Sunday, May 31, 2015

I think I've managed to copy the link correctly ...

... Checking the date it looks as though it has only recently been posted which explains why I hadn't chanced on it before.

I cannot recommend it too highly. First, to anyone who does read & care about poetry. Second - & perhaps this is an even more insistent recommendation - to anyone who has never seen the point of obsessing about words on a page.

Not only are the poems gems in themselves, it is also Ruefle's modest, thoughtful & honest way of responding to the questions that disarms. At one & the same time she manages to explode prejudices that poetry is simply for an 'elite' while also managing not to debase the art & profound mystery into some fake commodified accessibility. Quite an achievement. & finally, the sheer generosity of spirit - not ducking the hard fact of experience but also celebrating the joy.

&, it seems, there's a new erasure text on the way. Perfect.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Michael Horovitz being interviewed on the Today programme this morning as I'm shaving. It's 50 years since the famous Albert Hall Poetry event. I pause mid-stroke to hear him recite a poem on football. "Take that, Sepp Blatter" he quips on finishing. John Humphries thanks him. "Michael, Michael" insists Horovitz (Humphries had used 'Anthony' - a symptomatic mistake, perhaps).


Misha Maisky's recording of the two Shostakovich cello concertos. (Occasionally I see the now white-haired Maisky shopping at the Carrefour down in Waterloo. Rumour has it, Martha Argerich lives nearby, too).

Satie piano works.

An afternoon reading Djuna Barnes' Nightwood, a book I have meant to read, started & set aside several times over the years. Today it - or rather I - we? - are on the right frequency. Absolutely dazzling. For instance:

"Each husband had wasted away and died; she had been like a squirrel racing a wheel day and night in an endeavour to make them historical; they could not survive it." (p98)


Tomorrow the intention is to be up at 5 am to participate in a charity walk. E. says she'll come too. I won't hold my breath ...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I've been listening to Resonance FM & Soundart radio coming out of London & Totnes (I think) respectively. There are some terrific programmes, making me wonder why I don't listen more regularly. (There is life beyond BBC radio!)

A regular series on field recording threw up a collective in Macedonia - wonderful sounds of streams, bird song, interspersed with fragmentary readings. Lying in bed in the dark with the curtains open on a still luminous sky & listening ... a rare & special pleasure.

Continuing my explorations I happen upon a pianist/composer/improviser/general interesting French person - Delphine Dora. She issues beautiful minimalist pieces alone or in collaboration. I'm tempted to compare her with Julia Holter only to find JH has already written a rave review for the LA Times. Small world.

& get this ... browsing various CD-Rs by DD what do I find but one title derived from her fascination with ... Clarice Lispector. Well, well.

Simply join the dots.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

At lunchtime I run a voluntary class on Barthes' essay The Death of the Author. The room is packed - students plus one of my colleagues. We get through a couple of paragraphs & then broaden out the discussion to connect to the current course.

The atmosphere is relaxed but completely focused. All the more remarkable given that a) by any standards, the material is challenging for a group of 16/17 year olds; b) they're giving up their own time. & it's evident that everyone is getting something out of the 45 minutes (me included). At the end there's a general agreement to pick up where we left off next week. I find I go into the next 'official' class with renewed enthusiasm.

Such occasions are enormously rewarding & need in some way to be 'bottled' against all those times when - for one reason or other - you wonder whether it is worth it.

It is.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A day of strange internal weather. At breakfast it feels an effort to eat. On arriving at work I feel sluggish - dull in the head, stomach queasy, oddly detached from things around me. Standing by the photocopier, a colleague asks if I'm feeling OK, "you look a bit peaky".

Having taught my classes, I head home & climb into bed. Radio on & that peculiar drift in & out of sleep when you're out of sorts.

Then, around 5pm it's as if the clouds have cleared. I realise what's really needed is a jog through the woods. So, on with the shoes & out.

The fresh air & exercise work their magic - whatever nasty little bug had got into the system has been sent packing.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What greater pleasure than being handed an Amazon package you'd forgotten you'd ordered ...

... than seeing the expression on your younger daughter's face when she discovers the latest Carrie Hope Fletcher book has arrived.

Carrie who?

Me neither.

Monday, May 18, 2015

... & this occurred to me ...

A Modest Proposal to Save the NHS

Given Mr Cameron's laudable aim - at least taken at face value - to have a seven days a week Health Service the question arises: how to fund it? Not - as seems likely - to simply rewrite contracts & force nurses to accept flat rates of pay (already below what they deserve) irrespective of the day. No, my suggestion would be a true application of the 'trickle down effect'. Thus: for each & every financial transaction processed through the City of London a nominal 0.5 percent fee is levered on the gross amount which is then siphoned off into an NHS bank account. The same principle would also be applied to 1) Premier League football transfer fees, 2) corporate head hunting salaries, 3) golden handshakes & 'compensatory' packages for outgoing directors, 4) takeover bids, 5) any earnings made by ex-politicians as a result of their term in office.

Naturally there are many more possibilities but this should get the ball rolling ...

Not only Mary Ruefle's prose work - The Most of It - arrives today ...

but also ... there on the kitchen table when I get home, in an exciting UPS bubble wrap pack all the way from the U.S. of A, Music & Literature No. 4 (the Clarice Lispector & Mary Ruefle special).

Despite the rain & clouds ... sunlight!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

(A Highly Personal List of ) Essential Keith Jarrett Recordings 

As I am sitting upstairs with half an hour to spare & Jarrett's music is on my mind ... why not a heavily selective set of recommendations?

My choices are definitely influenced by repeated listening over a good twenty to thirty years. & you'll notice that none of the Trio recordings feature. It's not that I don't like them, but there's nothing that has entered my blood stream quite like the records below. Difficult, too, to separate when & where (& who with?) I first listened to this music. While CDs remain unblemished, the vinyl records stand testament to many happy & unhappy hours.


For me, some of the most joyful music Jarrett has ever produced. While I am not a great fan of Garbarek's sax sound (to my ear often jarringly just out of tune) here the quartet are playing beautifully. The cover, too, is lodged in my memory - the rather unusual (for ECM) holiday snap against the immediately recognisable Barbara Wojirsch runic calligraphy. 



Gets short shrift in the Penguin Guide & I suspect many people don't like Jarrett on electric piano. However, I love this record & the interplay with deJohnette is wonderfully unstated. Certain rhythmic patterns have lodged deep in my veins. 

Admittedly 'untypical' (like Spirits) but none the worse for that. 



The My Song line-up but this time live. It was recorded in 1979 but only issued a couple of years ago - not sure why. For me this is superior to the highly-rated Survivor Suite & other releases by the same quartet. The shift some 13 minutes into the first track is one of THE GREAT Jarrett moments. (I notice Geoff Dyer raves about it, too). 



I have listened to this again & again & - like Ruta & Daitya - there are melodies & rhythms that have gone very deep indeed. An early Jarrett & full of intimations of what was to come. It's interesting to play this with the later 'rehabilitation' recording The Melody At Night, With You - the tentative frailty of the later disc against the utter cockiness & dazzle of the earlier. The black & white covers seem to invite comparison themselves.



It's not a false claim to say that I discovered this before everyone else (at least amongst the people I knew in the 80s) & certainly before every bloody cafė, restaurant, bar & TV soundtrack editor. Like Miles' Kind of Blue it has been played to death to the point where you wonder if you can hear it - really hear it - again. 

I remember being sat down by (what a friend once described as) a 'near Miss' & told I just had to listen to the bit where ... & suffering a lengthy description of how her new boyfriend had played it in the car driving back from Stratford. Not wishing to be churlish, I had to point out that I had played it to her six months before but (clearly) to lesser effect ... ("If music be the food of love ..." Yeah, right.) 

I don't care what anyone says, this is THE ONE. Were everything else he recorded to be swept away The Köln Concert would stand alone. That we now know that he was suffering acute back pain & that the upper & lower registers of the piano were out of tune only makes the achievement all the more astonishing. 

The Quintessence of Keith, one of the great recordings not only in Jazz but in any genre. 

If you've not heard it a) where have you been? b) lucky you! - what a treat is in store. 


"One is reminded of those masters of musical improvisation whose hands the listener would also like to credit with divine infallibility although here and there they make a mistake as every mortal does. But they are practiced and inventive and ready at any moment to incorporate into their thematic order the most accidental tone to which the flick of a finger or a mood has driven them, breathing a beautiful meaning and a soul into an accident."

(303. Book Four. The Gay Science.)

Listening last night to this disc of Jarrett's & then, this morning, happening (auto-correct supplies happiness) upon this page by Nietzsche. 


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Finally chopped in the old modem & television box - they'd been playing up for months - & so I'm upstairs trying out the new connection. I'd hoped that this would have solved the recurrent problem of a sluggish connection to the internet. Hopes dashed. For some reason, on starting a new session, the Mac starts searching once again for a Wi-Fi connection - which it patently has (little antenna sign in full, Network statistics all looking fine). The issue seems to be with an Ethernet connection which - obviously - I don't need. This goes into a spin as it searches for the (non-existent) link. Why Ethernet when I'm using Wi-fi? I go into Network Preferences, switch Ethernet off, only to find it reconnecting itself moments later. Duh? What sadistic geek at Apple has programmed this irritating little glitch into the Yosemite OS?

I'm loathe to start fiddling with deeper layers of the set-up but the 3 to 4 minute wait as whatever it is sorts itself out is fairly tedious. (So much for the State of the Art Operating System - it feels like I'm back twenty years with a dial-up modem *squeak-screeeech* tones). Then, suddenly, everything has settled down & the pages load in a jiffy. Magic!

If anyone has experienced a similar problem & found the solution - please let me know.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Disappointing & (dare I say) stolid as Creation is after a few listens ... the first disc of Rio is absolute joy. I put it on - well, not quite sure why. Perhaps to test my ears in case.

Track one is packed with fragmentary ideas - think one of those wall-size de Koonings: scrapes, blurs, erasures, drags, scatters. Then each subsequent phase (2-6) seem to draw out motifs from this 'magma' (if that is the word I'm after). In contrast to Creation is the sheer invention - melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, even (maybe this is often overlooked) comic. This is composition in Real Time, the ear split-second behind the Creative Eye-Finger nexus. It's as exciting as that.

Honestly, when Jarrett is in this kind of mood I'll follow him anywhere.

Disc two tomorrow.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Reflecting has lost all the dignity of its form: the ceremony and solemn gestures of reflecting have become ridiculous, and an old-style wise man would be considered intolerable. We think too fast, even while walking or on the way, or while engaged in other things, no matter how serious the subject. We require little preparation, not even much silence; it is as if we carried in our heads an unstoppable machine that keeps working even under the most unfavourable circumstances. Formerly, one could tell simply by looking at a person that he wanted to think - it was probably a rare occurrence - that he now wished to become wiser and prepared himself for a thought: he set his face as for prayer and stopped walking; yes, one even stood still for hours in the middle of the road when the thought arrived - on one leg or two legs. That seemed to be required by the dignity of the matter." (6. Book One. The Gay Science. Friedrich Nietzsche.)

Ascension Day holiday. Rain. Tomorrow off, too.


"We have to improvise - all the world improvises its day." (22)


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Yesterday, as an experiment, I put three sea bass in the oven (200 degrees C for 30 minutes, butter outside & in, lemon). I served them with grilled asparagus & frites - exactly right for a Tuesday evening.

Tonight, I eat the remains of the third fish - cold - with a little soy sauce. Perfect. Cold the fish acquires another dimension.

I think I paid 16 euros for the three & the woman at the counter took off the heads, fins & scales - an operation which, on its own, was fascinating.

Anyway, I reckon that's pretty good going. As Rick Stein used to say: "that's going on the brasserie menu".

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I've just received an email informing me that BBC Global iPlayer will stop shortly. Although I subscribe it's not much used. Old episodes of Dr Who ... Reggie Perrin ... the odd cookery series &, of course, the magnificent Sherlock.

The thought has crossed my mind that it is promoted by the Clarkson debacle since so many of the programmes are directly or indirectly Top Gear product. Maybe the BBC either no longer can - or wishes to - licence them. No great loss, of course.


Boris is now part of the Cameron Cabinet with the inevitable salary. At the risk of sounding naïve, how, possibly, can he maintain his many jobs (Cabinet member, constituency MP, Mayor of London & Daily Telegraph writer)? There are only so many hours in a day, days in a week. The outcry seems mostly centred on his typically dimwitted (read: carefully calculated) faux pas that the Cabinet job was a zero hours contract. Terribly funny. Whereas, surely the real issue is how can anyone be paid so much for doing four jobs with insufficient attention? Who, in fact, is putting in the hours (& receiving considerably less, no doubt)?


Keith Jarrett's Vienna Concert playing now. This is more like it.


Monday, May 11, 2015

"In any case, I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity" (Nietzsche quoting Goethe, 'On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life', Untimely Meditations)

Surely every teacher should have this inscribed above the door of the classroom?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

In today's News ...

Thanks to Frimley Dave our correspondent on the ground in Camoron Land for sending a New Statesman article which goes some way to explaining how things went so drastically wrong.


On a brighter note ... Geoff Dyer writing in today's Observer celebrating Keith Jarrett turning 70 - a sentiment I share one hundred per cent. Coincidentally, I picked up one of his two recent releases - Creation - yesterday. Hate to say it, but I can't get a grip on it. It seems Jarrett put together the CD by editing various concerts & maybe this explains why it misfires. Taken out of their improvised contexts, the phases lack logic & - most critically - a sense of movement. Maybe I will listen with different ears later in the week but for now ... not one of my favourites.


The Mary Ruefle infatuation continues & with it the exploration of writers she adores. Thus, this afternoon I open Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector & it is nothing short of a revelation. As close to a Deleuzean text of schizzing flows I've read. Naturally, I will now need to check out her other work. A new planet for sure.


Talking with various friends & relatives here in Belgium & not at all types who share a 'far left' agenda, I'm struck by how they all share a disgust at the recent UK election result. These are people who hold down well-paying jobs, enjoy a good life, yet still would not endorse the policies of the British Tories. For them, Europe is self-evidently a good thing. You earn but also pay your taxes. You benefit from an excellent health care system. You also see the necessity of a broader social awareness.

What is it in the British character that seems to split these things apart & polarise them? Some inbred cruelty, selfishness & envy? An island mentality?

Friday, May 08, 2015

Even going by some rather dodgy figures from The Daily Telegraph web site, I make it over 60 per cent of the voters did NOT want the Tories.* Thus any claim to the outcome acting as a "mandate" should be treated with the contempt it deserves.**

All day has been spent wandering around in a listless, hopeless, impotently angry state. To think, another 5 years of that smug git expression, the sense of self-entitlement & a set of policies which will surely see the dismantling of the BBC, the NHS & the welfare state to all intents & purposes. Then there's the universities & who knows about Europe ...

To make matters worse, I really couldn't say there was anything better on offer (but for the Greens) at least with a chance of real power.

& that's the mire of today's UK politics.

Or to put it another way:

Laughing all the way to the bank or queuing up at a food bank.

Which will it be?

* not forgetting the numbers who didn't even vote - no doubt comprising many who felt utterly disenchanted with what was on offer. How to vote "none of these" & be counted?

** similarly Cameron's linking of his constituency re-election with VE Day. Such presumption.

... as the results are announced ... to rephrase King Lear: "How, how, how?"

What a ghastly mess.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Listening to BBC Radio 3 sometime last week I happened upon an interview with Olivia Chaney a (for want of a better word) 'folk' singer & multi-instrumentalist. Judging by her speaking voice & self-deprecating manner she seemed immediately charming & so I went ahead & ordered her debut CD (The Longest River).

It's good. A strange amalgam of sources & influences - Joni Mitchell (obviously), Kate Bush (surely), & then on to British folk traditions & beyond. She also arranges a song by Purcell for voice & guitar.

The CD package is intriguing, too - a photo of a young girl with her head on the shoulder of a man driving ... who are they? Then layered autumnal shots of leaves floating on water superimposed upon trees. &, of course, some snaps of Olivia herself managing to look authentically soulful & self-absorbed (no cheap sell-outs here). It's not ECM (a label she once listened to obsessively) but you can see how - with a bit of encouragement - it could be. Maybe that's a dilemma for her - shift outright into Euro jazz-inflected art music or tread a more populist path ...

Anyway, she goes straight into my personal Top Ten list of female vocalists alongside the likes of Bjork ... Helen Merrill ... Trish Keenan ... Sue Tompkins ... Julia Holter ... Cathy Berberian ...

Sunday, May 03, 2015


I've listened to the Stravinsky Rite of Spring transcription twice now & a second listening only serves to increase the astonishment. What playing! What dynamics! What chords! 

Forget the footling arguments about Classical versus other musics - the energy at work here transcends genre. This has all the excitement of Cecil Taylor on heat. 

A fabulous CD. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

An unsponsored plug for Paper-Oh notebooks which I discovered only this morning.

On the expensive side, yes, & so chic you feel rather intimidated to make the first mark ... but terribly desirable ...

(wouldn't it be nice to insert a photo but the iPad-Blogpress app interface remains uncooperative ...)

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...