IN SEARCH OF SPACE

Space. The initial frontier.

Have you sometimes lost sight of your writing? There were times during the past three months when I simply forgot the existence of Lonely Keyboards. Yet as I sit here now I clearly recall the joy of beginning this second blog-that’s-not-always-about-music, and the thrill of engaging with a new audience. As it turned out the audience was not always new; some friends travelled across from Vinyl Connection, revealing different aspects of themselves from the world of music blogging. Often what was shared was more visible, more vulnerable, more human. I cherished those moments. It’s one thing to high-five when someone’s taste in music confirms your own good judgement, but it is quite another to breath deeply into another’s confusion, or struggles with creativity, or experience of grief and loss. 

Not that there has been an absence of writing: the weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) posts at Vinyl Connection keep me tapping away and spinning records most days. My fondness for connected series—currently the birth of progressive music—means I regularly feel impelled by a sense of completion to push out another missive. Sometimes that internal pressure squeezes the enjoyment a little, but I do it anyway. It has become a habit. And habits take up space.

A new writing gig began recently. Paid work. Writing album reviews for an on-line retailer. Someone said, ‘Bruce, that’s your dream job!’. Maybe it is; still too early to tell. But one thing is certain, adding another track of music writing onto the weekly playlist of activities has led to an increase in output. And a corresponding decrease in space.

Little time for reflection, then. 

Reflection. The the space where creativity swirls and ideas puff into existence.

What brought this into focus was happening across a newspaper column by a writer I knew, years ago. I enjoyed the piece (which was about celebrating the moment) and looked her up on social media. In no time an electronic connection snapped ‘on’, we’d exchanged email addresses and I had located her blog. Wondered whether she would find my blog. What’s that about? Establishing credentials? Sending a selfie? Found myself reflecting that Vinyl Connection is mostly straight music writing these days. The river of memoir-music stories may not have run dry, but it has slowed to a trickle. I kind of shrugged to myself. ‘It is what it is’. Then I remembered Lonely Keyboards, recalled the intoxicating (but scary) high after Goodbye Piper was picked up; the steady, inevitable decline of interest as I steadfastly avoided most return-follows, the settling in with a small but engaged readership who seemed interested in the inner experiences of writing and life… 

We reveal different personas in different settings. Both blogs are ‘me’, and neither.

Sometimes if you put yourself into a certain context, that will close a circuit inside you. Lenny Kaye once said, ‘Pick up a guitar and see who you become’. Maybe writers could say, ‘Start a blog and see who you are’. Who you are today, at least. Conduct an assay of your inner mineral deposits via qwerty. Test the quality of the interior air with a canary keyboard. Could be methane, could be gold.

But first you have to make the space, and be in the moment. Maybe even turn off the music for a bit, and listen.

IMG_6670

 

Advertisements

RECORDS

It is not uncommon to hear the acronym OCD* and my name in close proximity. The remark is invariably linked to the music collection. Its sheer volume. The rituals of care to protect it. The order. The tension between delight, comfort and satisfaction and the almost unbearable millstone it sometimes represents.

I once asked a fellow music-nut about his recorded music holding and he promptly slapped me down. ”Let’s not get into a dick-swinging competition,” he said. No, let’s not. So we’ll leave it at ‘big’. 

Big enough that if I took one LP or CD per day (to keep the doctor away, you understand), I wouldn’t need to visit said physician for a couple of decades. 

I blame affluence and greed. There are the resources to acquire goodies, so goodies are acquired. It’s a shameful admission and one I much prefer to avoid thinking about. Sometimes I hide the indulgence via deflection: a minuscule donation to a worthy cause, support for this or that. Kind of like attempting to hide a used car lot under a handkerchief. There is no deception like self-deception.

clear vinyl hands

The protection of the asset involves several ceremonies. A treating professional’s diagnosis would allow that cleaning secondhand records before playing is a sensible and logical process; sound is improved and condition maintained. But cleaning new records? And what about the brand new inner sleeves? Writing that makes me laugh; I want to tell you about audiophiles who pay big bucks for top-end inner sleeves boasting all kinds of protective virtues. If I compare myself to them, how normal am I? So instead I’ll note that I purchase those (inexpensive, not-at-all lavish or obsessive) inner sleeves by the hundred. Or at least in fifties. Same with outer covers. A transparent square raincoat to shield the corruptible cardboard sleeves and precious vinyl from harm. They are vulnerable; need protection. The shepherd cares for his flock.

IMG_5625

How can I possibly know all these uncountable albums? Put simply, I don’t. A tiny fraction—mostly those of my youth—are very well-known; played into my psyche like ink into a water glass, permanently colouring the way I hear music. 

As the interest in different styles developed, these core albums were like stones in a lake, sending ripples out into previously unknown sonic worlds. Early on I noticed how an album that, on first listen, confounded with its complexity (or simplicity) or repelled with its intensity (or passivity) became, on subsequent listens, a trusted guide in unfamiliar territory.

But this romanticising is disingenuous. If I played every album sufficiently to really get to know it, the listening time would stretch to several lifetimes. Yet I still buy records. And I still listen to each new acquisition at least twice before filing.

Filing. Another source of jests. I’ve written about this at Vinyl Connection, so will not wander down that muddy path again, other than to observe that if you have a great many of something and want to find anything, you need order. The alphabet is very handy in this regard. 

One of the most pleasurable parts of the process is carefully placing the new item, still warm and drowsy from its initial listens, into the correct place on the shelves. There’s a kind of release, an exhalation. And a sense of increasing the heft of the collection with this one-leaf addition. Sometimes I think it’s the weight of the record shelves that prevents me drifting off into space. Vinyl gravity.

Then there’s mastery: knowing stuff others don’t, being a repository of arcane information. 

Custodianship, self-reward, addiction, blog-powering. We’re far from done, but we’re done for now. Anyway, I’m about to second-listen a lovely re-issue of the Dali’s Car album. 

After which I’ll file it between Daddy Cool and Roger Daltry.

IMG_5615

* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: An anxiety condition characterised by repetitive thoughts or actions. Many people have set habits or know the experience of double-checking the front door; OCD is considered a diagnosis when it significantly interferes with everyday life. More here:

https://www.sane.org/mental-health-and-illness/facts-and-guides/obsessive-compulsive-disorder

Do you collect something? Or perhaps live with a collector? Do share…

FRENCH OPEN – DAY ONE

Excitement is a word often associated with Paris, as is love. Both are present in abundance as the French Grand Slam approaches like a fully laden 747.

Most of the main contenders have settled into their accommodation and have familiarised themselves with the facilities which are, as usual, outstanding.

Around the practice courts casual observers have been delighted to see legends of the game Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli having a gentle trundle round the clay, the guitarist with an ever-present cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth while the dapper violinist has had the small band of watchers in stitches by miming playing his racquet with a bow. They are not here to compete, of course, but to play an exhibition match for invited guests. It was a lovely moment when jazz-fusion pioneer Jean-Luc Ponty—much fancied to go deep into the second week of the tournament—was seen chatting with Master Grappelli after the practice session. Ponty exudes a quiet confidence, having taken home the trophy twice already in his career, most recently with his brilliant use of sequencers on the enduringly fresh jazz-fusion-electronica LP Individual Choice.

Also on a practice court, though behind some hastily arranged hessian curtains, was number one seed Jean-Michel Jarre receiving last-minute coaching from his father. It was rumoured that raised voices were heard, though it is likely this was only a result of Jean-Michel whacking tennis balls at lurking paparazzi who demanded to see Charlotte Rampling. ‘We’re divorced,’ muttered Jean-Michel sulkily. ‘Concentrate!’ bellowed his father.

Other magic moments occurred during the closing stages of the qualification rounds, when two of the most colourful entrants played an inconsistent yet wildly entertaining match that lasted well into the evening. No-one gave Moving Gelatine Plates much of a chance against the internationally admired Gong, but the lesser known outfit put in a terrific effort across three fluctuating sets. What a treat for the small but enthusiastic crowd to see such musical madness on display. The Plates, as they are known to their fans, certainly have the musical chops to make it in the big time, though their wilful eccentricity—breaking into a weird version of ‘Three Blind Mice’ during feature piece ‘London Cab’, for instance—sometimes causes them to come unstuck.

Unstuck is a word sometimes associated with Gong too. Unhinged is another. The pot-head pixies were all over the court, dancing, singing and generally taking the piss, though some of the match’s most exciting moments came when the saxophones of Didier Malherbe dueled and danced with the woodwinds of MGP’s Maurice Helminger.

In the end, the deeper experience of Gong got them across the line. After all, MGP only made two albums and Gong are almost immortal. Still, the Plates made many new friends and vowed to return with more Gallic Zappa-ish shenanigans next year.

Let’s hope they do.

The contrast between the mad good-humour of the above match with the scandal that followed could not be more marked. Less than an hour after the two teams downed racquets and opened a magnum of champagne, Gong were disqualified for being insufficiently French. In the subsequent press conference, David Allen, his normally cheerful Australian dialect noticeably strained, expressed disbelief in the tournament referee’s decision.

‘More than half the band are, or at some point will be, French,’ he said. ‘Some individuals are already half-French and others are becoming so as they share in the band’s tea-rituals. It’s silly and we are going back to England where Richard Branson understands us. Or did, at some point.’

Moving Gelatine Plates were awarded the now-vacant place in the main draw, but politely declined.

‘We’ve had a great time playing with Gong,’ they said, ‘But that’s enough tennis for now. We’re going back to bed because no-one understands us.’

Officials, panicking a little at the gap in the draw, made a hasty phone-call Jacques Loussier. The jazz pianist had been eliminated during the quals and was in the act of checking out of his hotel when he took the call. Reluctant at first—‘This is no place for a serious musician,’ he is reported to have said—the chamber jazz maestro was lured back with the promise of the #3 seeding, placing him in what many consider to be the most volatile quadrant of the draw.

The top seeds, then, are as follows:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre
  2. Jean-Luc Ponty
  3. Jacques Loussier
  4. Heldon

The entire draw appears below.

*

Further posts in this series can be found at VINYL CONNECTION

*

The French Open series was inspired by, and is a tribute to, much-loved and greatly missed writer/comedian John Clarke [29 July 1948—9 April 2017].

The Tournament by John Clarke (Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, Australia, 2002)

IMG_5763

THE WINDOW AND THE WALL

In the late eighties I was living alone in a small house in Footscray, an inner-west suburb of Melbourne nestling between industrial docklands and a waste management terminal. Bunbury Street was quite special not for any Oscar Wilde association but because a railway line ran underneath it, lengthwise.

It was a goods line from the industrial complex across the river so the trains rumbling down-under were lurching, heavily laden affairs that took forever to pass and seemed to be causing the strip of five conjoined “workingman’s cottages” to slowly subside towards the tunnel. No exaggeration here: while I was in residence a pot-hole larger than a car tyre and deep enough to hold a basketball opened up in the footpath near my front gate. Could’ve swallowed a jogger, but given the pollution and the demographic, exercise hounds were rare in that part of the world.

The house itself was what Real Estate agents like to call “original condition”. The walls sported a network of ever-widening cracks while the bathroom was reached via a covered walkway out the back door. In the back yard was a brick pigeon-house (not in use, but with sedimented evidence layering the floor) and on the back fence, the outhouse. Once you got used to the trek and the occasional need for an umbrella it was actually quite peaceful. Though very draughty.

The cottage next door was a mirror image of the one I occupied, though ‘improved’. I deduced that they put the rooms to different use as his lounge room appeared to adjoin my bedroom. Note the location of the windows and the stereos. This information will become important.

Fig. 1 Plan

Figure 1. Plan

Though I do not know what his job was, I do know that my neighbour worked late. No problem there.

He liked to relax with some music on returning home, usually around midnight. No problem there, either. In winter.

But on a muggy Melbourne summer’s night these little brick houses become awfully stuffy. You gasp for all the air you can get, opening every portal to catch a whisper of breeze.

Referring back to Figure 1 you will note that the actual distance from the recumbent would-be sleeper’s head to the right speaker of the neighbour’s stereo is about nine feet. With both windows thrown open, that’s nine feet of air. My ears were substantially closer to his hi-fi than to my own sound system.

Now I am, and have been these many years, a serious Pink Floyd fan. The entire catalogue resides on vinyl and on CD too. If you visit Vinyl Connection you’ll find several feature posts. I’ve seen them live in Melbourne and Hannover and ridden a bicycle through Grantchester Meadows in homage to the Ummagumma song of the same name. Been there, heard that, own two t-shirts.

But I do not enjoy The Wall. Didn’t like it in 1979, don’t rate it now. It is one of only a handful of albums I have written scathingly about, including the following review:

Power corrupts. By 1979 Roger Waters had all the power in Pink Floyd and TheWall is his dystopian personal vision unshackled from group quality control. The album is over-long, over-serious and vastly over-rated.

At the end of side two when Roger moans ‘Goodbye cruel world’ you sincerely hope he means it, but no, there’s a whole other record to go. If it was not for some terrific playing, especially by David Gilmour on guitar, you’d be hard-pressed to find much to like in this dismal self-indulgent rant. Richard Wright was so depressed he was sent home. And don’t bleat about how marvellous “Another Brick In The Wall, Part II” is—that’s only because you’ve heard it so often you’ve forgotten it is used three times on the first disc and are able to ignore the manipulative use of a children’s choir to cover a bilious attack on education generally. (Where did you go to school, Roger?)

The best thing to be said about The Wall is this: it is better than the album which followed it.

So when, late one sticky summer night, the maudlin sounds of “The Happiest Days of our Lives” wailed through the window at substantial volume,  I was considerably less than entranced.

But how to respond? I started subtly with some muted coughing and harrumphing. Not surprisingly, given the volume, this had no discernible impact. I shut the window. Then I opened the window and shut it again, firmly. The third time I positively slammed the sash closed, hoping at the very least to make his stylus jump but alas, although some plaster showered down upon my head, the soundtrack continued.

Collapsed on the bed, panting from my exertions, I pondered the options. A plan of devious malevolence took shape in my heat oppressed brain.

Padding off to the lounge, I uncoiled the speaker wire; maybe there was just enough. Lifting the box on its stand, I staggered down the hall and into the bedroom. The cable pulled taught. Not exactly at the open window, but perhaps close enough. I paused, listening intently, then trotted off to my shelves.

Fig. 2 Response

Figure 2: Response

Crouched at the amplifier, the Floydian noise bouncing down the hall from next door was somewhat muffled; still it was not difficult to find the song currently booming out. Waiting with fingers poised until the end of the song, I cranked up the volume and let the next track rip a second before his began. As my future echo surged out the window I added a bit more volume for good measure though not so much as to drown out his, now slightly delayed, transmission.

I have no idea what it sounded like next door because I stayed in the safety of my lounge-room. But the stereo delay caused by my own separated speakers was quite disconcerting enough, so I can only imagine what it sounded like in the neighbour’s lounge.

The side ended. The stylus lifted.

Silence.

Relieved rather than jubilant, I slouched back off to bed, happy at least that a window of opportunity had created a constructive use for The Wall.

IMG_3025

An earlier version of this story appeared at Vinyl Connection in January 2014