Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, February 29, 2008


On the subject of Celine Dion, here she is performing a live version of one of her best recordings: Vole, from the D'Eux album. All the songs on that album are by Jean-Jacques Goldman, and there is a story behind this one. Dion's niece Karine had just died at the age of 16 from cystic fibrosis; CD had been with her as she died. (Which explains her energetic fund-raising for cystic fibrosis charities.) Anyway, during the sessions for D'Eux, JJG presented this song to Dion as a gift, and she decided to include it on that album. Lyrics here. I would think that, the song's beauty notwithstanding, she must find it a difficult emotional task to sing it.

And on the subject of Jean-Jacques Goldman, here is another of my favourites of his, this time sung by the man himself (with help from Sirima): Là-bas. (From his album Entre gris clair et gris foncé.) And here he is with Carole Fredericks and Michael Jones, covering another of the stand-out tracks from that album, Je Commence Demain. He's listing all the things he knows he really should do to get his act together, and how he's going to start tomorrow. (Darling, they're playing my song....) The video chain runs on into another good JJG song, "Il Y A".

There comes a time....

...when everyone who cares about music has to face the realisation that they have some strongly-held liking or distaste for a piece (it might be a classical work or a pop song) that is at variance with the opinion of, ooh, just about everyone else. And the only thing to do then is to say "Sod 'em all" and (if you like something unfashionable) to play it loudly to the world. If you dislike something popular it's harder to make a snappy statement.

This thought has been suggested by my visiting Mike Atkinson's blog Troubled Diva, unfailingly stimulating as regards pop music (and other things from time to time). He's currently running a comparative assessment of hit records from the past five decades (see here for explanation). I haven't commented myself as there have been few if any sets where I've known more than two of the songs (and voting on the basis of one hearing is so Eurovision).

Mike's posts have reminded me of some forgotten gems (Judy In Disguise (With Glasses), anyone?) and some utter clunkers ("If I Had Words", which reached the apogee of embarrassment when covered by the shepherd singing to his pig in the film "Babe"). Knowing the extremes of fandom/loathing that Robbie Williams can generate, I was pleased to find Angels getting a sympathetic hearing from Mike as well as from a lot of his commenters. Yes, it's become hackneyed, but for my money it's one of the best pop songs of the past ten years. Perhaps the best example of what seems to have been Robbie's single-handed campaign for the rehabilitation of the plagal cadence in popular music.

1998's Number Four was Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, and here is where I must stand up and take my hail of tomatoes like a man, because I like this song. I don't actually own a recording of it (apart from my VHS of Titanic) but that in no way implies that I love it any less. The lyrics neither inspire nor bother me, but James Horner's music is as marvellous as all the rest of his output that I know (this is the guy who not only did the Titanic soundtrack, but Sneakers, Field Of Dreams, Willow, and The Mask of Zorro, to mention only his biggest hits) . If Angels is a paean to the plagal cadence, MHWGO is surely the tribute song for the accented auxiliary note, and none the worse for that. It's unashamedly emotional stuff, but since when was that something to hold against a pop song? No, I think a lot of the opposition to MHWGO arises from its being sung by Celine Dion, another singer inspiring love and hatred in equal measure. I have to say that this is the only song I have ever heard CD sing in English that I could be bothered with at all: mostly she's badly let down by her choice of material. Yet when provided with first-rate ammunition, Celine Dion can shoot to kill, as any of her Jean-Jacques Goldman collaborations will show. On MHWGO, she (for once) avoids her belt-it-out-to-the-back-of-the-hall vocal style until the final verse (after the key change). When singing quietly, Ms D does actually have a pleasant voice and the ability to interpret a song with sensitivity. MHWGO's lyrics don't do her any special favours in that regard, but she manages OK. Let's be clear, though: I don't love this song because it's being sung by Celine Dion (she can be heard to much better advantage elsewhere) but because of its wonderful Horner melody. Extraordinary how potent cheap music is; but it is.

Oh, and for a topically unfashionable dislike, Hilary is playing in Schubert's Ninth Symphony next week. God, I hate that piece. Each movement begins promisingly, and just goes on and on with the same mediocre material (and on) until you're ready (and ON and ON) to chew off a limb to escape. (I make an exception for the slow movement, which is OK. Given that I consider Schubert's slow movements to be his crowning glory when it comes to his instrumental works, to be reduced to "OK" says it all.) And ON and ON and ON. How the composer of the "Death and the Maiden" quartet or the B flat piano sonata allowed his name to be associated with this turgid drivel is something I shall never understand. Yet it remains a hugely popular work: and Robert Schumann (OK, he was a nutter but a musical genius) called it the "Symphony of Heavenly Length", an appelation that I cannot read without laughing bitterly.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Et exspecto statuae integris reditum

I think it's the deadpan way the US TV channel reports this story that makes it so funny. Over here it would an "And finally....." wacky item. (via)

What she said

Thanks to Heather Armstrong for linking to this Japanese short film. I can't improve on her comments so you can read hers instead of mine.

Catching up on blogs

OK, I hadn't read Heather Armstrong for a while, and the inevitable happened, to wit, a marvellous post while I wasn't looking.

It takes a good deal of courage to write a post like that, I'm thinking, especially on one of the world's most widely-read blogs.

There's a lot of it about

Guilty as charged......

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I could murder a meat pie

Over the past couple of weeks I've taken my son to see No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Although it was the latter he clamoured more to see, it was the former whioch seems to have made the bigger impression (he assures me he'll get the DVD when it comes out, thus saving me a job). When we saw Blood on Sunday, there was a trailer for Love In the Time of Cholera. When I pointed out that the romantic lead was Javier Bardem without the bad Anton Chigurh haircut, he leaned over and said "So when's he going to whip out the bolt gun and shoot a hole in her head?") We both really enjoyed both films though.

The film he really wanted to see, though, is sadly unavailable to him at the cinema owing to its '18' certification, That would be Sweeney Todd, which his big sister saw a couple of weeks back, and which I saw tonight (clearly just in time, in one of only three Edinburgh cinemas still running it, in a small cinema with four other people). It was something of a revelation to me: not that Johnny Depp can sing (though that too: I'm always interested in how well straight actors sing, it being something of a requirement these days, e.g. for Chicago). No, I was knocked out by the music, which I hadn't actually known at all. In fact I didn't know the story in detail, so while I was ready for the pie-making and the swivelling chair I didn't guess all the twists of the ending. But it was the music that has stayed with me, especially My Friends. Here (with an unfortunately scrunched-up aspect ratio) is a Youtube clip of that wonderful song, admirably performed by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter). It just shows that once you've mastered the basics, it's the acting skills that take you further in music theatre than the singing ones. I can easily imagine it being sung more beautifully, but not more movingly. And let's all cheer clever Mr Sondheim for rationing the instances of actual harmony between the voices to where (a) it really counts for something harmonically and (b) the characters are singing the same words but with totally divergent meanings. The whole thing is wonderful, and I'm not sure why it got an '18' when the almost equally bloody Polanski Macbeth got a '15' . No swearing and no sex so it can only be the blood. Or maybe the people pies. (Anyone got a DVD of Titus Andronicus to check?)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Beautifully Arranged

Ruairidh and I were at the cinema this evening to see There Will Be Blood, an excellent film which I must say I enjoyed far more than I'd expected to, and with an outstanding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor I don't much care for on the whole. Still, if he doesn't nail the Best Actor Oscar tonight something is far wrong. Not so sure though about Best Film (probably No Country For Old Men is better). The soundtrack is great too: a mix of really good original music by Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) and well-chosen pieces by Brahms, Arvo Part and others. Maybe an Oscar there for the music.

However, our attention was also taken by this new ad for the Ford Focus. My favourite part is the "cello bows". What's yours?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

In My Back Yard, Please

Just saw an article on this on Euronews on cable. How cool is that? Apparently the paper used will be treated with silicone to improve its heat resistance. Plus of course its likelihood of surviving if, as is likely, it comes down in water.

Maybe like Wile E Coyote's dynamite darts, they'll keep on coming down for years to come.

Always the bridesmaid....

I was very impressed with this leader in yesterday's Guardian. I Googled Kevin O'Connell, and here he is in Wikipedia. My son commented that he wouldn't want to be saddled with the title "unluckiest nominee in Oscar history". But then, that sort of glory isn't handed to you on a plate; it's handed to 19 other people on theirs while you watch it being delivered.

I wish Kevin O'Connell the best of luck tonight with his 20th nomination. (Not that it did him any good: see below.) But I bet the great and good of the Academy decided a while ago that they weren't going to have Transformers proclaiming on its DVD boxes that it had won an Academy Award. Still, anything that concentrates attention on the less glamorous Oscars has to be a good thing.

Just for the record, here are the films to which Kevin lost out in the Best Sound Oscars (* are years when he had two nominations):

1983 The Right Stuff
1984 Amadeus
1985 Out Of Africa
1986 Platoon
1989 Glory
1990 Dances With Wolves
1992 The Last of the Mohicans
1995 Apollo 13
1996* The English Patient
1997 Titanic
1998* Saving Private Ryan
2000 Gladiator
2001 Black Hawk Down
2002 Chicago
2004 Ray
2005 King Kong
2006 Dreamgirls
2007 The Bourne Ultimatum

Friday, February 22, 2008

Israel had illegal nukes and Iraq didn't? Who knew?

It's good to know that some people in the FCO have an understanding of history and a sense of reality, even if their contributions are censored, denied and finally apologised for in a shameful display by Jack Straw (who rarely disappoints when it comes to shameful displays of cowardice).

Continuing a proud tradition

Further to my recent post as to whether it was anti-Semitic to compare comtemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, the question surely is whether such comparisons can any longer be avoided after this extraordinary statement by the Interior Minister.

Actually, I take that back: it's not that extraordinary. Yet I bet we'll hear hundreds of Zionist liars contuining their whining that Israel doesn't deliberately target civilians, while its enemies wickedly hide their rocket-launchers and guns in residential areas. Like the deliberate murder of civilians, that's something Israel wouldn't do, right? Wrong. And human shields? The brave soldiers of the IDF never use them, do they?

From dynamite darts to Donald Duck; from a wooden ship to a spaceship - a toon tour

Acquiring the picture for the last post set me off on a trail of Road-Runner cartoons on the web, several of which I hadn't seen before. And one which I had: my all time favourite RR/WC toon, and probably my all-time favourite cartoon. Road-Runner toons are always rather surreal, but this one takes it to a whole new level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Lickety-Splat!

One of my other favourites, from watching it on the video my kids had of Dumbo, is Father Noah's Ark. I remember listening to a radio broadcast of Beethoven's The Creatures of Prometheus ballet music, and being highly amused to discover a lot of the "animal" music from thios cartoon. It's very old, of course, but good fun.

And staying with the Noah's Ark theme, I couldn't possibly pass by the Donald-Duck-on-the-Ark segment from Fantasia 2000. It is set to a rather neat arrangement of Elgar's three Pomp & Circumstance marches, made by none other than Peter Schickele, he of Eine Kleine Nichtmusik, no less (and of course PDQ Bach).

Finally, the wonderful Lifted, which you may have seen at the cinema (or on DVD) along with Ratatouille.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Squeak. Squeak. Ouch.

I was reminded by this post on Ed's World about my favourite story about F-117A fighters. I had often wondered whether it was actually true or just the kind of story that might be spread around to make servicemen feel better about their aeroplane.

So I Googled it, and found this (scroll down for the extract below):

What about the story of dead bats in the F-117A hangers?

The following article was published in Aviation Week and Space Technology, Oct 17, 1991:

"An acoustic-guided submunition call the BAT may be good against tanks, but not against an F-117. A reader who works on the stealth fighter in Saudi Arabia says bats (the natural ones) occasionally work their way into F-117 hangars. One night, a hungry bat turned right into an F-117 rudder and fell stunned to the floor. He flew away groggily, leaving behind a heightened impression of the aircraft's stealth. "I don't know what the radar return is for the vertical tails of the F-117 but I always thought it had to be more than an insect's," the reader said. "I guess I was wrong." There may be some "science" in this - the ultrasound wavelengths used by bats are roughly the same as X-band radar."

In Ben Rich's book "Skunk Works" Col. Barry Horne is quoted as saying:

"....at night the bats would come out and feed off insects. In the mornings we'd find bat corpses littered around our airplanes inside open hangers."

When I asked a pilot about this he stated:

"During the six months I lived in Saudi Arabia (Feb-Aug 91), I lived in hardened aircraft shelters with the jets. I walked by them all hours of the day and night, and never once saw a bat--let alone a dead bat."
"I knew Col. Horne well. He went to Saudi Arabia a few months before I did, so I don't know whether he saw any bats, but if the quote in Ben Rich's book is accurate, then I believe he did. I never saw even one, though, alive or dead, and (I) passed through the aircraft shelters all hours of the day and night."
"What might have really happened could have been that when the Nighthawks first got to King Khalid Air Base the Saudis exterminated bats in the hangars--the best places to roost would've been the door tracks. Or possibly poisoned the insects on which they fed."

I also asked a former F-117A crew chief who was also in Saudi Arabia after the war. He stated:

""If you think about it the bats are probably like small birds, which can't deal with the high frequency noise the engines make. It is very common for small birds to become disorientated and die from jet blast or the noise at least from dealing with jets. Especially when they are in closed confined spaces....hangars, overhangs, enclosures, flows, etc. I've seen it happen to the fine feathered friend unfortunately."

And also this:

The basic principle behind RAM coating is this: the coating contains carbonyl iron ferrite (special paint using this material is known as "iron ball" paint). When a radar wave encounters this coating, it creates a magnetic field within the metallic elements of the coating. The field has alternating polarity and dissipates the energy of a radar signal. A significant portion of radar energy is converted into heat. Such RAM coatings can be manufactured in the form of neoprene-like tiles, with application of various ferric compounds in the synthetic polymer matrix. Early versions of the F-117A employed metal-backed RAM tiles. The tiles were cut to shape and bonded directly to the aircraft's metal structure. Gaps between the tiles were filled with RAM paint. Some of the gaps between the tiles were sealed temporarily only for the duration of the mission. Current models of the F-117A are using RAM paint applied directly to the aircraft's body. The paint is applied employing robotics because the solvent used in the process is highly toxic.

Interesting incidents were observed by F-117A maintenance crews during the Gulf War. Here is a short description from At the Controls: F-117A Stealth Fighter, by Jon Lake: "The effectiveness of F-117A's RAM skin was demonstrated in an unusual manner during the Gulf War, when groundcrews started finding dead bats around the tails of hangared aircraft. The unfortunate creatures had clearly flown "full tilt" into the Black Jet's tailfins, which their high frequency 'sonar' had been unable to detect."

The story of "dead bats" in fact has nothing to do with the F-117A's "stealthy" properties. Bats use ultrasonic signals for echolocation: these are mechanical compression waves not electromagnetic waves, as in case with radars, and have certainly nothing to do with the radar absorbent paint or any geometrical properties of the F-117A. The ultrasonic signals emitted by bats are narrow and highly directional and will reflect from most surfaces, RAM or no RAM. To explain the "dead bats" phenomenon we only need to remember that the F-117As use highly toxic paint and that the aircraft were stored in hot hangars with restricted ventilation. If the maintenance crews have spent as much time in these hangars as bats did, the bodies of bats would not have been the only dead bodies found around F-117As.

I like the last sentence.

Causing me to count my blessings once more

A moving poem by Johnny, who sees his son once a month. (via)

Johnny's blog looks pretty good in general, actually.

Relationships and renditions

You may recall a few days ago I posted on President Bush's reference to the 7/7 bombing victims to justify the use of torture. I predicted then that Rachel of North London, herself a 7/7 survivor, wouldn't have much truck with this. And I was right.

I found this piece, to which Rachel links, fascinating. It's by a fit bloke with free-diving experience, waterboarding himself to see what it felt like. It's worth reading, and worth reading in full. He is left in no doubt that it's torture, whatever Bush may say. The Gestapo and the Spanish Inquisition used much less effective variants, it would appear (the Nazis did pour water directly into people's lungs, but that wasn't for interrogation but to see how little water would drown them).

"The United States will act within the law", says El Busho. Well, when the law has been interpreted as permitting torture, it will. And now it seems that the United States used British territory to cart people off to torture (or back from it), and lied to us about it. So much for the special relationship, and Blair's influence in Washington. (Though at at least when you send the CIA off to take another look at their records they apparently do that, rather than simply covering things up as our government would.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The shit may be about to hit the shit

Briatin rolls over and spreads them. So far are we, apparently, frm being able to defend ourselves against the threat of al-Qaeda, that we can't even see off the Saudi royal family, armed to the teeth as it is with lucrative contracts with which Tony Blair can be personally associated. And when, as appears likely, the government and BAE are found guilty of corruption on a huge scale, I hope Blair will continue his close personal association with the affair, rather than running off and letting little unimportant people take the rap for him. But I doubt it: one can't interrupt the vital earning of millions to take responsibility for criminal acts.

Farewell, Fidel

An era ends.

I doubt whether I'm alone in finding it rather sick to have an American president, elected the first time at least in a rigged election (with the help of Cuban emigres - NOT exiles, please: nothing except greed stops them from returning), presiding over the biggest Gulag since Stalin's, and making excuses for the torture of political prisoners, to be offering to help Cuba "realise the blessings of liberty". Most of us, I imagine, would sooner live under Castro than Bush. Not that he's perfect: he has political prisoners for sure, though many of them have been calling for the violent overthrow of his government, which I suspect would arouse the ire of the average American were it directed against theirs. However, there can be no comparison between the restrictions on freedom imposed by Castro on Cubans and the far greater ones imposed by Bush on Americans. Castro doesn't torture or execute people, and has far fewer people locked up for expressing unacceptable opinions.

I look forward to the day when Cuba enables the USA to realise the blessings of liberty.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Glass Menagerie: Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 31 January 2008

A delayed review of a marvellous production by Jemima Levick of the Tennessee Williams classic, which I hadn't previously known at all. I took my son to see it, and he was as entranced as I was. First of all, the set (by Jessica Brettle) used the full height of the stage, right up into the fly tower, and hovered on the boundary of realistic and symbolic, while providing everything the actors needed in terms of spaces. Hard to say that any of the cast were better than the others, though if forced to it I'd go for Nicola Harrison as Laura, for bursting out of the prison of her lines with some terrific non-verbal acting. Joseph Arkley as Tom was completely believable, as was Antony Eden as Jim. Amanda Wingfield, Tom's mother, is one of those larger-than-life Tennessee Williams parts which must make it very easy for an actress to sleepwalk into parody, but Barbara Marten handled the least grateful role in the drama with aplomb. In this production, the play was never comfortable, though it was sometimes very funny. The actors brought the characters to life so that you really did wonder what became of them afterwards, yet the emotion never overwhelmed you, nor should it.

Like shooting Ichthous in a barrel

After a gap of far too long I have revisited the blog of Zoe (Whose Boyfriend Is A Twat)(and whose birthday was yesterday).

Great fun as always.

Two links posted by Quarsan (the eponymous Twat) particularly amused me.

First this, concerning which words fail me. Even if half of the quotations are spoofs, the other half are worrying. But then, as Jesus didn't quite say, the stupid are with you always.

Then this, which just seems so true, especially in the light of the previous link.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Shock horror: religious leader provides religious leadership

It's a good thing when your church has a leader who isn't afraid to lead, even if that means he'll get a stream of ignorant abuse. (I haven't yet read any of Melanie Phillips's columns since Rowan Williams made his speech, but I'm prepared to bet a pound of my flesh that she's written something deeply critical and totally irrelevant on the subject).

(Update: indeed yes, on 8th,9th, 11th (twice), 12th and 14th. And not a single word of sense in any one of them. But what do you expect from someone who can in apparent seriousness describe support for Barack Obama as an example of Diana Derangement Syndrome? And tell us that he "actively opposed the nomination of the great John Bolton (sic) as US Ambassador to the United Nations" as though keeping Mr Pastry away from anywhere he could do further harm to America was a bad thing.)

And you have to love someone who not only doesn't talk down to his audience to make the soundbites better. Or, as Madeleine Bunting put it, "someone so recklessly prepared to buck the system and continue to be what he is - a big mind and a big heart but without a political bone in his body".

Of course his speech was just common sense: that's why it riled the Islamophobes so much. Goerge Carey (now there was a walking disaster of an Archbishop of Canterbury for you) is quoted as saying "There can be no exceptions to the laws of the land which have been so painfully honed by the struggle for democracy and human rights". I am sure that such a condemnation of the Rabbinical Courts which have been operating in Britain for years without any trouble (even where their rulings have gone against UK law and been overturned on appeal) will lead to his vilification as an out of touch anti-Semite. Oh, no, wait, that was if we lived in a country where anyone bothered about the facts.

Gordon Brown has had the good sense to support Rowan Williams rather than caving in to popular prejudice as his predecessor would undoubtedly have done.

What? Tired already of exploiting your own terror victims? Well, leave ours alone, you creep

If Bush imagines that by supporting torture he is speaking on behalf of the victims of the 7/7 bombings, he could educate himself a little by reading what they have to say on the matter.

If he wants to pretend to military experience he never had in order to win elections, that's OK. If he wants to exploit the deaths of American servicemen as a result of his lies, well, he's the President. If he wants to throw away the US Constitution then I'm glad I'm not an American, but he's the one they voted in. If he wants to pretend the USA holds the moral high ground worldwide, or anywhere except in his imagination, he has the right. But if he wants to use British murder victims to try to justify his regime's systematic abuse of human rights. he may find we don't buy it.

Rachel (7/7 survivor and so very much more) has given her succinct opinion of another American neocon: in this case one who has famously used American murder victims to advance his political career.

Can he even point to Europe on a map?

This should be an interesting book.

And just think: our unlamented ex-premier, "a very shallow mind, who's not interested in issues other than the personalities of the top people", with no interest in detail and a totally unrealistic impression of his own influence, is graciously telling us all that if we make it worth his while he might do us all the favour of becoming President of Europe. Never mind that he made it a major project of his government to keep us out of the Eurozone and out of the Schengen free-trade area; never mind that most Europeans (and a lot of Britons) despise him as a Eurosceptic, and many of both also despise him as a war criminal. He's prepared to give up some of his millions for a few years to lend the job some glitz and glamour (and boost his own immense ego). After all, he's done the Middle East thing (or at least got all the TV coverage he's likely to get, so he can leave the messy negotiating stuff to little unimportant people). He's managed to sell the use of his imaginary influence to the highest bidder in his favourite country. And let nobody think that he'd waste his retirement as an ex-VIP representing his constituents like Ted Heath, or sitting in the Lords like most of his predecessors. He might actually have to read Parliamentary papers and deal with oikish proles instead of leaving all that to his minions. Not likely. No, the European Head Honcho job is the one for Tone. Nothing to do that he can't delegate - if he wants to - except pose for pictures and mouth unconvincing plaatitudes. The opportunity to drive Britain and Europe further apart, and to cause serious harm to future European integration. The only damage will be to Europe and Britain, with no danger to his American employers. Piles of money and he keeps his face on TV.

An ambition with nothing standing against it but the hatred of millions of Europeans who feel this ignorant dolt has betrayed them already and want no more of him.

Sleep soundly, Britain

It's hard to read this story and not have just the tiniest suspicion that Gatwick Airport security have taken the Martin Amis approach and simply pick on anyone who looks like a Muslim. Gosh, I feel so good knowing that the clowns who feel threatened by baby milk and eye drops are busy antagonising the nuclear-armed and unstable government of one of our partners in the "war" on "terror". Thank God they don't have to deal with real terrorists, eh?

And if I needed a reason not to fly with Ryanair, their combination of credulousness over "terrorists", complicity with racism and total lack of interest in passengers with disabilities would have provided it.

Hilary is in Munich this week, but fortunately is flying with Easyjet.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

You'd have thought the ash tree with the sword stuck in it growing up through her coffee table would have given him a hint

About this, that is.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


This made me laugh an awful lot.

I own a comic book version of The Wasteland, so why not this?

This is interesting. Anything that gets schoolkids interested in history, especially that of their own country, has to be good. I don't think one should worry too much about comparisons with Art Spiegelmann's Maus; the latter, after all, was not primarily intended to be educational. The style of Die Suche, in any case, seems to be modelled on the Tintin strips.

Thanks to Norman Finkelstein for the link.

214 words that a picture is definitely worth

Having been alerted by Jocelyn to the feature in the Guardian on the 150th anniversary of the Halle Orchestra, I was browsing the associated photo gallery when I encountered this astonishing picture. The true professional, producing beautiful music in a cramped (else why is she alongside the horns?) and cold (overcoat, fingerless gloves) rehearsal room. But it's the hat (or headsquare?) and the glasses (violinist's and horn player's) that make the picture look dated. It seems to have been taken in 1953, so rationing was still in force and Churchill was Prime Minister. The music of Messaien was the cutting edge of European experimentalism, and British music was in the middle of a glorious era of creative fertility, with Britten, Tippett, Walton and Vaughan Williams all shining brightly, and with composers like Finzi still alive. Elvis and Sinatra cut their first records in 1953, as did Tom Lehrer.

And in a cold Manchester rehearsal room, Mrs Mopp plays Mahler (maybe). I don't know quite what it is about the picture, but to me it has the quality of a great poster, like the one of the skyscraper builders having their lunch sitting on a girder. It is utterly of its time but still a fascinating image.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Impenetrability! That's what I say!

Remember that poll I told you about, the one of bloggers' favourite English language novelists that Norman Geras was conducting over at normblog? Well, the results are now in and they make interesting reading.

Of my picks, my #1 (Jane Austen) came out on top. As she damned well should. Any of my readers who have never read a Jane Austen novel, go and do it now. It won't take long, and whatever preconceptions you may have about them being chick lit, and old chick lit at that, put them aside; because this chick rocks. All her books are good, though my favourites are Emma, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility in that order. They're not only well plotted and well written, they're full of characters just as three-dimensional as any of Dickens's; and just about all of them have laugh-out-loud funny moments (mostly they have plenty). The social scene may have dated; the situations and the reality of the emotions have not.

P G Wodehouse, Charles Dickens and Iain Banks made it too (the last in the guise of Iain M Banks, so maybe he has more fans for his SF than for his literary novels). Mark Twain, too.

I'm surprised neither Peter Carey nor Vikram Seth made it into double figures of votes, especially when Martin Amis and J M Coetzee did. And my gob is smacked that Lewis Carroll didn't. OK, he only wrote two significant novels, but one could say that of Tolkien (or James Joyce, pretty much). Considering the impact that those two novels have had on the English language, not just as a source of references whose influence is felt from Jefferson Airplane to The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, but as a source of wholly original words (chortle; burble; galumphing) it simply did not occur to me that Carroll wouldn't get a decent score, at least as much as Wodehouse.

O tempora! O mores! Though Carroll's White Knight realised that there would always be those who just didn't get it:

"It's long," said the Knight, "but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it -- either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else --"

"Or else what?" said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

"Or else it doesn't, you know."

If the cap fits

I was interested to read the EU's "working definition" of anti-Semitism (which is to say, a document setting out an interim position falling some way short of agreed EU policy). Here it is.

Nothing much I would disagree with there, except for the interesting bullet point under "ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel" which includes "drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis".

What, even where such comparison is wholly supported by the facts? For example the use of collective punishment? or the illegal transfer of a population into an occupied territory?

Here, while I'm still allowed to post it without having my door knocked down, is the cartoonist Latuff on the subject. Not perhaps the best example (think of the thousands of Palestinian homes demolished - sometimes with their owners inside - because they were in villages from which militants were said to have come), but it will serve:

Celtic Connections 2008

This of course is the big Glasgow folk festival, or pehaps one should say World Music festival, or maybe just music festival. I went to two gigs this year:

Väsen, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 26 January 2008

Väsen are a wonderfully talented instrumental trio from Sweden. No histrionics, no stagecraft: what you see is what you get. What you see is Olov Johansson on the nyckelharpa (and kontrabasharpa), Roger Tallroth on guitar, and Mikael Marin on fiddle. For those of you thinking "nyckel-what?", Mr Joihansson plays one of these - a sort of cross between a fiddle and a hurdy-gurdy, and an inescapable part of Swedish folk music.

They played a mixture of traditional material and their own compositions. They recently released an album of Swedish polskas and the like from the era of Carl Linnaeus (famous to us as the man who gave us the method of categorising living things into genera and species, e.g. homo sapiens, fratercula arctica, but also very keen on his homeland's music) . Olov remarked that the Swedes have a love affair with 3/4 time in their traditional music, and he's not wrong: most of the tunes they played were polskas or otherwise in 3/4.

What more to say? All three members were in the original lineup of Nordman, a sort of Swedish Runrig who performed original material heavily influenced by the Swedish tradition (and about whom a Fan Club post will probably happen soon). And I could have listened to them all night long without even beginning to get bored.

The support was Jenna Reid from Shetland, who was very pleasant to listen to but sounded to my ears a bit similar to other Shetland fiddlers such as Catriona Macdonald. One could do worse than that, though, and I'd be perfectly happy to hear her again. (Celtic Connections usually manage to find support acts who repay the time spent on them.)

Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 2 February 2008

My second Rhythm Kings gig, and this one was just as good as the first even if Gary Brooker and Georgie Fame were no longer in the line-up. All the players were first class, from the big names (Bill himself on bass, and Albert Lee on guitar) to the sax players. Special mention for Geraint Watkins on keyboards and Beverley Skeete on vocals, as well as Dennis Locorriere, the former lead singer with Dr Hook.

The Rhythm Kings are basically Bill Wyman and a bunch of invited musicians having fun on a stage. The audience is pretty much incidental, as you always get the impression that they're having such a blast they'd be doing it even in an empty hall. It's the kind of band I always thought would be really cool: where you can play anything you like and know that the other guys will be able to follow you and support you. They do rock and roll. They do cajun. They do rhythm and blues. They do straight blues. They do soul. They do Everly Brothers hits (but then Albert Lee played with the Everlys for years). If there is a better live band playing regularly these days, I want to know what it is.

The support was Jeff Lang from Melbourne, a bluesy singer-songwriter with a good guitar technique and an amazing slide guitar style. I think the last time a slide player pinned my ears so far back was John Fahey. 'Nuff said.

And this one's a must-read

While this, by "Lawrence of Cyberia", is simply the best summary of the whole Israel-Palestine situation I think I've ever read. (Via)

Interesting stories from Palestine.

A great piece by Ramzy Baroud on the recent "prison break" by the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip.

Oh - I noticed this story linked on the same page. If it is as it appears to be, and not invented or exaggerated, one might ask why it hasn't been reported in the European press at all? Does any reader have more information, from an independent source? Whether true or not, it does prompt the question of when anyone will demolish the hundreds of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories built without permits?