A long, big set of Songlines I compiled and mailed to Lady E quite recently, which included much music suited to her less pressing but future requirements, still needs updating after my friend on April 30 delivered her "Baby Inside" into this beautiful, mixed-up world.
He's a boy and he looks just great!
Like an aunt of mine who had seven children and several other hard-working women I've known, most times I saw Ellie -- before I could call the lusty-voiced child "Baby Outside" then learned he had a name of his own -- she seemed barely slowed down. She pursued a demanding career with its long hours, getting up at times I'd hate myself, picky about what she ate as her belly grew -- those "endless boring salads" and suchlike -- and had that deep inner radiance many a marvelling painter or photographer has sought to capture in mothers-to-be.
The woman's only strictures on Songlines then were "But no rock, Nick" -- which was her instinctive shorthand for the kinds of rock music that Baby Inside really wouldn't have appreciated, as I knew -- and "I'll always need anti-stress Songlines."
Last night, this caught my eye: "Much has been made of the, as yet inconclusive, claims that exposing your child to classical music, Mozart in particular, can help increase the speed of his or her development."
What "inconclusive claims"? That's one of the three sentences in a "product description" of 'Classic FM Mozart for Babies', an offering at Amazon UK.
There's a whole bunch of these compilations on the market, but one that made me particularly squirm -- whether pregnant women or the tiniest human animals are in the vehicle or not -- was seeing the snippets in 'Classic FM Music for Driving', particularly:
"9. Delibes: Lakmé - Flower Duet made famous by the British Airways TV commercial
and so on.
10. Händel: Sarabande made famous by the Levi's TV commercial"
Who squirmed so much?
Maybe that's just me being the "show-off snotty-nosed Brit" with a dislike of "bleeding chunks" that became deeper on realising when I worked for the BBC's "oh-so-serious" music radio network from 1976-80 and quickly discovered most people outside that cosy world also prefer to get their classics in full, the way the composers intended.
Händel, after all, is far beyond caring that the Sarabande they mean will long outlive some telly advertisement for jeans that I imagine Classic FM and Amazon UK will leave on the wrapper for years to come, as already they have for nearly two.
I'm like everyone else as well, though I only see television in other people's homes about twice a year, and occasionally also wonder, "Now I know that piece, but what was it?" It's like playing Trivial Pursuits ... and I always win if it's music and lose for most other things!
I don't do my Songlines that way, however, and whatever this Log has become, here I'll express it as a given, forgetting both reams of research and the marketing ploys of a consumer society, since there's no longer any doubt; the right music is of vital importance for personal growth, whether we're still in a small ocean of amniotic fluid or long past the breaking of those waters.
My Songlines are tailor-made listening suggestions for people based on my intuition, experience and knowledge of them as well as being told what's already in their libraries, like a friend who asked me for "high poetry" Songlines lately. I also listen to the intuition of others like Eleanor, who knew with those reservations of hers what was bad for Baby Inside -- and also for his mother -- at that particular time in her life.
It takes little imagination to be such a child if you want, how it must be where what you pick up while in the womb comes to you by various means, from the obvious ones like through a mother's "body wall" in the form of vibrations and sound waves to far more subtle channels I shall be pondering for a long time to come now I'm aware of them.
Those same researchers who recommend some of Mozart and Bach soon determined that the "wrong kind" of Beethoven -- when the man was in the volatile and stormy mood of his Fifth Symphony (made famous by Winston Churchill's "V for Victory" commercials during World War II and the BBC "free world" call sign in its broadcasts) -- is a shock to the system, like the hard rock Ellie didn't want right then.
Researchers into me have asked, "What are these Songlines and how do you get them right for people?" They do such probing because they see the results and treat "Nick's Songlines" -- which anybody I see may have from me if they give the elements I need -- like some kind of magic!
What goes into Songlines is only partly "magic". I much enjoy doing them as one form of relaxation, letting the train of subconscious responses to people who ask me take the strain. All I need for this is enough data to put on the train before sending it into the tunnel, then I wait for it to come out and set about the Songlines, which do pop up like a magic that isn't...
The data is mainly a snapshot of the person who does the asking and sometimes I find it helps when completing a list actually to have a picture of her or him if I've not seen them for a while, and I look into the eyes and they tell me who the person is.
The rest is about their circumstances. Mr "High Poetry Please", for instance, had a science thesis to work on and wanted "unscientific" music to help in the inspiration. A French researcher who vanished into the Orchard today with one of yesterday's joint Log entries prefaced his book on "Genius and Madness in Painting, Music and Literature" with the comment that when terrified by a blank page and ink, he resorted to a "powerful subterfuge to write these lines, which are owed to sole and untiring listening to the twenty-four preludes and fugues by Dmitri Shostakovich."
Philippe Brenot's thus expressed debt to the late Russian composer was a simple acknowledgement of the tremendous power of music in fostering his own creativity, by virtue of what I'd take for an exchange he had with Shostakovich, rather like many great writers consider the work drawn out of themselves and given to their readers are an invitation to a dance of ideas, stories and images. It's always an active process.
I've no time for artists, producers, reviewers, listeners and critics who claim that hearing music or reading a book are passive activities.
Such people who treat the "consumers" of art as no more than a "receptive audience" given the goods and then pretend the process is an objective one are fortunately an almost extinct species.
The difference between Songlines I give people -- either at their behest for a particular purpose or since I know they need a bit of help with anger management, impatience and whatever it might be -- and banal recommendations of the likes of Classic FM in Britain and its "mass public" counterparts is simply respect. I acknowledge the ability and intelligence of listeners to take music as intended by its creators, rather than in slices dripping blood at each end, along with the importance I give to the lyrics if it's "popular music".
People know what they like. If they just want parts of the whole, that's up to them, but I'll give them the choice, because that's the way musicians behave each time they release albums, though they also need singles to promote them, when they're not doing it for free on the Net as so many do nowadays.
The focus on neat "sound-bites" could be seen as a flaw in the iTunes Music Store system and its growing number of rivals. It's hard to see how else Apple and other producers of music could have done otherwise than to offer separate songs at 99 cents of a euro or a dollar a shot, while I'm also in favour of intelligent iMix "compilations" as much as anybody else and have been working on several slowly for months. But to "dumb down" too much is risky.
In my Songlines, I always serve up albums, and on the Log I usually write about the ones women make, pausing only occasionally to focus on songs when I find individual ones so outstanding they merit such attention and can often be a great incitement to discover much more.
To do otherwise is to fall right into the trap of consumerism with regard to a form of art that's both well and wickedly served by an "industry". You can never generalise in a world like this and some very decent, caring people still work for the majors that everybody loves to hate, though they rarely get to make the big decisions about their own Songlines.
Ellie, both when she was pregnant and even more now as a mother with high ideals for her new child, is someone who will enjoy, say, the Cocteau Twins (the"official" site for the band is one I don't remember seeing before, beyond a promise). Music of such fabulous quality, which also gets a Cocteau Café to its name along with places where people have paid much attention to individual "songs", will never suddenly lose its relevance because the group is defunct.
The Kid also got Elizabeth Frazer and company from me, along with other visionaries of her own lifetime, only to say, "Daddy, I don't like the Cocteau Twins and so and so very much." Fair enough. She's 17 and into rather different stuff she shares with me, but when I asked, "Do you want me to take them off your iPod then?" she said, "Oh no!"
Marianne wasn't trying to save me a few minutes' work; I believe she was rather saying, "I'm not ready for this yet," since she also asked, "Ooh, you couldn't give me Poe, please, if you've got some?"
"Sure," I said, "I've got 'Hello' if you'd like it. I don't know it myself very well at all yet, but it is up a dreamy path too, I think."
She did want it. It's nice now to be in a country where I'm no longer making mildly indiscreet revelations of "illegal activity" either, but France's new legislation remains mainly a different, ongoing story of an enlightenment (and how to pay for it wisely), in which the attitude of lawmakers has caught up with the real sharing aspirations of people among us who also value creative artists as we should.
For the short-sighted mercenaries out there, by the way, since there are many of them and I'm at war with Apple again over its arrogance but don't like to pollute the Log with those spats any more, Marianne reminded me of some logic ad absurdam in the splendid movie commercial about the iPod Flea (at K@MaZuTRa in that link, a very funny Belgian site where language is no barrier to the laughs), so play it and flee from "free market values" applied to art...
My Songlines for people often reach out from the dreamer in me, who needs his Dreamtime, to the wellspring of permanence amid change in their own lives. Depending on the individuals I dose them with the right kinds of humour as well. I know a lot of people who like "anti-idiot immune system" Songlines for when they get riled and upset, since it's always reassuring to discover that you're not alone in such a response to stupidity and how many a musician can defuse it for you by sharing similar sentiments.
Unless someone is very specific and wants Songlines for study purposes, I usually do rather better than Classic FM and others who just bung together compilations of music that's generally so widely known it demands minimum effort. I like to throw in a few "unknowns" nobody writes or talks about much, especially if they're bound to appeal either to the outgoing, active side of the person who asks or to most people's hunger for soul-food made to last them a while.
I know somebody who's named their iPod for dancing and then asks me for "Songlines of stillness", while there's someone else I've given "Songlines of tranquility" that are shifting into a few "Sets for serenity". It depends who they are and where they are in their lives.
As for me, though, I've got what I'm considering a new "Music week" starting today, before I return to the Factory on May 22. I'll put up one more short piece to sum up some big changes in me and refer you to what's now in the Orchard, and then we'll play it by ear.
There are two or three women I really want to write up, maybe this week, since they have some wonderful stories to share, but I also have several people whose Songlines have become overdue and a fair bit of other stuff to get on with...
People who would like Songlines, in addition to what goes here on the Log, have for the moment to be among those I frequently see, though this may change, I don't know. I write that because I've found that while I have a prodigiously large musical library acquired with an ear to the future, others too in my local environment have collections -- I prefer the word "library" with its connotations of sharing rather than consuming -- and tell me they thought they knew what was in them until approached with my kind of ears!
This is apparently because of my lifelong way of "networking" stuff -- a mode of hearing and thinking that can occasionally be annoying for others when they find I digress without meaning to do so. I must bear this in mind more when I write now I'm really aware of it, but there is a good side when I hear "links" others don't and they say, "Oh, that's a great idea, why didn't I think of it?"
"Because we don't think the same way," is the simple and right answer, but I really like it when I do Songlines for musicians -- especially some of the women here when I dare on account of something I've heard and can say, "What if you were to try such and such or get together with so and so?"
Occasionally they get back to me.
I didn't do any Songlines for Heather Nova (her lively Network is another new link here), but I did send her a "thank you" mail for stuff I've written about that she's done for me in her music.
She's too busy for any Songlines and far too good at her own, but I told her about the Concerto I'd love to write with her if I could ... and for that, the train is indeed taking the strain: I dream the thing! This summer, I may have to take a train because she is getting a European tour together again and France isn't on it yet, but she's going to countries I'd like to visit again.
I'll take the big iPod and that reminds me of one last thing. I very often do this myself, which means I usually import albums into iTunes and thus on to the iPod in higher quality format than Apple's default ones, but failed to realise -- just as I had with my capacity to "network" other people's music libraries for them -- that some simply see iPods as travelling devices still and forget it just takes a simple cable with the right bits on each end to use one with your home stereo system.
Using the iPod as a remote for your hi-fi system is a good way of coming up with your own Songlines too, because it's such a simple means of changing your tune. You can be ever so lazy about it. If you hadn't thought of it, give it a go. Even a high-quality cable doesn't cost very much and life can be full of surprises then!
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