Music, (a)Live

I had the privilege of sharing music I like with someone by going to a gig with a friend this week: my mate Ash came with me to see Warpaint last Thursday. I’m really happy to go to gigs on my own, but good company is always good fun. I wasn’t sure if Ash was enjoying it, but I let him get on with his experience while I lost myself in mine. I wasn’t there to pressurise him into enjoying it, I just wanted some company to do something I wanted to do. And to give someone else a reason to listen to music they might not otherwise hear.

It turns out we both had a blast and thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially loved hearing his take on Warpaint, which he shared with me in person immediately after the gig as well as tweeting later:

A way of relating to the music it would never occur to me to formulate and a fascinating and insightful observation*. Ash is always generous with sharing his responses to things which made for a really enjoyable exchange about the gig afterwards. He also thanked me for introducing him to something new and something that he’d not heard anything else like before. I am really enjoying being in dialogue with people about music at the moment, long may it continue. Next mission is to find someone to sit and listen to music with me for hours on end, as if we could be teenagers once more.

Last thought from Ash – apparently next up is him taking me to a Girlschool gig. Sounds like an adventure to me ๐Ÿ˜‰

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*This then reminded me how much I liked Depeche Mode’s latest album, Delta Machine and inspired a re-listen to that on Saturday evening. This is exactly the way I am listening to music lately, following chains of recommendations, associations and memories and it is great fun. My January playlist starts with Warpaint’s latest single “Love is to Die” and meanders through some other stuff I’ve encountered or remembered that I love during January. It feels undeniably optimistic to me, which I like. A lot.

January 2014

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Quality of light

I love the way the light changes as we go through the year and the seasons change. Different times of year have a very different quality of light associated with them. Then, of course, time of day and weather conditions on any given day add a layer of ever changing complexity. I think what I am trying to say is that I am fascinated by the constantly changing, but on many levels pattern governed, way my world is illuminated …

Today I went for a wander along the Seven Sisters with the specific intention of enjoying the sunshine and the descent into evening that happens so early at this time of the year. I sat and watched the sun set over the sea, which was lovely. For once I had no electronic devices (not even a camera as my battery was run down so I left it in the car) so today’s adventure was very much about my immediate experience.

My favourite observation, made more precious by being more fleeting than I anticipated, was the way the light from the sun during the last 20 minutes before sunset made the crests of the gentle waves it picked out glitter and sparkle. I know the metaphor of light sparkling off water is a well worn one, but patches of the water were truly glittering in their movement. The sea was very calm today with only gentle ripples. As a result of the angle of light from the sun as it dipped lower only the tops of the ripples within a wedge extending from the horizon were illuminated. After first wondering how I’d manage to sit for 20 minutes with no camera, my attention was completely absorbed by the constantly rolling, bobbing, glittery slivers of water caught within the arc of the sun’s reflection. As the sun dipped lower a lesser surface area of the waves was illuminated and bit by bit the glitter disappeared, well before the sun dipped below the sea. I wasn’t expecting it to be gone so quickly, but then I was no longer sure by then how long I’d been staring out over the sea.

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I left my mobile in the car and took a picture once I’d finished my walk, hence the above. I was glad not to have it while watching the sun set as being without camera forced me to focus on the experience and not document it.

On forgetting my corporeality

I noticed a theme in my blog posts over Christmas while I was taking the opportunity to slow down and enjoy having some down time. I wrote a lot (because I was thinking a lot) about my physical experiences of the world. I take this for granted most of the time and, actually, spend large chunks of my time blocking out or ignoring my physical experience as much as I can get away with. Otherwise it distracts me from the other stuff I have to do.

I may have discovered a flaw with that plan ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yesterday I prioritised work over eating lunch. Only a small thing, something I have done more working days than not over the last year. At 1pm I found myself on a train to London, starting this week’s Brussels trip. I had nothing to eat and no hope of buying anything until I got to St Pancras.

That didn’t bother me unduly, I figured I’d be distracted by being hungry for 15 minutes or so and then get back to worrying about work stuff. What actually happened is that I started to feel really crap, not only hungry but anxious and unable to think clearly. I started worrying about what was going on with me. It took me about an hour to realise this was not me being mentally dysfunctional, but simply a product of low blood sugar levels.

I really did feel terribly anxious and it was a most unpleasant experience. Then I thought about all the days I’ve not eaten properly over the last year, particularly the last 6 months where I’ve struggled a great deal with my anxiety levels relating to work. Finally it dawned – if not eating properly at one lunchtime has that effect on me, perhaps doing the same for days on end has a pretty big negative effect on my ability to cope with life. I suddenly realised just how little care and attention I give to my physical well being when I am caught up with work.

What a daft bint! I have now vowed to prioritise looking after myself because without doing that, everything else becomes that much harder. Only took me 31 years to figure that one out …

2013 in music

I spend a lot of time listening to music, but rarely find people to talk with about it. This may be because I am convinced my ramblings on music wouldn’t be of interest to anyone else. I am no music journalist and want to talk about the way music affects me as an incredibly subjective experience. I’ve never been sure of the value of this to anyone else so, sporadic blog posts about my latest playlist aside, I don’t openly venture my opinion.

However, I’ve been inspired and encouraged by a friend to enter into dialogue on the subject. This post is a response to http://teknostatik.co.uk/2013/12/24/albums-of-the-year-2013/ shared by @teknostatik. I recommend an exploration of his suggestions as I find his taste in music a useful guide into what is both current and good, though he can absolutely keep the hip hop. I like Ghostpoet, but Jay-Z really doesn’t do it for me ๐Ÿ˜‰

My albums of 2013 are not necessarily all from 2013, but are the albums that have shaped my world this year and they are all recent-ish.

Trouble Will Find Me – The National

I am indebted to Andy for recommending this to me. I’d heard a couple of tracks on the radio, but hadn’t really registered the band. I like this for its introspective mood and the feeling I get of being enveloped by the richness and texture of singer Matt Berninger’s voice as I listen. Unusually, I really like nearly every track on this album and haven’t been able to pick favourites. One track a like a little less than the others is ‘Pink Rabbits’ which I find it a little musically trite (rather than lyrically – I rarely emotionally respond to lyrics) and a little obvious. It doesn’t seem to go anywhere and I prefer to experience more movement in the music I listen to. Having said this about the track as an individual entity, it is completely the right thing to come after ‘Humiliation’ – a track on the album that I particularly love. Note to self: think more about albums as a journey rather than a sum of individual tracks.

As I’ve written this I’ve realised what a kinaesthetic experience listening to music is for me. I am aware I rarely use my auditory modality, but I hadn’t realised just how strongly I interpret music as texture, soundscape. That would explain why I’m often drawn to music that has clear layering, syncopated or otherwise obfuscating beats and a heavy, but not monotonous, bass line. All of these make for a three dimensional, textured experience of listening to music (for me, anyway).


Which brings me onto the next album I wanted to mention. Andy recommends ‘Julia with Blue Jeans On’ by Moonface as fourth on his list. I love the piano, both as a player and to listen to it so was curious to have a listen. This doesn’t do it for me, however. I find it too sparse, the piano too predictable and I don’t enjoy the singer’s voice. I don’t find the experience three dimensional enough to maintain my interest. What I thought of while listening to this was …

What We Saw From the Cheap Seats – Regina Spektor

… because I loved the combination of piano and vocals (and various other bits) in ‘Begin to Hope’ by the same artist. I had tickets to see Regina Spektor earlier this year and had to cancel, which was galling. I didn’t actually get round to listening to this album until about a week ago and this is my answer to Andy’s recommendation of ‘Julia with Blue Jeans On’. I fell in love with it instantly, pulled in by the quirks and discipline of how she uses her voice in the same way you can fall into conversation exactly where you left it with a dear friend. I love the stories and characters conjured in Spektor’s music as well as the chaotic, colourful soundscapes she creates with an idiosyncratic use of voice and diverse array of instruments, sounds and pacing.


(Regarding a focus on the beauty and intimacy of piano, the other musician that I’d choose over Andy’s recommendation, and possibly closer to the sparseness a and intimacy Andy finds in it, is Ludovico Einaudi and I recommend his ‘I Giorni’ as a starting point. That album moves me to the point of tears without fail.)

Arc – Everything Everything

This album really has shaped my 2013. I saw Everything Everything when they played in Brighton back in February. In fact, lets go back a little further – I discovered Everything Everything back in 2011 when browsing in (the now sadly only remaining independent record store in Brighton) Resident. A friend had played me an album I liked that I was searching for and on my travels I found Man Alive. The lovely folk at Resident write short descriptions of their top pick albums and the description for Man Alive sold it to me immediately. Something about electronic synth and syncopated beats … I bought both (the other was It’s Frightening by White Rabbits), fell completely in love with Man Alive and for the first time in a long time, declared myself a proper fan of a new band. Hence I bought tickets for the gig in February which was fantastic and then bought Arc.

I spent almost all the time I was in the car during my Cornwall holiday in March (which was quite a lot of the holiday) listening to the album. The first track I really liked was Cough Cough and Everything Everything’s hallmark infectious chaotic energy, which I love, shines through it. However on further listening, Kemosabe ranks higher as a favourite. I enjoy the precision in the (off beat) placement of the sounds underneath the vocals and the use of repetition in the vocals, because this encourages me to listen differently. A bit like the way a repetitive, mechanical task often distracts my conscious brain enough for me to allow myself to just be without over-thinking for a bit.


The other track that deserves a particular mention is The Peaks, which I struck me at a very deep level at the gig. I couldn’t remember the lyrics or in fact much about it, except that it hit me at a very intuitive level and induced tears. I found out which track it was by listening to the whole album many times and trying to compare the feeling each track gave me to the feeling I remembered from the gig. I can’t put it into words, but the way it builds slowly but inexorably, particularly experienced live and heightened by clever lighting, is just beautiful. My favourite live music moment from 2013.

I find myself coming back to Arc whenever I need to shift my head space and I’m not in the mood for anything hideously upbeat.

Torches – Foster the People

This is another album that has very much shaped my 2013. I came across this randomly when browsing music in Brighton and bought it for one track ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ and an interest in finding out what else they’d written. ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ brings back fond memories of attending a conference with two friends a while ago. I fell in love with the whole album and this is definitely something to listen to when I want unarguably energetic, movement inducing music. I am tempted to say this is something I consider to be upbeat, except the lyrics aren’t upbeat. Not upbeat, maybe defiantly driven? I am aware that says a lot more about me than the music ๐Ÿ˜‰ I love ‘Call it What You Want’ and it usually has me spellbound from the texture of its opening bars, again the precision of its layering and it has an intriguing video. The other track that really speaks to me is ‘Waste’ which, despite feeling a little slower is no less defiant, but more understatedly so.


Honourable mentions:

I am also indebted to Andy for recommending Vampire Weekend’s Vampires of the City and Los Campesinos’ No Blues. For music that conjures and fits with feeling positive and energised, these both fit the bill. I’d not taken time to listen to a whole album by Vampire Weekend before and I’d not even heard of Los Campesinos so I am deeply grateful for the tip off. I’m also finding Autre Ne Veut growing on me, despite my initial reaction being that it wasn’t for me. I will echo Andy – the joy of this is listening to the whole of it and letting it take me where it will. Sometimes that is towards the off button.

I should also mention a recommendation this year from another friend @therug (yep, is a different person) who suggested Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain to me a few weeks ago. I shared with him that I love the bits I’ve heard from the recent album ‘Tales of Us’ as well as the earlier stuff from Goldfrapp that been popular in the mainstream. Andrew described Felt Mountain as a little more sultry than the poppy stuff and this is something I love about it: it is indeed more sultry, brooding and gently seductive than, for example, ‘Strict Machine’ (which I also love).

I am intensely curious to know what anyone else has been listening to, or indeed your thoughts on what I’ve written above. Please drop me a line in the comments, if you feel so inclined, as I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts ๐Ÿ™‚

Making a difference

I met an old friend today who thanked me for some advice I gave him three years ago. He was starting an MA part time while working full time, something I was just finishing and we were talking about seminar discussions and how scary the thought of speaking up was. Today we were discussing how we each found the challenge of studying an MA resulted in a massive increase in self confidence, something of great value to each of us given a common historic tendency to under estimate the potential of our contributions to the world at large.

He reminded me that I told him to do what I’d done – push myself to say one thing in each seminar, to contribute one point just to get used to it. He said “… you told me that if I kept on doing that I’d find myself saying more and more in seminars and I did!” Apparently he found it such good advice he recently passed it onto some students about to start an MA that he was talking to.

I remember devising that strategy for myself purposefully to get over my fear of contributing to a discussion and my euphoria at realising about nine months later that it was working. How wonderful to know that my sharing that was valuable to someone else and to discover they thought it worthy of passing on.

In a very small way, I made the world a better place ๐Ÿ™‚ #ftw!

On unremarkable things …

Turning an intriguing book over in my hands to explore the back of the dust jacket, feeling the weight of it as I balance it on my palms, turning the pages and inhaling the faint odour of the ink and paper, then flipping at random to read a fragment and letting the words crash into my mind and encountering how they sit there and what ripples of thought they cause.

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Reading can be an intensely physical experience, both in terms of the emotion conjured by the subject matter (I wrote a whole MA thesis on this subject) and simply in the experience of the physical object that is the book. The latter is one we tend to take for granted, or at least I certainly do. I have been taking time to tune into the physical experience of being in my quiet time over Christmas and am finding it very restorative.

There is something wonderful about the opportunity to immerse myself in a physical experience of discovering new sources of inspiration and information. I do it less and less now as a result of shortness of time and the ease of finding books and music (my main go to sources of inspiration) that I already have some idea I want via the internet. I did the former yesterday, I found myself in Skylark – a wonderful little stall in the Needlemakers in Lewes that sells a fascinatingly curated selection of books. I also had an ambling roam through the music in our local music store, Octave*. It was so lovely to look without any particular intention, just to be open to exploring.

[*As an aside: the first review posted on the link I’ve posted to Octave (the music shop) is hilarious. Have a quick read if you have a moment ๐Ÿ™‚ ]

I found three books that I was completely unaware of and would be fascinated either to read or to give to the right person in my life (that would be someone different for each book as gift giving is ideally a deeply thoughtful thing). I love the idea of gifts being a tangible characterisation of something about the relationship between the involved parties – expressing something of me and something of how I understand the recipient.

A Little, Aloud
http://www.thereader.org.uk/shop/anthologies/a-little,-aloud/c-23/c-67/p-105.aspx

I love the idea of championing reading aloud and if I had children I’d have bought this book already. When I do have children I will definitely read aloud to them. Maybe I can borrow some children to read to in the meantime? Or at least give this book as a gift to someone with the instruction they read it aloud to their children. Or even choose a book I love and give it to someone with an instruction they read it to their children. See what I mean about wanting gift giving to be something of me and something of the other person?

How England Made the English
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/18/how-england-made-the-english-harry-mount-review

This sounds fascinating and I have a person dear to me in mind who may well love this book, it’s concept being the way a physical environment has created the way we English are. That does assume that the book is well and entertainingly written, which is something I cannot judge not having read it.

Stoner
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/22/john-williams-stoner-review

This is the one that really calls to me on a personal level based on the description on the cover. I’ve never before encountered John Williams or this book, but I have a fascination with the exploration of the beauty in the ordinary or superficially unremarkable moments of life. In fact, I very much want to read this but cannot justify spending the money on a brand new book right now. It will go on the list of things to read and if I’m lucky I’ll remember it at some point when I feel able to justify buying it for myself. Isn’t the serendipity of stumbling upon sources of inspiration at the right time part of the joy of the exploration?