Recorders in pop music

Dot writes: I’m an out-and-proud recorder player. I’m a member of my local branch of the Society of Recorder Players (in fact the only branch in Ireland – there are advantages to living in the capital), I take part in fortnightly group lessons, and I regularly tweet about my recorder playing, to resounding silence from the twittersphere. It is my secret mission, delivered to me anonymously on paper that spontaneously combusted ten minutes later (not really), to promote the use of recorders by everybody in contemporary music that I like, which is to say lots of pop and electronic artists who aren’t interested. And don’t know me. And don’t follow me on Twitter. Fortunately there are enlightened souls in the contemporary music world who have already noticed that recorders need not only be for renaissance buffs (not that I’m knocking renaissance music: in fact I love it, and I love playing it).

So, here are some recent pieces in which recorders escape from their ghetto and mingle happily with contemporary instruments and production styles. For some less recent but better known examples, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9”, plus a rejoinder to the stereotype of the recorder as a horrid shrill instrument played badly by schoolchildren, see this Guardian piece. I’m vaguely amazed it doesn’t mention “The Fool on the Hill”, but then that’s a song that trades precisely on the association of the recorder with naivety and childhood.

Marika Hackman, “Monday Afternoon”, from her 2015 album We Slept At Last. This is a dark, spooky, folk-inflected album full of pale bodies lying in forests, and the recorders here give a touch of both formality and pastness, contributing to the general air of maidenly doom.

Shugo Tokomaru, “Vektor”. I came across this a few days ago through the new music section in Nialler9’s enormously comprehensive website. Tokomaru is described as a folk musician, but this seems to me wonderfully unclassifiable, drawing on an incredibly eclectic range of instruments of which the recorder is one. The video celebrates the instruments and is a joy in itself.

Floex, “On the Roof of the Yellow Psychedelic Mushroom”, from the soundtrack to Samorost 3 (2016). In contrast to the busy Tokomaru piece, this is a serene unfolding of shimmering, spacious textures, against which the recorders, entering at 2:23, are clearly foregrounded with their questioning phrase. Floex (Tomáš Dvořák) is principally a clarinettist but plays the recorder very expressively too. He has written about the piece on Facebook.

My final example is a different sort of thing. Recorder arrangements of pop and rock songs can often be embarrassingly twee, but this is a triumphant exception: Daniel Mantey’s Recorder Quintet version of Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix (with a bit of help from guitar, organ and bongos) (posted to YouTube in 2014). It sounds like mad druids. It’s great.

P.S. After I posted this a twitter friend (wow, someone responded to a recorder tweet!) told me about this clever and funny cover by Georgia Fields of Guns’n’Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”, including a recorder solo. You can hear the whole thing on Bandcamp. (Thanks, Shane!)

The Songman

Once there was a man who wrote a song so powerful it came to life and moved into his house. He was proud of its success: it won awards and earned money which it shared with him. However, unfortunately it was very promiscuous and kept bringing home women. He would meet them in the kitchen in the morning, looking dazed and eating his cornflakes. He worried that his song was better in bed than he was, and also he felt grumpy at constantly running out of cornflakes. To make matters worse, the song resembled him physically and they were often confused with each other. The world was suddenly full of people convinced he had had deep, tender conversations with them. He took to hugging absolutely everyone he met in order not to risk offence. He could only wonder how the song coped when his own friends assumed it could talk to them about Monty Python or graphic novels. Continue reading “The Songman”

Heat

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She’s become a connoisseur of fine gradations of heat. The different shades of cool on the hotel stairs. On the pavement, the glare of sun, then dappled shadow under leaves; crossing the road, reflected heat from tarmac. At the beach the white sand is almost too hot to scamper over. The sea is first a shock of cold, then perfect, the water subtly varied, warmer at the surface, cool swells from underneath. She’s swimming alone in the summer crowd under a fierce blue sky.

She’s come here on a last minute deal, to clear her head. It seems to be working; there’s not a thought in it. Or, rather, just the one, like a great bell that chimes every time her mind moves: baby. Baby. There’s one inside her now, about nine weeks along. It doesn’t show yet but she’s already gone up a bra size and her breasts tingle and ache. She falls asleep, face down, at eight o’clock each evening. Her body doesn’t need her; she can sleep and it will grow the baby without her. She ought to tell someone. The father – what a strange word to use of him, he’s a friend, he was lonely and so was she – he ought to know. But she floats suspended between the blazing sun and the sea. Continue reading “Heat”

Mortal City

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Dot writes: on Something More on Tuesday Tim Shiel played a track by Domhnall called ‘Lucy Hates Her Life in the Big City’. I was reminded, by the title more than by the piece itself, of Dar Williams’ song ‘Mortal City’, from her 1996 album of the same name (this is a link to Spotify so you can listen to the song; it’s the last track). It also seemed appropriate because it’s a piano-led track and the episode was themed around Piano Day.

It’s one of those songs that hovers between the rhythms of ordinary speech and lyric. The lines are long and prosy, too many syllables. At the start, the accompaniment is hardly there, just the odd unresolved piano chord.

She never should have rented this apartment in the mortal city
The cold comes through every gap she puts her hand up to
The radiator doesn’t work, she has to use electric heat

But as it progresses more instrumentation is added, strings and guitar, melancholy and wistful. I love this gradual coalescence of the music, the emergence of something that sounds more like a song. The prose rhythms of the vocal start to be tugged into the lyricism of the melody. The song tells a story about a woman who’s isolated and unhappy in the city and who on her first date with a man is trapped with him in her flat during a severe storm; they turn off the power because there’s an appeal to save power for the hospital. She tells him of what a cold, dead place the city seems to her, but he talks about how people enjoy the city’s bustle, and how they are acting together to help the hospital. It’s a song that tries to say something quite serious about human loneliness, mortality, the atomisation of modern living, but also the capacity of humans to love and care for each other. It could easily be sentimental and it almost is, but on Tuesday I listened to it after the radio show had finished and I found the tears were running down my cheeks. I suppose I was feeling a bit over-wrought.

We are not lost in the mortal city
We are not lost in the mortal city

Plungey and zen painting

Dot writes: We’ve been in this house almost five years now, and in view of this Ken and I have been thinking it might be a good idea to finish decorating the children’s bedroom. It had a rather vile built-in wardrobe which we’ve been using as a place to keep clothes the boys had grown out of, and as a graveyard for extraneous coat hangers. It also had several test squares of different blues on the ceiling, from when Ken was going to paint a sky around the exciting sun-shaped IKEA light fitting.

The thing about being working parents is that the weekends are very short. You wake up on Saturday, take the kids to swimming, buy pick’n’mix, hang about a little feeling pleased it’s the weekend, have lunch, do the grocery shop, go to the park, do some cleaning and church stuff on Sunday morning, say “wouldn’t it be a good idea to sort the house out this weekend?” and then realise it’s already practically Monday. Rinse and repeat, for four years.

Well, we decided the four-day Easter weekend was too good an opportunity to miss. I’d already prepared last week by sorting out the too-small clothes and putting the ones that were too small for Frank in the clothes bank, and on Saturday we went as a family to Woodie’s and bought paint. Hugh insisted on green paint for the walls, and Frank insisted on buying a plunger which he referred to as “Plungey”. As in “Please, don’t leave Plungey behind!” I’m afraid this made me and Hugh spend the rest of the day compulsively exclaiming “I am Plungor, God of plumbing, and toilet wolves are real!” As a brief digression, this is why:

Anyway, we came back home and Ken ripped out the wardrobe. The room immediately felt astonishingly bigger. He stripped off the wall-paper from the inside of what had been the wardrobe to reveal this (the second picture is on its side):

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I think this says “Moyley was here January 1952 and Frank”, but the first word’s a bit indistinct. Hugh helped me pick up the mess of soggy wallpaper; he was really very sweet, asking for tasks and running up and down eagerly fetching the dustpan and brush and other things. A far cry from the decoration efforts of 2011-12 when the children spent their time scribbling on walls and breaking raw eggs on the floor.*

Today we have put undercoat on the sections of bare plaster and the blue squares on the ceiling. The children had various wall stickers which have had to be removed under protest (many cries of “nooooo, don’t move our stickers, paint round the stickers”, but it would have been a hideously fiddly job); the stickers are supposed to be movable and have been carefully preserved on a roll of cling-film, but they’ve brought speckled samples of the previous paint job with them and I’m hoping (probably in vain) that they can be discreetly lost. It was actually my first time doing more than the tiniest bit of painting. In 2011-12 Ken did virtually everything by himself while I was out at work. I have discovered that I am pretty terrible at painting, but that I like it. You can find a zen rhythm in this repetitive manual task while happily listening to The Best of Depeche Mode on your lovely new Bluetooth speaker bought with air miles. We got as far as “Walking in My Shoes”and then the head fell off the paint roller.

More exciting updates to follow.

*It was Frank who did that. We were having the kitchen re-done and all the food was in cabinets in the living room.

 

Medley

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Chairlift, Moth

Dot writes: early in December 2015 I began to write a post about my favourite albums of the year. I was quite excited by the thought that, for the first time since 1995, I could easily fill a list with albums not just bought but released that very year. What with one thing and another I never published the post. Being that up-to-the-minute simply wasn’t very me. So here’s the best of 2015, in March 2016, with some extra stuff at the bottom – thus the post title.

Dot’s favourite 10 albums released in 2015 (in alphabetical order)

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit 
Has now won oodles of prizes.

The Basics, The Age of Entitlement 
Of course.

Floating Points, Elaenia 
Gorgeous jazz-influenced instrumental music with a mixture of electronic and organic instruments.

Florence and the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful 
Full of huge irresistible tunes, but I think my favourite part is the orchestral coda to the title track and the way it leads into the following song.

Grimes, Art Angels 
I love the slightly crazed, dark edge to this album of shiny, energetic pop music.

Muse, Drones 
I’m cheating here. I didn’t buy this until 2016. But it’s great: a concept album of stonking heavy rock full of bold references and influences. The last track is an adaptation of a Palestrina motet in which the singer, Matt Bellamy, impressively sings all the parts himself.

Nothing But Thieves, Nothing But Thieves
Ken and I saw NBT live in November and were very impressed.

Paper Kites, Twelvefour
Beautiful romantic folk-rock.

Tim Shiel, Gameloading 
A film soundtrack from the prolific Tim Shiel. A particular favourite of Hugh’s, who sometimes requests it at breakfast. Somehow it is good breakfast music.

Zervas and Pepper, Abstract Heart 
Beautifully textured country rock with the flavour of 1969.

And some excellent EPs from 2015

Japanese Wallpaper, Japanese Wallpaper

Timberwolf, Flux

Wafia, XXIX

Current listening

Our routine has changed a bit and I haven’t been finding as many opportunities to search out and listen to music as in preceding months. However, I can recommend a couple of albums that have come out so far this year: Chairlift’s Moth (standout tracks for me are ‘Crying in Public’ and ‘Moth’) and Beacon’s Escapements (which is very much a grower, full of subtle electronic soundscapes). And I’m looking forward to the release of A Mineral Love by Bibio, which seems to be an exercise in exploring different styles of music from the past; four tracks of this are available already and the full thing should be out on 1st April.

Duet

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The twin spacecraft of the STEREO mission (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) were launched on Wednesday, 26th October, 2006 at 00:52 Coordinated Universal Time. As they orbited the moon very slightly apart, its gravity flung them in opposite directions, the ‘Ahead’ (A) satellite directly into a heliocentric path, the ‘Behind’ (B) satellite once more around the earth before it followed. Now both circle the sun, sending back data on storms and flares that cannot be seen from earth itself. Like the eyes of an invisible face they see it in 3D. Because A’s orbit is slightly inside the earth’s and B’s slightly outside, they drew further and further apart from each other until on 6 February 2011 they were at 180 degrees, gazing on the sun from opposite sides. Then they began to move closer again. They will pass earth some time in 2023, but they will never come back down. Continue reading “Duet”