Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

R.I.P. Lou Reed

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

As a teenager I spent a lot of time exploring new music, and one of the happiest discoveries was some old Velvet Underground records in the collection of my friend’s father. I made copies to tape (I know! Terrible pirate that I was) and I listened to them over and over. I still have an enduring love of those records and of the other later works of John Cale. Though I’ve not followed Lou Reed’s career as closely in recent years, I still have fond memories of hearing him on those VU records. Listening to him sing Venus in Furs still sends shivers down my spine. You really could hear the ‘different colors made of tears’.

Here’s Lou and his band performing an amazing version of that song a few years ago.

12 tones to say awesome

Monday, July 8th, 2013

For years I’ve been fascinated by the 12 tone and atonal music of composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky (among others) yet often struggled to explain to others what I see in it! The structures are so different and, to most ears, difficult. I admit that they’re difficult to me, but that was part of what fascinated me at first. Where music formerly had been so rigid, here was music that to some extent defied that term. Later in life, that love of the difficult led to a deep appreciation for the more avant garde Jazz compositions of Charles Mingus and Charlie Bird. I also found a lot to enjoy in some of the more extreme forms of progressive rock and metal (The Mars Volta, Opeth, Yes, Gentle Giant and so on).

It’s always a pleasure to find others who share my interest, but I rarely expect others to like the sort of music that I listen too – indeed, I often have to be in a particular mood to listen to it myself! Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, it’s so hard to define why I like it, that I’d largely given up trying to explain it to people – often it’s just frustrating to be told it sounds awful! (And, yes, sometimes it does, but that’s kind of the point – why should sound be a nice cliche?) Today, a friend shared a video with me which is just awesome in its explanation of how twelve-tone music is important and how it can be understood more clearly in the context of music we are already familiar with. It’s long, but if you can stick with it, it’s worth it. She links in scientific concepts, math and randomness with funny reflections on meaning and copyright, and the effect is just wonderful! It’s also beautifully animated and pretty funny – who can fail to love a laser-bat?

The pattern singing at the end is just magical – well, at least to me, but then, I already like this stuff…so your mileage may vary!

A world in Living Colour

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

I’m quite excited, the funk/metal crossover band Living Colour are touring again, and performing the complete Vivid album. Although it’s 25 years since the album came out, it still sounds fresh today, and it’s hard to overstate how influential that album was when it came out. They were true pioneers of the funk metal sound along with Faith No More and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Even cooler, one of my heroes of the bass guitar, Doug Wimbish, is playing with LC on this tour. Although he didn’t join LC until their third album “Stain” (another great album), Doug’s playing has graced many classic albums, and his wild virtuoso playing is a real pleasure to behold! Doug is also a really nice guy, I recently had the opportunity of meeting him when he was demonstrating a new product at MacWorld recently – and I got to play with his bass.

He plays Spector basses – a brand I bassed (‘scuse the pun) my own custom bass guitar on.

Doug Wimbish of Living Colour

Doug Wimbish demonstrating Eventide Pedals at MacWorld 2013

I’m going to be able to see them twice on this tour, the first time is tonight, so I’m looking forward to that. If you get the chance, check them out!


All change please.

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Well well. Here we are in 2011 (those of us that made it – and let’s face it the others wouldn’t be reading this), and lots of things happened. First, I got a new job, back at my old job – which makes me very happy (hopefully made some others happy too, though I guess it maybe also made some others sad). So now I’m pretty much living in the USA and so far enjoying it very much.

What it does mean is that I really don’t have time for much else except doing my job, so I’ve handed over a lot of my old blogging on AVIEN to my good friend David Harley.

I’ve also stepped down from playing with My Silent Wake, which was a pretty difficult decision, but difficulty of arranging rehearsals and little time to practice means that I wouldn’t be able to give it the dedication the band deserves. Happily they seem to have found a good replacement. I’ll still hopefully be able to contribute to recording.


Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

“If I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed. Say something once, why say it again?” – Talking Heads, Psycho Killer

R.I.P Rick Wright

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Sadly, another founding member of Pink Floyd, Rick Wright, passed away today from cancer.

I’m still totally awed by the sound of the Dark Side of the Moon album, one that Wright was instrumental (excuse the rather inappropriate pun) in creating. Incredibly groundbreaking for its time, it stands as a monumental achievment in an amazing career. Sadly, there’s no ‘Great gig in the sky’ to go to.

Contemplating the divine

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

I am not a believer in the divine, however, there are at times some cracks in that belief (to quote Leonard Cohen – “there is a crack, a crack in everything – it’s how the light gets in”). Certain things seem to connect on a deeply primal, emotional level. The songs and works of Leonard Cohen being some of them. He is one of the very, very few artists whose works I have listened to almost constantly for the last 20 years of my life. I simply cannot hear these songs too many times. In fact, very often, when I listen to an album of them, and it is finished, I can think of nothing else to play, but the same thing again. For this reason, I am incredibly happy that he is touring again (one last time?) and that I have managed to get tickets to see him perform (ok, so they cost me several limbs, but it was worth it).

I’m not usually a big fan of cover versions (despite having produced a cover of a Johnny Cash song with my band My Silent Wake – which of course is the best cover version ever), but in some cases, there are versions which somehow transcend the originals. For instance, the Hendrix version of Dylan’s “All along the Watchtower”, or James Taylor’s version of Carole King’s “You’ve got a Friend”. Particularly, I’m not a big fan of cover versions of Leonard Cohen’s songs, especially those covered by Rufus Wainright. However, there is a notable exception, performed by one of the most exceptionally talented maverick artists for a generation. I highly recommend watching John Cale perform a truly divine version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” embedded below. (And then go listen to some Velvet Underground).

Surely, this is how the light gets in

Drone on forever

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Recently, I’ve become fascinated by the potential of pure ‘noise’, and the beauty of the single ‘note’. The concept of music is largely based around the interplay, juxtaposition and sequencing of frequencies of noise. Sometimes in combination, which we experience as either pleasant or unpleasant (discordant) and sometimes separately, as single notes. However, here I’m talking about the idea of a single extended tone – the idea that a basic building block of music taken alone can be as fascinating as a whole symphony. It’s a bit like repeating a word over and over again, until it becomes meaningless, it becomes pure sound, and something else entirely than it was.

This is hardly an original idea, there are many traditions of this, not only in western music with the (so called) minimalist movement, and composers like Ligeti (one of my heroes), but in other traditions – such as buddhist chanting and with ‘singing bowls. Some instruments (particularly celtic instruments such as bagpipes) utilize a drone (a single constant note) over which the rest of the notes occur – however, I am particularly interested in the possibilites of that single note. A single plucked note on, say, a guitar is not actually a single thing, it has many harmonics and so on combined with it. The strength or softness with which you pluck the note affects its sound. If you amplify the note or distort it (which adds further harmonics) and then feed it back on itself you can create incredibly interesting sounds – the best example of music created by this method is a group called Sunn-O))) (pronounced sun), where the feedback from the note and the manipulation of the note becomes the music.

In time, I suspect I will do something with this, although it’s a fairly nihilistic thing – to remove all structure and form – I think it’s worth it. We’re obsessed in this modern age with music and sound as entertainment. I don’t have any strong objection to being entertained, there are some good songs and some great music without a lot of depth, but I’m interested in knowning what ‘sound’ itself sounds like. It may not entertain too many people, but there’s a deeper resonance when I listen to bands such as Sunn-O))) or EARTH, and composers such as Ligeti or Philip Glass, which goes to something more primal than mere entertainment.

Why is it that when someone scratches on glass or rubs a balloon or polystyrene does the sound have such a strange physical effect? Certain sounds manipulate our deepest primal fears and invoke physical responses. I think that’s really interesting, because I wonder what in our history has caused us to respond that way.

R.I.P. Syd

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Syd Barrett, the progenitor of Pink Floyd, was announced to have passed away today.

I recommend to anyone to buy the CD “Wouldn’t You Miss Me” – The Best of Syd Barrett (Harvest/EMI 2001). Of course, that’s assuming you already own the seminal work “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd – which is essential!

Sadly, Syd’s active contribution to music died long ago, but it is still a sad day to lose someone who was so influential.
Shine on you Crazy Diamond.