Category Archives: Music Studies

War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan – book review in The Independent

War exile and the music of AfghanistanWhere making music is a matter of life and death

Read Michael Church’s review in The Independent of John Baily’s War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan.

“A vivid picture of what has been happening since the communist government was worn down by the jihadis, and mujahideen rule gave way to that of the Taliban”

Reaching for Messiaen’s Dream: Et Exspecto on La Meije – Nigel Simeone

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Nigel Simeone is an independent writer and musicologist, a regular broadcaster guest lecturer, and teacher. He is co-editor of Messiaen: Music, Art and Literature and co-author of Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques (both published by Ashgate). Nigel is also the co-author (with Peter Hill) of an acclaimed biography of Messiaen, the French edition of which was awarded the Prix René Dumesnil by the Académie française in 2008. Since 2005, Nigel has been invited annually to lecture (in French) at the Festival Messiaen au Pays de la Meije, held in the village of La Grave (Hautes-Alpes). This post is an account of his most recent visit.

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In 1963, André Malraux gave Messiaen a commission from the French government for a work to commemorate the dead of the two World Wars. According to a note the composer made after their meeting, Malraux asked for ‘a work that was simple and solemn’ (‘une œuvre simple, solenelle’), with powerful sonorities. After initially contemplating a piece with large chorus, Messiaen finally settled on an unusual formation of woodwind, brass and metallic percussion. The result was Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (‘And I await the resurrection of the dead’), first performed for an invited audience at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris on 7 May 1965, and given on 20 June 1965 in Chartres Cathedral with General de Gaulle in attendance.

In the preface to the published score (Leduc, 1967), Messiaen wrote that he conceived the work for performance ‘in vast spaces: churches, cathedrals and even in the open air and on mountain tops’, adding that he had composed Et exspecto ‘in the Hautes-Alpes, in front of the solemn and powerful landscapes which are my true home.’ When Jacques Longchampt reviewed the Chartres performance of Et exspecto for Le Monde (24 June 1965), he was more specific, revealing that ‘Messiaen hoped that it could be heard in front of the mountain of La Meije, in the Alps’; the composer repeated the same wish in conversation with Claude Samuel, declaring that his wanted to hear it ‘at La Grave, facing the glacier of La Meije’.

La Meije, overlooking the village of La Grave in the Hautes-Alpes, stands at 3,983 metres (over 13,000 feet), and its most prominent feature is the magnificent glacier mentioned by Messiaen. He visited La Grave on many occasions, including a trip on 2 August 1964, while he was hard at work on Et exspecto. Since 1998, this village has been home to the annual Festival Messiaen au Pays de la Meije, the brainchild of Gaëtan Puaud, planned by him each year with vision and daring to focus on different facets of Messiaen’s music. I’m very fortunate to have been back every year since 2005, invited by Gaëtan to talk about an aspect of Messiaen’s life and work that reflected the festival programme.

01 Arrival at glacier2015 is the 50th anniversary of Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum; in January, Gaëtan Puaud asked if I’d be willing to give a talk on its genesis and early performance history. I was delighted to accept, particularly as he told me that he planned an open-air performance of Et exspecto on the large plateau at the téléphérique station situated at 2,400 metres, with the glacier as a stupendous backdrop: a vast and savage space. It was a bold and grandiose celebration of the half-century of Et exspecto. The performers were the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Les Percussions de Strasbourg (whose original members had played in the 1965 première), and the Slovenian conductor Marko Letonja, the orchestra’s Music Director since 2012.

The morning of 18 July 2015 was overcast but pleasant in La Grave, and by the time I started my pre-concert talk on Et exspecto at 11 a.m. in the village’s Salle des fêtes, the sun was starting to break through. Afterwards, I sat outside the Hotel Castillan (which faces the glacier), talking to French and Belgian friends, and the mood was one of the keenest anticipation for what was to come later in the day: even the most jaded concert-goer could hardly fail to be excited by the prospect of hearing one of Messiaen’s greatest works performed in such a fabulous setting. Our lunch was also enlivened by the unusual spectacle of very large instrument flight cases being airlifted up to the venue by helicopter. Except for experienced mountain walkers, the only realistic way to the glacier is by téléphérique, and the small cabins of the cable cars are not up to moving the vast array of percussion – including three very large tam-tams, a whole family of gongs and three large sets of cencerros (cowbells), all of which play an essential part in Et exspecto. The orchestral players made their way up the mountain soon afterwards to rehearse, and to film a complete cover performance of Et exspecto for Arte TV, which was there to record the concert for later broadcast.

Rehearsal on glacier

Rehearsal on glacier

The concert was due to start at 5:00 p.m., and at 3:45, I set off in one of the cable cars with my wife Jasmine, and three friends who were also in La Grave for the performance: Tom Owen and Jess Jevon from England, and Lucie Kayas from the Paris Conservatoire – the leading authority on the music of Jolivet and a treasured friend who made the French translation of the Messiaen biography I co-authored. By the time we reached the station at 2,400 metres, the sky was slate-grey, and the clouds were looking ominous. But what we saw and heard – with the audience finding places to sit on the grass, and the glacier as a breathtaking natural stage-set behind the orchestra – was both elemental and extremely moving. The orchestra was rehearsing the third movement, and it was a wonderful experience to hear Messiaen’s sets of giant cowbells played on a mountain in the Alps – an artistic, gamelan-inspired reimagining of something that has always been such an essential part of the Alpine soundscape. After the third movement, we heard a complete run-through of the fifth and final movement, inspired by a verse from the Apocalypse: ‘Et j’entendis la voix d’une foule immense…’ (‘And I heard the voice of a great multitude’). Messiaen’s scoring here is brilliantly effective for the outdoors: the incessant beats of the tuned gongs, punctuated by tubular bells and tam-tams, combined with the splendid austerity of the broad theme announced by bass saxhorn, tuba, trombones and horns. It was a mighty and imposing sound that became still more electrifying when the woodwind and trilling cencerros added their jubilant descants. The final, heaven-storming resolution seemed to mirror the sublime grandeur of the landscape itself.

Rained off

Rained off

All this was an enticing avant-goût of what should have followed. With about 15 minutes to go, the orchestra cleared the stage and all seemed set for a memorable occasion. But five minutes later a light drizzle began to fall; as a precaution, the librarian collected the orchestral parts off the stands, and the instruments still on the stage were covered. Before long, the drizzle turned into a sustained downpour, and by the scheduled start time of 5:00 p.m., thunder could be heard rumbling in the mountains, quickly followed by flashes of lightning. There was some uncertainty about what was going to happen, but by about 5:15 it was clear that the concert couldn’t take place (not least because there was no covering for the orchestra), so the players packed up their instruments, and the large audience (my ticket was No. 564) either headed straight for the téléphérique, or took refuge in a mountain barn. With heavy hearts, we finally joined the long queue to go back down the mountain once the concert had been definitively abandoned. 04 Helicopter transportWe reached the foot of the mountain at about 7:00 p.m., by which time the helicopter had already airlifted most the large instruments back down, their flight cases swaying at the end of a long cable. The weather is notoriously capricious in the Alps, with sudden and completely unpredictable changes, and nobody would have foreseen what happened next: within half and hour the sun was shining in La Grave and on the glacier, and it continued to do so for the rest of the evening. By then, players and audience could only watch the virtually cloudless sky with poignant regret for what might have been. But it was too late: the treacherous Alpine weather had won, and Messiaen’s dream remained unrealized, at least for the time being.

La Grave, 7.30pm

La Grave, 7.30pm

There had always been an alternative plan: to give the work indoors at the splendid Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Nicolas in Briançon.

Ticket for the concert and téléphérique

Ticket for the concert and téléphérique

Had the weather been bad the day before (in fact it was perfect), or had there been a seriously threatening forecast, no doubt it would have been relocated there. But the concert could not be moved anywhere once the orchestra was already installed on the mountain. While that turned out to be a risky decision, nobody I spoke to at lunchtime thought there was a serious threat of rain: on the contrary, the consensus among experienced alpinistes was that the omens were good. The timing could not have been more unlucky: had the concert been scheduled for an hour earlier – or two hours later – it would have taken place. My fervent hope is that Arte’s film is sufficiently complete for them to be able to broadcast the performance recorded at the rehearsal earlier in the afternoon: it should be an unforgettable communion of Messiaen’s music with nature at its most majestic.

Nigel Simeone, 20 July 2015

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Evan Parker. This is the final interview from this series.

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Interview with Evan Parker

Known for his fluid development of multiphonic aggregates to produce a constantly changing patterning, Evan Parker has evolved an instantly recognizable sound. Despite the flux of the music’s surface, he talks of his recent exploration of limited interval types to underpin his improvisations, emphasizing the reduced nature of his approach. Here practise and memorization are important, allowing the development of sequence-building methods which inform subsequent performances. The impact of group work is also of note: specific developments in his technique arose from the necessity of responding to the musicians around him, leading to the possibility of working as a soloist. Recently, his exploratory work with different groupings of musicians, taking on ‘the specifics of time and space’, has allowed the further development of the research ethos that lies at the heart of improvisation. Finding new things in new or old situations is central to experimentation. There are moments which leave an indelible mark on your memory, and hearing Parker perform live for the first time was, for me, one of these. At the beginning of a workshop in Huddersfield whilst I was a student, he talked a little about what he did, and then played for five minutes: I was completely unprepared for the complexity of the sound, and the shape of the resultant performance, and it has stayed with me since then.

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The interview was conducted by email between 24 February 2007 – 4 August 2008

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Bernhard Günter.

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Interview with Bernhard Günter:

Meticulous placement and balancing of sound is readily apparent in Bernhard Günter’s work, whether electro-acoustically composed or, more recently, improvised. Whilst he points out its wide dynamic range, it is essentially a quiet music, one which seeks to draw us in as listeners. The body of work for which he is perhaps best known – the series of recordings beginning with his 1993 release Un peu de neige salie – explores a reduced palette of glitch sounds, working with highly detailed textures which have an innate complexity. Günter’s approach foregrounds aspects of sounds that otherwise go unnoticed, whether due to existing on the border of sound and silence, or their perceived ancillary status as musical material. Whilst he is at pains to point out that he does not consider his music experimental, given it is ostensibly result rather than process oriented, this particular concern has much in common with other practitioners in the field. His processing of sampled sounds strips them of their more conventional meanings, allowing him to work more closely with them as abstract sonic materials. His recent improvisation projects have continued to explore this reduced soundworld, working first with Mark Wastell and Graham Halliwell as +minus, and later with Gary Smith as Klangstaub. Here too a slow, breath-paced layering of gradually changing drones allows the material’s detail to emerge over time.

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The interview was conducted by email between 2 January – 10 February 2004, with the postscript being added in August 2008.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

Interview with Lucy Green by Gareth Dylan Smith

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An Interview with Lucy Green

Lucy Green, Professor of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London and author of How Popular Musicians Learn (2002) and Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy (2008) discusses research that sparked from a burning question. Listen and learn from this passionate music educator as she speaks with interviewer, Gareth Dylan Smith, author of I Drum, Therefore I Am (2013).

 

Sample of book reviews:

Music informal learning and the schoolMusic, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy

‘… this is a very important music education book, not only challenging established views and prejudices of music teaching, but also demonstrating how teachers could act to make a difference and work for change. Reading this book is a must for every music educator, not necessarily with the aim of copying every detail of the project, but to relate to, reflect and act upon in his/her ongoing music teaching. This project is also a very good example of praxis-based research. The thick descriptions and the sharp, well-structured analyses offer a great amount of valuable knowledge to researchers as well as educators.’ Music Education Research ‘… the sophisticated and methodical analysis that Green brings to this work is a helpful illumination that should empower, promote and extend the activity of music educators across our schools.’ Journal of Music Technology and Education

How popular musicians learnHow Popular Musicians Learn

‘… [a] stimulating book … lucid analysis … thought-provoking.’  Times Educational Supplement ‘Lucy Green’s latest book has been on the shelves for only a year or two, but already feels like a necessary part of music education literature … Returning to this book a year after I first read it, I have found new aspects of interest and value, as well as much which has quickly become familiar and helpful to educational discussion. Lucy Green has navigated the boundaries of academic disciplines and musical genres with great skill: I would recommend this book to any reader with an interest in musical learning …’  Popular Music

Examination Copies These titles are available on a 60 day trial basis for lecturers considering course adoption. To request a copy of a book, fill out the online inspection/examination form.

 

Allan F. Moore shares his thoughts on the publishing process of his book Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song.

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In this post, Allan Moore shares his thoughts on the publishing process—from germ to publication—of his book Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song.

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Song MeansSong Means was some ten years in the writing. It had its roots in my undergraduate music studies, where the requirement to ‘analyse’ a piece did not seem to me adequately answered, even then, by simple parsing of harmonies and description of form. The list of questions I generated in order to get further into a piece eventually, after much experience of teaching analysis, and notwithstanding the shift of application to a popular music repertoire, became the germ which generated the book, and which, in its latest guise, appears as the book’s final chapter. The success I had in teaching through this interrogative method encouraged me to want to share it with the community of readers: my first aim in writing the book was not, then, to contribute to the field as much as to contribute to the potential understanding of listeners. The serious consideration of listeners, however, is not something that musicology is very good at, while the serious consideration of what listeners listen to is not something that popular music studies excels in. As I wrote the book, then, I realized I had the potential opportunity to intervene in two distinct fields. Reviews and citations of the book suggest to me that this aim may come to be realized, although it is still a little too early (the book has been out less than three years) to tell. And, surprisingly, nobody has yet taken me to task for what, from my vantage-point, is the book’s particularly glaring omission, something I shall have to fill if it ever goes to a second edition.

I continue this binary for a moment, for there is a yet more important point to make: musicology, as a whole, regards popular music as musically too simplistic to bother with; popular music studies, as a whole, regards popular music as culturally too important to approach with techniques which risk charges of dread formalism. In both fields, experts tend to ground their expertise in the privileged access they believe this gives them to the music’s meaning. My other key intention was to argue, and provide a methodology to underpin the position that, whatever else experts are, they are not repositories of meaning.

I am fortunate indeed to have gained much experience in academic writing, which meant I was able to approach this book in a very different way to that which I used to approach my earliest books. If as an author you believe in what you are writing, then while you should seek guidance both before you start, and in rewriting once you have finished various drafts, I believe it is crucial that you do not seek guidance while you are writing, if your writing is in any way to be described as the result of a creative process. For this book, I was able to manoeuvre my other research activities and commitments such that I wrote a full, detailed, draft of the book before writing the proposal. This meant that the proposal had a convincing level of depth, which is missing from many book proposals I have seen. Since the job of the proposal is to convince publishers that they need to take on a book, the more fully formed your ideas are, the more they have been tried out (on the page, at least), the more committed you should be able to make your proposal. If you can so organize your time, I think this is far preferable to the practice of writing a  proposal and a couple of draft chapters and hoping you can fulfil their potential later on if called upon to do so.

The idea of writing being ‘enjoyable’ is something I find utterly strange! Writing is difficult, it’s a chore, and there are always innumerable things I would rather be doing. When I say ‘writing’ in this sense, I guess I mean inventing adequate words to put on paper in the first place. It is a completely different process to going through and re-writing, which I find inexplicably engaging and enjoyable. Sometimes my first pass has to be to put down any old rubbish, because it can always be improved on (you should have seen the way this paragraph first looked…). I must admit, though, I also find the process of relating my ideas to the music I hear to be fascinating, whichever actually comes first. And to be able to listen, to just about anything I choose to listen to, because I can eventually justify it as ‘work’, feels like the most extreme luck. I hope it doesn’t run out quite yet.

Allan F. Moore 2015

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Allan MooreAbout the Author: Allan F. Moore is Professor of Popular Music at the University of Surrey. Author of seven monographs and edited collections, he is series editor for Ashgate’s Library of Essays in Popular Music, has been on the editorial board of Popular Music since 2000, and was founding co-editor of twentieth-century music. He has published nearly 100 articles and reviews in the field.

‘Song Means is an astonishing achievement, and an exceptionally important book. Drawing on more than 20 years of his own writing on popular music, but synthesising and developing it in a quite remarkable way, Allan Moore accomplishes what seems almost impossible: a completely engaging, beautifully clear, authoritative, and undogmatic account of musical meaning across a huge range of pop songs. Written in direct, accessible and uncomplicated language, but tackling fundamental questions of musical meaning and the nature of musical materials, the book is rooted in Moore’s own encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music set in a sophisticated conceptual framework. This is a landmark in the musicology of pop, and a book that will have a profound impact on how people think about, and understand, the most globally pervasive form of music of our times: the pop song.’   Eric F. Clarke FBA, Heather Professor of Music, St Aldate’s, University of Oxford, UK

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Manfred Werder.

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Interview with Manfred Werder:

I came across Manfred Werder’s music for the first time in 2000, following up encouraging comments made by others about his work and that of the Edition Wandelweiser composers with whom he is associated, eventually meeting him whilst he was on a residency in London later that year. These composers, centered around Antoine Beuger’s publishing company, create an uncompromising music: it deals with extremes and archetypes, is generally very quiet and silence has a large share of the often extended performance durations. The presentation of sound material is very clear: gridded structures and the establishment of spaces in which sounds might be placed are common traits. Werder’s music comprises a number of different ongoing series. His ausführende writing project (1999?) is a set of compositions for between one and nine performers. Each of these pieces contains a series of 160,000 time units, each lasting 12 seconds and consisting of six seconds of sound, followed by six seconds of silence. The scores are performed in succession, with the next performance starting at the action following the final one of the previous instalment. In his recent dated pieces however, Werder specifies a gradually reducing number of conditions for the presentation of sounds and actions, from the trio stück 2003’s instruction for two of the performers to play a common pitch lasting three to seven seconds once during the performance, to the more open requirement of 2005/1: place/ time// ( sounds ). The precision and subtlety of his exploration of modes of performative action can be seen when comparing this with the later 2006/2, which specifies: places// a time/// ( sounds ). Werder’s music questions our place in the world as both participants and observers.

The interview was conducted by email between 1st-10th February 2004.

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The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.