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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Venice Diary V

Wandering around we stumbled upon Piccolo Mondo - a swinging nightspot that has been roadtested and recommended by Debbie's mate, Kevin.

After peering at the door for a second we suddenly understood Kevin's comments about this being the place where all the studs hang out.

We are in search of the Guggenheim but tragically it's closed on Christmas day and Tuesdays. It's not Christmas day but it is a Tuesday.

Venice is so densely packed...

yet every few yards you leave narrow little lanes to emerge into squares that often surprise and delight.

After a day of wandering around in spitting rain the sun comes out as we walk home...

Our room with a view...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Venice Diary IV

Venice is full of chocolate box views but immediately alongside the picturesque stands the in-built decay that comes from constructing a city on water. I can’t decide if Venice is a tribute to man overcoming adversity or a gloriously gaudy monument to his folly for putting a city exactly where you shouldn't.

We take the ferry to Murano famed for its glass making.

On the way Alo and Debbie tell tales of yore...

Murano from the front...

and round the back...

After a hard day on the hoof we head back to the apartment...

where we raise a small glass...

and sample these purely in the interests of research!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Venice Diary II

Via Garibaldi, Venice

We wake up at 10.00 a.m. local time. Our room is in total darkness, utterly silent. Debra opens the internal windows and an orchestral flourish belonging to Mozart flounces in from the street outside.

She then pushes back the shutters and along with blazing light, our world is accosted by the boisterous thump of a marching band (all brass and bass drum), then church bells that veer from basso rumbles to angelic clusters of joy unconfined.

We giggle like kids.

From our bedroom window

From our front window

From the front door and into Via Garibaldi

Via Garibaldi looking toward St.Mark's Square

Via Garibaldi looking towards San Pietro

On San Pietro with its leaning bell tower

Venice Diary III

A walk in the Giardini Pubblici

In and out of the pavilions for the Venice Biennale

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Venice Diary I

The plan was Whitley Bay to Newcastle, Newcastle to Kings Cross, Kings Cross to Victoria, Victoria to Gatwick, meet up with our companions for the week, Alo and Gordon, Gatwick to Venice, and finally a vaporetto from the airport to an apartment on Via Garibaldi.

What could possibly go wrong, we laughed.

Well nothing as it turned out. I love it when a plan like this comes together.

Gordon and Alo at Gatwick


and some more Dolomites

and yet some more Dolomites

touchdown in Via Garibaldi

touched in Via Garibaldi

Surprise Paul Simon

Not your average player in the key of C

Paul Simon

released 5th June

It was 1966 when I heard "Homeward Bound". I was nine years old. The fact that Paul Simon’s pebble-smooth voice has been skimming in and out of my life over the last 40 years, might account for the sense of deja vu encountered when hearing this album for the first time.

The feeling of it already being a known quantity emanates from Simon’s indelible voice as vocalist and consummate writer, and the high-visibility that comes with that kind of territory. Had it been a case of 50 ways to top up the pension plan such familiarity might well have bred contempt. Happily this is not the case.

You have to speculate to accumulate and a canny Simon is doing just that by drafting in dinner-party pal Brian Eno. No stranger to celebrity turns on his albums (both Herbie Hancock and Bill Frissell appear here), Simon has charged Eno with supplying the sonic landscape.

The Herald Tribune recently described the album as “avant-garde” which is, of course, arrant nonsense. Eno’s contributions are pretty much what you’d expect them to be; a decorous coating of glacial atmospherics, delicate modulations and modifications and other colourings on his expansive timbral paint chart. It’s hardly the shocking When-Eggheads-Collide hyperbole which some quarters claim it to be.

Nevertheless, there’s an embarrassment of riches; "That’s Me" flirts with Graceland’s buoyant demeanour. Similarly, "Beautiful" invokes rhythmic motifs explored on Graceland and no matter how much he attempts to inhabit the indignant twang of jaded Joe Public narrator of Outrageous, there’s no missing that velveteen purr. The looped textures of "Another Galaxy" plays tricks with the memory, sounding both retro sci-fi fx and a telephone call from the future.

"Father And Daughter" demonstrates how good he is at his craft. The sentimentality of the subject and its pop-tastic singalong chorus mask a clever chord sequence during the verse. Moving from resolution to ambiguity it perfectly complements the lyric’s hope and fear factor that is a feature of being a parent.

If "The Sound of Silence" was innocence lost in the era of Vietnam, "Wartime Prayers" is the mature reflection that the price of experience is still paid in blood. It’s the magnificent heart and soul of the album. Though the lyric “Nothing is different but everything has changed” belongs to "Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean” it’s also an apt description of the lands in which Wartime Prayers are said.

Sometimes it tries a touch too hard. "Everything About It Is A Love" picks up an assortment of stylistic suites. Down-strummed earnest ballad one minute, a skittering drum n’ bass driven groove the next, windblown in the passing train of Eno’s electronica; none of them fit too well and it looks and sounds a bit too stretched.

This is the probably the exception to the rule and elsewhere Eno’s contributions are subtle, succinct but ultimately of secondary importance. It’s the songs rather than the means of their production that make this release a return to the kind of quality which Simon has wandered from in recent years.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lost & Found & Lost

I was thinking about the archives part of this blog and noticed how there’s some huge gaps. This will be because a) I wasn’t posting anything at the time or b) the task of sifting through all that stuff is too daunting.

There’s also a third possibility which I’ve just discovered to my chagrin; it’s been lost in some computer melt-down.

Just when I felt like dealing with uploading 2003, this post is all I can find.

+ + + +

Debbie and I went to the cinema yesterday to see Brick. It’s a fantastically paced movie that grips from beginning to end. Essentially an exercise in hard-boiled film noir but set in a modern day American high school, it begins with a young man looking at the body of a young girl laying face-down in a sewer. A title card reads “Two days previously” and we’re off. Highly recommended.

+ + + +

resistance is futile apparently

I’ve been watching the new season of Doctor Who.

Is David Tennant better than Peter Davison? Yes.

Is he better than Colin Baker? Yes.

Is he better than Sylvester McCoy? Yes.

Are the production values of the programme the best they’ve ever been? Yes.

Is Billie Piper’s character, Rose, the best female companion they’ve ever had since the show began in 1963? Yes.

Has the quality of the scripts improved beyond all recognition since Russell T Davies steered the show back to our screens? Yes.

Am I enjoying the show? No.

I think it’s time for me to move on.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Best Advice A Son Can Give His Father

The worst thing about growing old isn't so much the inexorable march of infirmity (although it's not exactly a party) but the onset of cynicism. It's pernicious and once it's in your system can set about hardening your sensibilities. It's all too easy to be cynical about the world around us, about the politicians, about England's chances in the World Cup, about the Kaiser Chiefs, about ...well just about everything.

So last night, as I talked to my oldest son, Tom, I was shocked to hear the inner cynic in me annotating his chirpy world view. Things are good for Tom right now. He's just completed a week of work experience which has been a positive occasion both for him and the firm he was billeted with for five days.

After saving every penny he's been able to grab for the last 12 months he's also just bought his first computer. It feels like an achievement for him and so it is. Whilst many of mates have blown their cash on all the stuff that 14 year olds do, Tom has deferred gratification with a stoic uncomplaining dignity that I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to achieve when I was his age.

At the time I was forever legging it to the record store to buy the latest album I could afford. Tom doesn't "do" albums but that's another story and, for now another post.

Knowing the background to his mindset then, it's no surprise that he was on something of a high as we spoke in the kitchen. I was making a pot of tea as he grabbed a bowl of cereal. He was reflecting on how much he was looking forward to growing up and getting out into the real world, about being his own person, about all the things he would achieve and do for people, for those he loved.

However, to my dismay this moving soliloquy was tempered by a nagging inner voice that counter-balanced every positive thing he was saying with a seen-it-all-before negative.

Of course I didn't give voice to any of the sniping thoughts but they hung in the air like a bad smell. I was shocked to find myself the culprit who was poisoning the moment. It reminded me of Richard Thompson's mordant advice to a newborn child on End of the Rainbow.

That's not who I am but I realise it's who I can become if I let it.

Being cynical shuts us off from the possibilities and opportunities that come along in abundance if we can but see them. Inertia becomes comfortable; we baste in our own vitriolic juices, trussed in a trap of our own devising and ultimately stuffed.

None of this is inevitable but you have to be prepared to work at it, and then keep working at it - the minimum requirement if we want to change anything in this world.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bits & Pieces I

Here's some bits and peices that have come to my attention in recent weeks and days...

From Stephen Leak...The Moon House
Strangely evocative little pieces

From lowercase lifestyle...9 Beet Stretch
This is wonderful stuff - Beethoven as glacial minimalist composer.

And how about this...

It looks like it could be the cover of the new David Sylvian album but it's not.

Michael Peters has a myspace site. It contains a section of Stretched Landscape #1 - one of my favourite ambient peices ever. As I type I've got a live mix of Stretched Landscape and 9 Beet Stretch going on and it they sound very good together.

Some pensive ambience from Garuda that's been taking my fancy as well

And finally, I couldn't help but smirk at this video.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Exposure by Robert Fripp

He's an Englishman in New York

Robert Fripp
expanded, re-mastered 2 CD set
released 5th June 2006

Having had the sense to jump before the good ship Prog Rock went down with all hands, Robert Fripp emerged out from under the new wave with his debut solo album in 1979.

After working with Bowie and Eno on Heroes in Europe, Fripp crossed the pond to spend time living in the USA, soaking up with the CBGB street scene and mixing it with all kinds of punks, in both senses of the phrase.

Hey, whatdya know - this Fripp was hip; reconnected to rock n’ roll rush that had propelled him into wanting to play guitar when he was a kid.

It was in this kind of environment that his first solo album emerged. A stream-of-conscious musical autobiography, Exposure stood way out from the prog-rock crowd he’d often been associated with.

Anyone back then expecting a continuation of where Crimson left off was in for a big shock within about 30 seconds of playing the album. From the razor-slash riffery of You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette, Exposure had a spiky, slightly unstable quality that gave it an in-yer-face edge.

It’s possible to view Exposure as an artefact of an alternative universe, one in which Fripp and Debbie Harry are movie stars; where musicians create, collaborate and leap out from the generic pigeonholes into which they’ve been penned by defensive management and record labels.

Daryl Hall, whose contributions to this album are truly dazzling, sounds more alive and kicking here than he ever did back in the real world.

In this sense, Exposure chronicles both sides of Fripp’s personality – the innocent who doesn’t know what he can’t do and the pragmatist who does what he has to. With Hall’s role contractually stripped back Fripp was forced to re-imagine how the record might be.

Whilst this kind of challenge might have defeated some, it’s meat and drink to a character like Fripp who, even by then, had a long track record habit of surviving and thriving adversity.

He came up with an album that intrigued, infatuated and infuriated folks in equal measure at the time and in this regard Fripp has always been consistent.

27 years later we now have a double album that presents both versions (with five bonus alternative tracks), remastered with impeccable, jaw-dropping clarity and which lives up to the “Sgt.Pepper of avant-punk” hyperbole accorded it by The Wire.

Bridging the two seemingly irreconcilable worlds of old-school musical technique and post-punk attitude, Exposure is one savagely beautiful blast of an album that sounds as safety-pin sharp now as it did back then.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Hidden Message by Da Vinci Vox

Jesus - give me stength! The Da Vinci Code Begets Yet More Bollocks

The Hidden Message by
Da Vinci Vox

released 29th May 2006

The fuss from the various religious authorities over the release of Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code proves there really is a conspiracy afoot.

It's surely evidence that such bodies are in the pocket of the Hollywood marketing machine, and enaged on a plot to give the movie as much free publicity as possible.

The greatest mystery surrounding Dan Brown’s execrable dash around the catacombs of cliché and claptrap is how it ever sold a single copy.

And from the book that put the con into conspiracy we have the Da Vinci Vox, a seedy exercise in CD exploitation.

Replete with hidden messages and –gasp – mirror writing on the cover even the identity of the musicians concerned is a closely guarded secret. I’m not surprised really. They need to be hunted down without mercy for inflicting this new-agey tosh with a beat upon the world.

From the moment the ominous-sounding choir gives way to the usual mix of tamed breakbeats and purring bass, we’re off on a by-the-numbers journey of soft-rock guitar, orchestral sweeps, cod-celtic diversions, esoteric wailings, ponderous spoken text and, so help me, the inevitable shakuhachi sample, which as everyone knows, is the aural equivalent of stock footage.

With supporting online content, the Da Vinci Vox contends there is a hidden message buried within its derivative, second-hand stylings and portentous drivel. In common with Dan Brown’s novel, the secret message would seem to be “Hey sucker – buy this!”


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