Archive for the ‘Disturbed Music’ Category

4-Track Recordings #2

June 16, 2011

Had this pattern on my mind on & off for the last 3-4 months, especially during difficult times. Thought I should try to put something of it down, so here’s the rather unpolished result:

I did about 20 takes on the lead part and still wasn’t entirely happy with it (spot the obvious drop-in). I know, boo-bloody-hoo, right? 😥 Stupid perfectionism: I’m only gonna change everything about the way I play it by this time next week anyway…

In case you forgot: #1

Gil Scott Heron RIP

May 31, 2011

Like the forest buried beneath the highway
Never had a chance to grow…

But the people know it’s Winter
Winter in America…

Ain’t nobody fighting
Cuz nobody knows what to save…

Where will another one like him grow from?

Shock: Top Musicians Lack Moral Integrity

March 5, 2011

via the media lens message board, I see that ‘stars’ are ‘[lining] up to apologise for Gaddafi gigs‘.

[Picture taken down: I can’t bear to see it here. It was the first one from the above link – ed.]

Believed to have sung four songs at a New Year’s Eve party for Gaddafi’s son Mutassim on the Caribbean island of St Barts in 2008.
Paid: Reportedly $1m
Apologised: Yes
Money returned: No, but will donate proceeds of forthcoming single to human rights charities
Comment: “I feel horrible and embarrassed to have participated in this mess.”

I notice that, of course, they’re only apologising now that Gaddafi’s name has been suitably blackened in the press.  I’m waiting for the day Beyoncé begs our forgiveness for singing to Barack Obama (did Noel Gallagher ever show regret for shmoozing with Tony Blair?) Likewise I don’t see any of the big names refusing to take Israel’s blood money (thereby granting them a form of cultural legitimacy, one assumes), in spite of significant grassroots pressure.

Further, I notice that it’s only the women who have apologised and/or given the millions of dollars they received from the Libyan dictatorship to charities or ‘good causes’; presumably it doesn’t damage the male brand so much to ‘hustle’ with strongmen in this way and then stay silent about it, like it was the most normal thing in the world. In some ways it probably is the most normal thing in the world – musicians are practically raised on a diet of “never turn down work”. Certainly they were never trained to be picky about who employs them and for what reason. Having a conscience will impede the growth of their careers.

For one commentator on the message board, all this shows ‘The complete moral (and artistic) bankruptcy of the ‘music industry’ ‘. For me it’s more evidence of the depressing, unforgivable, Good German inability of people (at least of those selected to ‘make it’) to question the social role of their line of work, whether it’s fluffing up the rich & powerful, distracting the masses with glitter & flash, supporting myths of aspiration (‘New York / concrete jungle where dreams are made of / there’s nothing you can’t [or is that ‘can’? – ed.] do‘) or whoring their talents to advertisers and manufacturers that pollute our minds and toxify the total environment, etc etc etc… The manifest lack of politics in their lives and in their music* makes a political statement in itself. They will sell themselves to anyone.


I’m going to go play my guitar now.


* – In ‘What happened to rock under Blair?‘ Alexis Petridis writes:

Plenty of artists have political causes, but they don’t seem to write many songs about them. Chris Martin wants to Make Trade Fair, but he clearly feels it’s more expedient to write that on his hand than to sing about it on a Coldplay album. Dozens of artists recently put their name to a CND advert decrying the replacement of Trident – everyone from Razorlight and Kaiser Chiefs to rappers Sway and Roots Manuva – but I’d bet none of them write a song about it.

I remember seeing Razorlight play at a climate change rally in London once. They did the one that goes: ‘in the morning you won’t remember a thing’. It seemed strangely appropriate.

Breaking News: The Naked Servility of Religion to Power

February 7, 2011

Overheard in a local parish church where I was singing yesterday evening, the second ‘Proper Lesson’ from the Anglican liturgy for ‘the Anniversary of the day of the Accession of the Reigning Sovereign‘ which comes down to us from ‘reformed’-tax-collector-turned-Apostle Paul and his letter to early Christians in Rome:

1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

8Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

9For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

10Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Romans 13:1-11, King James Version)

It takes a lot to jolt me out of my dead-eyed trance when somebody is reading something out in church, but this rabble-dousing howler really took my breath away. Nice one Paul – I bet you made your old bosses proud with this one!

I should confess my part in singing the special responses:

Priest. O Lord, save the Queen.
Answer. Who putteth her trust in thee.
Priest. Send her help from thy holy place;
Answer. And evermore mightily defend her.
Priest. Be unto her, O Lord, a strong tower;
Answer. From the face of her enemies.

… along with the William Byrd’s beautiful and obsequious anthem, ‘O Lord, make Thy servant Elizabeth’*, and assenting with resounding ‘Amen’s to statements like:

O GOD, who providest for thy people by thy power, and rulest over them in love: Vouchsafe so to bless thy Servant our Queen, that under her this nation may be wisely governed, and thy Church may serve thee in all godly quietness; and grant that she being devoted to thee with her whole heart, and persevering in good works unto the end, may, by thy guidance, come to thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ…

… and barely having the courage to sing ‘long to reign over ARSE’ (certainly not refusing to stand or sing) in the national anthem. All of which ‘normalises the unthinkable’† of renouncing personal sovereignty to people who have anything but our best interests at heart.

I’m not offering any excuses (eg: “I’m just doing my job as a professional musician who happens to be employed by the Church”). At base I don’t know why I keep going there to sing in a strange voice and join others in reciting strange words that have little or no connection to my authentic personhood. I like some of the people. The money (£25 per service) comes in handy. The physical sensations of relating to other beings through harmony and rhythm are sometimes still enjoyable. There is a ‘safe’ sense of community that I don’t currently have anywhere else in my life, whether congregated around Truth or Lies (as I perceive them). I get revelations like these about my inherited cultural traditions which help to clarify and put into perspective my struggle for independence from them. It feels better than ‘doing nothing’ (eg: watching TV) on a Sunday evening, even though by doing ‘something’ I recognise that I’m still ‘doing the done thing’, hence not really ‘doing’ anything truly productive…

I will probably continue to participate in these activities until I discover, am offered, or make my own better alternatives. How ’bout you?


* – King’s Singers performance on youtube. The piece was

[…] most likely composed either as part of an effort to secure an appointment with the Royal chapel in London (partly the result of certain tensions that had grown between him and the powers-that-be in Lincoln, where he resided and worked until 1570) or during the years shortly following his successful attainment of such a post in 1570. Certainly the direct homage to Queen Elizabeth is of far more than just vague rhetorical expression, while the actual music to which the text is set is of the densely contrapuntal kind that features into so many of Byrd’s youthful works.

The text of O Lord, make thy servant is drawn from Psalm 21, suitably adapted to refer to Queen Elizabeth rather than King David:

O Lord, make thy servant, Elisabeth our Queen, to rejoice in thy strength; give her her heart’s desire, and deny not the request of her lips; but prevent her with thine everlasting blessing, and give her a long life, ev’n for ever and ever. Amen. (link)

† – read Edward Herman on ‘The Banality of Evil‘:

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public.

& now for something completely different…

December 30, 2010

I got my hands on a 4-track tape recorder (thanks Robin)! Here’s my first attempt at combining two electric guitars, one steel-strung acoustic guitar and a mandolin on an old Mercury Rev cassette:

Spanish-Blues 4trk by Ian M

Happy winter festival and changing of the Roman calendar!

Control & Slavery

July 19, 2010

Get myself a car, I feel power as I fly
Oh now I’m really in control
Press any button and milk and honey flows
The world begins behind your neighbour’s wall

It all looks fine to the naked eye
But it don’t really happen that way at all
(The Who – ‘Naked Eye‘)

‘Don’t you just love being in control?’, the woman asked, speaking on behalf of British Gas in the early nineties before clicking her fingers to magically (or so it appeared) produce a blue gas flame, shooting from the top of an extended thumbs-up – a signal of reassurance that Everything’s Okay:

The image of this slogan came back to me from childhood memories after musing a while on the notion of ‘energy slavery’. If you never heard of the concept, Richard Heinberg illustrates it with typical, punchy succinctness in The Party’s Over:

Suppose human beings were powering a generator connected to one 150-watt lightbulb. It would take five people’s continuous work to keep the light burning. A 100-horsepower automobile cruising down the highway does the work of 2,000 people. If we were to add together the power of all of the fuel-fed machines that we rely on to light and heat our homes, transport us, and otherwise keep is in the style to which we have become accustomed, and then compare that total with the amount of power that can be generated by the human body, we would find that each American has the equivalent of over 150 “energy slaves” working for us 24 hours each day. In energy terms, each middle-class American is living a lifestyle so lavish as to make nearly any sultan or potentate in history swoon with envy. (pp.30-1, crediting John H. Lienhard)

The woman in the British Gas ad is demonstrating the amount of power she can command merely by clicking her fingers. As power trips go it probably only comes second to having somebody carry out a command which you haven’t even verbalised: “All the work household appliances perform for us at the touch of a button… wouldn’t it be simpler if they learned to anticipate our every whim so we never had to suffer a moment’s dissatisfaction?”

Slavery never went away. Neither did all the attending attitudes and power-relationships. The bulk of the burden simply shifted onto the backs of ‘lower’ lifeforms; upon the exploitable energy which industrial society found in the bodies of plants and animals interred millions of years ago. How do they feel about this? ‘We’ who burn their remains; who drain, extract, deplete, exhaust them as a ‘natural resource’ do not ask. ‘We’ cannot ask: to view them as people ‘just like us’ would fast undermine any continued exploitation to the point of impossibility. Questions of empathy don’t survive in entrenched master/slave relationships. Americans could start to think about what the Africans went through AFTER it became possible to obtain more energy more cheaply and from different sources.

‘Being in control’ – what does this mean? Why did British Gas hold it up to early nineties television viewers as a desirable state for them to ‘be’ in; an unquestionable Good which they must surely crave for, or aspire to? Translating the slogan into E-Prime helps it make some sense and gives it more honesty, as in ‘Don’t you just love having control – over others?’ I suppose that message could appeal to middle/lower-class Britons more used to having the power wielded against them. Perhaps they might enjoy feeling like a sultan or a potentate for a change. (Although, somehow, I think these historical characters would much prefer to be on the top of their small pyramids to being somewhere in the middle of a much larger one.) But what’s so great about that? If slaves get no rest, then neither do the slaveholders: you’ve got to feed them, clothe them, look after them when they get sick*, break their spirits, punish ‘misbehaviour’, fight wars for more of them when your appetites increase, etc, etc. No energy comes without cost, even if you ‘only’ measure this in terms of hardened, calloused personality traits and the inability to relate honestly and openly to others.

Another part of the supposed benefits of the slaveholder lifestyle lies with the idea that “It’s better to get somebody else to do something than it is to do it yourself”. Hard Work may be morally virtuous (according to popular mythology), but the ultimate goal is to manipulate or coerce another person into handing you the world on a platter while you get fatter and lazier and more stupid as each day passes. I find it curious, this idea that we were born with bodies – arms, legs, hands, feet, muscles, bones, nerves, tendons – and we’re meant to strive to use them as little as possible… The more I look at this the more I see a lose/lose scenario. Slaves lose their freedom to live their lives as they please; slaveholders lose the joy of building their lives with their own hands. ‘The best thing since sliced bread’, they say, but really it manifests as a theft & centralisation of personal autonomy – a loss of tactility, coordination and skill in a thousand arms, hands, eyes; another loss in all the energy taken up in building, maintaining and feeding the complexity of one central machine.

I feel more ‘in control’ when I slice my own damn bread! Likewise who has more command over their destiny: one harvesting local fuel for their own use or for the use of their community, with all the knowledge and experience of how to do this in a sustainable manner; or one who makes monthly payments to have North Sea gas pumped into their house by a privatised utility company – into a cooker they didn’t build and can’t repair without expert assistance? To my mind ‘Push-Button-Make-Good-Thing-Happen’ represents practically the highest form of dependency. Where’s your control if you click your fingers and nothing happens?

I get this from people watching me process various wild foods: “Why expend all this energy when you can buy something similar at the supermarket for a fraction of the cost?” To me this would just mean that, economies of scale notwithstanding, someone else had done the work instead of me and they were getting screwed by having to cater exclusively to my ‘needs’ (or rather, those of the supermarket) at the expense of their own. I’m starting to hear an underlying attitude: “This dirty physical work is beneath you. Leave it for the slaves.” Last Autumn it took me several hours of gathering and then several more over several days of processing to produce around 2 kilos of acorn flour (you have to de-husk them, coarse-grind them, leach them in around 5 changes of water to get rid of the tannins, roast them dry and finally fine-grind to finish). While I was sat in the living room, cracking each nut in turn over the head with a small stone to get at the meat inside, my mum informed me that she could get a bag of (wheat) flour for a few pounds down in town. Later we happened to be watching a program about industrial bread manufacturing, and for once I had my wits about me enough to remark that “I didn’t have to build a windmill to grind my flour” before the moment passed. I think I made my point…

I owe Urban Scout and his post, ‘Colonization Vs. Rewilding‘ for seeding a lot of these ideas. Here was a key passage for me:

During the physical enslavement of African Americans, white people who disagreed with slavery, because of their privilege, could help slaves escape slavery. While those white people disagreed with the enslavement of those people, they lived as members of the culture of enslavement. They worked to change the culture they lived as a part of. They could help the slaves escape precisely because they lived as a part of the culture of slavery.

While I don’t identify with Civilization as my culture (i.e. I don’t think of Obama as “my president”, the troops in Iraq as “my troops”, the police force as “my police force”, etc) I make up a part of this culture. I have a job, therefore I pay taxes, which go to support the military that keeps us all occupied. Even if I didn’t pay taxes, I still buy food from the grocery store, pay for movies, coffee, clothes, etc. etc. etc. All of which help the economy stay in place. While I may not feel like part of this culture (I certainly don’t!), I live inextricably as a slave to it, and therefore a member of it. It doesn’t matter what people believe on a personal level, but what we do as a whole culture. The personal level provides a platform for abandoning this culture; it stands as a starting point, but not yet differentiated from it.

I commented, saying that ‘I’ve focused a lot on wringing out my submissive slave blood as part of this process of ‘de-colonising the mind’, but maybe I forget too often to deal likewise with my inherited slaveholder blood, coming as I do from a privileged position (not that it feels that way) near the top of the imperial pyramid.’ I see re-engaging with wild foods and medicines as one way to set off this win/win process of de-colonisation†: on the one hand regaining autonomy in my individual life, on the other lessening my dependency on (and, to an extent, sapping the viability of) the industrial modes of production that enslave us all. I’d love to control that process with a click of my fingers, but somehow I don’t think it’ll be so easy…


* – Less of this with wage slavery.

† – Other ways might include anything from learning how to cook, cutting your own hair to harvesting rainwater or composting your poo.