Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 19th December

Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground
As we drove along Spain’s Costa Tropical, past the last remaining sugar cane factory in Europe, the sky turned orange and Blind Willie Johnson came on the CD player. I don’t really have the words to describe this performance, but it may be the loneliest sound ever committed to shellac. Driving as the sun fell it stilled the conversation. Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas is pretty much based around it. from wikepedia: In 1977 Carl Sagan and a team of researchers were tasked with collecting a representation of Earth and the human experience for sending on the Voyager probe to other life forms in the universe. They collected sounds of frogs, crickets, volcanoes, a human heartbeat, laughter, greetings in 55 languages, and 27 pieces of music on the Voyager Golden Record. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground was included, according to Sagan, because “Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.”

Sky

Tony Staveacre, Letter To The Guardian
“Ravi Shankar did a great kindness to a young television director in November 1968. The great man was performing a raga in the BBC Riverside Studios (behind the Hammersmith Odeon) to be broadcast as part of the trendy BBC1 pop series How It Is. The trainee director had told the recording engineer to load a 20-minute videotape—that’ll be long enough. But it wasn’t. A raga is an improvisation, unpredictable in content and length. So the tape ran out while the maestro was still playing. The director, close to tears, had to go down to the studio floor, apologise for his incompetence, and plead with the musicians, Would you mind doing it again? The response was a shrug, a beatific smile and: Of course we can – and it will probably be better this time. And it was. The director was fired shortly after that, by telegram. I’ve still got it.”

Wayne Shorter On The Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way Recording Session, Mojo Magazine
“When we recorded it [in February 1969] there were no written-out parts. Miles didn’t want to know what you were going to play. “Play music that doesn’t sound like music,” he once told me. It was to get you out of your comfort zone… if he heard someone practising, he’d say, “Don’t practice!” He told John [McLaughlin], “Play the guitar like you don’t know how to play the guitar.”

In Praise Of Sinead
Clearing the hard drive, I watch an episode of Later from a few weeks ago. Amongst the dreary hipsters (yes Foals, that’s you—the world doesn’t need a Prog-Rock-Slash-Funkapolitan in 2012—songs that want to be instrumentals but still seem to have words) and the old soulsters (Graham Central Station—Where’s Sly? We need Sly! Larry has a microphone attached to his bass by a gooseneck. We can see why this has never caught on. Awful bass sound. They forgot to bring a song) and the Primark Bonnie Tyler that is Ellie Goulding, there is Sinead O’Connor, She is singing Nothing Compares To You. She has a flaccid band (imagine her backed on this song by Marc Ribot and Jay Bellerose instead, for instance) and by rights the song should have been consigned to the I’ve heard it too many times—it has no power left pile in the corner. But. But. She is one of the great natural singers of our age. There’s not an unmelodic note. Hell, there’s not an unmelodic breath between the notes… She rips the bloody guts out of the song and leaves them on the studio floor, focused on extracting everything it has to give. And, even when it’s just her breath you’re listening to, she sounds like no-one else on earth, and that’s a rare, rare thing.

Blue Note? Is That A Code Name?
Ever see something that you wished you’d thought of?
And something that you know how hard it is to do well?
Take a bow, Ty Mattson at Mattson Creative.

Homeland

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 2nd May

Miles Davis, the “My Funny Valentine” scene, Homeland
Carrie presses play on her music system and Miles’ trumpet entwines round the next five minutes, as the would-be dinner à deux fails to materialize. She puts on lipstick, walks past the painting of a jazz trumpeter on the stairs. Brody’s at the door. Their clothes rustle, the ever present cicadas throb as the background sounds are foregrounded. She pours wine. “Miles Davis!” she barks. “Do you like Jazz?” “I don’t know anything about it.” He tells her why he’s there, he leaves, the double bass climbs, she ditches the wine. As the title melody resurfaces, the camera cuts to Brody getting into his car and staring out the windscreen, then back to Carrie, wretched in her kitchen, then to Saul. He’s the only one who knows about Brody and Carrie’s relationship, has a tangled relationship of his own with Carrie as her mentor, and now he’s staring into a CIA fridge, filled with all the things that office fridges always contain: medicines and mustard and peanut butter… The tune spirals and stretches as Saul walks back to his office and, seen from behind the blinds, sighs as he realizes he’s forgotten a knife. He looks in his desk drawer and pulls out a ruler to spread the peanut butter, and at 5 minutes, 10 seconds, with the song only 50 seconds away from finishing, it cuts into an electronic bass hum/high pitched drone and a child’s drawing in a mansion window, as the next day dawns—and brings with it the fateful surveillance operation in the square.

Freak Out!
In a particularly wide-ranging segment of Jools Holland’s Later, an incandescent Annie Clarke—a refreshingly un-Marina And The Machines-like woman singer, and a considerable guitarist. I was so-so about the song, but the guitar playing! Well, great joy! Not since seeing the latest Chili Peppers guitarist [Josh Klinghoffer] has someone stopped me in my tracks like that. “As of late 2011, her pedal board includes the following: Korg PitchBlack, DBA Interstellar Overdriver Supreme, ZVex Mastotron Fuzz, Eventide Pitchfactor, Eventide Space, BOSS PS-5 Super Shifter, Moog EP-2 Expression Pedal. All her pedals are controlled by a MasterMind MIDI Foot Controller. She usually plays with a 60s Harmony H-15V Bobkat guitar.”—Wikipedia

Olly: Life On Murs
Oh the fabulous poptastic late-night treats continue… I don’t remember the channel, but here’s a programme possibly commissioned for the Title Pun alone. We follow the cheeky chappy (a kind of cut-price Robbie Williams) as he tours. Memorable moment—the backstage huddle just before hitting the stage. Rather than Madonna’s prayer circle, a raucous New Orleans-style number led by the horn players as the band leap around singing “I feel like fuckin’ it up, I feel like fuckin’ it up.” Brilliant.

Nostalgia Time! House Of Oldies
Photographer Nick Sinclair’s mailout this week.

I remember this record shop! I bought Bruce Springsteen bootlegs (Passaic, The Roxy ’78—“All you bootleggers out there in radioland, roll your tapes”) from them in the early Eighties.

Joplin. Grave. Spinning.
Not since I saw a poster in Times Square for Bob Marley Footwear [see picture] has something clothes-based seemed so wrong.

A re-issue of Pearl had this flyer inside: “Made for Pearl is part gypsy rambler, and part cosmic cowgirl… a bit of joyful rebellion. MFP has produced clothing and accessories as enduringly modern, beautiful and timeless as Joplin’s colourful legacy.” Who writes this shit?

And finally…
chuckrainey.chipin.com/chuck-rainey-well-health-fund

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 21st March

Homeland’s sound design
British dramas tend to have clean, neat soundtracks. I don’t mean the musical elements, but the overall soundscape. Often brilliant atmospherics and great scoring, but generally pristine voice recording and foley work. US programmes on the whole have a funkier sound (it may be partly a technical thing, I’m no expert). However, Homeland has taken funky to new levels. It’s oppressively, brilliantly, noisy—all cicadas and compression. [Compression |kəmˈpre sh ən| noun. Compression in audio recording lessens the dynamic range of the audio by reducing the level of the louder parts, resulting in an “in your face” sound. The proper use of compression will bring out the quieter parts of the audio and make the entire piece sound louder.] In each scene, the outside seems as loud as the inside (witness the crickets at night in the episode where Carrie sleeps at her sister’s house and the same background sounds run into Brody’s house. Air conditioners whirr, fridges hum, interview rooms throb. There’s no escape…

emusic find of the month
Late Late Party, a compilation of songs recorded by The Pac-Keys and The Martinis, at Stax in the mid-Sixties, both bands featuring Packy Axton, son of the label’s founders. Like a frat boy version of Booker T and The MGs. Fantastic. Hear Greasy Pumpkin. If you like that, hear the rest.

White On White
I hadn’t reread The White Album by Joan Didion for years. But it’s extraordinary. Against a backdrop of California, Manson and her own mental issues, it’s filled with brilliant passages like this one. After Manzareck and Morrison discuss, in a circular way, where they might rehearse the next day… “I counted the control knobs on the electronic console. There were seventy-six. I was unsure in whose favor the dialogue had been resolved, or if it had been resolved at all. Robby Krieger picked at his guitar, and said that he needed a fuzz box. The producer suggested that he borrow one from the Buffalo Springfield, who were recording in the next studio. Krieger shrugged. Morrison sat down again on the leather couch and leaned back. He lit a match. He studied the flame awhile and then very slowly, very deliberately, lowered it to the fly of his black vinyl pants. Manzarek watched him. The girl who was rubbing Manzarek’s shoulders did not look at anyone. There was a sense that no one was going to leave the room, ever. It would be some weeks before The Doors finished recording this album. I did not see it through.” Read anything about music that good recently?

Karen Dalton 1966
Personal recordings made in her family living room, now released. The folk world’s Billie Holiday sings Darroll Adams rhythmic, pretty Green Green Rocky Road with such a motionless sadness, it’s as if she’s staring transfixed out of her window at the road itself.

Winogrand/Dylan interface
Funny how certain songs leap into your head when prompted by something visual. I was walking down Edgware Road on Monday with the morning sun flooding past street signs and traffic-light poles and jaywalkers, and everything was angles and glare. I always think of views like that as Garry Winogrand mornings, a reference to the great American photographer whose photographs captured the extraordinary cityscapes of New York. A half-remembered lyric comes to mind: “Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat and coverin’/the crossroads I’m standin’ at…” (Bad, bad attempt below)

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