Bang on a Can All-Stars [Florent Ghys – An Open Cage]

Do you know what I want? I want an ensemble. Doesn’t need to be a big one, just 5 or 6 instruments covering all the tonal bases so I can throw notes at them and see what sticks. A group open to experimentation not as a focus but as a tool. A group open to the traditional not as a reaction but out of respect. Basically a team that will put up with conceptual micro-tonal think-pieces and folk-inflected fanfares with equal measure. The impossible dream. At least, an impossible dream for those with pitifully few musical contacts and a deep seated mistrust of institutionalised musicians, like me. It’s my fault, really. I let my lack of proficiency in any particular instrument needle away at me until it was easier to say I wasn’t a musician than was. Rubbish thoughts, obviously, but prevalent enough in my wilderness years to cause lasting effect. What could have been, had I run with the post-modernists instead of, you know, getting a job. I do know one thing for sure, it wouldn’t have been anything like Bang on a Can All-Stars which makes this intro rather redundant.

There is only the now. The past exists merely as records and situations, the future simply as hopes and aims, but the present, that’s forever. I accept that, it’s why I loathe the current fetishisation of nostalgia. The myriad influences and decisions made that pooled into the art and culture of certain periods were unique to those times. If we uproot the finished product without understanding the context, how are we adding to culture? What are we adding to the human experience? Not much. Not to say that there’s anything bad with wearing 50s-style clothes, writing 60s-style music or making 90s-style video games; they’re useful in locating ourselves within cultural history. But a point will come when we’ll have to look forward instead of back and acknowledge that we have to stand on our own, fed by our own myriad influences and decisions. I may want my ensemble in the image of Bang on a Can All-Stars, but the sounds produced would be different. Which makes me sad, because I love these sounds. I love them performing Ghys’ ‘An Open Cage’, I love them performing Wolfe’s ‘Reeling’, I love it all. It’s a philosophical thing. A post-Cageian appreciation of universal sound used as medium. A projection of joy. Something timeless.

I’m reading a really interesting book at the moment about the accessibility of music. It puts forward an idea that to reclaim a positive engagement from the public, modern music needs to be accessible (at least I think it does, I’ve only just started it). The underlying statement being that ‘complex’ music has shriveled in relevance due to it’s inaccessibility whereas popular music has risen in popularity specifically because it’s ‘easier’ to understand. I hate these arguments. There are no right or wrong ways to write or experience music, just do what you like. That’s what Bang on a Can All-Stars have done. Their performances drag me in. You can feel them feeding off one another like a rock group. They’re enjoying what they’re playing, simple patterns placed in complex arrangements wrapped in dense structural filigree. It is accessible to me, from my lofty studious tower. But I think it should be accessible to you too, Ghys’ piece is after all very much of the New York jazz tradition; the funky, funky New York jazz tradition. The effortless way in which he finds groove within the cadence of John Cage’s spoken word is just cool. Sure, it may get discordant a little bit, but it resolves into such beauty. A great piece by an exceptionally great group.

I want an ensemble. One in the vein of Bang on a Can All-Stars but in our own image, building on their philosophy and adding our own histories. Staring ahead and mushing genre and form together in a smårgås of happy expression. Making music for our time. I’d be honoured if you’d come join me.

Just drop me a line via that contact page up at the top.

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Mr Ekow – If A Tree Falls (#VoteMrEko)

At the point where all ideas are exhausted; at that point where we look back at the vicious tear of British music culture and tot up final scores; Feargal Sharkey will be near the top. Aside from writing the favourite song of Britain’s most respected DJ and scoring a slew of hits with The Undertones; he has since become the embodiment of protecting and providing opportunities for Britain’s next generation. Did you know that he chaired the UK Government task force formed to evaluate the change in licensing laws and their effect on Britain’s live music scene? Did you know he was founding CEO of UK Music, the umbrella organisation that directly looks after the collective interests of the music industry? Did you know that in 1999 he’d rather stay a member of the Radio Authority (which is part of Ofcom) than rejoin the band? With so many of our idols content to keep churning out the same old tunes just to keep the thrill alive, it is heartening that there are truly great people out there keeping the soil fresh for the future. Not content to rest on these laurels, he is now spearheading Salute, a new music competition that seeks to offer a platform for the sheer breath of quality, organic music being produced in home studios across the country. Because there is an immense quality of music swimming beneath the mainstream. Immense. I don’t envy the curators of Salute having to sift through it all and somehow pick a top 100. Yet pick them they did and now it is up to us, the listener, the fan, to decide a winner. My choice? Mr Ekow – If A Tree Falls.

Full disclaimer; I know Mr Ekow. He is my friend and (alongside myself and cloud key) a co-third of uncle phil. But I’m not one for nepotism and If A Tree Falls doesn’t need it. When I heard that it had made it to the Salute top 100 I was elated, a piece I had admired and enjoyed getting the recognition it deserved. A song sinister in it’s subtle, disconcerting intimacy. A beat (produced by TheUnsung) like an arm rounding your shoulders on a dark night, as an unknown voice whispers “hello, friend..”. It thrills in the danger and focuses attention. Grasping for support we fall on Mr Ekow and his words. Intimate words. Dark words. Relatable words. To distill all this imagery into a small descriptive package would rob it of it’s power, but arching over the lyrical is doubt. That voice in the dark ever judging your worth and purpose. An exceptionally intimate subject that I relate to every day; why do we create if nobody is listening? Why do we do anything if nobody notices? Dark and bleak subjects for dark and bleak times. It’s a theme that is developed throughout the piece as each new verse shines light on the mental struggle society has placed us upon us. Then the beat drops out and we are fully confronted, “If a man falls in the busy city does he make a sound, or is his death drowned out by the traffic and the crowds?”. It a bleak question that I can’t honestly answer beyond an ineffective offering of hope. But to collapse is not Mr Ekow’s style and running as a truss-rod through his entire body of work is a solid, supreme belief in himself. The declaration “I won’t be a slave to this, I will make change to this” is defiant in it’s delivery. Without fully concluding the tale, it places a grain of strength within us and sends us on our way. The world is tough, the despair is real but those grains of strength add up. Those grains of belief add up and Salute music is proof that our words matters. Our deeds matter. The positive effect of this kind of support cannot be overstated.

So how do you vote? Well, I think I’ll let Chris explain.


In a world first, Salute are using a Facebook messenger bot to allow you to evaluate each tune and track which artist features on the most saved playlist. I strongly advise you to save/vote Mr Ekow, but also listen widely to the talent that made it into the top 100 because there’s lost out there. Voting closes October 27th so get on it, stat. The winner gets £50,000 and 5 runners up get £10,000 which, if you compare it to the average independent artists combined earnings, is dang impressive! This is an excellent song that has a really good chance of winning an excellent competition. So be like Feargal, support independent art and help build the creative ideas of the future!


For more information on Salute and how to vote: click here.

For some previous words on Mr Ekow: click here.

For more (excellent) music by Mr Ekow: click here.

If you enjoyed reading this then I’d greatly appreciate it if you spent a bit of time reading some previous entries. I write about anything and everything musical so there’s plenty for everyone. Failing that a like would be nice. But you do you, if you enjoyed it then that’s satisfaction enough.

Teaterkoncerten på Gasværket – Come Together

Knowledge doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Actually, that sounds a little arrogant, understanding doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Reading up on how others perceive the things that I truly find important helps me better root my own perceptions. Equally I’m fine being challenged by the perceptions of others; an experience which either helps refine my opinions in opposition or enhances my knowledge in agreement. That’s why school is cool, yo. But now I’ve ostensibly gone back to education I’ve been reading a lot of academic texts and it’s accordingly made me get more better academic in my music listening, innit. Take John Cage, titan amongst 20th century composers and lion of musics classical and popular. You likely know him best for 4’33”, a 1952 piece composed for any ensemble where the performers are instructed not to play anything for 4 minutes 33 seconds. It’s an important piece though it’s not what most people would consider music. Cage, you see, was as interested in all sound as he was the note. Sound is always there, always humming in the background ambiently and music is just one of the many ways we have to organise it. But within that organisation there is always pause, be it a breath between a note, a shifting between phrases or the bookends between the ending of one piece and the beginning of another. Cage understood that these moments were as important as the melodies themselves. He understood that they held equal importance. It was an idea that stuck with me, that stuck with many contemporary composers. Silence is the tapestry, it is what holds the threads together. With that in mind, I want to talk about Teaterkoncert på Gasværket and their exceptional Beatles extravaganza, Come Together.

When I first moved to Sweden I was invited to see this exceptional show within the first few weeks and I was struck by the sheer creativity of it all. The Beatles’ songs stretched over new frames creating forms of expression woefully absent in the originals. Yes, yes, I hear you purists with your “NO, the music this quartet left behind is perfect and should be only experienced on first edition vinyl!”, I simply choose to ignore you. Your opinion has as little power over me as mine does over you. But for those with your opinions slightly ajar, this concert, performed as it was in a tame Swedish sports hall, blew my mind. It wasn’t just a concert, it wasn’t just theatre, it wasn’t some overly conceptual blending of the two. It was pure expression, reverence and joy bundled in a show that projected outwards, making us part of the circus, making us part of the piece. We were observers, existing in the silence.

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I love concerts. I love them immensely. The power of music hitting you in the soul as you thrash your body to the rhythms and the knowing winks from the stage, controlling the show by raising and tempering our expectations at any given moment. Though that said, for me there’s always a moment where the spell breaks as the song ends and the pace lulls to a stall. It’s all part of the experience, of course, but it brings into focus the difference between a concert and a show. To me concerts are freer with timing and unless you’re at the top of your game it very, very easy to kill the pace with a misplaced “thank you!” to the audience. On the other hand a show is a more total work with stages beyond the musical that requires a stricter grasp of timing to attain a similar euphoria. This isn’t to say that one form is better than the other, merely that certain traits are more readily apparent in certain forms. Silence as a shade, as a frame is more readily apparent in a show whereas euphoric power more apparent in a concert. Teaterkoncert, the Danish concept behind Come Together, blends the two.

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But my memories, vivid as they are, hold the imperfection of nostalgia. The concert recording on the other hand, that is freely available for download and streaming. This is where we sharply turn back to the Cagian concept of silence as part of the whole. Listening to these criminally underrated arrangements you are struck by the space found within these classic songs. Norwegian Wood crooned over a Parisian lull and ending on the rather sinister sounds of humming while a female voice struggles against something hidden (don’t worry, if memory serves she was merely stuck at the top of a human tower). The natural applause segueing brilliantly into Why Don’t We Do It In The Road‘s louche groove and emphatic whispers, taking this throwaway piece of McCartney blues in a wholly unique direction. My personal highlight All My Loving is a tour de force in taking a simple (if great) little song and re-cladding it to express the emotions buried beneath. The relentless rhythm guitar and bass chugging away like a crank, hinting at harmonic structures that are never quite resolved as three differing vocal styles (croon, expressive and choral) swim around the resultant swirl. To top it off, this recording begins with audience laughter as the primary vocalist walks out with a seagull on his head, a silence in the space filled by the observer which adds to the deeply unsettling yet satisfying nature of the piece.

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This album is everything to me right now as I seriously begin my studies proper. Brilliant songs made different and separate from the originals, using space and pacing to build an experience far greater than its sum. I thoroughly recommend buying this recording and seeing Teaterkoserten på Gasværket should you ever have the opportunity. If anything the odds of me attempting to write my own Teaterkoncert have risen. That can only be a good thing, right?

WhoMadeWho – I Don’t Know

I’m writing this in one go and forgoing editing as it’s far too soon to miss my self-imposed regimen when it comes to restarting this blog. I’m in the UK, you see, to register for my PhD and am therefore going to only write a few words so I can spend time with my Dadpop. So I’m going to write very little and instead present to you a magical song form Denmark. You understand. Enjoy.

tricot – A N D

In the months between pausing the Appraisal and now I’ve done much thinking. The usual self-absorbed worries about purpose in life and place in the greater whole, but also about the direction I want to take myself and the footprints I wish to leave behind. The mangled ideas slowly kneaded themselves into form as I moved forward with jobs and orchestras and parties, eventually leading me towards a PhD. Composition PhDs are normally the most self-absorbed available, I was personally offended years ago to find that not one but three different PhDs in my university library were variations on “Finding my personal style”. I mean, what does that even mean? How does that move the form forward? Me? I’m researching something a little different. I want to examine and explore the depth of connectivity between genres as a compositional impetus. To me all genres, regardless of final audible result, are inherently connected with each other and only by reappraising how we approach and define created music can we better address the purpose of the composer. Where we sit on the great cultural smudge that links Schoenberg with John Coltrane, Paul McCartney with Guido D’Arezzo and so on and so on. Those same threads of form and theory that permeate everything. Subtle shifts that nudge the flows of convergent cultural evolution, bringing with it sharks and dolphins across the globe. With only a fin above the sound waves, how can you trust yourself to swim? With that in mind, this is tricot.

Japan famously is a hugely lucrative market for music. All music. Currents of pop flow alongside rock which disrupts the stream of classical in much the same way it does in Britain. With similar forces at work it is no surprise that the tenets of math-rock concurrently evolved. I don’t really like math-rock, it’s a stupid term that too often masks lack of song-craft with bells and whistles (a bit like British New Complexity), but none of my criticisms apply to tricot. This is fluid music. This is precisely refined music. Musicianship that eschews synth-padding and ‘crazy’ guitar effects for four instruments locked in intricate step. Cartwheeling above it all is the consistently incredible vocal delivery by Ikumi “Ikkyu” Nakajima, an instrument with an almost virtuosic variety of delivery. The hushed whispers of E shifting to staccato spoken word before collapsing into full throated catharsis. Hashire with it’s hypnotic fluidity punctuated by a exuberant singalong. Shoku-taku beginning like the Swedish pop ballads I’ve become so accustomed before splintering into, to my anglophone ears at least, the sweetest of exultations.

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As I said, all music genres inhabit one space, all forms, techniques, instrumentations and theories mere Lego blocks waiting to be put together in new forms. Whereas I see myself as a composer who smashes these blocks together and calling it art to mask the horror, tricot are the type of band who, using only standard blocks, effortlessly makes worlds filled with pirates, castles and space ships. Niwa is a glorious case in point, a song that somehow blends the vocal delivery in Bowie’s It’s No Game with the energy of the Splatoon soundtrack, peppered with what I can only describe as ‘samba breaks’ . It’s these little moments of pure pop that make listening to an album like A N D (2015) so satisfying, you know you’re only ever a minute at most away from a phat bass hook or a melody that makes you swivel. Not once does the music become overly concerned with itself, it projects outwards with incredible honesty. Claiming us in it’s wake. Music for the whole, not music for the division. Grey music. Smudge music. Jumble Music.

Two weeks ago I moved to Paris. 12 days ago tricot played Paris. 10 days ago I found them. I’ve been kicking myself ever since, I’d have been at the front dancing like a shocked monkey and communing with the infinite. Music like this is why I study, why I write and why I care about the greater purpose. That purpose may be just to boogie, but sometimes it’s nice to quantifiably know for sure. Because I see you, shifting fin above the sound waves. I see you, and will jump in regardless.

Click to visit tricot’s website

Click to like them on the Facebook here.

Click to follow them on Twitter here.

Eefje de Visser – Nachtlicht

This is the album that got me writing again after almost a year in the dark, the album that got me questioning again. What do we look for in an artist? In a collection of music? In a song? It varies for everybody; we are all different with different perceptions of the now and different threads of history tying us down by our opinions and tastes. I personally believe that the wider we listen the greater the opportunity to split from these threads and experience something honest and pure. You see, music in it’s infinite permutations has an infinite capacity to nurture deep reactions within us at times when we least expect it to. Take me as an example, behind a desk, dealing with the ceaseless slab of customer service queries that my job required. I browse Youtube for some music to speed the day, click a video I like and get the system shuffling. 20 minutes later it happens. The sound, quite beyond any expectation shifts from ambience into focus, my work suffers. The superlatives resting on the edge of my fingers, base words that each in turn fail to express the moment. But one by one the windows opened. Each repetition a light that compelled me to comment. That compelled me to react. They say art is merely a reflection of what we perceive, a mirror to our experiences. I’m a musician, sometimes reacting to music with music isn’t satisfactory, sometimes you need your words. This was the video. These are my words.

Back before Britain wrenched itself in two and placed a leopard print stiletto firmly on the aspirations of a generation, I planned a blog series showing how culturally connected Europe is. I couldn’t maintain it but did fire off one post before succumbing to the inanity of politics (which, conversely, also severely wounded my appetite to write). At the time I was so happy that I’d found a Dutch group with which to begin with. I knew nothing of Dutch popular music and it was (forgive my choice of words) ‘novel’ to finally discover one that I thought was cool. I was an idiot. I should have invested more time in researching the now instead of the past because as with all Europe, the Dutch scene is vital and thrusting. Eefje de Visser is part of it and as you can probably guess, I am a fan. What sets Eefje apart from the myriad of artists and songs I’ve loved between cooling my blog and now is her exceptional grasp of melody and form. It gripped me from the beginning. Nachtlicht (2015) is bathed in electronic textures, propulsive drums and modal tonality that dips into passive dischord at moments of such deep intensity that you’re always kept fully aware as you slip into it’s fragile beauty. Throughout, her seemingly subtle melodies belie a complexity not often heard away from traditional folk music. The playful nature of the melodic rhythms in a song like Scheef lash out at you like a lover, admonishing you for some sweet misdeed. An increase and decrease in percussive information tumbling like boulder on uneven ground. Skill further highlighted on Wakker which places the melody at the centre of the piece, dictating the languid guitar accompaniment and ever propelling the piece onwards. A powerful, refined work.

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I’ve mentioned before how as a youth I gave little care to lyrics. It explains why I lived Limp Bizkit for so long. They were always secondary to the music and I never really understood bands who built their brand around the words that they spoke. While I grew out of that slightly arrogant phase, I still embraced the freedom presented by my move to Sweden; here was a land with a huge Swedish language scene that I could enjoy as music for the sake of it by dint of not understanding what anyone was saying. Now Swedish is my second language I lack that (terribly pointless) ‘luxury’. But with Eefje, at least for now, I can separate her words from her music, enjoying each in it’s own way. Devoid of understanding her words hold the melodic lilt of true poetry. Translated they provide snapshots of imagery detached from my experience. Combined, she gives me the most satisfying three dimensional listening experience. The warmth of harmony, the deceptive complexity, the veiled meanings. It was what I needed. It grabbed my threads of history and pulled them asunder. The blank screen wrenched from my view and the grandeur of the present presented in front of me. If this were a bigger blog, if I were a better known composer I’d attempt to sculpt this respect into music. I’d attempt a collaboration, I’d ask for files to remix, I’d express myself through my preferred method. But I’m not. I only have my words. Words that don’t do it justice. This is an exceptional work from an incredible artist.

Click to visit Eefje de Visser’s website

Click to like her on the Facebook here.

Click to follow her on Twitter here.

Click to listen on Soundcloud here.

Addressing Absence

Yesterday I rang one of my oldest friends for the first time in many months. It’s a habit of ours with very specific rules; we catch up, laugh at our experiences, promise to call regularly and then not hear from each other for half a year. A gaping silence ensues where I often wonder how they are but never get round to picking up the bloody phone. Once a significant time passes one of us breaks the deadlock and we finally succumb to our friendship. On answering I always recite my opening apology to perfection (“I’m so sorry I didn’t call earlier, I’m an awful person, time just got ahead of me etc.”) and we move on. Yesterday was different, I said sorry once before being shut down. “Stop it. We always waste 20 minute apologising for not ringing and promising to call more often even though we both know we’ll just end up doing the same thing anyway.”. She has a point.

There have been many moments when this blog has been on hiatus, forced or otherwise. There is always a long winded apology. Not this time. Welcome back.

A little Bluegrass

I’m treating this blog at arms length at the moment, sorry about that. Time pressures and the like have sapped the enthusiasm somewhat, but that’s not to say I don’t still have music to share. In the absence of words, here is a new song worth repeating while I plan the next step.

I love Chris Thile.

D.D Dumbo – Walrus


For a blog that tries to spend it’s pages looking back at the songs missed and albums unknown, it’s a strange thing to talk of the future. I prefer looking back and seeing how it all fits together; the tiny locks that bind music and pleasure across the spectrum. It’s easier than being met with crushing disappointment. But then I remember how critical we need to be of our dependence on nostalgia and the rose-tint; the training wheels that we refuse to abandon. Looking back only provides satisfaction if we use it to locate our present, using the cushion of history as thrust and not support. D.D Dumbo‘s ‘Walrus’ is the future in it’s most literal sense, the single released in advance of the album to whet appetites. Through it he gives us only the loosest of context which allows the piece to stand distinct and defined. A throbbing slab of looped guitar and post-funk rhythms produced with joyous idiosyncrasy and written with expression at it’s core. The incredibly brief descending horns at 1:16 never return, and why should they? An expressive flourish quickly followed by the cod-folk 12-string guitar break. Unique and fulfilling. To me this is one of those points where experiences past are forcing the work forward into the new. There is no genre wallowing or explicit influence. It is a sum. A brilliant sum. One with space for extension as both songs released from the upcoming Utopia Defeated (released 7th October 2016) hint at a continuous audio thread and blending between the pieces. I get my hopes up and look ahead. A strange thing indeed.

Todd Terje – Delorean Dynamite

My plan for most of this week was to talk about the beautiful fusion between high minimalist temporal theory and pop music found in Zammuto’s ‘My Dog’s Eyes‘. I likely still will at some point, but I’ve had an excitingly lax week and can’t really be bothered to write the 1000 words needed to do it justice. Instead, let’s fall back on modern nostalgia. That kind of cultural experience that looks wholly backwards in an attempt to say something relevant. Nostalgia is a blight on society, a physical wrench of cowardly ideas running away from reality. We try and build these perfect little impressions of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s because they seem so cool. Cool, in the way that social injustice and egotistical excess are cool. The 80s weren’t cool (a hateful word at the best of times) but the musical reaction to it was. A reaction that could only honestly have happened in that decade. Attempts to ape it now can appear hollow in comparison. That said, modern nostalgia can be done right if we take it purely on musical presentation; strip it of cool and accept it’s authenticity. Assume it is actually 30 years old and not 2. At least then I can enjoy it for what it is, a solid lump of awesomely disposable white boy disco. I mean that in an incredibly affectionate way. Well played Terje. Well played.