Five Things: Wednesday 4th September

Aerophones & Drones
Have you ever been in a small room with a bagpiper playing full blast? Actually, that may be the only way to play them – there’s nothing tentative or half-throttle about the mechanics of the bagpipe. The noise is utterly overwhelming, a melodious fire alarm, a wailing mourner. At the funeral of a great friend of my mother’s – a proud Scotswoman – the piper played the most melancholy air, and it was startlingly moving. He walked up to the coffin, executed an about turn, and headed out of the small chapel still playing, the pipes fading into the distance as he strode off…

Nutters & Jazzers
Asking for The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait at HMV, I’m informed that they sold out as soon as they arrived. “All those Dylan Nutters”, I’m informed by the friendly man at the desk, which I guess means that he [generously] doesn’t number me amongst them. Reminds me of standing in the queue at Ronnie’s for the Booker T Q&A when a guy comes up and asks what the line is waiting for. When told, he says, “Thought it looked like a Jazz Queue”.

And Talking of Portraits: Bob Dylan Pastels, National Portrait Gallery
Bob’s strange jagged faces, rooted in the FSA photographs of the depression, are mostly quite poor. A few have something more going on – but there’s nothing, really nothing to get excited by. For that you have to see the other musician exhibited at the NPG. A room down from Dylan is a portrait series by Humphrey Ocean, who some may remember as the bass player in Kilburn And The High Roads, Ian Dury’s first foray away from art and into rock. Ocean’s paintings of friends, sloppy gouaches that somehow capture expression, tilt and attitude, are wonderful. This is a properly arrived-at style, whereas Bob’s, one feels, is still on the road.

In A Silent Way
My friend, photographer Bob Gumpert, gets a gig shooting 2 Chainz, a rapper, and finds he enjoys it. He sends the last paragraph of this piece – about crowded, loud clubs – by British poet, writer and explorer Robert Twigger (who lives in Cairo), in Aeon Magazine. I look up the article and it’s great. Some excerpts:

“A film director once told me that shooting exteriors in Cairo is a nightmare. Often they fake it, using Tunisian locations instead. The reason is the sound: the hum, they call it. You get it even if you shoot at 3am on Zamalek island, the wealthy garden district in the middle of the Nile. It’s the aural equivalent of smog; hardly noticeable at first, not a problem for many, but insidious, worming its way inside you, rattling you, shaking you up like a cornflake packet. Your contents never settle. Someone told me a story about a man who bought adulterated cocaine. A flake of aluminium sulphate lodged in his sinus and burned a hole right through his skull and into his brain. I pictured Cairo’s hum as a slow acid eating its way through the fragile bones of the ear, into the cortex.

As you get older you value silence more. Your nerves get jangled more easily. Loud music becomes less and less attractive. Instead of wanting to rev up, you seek ways to calm down. But I suspect the search for real silence goes deeper than just a desire to relax. It’s no accident that many religious orders have vows of silence. Only in silence can the soul unburden itself and then listen out for subtler signs, information from the unknown inner regions.

How much silence does a person need? You can get greedy for it, addicted to it. I know people who spend half their time in the desert and the other half working out how to get back to it. They are running away from life, some say; they are certainly running away from noise. Recent research suggests that long-term exposure to noise doesn’t just damage hearing (and the average decibel level in Cairo is 85, often getting to 95 and higher, which is only slightly quieter than standing next to a jackhammer); it damages your heart. Continuous noise causes chronic stress. Stress hormones become your constant companion, circulating day and night, wearing out your heart. That must be why the first few days in the desert seem so wonderfully rejuvenating. I’ve seen an elderly man — a retired heart surgeon, coincidentally — go from doddering around the camp to springing along the edge of dunes and rocky cliffs. That’s the power of silence.

You know you’re cured when you relish the sound of loud pop music again. Crowded clubs hold no fear; the pumping bass seems like a familiar friend, not a message from the Antichrist. You can ‘take it’. Modern life is ‘OK’. You’ve detoxed and the result is that you seem more youthful. Young people haven’t filled themselves up with noise (yet), so they actively seek it out. For those who have had too much, then emptied it out, the glad return to a noisy world is invigorating. How long does the immunity last? About two weeks, if you’re lucky”.

All Aboard! If you remember The Vengaboys, that is…
The brilliant Tom Scott, web thinker with a comedic bent, defaces a london bus timetable in some style. I really want to visit the Curaçao Spaceport…


See also Two Drums and a Cymbal Fall off a Cliff (b’doom, tssh).

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