre. It’s for everyone, but particularly for those who are self-isolating or in quaratine. Free streaming, or you can buy downloads of individual tracks – and I’ll pass the money straight on to the principal musicians involved, many of whom will be facing tough times for the next few months. Featuring pieces by Magnus Granberg, Linda Catlin Smith, Cassandra Miller, Morton Feldman, Ryoko Akama, Adrián Demoč, Jürg Frey, Tse Trio + Angharad Davies, Catherine Lamb, Federico Pozzer & Frank Denyer. There will be other playlists uploaded as the pandemic continues.
While there are lots of reasons to opt for minimal audio equipment, for some people there is an enduring allure for vintage stereo amps and receivers from the hi-fi heydays of the 1970s. The time when audio gear had knobs and dials and VU meters, like the fins and grilles on 1950s cars. We discuss our lust for those baroque audio devices of yore.
Ashley Kahn wrote the book on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, the jazz album everyone owns if they one at least one jazz album. We talk with Ashley about the recording of Kind of Blue, and about its legacy. (Apologies for the audio issues.)
A unique piano which was treasured by the Canadian virtuoso Angela Hewitt as her “best friend” was broken beyond repair when it was dropped by specialist instrument movers.
The expensive accident happened late last month after Hewitt finished recording Beethoven’s piano variations at a studio in Berlin. She said it left her in such shock that it took her 10 days before she could announce the news to her followers.
In a Facebook post Hewitt said her F278 Fazioli, the only one in the world fitted with four pedals, and worth at least £150,000, was “kaputt”. She said: “I hope my piano will be happy in piano heaven.”
The broken instrument was inspected by the firm’s Italian founder, Paolo Fazioli, who declared it “unsalvageable”. The piano’s iron frame smashed when the 590kg instrument dropped as movers tried to lift it on to a trolley. The force of the break, compounded by the high tensions in the piano’s strings, was so strong that it split the piano’s lid in two.
“It makes no sense, financially or artistically, to rebuild this piano from scratch. It’s kaputt,” Hewitt said.
The accident left Hewitt in mourning. She said: “I adored this piano. It was my best friend, best companion. I loved how it felt when I was recording – giving me the possibility to do anything I wanted.”
This is incredibly sad. She is a great pianist, and her recordings of Bach are some of the best on the instrument.
There are lots of people who have the same name. I’m sure there are tens of thousands of John Smiths in the world. In acting, in some countries, it is not possible to use a name that has already been used. The Screen Actors Guild and the British Actors Equity Association stipulate that if a name is already used, you must come up with a stage name. As Wikipedia says:
Nathan Lane, whose birth name (Joseph Lane) was already in use; Stewart Granger, born James Stewart; and Michael Keaton, born Michael Douglas. Diane Keaton, whose birth name is Diane Hall, took her mother’s maiden name as a stage name after learning that there was already a registered actress named Diane Hall in the Actors’ Equity Association. Ugly Betty actress Vanessa Williams officially uses “Vanessa L. Williams” due to SAG guidelines, although the other actress with same first and last name (Vanessa A. Williams) is arguably less notable. Similarly, David Walliams changed one letter in his surname due to there being another “David Williams”. Terry O’Quinn of Lost fame changed his surname from Quinn to O’Quinn as another registered actor already had the name Terrance Quinn. Long-time Simpsons writer and Futurama executive producer David X. Cohen changed his middle initial from S to X because there was already a David S. Cohen registered with the Writer’s Guild of America. Julianne Moore was born Julie Anne Smith but found that all variations of that name were already used by other actors.
But in music, there are no such rules. So, for example, you may be a fan of Bill Evans the pianist, but if you search for him you will also find Bill Evans the saxophonist. In fact, there is also a country musician with the same name, and a bass player. And both the pianist and sax player show up more than once in search result on Apple Music for that name.
The other day, I listened to an album of music by Toru Takemitsu: Orchestral Works, by Nexus, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and Carl St. Clair. It contains three works: From Me Flows What You Call Time, Twill By Twilight, and Requiem.
Carl St. Clair is the conductor, as shown on Discogs, but there are other artists with that name. In fact, since I “loved” the album on Apple Music, I now see, in the For You section, a whole list of suggestions of his music.
I think it’s pretty obvious that the first two are not by the same “artist.” But my Apple Music profile will forever be tinged by the belief that they are, indeed, the same people, just working in different genres. And so the algorithm that recommends music will be skewed.
The solution is, of course, to “un-love” the album, which I will do. But highlights two issues with the way streaming recommendation algorithms work. First, when loving or liking an album, you are perhaps liking the music (in the case of classical music) with no concert about the artists. However, you are showing your interest in the composer, which is generally forgotten in these algorithms. Second, the fact that multiple artists with the same name are lumped together means that there is a good chance that you will pollute your profile with artists who you don’t care about, and have never even heard of.
Andy Doe joins us again to discuss the perils of having software-controlled audio equipment. After the Affaire Sonos, when the company announced that a lot of its older products would become “obsolete,” perhaps it’s time to think more carefully about how long hardware we buy will last, when it depends on software.
nside a US vinyl pressing plant – its owners have asked that I do not give its location – dozens of hydraulic machines run all day and night. These contraptions fill the building, as long as a city block, with hissing and clanking as well as the sweet-and-sour notes of warm grease and melted plastic. They look like relics, because they are. The basic technological principles of record pressing have not changed for a century, and the machines themselves are decades old.
It is impossible to know the proportion of the effluent in the Chao Phraya or how much of the pollution is directly linked to the production of LPs. One thing, though, is certain. Vinyl records, as well as cassettes and CDs, are oil products that have been made and destroyed by the billion since the mid-20th century. During the US sales peaks of the LP, cassette and CD, the US recording industry was using almost 60m kilos of plastic a year. Using contemporary averages on greenhouse gas equivalent releases per pound of plastic production, as well as standard weight figures for each of the formats, that is equivalent to more than 140m kilos of greenhouse gas emissions each year, in the US alone. Music, like pretty much everything else, is caught up in petro-capitalism.
Vinyl isn’t green. It should be obvious, of course, but unless someone draws our attention to these things, we probably don’t think about them.
The overall music industry isn’t very green, from plastics in records and CDs, to the carbon footprints of bands traveling around the world, with their equipment, to the electricity used to run streaming services.