Monday, 21 April 2014

Stellar Songs - Music of the spheres

Gustav Holst's "Planets Suite", the music of the spheres, the harmony of the cosmos, music has always had an association with the stars. We even call our heroes 'rock stars', that is something out of this world. So here are ten songs about the solar system. Rock(et) on!

1) The Rezillos - "Destination Venus"
The Rezillos were a touch under-appreciated punk/art school band from Scotland. With great song titles such as "My Baby Does Good Sculptures" and "Someone's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight". Perhaps they never made it because they were so bad at miming for 'live' TV pop shows

2) The Cure - "Jupiter Crash"
I'd totally lost interest in The Cure once they turned from indie new wavers into silly Goths chasing invisible rabbits down unseen holes. So I was totally unaware of this song from their ouevre. It's odd to think how different a persona guitarist Robert Smith presented when he played in Siouxie And the Banshees when he was no longer the main man and didn't have to adopt all the teased hair and smudged make-up as he did with the Cure.

3) Jimi Hendrix - "South Saturn Delta"
From the man who invented the out of this world "Acid Rock" this song shows just how much Hendrix drew on Southern Delta Blues for his style. Since there are no words to this, not sure what Saturn has to do with it exactly, but any excuse to include Jimi is alright by me to be honest.

4) David Bowie - "Life On Mars"
Considering the whole Ziggy Stardust album could have made this list, it's perhaps surprising that this song actually appeared on the Hunky Dory album. Bowie was best when he was obsessed with spacemen and he and guitarist Mick Ronson wore shiny space age clothes on stage. Just my two cents.

5) B52s - "Planet Claire"
From a band who took their name from the stratospheric carpet bomber the B-52, they made some really knock-about music such as "Rock Lobster" and "Strobelight". Here the professed love object is utterly out of this world.

6) Rush - "Cygnus X-1"
A song about one of the earliest discovered black holes, taken from an album "A Farewell To Kings" that also flirted with the radical ideas of author Ayn Rand, while the album "Hemispheres" contained a track "Trouble With The Trees" which saw the band accused of having fascist leanings. My jury's out on that one, but I just fixate on the bloated size of that drumkit, it resembles a solar system in its own right.

7) The Carpenters - "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft"
And breathe.... Calming it all back down, here we have Karen sending out a beauteous plaint into space. I'd answer if I were an extra-terrestrial wouldn't you? Imagine the heartbreak of landing to meet this siren's call, only to discover she'd died from the very sustenance that is supposed to keep her species alive...

8) Husker Du - "Books About UFOs"
And cranking it back up again, the finest 3-piece power trio introduce some plinky-plonk piano against their wall of noise. Delicious stuff.

9) Pink Floyd - "Astronomy Dominé"
It could have been "Interstellar Overdrive" or "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun", but this track from the Syd Barrett days namechecks more planetary bodies and besides, shows just how heavy and dissonant sounding a band they were in those days. Also some rare archival footage of Roger Waters being quite polite.

10) Grinderman - "Honey Bee Let's Fly To Mars"
Glorious inchoate noise that was Grinderman's debut LP. Then they cut their second one and all that was lost... Also note to Nick, excessive facial hair is not rock 'n roll unless you're ZZ Top.

11) Only Ones - "Another Girl Another Planet"
Shame frontman Peter Perrett was lost on another planet most of the time with his heroin addiction, cos they were a great pop-punk band who could have produced so much more.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Round, A Bout - Friday Flash

As she approached the rope, she realised she hadn’t had a run-through. How was she supposed to make her entrance? Torso first and slide her legs round, or posterior backing into the ring? Either way she suddenly cottoned on that her flesh was to be exposed. Ass cheeks from the frontal approach, cleavage amplified by gravity with the rear-first method.

A large dinner suited man with flattened nose and spread ears had stretched the lower and middle rope apart for her. She briefly thought back to when she was a child and two friends would do similar with their skipping ropes for her to hop through. The adult her chased this fleeting image away with the notion that the ropes depicted an interference wave pattern. What the hell was she a Physics Graduate doing here scantily clad in front of thousands of men baying for blood and a glimpse of distant female flesh? She needed the money, perhaps as much as the boxers all things being relative. Her looks had always meant folk dismissed the abilities of her scientific brain at college.

Her somewhat ungainly scrambling through the ropes was still accompanied by the excited chatter dissecting the previous round of pugilism the crowd had just witnessed. A low throb of testosterone-driven descriptions of punches and bodies reeling from the impact. Yet the instant she erected herself, that statuesque moment before she started her circuit and held the rectangular board bearing the round number above her head, the tonality of the crowd rose a couple of octaves and the wolf-whistling began.

She cranked her lips into a smile and began her swaying walk. The board wasn’t heavy, but it affected her centre of gravity and dragged enough air resistance to impart a natural wobble to her gait, which she supposed was the point. The crowd didn’t need informing what the next round was, the giant stadium board over the centre of the ring told them that. Her task was a gratuitous one, to turn the minds of the throng from the bloodlust to the well, just lustful. To prick any crescendo of belligerence aroused by the sight of two men beating the merry hell out of each other. A similar reliving role that comedy played in the original Greek tragic dramas.

As she walked she realised she was not as cold as she feared she might be. Beneath the lights, her raised arms and upper body were clammily hot. However from the waist down she was shivering, with goosebumps populating her legs, exacerbating the tilt of her stride. She identified with the boxers who formally demarcated the two halves of their bodies with a belt. No hitting below its stamp; a gathered target presented above. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a water bottle being squirted towards a boxer's groin by one of the cornermen, while the other was yanking the elasticated band of the boxer’s trunks away from his sculpted abdomen. She averted her head, confused by the strange inverted directionality from the usual fluid flows from such male nether regions.

How tight a circuit was she supposed to transcribe? Too tight to the middle and she would be done in twenty seconds. It might also appear she was soliciting the referee stood there in the middle of the ring. Too wide an arc and she risked getting snarled up with the feverish activities in both corners. There were pools of water, possibly with blood mixed in, radiating slowly out from underneath the boxers’ stools. She didn’t want to be getting her shoes tagged in that, even though she had been provided them by the event promoters. God her arms were heavy under the weight of the board.

She imagined that some of the noise from the masses bore a particular pique, because round six, that number she was toting, signalled the death of their bets on a definite result in round five. These punters were now thrown back on a diffuse partisanship for one or other of the fighters, now that their main investment in the outcome had gone by the wayside (ringside?). Her board symbolically represented the guillotine, the knockout blow that ended their hopes. The boxers may have cuts and gashes on their faces, but she had the transposed blood of some of the defeated audience on her board. She shuddered and tried to focus her hearing even tighter for any hostility towards herself.

She had reached the other corner now. Even though she consciously steeled herself to give the men busying themselves there a wide berth, she found her path naturally veered towards them. Like two planetary masses coming into alignment and warping the space between them, she was drawn into their gravitational pull. The boxer was sat low on his stool, his legs splayed out long in front of him to the canvas. She couldn’t tell if he was slumped or nonchalant. The raised welts and crusted blood ridges around the cuts on his nose reminded her of the slightly worn or frayed fibres of the rugs her Grandma used to hand weave. The boxer raised his eyes and winked at her. Either that or he was trying to purge some water or sweat that had dropped into his eye from his teeming crown. She speeded up her step to get her past the black hole of the corner.

She had completed her circuit. She wasn’t sure if she should keep going. Was there time to complete another lap? How long was the break between rounds supposed to last? She had lost track of time during her perambulation and assault by all these jabbing thoughts. Goodness alone knows how boxers adjudged the duration of a round when they were being assailed by punches, yet she couldn’t even do it merely holding a board aloft. She widened her smile to no particular purpose, as both boxers distended their on mouths in order to reinsert their gumshields. The same man pincered open the ropes and beckoned to her with his flattened nose and flapping ears also seemingly directing her to between the ropes.

Ding-ging, saved by the bell.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Compound Fracture - Friday Flash

The Engineer studied the Entrance to the London Underground Station. It was dark and foreboding as Soot picked out the outlines of Commuters whilom impressed against the Tiles. A Wind squeezed up from below ground and buffeted his Face, its force impelling him backwards. A concatenation of displacement he mused. Basic design fault. The gust stilled as quickly as it arose. Next was a thunderousdrummingcadence drawing towards him, but to his Earattunedthroughexpertlongprescription it was a nonmechanicalgenerativesound. Suddenly a human host swarmed over the Stairs and out through the Exit, knocking him this way and that like a Bagatelle, as they did to each other.  When they had finally dispersed into London’s Thoroughfares and Alleyways, he took out his Notebook:


He resumed his own Perambulationwithpurposethoughwithoutspecifieddestination. He noticed how the Denizens of London all had their Heads bowed as they walked. Was this because of the reputed Rats that supposedly possessed the filth laden Streets? London as one giant Rat-run he smirked to himself. His countryfolk had a word for it Umweltverschmutzung. It was only ever applied to other races.

Or perhaps was it prompted byeyecontactaversionthroughfearofprovokingviolenceinonemotivatedbyperceiveddisrespectFor he’d heard how dangerous this particular Capital City had become, the polar opposite of the order that was tightly maintained in that of his own Country’s Capital.

In thrall to Rats and Thugs, he pitied the Citizens of this formerimperialpowerprostratedrunningitscoloniesandbankruptedoncewealthofitsdominionsnolongerbeingsequestratedIt’s grandiose Edifices and Statues now merely bombastic as they sat smeared in grime and bird droppings, the masonry crumbling and eroded. Military heroes from long-forgotten wars. Buildings that used to house retired Governor-Generals and High Commissioners, now converted into flats for divorced spouses with spare bedrooms for their weekend-lodging Kinder. Even the verdancy of London’s central Parks had withered and become eclipsed by traffic fumes and degraded by the volume of footfalls. Certainly hadn’t been browned by the Sun!

To him this was a decadent City. A City in decline. That’s why its citizens had their Heads down, they lacked the confidence to look the World in its Eye. Unlike his own proud Nation. A sudden bolt of that Painwhichstartsoffstupefyinguntilneuralmessaginghitsbrainwholebodybecomingwrackedwithmountingagony hit him. Also his vision was filled with the prospect of people’s Shoes about to boot him in the Face until they veered away at the last moment. His processing Mind elicited that he was prone on the Pavement. His Knee was radiating excruciating sheets of pain, as if it were Metal being beaten white hot in a Forge. He gazed down and was confronted with an unsettling, unaesthetic disparity. Something awry from the anatomical blueprint. His Leg was twisted at an ugly angle, the Kneecap clearly being unable to pinion it naturally. None of the passersby offered to help him, but sniggered as they pivoted and swerved around him. Schadenfreude he thought miserably to himself until a bolt of pain blotted out any further possibility of coherent cogitation.

Lying in a hospital Bed with a compound fracture of his Patella, the tidal waves of pain and the tsunami clotting of his chemically sedated brain meant he was strikingly unable to string his thoughts together. But he did at least appreciate now why the English kept their Eyes pinned to the ground. To avoid all the cracks and pitfalls of subsidence in their Pavements that had caused him to trip and fall as portentously as Lucifer’s tumble from Heaven. Subsidence, another marker of venerability. His thoughts were too fragmented to compound into a precise analysis of this event. Welt Schmerz.


I wish English had the facility German does, that when a word doesn't exist, in German you can formulate it by compounding words together to create it. So 'Weltschmerz' is 'world sorrow' or 'Umweltverschmutzung' is 'environmental dirt' or what we call 'pollution'.
The advantage this allows is that it can contribute to tightening up the precision of our meaning, when the existing words just won't cut the mustard. Such compound words more often than not infuse the concept with a philosophical tinge, the nuance coming from the joining of separate words together that tinge and shade their partners in the compound.
However the downside of this being  that the high-minded philosophical bent can be at the expense of any metaphorical or imagistic tenor of the concept. 'Weltschmerz' sounds great, but the high-minded concept of world sorrow is somehow divorced from a poetic idea of a world sorrow and the two scarcely can coexist because the philosophical tenor comes over so strongly.  This is odd given german's direct descendence from Anglo-Saxon which contained the beautifully poetic Kennings which absolutely embodied the metaphorical and the figurative through the compounding of two separate words.
So I wanted to write a story that played up the differences of the compounded words and the metaphorical phrases. I also wanted to write a story about how the facility of compounding in a language could perhaps also determine character, personality and how one expresses oneself. And then I wanted to assert the triumph of the metaphorical over the philosophical and fracture the compound!

Hope this helps in explaining the madness that precedes it! 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Crowd Sauced - Friday Flash

He never did!/ I’d heard that about him before/ Yeah there were rumours aplenty doing the rounds/ Never any smoke without fire/ I’m not surprised to look at him/ You can never just tell by looking at someone can you?/ I was a bit unsure about all those stories but I guess they turned out to be true/ Guilty as sin he is and no mistake!/ Written all over his face he couldn’t hide it/ Course he kept himself to himself now we know why/ What must his parents think?/ Has he no shame?/ Clearly not/ How disgusting!/ Pig!/ It’s obscene that’s what it is, obscene/ I’m amazed he managed to keep it under wraps all this time/ Someone must have known/ What were his neighbours doing for goodness sakes, to not even notice?/ Never mind his neighbours, what about the authorities?/ Well he’s been nabbed now/ Yes thank God/ Caught in the act I heard/ No shock there/ Couldn’t stop himself so it was just a matter of time/ Done well to get away with it this long/ Well he’ll get his comeuppance now/ He’ll probably only get a slap on the wrist/ We can’t let that happen/ Have to send a strong message/ The strongest possible message I’d say/ We simply won’t tolerate it/ No place for the likes of him in our community/ He’s still holed up there inside/ Let’s go drag him out, explain a few things to him/ Make him see the error of his ways/ Rub his nose in his own filth/ Make him confront what he’s done and take responsibility for it/ This type only understands one language/ Make the degenerate pay for what he did/ Then Justice will be seen to be done/ Justice always prevails/ Get what’s coming to him/ There’s no escape/ Yeah the recycling bin’s there for a reason/ Everyone benefits by it in the end

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Strings Attached - Rock'n'Roll With Strings

10 great pop and rock tunes, guitars and string sections in perfect harmony (sort of).


1) The Ramones - "Baby I Love You"
Kings the warp speed guitar punk slow it right down and get in a string orchestra to beef up the hollowness that would pertain otherwise.

2) Portishead - "Glory Box"
this one actually makes sense since Portishead's music was always suggestive of soundtracks for as yet unwritten movies and this works perfectly.

3) Rolling Stones - "As Tears Goes By"
The Stones had a few songs with lush classical accompaniment. I think it was more acceptable in the 60s when rock and roll was still trying to throw off the shackles of the establishment such as the BBC, when every entertainment programme seemed to employ a backing orchestra. Well it's all just music right?

4) Einsturzende Neubauten" - "Armenia"
I'm not sure if this counts because I don't think they ever played with an orchestra but simply took the tape of an Armenian folk song and um did their deconstructionist musical thing over the top of it. But this is my blog, my chart, my rules and they're one of my all time favourite bands!

5) Goldfrapp - "Clowns"
There's no doubt that a string section add textured lushness to what would otherwise be a very brittle song indeed.

6) Led Zeppelin - "Kashmir"
Bloated bombastic rock epic saved by classical strings. Actually that's not quite fair since the Arab tonal textures make it interesting enough.

7) Aerosmith - "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"
See this is the problem with adding orchestras to hard rock bands, they believe it makes them all serious and respectable. Whatever happened to those who were enjoined to "Walk This Way?". In this song they're invited to sit down and take the weight off...

8) Massive Attack - "Unfinished Sympathy"
While heavy metal and punk bands glom on some strings either to lend credibility that they are making 'classic' music, or in an ironic fashion, Trip-Hop bands like Massive & Portishead who were mixing and weaving together different types of sounds in their tonal landscapes which meant that the strings sounded more organic and embedded into the ensemble. As in here. Boring video though.

9) The Verve - "The Drugs Don't Work"
The Verve's two biggest hits, this and "Bittersweet Symphony" both employed string sections. I can't even name any of their other songs, don't know if that says anything?

10) REM - "Everybody Hurts"
Lush, lush, lush and now not a description of Peter Buck allegedly in a plane...

Bonus Track - Lou Reed "Perfect Day
Perfect symbiosis, nothing more needs to be said. RIP Lou

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Bedroom Ballistics

She whipped out the automatic and pressed its muzzle into his belly. In her fury she envisioned his flabby gut enveloping the gun and absorbing it into its mass. Her professional override clicked in and offered V²/(2xS) instead. The bullet’s kiss off would likely be smothered not by his bulk, but by his proximity. The projectile would not possess enough time to accelerate from the subsonic to supersonic velocity in order to wreak its trauma. Limited acceleration, limited damage according to F=MxV². Fortunately his reflexive backing away helped unblock that particular stricture. Recoil ushers in recoil, as her countenance shot him a rictus smile with the unassailable truth of KE (Kinetic Energy) = ½mv² 

His palms were splayed out in front of him in the timeworn gesture of soothing. Dampening down. Importuning her to take it easy. With the triangulation of her, him and the gun, she plotted whether the upraised palms were protecting some vital part of his body. Not that it would matter, she could shoot him through the hand and it will still likely carry on to penetrate his vitals. VRt = VR Cos r.

His hands would only serve as crosshairs for her as he continued his backing away. Zeroing her in on his nether regions. Or never seen regions in the fat lump. Again he was unwittingly doing her a favour. She pictured the projectile scything through his imploring fingers. Those duplicitous fingers that had plied and kneaded the flesh of another woman. The fingers had strayed, could the flesh and bone now deflect the unerring reproach of her snub-nosed love letter? Did he imagine himself to be some sort of super-hero? He was about as far removed from one as you could get. As witnessed by his unheroic continued retreating. 

That was the thing about living a double life. You were still only possessed of a single body. Quantum mechanics EΨ ≠ HΨ be damned. Well might he continue to paw at me at night, but she could tell that it was desultory. Cursory. That his appetites had already been sated elsewhere and there was no real hunger behind the dead pressure on her breast or neck. She could see through his charade. And soon after the bullets do as bullets do, she would be able to see through his body too.

He was still backing away. She wondered how far he’d have to retreat before he was out of range. From the gun if not her yet more searing wrath. Actually it was no wonder at all. Simple precession equation, with little in the way of temperature or atmospheric pressure fluctuation to account for. Ergo R = vo√(2h/g). Course their house wasn’t large enough for him to escape the range of the bullet. Even though he’d almost reached the stairs now. 

She opted to close the gap once again and started advancing upon him. Normally he could easily outstride her as when they walked together out in the street, how that should have been a warning as to how much of a mismatch they were. But here he was walking backwards, plus going down the stairs, while some of his momentum was also diverted into the downward thrust of his hands still gesturing her like a lion tamer ∫ = Fdt.

She caught up to him double quick and this time she pushed the barrel of the gun into his cheek. She marvelled at the displacement of flesh as the barrel bevelled into his skin according to σ = C:ε. Was this how her flesh rucked and ridged under his leaden touch? When he customarily pinched her lips shut. Actually no, she surmised more applicable might be R: = ∇ x F  = 0. Mind you if she kept increasing the pressure of the barrel against his flesh, it becomes R: = ∇ x (∇ x ε). Infinitesimal strain theory, never was something so aptly named. 


“There, that sufficiently spice things up for you?”
“Yeah, yeah it did Babe. In parts”.
“Yeah, there were stages where I could tell you were really feeling it. Etched right across your fizzog, so that you had me believe you might even go ahead and pull the damn trigger... But then, there were also those points where that pretty brow of yours pursed and furrowed and I could see how you were struggling to disengage that planet sized brain of yours from dragging you out of the moment by overthinking it-”

FD = ½ρv² CDA

Many thanks to Kevlin Henney who made sure I got at least the very first equation right. Apologies to any serious physicists who spot errors in subsequent formulas.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Music Genre versus Literary Genre

In my non-writing professional life, I worked for almost 20 years in the music industry. You work there for longer than 10 years and you start to see the same musical trends coming back round for a second or third time. For rock/pop is a relatively young art form, only really being in existence since the 1950s (and the rise of the teenager with spending power).

We started with rock and roll, which in the 1960s morphed into psychedelia and the first rumble of heavy metal. In the 70s we had Prog and Glam rock which in turn prompted the oppositional punk rock which soon burned out and mutated into New Wave. Reggae too established itself as a music of protest in the UK and the Caribbean. There was also funk which gradually led to disco at the end of the decade and hip-hop and rap in the next decade. In the 80s there was also the synthesiser led New Romanticism. The 90s saw the explosion of dance music, in too many categories to comprehensively list, but let's offer Trance, House, Acid House, Rave, Ambient etc etc. Rock tried to strike back with Grunge in the US and Brit Pop by appointment to HM Government in the UK.

I've missed out a few along the way, but these are broadly the different genres in the short span of rock. But then somehow not only were some of these genres revisited (as against reinvented) such as Nu-Rave or New Wave of The New Wave, but the above genres fragmented into a myriad of sub-genres. Hip-hop and rap had several offshoots when combined with some dance music trends, so we had Jungle, Grime, Drum & Bass, Dub Step, R&B. No longer did we have good old Heavy metal, but Nu-Metal, Speed Metal, Death Metal, Rap Metal, Grindcore, Industrial Metal, Thrash Metal, Christian Metal and so it goes on.

Such fracturing makes for tribalism among fans as they rigorously defend their corners and practise exclusionism of those close cousins who somehow minutely differ in definition. For such a relatively young art form, the whole form seems moribund having repeatedly cut the cake of musical possibility finer and finer until only the crumbs remain. Yes the revolution of the industry through downloads and digital access and the machinations of the likes of Simon Cowell's TV-tie in music production have delivered crushing blows to musical creativity. But I believe it is this fracturing into sub-genres of music that have stifled the potential and possibilities of musical creativity.

It is of course possible that there are no new combinations of sounds and notes that have not already been committed to recording. But the opposite is true of the novel. Though an art form a good couple of centuries older and with a much larger back catalogue to call upon, the novel has barely begun to explore its own possibilities. There was a brief flourishing under literary modernism which took narrative and language in different directions, but that soon faded out for whatever reasons (of which I will not accept that it was an artistic and intellectual dead end).

So the novel stands replete with possibility and bristling with potentia. There are whole new bodies of knowledge opened up that allow us to interrogate mankind & the world around us with different images, paradigms and languages should we authors wish to explore them. Theories of mind, of matter and the universe to name but three. However, if the novel allows itself to continually fragment and divide itself down lines of genre and sub-genre as music has done, then it stands little chance of being big and bold enough to rise to these challenges and possibilities. Instead, as with music, it will channel itself down furrows and reduced horizons, fighting petty and insignificant battles over territory and definition. Who cares that what we once called scifi has now fractured into Space Opera, Hard Scifi, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Apocalyptic/dystopian, Slipstream, SciFi-Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, New Weird. Just give me the radical ideas and linguistic inquiry of "Solaris", "Embassytown" or "The Embedding". Ambition is always shrunken by genre, perhaps because of the proscription of the rules behind genre definitions, perhaps because of the expectations of the readership demanding more of the same.

It's all just fiction right? It's all about the novel (unless it's about short stories of course). And the novel remains fertile ground ripe for exploration. Please let's avoid the mistakes of the music industry. While the production and distribution upheavals in the digital age are similar within both music and literature, there's no reason for the practitioners, for the authors to make the same mistakes of their music peers and succumb to a rigid and limiting prescription of labels. We have a much longer and possibly grander tradition to uphold. And we can only do that by striking out into fresh pastures, not regurgitating what has come before and trying to make out by some quodlibet of definition that it is truly different. The New Wave of The New wave indeed...

If you don't believe me about the tribalism of music genres, then check out the comments to this YouTube video. The Nu Rave band Klaxons dared to cover an Old Skool dance track called "The Bouncer" and thus was battle enjoined...