Scarcity of means, wealth of evocation

My paternal grandfather was an avid archivist – not a hoarder, as there were definite criteria at work, but he did collect all kinds of interesting memorabilia. Today I came across a part of his postcard collection and peeked into a time just before mine: a time when the two-hour drive to Vigo we may enjoy nowadays was, back then, a long journey to be undertaken once in a lifetime.

So here is a sample of what tourist shots looked like in the 1950s and 1960s: cameras were a luxury, so good old postcards were the chance to reminisce upon return. Particularly striking is the cramming of four, even five images into the card surface; even more striking is the fact that some images were crudely reproduced in back and white, or slightly hand-tinted. All this distanced the images from the actual locations and narratives to which they referred… and yet this rudimentary quality somehow invited our imagination to mentally reconstruct the journey.

In other words: in their simplicity, in their tangible relation with their own construction and the scarcity of their production, these coarse images manage to be endlessly more evocative than all the hyper-real tourist selfies currently producing themselves on autopilot. The mind needs to bring its own contribution to the process of remembering: paradoxically, a precarious representation of reality ends up being more effective in facilitating remembrance.

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Analogue Detectives

Ah, the old days when we had to hunt down the music we needed. I first came across this track on Rui Neves’ Musonautas late-night radio show in the early 1980s… I was already into KS (via Mirage, Body Love 2 and X), so right away I knew it was him, but which release? And how to get it?…. Well, I recorded whatever extract was broadcast into a cheap cassette and patiently delegated to the Gods to one day make me come across the actual vinyl, hopefully at a time when I would have the disposable income.

About a year later, calling a friend from a payphone, he tips me to a couple of KS LPs in Lisbon, at a shop at Avenida de Roma. It so happened I was camping in Lisbon, so the following day I picked up Timewind and Moondawn at once… at a forbidding price, these were the days of expensive import LPs (pre-EU significant import taxes were added to cultural goods). Then the challenge was to avoid the vinyl melting in my tent before heading home!…

All this “analogue hardship” made for a hard longing for the music we wanted/needed – but it also turned us into detectives, hunting it down by all means possible. In anticipation, we even had conversations about how it might sound. The joy of holding the LP of our dreams in our hands after months or years of resilience is just impossible to imagine these days, a click or two away from anything, literally anything.

So, the track. Pure analogue warmth, the gentle birth of sequencers… Bayreuth Return is a tribute to Wagner, eerie, sinuous and melancholic. On the surface not much happens, but it is full of micro-activity. Not good ambient music, despite the appearances: I find it actually demands my full attention. Be warned: the end is abrupt and, one may say, brutal. KS went fairly kitsch some time in the late 1980s (though not as horrid as Tangerine Dream’s painful descent into a bad joke), but his early work such as this has aged very well.

Not the V&A, guys. With all due respect.

I hear Pink Floyd have now become a V&A retrospective in their old age. The V&A is absolutely fine, no doubt; but these high-brow retrospectives of former free spirits just depress me; maybe even more so in this case, when Waters and Mason seem so frail (and…tamed) on the promo video, fully overtaken by the curators who go on about… what, exactly? (sample: “The wall, and… inflatables, and… stuff like that”)

…yep.

So I propose an “Animals” boot instead: I’ll stick with the audience-recorded youthful bile, thank you very much.

“Animals” is an interesting beast in the PF catalogue. Their early innocence long gone, “Dark Side” a landmark, they were now on the peak of stardom, and out comes this angry record that is as much about socio-political metaphor as it is about the band coming to terms with the evidence that PF is a spent creative force, about to disintegrate and become a brand. So they do bow out with a bang; this is their last album I enjoy, a loud, urgent, visceral statement, as opposed to the previous, (IMHO) overblown, (IMHO) overrated, (IMHO) tedious “Wish You Were Here”, basically the sound of millionaires moaning about being millionaires.

There is a reason why “Animals” was skipped on the “deluxe box set” treatment of their catalogue, and why none of its tracks made it to the (IMHO) PF karaoke tours of the 1990s; and this is a very good thing – it probably means it’s still too good for a cash-in exercise in nostalgia. Enjoy!

A Wise Musette

Thanks to a handful of LPs my parents owned, a good slice of my childhood was blessed with the soundtrack of Aznavour’s voice and the lush arrangements of his deceivingly simple tunes. His songs were like a wise version of French musette, conveying humanism, hope and a certain melancholic joy that can only be born from sorrow. His career took off right after WW2: in a way, his tunes are the sound of Europe waking up from trauma, determined to a gentler way of being and seeing the World. So may this humble, vaguely frozen historical snapshot help shine light on us now.

RIP John Wetton

John Wetton’s passing would not be a surprise given his ongoing battle with cancer… but it certainly adds to the darkness we’re traversing.

KC3 was a phoenix in no small measure thanks to his potent bass, his lyrical sensibility… and his voice. To this day, “Starless” is the highlight of a Crim gig.

“You need to know”

This ad has been doing the rounds on social media; people are saying this must be the dumbest couple ever. Actually, I’d say it’s an accurate, albeit unintended, caricature of our over-reliance on certain smart technologies and gadgets. These days we often delegate our own skills and knowledge on “smart” apps and devices; what is that process doing to our basic knowledge, our intuition, our sense of orientation, our ability to read the World and one another?

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What is it now?…

Is it nespresso? Is it a bunch of chemicals on a cute-coloured aluminum gadget? Is it the NOS logo? Is it “alternative tea” for “alternative facts” lovers? Is it “smart tea”? WTF is it now?…
………..
Wanna make tea? Grab some freakin herbs and boil some freakin water. It’s endlessly cheaper and it’s the. actual. real. thing.
Man, it’s getting so mindlessly boring among the induced euphoria.
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An anchor

I first came across Arvo Pärt’s work when this piece showed up on late-night FM radio in the mid-1980s. “Musonautas”, I think it was… maybe “Subterrâneos de Veludo”; either way, courtesy of Rui Neves and Jorge Lima Barreto. To say this piece became an epiphany is not an overstatement: it opened up a new way of listening and engaging with harmony and sound – and the narrative element that emerges, beyond words, but definitely there.

The depth and density of emotions envisioned through this piece still astound me: there is an overall mournful tone to it (and that does fit my current mood), but in-between the sombre tones there is a glimpse of hope just shining through. There is wisdom, beauty, faith, humility – all qualities that seem to have been torn into pieces in recent times.

And as is the case in all paradoxes, the absence of these traits in today’s World somehow makes this piece more resonant.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of listening to plenty of Pärt’s work throughout the years, but I keep returning to this particular one (and this particular arrangement) as one of my true anchors.

Your grace always will be

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From a time lost in time your grace seemed to precede time, somehow
War scars the trophies of an edict of unimaginable pain
your self glamorously reinvented as survival, you became our anchor
swayed through discreet glimpses, you knew

Yours the finest aristocracy of trauma, never undone
Humble and radiant, honoured, endlessly seductive,
a generous conundrum, your force was such, it felt
you’d ever be there

The call from afar you once answered I followed
through your joyful bravery
And I thus knew the World
as you had rendered it possible.

The day came and you bathed in despair,
Us unable to decipher, and yet you sweltered urgency,
Our hands held, as compassion was all that was left.
That day your choked breathing and mumbling had become one
and your eyes spoke of agony, heroically resisting departure.

As they finally closed and rested I kissed your forehead
and blessed our unspoken comraderie
Our promised lunch, endlessly delayed, now no longer to be.

You now on your journey, freed of scars
Us left behind, perplexed at the impossible
You no longer were

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for Isabel, 1942-2016

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