I must be a proper composer because I have spent the past couple of weeks listening to Schoenberg and Webern’s music and (whisper it) enjoying it. There is something rather lovely and beguiling about Schoenberg’s Op.11 piano pieces, even though their language is radically new. They feel as though a voice is trying to break out into something rich and strange, which is, of course, pretty much exactly what the composer was trying to do, and even Webern’s Symphony has drawn me in in a way I had not known before. Maybe I am listening to this music in more depth than before, giving it more chances to settle in, but it is certainly an informative experience as I continue to attempt to formulate some kind of Grand Unified Theory of my own compositional technique, something flexible enough to be able to encompass works as far apart as This Light Of Reason and against the pull of silence.
Talking of This Light Of Reason, I was happy to be in Oxford a week and a half ago for Choros’s performance of the work under the direction of Janet Lincé, and very good it was too. They are a well-directed choir who clearly enjoy their singing and produce a clear and confident sound, and it was good also to see the chapel of Exeter College holding a capacity audience. Walking around Oxford these days is always a strange experience, for I half expect twenty year old me to come barrelling around a corner, or maybe to run in to some people who never quite left, and there are some. I poked my head around the door of Thirsty Meeples, the board game café in Gloucester Green, revisited a few landmarks from olden days, most of which now house new restaurants and bars, and then, after the concert, trekked up to London for the weekend’s work.
On Tuesday evening we were in Bath to see the new Molière production prior to its move to the West End, and very good it was too. Maybe I was being overly picky, but the music being played as the audience assembled before the start of the play and at the end of the interval was Bach’s 48, and I felt that an opportunity had been missed to get some Couperin harpsichord works out there. After all, it is not as if they are in short supply. Anyway, I will never, ever, ever turn down an opportunity to listen to Bach – so clear, so refreshing – and the production was very enjoyable, very modern. Or postmodern, I am never quite sure how many “posts” one needs.
I was saddened to hear of the death of the brilliant Canadian story teller Stuart McLean yesterday. His tales, often downright hilarious, often deeply poignant at the same time, have formed at least part of the soundtrack to my past few years, and although he had announced on his website that he was ill the news was still a nasty surprise. It barely registered a ripple on this side of the Atlantic, but those who think that David Sedaris is rib-ticklingly funny (I don’t) should give McLean a go and hear what worlds and tales and universes he conjures up. We listened to Toilet Training The Cat again last night by way of pre-bedtime remembrance (I still laugh out loud when I hear it), and as sleep crept in I pictured Dave standing at the hotel check-in with the uncooked turkey under his arm, booking a room while his neighbour sidled up behind him. In a world where nastiness seems now so often to be ubiquitous and celebrated it was a warming thought that McLean genuinely did make the world a better place, not materially, maybe, but he certainly made an awful lot of people feel an awful lot better. We realised only a few days ago that there was a raft of new material of his we had not heard, so we look forward to catching up with McLean’s creations, especially Dave and Morley and Sam and Stephanie.
Talking of soundtracks to my life, I was overjoyed enough to shout out loud yesterday afternoon upon finding that The Greatest Band In The World are coming back to the UK after eight years away. My joy was so unconfined that my other half thought that maybe Trump had been indicted (give it another couple of weeks – tweet now doubtless incoming!), sadly not, but a King’s X tour will do nicely for me, especially as I now have tickets. I first saw the band in 1989 when I was just out of school, at a venue in London that no longer exists, and have seen them going on for a dozen times since then. From the opening salvos of Out Of The Silent Planet (“The trap is open, no one really cares”) to the closing lines of XV twenty years later (“If you like what you hear then go tell somebody”) it has all been about self-awareness, value and music (“music, music, I hear music, music over my head”), and that grungy, heavy, beautiful sound, like The Beatles meet Metallica, as one scribe once put it, is right up my alley. Welcome back, gentlemen, see you in June!
It has also been a good week for gaming chez Nick, cardboard hitting the table with pleasing regularity, and reviews being posted on various corners of the internet. Late into the night yesterday we played our first competitive round of Uwe Rosenberg’s A Feast For Odin (is there a review of this, you ask? Why, yes!), and a joy it was too, around two hours from top to tail including the rules explanation, but a thematic delight and easy to understand after only a short while. I own three of Rosenberg’s big box games, and rank Agricola as one of the finest offerings in the hobby, the game that opened my eyes to the possibilities that could be served up in this particular niche of nerddom, and am now quite tempted to collect the set, but (a) time, and (b) money. I need to sort out that early retirement soon!
That is enough for this particular post, though. It is time to get back to the scraps of manuscript on my desk and see if I can do my three steps forward two steps back thing for today as well. I really feel that I could make things much easier by just toning down my quality control a touch and worrying less about getting everything absolutely right, at least at the start of things, but somehow my head just will not let me do that, and maybe that it not a real disadvantage. In the meantime I will keep studying and keep sketching and trust that something in the back of my head is working things out, and in the spare time, whether in choral music, Schoenberg, Molière, Bach, Stuart McLean, King’s X or board games, take joy on board where I can find it. In these times you need to stockpile that kind of stuff.
And lastly, happy birthday Matt! Yowser!