Saturday, July 29, 2006


I'm typing this facing the pool in the Orchid Hotel, which is in the Red Sea resort of Eilat. We're spending a week here. getting away from everything. It's very easy to do so at this hotel, as it is not exactly the run of the mill hotel.

First of all, it's not really in Eilat; it's a few kilometres outside the city, on the way to Taba. It's directly across the road from the Marine Observatory, if that means anything.

Secondly, it's not an "eggbox" hotel; the rooms are individual wooden cabins which are scattered upon the hillside. We have quite a pleasant cabin with a good view of the Red Sea.

I was listening to Joni Mitchell's "Travelogue" this morning whilst watching people cavorting in the swimming pool. I'm not too fond of the Travelogue myself - most of the songs seem to have had their substance taken out of them - but it's quite good for incidental music whilst pool watching. I was struck by one of the lines in "Chinese Cafe" - "nothing lasts".

Maybe that's true of the modern world, but it didn't use to be so. In my mind, things are going to last forever, which is probably why I - and many other people - have great problems with change, be it on a personal, a professional or a national level. Nothing lasts. If I use that as my mantra, I might find it easier to navigate throughout my life.

Neither will this holiday last, but I know that it's only for a week, and then it's back to work I go, where nothing much will have changed during my absence.

I'm trying to write this entry surrounded by children playing strange games on the computers which the hotel has provided for guests' use. This makes concentration difficult, so I'm going to leave it for now and get some more rest.

Getting some rest

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Equatorial Stars

I've been listening to this cd by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno frequently since I bought it a week ago. It's not really my kind of music; in fact, it's not really music, as far as I understand the meaning of the term. I bought the disc because I was fascinated by the descriptions of the sounds contained within, and the only way that I could really listen was by purchasing.

If it's not music, what is it? Maybe the cure for insomnia, the slowed down, spaced out rambling musing of two musicians who have done better. If the whole thing were speeded up by two, it would sound like the adolescent rambling which I used to make on a nylon string guitar. Random and directionless. Had it been played at twice the speed with electric guitars and a rhythm section, it might well have been described as musical wanking. I don't live my life at the ponderous rate required to make this interesting (and by comparison, neither do I live fast enough to make punk rock or high energy rock or hip hop interesting).

It really is not my kind of music. I need a strong harmonic base, followed by a melody and then rhythm. That's probably why I'm so at odds with current "music", which seems to be based on a strong rhythm, followed by a minimal melody and no harmony.

The only disc which I have that is connected to Eno is his production of Paul Simon's latest, 'Surprise', and whilst Eno's contributions are ear-tickling, they send Simon's songs into a direction which I don't like (see above paragraph).

Fripp, on the other hand, is well documented in my discography. Well, the younger Fripp is, at any rate. It's a curious relationship that I have with his music (when I write "Fripp", I generally mean "Fripp's music" and not Fripp himself), which is probably due to the circumstances in which I first heard him. Being of the age that I am (or was), "21st century schizoid man" was the first track that I ever heard with Robert Fripp playing, and of course the guitar playing within is at a very high level. This was early 1970, and the King Crimosn which produced the first record no longer existed; the only musician who had a visible profile left was Robert Fripp (well, so did Greg Lake, but he was only the bassist and didn't seem to have much to do with the first album apart from singing on it). The miraculous playing on 21CSM and the group's virtual disappearance caused Fripp the man to achieve almost mythical status, and when he reappered in the flesh (touring with Keith Tippett's Centipede), it became almost a pilgrimage to see him.

I liked Fripp's contribution to two early VdGG albums, and especially what he played on Hammill's contemparaneous "Fool's Mate"; I loved KC's "Lizard" (although Fripp doesn't actually play that much on this disc), whereas its followup "Islands" left me fairly cool. In 1972, Fripp and King Crimson dropped off my radar until 1976 when I purchased "The young man's guide to King Crimson"; my jaw dropped open whilst playing side two (of the four sided vinyl set) which consisted solely of "Red" and "Starless".

I bought "Exposure" when it came out in 1979, as much for Peter Hammill as for Robert Fripp; this was very much a hit and miss record which made me finally realise that Fripp and I were not a marriage made it heaven. It wasn't until 2002 when I started reading Andrew Keeling's analyses of King Crimson material that I started listening to the old records (even buying some on cd) and searching out the material that I missed. Whilst this adult listening to the music of my youth increased my appreciation of what I liked before, it didn't extend to enjoying music which I hadn't heard before. "Discipline" (with the exception of "Matte Kudesai") left me cold and disinclined to investigate anything more modern (and that's 1982!).

It's a lesson which I've attended several times, but not really taken to heart: most of Robert Fripp's music is not for me, despite however seductive the writing about it may be.

Incidentally, neither do I like very little of Peter Hammill's post VdGG output. Whilst I religiously bought the vinyl records until the end of the 80s, I rarely played them and I haven't bothered to replace many of them on cd. I did buy 2003's "Incoherence" (the album which he had just finished prior to his heart attack), but I don't recall actually ever listening to the disc all the way through.

There is a dichomoty at the bottom of my heart: always looking for new music, but not necessarily liking it when I find it. I prefer to explore and discover new things within music to which I been listening for years. For example, my sequencing work on "Scorched Earth" brings my admiration for VdGG's music to an even higher level (it's a shame that "The Book", the VdGG biography, didn't go into any technical detail about the music in the same way that Sid Smith's book on King Crimson did). For example, I only belatedly realised something the other day about Crimson's 21stCSM: the instrumental material which is not based on a one chord modal workout is actually based on the 12 bar blues!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Schizophrenia and insomnia

I'm leading a schizophrenic life.

During the stay, I'm doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things at work. I"m inventing new ways of doing things which save time, I'm instructing, I'm building a website which we're going to use for direct sales to the public, and I have an ISO quality audit on Tuesday. As it's also the holiday season, several people weren't at work this week, but they all assume that I can replace them. Whilst it's flattering to be considered the 'go to' guy in the back office, it's also time consuming - time which I don't necessarily have.

When I get home, I'm in a different world altogether. I'm helping my wife preparing the exhibition for the bar mitzva show which will take place next Wednesday. We've been doing a pictorial history of the year; I've been sorting out the photos and printing them, whereas she cuts them up and makes the actual displays.

My last post had me 'released' from my commitment to provide music for the show. A few days after the bust up, the director called me and asked for a new version of the closing song. Her demeanour was as if nothing had happened, and in a sense, for her nothing had happened. She wanted a big band, swing version of the song. At first I was doubtful, but after a few hours researching jazz MIDIs on the Internet, I found something which could act as a guide (big band isn't exactly the sort of music to which I listen). Two or three evenings of hard work, and hey presto! An excellent big band arrangement is ready.

True to form, I don't hear another word from the director about this. From my son, I gather that they've heard my demo recording, but no more.

Today the parents gathered to record vocals for this closing song. After the first run through (without the music), two things transpired:
a) the parents have no idea how to swing
b) the arrangement needs to be shortened (I did it for four verses and chori, along with a modulation and solo in the middle; we only need three verses with no solo).

I rushed off home, fired up the MIDI file, chopped out the extraneous material, revoked the modulation, imported the file into Reason, created a wave file then burnt it to cd.

Then we went to record. By this time, the director had disappeared, leaving me to teach the parents how to swing. I don't mind doing this - in fact, I'm probably the only person who could do it - but I would have preferred to have been prepared beforehand. Anyway, we went through the song several times during which I pulled out most of my hair in desperation at those who sang straight on the beat.

Once we actually got to recording (in three groups of about eight a time), the singing went a bit better. Every time the first verse got mangled, generally by people singing too fast (despite my feeble attempts at conducting), but the other verses were ok. I decided that each group should resing the first verse, which went much better the second time round. The final recording was just a few people who can sing quite well; I hope that the engineer mixes this take higher than the others.

To add to the schizophrenia, I also have my own life to lead. Someone posted the notes to the opening riff to Van der Graaf Generator's "Scorched Earth" in the Peter Hammill mailing list and I got intrigued ... so much so that I started trying to sequence the song. With hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have started. Harmonically, most of the song is played with parallel fifths and so it sounds like it's been played in two keys at once. But that's the least of the problems: it's metrically weird! It starts off with a four bar sequence repeated maybe eight times: the first three bars are in 4/4 and the fourth is in 3/4. The verse starts off in 4/4, moves to 5/4 for a few bars and then returns to 4/4. The main riff at the end is in 5/4.

The song is also an earworm. I worked on it for a few hours last night, until 10pm when I broke and watched 'The West Wing' (which as far as I'm concerned is the best thing the Americans have done in television almost ever). Afterwards I showered and went to bed. All night the riff from 'Scorched Earth' was echoing around my head and I found myself counting the beats. Just before two I finally awoke from a not very refreshing sleep and found myself unable to get back to sleep. After a while I got up. went to the computer and started googling insomnia. Whilst most people agree what can cause insomnia (and none of them seem applicable in my case), there isn't much agreement in how to cure it, apart from the universal condemnation of sleeping pills. The lifestyle changes which are suggested won't help, because my lifestyle has already changed. The only idea which seemed worth a try is putting lavendar on my pillow; apparently this helps one sleep. At around 4am I went back to bed, and whilst it took some time, eventually I fell asleep. Only to be awakened at 5am by the alarm clock for my wife. Trying to sleep a little more, the alarm went off again at 5:50am for me. I wonder how much I'll be able to sleep tonight.