Music !

Heard this conversation in a movie I watched recently.

———————-

Q – “Do you like Music?”

A – “Do you breathe?”

———————-

What a fantastic answer … ain’t it.

If I were to think about it for myself, I would fall into the same group. Music is one of the pillars of my life. Since I lack the ability to be able to play an instrument or sing, I devote my energy and whatever free time possible to consume music – literally. Plus that spares the family the ordeals of listening to my heartfelt but drastically tuneless outputs.

At possibly anytime of the day there’s a song that’s playing over and over in my head. This happens when I am relaxing, travelling, most stressful moments, when I have to make important decisions, when I am analyzing something, subconsciously processing feelings, information or a course of action. This happens without an iPod or a phone constantly blasting music onto my eardrums, which for some reason I can’t stand. I  prefer to listen to music as singular activity. Sit down and listen to it, pay attention, give it respect…. It keeps me sane and grounded. I wouldn’t be the same without it.

Since music is so important, I want it to sound good when it is played back.  Thus the forays into audio gear – Electrostatic speakers, tube amps and stuff.

The choice of music I delve in is pretty eclectic. It ranges from Phish (a musical genre in themselves) to Dylan to Beautiful south to Blues to Sufi and everything else in between and sideways.  An intensely emotionally charged and powerful piece sung by Abida Parveen inspired me to jot this down. The purity of her voice, the simple words, the sparse but striking musical arrangements emerging like a dream from the electrostatic panels of the incredible Cadence Amaya speakers was a riveting experience.
 
So what’s the point of this post? Does one talk about breathing? … perhaps we need to ….
Advertisements

The Piano man

Having just came back home from a late night out without kids with wifey and friends, my nerves are tingling. This has got nothing to do with the night-time energy of Zurich Niederdorf – the hub of Zurich nightlife. The culprit is the Piano Man. No – it’s not Billy Joel. I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing him live, and he certainly wouldn’t be playing at that incredibly crowded Zurich bar with people almost falling over him, waitresses buzzing around him carrying trays loaded with trays 6 inches over his head and his entire Piano being used as a table top by women for resting their drinks and swooning over him.

The Piano man in question here is some unknown(at least to me) gentleman probably from Poland or some other east European country. Even after reading his name a couple of time on the front page of the menu of the bar, for the life of me i cannot remember his name now, except that it sounded vaguely polish. And it’s probably for the better. Some things are best left as mysteries. So why is it that at 3 in the morning, having just reached home – I am not in bed and all i can do is write about the evening?

It’s because I can’t get the songs out of my head. I can almost taste the liquid air of that nightclub, the made heavier by the fact that i was only 2 feet away from the Piano being pounded by his fingers. And that i could read the titles and the lyrics of the songs in his notebook which has been thumbed a million times. And it certainly wasn’t for his musical virtuosity – he had the knack of murdering many songs, as he did with ‘The Piano man’. There were many passages where he should have sung Bass, but instead he sang Soprano. Many a times his tune was out of whack with the original. And top it up with the fact that i cannot really bear to hear more than half an Elton John song in a year – and he sang three of them today evening. Apollo, pls forgive me and him.

But the reason my mind is still tingling is the sheer visceral impact, energy, enthusiasm, enjoyment, vibe that the performance contained. It is another glowing tribute to the power of music, especially when you can have the pleasure of it being played live in front of you. The impact feels so much pronounced to me as at any point in time there is a song going on in my head. My first instinct when i get home it to put on some music on the divine Cadence Amayas and the Audio Analogue Puccini, much to the chagrin of my lovely wife at times.

A song being played back from a shiny disc or the grooves of a vinyl record, can never come close to recreating the magic that live music is. No matter how good or how close it sounds to the real thing thanks to good Hi-Fi gear, recorded music can never hold a candle to witnessing it being produced live. Even as I write this, Dylan is playing in the background, belting out ‘Angelina’. His anguished and soaring voice is palpably placed dead center of the soundstage, right between the two speakers, slightly recessed behind the Piano. I can almost ‘see’ the hammers on the piano, hitting the strings and producing the plaintive melody. Thanks to the incredibly fast electrostatic panels, I can ‘sense’ his movement, as he probably shifts his position in front of the microphone, pouring his heart out into the song. I can ‘feel’ his mood as he shifts gears and emotions throughout the song. The picture that he is painting with his words, is coming together very close to as he intends it to be – part Rimbaud poem, part Van Gogh painting and part Kurosawa movie. Having heard him live, his voice is an incredibly close rendition of how he sounds  in real life – shifting from indifference to total immersion in a hearbeat. It is perfect, almost.

As good as it gets, there is something missing. As I wait for the magic to happen, it just doesn’t kick in. All I can do is compare it to the sometimes imperfect renditions belted out in flesh and blood, just an hour back. There is a an invisible veil somewhere. It wasn’t there an hour back. Music is better off without that veil. If you like music, I strongly recommend the following. Firstly, play or learn to play a musical instrument (though I sadly can’t, I will endeavor to it). Secondly, buy the best possible music playback gear you can afford ( … and please don’t get fooled by thinking the Bose is all there is to Hi-Fi). Lastly and most importantly, get out and go to a live concert. Just go, don’t think too much or over-analyze the artist. If you like a musical genre, and there is a relevant live musical event happening close to where you are …. just go. Let lightning strike.

So Dylan is 70 today, what’s the big fuss then?

Enough has been written about Dylan over the past years, and even more in the last few weeks and months about the fact that he turned 70 today. Intellingent life, i guess was the the first one off the block with their reportage on Dylan at 70. And I may be the last! Feels nice to close the loop and momentarily exist in the same stratosphere with one of the few truly refined and intelligent journals today. But this piece is about him, not them – so let’s move on.

Anyone interested in music, has to have had a brush with his music at some point in time. And since Dylan’s music is such a polarising object, it can only inspire emotions of the two extremes in people – either you love it or hate it, there is no middle ground. Even mentioning this brings me goose pimples! And it seems appropriate to call his music an ‘object’. His music is so physical in its manifestation, that one can see it in front of you and has perhaps taken different forms over the years. From the rough un-cut diamond in the early sixties, to a sharp razor-edged knife with a encrusted rubies in the mid sixties. It then morphed from an electric saw in the early seventies to a faceless mouldy piece of stale cheese in early eighties. While it may have been in the danger of being thrown into rubbish, it turned into a nicely aged bordeaux during late nineties & early 2000s. And some people are complaining that now the bottle has been left uncorked for too long.

So maybe that’s what the fuss is about? Not the fact that he is 70, and still rambles on that jolly bandwagon of ‘The never ending tour’. That he is not to everyone’s taste. But then, he never was supposed or wanted it to be that way. Or is the fuss about that each time, a new image (much like the one’s I described) is created and labelled on to him, he puts on his leopard skin pillbox hat, takes the tunnel that the jack of hearts dug, and emerges in a place that no one except him could have thought of. He has been doing this for 50 years, and probably sees no reason as to why he should not continue to do so, till his visibly frail frame and his croaky voice allows him to.

I can vividly recall the first memories when the Dylan bug bit. It was in 1996, sitting on a rocky beach in Pondicherry (southern India), gazing into the ocean while the Sony walkman earphones belted out the (almost) violent Hurricane from his album Desire.  This, the first Dylan album that i had bought, is not the most typical initiation as most people would argue. As the last notes of Isis faded into the background, drowned by the sea waves and noises around me, I had sold my soul to him.

After owning everything that he had ever sung (or recited in many cases), the first ‘live’ Dylan experience was also an atypical one, 2004 in a town called Stra (near Venice in northern Italy). The concert stage was set in the massive lawns of a beautiful Italian mansion. Having driven from Budapest to Stra to listen to him, me and wife (carrying our then 9 month old son in a child seat to the concert – we were crazy !) had these visions of him coming on to the stage, greeting the crowd and speaking to us. Then picking up his guitar and harmonica and belt out a beautiful rendition of Desolation row. But the expectation were shattered by a wall of sound that emerged from a stage where 6-7 people banged into their instruments. “Which song is this and where the @#§* is Dylan” we asked ourselves. The violence of the music and the way he twisted the song To be alone with you, still rankles in my mind. To find him tucked away in the shadows, with a scruffy beard, his side to the audience, banging away on a keyboard and croaking inaudibly into a mike could not have been a greater contrast to the much publicised image of a clean shaven Dylan wooing the audience with his words, guitar & harmonica, which was stuck in my head. 5 more concerts later with musical renditions of his songs ranging from pristine revelations to having molten lead poured into my ears, my soul is still sold to him.

So is the fuss all about the fact that people who are more fortunate than me to see him in his so-called heydays of 60s, are still yearning for that image. They haven’t moved on from that place, while he has. Maybe the fuss will always remain and hopefully it does. His music in not mass produced McDonald burgers that will always come out the same way. It is a hand crafted sculpture. When reproduced on different days, in different setting and moods, it will be variations of the original. And like the pied piper, there will always be a beeline behind him, following his tunes hypnotically.

So how did I celebrate his birthday? In the most atypical way. By not listening to his music! Strange as it may sound, by having his favorite songs playing in my head, rather than via the beautiful Cadence Amayas, gave them a more Dylanesque touch. By imagining how they might sound if he were to sing it today, rather than hearing the version from 1978, made them more real and personal. Even though I own all the 4 recorded versions of Mississippi, the fifth one, which is my own and playing in my head right now, seems the most appropriate one to play today. And maybe that’s what the fuss is all about.

The day the finger tappers took over the world

The other day while posting an entry on my blog, John Lennon’s Imagine was playing on the Cadence Amayas, and a freakish vision appeared – Mr Lennon’s apparition magically manifested from the electrostatic panels and asked me “Imagine a world which has been taken over by WordPress!”, but before i could offer an opinion, he vanished and was off to sign autographs in some remote parts of the andromeda galaxy.

Hmm … world domination by WordPress, a scary or welcome thought, depending on which way you swing. For the sake of not monopolizing the creative space, I leave the description of life on earth in such a scenario to a future George Orwell clone to think it up in another book like 1984. But using my immense powers of prediction, I can safely bet that following will be the national anthem for this new world.

Warning – The following may sound outright cheesy, stupid or funny to you, but remember beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder :-) …. For best results, sing along to the tune of ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon

Imagine there’s no conversation
Its easy if you write
No sounds surround us
Around us only words

Imagine all the people blogging for today
Imagine there’s no telephones
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to speak or hear for
And no shouted arguments too

Imagine all the people
Blogging away in peace …
You may say I’m a blogger
But I am not the only one
I hope some day you’ll blog like us
And the world will read as one

Imagine only muses and observations
I wonder if you can
No need for ears and tongues
A bloggerhood of man

Imagine all the people
Reporting all the world
You may say I’m a blogger
But I am not the only one
I hope some day you’ll blog like us
And the world will read as one …

I think we might soon come to this. The following cartoon convinced me.

A penny for your thoughts …

Alpine Soundscapes

Switzerland : does it bring to your mind mountains, cheese, cows, watches? Leave these aside for a moment and think of divine tube amplifiers, precision turntables and exquisite speakers than that play music sweeter than Apollo’s harps or can recreate the sound of thunder. These were the images and sounds I experienced when the latest edition of the HighEnd Swiss show beckoned.

 

Read the full entry here …

____________________________________________________________________

Breaking News : This write up has also been published on a leading Audio website – 6moons.com. The first of hopefully many more to come! Read it here

____________________________________________________________________

The Cat’s away and the Mice can play

The story goes somewhat like this …

It’s a golden autumn evening in a quaint Swiss sub-urban town. Cool crisp air rustles the dried leaves of fiery hues on their wafting journey from the branches down to the sidewalks, illuminated by the amber glow of a setting sun. An Indian family gets together in the evening to do Ganapati pooja (For my non-Indian friends – prayers offered to the Lord Ganesha), consume copius amounts of Lindt chocolates as prasad (sweet offerings after the prayers), and have a relaxed dinner of some lovely toop-bhat (a simple but heavenly combination of steamed rice and plain yellow lentils)….

…. now Mum has to go to her weekly ‘evening sewing club’ to mingle with her swiss friends & practice stitching cute things for kids on those wonderfully precise but hideously expensive swiss made sewing machines (the one that she uses in the club costs more than a goddamned Tata Nano for heaven’s sake!!). Promises are made to mum that kids will be tucked into bed after the evening ablutions. The kids wave cheery goodbyes. As we see mum’s car leave the driveway, Dad turns to to the two hapless kids who are now at his mercy and with an evil glint in his eyes, suggests an altogether different course of action – a far more exciting one than the boring routine of brushing their teeth, reading some cute storybooks and catching forty-winks.

Would the kids like to Rock ?? YEAH!  jump up both of them. Dad runs to the CD rack, reaches for ‘The Clash – London calling’, but Apollo’s providence intervenes and a far more eclectic choice dawns upon him – ‘The School of Rock soundtrack’ … The title track is cued up in the CD player, the volume on the sublime Audio Analogue Puccini amplifier is cranked up and soon the entire house is rocking to Jack Black leading a group of school kids screaming

… and if you wanna be the teacher’s pet,
Well baby you just better forget it,
Rock got no reason,
Rock got no rhyme,
You better get me to school on time ….”

 

The two kids are headbanging and having the time of their life, the otherwise quiet neighbourhood is shaking, the swiss neighbours have never experienced this before – they are ready to believe that all their cows are revolting & invading them with cheese bombs. The 4 yr old daughter thinks that dad is coolest thing on this earth after her cats, pink dresses, princesses, fairy wands and lip glosses!  The music reaches a crescendo and the song ends in a face melting, ear-drum shattering guitar solo……….. phew! the kids slump down breathless, their nerves tingling and eager for ‘The Who’ to kick-up the next track.

But suddenly, sanity prevails on dad, the music is flicked off… decorum must be maintained at all times, he says! The kids protest & beg for more headbanging, but it’s not going to be today. They are reluctantly led to complete the mundane brushing, changing, story reading, getting tucked in bed routine and kissed goodnight.

Mum comes back from her soiree, the house is quiet, the kids are peacefully sleeping (though still rocking in their dreams), she mentally blesses the dad for taking care of the kids so well, not knowing the real deal that has gone on behind her back … heh heh heh.

…yes, yes, yes –  i know. Kids need to be introduced to more cultured things like classical music, jazz, ballet etc. They get their regular dose of those things but a few minutes of pure unadulterated rocking never hurt anyone, did it!

Waiting !



5 seconds for a webpage to load … you gotta be kidding me! With 50 Mb broadband internet, quadzillion core intel processors and multimillion GB RAM, it still does at times. It’s an eternity in today’s world – You can go to the moon and come back in that time, destroy a country or sink the market capitalization of a company by 5000% thanks to the brilliant automated trading supercomputing errors. It seems that the technology gods are not without a sense of humor afterall. All the gadgets and means that we have invented to increase leisure time, should be helping us to  relax, take things easy, stop and smell the flowers. Didn’t someone say that good things come to those who wait. Not for us homo urbanians. Instant gratification – Queen said in one of their famous songs – “… I want it all and I want it now …”.

Today on this day in September, I am certainly in their corner. On my recent trip to India in Aug, I ordered a pair of beautiful electrostatic speakers from Cadence. I knew that these speakers are made to order, they will take time to be finished, that they will be shipped out only in mid sep, it takes a week for the transit etc… etc… etc .. but I want them NOW!, in my room making beautiful music. Instead, here I am looking into a GRS and tapping away to glory. Such is life!