Sigur Rós - Gobbledigook

My inbox held a little treat today.  The new Sigur Rós single - available for free download.

It is difficult to write about the work of the icelandic foursome - they are one of my favourite groups, and being a lover of all things scandinavian I have followed them from the moment I was first blasted with their emotional soundscape.  Their success has been incredible - surely one of the most inspiring pop (alt.pop?) groups of our generation (who sing in a language no one really understands).

The new single is a break from tradition.  The frenetic pace and changing time signature carries a childlike quality - which, like most of their music, people will either love or hate.  An like the rest of their catalogue, the accompanying video is a perfect vision of their music ... certainly inspired by Lars von Trier's The Idiots.

The album is produced by Flood - very much looking forward to the results.

It will be interesting to follow the marketing behind the free download. Sigur Rós have a huge fanbase - word will spread quickly of the freebie amongst their audience who are collectors of their work, and will pay to see them live.  In comparison with other artist's recent giveaway stunts, this feels more genuine - more of a thank you and a try-before-you-buy than an attempt at gaining additional PR mileage.



On a rainy bank holiday jaunt today we came across a church in Kent that has a collection of Chagall stained glass.  I've always liked Chagall - perhaps because he uses a lot of blue, or maybe because his work has that childlike fantasy quality - easily allowing you to just get lost in it and find your own meaning.

The tiny church was deserted and deathly silent, leaving us to explore on our own and stare undisturbed at the haunting images.  Even though there wasn't much sun, the light captured and delivered the painting's intense colour through the glass.

To the side of the nave there was a table full of postcards, books, cds - which anyone could buy.  It was all priced - but as the church was unattended you just had to put your cash in a little slot on the table.  We couldn't believe that this merchandise just left out for anyone to possibly plunder.  But then we realised this was insignificant compared to the invaluable art that was left unguarded - which, if in a gallery, would be under high security.  

Churches are institutions of respect.  We are all familiar with the code of conduct - silence, honesty, humble behaviour.  

Our modern world revolves around one new institution - the internet.  Still finding its place in our society, it lacks a strict code.  Individuals behave in ways that they wouldn't do in the real world - in the anonymous web they can easily resort to antisocial behaviours like hiding behind pseudonyms, making irresponsible comments to others, and taking what they want without paying for it.  But like the church the internet is largely unguarded.  Perhaps in time we will grow to respect it and evolve a standard of behaviour - hopefully soon before the great freedom the internet is built upon is taken away.


Scrobble Me This

I love readers' letters.  What inspires someone to take precious time out of their day to write to the editor of a newspaper to comment?  (probably the same part of our brains that motivates us to blog.  Touché.)

Somewhere between following the exploits of Lilly Allen's tits and Amy Winebar's ever increasing slide into zero self respect, The London Lite carried a story last week about illegal downloads.  A few days later they had a selection of reader's comments.  Jane from London had some strong views about how great things were in communist Russia when bands were only paid when they performed live.  Chris from Perivale brags that from borrowing from friends and illegally downloading he has amassed over 10,000 songs.  

My favourite was Jerry from West Ham:

It is time for music companies to reap what they sow.  The industry ripped consumers off for something that should be free or at least cheaper.  Finally the consumer controls the market.

How Jerry has come to the conclusion that music should be free is not clear.  However, I'm quite certain he hasn't walked into Selfridge's and taken a few shirts and a pair of jeans just because he feels that clothing is too expensive these days.

The consumer does not control the market.  Artists do.  There will be no music for Jerry and Chris to enjoy if their favourite artists quit and go get a day job because they can't afford to pay their rent.  

Illegally downloading is theft.  Sharing is great though.  It is based on mutual respect - a great trait that the world needs more of.  Last FM is getting better and better at this.  When they first kicked off I found the site kinda clunky and wasn't quite sure how it was going to materialise into something user friendly.  With some investment, they have built a brilliant networking site and radio station.  And they pay artists for the songs that are streamed - just like radio does.


My Virtual Friend John Cage

John Cage friend requested me on MySpace today.

There are quite a few John Cage pages on MySpace.  There is this one, one here, this one, and also this one.  I'm sure he would be honoured.  Something tells me he would like social networking.

"I'd like our activities to be more social and anarchically so.  We have moved, one may say, from the time of the family reunion to the present time that brings people and their energies and the world's material resources , energies and facilities together in a way that welcomes the stranger ..." - A Year From Monday


Giving Birth

One of the girls at our mastering studio was absent this week when I went in to get Revolutions polished and finished off.  She is off on maternity leave with her first child.  

Dave - who does our mastering - remarked that while the first one is exhilarating and exciting, and everything is new, your second one is planned meticulously - having learned the tribulations from your first child.

I couldn't help but ponder this on a different level.  With this new LP finally mastered - my second born - things did feel differently.  I wasn't experiencing the same nervous excitement that I recall from my first time in that studio four years ago.  The awe that comes with finally realising that you have created something which you will inevitably allow to be set free to the world.  A world that will then tear it apart.  Love it, or hate it.  

It is this sense of attachment that often stops people from creating at all.  The fear of putting something out there into the world, opening oneself to criticism, sharing the fragility that holds art together.  It takes strength to give birth.

But in the end we do it - because we have to.  Because something in our nature drives us to.  And when at last we can sit back and enjoy what we have done we realise that our struggle has lead us to create something we can truly be proud of.


Summer Sounds - Vol. One

Unbelievably summer weather in London calls for a sunshine playlist.
Here is volume one - some LPs from 1966-91 that epitomise the summer season.

Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
I'm sure this is on everyone's list. But it is there for a irrefutable reason - fantastic song writing.

Supertramp - Breakfast In America
A great driving album. Not that I drive much anymore ... but a perfect soundtrack to a car journey across a continent ...

Depeche Mode - Music For The Masses
Perhaps this makes the list not so much for the collection of tracks, but for being the tour that '101' - their classic road biopic - is based on. And it reminds me driving into Calgary on a hot summers night to see the band on their Violator tour. A defining summer moment.

The Beloved - Happiness
Classic balearic joy. An flawless debut album.

Electronic - Electronic
When I found this record as a young child I couldn't believe my ears. The marriage of three heroes - New Order, The Smiths (well, Johnny Marr), and Pet Shop Boys. Still sounds as fresh to me today as it did in 1991.


More Coldplay Malaise

Essential reading from The Quietus on the recent Coldplay giveaway stunt.

Music Week also report on the "huge success" of the freebie single, hinting that we have a "summer of surprises" from the band.  They point to the third week of May as some sort of marketing event of epic proportions.  Perhaps the EMI team have employed Alastair Campbell to cook up some WMD for the launch.



I sent a copy of the new single "Revolutions" to a musical colleague of mine last week. His critical (and unsolicited, as it usually tends to be) response was that it was "nice, although not so spectacular as the title hints".

Perhaps he has misinterpreted the meaning of the song -  it is not titled "Revolutionary". There is quite a difference between the two words. Indeed "revolutions" holds several different interpretations. The sentiment behind the track is referenced in the lyrics --

"Will our history come around again
Another era in a time of men"

Over and over we repeat ourselves. A continuous cycle of cause and effect, invention and reinvention. Conflict and resolve. The cycle gets faster - yet we seem to be further from the epiphany that will set us free. 

"Revolutions" is a simple pop song. It does not need to be more than that - and in creating it I certainly did not try to be revolutionary. To set out to do so is almost inevitably to fail musically - I believe it is more important to create something that is emotionally successful than to make it the Next Big Thing. To me the track is everything I intended it to be.

What is revolutionary in music? At a glance we could maintain that the past century has seen more creative revolutions than ever before. Musique concrète. Jazz. Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". Minimalism. Rock'n'roll, pop, house, punk. Erm - nu rave? Perhaps not.

I feel that there have only been two significant revolutionary moments. Without them the musical world as we know it today would not be the same - and the impact of which will lead us to the next (whenever that might be - in the current musical climate this might not be in our lifetime ...)

John Cage - 4'33" (1952)
By composing a piece where not a single note is actually played, liberating the performer and allowing chance to conduct the experience, Cage brought philosophy to music and pushed the boundaries of what we accept as art. He paved the way for generations of composers who finally had permission to let freedom of sound into their work. Electronic music would not have been the same without him.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (1964)
Before appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Beatles were relatively unknown in the US. With television becoming a force in mass media, the marriage of rock'n'roll with the excitement of live performance broadcast simultaneously to millions heralded in the British Invasion and the beginning of pop culture as we know it. 

Of course there have been other milestones since these two events, and indeed many new forms of popular music - but they all relate back to these important moments. It will take some time to go beyond this - as a musician today, all we can hope for is to add to our collective musical history.


Art of Reproduction

There was a woman on the train this morning wearing a Banksy tshirt.

You can get Banksy everything now. Crafty individuals have been putting his art onto canvas prints and selling them down every market in London. Banksy won’t see a penny for this – one could argue that his art is in the public domain and therefore others can use it as they wish – in the same way perhaps as anyone can make a tshirt with the Houses of Parliament or a skyline of London on it. 

It would be interesting to know how he feels about people using his art in this way. I suspect he isn’t too keen on the commercialisation of his work. However, I don’t imagine he is short of cash now – he has spent years honing his craft, building his brand, being clever at what he does ... Now he is known as one of the biggest artists in the world. 

But Banksy does not issue a lawsuit to every person that rips off his intellectual property. Indeed his brand grew via word of mouth and through people admiring and copying his work. Now his pieces demand six figure sums. 

Imagine if the music industry was similar. If all songs were free, but as artists grew their music (in effect, their art) increased in value. At 79p per download, music is a much more disposable art form. It relies on volume of sale. Warhol started out with this concept – his pop art was meant to be reproduced quickly and cheaply. Now the pieces are worth millions. 

How would we value an album if it were to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s?

Banksy's Cans Festival opens today on Leake Street - SE1 7NN


The Price of Free

Coldplay are giving their new single away.

For the next seven days you can download it for free - in advance of the proper release next week.

It is the next logical step -- if Radiohead will allow you to give them whatever you want to pay, then surely the Next Big Thing (To Save The Dying Industry) is to let the audience have the music for free.  Why not - the kids are just going to steal it anyways.

Radiohead would now like you to know that their pricing strategy (reports Wired) for In Rainbows was a "one-off".  ie - a gimmick.   Why?  If you have set a precedent for something, follow through.  The average price paid for the download was £4.  The PR generated from the stunt certainly offset the differential between the voluntary price and the standard price of the album.  Die-hard fans then had the option of paying £40 for the box set - which would have carried a significant mark up.

To get the Coldplay single you need to give up your email address. You then get to receive spam - no doubt regarding Coldplay's worldtour (for which you will pay the earth not only for a ticket, but to travel to and from the stadium venue) and merchandise (which has a 900% mark-up).

Coldplay don't need to give their single away for free - radio will still play it non-stop over the next few weeks, and everyone in the country will be able to whine along with it in no time.  This is a PR stunt, but one which devalues music.  Perhaps they should let us pay what we think the track is worth?