Category Archives: Music

Handelitis and The-sun-is-shining Road

210px-Giovanni_Carestini Every now and then I have an attack of musical fever and have to listen to a piece of music a hundred and thirty-seven times in a row. Examples of past episodes are Dylan singing Blind Willie McTell, Carlos Gardel singing Milonga Sentimental, Tupelo Honey sung by Cassandra Wilson as well as Uri Caine and Paolo Fresu performing Si dolce è il tormento.

Sometimes I get a more serious case and I want to listen to everything a peformer ever played or sung or a composer ever wrote. The most recent occurrence was an attack of Handelitis. Hepatitis has various forms: A, B and C. So does Handelitis and I came down with Handelitis O, because I specifically felt a compulsion to attempt to listen to every Opera he had ever written. Read more…

Wee Klinks 3

Wee klinks It’s raining today where I live and it rained so much yesterday that when you ask someone for the time water pours out of their sleeve when they look at their watch. There are glum expressions all around me, but I am actually fond of rain. I think the reason must be my childhood memories from South-East Asia. The way the earth suddenly surrendered up its smells, but even more than that the sound of the rain falling on the bamboo umbrellas everybody had. Being under your own umbrella and listening to the rain beating down was like having your own wonderful sky-drum.

Because of this I was very much attracted to this set of pictures on Flickr all about umbrellas. If you are not lucky enough to have rain falling where you are today, you can always watch the pictures to the accompaniment of this soundtrackLotsumbrellas

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Eyes in the City – Kurt Tucholsky

augen-in-der-groszstadtIn Edgar Reitz’s Second Heimat there is a scene where one of the main characters, Clarissa (Salome Kammer), is singing a song at the piano inside a villa which is full of people milling around. I kept on going back to the scene to watch it again and finally found that the text was a poem by Kurt Tucholsky. The song should be on the Heimat Soundtrack CD but now you can hear it because it has been posted on Youtube.

Here is a translation of this beautiful poem into English, followed by the German original. I have taken the translation from this page, which will lead you to lots more information about Tucholsky.

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The Whole Country Dances – The North Korean Music Scene

KJuvMusic(This article was first posted in February 2008. I think it is time for people to be reminded of North Korean music. doesn’t seem to provide songs any longer, which is a great pity, but there is a good selection here. In particular, I would recommend Heroic Workers’ Factory, which has an English translation. It is a song you can try out at work yourselves. See if increases your output.) 

I was leafing through the Rough Guide to World Music one day, looking up countries I had visited in order to find out which melodies I had missed and remembered (but how could one forget) that one of the countries I have been to is North Korea. The book has a box on the musical scene in North Korea with a list of titles including the following:


Song of Bean Paste
My Country Full of Happiness
We Shall Hold Bayonets More Firmly
Our Life Is Precisely A Song
Song of Snipers
The Joy Of Bumper Harvest Overflows Amidst The Song of Mechanisation
Farming In This Year Is Great Bumper Crop
My Country Is Nice To Live In
Music Of Mass Rhythmic Gymnastics
I Like Both Morning And Evening
The Shoes My Brother Gave Me Fit Me Tight
The World Envies Us

These titles brought back many of the feelings one had while one was in North Korea. I was going to leave it at that, but I wanted to find a clearer picture for the cover of  Korean Juvenile Music (reproduced above) and in this search I stumbled across an excellent site which proclaimed

Herzlich willkommen auf

and which has a substantial collection of North Korean CD’s for sale. You can even listen to some of the tracks in their Pochonboentirety. My favourite is My Country is the Best. We’ve Taken Grenades in Our Hands (also in the Korean Juvenile Music series) is excellent too, Glory to General Kim Jong Il is obviously excellent as well even though the Bavarian influence is a little strong for my tastes. But the real discovery was the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble who play with unequalled confidence and flair. If I had a record company I would not hesitate to sign them up. I think there is definitely a niche market which would go overboard for them. In fact, I have a feeling they would be particularly good at the Superbowl – the style is very similar. I watched a number of their videos, I think I counted eight keyboard players but there may be more. Here is an example of their multi-layered approach:

Someone has implied that the Mansudae Art Troupe are even better, but I can’t say I have been convinced, even though that is only on the strength of one track.

As I said, Herzlich willkommen auf allows you to listen to a number of tracks in their entirety. It is a pity therefore that some of the more intriguing titles have no audio clip associated with them. I would really have liked to have heard O Persimmon Trees at a Coastal Guard Outpost. In any case, I have decided to put down here some of what I feel are the most memorable titles. I have found that arranging them in pairs conjures up a pretty accurate picture of the atmosphere one perceives in North Korea.

We Shall Live Forever to Defend Our Seas
Taehongdan Potato Good for Longevity

Oh, What Is a Party Member?
He Doesn’t Know Maybe

Fresh and Green Edible Aster on Mt. Ryongak
It Will Radiate with the General Sunshine

I Am a Blossom of the Fatherly General
I Also Raise Chickens.

We Are Honourable Infantrymen
Coming to Remove Weeds from the Sky

We’ve Taken Grenades in Our Hands
What Has Happened to the Thaebaeksan Hospital?

Let’s Sing of Paternal Affection
My Youngest Daughter, Pok Sun, Became a AA-machine gunner

Sea of Potato Blossoms in Taehongdan
Pleasant Snack Time

Nightingales Sing in Our Factory Compound
Song of Blood Transfusion

My Mind Remains Unchanged
I Like Rifle

and to end a couple of threesomes

Triple Rainbows
I Always See Them
Deep in Thought, the Nurse Ponders

Our Satellite Sings
Song of Automation Full of Happiness
The Whole Country Dances

Yes, now I remember

Wee Klinks 2

Weeklinks2 copy
When things don’t work properly one classic strategy is to continue doing the same thing and call it by a different name. Having trouble with the Global Strategy ? Launch the World-Wide Initiative. Is the Post Office falling apart ? Forget about repairing the roof, just call it a Data Communications Hub. This was the reaction I was instinctiveIy primed to adopt when I discovered that fifteen days had gone by from Wee Klinks 1 without any sequel. Perhaps I could rename it New Klinks and avoid any suggestion than something would happen once a week. Or else, since I defined the meaning of Klink last time, couldn’t I re-define week to mean some arbitrary extent of time ? In the end I decided to take another classic approach, make use of a brilliant  mystifying slogan like Wee Klinks – once a week (some weeks) which is what the series will be officially known as – at least until we need some further obfuscation.

This week (or whatever time period it really is) we start with the legendary Egyptian singer, Oum Kalthoum.

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Improvisation on improvisation in desperation

After a few months of amazed bewilderment, I have finally worked out how to represent the way the recent Republican Vice-Presidential nominee’s thought processes and verbiage generation function. Think of a car at speed trying to negotiate a twisting track covered with thick ice. That’s it.

This was brought home to me by the following video which features a piano accompaniment which hangs onto the tail of her slithering progress as she explains (perhaps there is need here for a word which is the
opposite of explains: – “implains” perhaps or “expalins”) the pros and cons and perhapses and whoopihooes of the bail-out of the financial industry. You can hear clearly illustrated the wheel-slipping, tyre-skidding and tail-spinning going on.

The accompaniment is performed and I suppose devised by the very talented pianist Henry Hey. I have appended a transcript of the lyrics so that you can sing along.


Intro (Couric)

…allow them to spend more and put more into the economy instead of helping these

big financial institutions that played a,

a role in creating this mess.


That’s why I say I, like

every American I’m speaking with, were ill

about this position that we have been

put in where it is the tax-payers looking to bail out.


what the bail-out does is

help those

who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed

to help shore up our economy…um…

helping the

it’s got to be all about job creation too, shoring up our economy and

putting it back on the right track

so health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to

accompany tax reductions and tax relief

for Americans.
And trade –

we’ve got to see trade as opportunity and not as
a, a competitive, um, scary thing,
but one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today,

we’ve got to look at that as more opportunity.

All those things under the umbrella of

job creation –

this bail-out is a part of


Music for eating peaches to (and papayas and mangosteens as well)

mangosteenUnfortunately, I know next to nothing about Vietnam and even less about Vietnamese music, but I have been wanting to share my appreciation of Huong Thanh ever since I heard her cd Mangustao. In it she blends Vietnamese music with jazz in a way which
joins hands surprisingly. There is a lilt in her singing which reminds me of some of the creatures which you see in an aquarium which suddenly flick their tails to move along unexpectedly or else makes me think that the line of music is walking along a plank or springboard which suddenly bounces back up when you reach the end of it. Here is a sample of her singing (From “Fragile Beauty”, another beautiful record.)

And here is her web page (not easy to navigate, you have to click on that little rectangle in the middle to open up the menu) which plays another piece of music. As I listened to this second piece of music I went to get myself a peach and sat down to peel and eat it. After a while I realised that I was cutting and eating with special attention and enjoyment. I had always known there was music for marching and there is music I put on which makes cleaning easier and there is music which helps to wind down and clear your mind and music to give you drive, but I had never realised there was music for eating fruit. It put me in mind of the Vietnamese film the scent of the Green Papaya where cutting fruit and vegetables always seems to be an ecstatic experience. I was so caught up by the peach and the sound that I didn’t realise that the music was a
loop which went round and round in circles. Luckily it was a peach and not a water melon and it only took me ten minutes to finish it and come out of my dream.

Tossing salt peanuts into the air for free – Steve Coleman

In these times, people are  busy inventing ways to sell things or bits of themselves nobody should 6a00e5502c099d883400e553b0f6c48834-800wineed to want and half the economy seems to be driven by packaged zilch. I recently saw that there is a company selling bottled water in the United States which freely admits on the label that it is Texan municipal water (and think of how many there are that don’t own up to where theirs comes from). Then there was the guy who sold his life on E-bay. I have a clear vision of a world a few years down the line where we are all going to be paid to wear T-shirts which advertise brands (although I suppose it is an improvement on us gleefully paying money for the privilege of wearing T-shirts which advertise brands). We will also find it normal to earn money by slipping slogans and catchphrases  into our conversations and naming our children after household products.

So you think you must have a case of fulminating dyslexia when you come across someone like a brilliant musician like Steve Coleman who writes :   Why should everything always cost something?  For me music is organized sound that can be used as sonic symbols to communicate ideas.  Since my main goal is the communication of these ideas to the people, then why not provide this music for free and thereby facilitating the distribution of this music to the people. […] My reasons for providing free music comes from my belief that musical ideas should not be owned by anyone.  I believe that ideas should be free for anyone to use (but not to necessarily sell to others or make others pay for the use of these ideas).”

Yes, he is giving his music away. You can download several of his recordings from his website here. I recommend Def Trance Beat, which I actually bought in a shop after having heard him perform in a park on a hot summer’s night a few years ago. You can read more about his thoughts on making his music freely available here. And if you want to hear what he sounds like without going anywhere yet, here he is playing Salt Peanuts.

Steve Coleman and Five Elements – Salt Peanuts

Old Shanghai and Three Places in New England

olive seller

Cantonese Olive Seller

In old Shanghai, not only could one find all kinds of delicacies on the streets but the countless vendors all had their own special local colour. The ones from Shandong sold steamed buns, those from Northern Jiangsu “tiger paws” and “sesame seed rolls”,  the locals plied sugar plums and the Cantonese olives and water chestnut flour cakes or linggao. Of all these hawkers the ones which stood out most were the olive sellers. They wore a big bag across their shoulders, which in itself was nothing special, but on the other hand the Erhu they played was very peculiar. Why? The belly of the instrument was twice as big as normal Erhu. It was made from a petrol can. Because of this, the seller could not get any complex sounds out of his instrument but only a KANG KANG LI KE KANG KANG sound. The monotonous music was certainly not easy on the ears, but it had a distinct flavour of the Yue country. Read more…

The Art of Toys and Pianos

pic-551dMemo to Philips. How can you let a CD called The Art of the Toy Piano go out of print ? It is one of the most surprising records I own. On it Margaret Leng Tan plays pieces like the Moonlight Sonata, Eleanor Rigby and a whizz-bang version of the Star Spangled Banner as well as other compositions made especially for toy piano. Here she is playing the toy piano as well as some other toy instruments.


She is also a specially good performer of John Cage’s music. My first experience with John Cage’s music was not too good. I rode on a train from Bologna to Ravenna which had been specially arranged by him to play his music and the amplified sound of the train. Unfortunately, something went wrong so we never managed to hear any of the his music but only the amplified train noise for two hours. Never mind, I actually like train noise. And later I fell in love with his piano sonatas. Margaret Leng Tan worked with Cage for many years and became one of his favourite performers. In the next clip you can see him telling her so. Watch this one to the end and you will see a surprising up-and-coming performer. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cage had written a piece especially for him/her (hard to tell which) perhaps by marking the keys with smells. There is a page about Margaret Leng Tan at

Boris Kovac – A Piper From Out of the Ruins

Boris Kovac  says that he is fortunate in that his music can drawn on the traditions of twenty different nationalities living in the Vojvodina area around his native town of Novi Sad. But it is not just that. Tradition is like a glove, most people wear it and sound exactly like everybody else who has worn that glove. Kovac is definitely playing Balkan music even when he is playing tangos, beguines and waltzes but you can feel his hand inside the glove pushing out and changing the shape.

I first listened to him because the title of one of his albums caught my attention. “The Last Balkan Tango” – where he asks the question: “Just imagine there is only one starry night left till the end of this world… what would we do?” The music is his answer.

In the liner notes, the music is compared to an Orient Express which “travels according to the following itinerary: … Budapest-Szeged-Novi Sad-Sofia-Istanbul.” It is a nice idea, but I don’t see   any clear timetable to tell us when we are getting to these places and I don’t notice any clear progression. In fact the train may actually be stranded somewhere and not moving at all, but the most noticeable thing is that you are inside a compartment which is crowded with people from all these places and others, all making a lot of noise, but with Kovac doing most of the talking, which is good, because he has a lot to say and he has that ability few people have of making your spine tingle from time to time.

Settetto buffo di sette gatti


I can’t find where the original of this picture comes from. I suppose the instrument must be a gattoforte, because it must be pinching their tails or something not too pleasant, so there is no way they are yowling softly, which means it is definitely not a gattopiano  I think someone should compose a piece to go with it, using some sampled cat sounds. In the meantime, since we don’t have a septet yet, while five cats sit on the sidelines, here is a recording of Rossini’s Cat Duet  (Duetto  buffo di due gatti) performed by Victoria de los Angeles and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf .