Sunday, January 28, 2007

Implausible jukebox #1

If today's update to Gevorts Box weren't sonic stimulus enough, AND IT IS, but if it weren't, and in fact even though we both know IT IS, here's some more. Thought I'd share with you the last half dozen music videos I've bookmarked at YouTube. Yeah, yeah, that's right, there's this thing called YouTube now.

And so, in what may yet become a regular feature -- hence the optimistic numbering -- the Controlling Thompson beneficently presents Implausible Jukebox #1.


1. Stimmhorn live at the Paleo festival, July 2000



I first heard the Swiss duo Stimmhorn on Radio 3 about ten years ago and spent a long time trying to track down their atrociously pleasuresome CD Schnee. (This is back in the day, remember, before Amazon, or at least before I had access to Amazon. People had email addresses made entirely out of numbers. Sometimes you'd come across someone's home page and it would all be done with coloured pencil. Those were the days.) Nothing they've done since has touched me in quite the same way but I've never seen them live -- weird that, for example, the LMC has never brought them over for their annual festival -- and this footage suggests that I've missed a treat. The talkative audience for this set is baffling, like talkative audiences always are.


2. The Avalanches, "Frontier Psychiatrist"



I loved this record when it came out but only ever caught a glimpse of the video. I think this is really smart: it's very interesting to have such a strong visual play-out of the grammar of turntablist pop like this -- it really brings home the relative promiscuity of sound, and its entirely different order of logic, even when it seems to be operating in an unusually illustrative matrix. This looks like a really great theatre event -- obviously reminiscent of early Robert Wilson, or Richard Foreman. Yet another reason to be utterly mystified by the continuing popularity of Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll".

Incidentally, what put me in mind of The Avalanches in the first place was spending too much of the day watching Beardyman & JFB. If you don't know Beardyman yet, go fetch. Now! Don't mind me, this'll all still be here when you get back.


3. Vivian Stanshall and band, "Wasting Away" (from 'Crank', for The Late Show)



'Crank', the half-hour autobiographical musical that Viv Stanshall put together for BBC2's (still sorely missed) The Late Show in 1991, just four years before he died, is so rawly sad in itself and so poignant in retrospect that I find it awfully hard to watch -- though I'm glad I had the presence of mind to tape it when it was on, as I think it's only ever been repeated once on terrestrial tv. In my late teens and early 20s, Stanshall was a real hero of mine, I was always hungry for information and recordings but most of his solo stuff was out of press and (have I mentioned this before?) there was no Wikipedia in them days my dears. In fact I don't think anything he did musically post-Bonzos, on record at least, comes close to the success of 'Crank', and this opener is one of the best numbers.

On the day that Stanshall's tragic death was reported, I was due for a session with my then therapist, and arrived still reeling from the news and sufficiently upset to feel the need to explain the cause. My therapist's suggestion was that the real reason for my disproportionate distress was a subconscious fear that the ardour of my passion for Stanshall had somehow caused the fire in which he perished. That seemed very silly to me at the time and rather odious, but I now find it rather an impressive idea. As well as silly and odious.


4. Truck, "Devil's Land"



This song has been resolutely jammed in my head since January 2nd, when I heard it for the first time. In times gone by, I'd have applied leeches to my temples and tried to suck the tune out; regrettably, modern science has nothing to match that, so I'm stuck with the song. Well, fine. It's great work and I love the lyric, which is cool because I never pay attention to lyrics. This is just a homemade video but all the more appealing for that. A real band! Very good. You can download the song from Truck's MySpace page; alternatively, MySpacephobes like me can hear it on rotation at Gevorts Box, where it comes on every four hours or so.


5. Captain Sensible, "Wot"



Today's madeleine moment comes courtesy of the enduring Raymond Burns Esq: neither eminently sensible nor, presumably, an actual captain, but nonetheless an unlikely stalwart of 'Cheggers Plays Pop', and what, dear Bertolt, actually keeps mankind alive, if not that? Before today I hadn't seen this video in the best part of 25 years, and yet it all came rushing back -- the piledriver man (with his tremendously achieved facial expressions), Jeanette Charles (I think) as HMQ, the incident with the Adam Ant lookalike... I'm a little surprised to see the great Hugh Lloyd tangled up in it all, but compared to Neil Kinnock turning up in the back of Tracey Ullman's taxi, it's a piddling trifle. What's too easily forgotten is how great those breakthrough Captain Sensible hits sounded: due entirely (no disrespect to the Captain himself, but let's face it...) to the immaculate playing and production by the great, wretchedly underappreciated, Tony Mansfield -- prime mover of the peerless New Musik, and later producer of A-Ha's "Take On Me".


6. Stockhausen, "Set Sail for the Sun", from Aus den Sieben Tagen



A real find, this: what looks like a front-room performance (by a diverse and characterful group of individuals!) of one of Stockhausen's crucial late-60s text compositions. Listen first, if you like, but it may be of interest to read the score the musicians are using:

play a tone for so long / until you hear its individual vibrations // hold the tone / and listen to the tones of the others / - to all of them together, not to individual ones - / and slowly move your tone / until you arrive at complete harmony / and the whole sound turns to gold / to pure, gently shimmering fire

I think this is a really good, acutely sensitive performance, more searching and argumentative than you might expect. (It's worth listening to more than once, as the phantom of narrative can tend to mislead, in a way.) There's also an immense pleasure in the guy turning the lights out after the first minute. No visible shimmering fire, then, but that's a big ask...


Ay ay, that's yer lot. Might do more though, in a while, if there's any sort of positive response to this little outburst.

My attention probably ought to be on my tax return for a couple of days (not that I'll necessarily be troubling the scorer overmuch), but I'll drop in again soon enough. Want to post something on the Pompidou video art exhibition at Sydney MCA, and also on the remarkable new Prestel coffeetable biog of Robert Wilson.

In the meantime can I just share this delicious (sadly anonymous) comment that I've only just come across at the Encore Theatre Magazine blog?

"That's what I want to be part of. A theatre that's big enough for everyone - Stoppard, Crimp, Hare, Churchill, Gill, Stephens, Craig, Buffini, Kelly, Jones, Nagy, Hannan, Barker, Edgar, Ravenhill."

That big, eh? Fancy.

We're going to need considerably bigger buns.

6 comments:

David Eldridge said...

I can't remember why I didn't sign in as it's fairly obvious that I posted the comment.

Of course, the conversation was on the topic of the playwriting culture in particular rather than the theatre culture in general...

Weren't we going to have a cup of tea some time? hands across the internet and all that...

;-)

Chris said...

>> I can't remember why I didn't sign in as it's fairly obvious that I posted the comment.

Ah, David, well, yes, on closer inspection, it is indeed pretty obvious. I should have read more thoroughly -- though I was peering at the whole thing through the gaps between my fingers, so, y'know...

I'm a bit sad to see you implicitly endorsing the idea that an independent playwriting culture -as such- exists at all, in any substantial or meaningful sense. I mean I just can't see how it's possible to discuss the work of playwrights as if that work had some stable ulterior significance away from the instances of specific productions. Is that really not delusional? -- I do understand practically everyone thinks this, not just you, and anyway, I'm not knocking, I'm just fascinated. I recognize of course that the writers you list are stylistically and connotatively diverse and I appreciate that those differences are variously indicative. But those contours within what you call 'playwriting culture' surely ramify only in the context of the competitive promulgation of playtext fetishism in the altogether separate arena of literary culture (and secondary media cultures). Within theatre culture, the only salient distinctions between playwrights are methodological and ideological ones. Maybe those are the terms you were assuming, but the rest of the conversation plainly isn't. The level of entrenchment on those boards is absolutely bewildering.


>> Weren't we going to have a cup of tea some time? hands across the internet and all that...

Well yeah, but now I know how explosively you react to gratuitous personal abuse, I just don't know what we'd find to talk about...

;-) back atcha.

David Eldridge said...

No one is under any obligation to discuss plays, playwrights and their work within the broadest definitions of theatre, live art, the performing arts – nor are they obliged to discuss plays, playwrights and their work within the context of particular productions either, if they don’t want to Chris.

Of course it’s not delusional. While as Hare says “the play is in the air” it’s just a fact that even the mostly mildly suggestive or most fragmented text exists in a more stable form than the production of it which lives on after only in the memory. Which makes them not just possible to discuss but positively enticing as the text isn’t being viewed through the perspective of a singular production and is open to interpretation.

It’s surely plain wrong to suggest that “the only salient distinctions between playwrights are methodological and ideological ones”. It’s a denial of any sort of real or particular craft on the playwright’s part or actually artistry and fine writing in itself. It’s as if because you hanker after a particular sort of theatre culture for writer’s to exist in that you deny some of the very qualities and contributions which writers bring to the table. Presumably – let me guess – the director-auteur supplies the art and the craft after a writer has furnished them with some scraps of raw world view and an implied form…

I’ve been thinking hard about these issues and actually some of it has been manifested in my practice as I said publicly here ( http://www.spa.ex.ac.uk/drama/events/dramaturgy/eldridge_abstract_6oct2006.pdf ).

I also think its worthwhile discussing playwriting within a broader context as I said publicly here ( http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1471207,00.html ).

At heart I’m one of life’s “big tenters” and prefer it when everyone is welcome at the party. I’m sure the theatre/live art/performing arts culture would be richer as a whole if there was more variety in the type of work we put on in our mainstream, theatres as well as on the fringe. Personally I don’t care how it got on stage and who made it as long as it’s any good.

Like anyone I don’t react well to gratuitous personal abuse but I was suggesting you pour tea if we meet – not a bucket of shit over my head.

I’m still up for a civilised gossip over pot of best builders and I'm sure we'd get along just fine. I’ll even pour and buy you a cake. You know where to get me... ☺

Chris said...

Hi David, thanks for persevering with me. I was aware as I was writing my previous comment that it was coming across a bit militant even for me. Even so, I'm hardly trying to oblige anyone to stop talking in ways I (sincerely) find peculiar; I'd just like them to try and consider and explain their premises a bit more carefully so that I'm better able to understand the value structures that inform their thinking.

Yes, the text lives on, but why? Why do we hang on to the text but nothing else? Why is it a feature of so-called theatre practice that we say how much we like the liveness, the ephemerality, that if we didn't value these things we'd work in film, -duh-, and yet for the greater part of the industry, a play hasn't meaningfully occurred unless the text has been published by Oberon. (Or Methuen for you grown ups.) Why do we not let the spoken word vanish with the moment? Are writers really the only craftspeople in a theatre process, who alone deserve to have their work preserved?

Your argument about 'fine writing' (iffy phrase but I know what you mean) belongs to literary culture. If we want to read playtexts as if they were books, that's fine, but that arises out of where we place prestige in literary contexts. It has nothing (properly) to do with a functional theatre culture (if we had one), and that's why I said "Within theatre culture, the only salient distinctions..." etc etc.

And before you ask, yes, I'm very glad that texts both classic and contemporary persist, not least 'John Gabriel Borkman', which is an extraordinary play and one I hope you've been having fun with. But the existence of these texts is about providing a particular impetus to thinking about creating something specific and timely within theatre; the text serves the production, not the other way around. It's barely different taking a playtext into a rehearsal room than it is to take in a novel or a piece of music or a Mousetrap game or a goldfish. The difference is the text has a performance history: but this is interesting rather than progressive.

I honestly don't know why you persist with this witless caricature of the 'director-auteur'. It doesn't arise out of anything I've said. All I want as a director is to be part of a creative team in which everyone's on an equal footing, and roles are as fluid as possible. I want actors to feel able to write for themselves and each other (most actors, in my experience, write better for other actors than do most soi disant playwrights -- though admittedly I do cast with this in mind, so my experience isn't representative perhaps), I want the lighting designer to contribute to the choreography because good lighting designers understand movement so well. Quite often I want a specialist writer in the room, though that might be a poet or a philosopher. The only thing I preserve for myself as director is to be able to make editorial choices as we go along. How that tallies with the tinpot dictator totem you describe, I don't know. You must have had some really unfortunate experiences. Either that or you're falling for an idiotic, outmoded, immensely damaging myth.

To go through all that and then say you don't care how stuff gets on stage is really disappointing. I'm a 'big tenter' too, believe it or not: I would be the first to recognize that good work arises out of all sorts of models. What I won't accept is that these questions don't matter, that they aren't worth tussling over. I'm not pointing the finger at you here, David, I know you think hard about what you're doing, but the proportion of people working in theatre who have a really coherent sense (I mean coherent rather than consistent -- mine's changing all the time) of why they work in theatre, why theatre matters, what it could be..., is, literally, terribly small. People blah on about the magic of live theatre, about the importance of communal experience, about intimacy, about responsiveness, without examining for a moment the actual implications for working practice that any of these concerns imply. Which is why I feel that it's their engagement with methodology and its ideological dimension that in the end matters far more than the stylistic voice of the individual playwright.

I'm sorry you felt so bruised by your anonymous taunter -- he was certainly crass -- but not everyone who disagrees with you is trying to pour a bucket of shit over your head. Quite the reverse.

I'm off cake too, anyway, but yeah, let's split some purple sprouting broccoli sometime. I lost your e-address in a hard drive calamity last spring, but mail me again and we'll sort something out for after JGB opens.

-- which I really am, genuinely, looking forward, btw.

Walsh said...

wow, i thought today was basically a write-off but Beardyman makes it worth- while...wow.

The idea about illustrating sample based music in film-clips is kind of a mini-genre. The Wiseguys ('start the commotion') and Daft Punk ('around the world') do it as well.

I feel a bit sorry for the Avalanches really cos they never pull it off live. Nowadays they do DJ shows but for a while there they did kind of half assed guitar versions of thier songs with samples thrown in, also Dexter (the dj) left and does his own dj shows.

i went to sydney to see your show and it was sold out...damn! I'd like to see your comments on the MCA video art show though,

thanks

rich

Walsh said...

oh yes and chemical brothers 'star guitar'