Monday, 21 September 2015

Covered but not everything covered/"Call Me Doctor, Doctor Sleeves"

I had an anxiety dream on Saturday night. Familiar ordinary items had been rearranged to make an extraordinary version of my office space. Worse still, the total work space was empty except for my still-to-be-packed belongings and files. All the signs in the office had been converted to drawings in blue pen ink. The new signs were mostly skull and cross bones, thin blue lined skull and cross bones 'as if from a secret secretary school' as my dream brain narrator put it.

Anxiety dreams are not unusual, and moving office is likely to contribute toward me having them. However, I moved on Friday, I had know about the move proper for a year and a half, improperly for nearly four years. I had not had a single dream about it in all that time and all my packing was complete.

I mention this because the move gave my colleagues and I a morning away from our work[1], which was spent eating donuts and buying records.

The first place I visited was Relic Records. Here over two levels are CDs, DVDs, and vinyl, lots and lots of vinyl. On previous visits I've been lucky to find what I was looking for, not so this time. 

Relic Records sometimes frustrates me, it sells a lot of good music, stuff that I like and listen to and will buy eventually, but when I'm in the mood for something out of the ordinary I don't see to find it here.

So, what was my mood on Friday morning? Well, brothers, sisters, have you heard it on the news? You know, "about this fascist groove thang, evil men with racist views, spreading all across the land". That's right, I now have a twelve inch version of Heaven 17's (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang purchased from Wall of Sound underneath Crash Records.

I learnt about Brownian Motion from watching Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy, I couldn't tell you the exact theory but it's enough to give me an understanding. And so it is the same I learnt about politics, equality and society through music. Ideas expressed in songs I listened to as a teenager formed my outlook on life. For example, Government Walls by James opened my eyes to the need for transparency in oversight of secret services. Likewise, Sepultura's Biotech Is Godzilla gave me the desire for technology to be for all and not the few. There's many more songs where I could link an idea to a lyric. 

Music alone will not change ideas but it is a good starting point. A little like conditional pacifism, who is going to listen to Heaven 17 and say "that is a good song, I'm now going to go out and spread racism and fascism"?[2]

Herbert Read planted[3] an idea in my head that music was unique among creative endeavours in that it could convey emotion in a more concise fashion. What hope does a portrait have against a minor scale in portraying sadness? Urusei Yatsura planted the idea that music was a noise to be joyfully created, and their records came out on Ché Records.

Fuxa also had records released on Ché. In the mid-to-late 1990s I had seen little bits about they, heard a little on the radio, but hadn't gone as far as buying any of their stuff. In my head I retained a memory of sound, and when I found a double disc in Wall of Sound I asked for a listen. Yep, that's the noise I heard, that's the record I will buy.

I do not know much about Fuxa and have purposefully not searched the internet to do research prior to writing. There is something of a discovery in buying music physically, flicking through discs, rather than going through a long list as part of an online retailer's portal. There is nothing wrong with online, or download only, or storing music digitally to listen to on a mobile phone or Playstation 3[4], just purchasing for me is best physical. 

And physically I was attracted to the Fuxa, the cover is alluring, the sleeve notes hinting at something else. Data Bass? You better, Fuxa, or else.

This had been a much more enjoyable experience for me. Not bound by a collection of the 'canon of rock' (for want of a better description) I was able to find alternatives and potential, the undertone and counter melody offering a counterpoint to the twelve bar blues. 

On to Jumbo Records. Prior to starting my book on Krautrock[5] I probably knew three or four, six at the limit, definite bands that were of that era. I have Can, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream records but did not know anything about how these and others were interconnected. 

Neu! were a band I knew by sight but not anything about. My shopping trip today was expressly to find Neu! in some form, even a CD would do. Future Days sets out a description of a band that I very much liked, their approach to music and to motorik very appealing. Payday was two days ago, I had a mission and Jumbo would be my supplier. I now have a lovely reissue of Neu! by Neu!, and the knowledge that they and Harmonia were being rereleased over the coming year. 

The music of Can and fellow German bands of the 1960s and 1970s was in part born out of a reactionary response to "the Americanisation of German popular music, particularly the blues derivations so popular in Europe" (Future Days, p112)[6]. As much as I like early Pink Floyd, beyond the lyrical content where is the innovation? The drum beat, guitar scale? How about the production, the panning left-to-right and back at speed on Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It is a fabulous record but it is just the sum of the musicians' experience.

I almost added "and limitation" to that last sentence but there is no limitation in music. If there was a finite number of combinations of beats and notes we would reach it quickly. It is improbable that all music will ever be known, an infinite improbability so to speak. There was a scientist who successfully reasoned that infinite improbabilities could be worked out with a really strong cup of tea. And thus I learnt about Brownian Motion[7].

Relic Records, New Briggate, Leeds
Wall of Sound, Headrow, Leeds
Crash Records, Headrow, Leeds
Jumbo Records, St John's Centre, Leeds

Title - Yep, aiming for the 1970s, prog-rock, dual-title title angle.
1- To paraphrase Ysabell in Mort by Terry Pratchett, 'how about this? Let's pretend I've accurately summarised the academic year and the appropriate time for resource relocation. See? It saves a lot of effort'.
2 - It's been a month since I read a book on Ethnomusicology, and I have about fifty pages to go to finish Future Days, but I find myself thoroughly increasingly fascinated by the interrelation between communities, the culture they create, and their politics.
3 - In the introduction to The Meaning of Art (1931).
4 - Today, for the first time ever, I listened to the Divine Comedy while gazing on the planet Earth. The visuals were rather engaging when Neil Hannon sings "I'm the darkness in the light" as Antarctica rotates in to view.
5 - Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs (Faber & Faber, 2014) contains many useful passages about Germany and music in the 1960s and 1970s, but the one I feel the most need to impart when talking about Krautrock is that the word is a misnomer. Aside from the horrible stereotyping of all German music under one umbrella, it means "herbrock".
6 - I am going to attempt to get a doctorate by writing and publishing more than 100,000 words, backed up by my own research. I have peer review, in the form of you, dear Reader, so that title is mine, you might as well start calling me Doctor Sleeves.
7 - Social media can appear a little Brownian Motion, the way ideas spread and collide as interconnected groups of people talk. I didn't know about recent changes at XFM or the NME except for social media. That is not to say the news was not important just that it it didn't crop up in the normal channels I check news for. I learnt about the 'first free edition' of the NME through Crash Records's Twitter feed as they had been left off the NME's list of distribution points.