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Music

Jóhann Jóhannsson RIP

Monday, 12 February, 2018 0 Comments

The Icelandic musician and producer Jóhann Jóhannsson was found dead in Berlin on Friday. He was 49. Jóhann Jóhannsson blended music (electronic with classical) memorably and he was nominated for an Oscar for his soundtrack to Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 film, Sicario. He also worked with Villeneuve on the science fiction film Arrival.

If you’re looking for an introduction to the music of Jóhann Jóhannsson, try Orphée, which is based on Ovid’s interpretation of the Orpheus myth. The grandeur of the opening track, “Flight from the City”, hinted at post-classical greatness to come. Alas, it was not to be. RIP.


Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella today

Thursday, 8 February, 2018 0 Comments

“Whenever skies are gray,
Don’t worry or fret,
A smile will bring the sunshine,
And you’ll never get wet!
So, let a smile be your umbrella,
On a rainy, rainy day”

So sang Betty Clooney, the second half of the sister act that was dominated by the famous Rosemary. On 5 August 1976, Betty Clooney, the aunt of the glamorous George, died in Las Vegas from a brain aneurysm, and after her death her family established a foundation for victims of brain injury. It operates the Betty Clooney Center for Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury near Los Angeles.

In memory of Betty Clooney, then, Rainy Day says: “Let a smile be your umbrella / On a rainy, rainy day.”


Joan As Police Woman: Warning Bell

Saturday, 27 January, 2018 0 Comments

Real life and surviving are the main themes of Joan As Police Woman, who was born Joan Wasser in Maine to an unmarried teenage mother and was given up for adoption at infancy. She was raised in Connecticut, and had her first violin lessons at age eight. Talent will out and she was an “early admittance student” at the College of Fine Arts, Boston University, where she studied under, among others, Yuri Mazurkevich. But she found that “the Beethoven symphonies have already been played a million times and I am not going to do it any better.” So she got into punk trying “to bridge the gap between the guitar and the bass and play the violin really loud.”

In May 1997, her boyfriend, the musician Jeff Buckley, drowned in Memphis, and her grief found an outlet in her first album, Real Life. Her second, To Survive, was released in 2008 and the title referred to the loss of her mother to cancer. Her seventh album, Damned Devotion, will be released on 9th February. From it, this is Warning Bell.


Sting warned us about Google

Friday, 26 January, 2018 0 Comments

If you’re using an Android phone, Google may be tracking every move you make:

“The Alphabet subsidiary’s location-hungry tentacles are quietly lurking behind some of the most innovative features of its Android mobile operating system. Once those tentacles latch on, phones using Android begin silently transmitting data back to the servers of Google, including everything from GPS coordinates to nearby wifi networks, barometric pressure, and even a guess at the phone-holder’s current activity. Although the product behind those transmissions is opt-in, for Android users it can be hard to avoid and even harder to understand.”

So writes David Yanofsky in Quartz. And, as Sting sang during the last century:

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Back now to David Yanofsky:

“As a result, Google holds more extensive data on Android users than some ever realize. That data can be used by the company to sell targeted advertising. It can also be used to track into stores those consumers who saw ads on their phone or computer urging them to visit. This also means governments and courts can request the detailed data on an individual’s whereabouts.”

Back now to Sting:

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you

David Yanofsky again:

“While you’ve probably never heard of it, ‘Location History’ is a longtime Google product with origins in the now-defunct Google Latitude. (Launched in 2009, that app allowed users to constantly broadcast their location to friends.) Today, Location History is used to power features like traffic predictions and restaurant recommendations. While it is not enabled on an Android phone by default — or even suggested to be turned on when setting up a new phone — activating Location History is subtly baked into setup for apps like Google Maps, Photos, the Google Assistant, and the primary Google app. In testing multiple phones, Quartz found that none of those apps use the same language to describe what happens when Location History is enabled, and none explicitly indicate that activation will allow every Google app, not just the one seeking permission, to access Location History data.

Sting was way ahead of his time:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Note: Every Breath You Take appeared on the 1983 Police album Synchronicity. Written by Sting, the single was the biggest US and UK hit of 1983, topping the UK singles chart for four weeks and the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks. And it remains a winner. In October last year, the song was featured at the end of Season 2 of the Netflix thriller Stranger Things and it also appears on the Sony Music soundtrack of songs used in both Seasons 1 and 2.


Úlfur Úlfur ain’t cryin’ no “Wolf!” up Iceland way

Saturday, 20 January, 2018 0 Comments

Icelandic rap is a thing. And Úlfur Úlfur are among the biggest names on the Icelandic rap scene. Úlfur Úlfur translates as “Wolf Wolf” and, like the Canis lupus they are named after, Arnar Freyr and Helgi Sæmundu are howlingly fierce and furry. They are also very funny and their only concession to the dominant lingua franca of rap is liberal use of “motherfuck”. The entire combination means full houses for their gigs in Iceland and millions of plays across every music medium.

Tarantúlur is a song about the white trash Icelandic dream of cars, dudes, babes, hot dogs and drag racing. This is as far from the craft beer-swilling mobs of Reykjavik with their PC cult of Björk one can get.


Dolores O’Riordan (1971 – 2018)

Tuesday, 16 January, 2018 0 Comments

The last time I saw the late Dolores O’Riordan was on Friday, 6 June 2003 in the Olympiastadion in Munich. Her group, The Cranberries, were the support band for The Rolling Stones during their LICKS tour.

Can there be a more thankless music job than supporting the Stones? The masses flock to their concerts for the thrill of escaping the present for the past and it was the task of The Cranberries that warm June evening to “warm up” the crowd with a 45-minute set of songs, some of which were intended for a 2004 follow-up to the band’s fifth album, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, issued in 2001. Little did we know that the material would never be released. In September 2003, The Cranberries went into hiatus and they didn’t enter a recording studio again until 2011. Now, some seven years later, aged 46, Dolores O’Riordan is dead. RIP.

Dolores O'Riordan


The ‘peakiness’ of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Tuesday, 9 January, 2018 0 Comments

Set in Birmingham in the aftermath of World War I, Peaky Blinders is a crime drama based upon the exploits of Tommy Shelby, “a crime boss set on moving up in the world no matter the cost.” The Season 4 soundtrack features the original score and songs by the likes of Foals, Johnny Cash and Savages. The standout track, however, is Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Laura Marling.

On 22 September 1962, Bob Dylan performed A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall for the first time. Now, in 2018, the song’s power is as great as ever. These words never fail to encourage:

“And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it”


Good people all, this Christmas time

Tuesday, 26 December, 2017 0 Comments

William Grattan Flood was the musical director at St. Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, at the end of the 19th century. He transcribed this traditional song from a local singer and it was published in the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 as “The Wexford Carol”. The performance here by Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma is sublime.

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born


Colm and Tadhg and Turlough

Sunday, 17 December, 2017 0 Comments

Back at the beginning of this month, the Irish uilleann pipes were honoured as an important and unique cultural heritage symbol by UNESCO, the controversial UN organization that was founded in 1945. The move was a “valuable recognition of the skills, imagination, creativity and importance of those who make, restore and play na píobaí uilleann,” said President Michael D. Higgins. One of those who plays them increasingly well is a young lad from County Carlow, Colm Broderick, and here he’s accompanied on the organ by Tadhg Griffen as they play O’Carolan’s Concerto, which was composed by the 18th century harper, Turlough O’Carolan.


Master and Commander Boccherini: 4

Thursday, 14 December, 2017 0 Comments

Jaesik Lim studied music at Hanyang University, one of the leading private research institutions in South Korea, and then moved to Madrid to continue his studies, saying: “I didn’t want to fly to Italy like everyone else does. I wanted something different.” Furthermore: “Both Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras are from Spain, so I thought this country must be special,” he told the Korea JoongAng Daily. There was a phase of culture shock, however, when he discovered that most Spaniards spoke Spanish instead of English. Still, he didn’t shirk the challenge of survival so he set up a stall at a flea market “for earrings and women’s underwear.”

Perseverance pays. Here, the maestro conducts the Master and Commander segment of Boccherini’s Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid performed by the Orquesta de Cámara y Grupo Vocal Millennium in Madrid’s Teatro Monumental.

“‘Are you very much attached to money?’ asked Stephen. ‘I love it passionately,’ said Jack, with truth ringing clear in his voice. ‘I have always been poor, and I long to be rich.'” — Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander

Tomorrow, we end our series on the Master and Commander Boccherini with an interpretation by el dúo Bagatela from Galicia.


Master and Commander Boccherini: 2

Tuesday, 12 December, 2017 0 Comments

Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805) was an Italian composer whose music was written in a courtly style that quickly became popular in the major European musical centres of the day. His patrons included the French ambassador to Spain, Lucien Bonaparte, and King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, a talented amateur cellist and flautist. Boccherini’s Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid (String Quintet in C major, Op. 30 No. 6, G324), became famous through its use in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World starring Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany. Here, Bellai (10), Gani (12) and their father jam a family interpretation of the piece.

“Where there was no equality there was no companionship: when a man was obliged to say ‘Yes, sir,’ his agreement was of no worth even if it happened to be true.” — Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander

Tomorrow, a duet interpretation of the Master and Commander Boccherini by Sydney Rae and Stephanie Lyn.