Hi, I’m Rudiger Meyer and this is my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.
Things have gotten off to a slow start this year. My covid experience ended up being somewhat more intense than I’d counted on. A solid ten days in bed with a (cold) fever that just seemed to get worse as it went along. Fortunately no big problems with breathing or smell or taste – just a big block of concrete weighing down and obliterating any sense of liveliness. A kind of grey nothingness more than a desperate adversary up for a fight of life or death.
(I hope its not too much diving into all of this. A little record of my experience, for what it’s worth.)
The strangest thing was what the infection did to my mental activity. My mind constantly wanting to turn the simplest situations into something incredibly complicated. Whooshing sounds (four or five, with a little crescendo <> decrescendo) in the head from time to time. Sudden stabs of intense pain at various points in the head. This was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of it all and I was very thankful for some remote healing sessions that helped turn what started to get a little disturbing.
And after that a week or so of building up strength after what felt like the big reset. Appreciating the simple aspects of life – going for a walk, getting something from the bakery, coffee. Colour!
Thinking back it was strange how suddenly the virus kicked in, almost from one minute to the next. And with some curious quirks such as a slight pain/sensitivity in the sole of the left foot – something others have apparently experienced too.
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The latest episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast is The Dog Will See You Now, with an interesting look at how dogs can be trained to detect diseases – including covid.
If recent times have shown us anything, it’s that many problems can not be fixed by humans alone.
We don’t believe in smell. We believe in sight. We have more faith the impossibly complicated and expensive and inefficient products of our own technological imagination than we do in the superpowers that nature has bestowed on other animals. We are as a species narcissist. And with covid our narcissism has caught up with us.
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Something that we got in a care package delivered in the midst of it all was a packet of Sha’an coffee – from Yemen of all places, with an interesting ‘warfair’ logo in the bottom corner of the label. Warfair turns out to be an organization that allies itself with local farmers and companies in conflict affected countries, making sure we can “enjoy world-class products and give a contribution to progress and peace through trade.”
(Sha’an meaning: to lean on, trust in, support – as I found in a quick search.)
That got me thinking of Maciej Cegłowski’s blog posts from his trip to Yemen in 2014, just a few months before the outbreak of war. It turns out that the second of those posts describes his travels to Ibb, which is where the coffee comes from.
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I wasn’t up for much input during my covid days – no music or podcasts, though I did welcome some MyNoise ocean sounds. One thing I did manage in the blur of it all was Peter Jackson’s Get Back Beatles documentary. A fascinating look at the creative process. Tom Whitwell managed to extract 10 lessons in productivity and brainstorming from The Beatles, for example.
I found it particularly fascinating to watch how the song Get Back took shape. Paul McCartney desperately strumming away trying to get something going while George and Ringo stare at him barely managing to keep themselves awake. And suddenly amidst it all some snippets of the melody that we’ve since come to know as the verse of Get Back start to emerge. (Part One: 01:03) I found it fascinating to follow how, once that beginning was established, the various details of the song that now seem so integral to it were gradually found and settled on. (Part 1: 02:17, Part 2: 00:17, Part 3: 01:46/9) How the bass riff that follows the words “Get Back” was at first simply a chord (McCartney’s dissatisfaction with which a final straw in provoking George Harrison’s departure in the middle of it all?) before gradually finding its form.
From a technical point of view Variety has an interesting article/video interview on how machine learning was used to impressively update the old material both visually and in terms of sound design.
Following Get Back a colleague pointed me to McCartney 3, 2, 1, a documentary series in which Paul McCartney and Rick Rubin get out the old multitrack tapes and take a look at various songs from both the Beatles’ and McCartney’s catalogue. Concise and very much produced in contrast to Peter Jackson’s sprawl (though Get Back has clearly been very carefully edited too), I thoroughly enjoyed it, perhaps even more so than Get Back – though each has its own strengths, different animals that they are.
And from there listening to some of McCartney’s old albums – the DIY, self-produced ones. Surprised by how much of it I somehow knew – “We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert” and so on – I guess a childhood in the 70s left more of mark on me than I’d realised.
Interesting how McCartney had the courage to pursue the DIY approach back then at the height of his fame, long before LoFi was a thing. A focus on the creative impulse rather than shiny product.
Nevertheless font and design specialist Jürgen Siebert couldn’t resist ‘fixing’ the typography on the cover of McCartney III when it was released in December 2020. See this tweet and accompanying thread.
I remember Siebert tweeting something about wishing for the same professionalism being applied to the design of the font on the album cover as the music itself, although that since seems to have been deleted, or else I simply haven’t found it. Whatever the case, it turns it that the font is the deliberately hand-made “Boy Scout Utility Modern” typeface created by the artist Ed Ruscha and used in many of his paintings. Jenny Brewer has an article on the album cover, created by Ruscha himself.
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With all that diving into the past a tweet asking “Is old music killing new music?” caught my eye. Here’s the full article. In a similar vein Soundvenue published an article (in Danish) asking: “60.000 new songs are added to Spotify each day – why do investors throw billions at old music?”
And, again via Twitter, a pointer to an article that Paul Ford wrote in 2014: Netflix and Google Books Are Blurring the Line Between Past and Present.
“The past is a foreign country,” novelist L. P. Hartley wrote. “They do things differently there.” He penned that in 1953, but in the digital era the past is now present and all around us: Millions of out-of-print books and historical videoclips, black-and-white movies, nearly forgotten TV shows and pop songs are all available with a credit card or in many cases for free. It used to be that, for economic and technological reasons, this cultural history was locked away. Libraries and corporate archives kept a small subset of it available, but the rest was in storage, out of reach. The reversal has happened in just the past decade. We are now living in a history glut; the Internet has muddled the line between past and present.
Six decades after Hartley wrote his famous line, the past is no longer a foreign land. Instead we’ve brought a weirdly literal truth to William Faulkner’s famously sphinxlike aphorism: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
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Looking towards the future, Poetisk Podcast will be publishing 5 works during the course of 2022 under the title Poetisk Podcast Broadcasts 2050. The format, length and “instrumentation” are freely decided by the invited poets, the only creative obstacle is that one of five titles is used as a point of departure: Titles that open a window onto how state of the world in 2050 might be imagined.
- A Solar Wind in One’s Hair
- Dance of the Atoms
- Ice Queen Drowned
- Orgy of the Giants
CIRKUS 3000, a distopian scenario by Tomas and Kalle Thøfner with its point of departure in Thing/Nothing, is the first of the five productions. (It’s all in Danish, BTW.)
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At which point does something become too subtle? My sense is that a lot of the music that has been created during the pandemic has expanded that threshold. Felicia Atkinson & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s Un hiver en plein été for example. Or Celer’s Sunspots. Or Ignatz’ You Can’t See Me, which I linked to last year. Or if there was any doubt something like Éliane Radigue’s Occam.
Recordings are one thing though, performances another.
After immersing myself in the (absence of) beats of just and mean-tone tunings last year, I’ve turned to some vibraphone experiments. Various chord constructions creating beatings at different speeds, alternating with playing with the vibraphone motor speeds. (There’s a nice Soniccouture Ableton pack with a beautifully sampled instrument that allows for adjusting the motor speeds by cleverly sampling the instrument twice – once with the fans closed, and once with them open – and then modulating between them.)
Hoping to grow some pieces out of that.
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How does one create against the backdrop of the climate crisis, superpowers on the verge of invading neighbouring countries etc. ?
I enjoy Kai Brach’s intros to his weekly Dense Discovery newsletter and in the latest talks about “investigating the idea of humans as ‘temporary caretakers’ whose role it is to strengthen the bonds and balance between all things.”
A strong part of that involves paying attention to the world around us. I’m hoping that increasing subtlety in the arts, with room for listening instead of an overemphasis on doing, is part of an ever growing sensitivity to everything around us: environment, animals, insects, people.
From the essay Returning the Gift that Kai shares in his text:
We have enabled a state of nameless anonymity, bringing human people to a condition of isolation and disconnection, that philosophers have called ‘species loneliness’.
I don’t think that it is more technology we need, or more money, or more data. We need a change in heart, a change in ethics, away from an anthropocentric worldview that considers the Earth our exploitable property to a biocentric, life-centred worldview in which an ethic of respect and reciprocity can grow.
And so we step into 2022… :-)
All the best
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