My fourpennyworth (Music)


Wednesday 7 June 2006

Music on a pedestal

Bought a pair of speaker stands last week from eBay – of such cheapness that even I, the beneficiary, feel a bit bad about it – and am amazed by the difference they seem to make. (That ‘seem’ is there to indicate a possible placebo effect.) Last year I put together a relatively low-cost hifi set-up, trying to stick to British products as far as possible: the venerable but first-rate Creek 4040 amplifier, which my most audiophile friend first recommended to me almost twenty years ago; a pair of KEF speakers (the Coda range); and a Goldring turntable. I also got myself a very good, if relatively dear, CD player/recorder (Marantz), allowing myself to spend the money because it can be used to produce sample CDs of songs from our musicals for prospective producers, etc (that’s what I’m telling the taxman, at any rate). The CD player cost more than everything else put together, but it was always strikingly impressive, even when I had less responsive speakers. Now I have these nice KEF ones on stands, I can barely believe my ears. Then again, my main point of comparison is with a portable CD player with speakers you plug into the headphone socket…

Highlights of my new listening experience include the last movement of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony conducted by Carlos Kleiber (I’m afraid to listen to it again in case I don’t get the same buzz) and various Scarlatti sonatas played by Pierre Hantai. I don’t really own enough pop music to find out how well that comes out, though jazz standards such as Artie Shaw’s band playing ‘Frenesi’, Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘But Not for Me’ or Tony Bennett whispering Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Lover’ clean up pretty well. (I wonder about listening to Goldfrapp’s ‘Strict Machine’, but am afraid my head, or heart, might explode…)*

* I’m just listening to it now. My heart and head remain unburst, but there are some interesting sensations going up and down my spine, and not all of them are vibrations from the floor.

(Category: Music)

5.48 pm

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Tuesday 28 March 2006

More on Morin

What’s odd about the songs to this musical of ours – called, since you ask, That Pig, Morin! (the exclamation mark purely for the US market) – is that, for all their complex rhyming and word play, the lyrics were rather naïvely written. For almost all of them the music came first, and the words I wrote were informed not only by the melody, but by the harmonies underneath, the speed at which Jamie happened to play it on the recording, and for all I know the acoustics of the particular Norwegian barn he recorded it in.

So when I heard the songs, newly recorded from Sunday’s workshop and/or Saturday’s dress rehearsal and accompanied by the composer himself, it came as a shock to find the accompaniments shorn of the melodic line (because, after all, the singer has that), or missing those extra notes in the left hand I paid so much attention to when I was constructing the lyrics. I’ve always been desperate to hear the songs accompanied by a small band, partly because I don’t really like the piano very much, but mostly, I suspect, because I’m hoping that’ll restore some of the body I remember from the original recordings…

Idly wondering about the style of instrumentation, I put on a bit of Fauré (Masques et Bergamasques) and immediately thought that would work (the country and period are more or less right, too), as would something like Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite. Of course, that’s a whole orchestra, whereas we’re likely to be stuck with a guitar, double bass and piccolo…

(Category: Music)

2.22 am

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Monday 20 March 2006

Ravel’s train-ride

Recently I read somewhere that Ravel conceived the first movement of his piano concerto (the two-hand/funny one, as opposed to the one-hand/solemn one) in 1928, on a train journey from Oxford to London, having just picked up his honorary doctorate. Thinking of it as ‘train music’ – to go alongside Pacific 231 or Coronation Scot, or the Villa-Lobos toccata with the impossible name from Bachianas Brasileiras 2 – makes me like the piece even more, if that’s possible…

(Category: Music)

2.02 pm

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