Wednesday, April 28, 2010


In what sense is this an exclusive?

The Times follows with the shock news that most businesses try to make money, many sporting teams hope to win their various matches, and that some journalists stick "Exclusive" at the start of any headline to justify what would otherwise be a non-event story.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I saw Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Barbican on Friday, and she was awesome.

The show was titled To Billie Holiday with Love - A Celebration of Lady Day, with Bridgewater revisiting the character that gained her an Olivier Award nomination for the play Lady Day in the mid-1980s. There were no impressions, save for a brief speech, but the performance was consummate.

A Grammy and Tony Award winner, she almost failed to make the gig - the volcanic ash meant that her flight was cancelled and, despite saying in a recent interview that at nearly 60 years old touring had become an ordeal, Bridgewater endured a 14 hour minibus ride from Stuttgart to London. (Incidentally, US trumpeter Wallace Roney can't get to the UK and Bridgewater now can't get out, so she's taking his slot at Ronnie Scott's tonight and tomorrow.)

But she made it. As did her daughter, China Moses - a Parisian-born R&B singer and MTV presenter - who opened with a set dedicated to Dinah Washington. And thankfully so did Bridgewater's quintet, who were outstanding. Reeds man James Carter was particularly brilliant, taking songs by the scruff of the neck and thrilling the audience with blistering solos on soprano sax, tenor sax and flute.

But what about the lady herself? She was incredible. Bridgewater has an electrifying stage presence, a tremendously mercurial voice and a powerful, strident delivery. Every song was performed differently, each was absolutely mesmerising. The show was for one night only, so there's little point in recommending it now. But it really was good. You should've gone.

Set list included "Miss Brown To You", "Loverman", "God Bless the Child", "Don't Explain", "Them There Eyes", "A Foggy Day", "Mother's Son-in-Law", "You've Changed", "Fine and Mellow", "Strange Fruit" and "Lady Sings the Blues".


Euurgh God, avant-garde music. Isn't it all just a bit... weird and intense?

Well yes, it is. But you could say the same about a lot of modern art, and it's actually quite easy to 'get' modern art.

We look at a Pollock or Francis Bacon, and while we might think it's boring, serene or ridiculous, or worry that we don't understand it, we can certainly see it. And this at least means we can set about intepreting it (even if all we come up with is, "well I could have done that").

The canvas defines the art's parameters, so even the craziest and most chaotic scrawlings are contained. It's a totally different story, however, with contemporary classical music and jazz. Sound is boundless - everywhere and nowhere, and constantly shifting. And I think that this is why we tend to be so severe in our views on 'avant-garde' music.

We use mental rules to interpret complex sensory stimuli; for instance, we like to group things that feel similar or are close together. Melodies that move in little steps sound unified and structured, whereas those that repeatedly make huge jumps between high and low notes sound fragmented and random. Regular rhythms create coherence, erratic ones confusion. The use of certain scales allows harmony, the use of others dischord. In each of these pairings, our brains interpret the former as music and the latter as noise.

Of course, I am not for a minute bemoaning dissonance or tension. Playing with the listener's expectations is a central principle in music, and balance and resolution are essential. A composer must not lose coherence, but must also avoid outright predictability and create interest.

Yet some pieces of modern music simply do not allow you to follow them. In my view, these compositions are bad music. I don't really care if the piece can be justified by some musicologist: its organisation may be technically valid or 'correct', but if it is only present in theory rather than audibly perceptible, you have a serious struggle on your hands to convince people that it's music - or music to which they might want to listen.

For the most part, however, the melodies and rhythms of modern classical music and avant-garde jazz are not random and erratic - there is a pattern in place. But it might not be what we're used to. And so there's no point trying to listen to it in the same way as you would to Mozart. Instead, we should try to approach these pieces in the same way as we would a paint-spattered canvas or big block of red.

This is obvious - even Ross Geller advised that his work should be thought of as "sound poems" rather than songs - but too often we refuse to do it. But why can we bring ourselves to apply different rules to Rothko as we do to Rembrandt, but not to Berio as we do to Bach?

Is it because music intrudes in a way art does not? You can move on in a gallery; you have to endure at a concert. Is it because we're used to putting in no effort with pop music, whereas even accessible art is seen as worthy and more highbrow? Is it just because modern art is more established in the mainstream than modern music?

Whatever the cause, it could pay to look at avant-garde music in a more tolerant and forgiving light. Even if the only response is "well I could have done that."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Buttonholes, Sartorialist-style

One of the looks that got The Sartorialist most excited was this red-flowered man.


The second picture shows a buttonhole designed by EmersonMade, which started off as a one woman operation in NYC. It's now a full-on company run from a FARM and which designs and makes hand dyed and hand stitched blooms and accessories (apparel line coming out in 2010).

If you want to get me a present, this would be a good place to start.

Hat tip: Oh Joy!

International Pillow Fight Day

Saturday 3 April. Pictures below from Edinburgh, Paris, Warsaw and Budapest. London's was at St Paul's and I MISSED IT.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cycle Hire: 30 July 2010

Boris and TFL have announced this week that the Cycle Hire scheme in London will launch on Friday 30 July 2010.

More than 40 docking stations are planned in my area alone (below) but, as reported by the the outstanding SE1 community website, some of the local residents are making a fuss.

Only last week an application was rejected for a 23-bike docking station across the street. Apparently the big worry is increased noise, disturbance and risk of public disorder, which I think is overly anxious - you could say the same about a proposed bus shelter.

Anyway, the scheme begins with 6,000 hire cycles spread over 400 locations across zone 1 (see map). Users will pay an access fee (£1 for 24 hours, £5 for seven days and £45 for a year) and then a usage charge if applicable (no charge for 30 mins, £1 for an hour, £4 for 1 1/2 hours, £6 for 2 hours).

I've got my own trusty steed but am such a fan of the idea that I'm still signing up - the scheme will be perfect for unexpected little journeys, and at £45 for an unlimited number of 30 minute trips all year, won't break the bank. Good work TFL.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lego Repair

The Nelly Duff blog showed recently the work of Jan Vormann, an artist who travels the world repairing crumbling monuments with Lego.
Instantly familiar, with a little research I disovered that Jan was responsible for the little additions I saw this summer at De Waag (right), a city gate and weighing house dating from 1488 in Amsterdam's Nieuwmarkt.

You can't help but be charmed by the helpful 'Elves and the Shoemaker' thinking behind Vormann's initiative, and by the shots of colour his quirky inserts bring to decaying walls.
The concept is so simple and cheap it's easy to replicate - the Amsterdam campaign was waged by Jan and a group of enthusiastic volunteers. In the time-honoured words of Neil Buchanan: go on - try it yourself!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Friday's ffffound

Taking a leaf out of Emma Louise Layla's book: Three Friday's ffffounds.

Today's theme: children's prints.

I obviously really wanted to find a third green town / blue motel style one, but couldn't see anything up there and it was the child's nightmare one that started me off anyway. And who am I to mess with the rule of three.

Toilet roll carvings

Now bear with me. They may not sound glamorous, interesting or even hygenic, but these TOILET ROLL CARVINGS are exquisitely beautiful intricacies that deserve your attention. I promise.

Anastassia Elias uses tweezers to manipulate inside the rolls shapes cut from identical paper. By contrast, Brooklyn-based Yuken Teruya makes carvings from just one roll (right and below). I've seen Teruya's work before at Phillips de Pury in Victoria, and it's utterly captivating.

And you felt virtuous just RECYCLING your old toilet rolls. Shame on you. Get carving.
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