Category: Music

Music

She staggers to stay upright

Last Thursday I attended a showing of a documentary on the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf. After the film, there was a concert where Ida Bach Jensen, who composed the score for the film, performed.

It was a magic 40 minutes, and it gave me time to digest some of the themes and thoughts of Ekelöfs poetry. The following is a sort of summary of my thoughts.

Ekelöf writes:

Seeking stable ground in life.
Everything is fluid. Everything deceives us. Everything lures us into traps. To misunderstandings. Misconceptions. The only thing that does not waver is death. To think of death. To see life through death is to provide a pedal point to the dizzying uncertain melody we live.

Elsewhere he writes something along the lines of:

She staggers to stay upright

I find that intensely poetic. A condensation of a greater truth: That to be in balance you are always moving towards a disequilibrium. Always compensating to stay upright. Staggering back and forth. Like a tree in the wind. Like a child learning to ride a bicycle. Whether it is staying put or moving forward, maintaining balance requires constant work. To remain flexible.

In the same way, a major theme in Ekelöf’s work is how the good and the evil, the ugly and the beautiful are intertwined. They depend on the juxtaposition, the contradiction. They can exist only through each other.

Nothing can exist by itself. Nothing is pure and clean. Everything is raw, mixed and implacably honest. Like punk.

We may try to ignore it. Filter out the ugly and inconvenient. But it will only make us less flexible. Less in balance.

Instead, we have to see the ways in which the ugly highlights the beauty.

At the concert, the clean, clear almost crystalline spirituality of the music was deflated by the laughter, conversation and clinking of plates and cutlery from the café outside.

At first it annoyed me. But then I realized that it was the very dissonance of the ambient sounds of the café that gave the music its depth. And the ethereal spirituality of the music was underlined by the mundane chatter from which it sought to escape.

The beautiful and ugly complemented each other. It resulted in a calm sense of wholeness. Of balance.

It is the unpredictable, the unfinished, which creates the magic of the moment. We are never ready. We are always caught by surprise. It forces us to recalibrate. To stagger or fall.

On Saturday, I went to see a play that revolved around stories of the sea. As the play ended, they projected big photo of the wide open blue sea onto the stage.

I looked out at the sea. Exploring my newfound sensibility of the imperfect, I sought out the unexpected. The ugly. That which is set apart and breaks the harmony. The crack in the mirror. The matter out of place. That which is not in balance.

At first I couldn’t see it.

The sea is quiet, mirroring the sky in a plethora of blue nuance.
So beautiful. So pure.

Then I realize that the thing that doesn’t belong is me. The man. The boat. The attempt at control.

A tiny speck of intent merely tolerated in this vast aimless flow.

Roskilde 2009

Another year, another Roskilde Festival.

As usual, I’ll give a quick summary of the best concerts I attended this year. I’ve done this for the past few years that I have been blogging and attending the festival. But this year, it doesn’t seem quite as relevant to do so. I have been neglecting blogging for quite a while now. It takes a lot of time, which I don’t seem to have these days. And I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated at my own blog posts whenever I do blog: Blogging doesn’t seem to be improving my writing.

I enjoy writing, but lately I’ve found that the way I blog isn’t too conducive to producing high quality prose. Usually, it’s just first drafts, idle thoughts quickly jotted down and published straight away, thus avoiding the careful re-reading, editing, and re-writing that the well-composed essays that I’d like to write require.

But there is another element as to why I haven’t been blogging, and Roskilde Festival is a great example of this: Coming back from the festival, I can see how others already have posted their favourite concerts on Twitter or Facebook, summing up their feelings in short status updates as the concerts were happening. Blogging about it, even just the day after the event seems late and out of context.

So, in my mind, I’ve been changing the focus of this blog a fair bit. Here, I won’t be competing with the real time tweets and status updates. Here, I will place the more detailed status updates from my outboard brain. For my memory and your inspiration. In addition, I will attempt to experiment a bit thoroughly with tweeting, having realized that I might just as well turn my annual Roskilde post into a series of tweets:

andreaslloydMy #rf09 5 best: Magnifico – Slovenian pop wrapped in golden chains and brass horns. Very dansant. http://ping.fm/4BbyH

My #rf09 best: Jenny Wilson – Chantreuse igniting the audience with empathic and mature uncanned R’n’B. http://ping.fm/BYK0w

My #rf09 best: Analogik – late, late night show of complex beats magicking us away to a hidden balkan sailor’s dive. http://ping.fm/1RQkn

My #rf09 best: Malk De Koijn – rhyming to wrap the Danish language inside out: “De er bare kommet for at fyre den konge af.” http://ping.fm/qaolx

My #rf09 best: The Whitest Boy Alive – dance music, beautiful and unimposing in a very Scandinavian way. http://ping.fm/DNYca

There. How does that look?

Roskilde 2008

Another year, another summer, and another Roskilde Festival. This year the sunshine returned to the festival as I opened up my summer holidays by gorging myself with beautiful and surprising music.

I didn’t get to see and hear as music as usual, as earned my ticket working in a Smoothie bar for part of the festival, but I managed to her some good stuff all the same. Here were my favorites from each of the 4 days of the festival:

Thursday

  • Gossip – loads of fun with their energetic electro-punk. The lead singer is a charming girl with a great connection with the audience. Definitely worth a live show another time.
  • Radiohead – Dreamy stuff. I’m not a big Radiohead fan, but they played a good concert. I felt lifted up and carried away, and when the concert ended, it was like waking from long, heavy sleep.
  • Friday

  • Band of Horses – I haven’t really heard much of their stuff before, but it worked well and was very engaging rock music. The lead singer seemed eminently likable as he smiled at the crowd with his crooked smile.
  • Battles – I heard this from a couple of hundred yards away working in the Smoothie bar. And it sounded quite good from there. Apparently, Battles is an exponent of the Math Rock genre, which I’ve never heard of before. Apart from having a cool name, their music is quite symphonic at a distance, though a friend of mine who attended the concert said that it was a bit too noisy and disorganized up close.
  • Saturday

  • The Ting Tings – Fun and uncomplicated. The Tings Tings consists of a drummer and a singer who also plays the guitar. The tunes are catchy, the drumming is excellent and basically, they play joyous indie pop, which is well worth a listen.
  • José Gonzalez – Swedish singer/songwriter best known for his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” as featured in an advertisement with thousands of bouncy balls on a San Francisco hillside. His voice was very soothing for a mellow afternoon in the sunshine.
  • Lykke Li – another Swedish singer/songwriter whose melodic and sweetly formed pop is at once melancholic like summer rain and intoxicating like chilled white wine.
  • Saturday night was a night of nonstop dancing for me. From 11 pm to 4 am I oozed from dance scene to dance scene, mixing genres and tempi all through the night. First up was American Girl Talk, whom I’ve heard of from his appearance in the excellent Danish documentary Good Copy Bad Copy. He mixes and pitches all sorts of music together in a inferno of groovy music where you can recognize fragments just well enough so that you can sing a long while at completely different speeds and beats. It’s remix culture at its very best, and a great performance as well.

    From that point on, my night was positively balkanized between the amazing balkan horns and rhythms of the German band Shantel & Bucovina Club Orchestra, the Austrian DJ Dunkelbunt and an Albanian wedding party hosted by Fanfara Tirana. All three of these were amazing fun with irresistible rhythms and those clarinets playing dizzying, sizzling balkanbeat:

    And in between these bands I also managed to attend the Chemical Brothers show, which was a loud, flashy return to the big beat music I was a big fan of 10 years ago. The combination of all of this music made it a perfect Saturday night.

    A great way to kick-start my holidays!

    Summer 2007 pt. 1: Roskilde

    Having been away from the Intertubes for a month, I have accumulated a huge backlog of bloggable material that I need to put up here. Indeed, this whole month, I’ve felt like I could be wearing one of those gimmicky web 2.0 T-shirts to signify my intention to pass my experiences on to the world, and whoever might care.

    The first stop of my rollercoaster July was the Roskilde Festival, of which I have mentioned previous instances. This year, I had invited my friend Bryan over from London, and it was great fun with lots of great concerts. Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely grotesque, with rain, rain and even more rain. Bryan has caught the mood very well in his photos.

    Another ‘unfortunately’ was that I had to leave the festival on Saturday morning to travel to Finland, so I missed out on two full days of music. But by then, I was so exhausted from walking in knee-deep mud, smelling like trench and accumulating hangover that I was almost happy to leave it behind.

    But despite only getting half the music, I did manage to attend some good concerts, in order of preference:

    1. CSS
    Startingly energetic Brazilian electro rock outfit. Their name is really “Cansei de Ser Sexy” which translates as “tired of being sexy”, which, according to Wikipedia, is a direct quote from nougat-coloured starlet, Beyoncé. In any case, CSS was a joy to watch, dance and listen to. Their music sounds less energetic on tape, but live with a happy crowd it is such good fun.

    2. New Young Pony Club
    Another Electro-rock band of sorts. I hadn’t heard of these young brits before, but they put on quite a show, kickstarting the Friday night programme, the whole band working hard to get the crowd going despite the constant rain outside the tent. I probably couldn’t recognize a single song of theirs now, but it was just what I needed then.

    3. Arcade Fire
    I guess it would have been even better, had I been stoned out of my mind. But even without doping myself, this pompous Canadian symphonious post-rock did touch a nerve. And going to the concert with my Canadian friend James, the biggest Arcade Fire fan I know, certainly helped as well.

    4. Konono No. 1
    Described in the festival programme as “Congolese trance music” which had never been heard outside of Africa, I had to go. And they didn’t disappoint, though calling it trance music is something of a stretch. The first song they played went on for 20 minutes of people slowly grooving to the solid and enticing beats that the drummers and likembé (thumb piano) players summoned for us. The one ‘unfortunately’ in that regard was that they were playing too early in the evening and there were simply very few people at the concert. A shame, for if they had played at midnight or later, it would have been a mind-bending experience for many of the un-expecting festival-goers, as they would have had time to get into the right state of mood.

    Apart from the weather, the only real disappointment, music-wise was Lee “Scratch” Perry. One of the innovators of reggae and founding father of dub music, he had been of the two names at the festival I really wanted to see (the other being Against Me! who ‘unfortunately’ played Sunday evening, long after I had left for Finland), but at the concert he did not play. He did not really do anything much, apart from spouting hash-induced ramblings into a microphone and paint semi-mystical Rastafarian symbols on a white sheet while his partner in crime, British electronica DJ Adrian Sherwood, played a set. The dub wasn’t even very good.

    Good Copy Bad Copy

    As the awareness of the issues surrounding copyright and copyleft increases, filmmakers have begun to take notice and make films which focus on these matters.

    Recently, Danish state television aired two such films which are now available for streaming off their website. Simply paste the following link

    rtsp://streamer-01.dr.nordija.dk:554/DR2Tema1700.mp4

    into a movie player such as VLC (go to “Open Network Stream” and paste the link in the rtsp line) to see the films. The first film starts around 5:10 in the stream, so you can safely skip past the first few minutes.

    That first film is a Danish documentary called “Good Copy, Bad Copy” which explores how copyright is interpreted differently in different parts of the world with regards to music and movies. A fascinating example is how Gnarl’s Barkley’s smash hit “Crazy” is reinterpreted by Brazilian remixers as a Tecno Brega song to be played at the Sound System parties of Northern Brazil. It’s well worth the watch. Be warned, though: Subtitles are only available in Danish.

    The second film, Alternative Freedom, has much more of a manifesto-like quality which is sure to turn some people (including me) off. Yet it is interesting if you haven’t seen or heard much of the Free Software movement yet (I, for my part, may be a bit overexposed to that rhetoric…)

    Oh! Update: I just found a shorter, all-English version of Good Copy, Bad Copy here. I suspect you might be able to download the full version from the Pirate Bay – legally, even.

    Blurrily busy

    The past week has moved by so quickly, it all seems like a blur now. I’ve certainly been too busy to sit down and blog. I’ve managed to move into my lovely new home, buy new furniture, assemble said furniture, have had lots of people visiting and gone to two concerts.

    First, my room is now nicely settled, and upon finishing the decorating and cleaning, I snapped a few pictures to give an idea of the size and shape of things. My fellow commun.. (..ists? What is the proper word?) have made the transition easy so far, and I look forward to getting to know them a bit better.

    Second, the two concerts. I went with my dear mother to see Bob Dylan play in Copenhagen on Monday night. My mother has been a fan of Bob’s since she was 13, but this was her live concert with his Bobness. The stage show was not exactly impressing, and his vocals probably won’t win him any new fans (I hardly understood a word he was singing all night), but the music was very Rhythm and Blues – he even reinterpreted some of his old hits this way, and it did rock quite well.

    Though I’m not much of a fan, it’s hard to underestimate the importance that he has played in the last 40 years of popular music, and I was surprised to find how much of the music reminded me of so markedly different later artists as Metallica, Beck, Kashmir and the Smiths. Curious.

    The other concert was Timbuktu on Tuesday night. Timbuk is the best-selling Swedish rapper who have been touring Scandinavia for the past month with his amazingly tight backing band “Damn!”, and Copenhagen was the final stop of their tour (due to an unfortunate cancellation back in February). It was a great, funky and happy experience with lots of pranks and hijinks along the way. The crowd went crazy when they played “Det brinner i Paris” as the final encore. Good stuff.

    Now, after all of these distractions. I can finally settle down for the last long stretch of thesis work – hopefully. So it’ll still be busy, but a different kind of busy. Oh well.

    A rebellious mixtape

    From time to time I get caught up in technological nostalgia. Sometimes I find myself missing phones with rotary dials: You got that tacit touch of the mechanism inside and you could guess at how things worked inside. Now phones are just black boxes that emit random beeps. In the latest iteration, they’re even trying to do away with the tacitness altogether by removing all the buttons and just having a touch screen which will feel the same no matter which function you try to use.

    This tendency of minimizing the physical element of the technology and making people interface even more directly with the information is very much part of the times. And even if it is a win overall, making information freely available, accessible and modifiable, it is also a loss in the way that we have started to appreciate it less.

    One of my favourite analogue technologies was the cassette tape. I spent a fair part of my younger days with a walkman. I could take all of my parents’ old LPs and pick my favourite tracks, and but them on tape. I had tapes recorded from the radio and tapes given to me by friends. Each bit of music was a physical object with a history. I exchanged mixtapes with a pen pal and got a tape full of Czech hip hop and Belgian alternative rock.

    Actually, it was just like it is with digital music now, except slower and in worse quality. Both of which came from the physical media. But the limitations of the physical media – the cassette tape – is what I miss the most about it. When you put a tape on your walk-man, you knew you were in for a ride. You pretty much had to accept what was on the tape.

    There was no “Shuffle” function, no “Forward” function that instantly skipped to the next song. Once you’d listened to music for half an hour or 45 minutes, you’d have to take out the tape and turn it around and reinsert it. There was a clear, physical feeling of time passing: If you wanted to skip a track, you had to fast forward, spending time listening to the tape winding. And if you weren’t careful, you might miss the next song as well.

    So basically, you just had to sit there and take it, and hope that whoever had made the mixtape knew what they were doing. It was like having a radio station just for you. As Nick Hornby so eloquently put it in High Fidelity:

    To me, making a tape is like writing a letter ?? there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and…oh, there are loads of rules.

    To me, the cassette tape was the ideal medium for exchanging music. Because it brings context with it. It is a suitably bothersome process to make a tape that you will want to do it properly. You can’t just fill side B with top 40 junk and leave it at that. Would you write half a letter and then just paste in a tabloid article rather than finish the letter properly?

    Of course not! So in the spirit of old cassette mixtapes, I’ve dug out an old 80-minute tape (2×40 minutes) and put together a mixtape. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to put together a tape containing some of the most vibrant, passionately rebellious songs I know. So here goes:

    Side A:
    The Clash – Lost in the Supermarket
    Against Me! – Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists
    Tracy Chapman – Talking About A Revolution
    John Lennon – Working Class Hero
    Fela Kuti – Zombie
    Manu Chao – Clandestino
    !!! – Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard

    Side B:
    Aretha Franklin – Think
    Bob Marley and the Wailers – Get Up, Stand Up
    Ton Steine Scherben – Keine Macht Für Niemand
    Rage Against The Machine – Killing In the Name of
    Helt Off – Det Brinner i Paris
    Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
    Ani DiFranco – Your Next Bold Move
    The The – Lonely Planet

    My rules for this mix were: Only one song per artist, cover as many parts of the globe and as many kinds of music as possible. Both men and women, and of course, make the music fit as well as possible.

    If you think that I have left out obvious choices, please feel free to list them below. Preferably with reasons as to why I should included them.

    Oh, and since there are laws against that sort of thing, I can’t make music available here. But if you’re curious, send me message, and I’ll send you a mixtape. 🙂

    The The

    Why didn’t anybody tell me about how nice The The’s Dusk is?

    Oh, somebody did, I guess. 5 years ago, when I wasn’t really ready to appreciate it. Telling somebody at the age of 20 that “you’ll love this music in 5 years time” is a surefire way to make them avoid it. And then when you finally get around to listening to it. 5 years have passed and the time is just right.

    Uncanny.

    But songs like True Happiness (this way lies), Helpline Operator and Slow Emotion Replay hit home in a quietly unsettling way:

    Everybody knows what’s going wrong with the world
    I don’t even know what’s going on in myself

    Lord I’ve been here for so long
    I can feel it coming down on me
    I’m just a slow emotion replay
    Of somebody I used to be

    Curiously, The The makes Google go all wonky. Such too-clever 80s band names not only have a hard time with the search engines, but with most people as well. Recall this scene from the Commitments:

    Jimmy Rabbitte: What do you call yourselves?
    Derek: “And And And.”
    Jimmy Rabbitte: “And And fuckin’ And?”
    Derek: Well, Ray’s thinking of putting an exclamation mark after the second “and.” Says it’d look deadly on the posters.
    Jimmy Rabbitte: Psshh…
    Outspan Foster: You don’t like it? You think it should go at the end?
    Jimmy Rabbitte: I think it should go up his arse.
    Outspan Foster: Well, we’re not married to it.

    Long live afrobeat!

    Last night I took some time off from the rather intense note-taking and -organizing I’ve been doing and went out to have a look about on at the ongoing Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Specifically, I went to a Tony Allen concert. Allen is a legendary Nigerian drummer, co-originator of the entire afrobeat genre, and described by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.”

    Last year I had been to a great Femi Kuti concert at the Roskilde Festival, and now I had a chance to listen to Femi’s father Fela Kuti’s main collaborator live, playing a wonderfully jazzy set in Copenhagen.

    Tony Allen is an old man now, at 66. But he plays so very tightly and effortlessly it is a joy to hear. The whole band plays around the drum beat to create the most organic sound I’ve heard. It is difficult to distinguish the individual instruments (apart from the horns obviously) from that swinging whole which sounds seems like one big pulsating instrument. Then, when one of the musicians play a solo, you realise how that one part of the rhythm has been supporting the rest in the same way that they are supporting its creative experimentation now.

    I got a mental image of fireworks, slowly onfolding, reenveloping upon itself and swaying softly against the night sky. Or perhaps like the flowers of a coral reef opening and closing but swaying in unison.

    And at the centre of it all, behind his drumkit, would be this little man, sitting there, smiling at it all. And once the song ended, he would simply say, “Yeah”. Not smugly, but knowingly. His meltingly rusty warm voice displaying an affection for the music that said it all.

    Finishing up the second set, Allen looked out at the audience and said “We’ finishing now, can’t play all night.”

    The crowd applauded in attempt to make him play more.

    He replied “I ain’t young no mo’, y’know! What do you want me to do? Live endlessly?”

    The crowd caught it and shouted “Endlessly! Endlessly”

    He smiled sagely back at them. “Heh, endlessly. One more song for tonight…”

    But in the end, they ended up coming back out for a two-song encore. With this kind of music, experiencing it live is so much more enriching than merely listening to the music on your home stereo, but if you’re curious you can find both Tony Allen’s music and a lot of other afrobeat music around the Intarweb.

    Off to Paris

    Well, I’m finally heading out into the field. The real field, not the virtual one but out to meet real flesh-and-blood informants. I’m very excited, if you couldn’t tell.

    The plan is like this: First I’m off to Paris for the Ubuntu Developers’ Summit where all of the core Ubuntu developers will gather to spend a week planning and discussing the next Ubuntu release, deftly codenamed the Edgy Eft.

    I’ll be participating in the discussions, and I will be presenting the results of the Census Survey of the Ubuntu community which I have been conducting. I’ve received nearly 300 hundred valid responses and the questionnaire is still open for the curious – though any late responses won’t make it into my analysis.

    After what I hope will be a great time in Paris (I’ll also have time to visit some old friends from Manchester), I’ll fly to Barcelona for the GUADEC conference. That is the “GNOME User And Developer European Conference” which is a rather snappy acronym. GNOME is the desktop environment that Ubuntu uses, and several of the Ubuntu developers are also GNOME developers and have strong ties to this project.

    The GUADEC is another week of conference but in a somewhat different climate: Where the Ubuntu Developers’ Summit will be an intense work session, the GUADEC looks to be a bit more relaxed and easy-going. There will even be a GNOME football championships during the week. The differences will be interesting to note, too.

    Also, very appropriately I stumbled across a song just yesterday by Swedish ragga outfit Helt Off. It’s called “Det brinner i Paris” [.mp3 file from Helt Off’s record label] and it’s about the riots in Paris last autumn where groups of young unemployed suburbanites lit cars on fire in the night. You can find the (Swedish) lyrics here.

    Did I mention that it is damn funky?