Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Vinyl, Webern & Cecil Taylor

Putting a record on...once an ancient pastime but one that's no longer the sole preserve of us older generations thanks to the vinyl revival. I hear people also buy records and never play them, preferring the MP3, which seems perverse but does demonstrate the allure of the old format and I'm not knocking anyone who does it. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I've bought albums before and only played them once or twice but listened to the file many times. We're all aware of the advantages; the ease of skipping tracks and...that's just about the only one I can think of, unless the speakers hooked up to your computer are better than those with the hi-fi.

One advantage with vinyl is that it creates sound away from this screen. The issue most of us have is screen addiction, to the point where all life emanates from them, large or small. So the simple feat of creating another source of entertainment, from another place, feels like a significant change, a break from total slavery to the machine. The sound is also better, a fact that has little to do with vinyl's superiority over digital but simply the weight delivered by my trusty old Wharfedale speakers, which do just as good a job if I'm playing CDs.

I've never been keenly attuned to sound quality variations, unlike those who wage war over the issue whilst no-one appears victorious. As a sound technician once said, vinyl won't sound 'better' if your equipment is not up to scratch. Scratches of another kind are also part of vinyl's appeal to some. I understand the nostalgia of well-worn vinyl, having spent a few years listening to reggae singles played in The Elephant's Head, Camden, their grooves seemed to carry in them the very essence of time, history and for some of us, memory. 

Dirt on one side of the Webern box pictured above stopped the needle in its tracks twice. This was remedied by finding the grime and holding my fingernail over it as the record spun. I now have very old dirt under my nail and should really give it a scrub, but since I'm already infected with a virus, it hardly seems worth worrying about.

The dirt, grime, dust, smears, fingerprints, creases and tears of the old music carriers are also pleasing to me. I can't help but ponder the history of the Webern box, where it's been since 1978...how many homes? Perhaps only one. Did the owner die, or simply change over to CDs? How did it end up in the Kentish Town charity shop? Webern's history regarding the Hitler regime is not a noble one. As cited in Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise, when Germany invaded Norway and Denmark he declared:  'Each day becomes more exciting. I see such a good future.'  Well, it is anyone's right to refuse the music of the politically suspect, but I choose not to do so.

On the subject of sound in various forms Cecil Taylor, in the 1965 Downbeat interview used as sleeve notes for this album, suggested that the way 'high fidelity is used falsifies by compensating for the weaker musicians'. He said this whilst discussing pianist Bill Evans and bassist Scott LaFaro whose playing, he believed, was enhanced, or 'falsified', by recording techniques. Ouch. So accusations that weak artists are compensated for by studio engineering are nothing new. The difference being that Taylor was taking a swipe at extremely accomplished musicians rather than the industry-built boy bands or naturally incompetent singers of today.

If not exactly generous in spirit, Taylor's music just keeps on giving and Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come remains one of my favourite albums, not least because it is an album, double vinyl from 1976. It's very material existence means something though what, exactly, I'm not sure. But every time I pull it from the shelf I feel the kind of satisfaction merely clicking a mouse cannot compete with. It's as if the actual cardboard and vinyl render it...sacred? As an artifact? It's not rare or expensive to buy. No, the otherness of vinyl in the age when I play far more files than records perfectly mirrors the otherness of the music...this rampant, spider-scuttling-over-the-keys, squiggly, contorted Bop in free form...a Jazz branch cut loose to fall where it will and grow into something else, in this case, Cecil Taylor music, a one man genre.    

Here is one of the record centres. That tear could represent the great rip in Jazz around 1960...as if the obliterated print is history although, conversely, the readable part may be history, the definite, clearly definable, whilst the white space is freedom...the imaginary, imaginable universe of sound opened up by the likes of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor in their own ways.

Anton Webern was, as you probably know, a disciple of Schoenberg, therefore a revolutionary composer in his time. In his and Taylor's recordings we hear new possibilities for music, from the studied, intellectual 'freedom' of early-20th century atonality to the open-ended joy of piano keys as a canvas for countless points of colour/sound.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...