Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Daniel Barenboim

This is an extraordinary performance by Daniel Barenboim who plays the Piano Concerto N° 5 by Beethoven while conducting the orchestra.

Barenboim's exhibition of an incredible degree of musical genius leaves me breathless. To put it bluntly and rather idiotically, I have no idea whatsoever about how he manifests such genius. In fact, if it was easy to understand how he does it, then we might no longer talk of his talent as genius.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Great dance mashup

It’s three decades since the companions of Ivan Doroschuk—of the Canadian Men Without Hats group—pranced around the village on their virtual pogo sticks, performing the strangely-named Safety Dance.

Earlier this year, an imaginative and finely-tuned mashup illustrated this celebrated song by means of images from dozens of different movies, of all kinds.

If ever an extraterrestrial were to acquire and view this mashup, he would surely form the opinion that we earthlings are weirdly-agitated creatures, who never stand still. Well, maybe we are

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Awesome orchestra

Most people are familiar with the situation of being overcome, emotionally, by the beauty of music performed by a symphony orchestra. Here, it is the beauty of the orchestra itself, the artists and their instruments, that stuns us first of all, leaving us wordless.

This simple video provides me with one of those rare moments when it suddenly feels right, exceptionally, to have faith in humanity.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bee Gees

After endless health problems (some of which were hereditary), Robin Gibb has finally left us, at the age of 62. During the '60s and '70s, Robin's ethereal voice played a major role in the fascination exerted by the three brothers from the Isle of Man... who migrated to Queensland when they were young boys.

Today, only Barry Gibb survives.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Three vague projects

Contrary to what you might imagine, after glancing through my recent blog posts, I've been totally preoccupied, over the last fortnight or so, by no less than three separate projects that I would designate as deep, where this adjective means that they are puzzling challenges that concern me profoundly.

Feudal land registers

Last Monday evening, I was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Royans historical association, for a rapid presentation of my research concerning the six cadastral parchments created here in the Royans during the period 1351-1356. I'm still trying to stir up enthusiasm for these precious documents, in the hope that I might be able to obtain finance enabling us to translate and publish them. On Monday afternoon, I printed out the contents (nine A4 sheets) of a single "page" (the correct term is folio) of one of the registers, and glued them roughly onto a cardboard backing, 60 cm wide and 75 cm tall.

This gives you a rough idea of what the parchments look like. The six registers—for the villages of Pont-en-Royans, Choranche, Châtelus, Rencurel, Echevis and St-Laurent-en-Royans—occupy a total of 59 folios of this size. For the moment, the scanned registers are presented in my French-language website [access], which incorporates password protection. Well, I'm starting to wonder whether it might be a good idea to create an English-language version of my website, in the hope of maybe attracting specialists in medieval Latin in places such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, etc. The thing that bothers me concerning these ancient parchments is that their likely contents (I say "likely", because nobody really knows yet exactly what information they contain) are no doubt quite boring, unless you happen to be standing on the actual lands with which they are associated. In other words, if a doctoral scholar were to work on such a register, he or she would normally obtain fulfillment by comparing constantly the text with the actual site. In any case, I'm convinced that it would be extraordinary to be able to read a description of my Gamone property that was penned in the middle of the 14th century.

Collaboration with Pierre Schaeffer

I was contacted recently by a music specialist at ABC radio [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] who would like to interview me on the subject of my collaboration in 1970-1972 with Pierre Schaeffer [1910-1995], inventor of musique concrète (music composed with real-world sounds, including noises).

The problem, in this domain, is that my personal evaluation of the achievements of Schaeffer may not necessarily coincide with those of a musicologist. My experiences at the research service of the ORTF [French Broadcasting System] were a highly significant chapter of my existence in Paris, but it's a subject that I prefer to handle in detail in my autobiographical writing, rather than in an Antipodean radio interview.

Software development

Concerning my intention of developing a Macintosh tool to access the archives of my Antipodes blog, I've truly been running around in circles for the last few weeks, changing constantly from one approach to another. First, I was thinking purely in terms of a Mac application, but I soon realized any such tool must incorporate the blogger's password. So, I would be able to create this tool for the Antipodes blog, and then give copies of the tool to other people. But I would not be able to envisage a tool that would work for other blogs, for which I don't know the passwords. Then I got around to thinking that a better approach would be to build a website, rather than a Mac app, so that any blogger could use it merely by entering his/her own password. More recently still, I've been looking into the idea of using the PHP language to develop a tool that can analyze the so-called Atom feed, which any blogger can download instantly by clicking a button. Today, though, I've got back to my starting point, in considering that a Mac tool is maybe the best approach. The only thing that's certain is the fact that, whichever approach I finally adopt, it's a much more complex affair than what I had initially imagined. We tend to think that a blog is surely just a simple set of text files with an assortment of images and videos. In fact, the structure of a vast system such as Google's Blogger platform is diabolically complicated.

So, that's a summary of questions that have been running through my mind over the last fortnight or so. The common denominator of these three affairs is that each one seems to be complicated, indeed confusing, in its own way.

Maybe I would be better off sitting out in the sun and admiring the clouds, or watching my fig tree grow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When the drummer drops the beat

I belong to a generation of jazz enthusiasts for whom a revolution took place when the Dave Brubeck Quartet produced their 1959 Time Out album. At that time, I went along to a Brubeck concert at the Stadium in Rushcutters Bay. Mesmerized by their complex rhythms, accentuated by the fabulous ethereal saxophone of Paul Desmond and the punchy bass strumming of Eugene Wright, I watched in amazement as their drummer Joe Morello drew a large white handkerchief from his coat pocket, in the middle of a piece, to wipe his sweating brow. Without losing a beat, he used the handkerchief as a drumstick for a second or so, nonchalantly, to the applause of the crowd. OK, it was a rehearsed gesture, but you needed to be Joe Morello to pull it off convincingly.

My description of that magic evening marked my first-ever momentary incursion into the world of creative writing, for the Honi Soit weekly of Sydney University. For the moment, I can't put my hand on that totally uninteresting document, but I promise to reproduce it here on my blog as soon as I find it. I've noticed, too, that there are web videos of this celebrated Brubeck excursion to the Antipodes.

We learn today that the maestro Morello has finally dropped the beat.

OK, Joe, take five...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Play your didgeridoo, Blue

An unexpected advantage of owning an old automobile is that it often needs to be repaired, or at least undergo its obligatory annual checkup, and this means that the owner is forced to wander around for an hour or so in various dull urban environments where he wouldn't normally set foot. Consequently, one often makes interesting discoveries.

Yesterday afternoon, at St-Marcellin (home town of the famous cheese), I wandered down an unfamiliar lane in order to visit a big nondescript warehouse that is totally specialized in the sale of cheap and nasty goods made in Asia. If I understand correctly, the lady behind this enterprise had been an enthusiastic tourist in lands such as Indonesia. One day, she decided to pay cash for a container of assorted merchandise that would be delivered to St-Marcellin. That must have been several years ago. Since then, has she purchased further containers full of this stuff, or is she still trying to find buyers for the initial delivery? I really don't know… but I find it hard to believe that many of the sturdy local folk would be tempted to track down this out-of-the-way warehouse and buy goods there. But I may be wrong. After all, I've never been inside the homes of many citizens of St-Marcellin. Maybe, if we were to conduct a rigorous survey, we would discover that there's an amazingly large proportion of Asian junk decorating the local living rooms.

Be that as it may, the part of the warehouse that fascinated me most of all was a tiny corner holding an upright pile of objects that appeared to be Australian didgeridoos… which normally look like this:

Now, the didgeridoos on sale in the warehouse at St-Marcellin didn't really look much like that. First, they were almost perfectly cylindrical, from one end to the other, rather than tapered. Next, when I picked up one of them, I found that it was quite light: not at all what you would expect in the case of a hollowed-out eucalyptus sapling some 2 meters in length. Then, the decoration had a glossy plastic look, as if it were composed of sheets of industrially-printed fake-Aboriginal graphic designs that had been glued onto the surface of the cylinder. Finally, the price of these objects was more-or-less standard, no matter what the size and decoration: a couple of dozen euros. It was then that I noticed, on a price tag, that these didgeridoos were in fact made out of bamboo and manufactured in Indonesia. As the lady at the sales counter put it, they were purely decorative didgeridoos. Instantly, I started to wonder whether there were many families in the St-Marcellin area that boasted the presence, hanging on a wall, of a fake decorative didgeridoo.

An unexpected advantage of not having many local friends (in my case, not a single individual living in St-Marcellin) is the negligible likelihood of receiving this kind of object as a gift from a kind-hearted person thinking that it would bring me warm memories of my distant land of birth. Today, of course, if such a calamity were to hit me, I could always hand the object over to my dog Fitzroy. All I would need to do, then, is to leave the chewed remnants of the instrument on the kennel roof, and inform my kind-hearted friend that a slight but unfortunate accident had occurred when I was teaching Fitzroy to play the didgeridoo…

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two and a half minutes of Scarlatti

Monday morning offering from Gallica. A fragment of the Fugue in F minor of the Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti [1660-1725] is played on the harpsichord by the Belgian performer Aimée Van de Wiele [1907-1991].

To listen to the old gramophone recording, click the image of Scarlatti, then click the arrow at the top of the page.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The 67-year-old Israeli pianist and orchestral conductor Daniel Barenboïm has always appeared to me as a brilliant star of hope in our troubled heavens: the kind of fellow who makes me feel that there might be rare reasons to love my humankind.

The former child prodigy has taken up the piano once again, playing the Chopin concertos at the Salle Pleyel with the Orchestre de Paris. His personal masterpiece remains the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded in 1999 with a Palestinian academic, Edward Saïd, and composed of young Israeli, Arab and Iranian musicians.

The word "prodigy" comes from a medieval Latin term meaning omen. In the minds of his admirers, Barenboïm remains no doubt an omen of future peace in the Middle East. But I fear that countless discordant sounds will have to flow under the many bridges of hateful dissent before we hear any kind of harmonious finale.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dancing into the light

The choreographer Maurice Béjart, who died in Lausanne last Thursday at the age of eighty, was the son of a celebrated philosopher, Gaston Berger [1896-1960], inventor of an early form of futurology [forecasting the future] known in French as prospective. When asked to describe the circumstances in which he became a choreographer, Béjart often referred to his fascination for the musique concrète conceived and composed by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry. One of Béjart's most fabulous ballet creations was based upon the haunting rhythm of Boléro by Maurice Ravel [1875-1937], in which a solo dancer—either male or female—moves like a great graceful bird upon a raised red circular platform, surrounded by a small group of companion dancers. An outstanding performance of this work starred the great Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who was a couple of years older than Béjart.

Béjart was inspired by the pioneer Russian dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar [1905-1986], who started his career in the troupe of Serge de Diaghilev. A long time ago, back in Paris, Albert Richard [founder of La Revue musicale, in which I had done some writing] once invited Christine and me to a dinner evening with the aging Lifar, whom he had known for ages. My brief contacts with the exciting universe of contemporary music appear to me, today, as quite ethereal, particularly since many of the individuals I encountered at that time—such as Iannis Xenakis [1922-2001], for example—are no longer alive. But I never imagine any of these artists and intellectuals as having moved into darkness. The earthly existence of Maurice Béjart, above all, was spent dancing into the light. The legendary light of the first day of Genesis.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The winner is... a loser

The dictionary informs me that one of my favorite French adjectives, ringard, came into existence at about the same time I first arrived in France, at the beginning of the 1960s. Besides, its origin is apparently unknown. For the moment, I can't think of its exact equivalent in English, but I'll give you an idea of what it means in French, and maybe somebody might be able to suggest an appropriate English adjective. At a first approximation, it means old-fashioned, obsolete, anachronistic or kitsch. But it's a derogatory term, so its meaning is somewhat similar to the adjectives crude, tacky or trashy.

Let me give you a local example. In the village of Pont-en-Royans, the mayor decided to transform some old buildings alongside the Bourne into a museum devoted to the theme of water. He called upon a graphic artist to produce a poster for the museum. Since there are several multimedia exhibits, the artist thought it would be a good idea to combine the notions of water and electronic display screens. And this is the result:

Now, every time I drive past one of these billboards (which are scattered all around the region), the adjective ringard pops instantly into my mind. The mediocre creative thinking of the design artist reminds me of an anecdote back in a Paris software laboratory where I used to work. It was packed with computers, on every desk, in every room. An Algerian cleaning woman would turn up towards the end of the afternoon, when most of us were still staring at our computer screens. When she needed to dust a computer screen that was being used, the lady would apologize for disturbing the engineer: "Excuse me for a moment or two while I clean your TV." We were amused by the fact that she must have imagined that we had fantastic jobs. We were being paid to sit there all day and watch TV. Well, to my mind, the guy who created the poster for the museum at Pont-en-Royans was a bit like our cleaning lady. To represent visually the concept of the multimedia exhibits, he got hold of an archaic TV set and took a photo of it floating in a pool of water. Then he added fishes and the head of a female swimmer. Happily, the TV set is obviously so ancient that nobody would be silly enough to turn it on, and electrocute the underwater observer.

The reason I'm particularly interested in the adjective ringard is that I wanted to say a few words about the amazingly tacky and kitsch Eurovision song contest that takes place annually here in Europe. It's moving from atrociously bad to worse, but there are millions of TV viewers who love it. This year, France succeeded in achieving exactly the same position as last year: third-last in a field of two dozen competing countries. The French group was named Fatals Picards, and it was meant to be terribly amusing. This is what they looked like:

Their sound was worse than their appearance. Now, it would be unkind of me to suggest that this group was not elected in a valid manner to represent France. I don't doubt for a moment that there are sufficiently many musically-tasteless TV viewers in France to cast their votes for such a group. But the bush telegraph tells me that this group might have got a little help from friends who are financial administrators in the French TV world. You see, the winner of Eurovision becomes automatically a loser, because the number 1 country has to host the following contest, and this is an expensive bore, to say the least. The situation might be summed up in words often applied to great sporting events such as the Olympic Games. The important thing is participating, not necessarily winning. For France, winning Eurovision would be a costly catastrophe.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Death of a singer, birth of a legend

Popular French singer Grégory Lemarchal was 23 years old when he died a week ago of a terrible hereditary disease, cystic fibrosis, for which there is not yet any permanent remedy. In 2004 he was the winner of a French TV talent quest called Star Academy.

The sudden death of this angel-faced youth, which could well transform his brief glory into a legend, will hopefully play a positive role in the constant quest for body-organ donors, not to mention the collection of financial donations to aid in the on-going research in the domain of cystic fibrosis. [Click here to visit the Grégory Lemarchal website.]

Monday, April 30, 2007

The maestro has left the stage

This striking photo has the formal beauty of an image from Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible. We first encounter the finely-chiseled features of the dead man: his wide mouth and thin lips, almost smiling, and his pointed nose. At the same time, our eyes are attracted by the pastel-hued hippy-like band around his brow. Then our comprehension of the scene is puzzled by the four fine red-nailed fingers, which seem for an instant, weirdly, to belong to the deceased. An instant later, we realize that the face hovering above the coffin is that of a woman, and that the fingers are hers. She is clutching the edge of the cloth-lined coffin as a support enabling her to move within breathing space of the sleeping personage... if only he still breathed. Maybe she might kiss his dead lips. Maybe she won't. We do not need to know. The virtual embrace is already there, fixed by the form of their pose, forever present.

During my youthful years in Sydney — from my contact with university in 1957, then with computing at IBM, up until my departure for Europe at the end of 1961 — I often attended symphonic concerts at the town hall. In 1960, when he was not yet an international celebrity, Mstislav Rostropovich performed in Australia under the direction of the Ukrainian composer and conductor Igor Markevitch. One morning, when I happened to be strolling idly through the sunny streets of the city, I wandered into the town hall to buy a ticket for the cellist's forthcoming concert. Hearing music, and seeing that all the doors were wide open, I ventured into the almost empty concert hall. Rostropovich was alone on the stage, crouched over his frail instrument in a pose like a gawky peasant milking a goat. The solemn sounds filling the town hall were not however those of a beast, but of a divine creature: the cello of Mstislav Rostropovich. I was transfixed in awe, since I had not imagined for an instant that I might come upon the great artist in these almost private circumstances. I remember feeling vaguely that my presence there was slightly improper, as if I had stepped by chance into the backstage room of a lovely actress when she was changing costumes. I had the terrible apprehension that the cellist might suddenly halt in the middle of a bar, to admonish me: "Young man, what are you doing here? Can't you see that your presence is preventing me from concentrating on my practice? Please leave immediately!" Rostropovich never pronounced any such words, but I nevertheless left the concert hall rather rapidly, because I had the distinct feeling that my presence there was incorrect. It was strange, indeed troubling, to hear this great musician "making mistakes" (in his judgment, not mine), and then repeating a few bars several times over, to get them right. That sunny Sydney morning, I was in the presence of rare ethereal sounds, which I have never forgotten.