Tag: music

Which Wohltemperirte

Posted by – July 12, 2010

About halfway through GEB I decided that I should give this Bach stuff a day in court. I’ve long liked what I’ve known, but known relatively little. Fairly arbitrarily I had pre-decided to start with The Well-Tempered Clavier, which comprises two sets of 24 preludes and fugues (a pair of 24 pairs!). But covetousness always brings more pain: now you have to decide which recording to get. Wanting only a complete set and drawing on the expertise of some friends and the Internet, I came up with this shortlist (all played on the piano, due to no special prejudice):

  1. Edwin Fischer 1933-1936
    Fischer is an extremely big, maybe the biggest, name in the appropriate Germanic tradition. I think this is the most famous of all the recordings, and something of a default. It has authority, but I worried that it’s too old – perhaps by now the consensus on Bach recordings is more settled. Also, I suspect that the standard of top musicianship has been steadily rising.
  2. Glenn Gould 1963-1965 for Book 1, 1968, 1970 and 1971 for Book 2
    Gould is, of course, the big eccentric celebrity, by far the most intriguing as a person and, according to many, as a musician. He certainly cared as much about Bach as anyone, going so far as to revive his music in the Soviet Union on then-unusual tours there, and giving his all to make perfect recordings. But perfect by his own standards: notorious for both a large number of takes and singing along as he played, the recordings have passionate haters as well as lovers. Ultimately I deemed Gould insufficiently neutral, and neutrality is what my heart yearns for.
  3. Angela Hewitt 1997-1999
    Hewitt is probably by consensus the greatest living Bach performer. This recording is currently the most popular choice on eg. Amazon, and according to Wikipedia “the set has often been recommended as a ‘reference’ version”. I can’t find any complaints about it, and Hewitt is certainly the real deal: in 2007-2008 she undertook a six-continent world tour performing the entire Well-Tempered Clavier each concert.
  4. Angela Hewitt 2008
    The recordings I’ve mentioned so far took a long time to complete, but after the aforementioned world tour, Hewitt decided to re-record the whole thing in a week and a day in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin. She said that after playing the work so many times on tour and becoming more and more acquainted with a new custom-build piano, she felt that she had a new, refined vision for the recording. Some people who have heard it prefer it, saying that it has a lighter, clearer tone. But I decided for now that I don’t want new, refined visions, thank you very much (as intriguing as it sounds). For neutrality!

I went with choice 3, fairly confident that I’d be completely unable to tell the difference between any of them.

Only an expert

Posted by – August 31, 2009

Went to see Laurie Anderson & Lou Reed tonight. Everything was very tight and thought out, pretty much the opposite of what I’d worried might happen. Laurie Anderson in particular is such a master of effects and synthetic sounds, using them to put together an entire real-time soundscape at one moment and dropping back to normal-land the next. Lou Reed was constantly clacking away at guitar pedals; they sounded like a faint gun-cocking sound effect to his Clint Eastwood New York aging badass demeanour. All in all it was great, especially for Laurie Anderson’s stories (especially especially the monologue she delivered in the character and voice of a huge black man) . And as for Lou Reed – maybe he’s an old fart, but he sure doesn’t stand still. Artistically he’s somewhere between Neil Young and William Burroughs: not afraid even of being boring. It was kind of sweet to see how impressed he was by Laurie’s stuff.

A couple nights previous was Iiro Rantala (“this one was going to be on a film soundtrack… the first Swedish cowboy movie, actually… they were going to call it Brokeback Malmö…”) and Paquito D’Rivera. Iiro was brilliant but brief, Paquito was groovy but don’t have much else to say about it.

Driving music

Posted by – March 21, 2008

I don’t have a driving license and I don’t really like cars, but I like listening to music in moving cars. Especially at night. As a kid I used to think it would be great to have a car and listen to music really loud with the windows down but my dad told me that only insecure stupid people do that, so I thought maybe I’d keep the windows up. Alas, even that remains a dream since I don’t like the expenses or the various practicalities involved in operating a car. But sometimes I get an opportunity to indulge in loud night-time motorway music-listening in other people’s cars and at times like that it’s good to have opinions about everything at the ready. So I’m going to give you a list of appropriate music so you can copy my opinions and become a better person. The music falls into two distinct drivin’ moods: one is when you’re feeling a bit dangerous, going a bit fast and generally rocking out. The other is exclusively at night, when you’re going slow enough (or your car’s fancy enough) for there not to be much road-noise, it’s maybe raining and the world seems cool and beautiful. I won’t say which records are in which category because it’ll be pretty easy to figure out anyway.

1) Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads
The original cd, not the movie soundtrack (as it were) which has more tracks and a different order. Very tight and neurotic, never drifts off for a moment. Relentless. Very clean sound.

2) A Night At The Opera by Queen
Admittedly, some tracks are far from optimal – I even considered one of the Greatest Hits albums here but didn’t want the scorn I’d get from some Queen fans reading this. But with probably the best opener of the lot, the thematic I’m In Love With My Car, the confusing The Prophet’s Song and the iconic Bohemian Rhapsody it would be impossible not to pick this. If it had Innuendo on it it could have had first place.

3) Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
Huh? What kind of philistine wants to listen to one of the greatest jazz albums ever in a car? Well, I obviously don’t need to answer that question, but hear me out. The album is actually a lot less “complicated” to listen to than most famous jazz: the pieces have an intro with a theme, then each soloist plays around for some set number of bars with a determined set of scales, and that’s it. Each bit sounds like it has oceans of time to move around in and they never run out of ideas – and still they keep it simple, elegant and beautiful. Granted, you need a pretty quiet driving environment for this to work.

4) England Made Me by Black Box Recorder
Again, a record with an unconfusing sound that’s beautiful to listen to throughout. Rain is a definite plus here.

5) Some Led Zeppelin album – possibly III, but I’m witholding judgement until I’ve had a chance to listen to more of them. III suffers a bit from things like That’s The Way and Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. Some sort of compilation album without Stairway on it would probably be perfect. No explanation necessary, quite frankly.

Not on the list: Autobahn by Kraftwerk. I considered it, but – just no. Better listened to when stationary.

Valhalla, here I come

Posted by – March 12, 2008

I finally took the plunge and bought two Led Zeppelin albums, with limited success (it turns out Hanna had the symbol album all along). As I suspected, they totally rock. Or something else: I’d almost say they’re more hard blues than hard rock. Nobody told me Queen and Zeppelin were so similar! Or perhaps I’m the only one who thinks that they are.

Led Zeppelin have “Led” instead of “Lead” in their name because they wanted it to be obvious that they’re made out of lead, as opposed to being the leading zeppelin. True fact! But of course now the only correct interpretation of their name is that they’re a zeppelin that has someone leading it. How embarrassing! Somehow these kinds of things don’t occur to rock stars.

I’m probably going to have to buy some more now. This was actually the first time in ages I’d spent money on records (the prices are shocking), but when I contemplated how much money I’ve spent on alcohol in the meantime it didn’t seem like such a splurge.

She’d like to be married with yeti / he grooving such cooky spaghetti

Posted by – December 19, 2007

Now, this is almost too sad but I’m going to tell you about it anyway. There’s a rather silly Beatles song called You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) which was originally only released as the B-side of a single (Let It Be, amusingly enough). That 4:19 release was edited by Lennon from an already edited but unreleased version that clocked in at 6:08. That in turn was edited from 20+ minutes of master tapes which contained a kind of surreal comedy jam. It’s all a bit Goon Show, silly silly stuff. Anyway, I’ve never heard the 6:08 version, but I do have a version that was on the Anthology Volume 2 (disc 2) which is 5:43 in length. It mostly has the same bits as the 4:19 one and a bit more, but not exactly – some bits are actually longer in the 4:19 version. This has always annoyed me (I even wish I could get the original unedited stuff), so now I tried splicing the tracks together to get all the bits I have in one version. It kind of worked, but kind of not – I wasn’t able to make the cuts imperceptible without spending a ton of time on it. Maybe one day I’ll get a definitive version together. Maybe someone already has!

Yup, not much left to do before Christmas. One physics lab on Friday and then there’s just the Christmas eve death march (still haven’t decided on the best combination of suffering and getting people to hate me vis-à-vis where I’m going to be).