Category Archives: Music

The silence is deceptive: Cage Against the Machine

It’s a very curious moment. The first phase of the new youth rebellion (for there will soon be another) is winding down, the whole country is frozen over, yesterday’s snow lies on the ground, and here in Putney—like the days after the Icelandic volcano—no planes in the sky under the flight path into Heathrow. In short, blissfully quiet. But the silence is deceptive. Continue reading

Vertov remade

Michael Nyman’s Palimpsest of Man With A Movie Camera

In a new work called NYman With A Movie Camera, Michael Nyman has conducted a really interesting experiment by taking the music he wrote a few years ago for Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera, and employing it again, this time for his own remake of Vertov’s original using his own visual archive as source material. Nyman’s archive largely consists of footage he has filmed himself since the early 90s in different parts of the world he has visited to give concerts. This produces the first difference between Vertov’s film and his own version. Where Vertov’s film is a utopian pre-Stalinist vision of the Communist city, Nyman’s becomes a dystopian vision of global post-communist capitalism. Continue reading

Music Documentaries

Back from ‘Sights and Sounds’, a small but stimulating and enjoyable conference on music documentary in Salford. Films about music and musicians have been a major strand of documentary since the 1960s, so it’s odd, especially given the huge predominance of music in popular culture, that they’ve escaped systematic study, even among documentary scholars. This was therefore a pioneering event, and a lot of ground was covered.

It’s a subject in which I have a special interest, since this is the field that I entered at the start of the 1970s with two films I made for BBC2. Continue reading

Musical Protest

A few days ago, a concert at the Wigmore Hall by the Jerusalem Quartet was interrupted by what the radio announcer (I happened to be listening to the live broadcast) called a disturbance. Turned out it was a protest by a group of anti-Zionist activists, one of whom, Tony Greenstein, subsequently explained on his blog that

we wanted to make a clear statement that those who aid and abet the murderous activities of the Israeli Occupation Forces cannot then claim some form of musical diplomatic immunity

— because the Quartet are not only ‘cultural ambassadors’ for Israel but they regularly perform for the troops of the Israeli army. [*]

Well, I’m all in favour of such protests, even once participated in one myself, and if I’d been there I would have applauded them. But I find that I now have to disagree strongly with Greenstein’s subsequent blog on the subject, which purports to give us the lowdown on the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Continue reading

The last piano factory (in England)

It makes me a little sad to hear that the last piano factory in the UK, Kemble’s in Bletchley, is closing today, with a loss of 90 jobs (and the skills they comprise). I visited this factory back in the mid-1980s when I was doing research for a film I never got to make on the social history of the piano (instead, it became a chapter in my book Musica Practica).

You might suppose that this closure is yet another sign of the recession, but in fact it reflects a much longer term trend, with the recession merely the last straw. Continue reading

Mountain Piano

A piano has been found near the summit of Britain’s highest mountain. Ben Nevis is only 4,418ft, but all the same, the fellows who found it – volunteer conservationists – can’t explain how it got there. The only clue is a wholemeal biscuit wrapper with a best-before date of December 1986 found with the instrument, which was missing its keyboard, however. Story and pictures. (Another report adds that a Model T Ford was taken to the summit in an advertising stunt back in 1911.)