Ian Fenton is a Scotsman living in Helsinki, Finland, who runs a record label called Frozen Reeds. They produce records and books, such as Morton Feldman – ‘Crippled Symmetry: at June in Buffalo’, and a forthcoming volume of interviews with composer Jakob Ullmann. You can keep an eye on the label’s activities by following them on Twitter. Ian’s told us his example story in 2015.
The night before the day I chose to describe for this project, I found myself wondering why, upon tuning in to WPRB via their Internet stream on several Thursday afternoons prior (early morning in their local broadcast area), I hadn’t found Teri Noel Towe playing and discussing his usual trove of classical music, with a particular emphasis on the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. I’ve come to rely on him over the past two or three years. There is so much music available these days that having an expert voice to talk you through even a tiny portion of what interests you – particularly a voice as amiable as that of the erudite, charmingly prickly, and always immensely entertaining Mr Towe – has become increasingly important to me.
Scrolling down his program’s Facebook wall, past all the news about gay marriage and the Republicans-are-absurd memes (Mr Towe is both community- and politically minded when he isn’t sharing gems from 18th-century Middle Europe), I discover a saddening little note that leaves me feeling quite flat. Mr Towe is taking an indefinite sabbatical from the show, after years behind the console. Citing tiredness and, to some extent, the fulfillment of his aims, he explained that he is taking a well-earned break.
I sat in silence for a while, when I should really have been brushing my teeth. After a few minutes of reflection in the dark, I resolved to do a degree more listening and research in this area for myself. While I can’t hope to build up the repository of fascinating background knowledge Mr Towe possesses, I’m sure a new emphasis will prove rewarding. My listening to music is often very closely tied to reading, whether following up articles or reviews, literary references, or just plain research. No big change in the offing then, perhaps, but I resolve to apply more focus. More focus on Johann Sebastian Bach.
So, the Harkive day.
The first thing I listen to, less than an hour after waking, is ‘The Legendary Busoni Recordings’, by pianist Paul Jacobs on the Arbiter label. I often return to the Bach-Busoni Organ Chorale Preludes on the second CD, and now I listen to them twice, then let the disc play out with the Brahms-Busoni pieces that follow.
Brian Eno complains somewhere about the failure in classical music making to recognize the value of what they call production in rock music. A particularly rewarding performance is one thing – and rare enough – but to capture the sound itself in such a way that transports the listener in its own right is every bit as desirable. Find the combination of both and you have a genuine classic on your hands.
Records like that should come with a special sticker on the cover. One of the first I’d apply it to would be this Paul Jacobs release. Nonesuch’s recordists often really knew what they were doing, whether they found themselves in front of a gamelan orchestra in Java or sipping coffee in the wee hours at Columbia’s Thirtieth Street studios. Some of them were into Gurdjieff, I’ve heard. Anyway, they made music like Charles Wuorinen’s pleasing to the ear somehow, so hats off.
When I hear a piano recorded to its best advantage, particularly playing repertoire with slow, brooding passages, it reminds me, for some reason, of velvet. A bit of mild synesthesia, maybe. This recording has that effect on me (as does Aki Takahashi’s recording of Morton Feldman’s ‘Triadic Memories’ on the Japanese ALM label – seek it out!) So, fair to say I’ve started the day on a high point.
I leave the house for a while. Though I have a good pair of headphones with me, usually used to listen to progressive rock albums of late, I don’t feel like using them this afternoon. No musical experiences of note outdoors today either.
Getting back to the flat to continue the afternoon’s work, I usually put a CD on repeat, one that I can tune in and out to at will, but one that will make a pleasing background too. Usually it’s something by The Necks, or maybe Satie. A few years back, for a long stretch it was Marin Marais performed by Jordi Savall.
Today it’s Andrew Lawrence-King’s ‘The Secret Of The Semitones’, Bach performances for baroque harp. This is a fascinating record. Maybe too fascinating, considering that I’m trying to work. You could call it Bach for Lou Harrison fans.
Though I wasn’t consciously thinking of Teri Noel Towe when I put this CD on, as it plays through I remember that I bought it on his recommendation – I believe he played it during one of the long Christmas Bach marathons on WKCR, another great American radio station you can listen to online.
It’s one of those records that reminds you of all the nonsense accompanying classical performance practices. Stuff like: ‘Bach shouldn’t be played on piano’. Forget all that. Never allow pedantry get in the way of beauty.
Eventually, predictably, I get round to The Necks: their first album, ‘Sex’. If by some chance you don’t know this incredible group, please rectify this immediately. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t become completely absorbed in their music at first hearing. Of course, they are old news to many people, but I never shut up about them, just in case.
Then a break from music for an hour or two. Business in the house, comings and goings. Making the evening meal.
In the evening, Ms Reeds and I watch two episodes of Bargain Hunt on YouTube. I usually get bored of television programs quite quickly, but there is no sign of this happening with Bargain Hunt so far. Wish we could be contestants on this one day. Doesn’t everyone?
Since the laptop is now in front of the stereo, and plugged into it, the temptation to find random things on the Internet to watch or listen to is too great. A snippet of a shit Blur song on the TV program triggers a succession of YouTube video views, ranging from Madonna (‘Vogue’) to The Cult (How did they get away with it?), to Metallica, to Genesis (live 70s stuff with daft interview segments).
Finally, I put on Genesis’ ‘Foxtrot’ on CD and skip to ‘Supper’s Ready’. It’s fantastic. Transporting as always. I listen to the full 25 minutes or so. Just sitting on the couch, while Ms Reeds waters the plants on the balcony outside. Then back to brushing my teeth and the cycle continues.