the siren islands
personal faves (to rant or to read)
open minds and gates
margins of my mind
friends for good
(bi)monthly brain food (frogtalk)
music & .mp3 blogs
finding the words
(pop-ups occasionally are pests)
nick b. 2007
do share, don't steal, please credit
mardi 28 février 2006
The cheerful waiter and gloomy bartender at the Sunday café have yet to start calling me "British Airways", but they will. One or other of them sometimes drops in at my weekday corner to discuss bar business with the women who run the place, so they're bound to overhear the name eventually.
Since Glum and Chirpy charge double the price asked on Monday to Saturday for a "grande crème", I expect twice as much: instant service, a comfy seat, half the gossip and decent music television instead of sport with the sound turned down. Even peace.
I go there to fly.
"Sometimes I wonder
Once I'd described 'Redbird' as a super Nova achievement overall, the second song with its subtitle, 'Amelia Earhart's Last Days,' began to work.
Why we're always coming down
And why we need to touch the ground
And why I didn't keep on heading
right on up to heaven".
Before entries went missing*, I announced plans to wing it for a while, with one certain compass point in the worst of winter: 'South'! Critics who tried to shoot down the Bermuda-born Heather Nova for releasing a "pop" album in 2001 wasted their ammunition.
Heather's always told stories, her own and other people's. Though she has fans who seem unsure she's of terrestrial origin, her planet is one where the ways of the human heart are remarkably well mapped.
Graham Lubin's ear for those he calls "hauntingly ethereal" hasn't charted Heather Nova, but went wild over Elizabeth Fraser and the other Cocteau Twins at Celestial Voices (in the blogroll). The disbanded Scots slip in since their ethereal heyday proved ideal listening to take sustenance from Glum and Chirpy and firm up the future of this log.
"One notorious review simply began, 'Surely this band is the voice of God.' While the embarrassed group sought to downplay such reactions ([guitarist Robin] Guthrie in particular was astonishingly self-disparaging, for years professing to hate the end results), the fact remains that this powerful climax of the band's early years consists of one high after another. Lesser acts would simply kill to have recorded such a varied, strong release, while innumerable others took, and still take the release as a touchstone for their own work," Graham said of 'Treasure' (1984; remastered in 2000).
The Cocteau Twins' sound gusts and swirls like the wind, ringing chimes; it pulses and plays like stratospheric light on ice crystals often so far aloft Frazer's words are hard to catch unless you really concentrate. This scarcely matters when you're meditating. Awed fans called it "dream pop" anyway, full of symphonic surprises like my other favourite, 'Heaven or Las Vegas'.
In short, I made decisions in the company of angels.
Brevity isn't one of my qualities, warn fleet-footed friends. They also assure me that so long as I maintain this log, it shall unfold one guy's love story of the lost and found. So be it; no rush, then. I'll tell it more slowly than I was before resuming the restoration. If women's songlines help me stay on track and in tune, what I write may sometimes help do the same for others.
Whether we're being chatty or hang-gliding across poetic peaks, things Heather Nova (home) does in equal measure on 'South', few people are always sure of their feet and then need a boost to the confidence this column was about in its original shape. I doubt Nova worried much about that flak she took for a change of style. One track fast became a hit song for the feelings expressed as well as the heavenly voice:
"(...)'When you let other people tell you what's right
In a prolific career like that of Elizabeth Frazer, now also working from a home of her own, Heather has sung of hard, sad times and alienation, but 'Virus of the Mind' has all the appeal of a confident person on an album glowing with superb musicianship and memorable tunes.
When you leave your instinct and your own truth behind' he said
'That's a virus of the mind.' That's a virus of the mind
I guess it's kind of like losing your sight; for a
Second you think that they might be right, and it
Feeds the doubts you have inside, and it
Almost starts to feel like a crime
To follow your own rhythm and rhyme
Yeah I'm pretty happy living in my own sweet time I'm pretty happy
And I don't need your virus of the mind (...)."
Both Frazer and Nova have a staggering vocal range and the emotional reach down into the troughs of our lives -- when love can hurt like hell -- without which we can't know the rolling crests of joy.
"People think that they can heal without the touch
That's put simply on 'Singing You Through' from 'Redbird', the latest peak in Nova's career, which musically reveals many facets of a performer in multiple genres but has lyrically grown out of the slow-burning anger and sudden stabs of 'Oyster'.
Learn to live without the love they need so much
But everybody hurts, and everybody cries
And everybody needs a helping hand sometimes
And I'll be there
Like a bird, singing to you (...)"
There's nothing wrong with anger when it's justified and you know how to channel it, but to be "fuelled by anger" as a governing emotion, like somebody once told me she was, can hide not only resentment and hurt, but the lack of confidence people feel if they're given a perpetual pounding that induces a sense of helplessness. When someone else recently blew up at me, that drew reassurance once I realised a cross response was all wrong.
Self-confidence without complacency is a reassuring quality to foster and to appreciate from Heather Nova and the radiant Sharleen Spiteri of the highly popular Glasgow band Texas. They're so engaging I spent a whole afternoon with the music one surprisingly sunny day. The 'Red Book', their latest, got opened, after 'Careful What You Wish For' and 'White on Blonde'.
The friend who told me of Sharleen's confidence and style on stage called her a "rock star who's cut the crap, someone you should write up soon because she's so open about the themes your site has taken on lately." He meant the lost love story I'll now have to put back.
"Just be careful what you wish for
That could be a cue for the rewrite of 'Body music (iii)', but isn't, despite Sharleen's statement to an online rag that rarely inclines some of us to take it at name value, 'Ask Men'. Frequently I do ask men, but ones less attached to slicing the species in half than that site often seems to be. What did Sharleen say, though?
Just be careful what you hope for
Your wish, it may come true!"
"When you become confident you can be naturally sexy. Ooze sex."
It's a pithy platitude, perhaps, but only too true. I've plenty more time than some people do for singers of both sexes who search their melancholy souls and work the old magic of sharing our bad times and making them easier to bear with the transforming power of music to stretch out a hand to the solitary. It's reassuring to know you're not alone.
However, Spiteri is able to ooze sex and say how not because she's as pretty as two pictures, but since she's been through the rough stuff. Hit singles on 'White on Blonde' (1997) made the soccer stadiums, titles like 'Insane' and 'Put Your Arms Around Me' ooze powerful emotions but aren't cheerful, 'Careful What You Wish For' 2003) an electronic edge some found experimental, others commercial, which is to say it's mixed up.
'Red Book', released in 2005, is a return to form, the most upbeat, lyrically confident on the whole and ... oozy. The mate who called Sharleen a rock star doesn't like his rock very hard; catchy and melodic are more like it, Texas can be bluesy and funky, but he meant that at her strongest, she comes raw.
Flying can be a bumpy experience; reading more about the singers here after initially posting this, I was startled to find several other people speaking of "sexy" and "angry" women almost in the same breath, then noticed they equated the two with early albums, not the new ones.
"I do so love it when you get mad!" Variations on that theme have made many a movie line and perhaps once I even felt the same way with women; today, I much prefer it when one soars instead of flying into a rage. For a big vocal range, Tracy Bonham lifted me up for a week.
She began her musical career at five, has a classical education, is at ease with several instruments, including the violin, does unexpected things with a quirky sense of humour.
The photo is only half the picture from one at Tracy Bonham's home site. One way to make a great discovery is to ask what she likes. At Amazon US, they did. What Tracy's choice of "Music you should hear" includes string quartets by Debussy and Ravel, Stevie Wonder, the album with which the kid made me a fan of Sigur Rós, pronounced ( ), and Willie Nelson's 'Crazy' demo sessions:
"They inspire me to write better songs. How anyone can write a perfect little jewel of a song that is both sad and funny is beyond me."
It's not beyond Ms Modesty.
The pillar of her student community made her recording debut in 2000 with the 'The Burdens of Being Upright'. Her very first song on record, 'Mother, Mother,' is about a dutiful young woman's phone call home to the parents, the way it might have spilled out. Tracy Bonham made a funny miserable liar with a flair for good lyrics nearly six years ago.
She gave us power-chords then. Her enjoyable 'Burdens' could have cast her as a rocker chick, a role she'd like no more than the women above since there's no holding back somebody so eclectic. She pulled me up hard in my tracks, before I had any idea what some of her tastes are, on just a first hearing of an album with a green cover, a bird and maybe a firefly spark of light.
'blink the brightest' (2005) is a nice name for a brilliant release, rich instrumentally, including that violin, and strong on emotion, wit and and vocals, including the chorus.
Tracy Bonham soars happy-sad, love is powerful, love is fragile:
"i am a rock that's what i do for a living
So the lyrics aren't always confident, but Bonham's line in contradictions is that of a musician sure in her "stubborn skin ... wearing thin" and "naked pretty as a heartache waiting for my second skin to settle in" ('naked').
please look away as i'm wilting like a flower" ('wilting flower').
There's a French expression, "être bien dans sa peau," to be taken both figuratively and literally, "to feel great" or "to be comfortable in one's skin", used mainly of confident people with the feel-good factor. Celestial voices apart, when these women share that in common, it's contagious.
*This column is such a substantial rewrite, it's based on chunks of the missing matter.
10:43:04 PM link
vendredi 24 février 2006
Two work colleagues and friends have spent much of the week past in African conflict zones, filing their raw stories to the Factory where I happen to be the last person to set eyes on them before, sometimes, you do.
They become news in your paper or on the Net, you may hear the words read on some radio station oceans distant from these friends. The violence they've seen -- even getting its perpetrators and victims to "explain" it in anger, shock and grief -- can be close to incomprehensible. Managing to describe it fast and clearly is an astounding ability in people I know to be neither hardened nor motivated by anything but the task at hand.
Thus my working day ended, I was soon home.
The bloodshed these colleagues are still covering for the agency is hard to find words for and they never use adjectives such as "senseless", "savage", "inhuman" and "terrorist", leaving those for the politicians and priests.
Poets and song-writers are just as cautious with vocabulary if they're drawing on direct experience, but do more than tell stories. I've never known why such a legacy from World War I particularly moves me. It's probably a mix of reasons: the silence of a grandfather about it, the enormous scale of that conflict, and historical change in the methods of slaughter from the face-to-face and hand-to-hand to a widespread use of long-distance killing machines. And the way generations of enlisted men were embroiled in it and some left accounts it is easy to identify with if they survived.
For three days, since many of my plans for the log are currently in winter gestation, I've felt inclined to stop exploring and treat myself to a dose of sure musical values of such quality they need no more words from anyone.
There's maybe still something to say when a musician of international renown combines the theme of people blindly caught up in violence with the grace and emotional power of age and experience. I've never had the luck to be at one and I've never heard anybody who has talk of a Joan Baez (home) concert with less than the highest regard, a treasured experience.
For one, Ron Baker, who took the full shot of this photo detail at a San Francisco festival last year, "Joan Baez is still singin' protest songs with a voice that's as clear and beautiful as it was 40 years ago" (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass).
Three days? Not quite; yesterday I forgot my iPod on leaving for work and did without her, but otherwise it's been nothing but the 1993 collection, 'The Best of Joan Baez' and the 1995 live Ring Them Bells'.
They're scarcely the latest and there's a little overlap in the choice of songs, but while the first is a fine selection of the styles Baez performs in, the second is equally outstanding as a mostly folk and ballad album full of gorgeous acoustic guitar work and vocal duets.
The ballads include a Baez performance of 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda'* that almost made me cry in the Métro. The last time a woman did that to me with a story of World War I was when I finished Pat Barker's novels, 'The Regeneration Trilogy', a staggering achievement not least for her insight into the minds of men, right on throughout. By the end of 'The Ghost Road', I was so shaken and blinded by tears I couldn't use my computer for half an hour.
I asked an Australian mate on arriving today who wrote the Gallipoli song. James told me: Eric Bogle, a Scottish Australian. One fellow says a bit more.
"It's an anti-war song, nominally about Gallipoli, but really about Vietnam (different decades, different countries, different protagonists, much the same outcomes)," says Roger Clarke's Waltzing Matilda site with the full story.
No wonder Joan Baez does it so well, though the lyrics (*linked and put online by Clarke) say nothing of the Vietnam connection Bogle did in 1971 while watching a veterans' parade, giving us instead a searing parable about "patriotism" and the youths whom it mutilates as surely as the corpses witnessed by my friends.
How fortunate I feel to be able to read that for around seven hours a day and then abandon it for a spell. For sure values, how fortunate everybody is if they're able to hear the likes of Joan Baez, who can get the message across about some kinds of violence in three minutes and then herself move on to something else.
She's a beautiful way to end a hard week.
9:52:30 PM link
mardi 21 février 2006
The reappearance of a sign to say something's going on is for everyone's benefit.
Extra source references or Amazon France and UK album links have been added to several dozen entries and I've substantially revised a couple of others. What's good for a home database I'm working on -- just connecting stories about people on the log to their music on my big, fairly new external hard drive -- should also make navigation easier for you.
This is nearly finished.
You'll know when it is since there'll be more new stuff. Other pointers to longer-term plans that disappeared without explanation, particularly broadcasts that were working fine in tests, will be back once I've thought through a better idea.
Cindy's timing in telling me of Womenfolk in her comment on Saturday's entry was near telepathy and I'm grateful.
Nowadays I don't find it odd -- on that same "small minds seldom differ" front -- to see that in his last entry to date, Robbie McCown, who's done wonderful work since 2004, briefly mentioned Mississippi's Garrison Starr (also a pretty, blue-eyed gal who keeps her blonde hair short but not the apple lady). In starting some ''High Notes, Vol. 1', Womenfolk gives news of an upcoming album. At the weekend I was enjoying Garrison's 2002 release, 'Songs from Take Off to Landing' among some high-flying listening.
Reading Robbie took me on to 'Netting some quality music', a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article last month by Jim Higgins, He asks:
"In today's decentralized music universe, how can you hear new stuff that you might like to listen to?
Jim answers that in a good story about MP3 blogs -- all American as far as I can tell -- that will interest anybody who shares his pleasure in "ones that delight in making and breaking discoveries".
This is definitely an essay question, and if you were trying to answer it completely, you'd likely need more than one blue book.
Publications that describe and review music abound, in print and online, but it can take some effort to discern what the heck the writers are talking about: Anyone for screamo? Sadcore? Acid techno?"
In that mouth-watering respect, roll on my retirement!
I'm still incubating ideas about where this place is going between now and then but should say little more about this work in hand behind the scenes, except that some trends won't change. Others will.
What I write has changed my music-buying pattern. For instance, today I've been listening to the first, often funny half of Jennifer Terran's 'Live From Painted Cave' (CD Baby)', which ate up the very last of the month's music budget. I got it from the iTMS, but shall persist in linking to Amazon Fr, Amazon UK and CD Baby -- in that order -- if not directly to the purchase page on musicians' sites, rather than Amazon US, since I know where many of my readers are.
I shan't mention Terran again until I've had an overview of her career. That's become an established pattern for women whenever I'm singularly struck by their music. This approach has slowed me down in reinstating the last of the series of entries that vanished, but will I hope make for more insightful writing once they are back.
Any time I can break a discovery it shall be done and any time you find a super place such as Robbie's, please let me know, particularly if it's a candidate for the "siren islands", since I'd like to build up a repertory of other music sites on women, though I work in a different way from most.
That's it regarding my plans -- you'll have realised they entail long entries, unlike most such weblogs, and probably less frequent ones -- since nothing could bore you more than further announcements of where I'm going and why.
On reading that length warning many people will sigh and forever disappear, I know.
You have numerous convincing excuses to do so in the blogroll! But there is a why. There are several reasons why, which I've been meditating on for weeks. The seeds were planted by unanticipated responses to what's done so far, which make me rejoice.
1:13:04 AM link
samedi 18 février 2006
One song possesses the sense and savour of this seemingly unseasonable period for many of us. When 'Beth Gibbons' performs it with Rustin Man, sure it's got words:
"And many rains turn to rivers
The lonely lyrics may be an odd kind of love song for 'A Funny Time of Year'. There's so much more in the music it makes for a strange sort of magic.
And there ain't nothing gonna change
The winds are blowing telling me all I hear
Oh it's a funny time of year
There'll be no blossom on the trees
Turning now I see no reason
The voice of love so out of season..."
While an anonymous writer of a "she sounds like" I mentioned this week did no favour to his victim, he did me one by citing the Bristol singer currently working on the third Portishead album. For synchronicity, a silly comparison at least reminded me of the record of the month. When Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man, or Paul Webb, made 'Out of Season' in 2002, they cut a CD worthy of its name.
Having already said a little of how a northern February can play tricks on our moods and subtly affect our daily relationships, distorting our usual outlooks in ways where it turns out others feel the same, I won't return over that ground but move on across it to a poetic album that expresses uncommon emotions suited to the most disjointed stretches of our lives.
There will be blossom on the leaves come the spring.
People who "see no reason" in things you say to them and might appear to be telling you of their own mirror -- the way that sometimes happens during the kind of talk nobody wanted in the first place -- will make sense to you again and you to them.
When it occurs, such a failure of communication, not with everyone you know but those with whom you would least want or expect it, you become miffed and so do they and it gets worse because neither of you understands, right?
Well, rather than pursue it to nowhere, you could try an album like this and it's likely to make you feel much better.
Part of that melancholy magic is worked by time.
We know what time is every day and take it for granted. Sometimes we feel it crawl, sometimes rushing by too fast for us. When it does, we tell ourselves that's got more to do with the circumstances than time itself, which ticks past on clocks as measurably as ever so they don't suddenly start having squabbles about it.
When this album was released, there was trouble. Somebody -- but I can't find the name -- wrote about this too well to use my own words:
"Hailed by some as work of genius and by others as a pretentious statement, Beth Gibbons's first album is definitely causing a bit of a stir," begins a very fine review at 'The Milk Factory. Later it says:
That person's saved me so much breath, but left me in peril, on the strength not simply of a song that undoubtedly is a "stunning" near seven minutes of music on a record of power and indeed poignancy down even below the frosted soil, of making a pretentious statement myself.
"Very often using elements of nature and passing time as metaphors to emphasise the down-to-earth atmosphere of the music, the duo elaborate rarely on the simple, acoustic arrangements, only once reaching for dramatic effect, on the stunning Funny Time Of Year. Starting with just an acoustic guitar to support Beth's fragile voice, the track slowly builds up to a magnificent coda. Perhaps the closest to the ambience of Portishead, and at the same time the furthest away, Funny Time Of Year presents this album with its most poignant moment.
"Reminiscent of the poetry of a Nike Drake, Out Of Season is totally unique, and most definitely out of time. A very strong piece of work, this album will be remembered as a milestone in Gibbons' career."
Music, I'd already meditated as usual before sitting down to get into this and find what others made of the album, is the one art-form that can do virtually anything with time.
Once musicians know this, taking the understanding intuitively into their beings and expressing it in performance, they can do more than make you smile or cry. They can do all manner of things to you. They can make the hair stand up on your head and stop you wanting to breathe.
In her way, Heather Nova did that for me last month when I fell in love with 'I Miss My Sky' on 'Redbird', listening to the song's depths and flights over and over. Its grounded avaitor subtitle is almost like a spoiler to a movie, but one you don't mind too much!
Many, many years ago, the folk band Fairport Convention gave a stage performance of a a song called 'Sloth' I've never heard matched on an album, but am still very glad to have on Full House'. That's an odd love song too, like 'A Funny Time of Year'. It's ominous yet heart-wrenchingly beautiful in capturing the feel:
"Just a roll, just a roll...
The tension in concert was of the kind where you could hear a pin drop while the band worked from their hush to a stupendous coda the way a classical symphony writer might. And there was an extremely long hush before the applause, again as I've more often heard in a concert hall for a conductor and orchestra.
Just a roll on the drum
And the war has begun..."
Time is there, all right.
That's the secret. It matters neither what kind of music it is nor with what you might want compare it, to each their own tastes and memories. A "coda" is one word for concluding a piece of music, prolonging it, playing with it and finishing it; to do that you need time, and to take time, you need measure, a beat. In these three songs, there's something special about that beat, a steadiness like a clock or a metronome and what the musicians do with it.
I don't understand that secret, never shall:
Logic tells you that's senseless, seasons change.
And there ain't nothing gonna change
The winds are blowing telling me all I hear
Oh it's a funny time of year."
The music tells you different. What you feel tells you different. Above all, what you fear tells you different. You're afraid of being caught there, that something's so awry you're trapped in a time "out of time" where it's dark and cold, won't end. And nobody can reach you.
You need company, you need a hand. When I wrote about February -- or whatever your personal "February" might be -- in The Orchard, another term came to mind, which I didn't use then: "the two-o'clock-in-the-morning-at-midday month." I mean the black thoughts of that insomniac hour somehow lingering even in sunlight.
Songs like these go in a "time" iMix called 'Transitions', which is quite a mix. It's rare that I find one to add to that playlist for some extraordinarily telling qualities. I'd rather, as a rule, write about musicians and their music, just letting what they do with things like time sing for itself.
"The thing that I'm into is the philosophy of the music. I love the surprise of things, the accidents ... just the sound of a word, to try to express them in the best way, so that the emotion is totally revealed"
Another term for synchronicity might be the "right accidents".
(Beth Gibbons, 'Out of Season', whence the picture too).
Scientists have a hard time trying to tell you what time is. So do mystics. I used to blog a lot about the physics and metaphysics of time. Not any more, I write about music.
This isn't a pretentious record. A "work of genius"? It's wonderful music, reflective and full of imagery in which you'll find your own echoes.
When you're temporarily out of sorts, it's magic.
It's disturbingly and most reassuringly 'Out of Season', an album you may need to hand any time.
1:13:38 AM link
vendredi 17 février 2006
Could that be the next case against Apple?
I don't know. Being a hatless hack who's not wearing his hacker's cap tonight, I simply report what I'm told and observe, draw a conclusion or two, and will avoid breaking a musical spell by moving the item to The Orchard.
People having different difficulties with the devices might be helped by a link in the relevant entry to a free copy of 'iPod Annoyances'; but don't thank me for it. I have long been working on my own approach to troubleshooting iPods, which is unfinished. My only contribution is a place where you can fetch the fruit of somebody else's generosity.
Anyway, "does your iPod make you blind?"
On some topics I stand mechanically firm.
Since my telephones have been informed who my family, friends and other vital numbers are, I've stopped answering them when they fail to identify the caller by name or number. Thus those who repeatedly try to bother me and leave no message I would listen to swiftly if they did simply get ignored. This avoids me having to tell "cold call" advertisers who hide their numbers what a horrible job they've got, but better luck next time. If it's urgent, then there's a message.
iPods are also but a means of communication to an end worth having, which for me is always music. What isn't goes elsewhere on the log.
Writing this gives me an excuse -- admittedly pretty poor -- for a picture of the most musical Apple I know. I forget exactly when it went into a big collection of unused snaps and who takes credit, if that's the word. This was one of the more unlikely offerings doing the rounds of the Net along with the illicit release of an early take of that particular album of Fiona's, which caused such a fuss at the time.
9:30:19 PM link
mercredi 15 février 2006
At the weekend, I had a roundabout discussion -- whose circular nature I don't blame on the other person, but a painful ability we share to tell one another precisely the same things in different ways -- on the unnecessarily complicated nature of iPods.
She has no interest in being like me and skim-reading several books that explain, like Apple can't be bothered to do in its packaged paperwork, why it's sometimes necessary to press two buttons at once and stuff like this. See below for more technical stuff and the helpful iPod item mentioned on the front page.
What my equally riled conversation partner didn't tell me (and vice versa) came from a woman at work today.
Late last year, Sarah sustained a nasty but invisible, in its latter phases, wrench and break to her wrist, a prominently exposed part of her. The protest was that many iPod users find her invisible permanently. She's absolutely right.
I see this myself every day, especially now they're everywhere -- not just iPods but all manner of music players where you'd believe the owners shove the earphones into their eyes. On buses, on pavements and in trains, they are constantly banging into people.
And, as my colleague pointed out, "It hurts! They're off in their own little worlds and don't give a damn about anyone else."
Of course, I don't do this very often since I'm far too busy avoiding people anyway, the way one does after living among abominable masses of them for 50 years and observing what they get down to in their dealings with one another.
Since we live in an era where Apple is no longer what it used to be and has gone down-market making fashion accessories I don't consider to be "real" iPods at absurdly high prices for what you get, is ever stingier with manuals and extra parts in the box, and then charges another fortune for what the firm itself now calls "accessories" -- like a Firewire cable for the many people who don't have USB 2.0 and don't want it any time soon -- what do you expect?
The "Apple is more like Micro$oft every day" argument bores me now because of the truth in it, but given the American liking for lawsuits, I can see the day coming when people who get whacked as often as my colleague file a mass action against Steve. What's problematic, however, is the potential defence argument that they're blind before they even get their iPods.
It's frankly disturbing to see how many men in Paris, among Apple's recent acquisitions who have their wires dangling as dangerously and stupidly as in the advertisements, haul pink Minis out of their pocket.
I don't wish to know what's on their playlists... Moreover, who seriously wants to watch movies on a screen the size of a decorative postage stamp?
I'm not doing that to my eyes.
I was going to write about some splendid podcasts and why the French have decided that Canada is today one of the most interesting musical poles in the world, but I saw two smart suits with pink Minis on the way home and it turned my stomach.
After more listening to Metric, I'm going to count the number of Canadian women on my real iPod, since come to think of it, there are a lot of them.
For those made mad by manuals
It's very irritating trying to get a recalcitrant iPod to "mount" (that is, show up on your computer so you can inspect it) when the various methods provided by Apple -- if not in the box -- fail to work, so you have to go off on a long hunt for alternative means, probably learning more technology on the way than you'd like.
I had a better idea, given the frame of mind. I wondered how many poor suckers (people who have yet to download a dodgy new version of iTunes without checking first, etc.) -- might have penned odes to their iPods. The answer is terrifying.
One I did like, though, by Maura, a long-time user.
She calls it an ode, but really it was a 15-entry list of brief reasons at notmyself.com on "why my iPod is better than a boyfriend". Somebody else's ode disagrees with her first three, but the closing bunch were penned with a golden nib...
The "usual risk warning" is that now iTunes 6.0.3 is out ... only recently out, unless I've been on the moon ... take care! Regulars will know I never install a new version without reading about it first. My software download panel opened and offered it to me as I moved this entry, I chose the "download only" option and won't upgrade until I know it is safe. Why the uninstalled package that went where it should for now has an October date on it, don't ask me. I've not yet looked at the specialist sites.
Update at Feb 20: iTunes 6.0.3 works fine for me and apparently has a green light from friends with Windows XP.
For fellow Mac users, however, your Disk Utility may malfunction after the iTunes upgrade. If it does, see MacFixit. They've published post-upgrade solutions to this problem.
I'm deeply pissed off with trying to produce a brief summary of remedies for the general good when the answers are scattered everywhere and by the time you've got the key points in one place, the models in question are no longer on the market.
A lot of people don't have time to wade through specialist sites, even the fine ones. One service was done to all Mac users at least by writer John Rizzo and the O'Reilly people on my front page when they made the 15-page 'iPod Annoyances' section of a book called 'Mac Annoyances' available free to everybody. Since they did this themselves, I trust I'm breaking no rules by putting that .pdf file somewhere you can simply click on the link to fetch, like they did.
Some of the info in it is useful to PC and Windows users. You can either click to open it in another browser window if yours reads .pdf files as most do nowadays, or right-click to download it to your own machine (and if that browser happens to be Internet Explorer, you have only yourself to blame, not me, for the mangled presentation it gives part of my site, like it does others that conform to internationally accepted standards and not the ones Microsoft has invented. Do get Firefox -- or almost any other modern browser -- instead, if you'd rather live in the current century, not the stone age of home computing. It only takes 10 minutes to install).
My own iPod contribution may get me riled when it seems worthless until I remember that, apart from the friends for whom I began it, there are a lot of you out there with iPods that aren't the most recent types. Even if they are, basic rules still apply for keeping them happy. The happy day I've got as much of that information as I can into one place clearly -- and I don't know when that will be, since it's no longer a priority, but a dossier I just add to from time to time -- I'll likely be able to do just the same with it: bung it on my .Mac disk and tell you it's there.
An even longer-term project is to move all such technically tedious and Mac-related entries out of The Orchard, where I like it little more than on the front page, but I'd rather go on writing about music now than spend my time creating a new log category for stuff the manufacturers should have done in the first place.
10:43:33 PM link
Evening update: Metric.
Looking at the list of musicians still to be restored, I saw the silver lining to a mental cloud that got darker with the loss. When your body and soul start feeling "out of synch" (which mine did towards the end of last week), people whose music nourishes both can make for indispensable listening.
I'm absorbing the Metric (home site) conversion to a rawer rock sound on 'Live It Out' than previously heard from the "indie-pop" foursome. It's punchy body language with a satirically wicked, if occasionally overdone, social awareness in the lyrics of Emily Haines, ever the sexy frontwoman, who has strong political views she expresses better with a razor than in taking a sledgehammer to what one of my American friends calls "the Walmart way of life."
The quartet left me with an intrigued mind to make up. A sensation of having two albums at once resolved itself with further listening and on remembering concerts like that, but I'll deal with this separately; Metric have audibly distilled two years' worth of a stage sound developed on tour into a studio-produced record with fewer frills than on 'Old World Underground, Where are You Now?' (2003).
For the outcome, I'd best later write up the two albums together.
Meantime, fragmented experimentation and soft French pillow talk slipped into songs such as 'Poster of a Girl' eased me back to Jennifer.
Ms Charles is so addictive the next time that piece appears it will cover three albums from Elysian Fields, who consistently serve up exquisite food to put me together again, and add her French fling. Before then, it's the night to reveal the face under that hat.
She is 'The Musician' incarnate, flesh and spirit. The wit in Jennifer Terran's fashion sense is abundant on the album where she bared even her teeth to chew off at least one "fucking bastard" in the music industry machine.
There'd be no close look again soon at 'The Beekeeper' if I agreed with the person at Amazon who would "gladly trade in all my Tori Amos CDs for ... 'The Musician'."
The announcement of a new Terran release in the back-issue of 'Crossroads' mentioned in last Sunday's entry was instant incitement and excitement. 'Uncut' magazine informs us that "haunting and intense, she sounds like a rawer version of Tori Amos". People can't seem to help it, but I wonder which of Amos's successive incarnations they mean.
The other item in the pack was 'Choreography', where a similar but unsigned sticker said Lauren Hoffman provides "echoes of Cat Power, Elysian Fields and Beth Gibbons".
That kind of talk calls for a heartbreak warning regarding the lyrical content, albeit with mild irritation. Though some in the marketing business consider the comparisons indispensable, I'll skip the rant about how annoying they are and point out that some of us prefer to learn what to expect from people who don't do this and from the musicians themselves.
In Jennifer's case, anticipation has been whetted by a four-year interval since 'The Musician', during which she released a live album while working on the latest.
"I also took the time to have a baby and get remarried. So many things... Apart from my private life, 'Full Moon in 3' is the result of all that happened to me, what came to me during those four years. Musically, the album concentrates all that was good and less good during that time. It's very enriching, but it takes time to set everything down."
Those won't be her exact words. Crossroads is in French, but any interview with Terran is rare enough to be worth its cover price. She's lost none of the sly humour in a serious soul, but the gun comes from Jennifer's own site, one she manages entirely by herself as a committed fan of the Net and its capacity for "perpetual change".
I'm look forward to discovering this album from a sharp Californian and the one by Hoffman, while going far deeper into the life and loves of the latter's fellow New Yorker, Jennifer Charles, for similar reasons, as indeed with Tori Amos. Each is expressly concerned on their latest releases with the harmony of body and soul, its intuitive expression in lyrics of high poetic calibre and in individual musical worlds beyond the words.
Intense is an adjective people use of all four, so without humour, this could be terrifying, but each possesses the kind that deflates pretension. 'The Musician' is ostensibly a gifted pianist's album about making a CD, with some confessionals thrown in. Terran dished out 'Unconditional Love', with a few sub-clauses, proffered a bunch of 'Emotional Saxatives', had a high time with her partner Brendan and even just talked so much there was more than one of her. The combination of moving song-writing, openness and having fun was a risky gamble, but it works and pays dividends on repeated listening.
In 'The America Song', today's Terran asks:
"If I was in Paris right now
A straight answer? Right now?
With the croissants and the cafés
Would the people there just frown me down?"
Yes, many of them probably would. It's the main mood of the month.
This one, however, wants more of Jennifer's style. Being greedy, I don't plan to make her the only woman who has run me, as she told Crossroads, what reads suspiciously like a deep bath of "sensuality, sexuality, existential anguish and dark beauty."
It's time for hot soul-food and dancing lessons.
2:01:06 AM link
dimanche 12 février 2006
The gospel in her Missouri upbringing strikes the ear as clearly as the Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash influences to which Sandra McCracken lays claim herself. Now a Nashville-based folk singer, she's intimate without going deep into the confessional. Some of her songs express a faith that reminds me of Hem (Eveningland) and their -- angelic -- vocalist Sally Ellyson. They come with the same confidence and without preaching to anyone.
'Best Laid Plans', a CD that took a specialist store some time to unearth, also features fine duets with her husband Derek Webb. She's like a friend many people would want to make music with, nobody out of the ordinary but a pleasure to hear.
Michaela M. Forbes suggests on Sandra McCracken's site that this record may not be the best introduction to her, but also says "'Age After Age' is one of the best-written songs I have heard in years".
This closing track is outstanding. The whole is an album suited to a mood to be told stories by somebody else with a gift for doing so in a strong, tuneful voice. Her third album, out in 2004, largely takes a break from winged angels, but she's followed it with a collection of hymns called 'The Builder and the Architect'.
Sandra sounds like she looks: what I occasionally mention when it happens. She could be one of those attractive, friendly strangers with whom it's easy and fun to strike up a chat in the Métro, usually about the book she's reading or whatever's in the instrument case. She's engaging and skilled with a guitar and what Sandra does with Peter Sarstedt's famous 'Where do You Go To (My Lovely?)' is a delight.
There's emotional stress in some of her own lyrics -- the failed love in 'Plenty' -- and what's as close to an expression of her religion as she goes on this album in:
"Turn all my rags to white, turn all my words to rhyme
Such longings are expressed in humanist values that don't make a heavy load of the torment, fear and hope some see in a crucifix. In 'Age after Age', Sandra takes in America's Founding Fathers, Martin Luther King and -- you realise -- the courage instead of the politics of people in their response to the horror of the "9/11" attacks.
Turn all the sorrow to shining faces
Make all my dreams satisfied, make all the broken things right
Make all the dead come alive" ('Last Goodbye').
When you want somebody around who's simply good, generous and gentle on the ear, Ms McCracken is that kind of woman.
*Reinstated and revised after log synch failure of Feb 10.
5:10:55 PM link
One day at work, when our man called on a dodgy line from a "sweltering hotel room" in Nigeria's oil delta swamps where he was "dripping with sweat" and wondering if I had got his story by satphone, I reassured him, but had to know: "What are you wearing?"
Our correspondent claimed to be clad the way I would be in similar circumstances, once alone behind closed doors. A muggy Paris is not conducive to clothes, let alone Africa.
Before leaving that night, I said sorry to everybody for "my particularly vile mood and outbursts around stress time -- I mean, sched time." That's when we tell the world what horrible main news stories to expect about itself next. It was my turn to be reassured.
"Didn't notice," said the desk chief. "Was there any difference from usual?"
What's this got to do with music?
Nothing but energy levels and body talk, the way we're all aware of own emotional and physical stresses and how music helps even when it simply enters our ears via an iPod or other portable player.
I've got records with various "relaxation techniques".
A couple get shelved in stores as "new age" or "ambient", one is a wildlife and jazz combo -- a strange but effective notion -- and the others are oriental. Some people scorn the meditation method and one aimed at chakras, our "energy centres" -- until they try them.
Some Hindu traditions about our personal energy make increasing sense to me. To pursue the sexuality and music theme, obviously I got randy during those years of abstinence from a love life. Maybe some people switch off desire, but never me; it was tough going. Some cultures are less swift than others to dismiss solitary sexual pleasure -- or relief -- as "sinful", but old oriental texts, particularly Hindu ones, hold that this and making love have very different effects on our physical energy, as well as what happens in our minds and souls. In the West, some medical people make no distinction. Others differ. My body tells me it's true once you are aware of what is happening in the chakra at your loins.
Music does not sublimate our sex drive like some activities do, but it can very strongly express it. The blues and jazz were not considered the work of the devil in some southern US gospel communities for nothing. One journalist colleague asked if I'm into jazz, like he is, though he feels its high point was located firmly between 1960 and 1965, citing the Miles Davis and John Coltrane of those years and Paris clubs are not what they were.
"Before it was too constrained," he said. "Then it got too free for me."
"What about Alice Coltrane? Doing 'Translinear Light'? Yummy."
"She's not her husband."
She isn't. Still, I'm lending him a few jazz women and men, though when I've tried one or two of the light and breezy ones myself in recent weeks, they've simply not suited my prevailing mood without having a deeper radiance. They will be back in the spring.
Alice Coltrane's Indian connection in the music made with her son Ravi is patent. It may still be strange on some ears, hearing "jazz fusion" revisited, but once used to this it's a very sensuous sound, body music that also works at a spiritual level. The same thing in other hands is stronger still.
Evidently there are aspects of "relaxation" music and bodily expression and exercise that have little to do with our sex lives, but that was no Pandora's box of trials and torments I opened when writing of the love-making and music parallels. To illustrate my point, some video examples would help, but one guy's erotica and musical art may be your notion of pornography. For now, so you might follow my drift, the Indian erotico-spiritual connection got a mention in a fun fantasy passage at the end of a mish-mash entry last February ('Evangelism, technically speaking').
iMixes that turn me on are ones crafted about relationships, life situations and even seasonal savours as the year turns. People compiling those for the iTMS are working like Indian classical musicians for whom pieces -- like ragas -- are to be played and heard at specific times or in particular circumstances, according to customs that hold them appropriate.
In a note, US contemporary composer Gunther Schuller, whom I discovered because of what he called "the third stream" of jazz and classical music in the 1950s, describes part of a orchestral piece premiered in 1996 and called 'An Arc Ascending' thus:
"...we can hear the quiet sustained sounds of a cold resting earth -- with occasional low subterranean rumblings; rising in Part Two to the life-giving, undulating, scurrying stirrings of spring..." (G. Schirmer Inc., publishers).
People who say "listen to your body" are wise. What's interesting is the physical aspect of listening with an iPod, one to be researched a little more, now they're no longer just a young people's thing either but routinely cross "generation gaps" and many are finding out there's more to it than a purely aural experience.
It's not the same as a concert or hi-fi at home, but music heard just with earphones does stuff to our brains that's still surprising scientists. This is about feedback, brain circuitry and what the mind does to the body rather than stimuli going the other way: how one sense can turn on others. It's probably best not to know just what fellow travellers are really doing in some of their listening.
Perhaps it's also safest not to feel such entries coming on when I ask impertinent questions of mates stuck in sultry African hotel rooms.
*Reinstated and revised after log synch failure of Feb 10.
Illustrated musically on 'The Birth of the Third Stream' (1996).
4:44:57 PM link
My introduction to Lisa Gerrard came before I'd been 'Into The Labyrinth (DCD Within)' or knew much about Dead Can Dance. I didn't put a name to the voice until the credits rolled when 'Gladiator' first came out and Lisa and Hans Zimmer won awards for the music in 2001 (photo from The Hollywood Reporter). Everyone who has borrowed my DVD of the film finds it superb, which I didn't expect given their varied tastes, but Ridley Scott and the cast give the drama Shakespearean proportions, well caught in the score.
To get to know Gerrard I'm gazing into 'The Mirror Pool' (1995), which comes as close to the "classical music" some would like among these voices of women as I've ventured.
Lisa Gerrard (home) is a musical world in herself, which is is to be explored slowly. Like her site, it's an achievement in progress and I could hear no better occasion to approach such a career than during a spell "outside time".
'The Mirror Pool' is isn't the album I expected since people who recommended it to me only hinted at its breadth of vision and choice of styles. It's a good place to dive into the domain of a legendary siren. For inspiration, Lisa travels through time with the same ease she shows in the geography of sound.
Her sources are everywhere.
*Reinstated and revised after log synch failure of Feb 10.
4:23:26 PM link
What happened? Where did the girls go?
Any answers inscribed on a grain of rice and mailed to me are likely to make your guesses as good as mine. The vanishing act began when I wished to tell you a story on Friday.
People say: "There's got to be a technical explanation."
I don't doubt there is, but it escapes me. I sniffed trouble after part of the software used for this log warmed up by informing me it was fetching "four new parts". Once it had, both the programmes I use to tell you about women stopped working except to say: "Connection refused."
Intercontinental communications wizardry isn't my strong point. Details of how I tried to make sense of the arcane technology of Radio Userland software are too boring to relate.
My definitions of the abbreviation "synch" may be less so.
"Synch" means two things. The first is about what goes on between such things as iPods and computers or web sites and the far-flung servers where what's on those sites gets stored. On Friday evening, this log still included the stories I've written since January 9. But when I got to my Mac on Saturday, they'd disappeared.
Something went wrong with that kind of synchronization which the software makes happen at midnight, if the machine and me are still awake.
Far more intriguing, though, is the other sort of synch. Again, I skip details, but by the time I'd been though my backups until one of them "took" and got the whole mechanics working properly, it left the Blues here and what remained of a blue note in The Orchard.
And then I was back on more familiar terrain: synchronicity.
Regular readers will know that since last July, it's become ever more important to me to be attentive to what some people call "meaningful coincidences", even if I can't explain them. When they're not happening, particularly regarding music, paying heed to my intuitions and feeling in tune with natural cycles, I feel lost. Then I turn to some of my friends and people like Kathryn Petro who don't find these things bizarre but also talk and write about them. The latter did last month in a piece on 'A Mindful Life' called 'The Artist's Way: Week Three'.
A bit of a puzzle
That's stuff I usually keep strictly to The Orchard, but since the "blog behind the log" was also affected by my technical misadventure, it shook me up enough to put it here for once. I've had to update 'Borrowed blues and other cryptic phenomena" to salvage the comments it evoked, but find Lee's remark more apposite than any technical bid to explain the loss of so many women.
She's quite right: "February is brutal."
This settled to my satisfaction, I still hadn't drunk my first cup of coffee when one of my favourite people said she had no idea "where Friday vanished" for her. Apart from half an hour in a swimming pool, she'd also spent ages on a vain attempt to persuade recalcitrant technology to do what it usually does without protest when she's working. Then, before the phone link went dead on us, she had time to add: "It's a beautiful day and I'm in a horrible mood."
She was right as well. Yesterday the weather was gorgeous and when we had a connection back, I told her once she was less busy, I'd try to call to ensure she was no longer in a horrible mood or cheer her up if she was. My sunny Saturday was then swallowed up, however, in a series of such dismal episodes and encounters I gave up on the notion of lifting anybody else's dark clouds because I felt bound to make a bad job of it.
This is where the hat comes into the story I wanted to tell two days ago, along with a picture of some fabric art called 'Full Moon with River' by Yvette of Louisiana, who puts her creations on show at Ûrth Faces.
Tomorrow night brings a full moon, the river I write about is a musical one, and the face underneath that hat belongs to one of the most remarkable women to put in a first appearance on the log a few months back.
When I saw her name on the cover of 'Crossroads' (Fr) Béatrice and François, the friendly couple who bought up my local newsagent's shop at the turn of the year, were surprised the magazine was still on the shelf because it was December's issue.
But I knew why it hadn't been returned yet. It was waiting for me to bring it out of hiding and discover a rare interview about a newly released album I ordered on sight. If I'm very lucky, a full moon week, a stream of sound and as earthly a name as a musician could have will get their act together in the next two or three days and land up on my desk.
Those should be clues enough.
In the meantime, others are crying out for reinstatement.
That's where I take my hat off to Gilles Turnbull, whose article about 'Tweaking iTunes' at the MacDev Center gave me an idea I mentioned before losing a month's worth of entries.
I don't know if you can do the same with a Windows PC, but this highly scaled-down snapshot shows part of the outcome of asking my Mac to make a .pdf file of the iTunes library instead of a print-out.
In a note added to Gilles' article, I wrote in more detail how a bit of thought about what Gilles wrote gave me the means I've been seeking for a long time to make a searchable database combining the music in my library with what I write about women.
It's proving a long job. I made a start with every article that was written here this year before most of them disappeared. In that database, my own searches bring up both the entries and the music at the same time.
I'm glad I did that much because now I can begin to put the musicians back. This will take a while since there's no point in just restoring the lot without removing references that are no longer timely, but all is not lost.
3:00:48 PM link
fountains and fortunes
voices of women
(ecstatic naiades, erotic firebirds, eccentric angels,
electric dryades ...)
a blog behind the log
(popping those green pills sometimes gives me strange fruit)
contributing friends (pix, other work)
retain their rights.
a fine way of seeing it