Something for the Weakened

Archive for April, 2011

Unlucky For Some Consideration 13

April 30th, 2011 by Alastair

Anyone uncertain as to what I’m up to here is invited to type the word ‘consideration’ into the Search box over on the right there. Look at the first post called ‘For Your Consideration’, read the first paragraph and it will explain all. Everyone else is invited to shut up and listen to this -

Harry Oldfield – Stick Quartz & Modulated Synthetic Quartz

That up there is a new acquisition for me. I was wandering around a charity shop a couple of weeks ago and came across the album that this track features on. It certainly seems to be out of print – the only copy available via Amazon at time of writing is going for over forty-five quid and I can’t imagine there’s a great demand for a rerelease. The reason for my purchase was the name of the band Current 93 being emblazoned atop the album’s cover. “Excellent,” thought I. “An album of slightly unpleasant gothic nonsense in the David Tibet style!” I obviously didn’t read too closely as it actually proclaims ‘Current 93 presents’ and it doesn’t actually feature the sounds of Mister Tibet at any point in its runtime. Nor of Mister Oldfield (no relation).

This particular Oldfield is not a musician per se. In fact he is a doctor. Well, ‘doctor’. The liner notes of the album explain about his pioneering research into Kirilian Photography, his work with fractals (back then, prior to Mandlebrot Sets cropping up on every shit student bedsit wall, still a relatively new concept) and, most importantly, the experiments he had been (and still is) working on in Electro-Crystal Therapy. Now I, like almost all right thinking people, generally consider crystal therapies to be bunkum. I’m perfectly happy for people to do research into the potential of them having healing powers – if they’re able to get the funding and have that much time on their hands, they’re free to do what they wish. What I do object to is if they start giving false hope to the seriously ill in homeopathic ways that could damage their health further or possibly lead them straight into the grave. The liner notes do stress that, in spite of their getting positive results from a lot of their work, “…it is still too early to be making any claims of complete cure, since many cases need long term monitoring to see if symptoms return”, which I suppose is a reasonable caveat. This article is a lot less kind to Mr. Oldfield’s practices and does feature a bit two thirds of the way down about a woman who rejected chemotherapy and surgery, instead choosing to be treated with Mr. O’s crystals, which does leave me a bit uncomfortable. Apparently the woman’s testimonial stated that the cancer hadn’t been cured, but had stopped growing, which again seems to work as a bit of a caveat, but it does seem to give off the whiff of false hope to me. The original testimonial linked to in the article is no longer available on Oldfield’s own site, making me wonder what happened to the woman in the intervening two and a half years.

Anyway, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about Oldfield’s ethics, as it’s the music we’re supposed to be interested in here. The entire album consists solely of the sounds generated by running electrical currents through crystals, hence its name – Crystal. There is mention in the liner notes of there being possible therapeutic benefits to be had by listening, but I can’t say I’ve noticed any on the couple of listens I’ve given it. If anything it has caused me physical discomfort, initially from this very track. Should I have mentioned that earlier? Before you started listening? Oh, I am sorry. And not just a sadistic bastard. I am far more than just that.

Most of the album I have no real trouble with – it’s a series of tones flung together in intriguing, partially random, partially constructed orders. The sounds the crystals generate vary partly due to their own structures and partly from variations in the current being passed through them. There is something about the arrangement on this particular track that does make me feel really weird. Its the constant high pitch that almost goes outside the audible spectrum that really seems to makes me feel odd. I’ve also found that moving my head while listening to it produces effects that I have never experienced with any other recorded sounds that have passed through my lug holes. Perhaps its the shape of my ears only picking up certain frequencies at certain angles. Maybe I’ve found the sound that makes the mercury in my fillings vibrate. I really don’t know, but it is the most physically affecting series of sounds I’ve heard in a long, long time. It isn’t entirely unpleasant, but it is really alien to me, which might be why it just feels a little bit wrong. Even listening to it quietly leaves my ears ringing afterwards. It encourages some weird sensations in my torso too. Perhaps it’s inducing nausea. Maybe its curing the cancer the hypochondriac centre of my brain is always telling me I have. Won’t fucking cure it mind. Of that we can be sure.

If you are able to make it through all three and a bit minutes, do let me know how the experience was for you. I’m intrigued to find out if it is just me having these experiences or if it just sounds like a Spectrum loading to the rest of humanity.

A Dozen For Your Considerations Later…

April 29th, 2011 by Alastair

Need I explain what’s going on? There’s a dozen more of these beggars, why not go to the start and commence your musical education. Done that? Good. Here’s number twelve in a series of some.

Yo La Tengo – Ready-Mades

I was quite surprised to discover that this was unavailable as it is a bit of a corker. If you’ve never heard any Yo La Tengo (who I will be referring to as YLT from this point onwards to save my dainty typing fingers from the extra work) before, I strongly suggest that you rectify that as soon as you finish reading this waffle. They’ve apparently been going for over twenty-five years now, which came as a surprise when I heard Huey Morgan mention it this morning. He was playing the single from which this here b-side was taken from – You Can Have It All it’s called and a beautiful song it is too. Here, have a listen -

I particularly like the presence of the portrait by Seth at about the 40 second mark. Like Ready-Mades, You Can Have It All is a cover. In the case of the latter its a track by soul ’super(?)’ star George McCrae (written by KC off of out of the Sunshine Band, fact fans) that I’m listening to for the first time as I type this. The original’s no where near as much fun as the cover. I won’t be linking to it. That’s something YLT do remarkably well – covers of half forgotten almost classics that they truly make their own. Which is why it was such a surprise to find Ready-Mades on the single when I purchased it on the day of its release way back in August of 2000.

If you hadn’t figured it out already, Ready-Mades is a cover of a Bonzo Dog Band song. The Bonzo’s have been my favourite group since, I don’t know, back when I was around 16. Maybe younger. Back at the cusp of the millennium, YLT were probably my favourite new discovery, so to have the two fused together in four glorious minutes was a joy for me. It’s also the first time to my knowledge that a neo-psychedelic post punk outfit have covered an Innes/Stanshall composition (though if anyone’s found that Sonic Youth version of Mister Slater’s Parrot, I’d love to give it a listen).

Extra interest can be found in the liner notes of the single, where it’s explained that the whole thing was recorded during a soundcheck before a gig somewhere in San Francisco. “But how does a three piece rock band create such a full sound live?” I hear you not really asking. Well, my little chickadee, that comes from the fact that they’re joined on the stage by most of Lambchop, who were presumably playing on the same bill that day and who at the time would have been flying high off the back of the excellent Nixon. That’s how. “But how did they come to have heard the original, O Lord of all that is swell?” you fail to enquire. If memory serves, YLT toured the UK at some point close to the end of the last century with Neil Innes himself as one of their support acts. I’d have loved to have seen one of those nights, but I didn’t so there’s no point dwelling on that now is there? Quite how half of Lambchop learnt it during a soundcheck is a bit of a mystery to me, but they certainly have a decent stab at it.

Personally I really rather like their laconic, slightly disappointed take on the original. The Bonzo’s version is so heavily imprinted onto my psyche that the cover could never eclipse it in my estimations, but as a one take bit of a muck around they make a really decent stab of it. The humor does seem to have been drained a little, the bathos replaced with pathos. The wooziness of the brass, the addition of the pedal steel, the slightly slower tempo leave a far more mournful impression than the original, while still essentially being a series of snapshots into the lives of slightly seedy freaks.As time has gone on, my love of YLT has waned slightly – no longer do I find myself running out to grab new releases as quickly as I am able, in fact I think I’m two or three albums behind on their latest output. I still very much enjoy the dozen or so albums in my collection, but don’t find myself listening to them nearly as much as I did a decade ago. When I do, I’m always pleasantly surprised by how good they are and make a mental note to listen to more. Until the next day, when I pull out a completely different series of albums for that days playlist and wait another six months before flicking through the ‘Y’ section again. I’ve been listening to the Bonzo’s for that much longer that I’m pretty familiar with every nuance and tiny gag in their recorded output. Nevertheless, it’s rare for much more than a couple of months to elapse without my having to hear a bit of Stanshall, lest my life seem that little bit more worthless.

I couldn’t find a full version of the original version online, but here’s a quick snatch to compare and contrast. It is labelled as being ‘Explicit’, which baffles me a little. Perhaps the couplet “A man was arrested today/For something he put on display” is too much for the modern audience. Don’t ask me, I don’t even work here.


April 17th, 2011 by Alastair

I am.
Sort of.
Proper writing stuff will appear here soon.