Sunday, 3 March 2013

From Bach To The Future - Howard Goodall Falls At The Last Fence

In the final episode of his TV series Howard Goodall falls at the last fence - shock! - or not, since Classical buffs think they're being 'hip' (ha-ha) by mentioning The Beatles and Bob Dylan, as if proving that they really have kept up with developments in 20th century music.

Oh, Howard, with your jacket sleeves cut too long as if to look correct when playing your keyboard...even though you spent more time standing, thus demonstrating the sartorial error of your ways...

I had my doubts before watching, but was hoping he would summarise the last 100 years as authoritatively as he did the previous 300. Yet now I even doubt his wisdom on Classical music. That's the trouble with being ignorant on a subject; you tend to believe what supposed experts say. If a historian told me Richard III had a penchant for eating raw eggs off a bed of oak tree leaves, for instance, I'd believe them. Sadly, anyone taking Howard for his word would never know the crucial role electronic music played in the 20th century.

He dealt with Jazz but only as far as Be-Bop. More obviously, he should have mentioned Third Stream, which introduced Classical into Jazz in the late-50s. And if he'd really wanted to create some kind of unity, he could have referenced the Modern Jazz Quartet's Blues On Bach album from 1973. You see, Howard? That would have provided a nice, cyclical feel to your summary. You should have consulted me.

Worse still, he failed to mention another, more important Bach connection, Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach (1968), which sold half a million copies at the time. Whether you regard it as proper Classical music or merely a novelty version, it's impact cannot be denied. After all, it put Bach into all those homes. Come on, man! Perhaps he hates the record. He may even be oblivious to the amount of effort required to make it, thinking it was simply a matter of Carlos sitting at a Moog and playing.

No mention of Robert Moog, or the evolution of electronic music. Early pioneers were well acquainted (sometimes schooled in) modern Classical modes, so another connection was missed. Stockhausen? Kraftwerk? He could have dropped in Tangerine Dream since they referenced Classical music. I'm trying to help you here, Howard. I'm offering some much-needed continuity between the electronic and Classical, but it's too late now.

He mentioned Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain (1965), which supposedly made him 'the godfather of sampling', but Richard Maxfield got there earlier when, in 1960, he looped and totally radicalised recordings of a preacher on Amazing Grace. Poor Howard, did he not have a research team? Perhaps not, due to cutbacks. Imagine him, desperately pestering youngish people in the office next door:
   'Hey, you look modern, what do you know about the evolution of music in the 20th century?'
   (Young Person looks up from their Twitter page) 'What, like Lady Gaga, you mean?'
   'Er, yes!'
   Of course, that Young Person could have found out about early tape looped sampling in ten seconds, if Howard had asked. I think he was fed up with the workload by the time he had to deal with the Modern. He thought, 'Oh, fuck it, I'll just dissect a bit of a Beatles tune on the ol' Joanna like I did in my Channel 4 programme and skip all that computer shit.'

Talking of The Beatles, they were dragged in to represent avant-garde tape experiments on the Sgt. Pepper's album, but where did they get that idea from? Any thoughts? Do you think, along with George Martin, they invented it?

You might say he couldn't cover everything. Yes, but there's a process called editing which, if used skilfully, would have created some time to cover electronic music. Precious seconds were wasted telling us Stevie Wonder incorporated Cuban music into his own, and that Paul Simon flirted with World Music. Since he mentioned sampling, how long would it take to mention Pierre Schaeffer's creation of Musique Concrète whilst playing a snippet accompanied by a photo?

Well, Howard, you proved long of sleeve, but ultimately, short on information about some of the most important aspects of 20th century music.


  1. I did not watch this series, but I watched his previous series on How Music Works which was rather good, but used ie Coldplay for its examples.

    I think there might be two things at play here (sorry):
    One is I reckon you are right in saying he is probably mostly ignorant on modern music that is not main-mainstream and
    Two when you do the telly I guess you have to make the story a little bit simpler.

    Having said that - "The Sound and the Fury" is very good (in my humble ears, and a prickling reminder to self to finally start reading "The Rest Is noise")


    1. Sound and the Fury was good. Better, perhaps, for being more focused. Goodall simply omitted that which he's ignorant of, which for a supposed 'expert' is unforgivable.


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