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June 28, 2005

Designed by a Man

The last few times I've walked down Whitehall I've seen the new Memorial to the women of WWII, draped in a cloth.

Today it was uncovered, presumably for photos; it will be unveiled next week. It's a bronze slab on which are hung a variety of women's uniforms.

I hate it. One of the problems with the way that the women who served in the last war are remembered is by their clothes. There's a sort of weird fetish thing going on about 40s women and their clothes. This memorial perpetuates this; by focusing only on the clothes it implies that they maketh the woman, that the important thing we need to remember about these women is the clothes they wore.

Of course, I automatically assumed the memorial was designed by a man -- and so it proves; John Mills, who has made a bit of a career out of memorial design. There are official explanations of the choice of memorial here (note the repeated references to 'girls') and here.

Posted by Alison at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)

June 27, 2005

One in a Million

One of the people we were keen to see at the Crawley Folk Festival was Chris Wood, whose new album The Lark Descending has been getting good press. He was playing with his small, serious band, the English Acoustic Collective. I'd heard a couple of tracks off the album, but was still slightly ambivalent.

In their main set The English Acoustic Collective were playing some of Wood's solo material and some traditional tunes, arranged for two fiddles and a concertina and with some improvisation. About two thirds of the way through the set, someone called out "One in a Million". Wood looked thoughtful. "I was thinking of playing that... but it's a bit long". "It's what I'm here for!" said the heckler. So the set got totally derailed at that point as Wood set about playing a ten minute solo, preceded by a short explanation.

It's a love song, set in a chip shop; the story takes place against a backdrop of wet fish on the slab, fish sizzling in the batter. Wood got the words from storyteller Hugh Lupton, and added a tune; he described Lupton as a "consummate storyteller", which I think may be understating his own contribution. The story it tells isn't quite new; it picks up elements from other songs and from myths; the setting is deliberately and fiercely contemporary, but the tradition runs through it. And it makes you laugh and cry in turns.

Back at Crawley, you could have heard a pin drop. The crowd, previously polite and warmly enthusiastic, burst into rapturous applause at the end of the song, whooping and cheering and astonished by what they'd just heard. When the tumult died down, the original heckler called out "works for me". This is going to be a signature song for Wood, something that he's asked for everywhere he goes, something that becomes a classic of the genre.

No, it's not online. You could watch out for it on Late Junction, where Wood played it online in a session on 27 April -- many BBC sessions are available in RealPlayer, but not for some reason the Late Junction ones. Otherwise, I don't know what to suggest; most radio stations are a bit hard on ten-minute ballads. Alternatively, you could just buy the CD.

Posted by Alison at 08:00 AM | Comments (3)

June 16, 2005

Stealing Music

I shortchanged the blog again yesterday, starting an article that grew and then pulling it out for Plokta. I passed it round to my co-editors today; one liked it, the other said, roughly, oh, it's music again, why do you want to write about music? I will think about that, but meanwhile I will write about music until the urge wears off.

glenn macdonald writes about stealing music. I rarely think 'I wish I'd written that' about the things I read, but I wish I'd written this. glenn iterates a dozen or so reasons why he's downloaded particular albums illicitly rather than paying for them, and I recognised all of them. Meanwhile, the 463 new tracks in the last three months have increased to 630, mostly due to eMusic overflowing with fabulous new things, including lots of albums I'd been meaning to buy for a while.

In many cases, the reason I'd been meaning to buy the album is that someone gave me a copy of a CD, or tracks off their iPod, and the stuff I didn't own got Shuffled up with the stuff I did own till the only way I could spot whether I owned it or not was by the lack of album art. And sometimes a vague feeling of guilt. And after a little while I think about it, and decide either that I like and should buy it, or that I don't like and should delete it, or that I'm not sure and should hang onto it for a while and decide again a little later.

I've lost count of the bands that I've bought music by because once upon a time, someone pressed a tape, or a CD, or some downloads on me, and said 'you would like this'.

At Easter I caught a couple of friends swapping some bluegrass, and allowed as how my collection was rather weak in bluegrass, and could they do me an extra copy? And in this way I acquired a CD of mixed bluegrass. It got mixed in with the shuffle, and most of doesn't feel quite right for me, though I'm not sure enough yet to delete it.

The exception is White Room by the Cache Valley Drifters. This may be the easiest listening ever; delicious soft rock played in a bluegrass style, with sharp musicianship that proudly displays its roots. A simpler, cleaner, Eagles, with great songs that seep into your brain. This is the sort of album I can't imagine anyone not liking, for all I know in practice that there's no universal music.

My favourite tracks here are both edgy ballads about drifters, "Opal Eyes" and "Joanne". I don't know either of these from elsewhere, and they're great. It's a staple of American music, the charming, feckless men and the women they abandon, and you know that's what you've got when a song opens with "Lucas never had much use for money; it always fell like woodsmoke through his hands..."

The title track is the Cream song, and there's another famous cover, Boy in the Bubble. I like these treatments well; and I expect some of the other songs are covers too, just not ones I know. There's a discontinuity to familiar songs that are taken out of their setting that causes you to listen to them afresh.

Of course, covers like this are only a hairsbreath from Hayseed Dixie, who deliver songs in a very similar style primarily for laughs on "A Hillbilly Tribute to Mountain Love". I like those too, of course. That material is carefully chosen for its outrageous lyrics, which are sung clearly and lecherously in simple settings that leave you wondering how the original artists ever got away with it. It was the 70s, and even the fairly recent past is a foreign country.

The Cache Valley Drifters are altogether more subtle. You certainly still know that this is the stuff of America; not of the America that you can visit, but the one you find in songs, movies and adverts for chewing gum. Just the thing to put on the stereo so that you can imagine you're on Route 66 while stuck on the M1 south of Luton airport. I urgently need to own all their albums.

And I never, ever would have heard it if I hadn't been stealing music.

Posted by Alison at 10:52 PM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2005

Soaked in Music

In the last three months I have added 463 songs to my music collection. My father tells me that I have too much music, that I cannot really engage with it all. He's right. I listen on shuffle, either to the full collection or to the new stuff. Most of it is slightly familiar, little of it is ingrained. It's all on the new internal hard drive now, which swallows it up and laughs. More than 15 thousand tracks, nearly 250Gb free space.

I discovered the iTunes Album Art Screen Saver, which is my favourite new feature in Tiger. Better than Spotlight. Better than Dashboard. Better than sex, frankly. It works like this; it creates a collage of, say, 40 iTunes album covers from your collection, and then changes one every second or two. Set iTunes on Shuffle, turn on the screensaver, and get a visual overview of your entire music collection. It's the first good substitute I've found for that massive stack of CDs I've got in the attic somewhere. I can point people at this and ask them what they'd like to listen to, for example.

Now, I've always been a bit obsessional about iTunes album art. I've spent hours tracking down clean images for every album I own. For live sets, I add shots of the band playing live. By contrast, I don't store art for music I don't legitimately have on the system. For years I've been worried that this is all a bit pointless. But now I have my all-time favourite screensaver. I can sit watching it happily for ages, marvelling at my fine taste in music.

A random 40 albums:

a collage of tiny album covers

I own 31 of these albums on CD; the other 9 all come from eMusic. One is a magazine cover disc, and two or three of the others were very cheap. One of them would be one of the albums that I'd have to give serious consideration to if asked for my favourite album of all time. 6 are single artist compilations. 3 are multiple artist compilations. 2 are tribute albums, both amongst the strangest albums I own. 5 are live sets. 3 don't really fit my musical tastes, of which one is too wet and two just don't quite suit. One is a recent download that I know hardly at all, and another is a more recent download that I feel very familiar with.

It's a random selection. I think it is broadly representative of my musical taste.

Posted by Alison at 12:56 AM | Comments (3)

Statement of Intent

I'm back, I'm staying back. Comments are cleansed, trackbacks have gone.
Trinkets have gone -- I'm still doing sidebar links but they're now at Del.Icio.Us. You can generate an RSS from that or add it to your consolidated set of del.icio.us links.

I know it's still untidy. My excuse is that I've been busy, and I've been listening to a lot of music -- the next post. I've also bought one of these. It's lovely, and the Migration Assistant meant that I plugged my old iMac into my new iMac, waited an hour or so, and then had all my stuff right there and working, just as I like it. The easiest new computer set up I've ever had.

And it means this blog has now come full circle and lasted me through an entire desktop lifecycle. I do miss my beloved anglepoise iMac; it would still be highly saleable on eBay, but is now my daughter's computer. She's delighted and is learning to type. Every five minutes or so, she turns the screen towards me to show me some cool thing, and I do miss being able to do that. I console myself with the knowledge that I could put this computer on a sturdy arm if I wished. My son, a playing-in-boxes baby when I got my very first Mac, is now in school, and a dab hand on computers himself. We've acquired several other Macs in the last three years, and have influenced numerous friends; SF cons here are overrun by Apple laptops.

I've been busy; with work, with Interaction, with the Postgraduate Diploma in Public Finance and Leadership, with the Nikoli puzzle site (particularly Nurikabe and Light Up), and with lots and lots of music.

So I did wonder whether to stop blogging; retreat to LJ, del.icio.us and even fanzines. It would be a sensible break point. But I still have things to write about.

Posted by Alison at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)