Friday, January 15, 2021

About sea shanties

Sea shanties are suddenly in the news, apparently because somebody started performing them on TikTok. But it’s telling that many of those detailing the phenomenon in the news media feel the most pressing need is not to explain what TikTok is, but what sea shanties are...

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

About The Album

I argued in my book about Radiohead that OK Computer, for all its manifold innovations, represents the last entry in the canon of rock albums. This isn’t because people aren’t making good music any more, but because in the post-Napster universe the notion of a fixed, finite selection of tunes in a predetermined (by someone other than the listener) order now feels unnecessarily restrictive – and I was writing this in the mid-Noughties, way before Spotify. I might have been a little premature in my analysis but in the New York Times Jon Caramanica seems belatedly to have come over to my way of thinking. (He also suggests the future might be TikTok, which has infuriated a whole load of rock purists on Twitter and elsewhere but that’s what music journalists are for these days, right?) Anyway, he says:

As awful as it sounds, an album is simply a data dump now. That doesn’t mean that some artists won’t continue to aim to be auteurs of the form — say, Taylor Swift or Adele — but the minute albums hit streaming services, they are sliced and diced and the songs are relegated to playlist slots, and everything after that is a crap shoot. The truth is that albums worked as a medium only because everyone was a captive. When you look back at your favorite older albums now, I’m sure you see the weak spots that you’d happily have programmed out if you had the technology then. Now you do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next generation of pop stars finds ways to never release an “album” again — they’ll just drip music out, one automated-brain-chip-download at a time.

I’ll put a fiver on One Automated-Brain-Chip-Download At A Time (Sweet Jesus) being the title of the next Radiohead album. Not that anyone will care, obviously. 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

About Brexit

An image to encapsulate our glorious future free from the nasty, pungent shackles of the EU: from the Buy British For Brexit Facebook group. Happy New Year, everyone.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

About self-Googling (one more time)

I’ve written before (here and here) about the strange back alleys into which self-Googling can take you. The problem seems to be that whole sites are based on data parsed from other sites, without a flesh-and-blood bullshit detector in the middle. I have no idea whether anyone but me has seen the page claiming that I was born in Chicago, and died in 2007, but it is there. (If a lie appears in the the digital forest and nobody reads it except its subject, might it just as well be true?)

Anyway, here’s a new one. Nobody knows what I weigh, which is a relief; but they have managed to calculate how rich I am, which comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s just a pity that I’m too dead to enjoy it.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

About Scrabble

Via The Urban Woo (retd). How to make your seasonal pastimes truly Zen, even if they have to be conducted virtually. Have as happy a time as the present hateful circumstances allow, with triple word scores aplenty for 2021.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

About the Daily Mail


It feels as if a pattern is forming. Following on from recent posts (here and here) about Radio 4 programmes in which a state of not-knowing appears to be a desirable quality in presenters and/or guests, here’s yesterday’s Daily Mail. Rather than seeking to elucidate or evaluate complex restrictions for the benefit of its readers, the newspaper’s role now seems to be to share in their confusion, their ignorance, and even to make a virtue of it. And in this case, it’s about something rather more important than knowing a particular bit of violin music.

PS: Earlier thoughts about agnotology etc here and here.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

About Foucault

I’m a little surprised that a member of this most performatively anti-intellectual government of my lifetime might namecheck Foucault in a speech; less so that the hapless Liz Truss got him so egregiously, so spectacularly wrong.

Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

About The Lark Ascending

Tonight’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s arts/culture show Front Row was presented by Liv Little, who is black, female and 20-something and whose presence, one assumes, is intended at least partially to address the Corporation’s concerns about its own lack of diversity and increasing irrelevance to young people. Little managed the first segment, on the new Wonder Woman movie, perfectly well, and seemed equally confident moving on to discuss the 100th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending with violinist Jennifer Pike. 

But then she did something rather unusual; she admitted that until she’d started to prepare for the show, she’d never listened to The Lark Ascending. Let’s be clear, this is not some obscure nugget by Hildegard of Bingen or Iannis Xenakis, unrecognisable and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in the theory and lore of classical music. It’s the piece that’s regularly voted the nation’s favourite by listeners to the avowedly populist Classic FM. It’s a Favourite, a Standard, a Classical Greatest Hit.

In many ways, Little’s admission was refreshingly honest. I remember when Ned Sherrin presented Loose Ends on the same station, regularly flubbing his lines as he gave scripted introductions to bands of whom he’d clearly never heard, mispronouncing the names of genres of which he was equally ignorant, and giving the impression that he didn’t really care. I’m sure Little does care but, as she acknowledged, this lacuna in her own personal canon probably puts her in a minority among Radio 4 listeners. (That’s the ones who do currently listen, rather than the ones the BBC wants to listen.) And inevitably, if she didn’t know The Lark Ascending until a few days ago, those listeners might wonder what other gaps there could be in her portfolio of cultural capital.

I argued recently that presenters on Radio 4 shows such as In Our Time and You’re Dead To Me operate as spokespeople for the moderately informed listener, knowing enough about the subject to ask sensible questions, but happily deferring to the experts when things get serious. Little’s honesty raises a question, though; what’s the rationale for a presenter who knows less than the audience?

PS: Also from the BBC: Neil Brand’s delightful programme about TV music shows what can be done when presenter and interviewees alike actually know what they’re talking about; and then there’s Idris Elba interviewing Paul McCartney and the less said about that...