Sakamoto – Coda and Muzak

Contemporary music documentaries tend to fall into one of two categories: the track-by-track “making of” account, in support of a new album; and the “behind the scenes” artifact of a live concert tour (often in support of that new album).* Both can be fine in their own way, but ultimately they are there to plug product. The recent documentary “Coda”, featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto clearly bucks that trend.As a recording artist, Sakamoto is one of the most prolific composers of his era. As a performer, he has maintained a regular schedule of live concerts and collaborations. That is until he was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and was forced to temporarily abandon his work. Fortunately, he has come through that recent health scare, even completing a major film score for “The Revenant” before he had fully recovered.

“Coda” started out as an account of Sakamoto’s anti-nuclear activism, but ended up providing an insight into his creative process, an examination of the role of sound and music in film, and a discourse on the aesthetics of minimalism.

There are two images in the film which provide a link between the “craft” of the composer and the “art” inherent in any form of creativity. The first is a close-up of Sakamoto’s working tools – the pencils he uses to write out his scores. The second is a shot of some immaculate cooking utensils – arranged in a similar fashion to his perfectly sharpened pencils. This is someone for whom both process and form serve the purpose of creativity, and which combine to determine the artistic outcome of the resulting content.

As a regular soundtrack composer, Sakamoto has been likened to a film-maker, although he is neither director nor cinematographer. He has an acute sense of the use of sound (not just music) in film, and in fact for his most recent album, “Async”, Sakamoto invited film-makers to submit short films to accompanying each of the tracks. An astounding 675 films were considered for the competition.

Ever sensitive to his environment, it was perhaps no surprise that Sakamoto chose to change the music played at one of his favourite restaurants, rather than eat elsewhere. And ever the non-egoist, none of the tracks on his restaurant playlist was his own.

The forthcoming performance by Sakamoto and long-time collaborator Alva Noto at the Melbourne International Arts Festival promises to be something special.

Next week: Revolving Doors At The Lodge

* An honourable exception in recent years was “The Go-Betweens: Right Here”

All that jazz!

I’d be the first to admit I’m a music snob. Not that I think my tastes are better than anyone else, just that they are very particular. I like to think I have an informed opinion about the listening choices I make.

When I went to university, I was asked if I had any preferences about whom I shared student accommodation with. “No heavy metal freaks or jazz buffs”. I’ve still not changed my opinion of heavy metal, but my attitude towards jazz, like my appreciation for red wine, has only improved with age.

Not all, jazz, mind. Two words that strike dread in me are “gypsy jazz” – along with trad, dixieland and rag time, I find it most of it too fiddly, over-ornate, bordering on cheesiness. Similarly, for me, listening to “smooth” artists like Kenny G is akin to wading through treacle. There are certain instruments that I find very difficult to stomach in a jazz context – trombone, soprano saxophone, violin and acoustic guitar. And the big band sound is something I can only endure very selectively. Much of what is labelled fusion also leaves me cold, although I do make an exception for Soft Machine.

I suppose my point of entry is post bop, along with modal and free jazz. And while cool jazz can take itself far too seriously, at least it generally doesn’t fall into the trap of virtuosity for its own sake. (I’m always reminded of the criticism of Mozart attributed to Emperor Joseph II – “too many notes!” – when it comes to the noodly end of the jazz spectrum.)

Like many people, one of my first real engagements with jazz was Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue”. As a self-contained statement on “modern” jazz, it still astonishes with each listen. Despite its ubiquity, I never tire of hearing it. (In point of fact, the first Davis album I sought out was “In A Silent Way”, after it was used as a reference point in a review of A Certain Ratio’s debut album. Strange but true.) I’ve since come to appreciate the full canon of Davis’s work, although I have never warmed to his final records, recorded for the Warner Brothers label. His albums are often grouped into specific periods, rather like Picasso’s art, which only adds to his status and legacy.

At various times, my personal journey (and at specific stages in their careers) has encompassed Thelonious Monk, Modern Jazz Quartet, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Nina Simone, Stan Getz, Keith Jarrett, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal, Mulatu Astatke, Sun Ra, Chet Baker, Antonio Carlos Jobim, McCoy Tyner, Eric Dolphy, Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson, Cecil Taylor, Marion Brown and Albert Ayler.

In terms of newer and contemporary artists, the only one who has managed to sustain my interest is Brad Mehldau, in particular his live solo performances – where he seems to have picked up from where Keith Jarrett left off in the 1990s.

And as I get older, I find that the only music radio station I can listen to is ABC Jazz….

Next week: Wholesale Investor’s Crypto Convention 

Singles Going Steady

This week’s installment is the final in the current music trilogy – this time, a tribute to the humble 7″ vinyl record. Not only did the 1950s spawn rock’n’roll and teenage rebellion, it also gave us the 7″ 45rpm vinyl record. In his book, “iPod, Therefore I Am”, Dylan Jones mentions that the choice of size and speed for the vinyl single was an engineering calculation designed to  deliver the maximum audio fidelity.

60 years later, new music is still being released in this format, despite the decline in sales since its 1980s heyday. The 7″ single is the preferred format for many new bands who want to release their first record, such is its iconic status.

The 7″ single is a succinct statement, and a self-contained work of art that can act both as a statement of intent by a new artist, and as a key “out-of-series” release by mainstream or established artists. Not only that, the b-side allowed artists an opportunity for even further experimentation.

The accompanying record sleeves have also inspired artists to create memorable images and designs to wrap around these vinyl artifacts. In recent years, artists such as Yoko Ono and Sir Peter Blake have contributed works to an annual charity project.

The first 7″ record I can remember being aware of was “Telstar” by The Tornados, part of the record collection we had at home in the 1960s. Then it was probably a trio of Beatles releases, “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields”, “Hello Goodbye/I Am The Walrus” and “Hey Jude/Revolution” that got constantly played on the old dansette. Next up, David Bowie’s run of 70s singles. Then punk and new wave came along, and revitalised the format. (For reference, take Wire’s first six singles for the Harvest label, or the late 70s singles output from artists like The Clash, The Jam, The Buzzcocks and Elvis Costello.)

In the 1960s and 1970s, record labels could take a punt on new artists by putting out relatively cheap 7″ records, knowing that maybe only 5% would become successful. This in turn inspired independent labels, and even fostered self-released records under a DIY ethos that continues today with Bandcamp and other artist-controlled platforms.

The most valuable 7″ record in my personal collection is probably The Game’s “Addicted Man/Help Me Mummy’s Gone”, its rarity due to the fact it was withdrawn before it was officially released. A friend bought it in an op shop for 15p, as a joke birthday present. Probably the best 15p investment ever….

Next week: Blockchain and Crypto Updates

 

 

 

The Soundtracks of My Life…

This week’s musical interlude (#2 of 3) takes its cue from the world of film soundtracks. The first soundtrack album that made an impression on me was “Chariots of the Gods”, from 1972. It revealed that music can be mysterious, melodic and moody. It comprised elements of exotica, jazz, music concrete, electronic, muzak. It also started my life-long interest in this particular art form.

Image sourced from Discogs

The following list represents a selection of my favourite soundtracks (in no particular order):

Chariots of the Gods (Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra)

A Clockwork Orange (Wendy Carlos)

Morvern Callar (Various)

Get Carter (Roy Budd)

Le Samourai (François De Roubaix)

Le Mepris (Georges Delerue)

Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud (Miles Davis)

Heat (Various)

The Insider (Various)

Somersault (Decoder Ring)

Mysterious Skin (Harold Budd & Robin Guthrie)

Virgin Suicides (Various)

Lost in Translation (Various)

The Piano (Michael Nyman)

The End of the Affair (Michael Nyman)

The Draughtsman’s Contract (Michael Nyman)

In The Mood For Love (Various)

Code 46 (The Free Association)

2046 (Various)

Death in Venice (Various)

Broken Flowers (Various)

The Limits of Control (Various)

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jozef Van Wissem /  SQÜRL)

Inner Space (Sven Libaek)

Next week: Singles Going Steady