Pick up the tab
I was surprised to read in Ian Penman’s review of the John Fahey box set Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You (Soundcheck, The Wire 333) that he has taken two years to be able to play 30 seconds of a Fahey tune (“now all I needed were 18 or 19 fingers”). There’s an excellent book of John Fahey sheet music with guitar tabs for many of his songs. I’m an entirely average acoustic guitarist but it didn’t take more than a few days before I could play two or three Fahey tunes fluently. Technically they’re not difficult. Is Mr Penman perhaps confusing Fahey with Leo Kottke? What differentiates Fahey’s classic recordings from every other acoustic guitarist is not his technique but the depth of spirit in the playing. Unfortunately he lost that spirit around the time he stopped recording for Takoma, but those early records for sure retain all their mysterious power, partly because of their clarity and simplicity. Incidentally, I also had a go at playing some Nick Drake songs – now those are tricky! Charles Taylor via email
In The Wire 332 you printed my letter pointing out the existence of a second Peter Brötzmann documentary, Brötzmann, as well as the Soldier Of The Road film, which was featured in Bites in issue 331. My observation seems to have fallen on deaf ears, since David Keenan’s review of the DVD of Soldier Of The Road (On Screen, issue 333) again fails to mention Brötzmann. More to the point, the review makes a few bizarre sideswipes alongside its acute remarks on Brötzmann’s status as an internationalist figure.
David Keenan may not like the Full Blast trio, but the fact remains that since 2004 Peter has toured more regularly with this line-up than any other, so clearly he must see something in it that Keenan doesn’t. For my money, the Full Blast rhythm section of Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller is a thing of awesome power and range, shepherding Brötzmann away from jazz and towards some kind of free Noise take on Speed Metal. Swing isn’t part of the equation.
Elsewhere in the review, the idea that the Die Like A Dog quartet, which hasn’t played together since 1999, is “the fulcrum of [Brötzmann’s] back catalogue” is as strange as the claim that none of the other configurations included in the film (namely the Chicago Tentet and the all-reeds trio Sonore) is “quintessentially Brötzmann”. Indeed, the notion that there is a quintessential Brötzmann at all seems strangely at odds with Keenan’s spot-on identification of the inscrutability of the man’s art. Richard Rees Jones Vienna, Austria
I’m pleased that, judging by the letters page in The Wire 333, I’ve emerged relatively unblemished by writing about the tuning wars (The Primer: Militant Tuning, issue 332). A couple of points, though, about some of the responses. I agree wholeheartedly with Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg that gamelan music, Pygmy chanting, Eastern fiddle music, etc, is, as he puts it, a window worth opening, and indeed is one that has been opened many times in The Wire, but not in an article that was clearly set up to explore how Western composers have dealt with equal temperament. I also agree with Brian Morton about Ezra Sims, but I’m puzzled that he thinks my Primer was about ‘microtonal music’. If anything it was about Just Intonation. As Lou Harrison once said: “Microtones are just another equal temperament”; or as Alan Alda’s character in Woody Allen’s Crimes And Misdemeanors put it: “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it isn’t.” Philip Clark London, UK
Pace the Christian Marclay cover story (The Wire 332), I recently attended the performance of his Everyday at Faster Than
Sound in Aldeburgh and would like to flag up a couple of highlights.
Elaine Mitchener’s ‘reading’ of Manga Scroll was simply stunning. In conversation afterwards, her delight in our attendance and her view that “there are some really great performances” by others (Joan La Barbara, Phil Minton) should not detract from her own performance, which sits alongside those greats.
Which brings me to the second highlight. When discussing with fellow unknown attendees if they had viewed the beautiful scroll ‘artwork’, one chap advised he had been distracted by “having to chase Steve Beresford”. Beatlemania all over again! thehadleighanarchist via email
Walk in line
I’d like to add my voice to that of fellow reader Joshua Perrin (Letters, The Wire 332), who greatly prefers the category designations of the Soundcheck columns you previously employed. The reviews already engage in their share of hyperhyphenated allusions and/or obscurely defined associations, so that to remove even a bare minimum of overarching structural guidance to them (and thus the listener) is mostly counter-productive. I know that ‘Avant Rock’ just probably seems inadequate many times, but you’ve shown us the alternative and I just don’t think it’s better. Your call, of course. Mark Williams via email
Ask the experts
While I’ve been enjoying the Collateral Damage column each month, I’d like to hear from experts that work outside the music industry to get a wider range of analysis on the changing face of the music industry. For example, it would be interesting to hear from: • A legal or moral philosopher. The authors of the column often refer to morality, which musicians have no special expertise in. • A sociologist. Music helps define identities and social groups, especially among young people. How is fragmenting musical experience shaping social interactions? • An economist. How has the number of full time musicians and their wages changed since the downloading era began? How has consumer spending on music changed? If there are fewer opportunities in music now, is this skewing the profession towards those of more affluent backgrounds who are less dependent on their wages (as has happened in journalism)? Will this change the nature of the music that is created?
It would also be interesting to get a more global view of how the industry is changing. Rates of illegal file sharing are not the same worldwide; has the music output in countries with higher rates of downloading changed in ways noticeably different from countries with less file sharing? Paul Crowe via email
Joshua Perrin is right! Bring back the categories for the Soundcheck columns. I know modern music is in many cases beyond categorisation, and this especially applies to the music in these pages. But please let’s have a starting point at least. Go on, bring ’em back. We’ll still love you! James Mee via email
Re: Joshua Perrin’s comments, I always thought the categories you used for the Soundcheck columns were increasingly out of step with the mercurial nature of much of the music covered in them. For instance, where would you put something like Group Inerane? In Avant Rock (the music is full of distorted riffing electric guitars)? Global (the group hail from the Middle East)? Outer Limits (the project feels like it arrived from way out in leftfield)? In the vanguard of modern music making, categories like rock, jazz, classical, etc have become meaningless and outmoded, aesthetically, socially, culturally, economically. Leave them where you put them – in the dustbin of history. Simon Leigh via email
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