Don’t shoot the piano player, . . . I have a much better idea

Bloggers burning with community spirit who helped me to test WordPress’s polling software by voting in a violin vs. piano survey last month will want to know this: three of a staggering turnout of sixteen voters didn’t prefer either instrument to the other. Two opinionators, I have no idea who, volunteered reckonings of aural perfection that will keep me guessing for a long time yet: ‘fuzzed up freak-beat guitar’ and ‘children’s playground.’

Twelve people cast their vote as I did — in a landslide victory for the piano. Knowing how keenly some comrades lust after originality, I’m sorry to report that their failure to choose the violin cost them their chance to make their mark in the annals of perversity. That’s right, the queen of stringed instruments did not win a single vote.

My fellow bloggers have been scarce on the ground almost everywhere during this month’s seemingly endless Big Freeze in Britain – but perhaps, when you return, you’ll have some suggestions for the obvious question about this remarkable result: why?

An intense – not exactly cheerful — experience of listening to Brahms’ first symphony in early January led me to wonder about the effects of particular musical instruments on our emotions. I’m not thinking of ‘mood music’ – of, for instance, the way the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth is in sympathy with soaring optimism and nation-building bravado, or of how perfectly the scherzo passages that come later spell anxiety and mischief — and made E. M. Forster think of goblins (in Howard’s End).

I’m toying with something different — the idea of an intrinsic affinity between characteristic sounds of different instruments and their capacity for creating or enhancing certain states of mind. To me, anyway, the violin sings ‘poignant’ and ‘plaintive’ as surely as the piano does ‘clear’ and ‘transcendent’.

On that rather disturbing evening, the violins in the Brahms piece transformed a wistful mood into a mental state I would illustrate, if I had to, with a human form being sucked up and whirled away by a thundercloud muttering, in a thought bubble, ‘But how could reciprocal cherishing (also) be so sad?’.

Leaving the concert hall was out of the question. Instead, I reached for a pen and purchased moments of relief by scribbling into my programme, ‘Cue piano — please,’ – even though I could see that the orchestra had nothing of the kind. It was as if I were begging for a piano to slice through the emotional excess in what the programme notes described as ‘some of the most violent music [Brahms] would ever write;’ come in and take over, like Robert Frost’s ‘Truth’ breaking in ‘[w]ith all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm.’

No instrument but the violin has such an effect on me. I haven’t yet met anyone else who feels quite the same way about it, though I have reason to believe that my reaction at the concert was far from unique. In Musicophilia, mentioned here last week, Oliver Sacks says that Tolstoy did not entirely like music because of its power to induce ‘emotions and images […] not his own and not under his control.’ Sacks points out that in a short story by the great Russian, The Kreutzer Sonata, the narrator murders his wife for her infidelity, for which he actually blames the Beethoven piece – ‘the real enemy, he feels […] is the music.’

Of course the wife had enraged him by playing the sonata with her lover — a violinist.

I’m sure that there is somewhere in literature a piano that inspires in some people lines like Baudelaire’s ‘Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige, / Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!’ – rendered in one of five alternative translations on the interesting OldPoetry web site as, ‘The violin quivers like a tormented heart,/ A tender heart, that hates the vast, black void!’ If I ever came across a passage in which a piano is supposed to set such a tone, it was soon forgotten. It simply would not have resonated as the strings do in Harmonie du Soir.

Never mind that caterwauling sounds a good deal worse: the unfortunate animal frantic to escape its tormenters and the tremulous sounds in this YouTube video knows precisely what I mean.

But why do the lovers of language who keep me company here so strongly favour plinking over sawing? Can it be that we’re attracted by the articulation that is the glory of the pianoforte – an instrument that can express, honour and revel in, but ultimately transcend, feeling?



Filed under Music and words, Polling booth

85 responses to “Don’t shoot the piano player, . . . I have a much better idea

  1. I come from a half- musically dim family on my dad’s side. My father and his sister both told me they didn’t know what to do when music was being played. I’ve never met anyone since who said that.

    I’m a percussionist of sorts although dwindling hearing is putting paid to that but in terms of playing I like the piano because you can see all the notes in front of you and so there is a visual element to all the chords.

    I tried my hand at the trumpet about 20 years ago. Three valves to press but the ergonomic efficiency of what you need to press and the different shapes your lips must make to make the various musical keys is very satisfying. The horn arrangements that trumpeters like best I’m told sound good but also involve the least movement of fingers. Ingenious, gets the effect and lazy.

    Different horses for different courses surely? Violins always seem a more obviously emotional instrument as you can add vibrato to the note but those minor key piano chords are incredibly sad. If I had to choose I’d say the human voice.

  2. wordnerd7

    Phew, not all juvenile delinquents, then . . .

    The condition has a name, I learnt from the Sacks book, @Alarming — it’s ‘amusia’. . . The researchers have been studying, among other things, literary oeuvres in which mentions of music are virtually absent. The James brothers — Henry and William — are apparently two leading examples. One theory being considered is that some people not exposed to music as children never acquire the capacity to appreciate it.

    I’m also a rabid enthusiast for the human voice. I love listening to choirs every bit as much as I loathed being in them, going over the same phrases over and over again, wondering why the children responsible for this couldn’t learn to lip-synch convincingly enough to spare the rest of us the tedium of endless repetition.

    Have been saving this for you . . . (had begun to worry that those packages of books were arriving with notes saying, ‘More like these, any number you like, as long as you don’t post at wordnerd’s’) . . . Proof that your fellow artist-installationists are not without honour, or certainly not in the NYT, where this ran longrather than short:

    Max Neuhaus, Percussionist who designed sound installations, dies at 69

  3. 3p4

    Por Trait of Why?

    piano vs violin
    bed vs spoon
    saddle vs handbag
    childrens playground vs bacon frying
    fuzzed up freak-beat guitar’ vs windows shut down
    turbo V8 vs sewing machine
    google vs one hand clapping
    WRITING vs writing
    being vs doing

    with a nod to P.Picasso

    (if who ever left the “F.U.F.B.Guitar ‘ comment/vote leaves an email
    i have a variety of homegrown expressions of this genre i would be pleased to share)

  4. wordnerd7

    My bet would be the @BaronC, @3p4. . . the phrase has a certain poetic resonance, as I’m sure you’ll agree, and then he’s a musicophile, if ever there was one.

    I found you in spam again, btw. I wish I knew why.

  5. WN I can’t imagine there was enough space between his sentences for Henry James to ever hear music.

  6. I post wherever but I’m going to start working on this new show so the rate will drop ( from about 250 per day to the mid twenties probably! )

  7. wordnerd7

    === so the rate will drop ( from about 250 per day to the mid twenties probably! ) ===


    . . . well, that will test my mettle alright . . . I’ve always claimed I wasn’t in this for the posts (called, I think, being a ‘post whore’) and now we’ll see.

    Good for you to know you’ll be missed, which is why I’ve said what I have.

  8. Ah Max Neuhaus – knew of him but never heard him. A true maverick I think. There are a ton of them around unable to find the right home. Our sound man is of a kind – brilliant but stubborn and unable to fully fit in.

  9. 3p4

    its been a while since one of my posts showed up here,,i know the fate of one of them from managerial communication but there have been others,,??,,this post has not appeared on the first attempt,,fortunately i had a copy,, ,, ,,it does tend to put one off a titch when its iffy,,enthuisiasm is vital,,its the opportunity to share the FUFBG that
    prompts me in this instance to post a second time in hope,,
    Por Trait of Why?

    piano vs violin
    bed vs spoon
    saddle vs handbag
    childrens playground vs bacon frying
    fuzzed up freak-beat guitar’ vs windows shut down
    turbo V8 vs sewing machine
    google vs one hand clapping
    WRITING vs writing
    being vs doing

    with a nod to P.Picasso
    (if who ever left the “F.U.F.B.Guitar ‘ comment/vote leaves an email
    i have a variety of homegrown expressions of this genre i would be pleased to share)

  10. wordnerd7

    Before you vanish .. . I meant to suggest to you and @Sean the other day (on the Poetry is the sister of music . . . thread) that perhaps visual artists are better at incorporating literature into their work than scribes are at including other art forms because most conventional texts (eg., narratives) are a kind of progression. Whereas visual art works more like gestalt — you grasp the whole and then can get down to studying the parts. . . A symphony, even a modernist version, would be more like a text. . . Just a suggestion.

  11. wordnerd7

    === enough space between his sentences for Henry James to ever hear music. ===

    I’m among those who find them weirdly compelling. Remember that Joan Didion has said that it was he and Hemingway who taught her to write . . . Must admit that that’s a ‘go figure’ remark, if ever there was one.

  12. 3p4

    damm that spam
    filter out of

  13. wordnerd7

    What doesn’t make any sense about you constantly being filed as spam, @3p4, is that the system recognises you as a known WP contributor. I know this because I find you in the wrong queue with your very own WP icon — which shows up on my so-called dashboard, but not on the site . . . Whereas when I was put in spam on @cs’s site, it was often because I’d forgotten to repeat the original typo in my email address in my first WP post .. . and I’d be given a different icon, not the Ming porcelain one I like.

    You don’t constantly switch browsers or something, do you?

  14. I won’t be vanishing completely just concentrating on other stuff a bit more than usual. I’m waiting for paint to dry at the moment and there will be a lot more paint to dry in the future.

  15. 3p4

    no i dont change anything,,

    totally relate to “paint drying activity” also “glue breaks”

    @alarming,,any interest in “7 steps of separation? ”

    ask your sound man if he knows (of) OldBarn recording or the name Neil Kavangh,,

  16. wordnerd7

    Hmm, let me guess . . . pink silk screen ink, touching up a certain oink . . .

  17. 3p4


    i happen to know a lot about paint technology for the graphic arts and i would suggest you were not steered down the best path if indeed you are using “screen print ink” note quotes

    the chemical composition of the paint is one factor in the choice as dictated by the substrate and enviroment,,however the physical characteristics of the chemical are variable,,”screen print ink” has
    viscosity and “shear factor” to take into account when designed,,these are two factors which are not friendly to brush or spray or roller application,,

    the same chemistry(stays on ,,is flexible,,etc) but different design of physique can be found as “banner paint”,,this description is however not as ubiquitous as ‘screen print ink” and may not be the current trade jargon in england,,since we remove some of the physical constraints on the paint vehicle we also make it possible
    to use less noxious chemistry,, i say this with the understanding that one must know every detail before making a firm decision on such choices,,and that you are an experienced proffesional,,but i also know how many people i have helped in the trade,,

  18. The designs for some small moving scenery inside a large head as it happens.

  19. wordnerd7

    @3p4 . . . just to let you know that I’m every bit as irritated by this spam wham as you are. . . Will see what good it does to have a blue fit in an email to customer support.

  20. 3p4

    well it was a fun post to make anyway(about the ink)
    ,,i was a model maker(fisher price style toys and architectural) for many years and also had a business that did many props and peripherals for big and small screen,,my specialty is non-metallic laser cutting,(plastic.wood .card.fabric.paper)

    erm violin in the kids playground,,at lunchtime,,
    the opera singer who roamed the main Vancouver drag on summer evenings singing as he walked,

    WHY vs no idea?
    WHY vs no idea!

  21. wordnerd7


    === my specialty is non-metallic laser cutting,(plastic.wood .card.fabric.paper) ===

    I’m surprised you don’t mention glass — since I’m almost sure I saw a post at doggytrollocks offering to help Michele with her stained glass, . . ,. perhaps a year ago?.

    . . . As maddening as this spam problem is for me, imagine how much more infuriating it would be if I were holding ‘going out of business’ Persian carpet sales every day . . . as at some other places. 🙂 . . . well, maybe not rugs, maybe books discounted to zero, with free postage, or something like that.

  22. seanmurray

    Can we have a poll on 3P4’s double commas?

    I vote they’re a Good Thing and would be interested to hear about their genesis.

  23. wordnerd7

    Excellent question! I’m voting with you and can only hope he’ll tell . . .

  24. 3p4

    the double comma was a calculated affectation partly for identity and i think after some experimentation in ‘visual image” upon the screen
    however i dont remember any of the details as i made the choice two years ago on cif,,when i had a much more gungho attitude and responded to all and sundry,, with many posters responded to in any one post,,and before the ,,block quote,. italic and bold options were available,, eventually,, quickly,, i realised there was much milage in negativity but not in positivity so i
    pretty much quit the long multi part posts,,plus the novelty of my words on the screen faded away,,
    and the futility of most discussions became apparent,,
    i expect there was some deeper and more artistically formal reasons behind my choice but i dont remember what,,it may be related to my little pamphlet i was creating just before i discovered GU
    which was very much visual text,,i just cant remember (much of anything these days)it is no longer an affectation and would be impossible for me to stop,,

    the capital letters i eshew except when i wish to show particular respect,,usually peoples names,,no insult is meant by not using them,,thats just normal,,i like the idea of having an extra positive added value mechanism,,

    other grammer quirks are i always deliberately mispell the word “vaccumm” and i consider my opinion superior to fowlers when it comes to starting a sentence with “and ” or “but” and i say its not good writing,,do not do it,,a particular peeve at the guardian bloggers above the line,,

    many other posters have identity built into their text habits,,but most are probably beneath their own radar,,there is one(habit) on these sites which i remember from 07 cif threads 🙂 ,, mostly about matters of the mind
    (religion free will freedom of speech etc) the name of course has changed,, but the habit lives on 🙂

  25. 3p4 thanks for the useful advice re: silk screen inks. However we were assured by someone who creates inflatables that silk-screen paint was the best option. It’s lasted 7 years so far so……

    The main toxic problem was when it dried and needed to be sewed. The needle of the sewing machines going in and out of the material caused a fine noxious paint powder to be released. Not healthy. But it’s done and the only inconveniences were having to wear gas masks.

  26. WN re: visual artists incorporating literature and not the other way round. Thinking about it I know a lot of musicians, visual artists and almost no writers. In fact the mob on here and other places have given me more insight into how writers think than meeting them in real life.

    But when I was at art college it was a given that reading, watching films, seeing theatre/dance would be a regular part of your diet. It would never have occured to any of us that painting/sculpture/ whatever existed in a vacuum and so to understand why people did what they did at the time involved knowing something about the literature of the time.

    I wonder too whether as visual art is always incorporating new techniques and materials to work with it means an openess to other art disciplines. Whereas writing has pretty much been the same since time began. The innovations being in how the language is used and arranged.

    In theatre there’s a tremendous sense of superiority from the mainstream – turn-written-script-into-90-minute-long-play brigade over experimental, non-text dependent, visual forms so the malaise that Sean detects is certainly not confined to lit.

  27. seanmurray

    Cheers for that,, 3P4. Waltch out for a ban on double commas in GU’s next Talk Policy.

    Alarming —

    Obliquely connected question: can you think of one UK artform that has been really strong this decade (unequivocally so, as in comics in the 80s, pop in the 60s, fiction in the 1860s)?

  28. Sean ; How do you mean strong? Good or good and not seperated from society? Work for children and especially very young children has been extremely good. Very ground-breaking. But whether that goodness is felt widely is a moot point.

    But although a few comics ( Maus and Watchmen ) peeked above the ghetto aren’t they still seen as a bit of a geek’s game? The main effort seems to spent in trying to get them valued the same as the written word. Confining them to having to be art and to conform to high art aesthetics rather than be themselves.

  29. I wonder if visual art might be the example. It’s front page news these days and has moved out of just being exhibitions in galleries. For sure one can argue about the value and quality of much of it but the argument seems to be out of the hands of the usual suspects.

    I think too the whole art world is still reeling from the impact of film and photography in the 20th century.

  30. wordnerd7

    @Alarming, I’m enjoying these posts of yours and Sean’s tremendously . . . A lovely friend emailed a link for a collection that challenges the idea that lit folk are too snooty to venture into other media. I’m putting an extract here. The list of writers in it is astonishing:

    === … the “Art for the Wrong Reason” cache of the Yale Collection of American Literature (YCAL). The collection is so named because its 68 works were amassed primarily out of interest in the writers who made them and less out of appreciation for the work’s artistic merit. These works range from the hastily-composed caricature to the ambitious lithograph or oil painting. Interest in the writers behind the works lay with Norman Holmes Pearson (BA 1932, Ph. D. 1941), Yale Professor of English and American studies as well as advisor to YCAL. ===

    === Person’s interest in writers’ art stemmed form his desire to gain a fuller picture (so to speak) of the writers whose literature he enjoyed. Pearson wrote, “[I] like to meditate on the relationship between a writer’s painting and his poetry and prose. Is there a correlation? Does a writer write better because of learning to hold a bush?” One might look to e. e. cummings’ paintings for an answer. Cummings and Hermann Hesse are the two writers in the collection who artistic endeavors are particularly extensive and well-known. Cummings’ watercolor View of Silver Lake is intensely colorful and joyous, yet deliberate. This controlled euphoria is familiar to the reader of such poetry as “Picasso / you give us things / which / bulge:grunting lungs pumped full of sharp thick mind.” Although Cummings’ graceful paintings do not themselves “bulge” with “grunting lungs,” they demonstrate the poet’s serious aspiration to be a gentler Picasso.

    Less well-known is the art of William Carlos Williams, who studied painting before he came to write poetry. The calm, bucolic mood of his green-and-brown New Jersey landscape, View of Passaic River, shadows the less calm America of his long poem Paterson. Says Nancy Kuhl, Associate Curator of YCAL and occupant of the office in which this paintings hangs, “So few people seem to know that Williams painted at all—even those who otherwise know a great deal about his work and his life. When I mention the painting in my office (or show it off) I think people take it in as a painting, but they begin also to factor the fact of it into their larger understanding of the poet/man/doctor/artist who painted it.” Seeing the art of other writers besides Williams and cummings likewise enhances familiarity with the people behind the pen.Like Williams, Gunter Grass also began as a visual artist. His lithograph of four huddling, cloaked men whose heads each resemble that of The Scream haunts the collection. So does Tom Wolfe’s ink sketch of Hugh Hefner as a smoking, boozing, dictatorial imp. Less threatening but no less impish is Henry Miller’s watercolor self-portrait in which abstract blobs almost accidentally fuse to compose a blank-eyed bohemian. George Bernard Shaw’s own watercolor self-portrait, as an ethereal Don Quixote, reveals the playwright’s romantic and wry side. Some art in the collection is more strange than illuminating. Hilaire Belloc, a French-turned-British writer of poetry, literary criticism, and military and social history, contributes an ink sketch of cartoonish goblins and fairies surrounding a watercolor inset of a nebulous landscape. By way of clarification, a Latin inscription captions the picture. Queen Victoria’s miniature figure studies, the product of her fourteen-year-old hand, also honor the archive. The Queen renders a pair of horses, a horse-riding Turk, and a gypsy girl with a goat and tambourine in simple lines and dutiful cross-hatching. ===

  31. wordnerd7


    I was about to make this point myself:

    === I think too the whole art world is still reeling from the impact of film and photography in the 20th century. ===

    . . . but the way I was going to put it was, hasn’t technological change disproportionately affected the visual arts? … And might the ripples from, say, film and photography have opened visual artists’ minds wide to more possibilities? . . . so that, though a pickled segment of cow hardly draws on any new technology or technique, artists who fooled around with film and even the humble collage were perhaps primed by those experiments not just for great leaps into new ways of seeing, but startling innovation with familiar materials and objects.

  32. wordnerd7

    . . . @Sean, one possible — wicked — answer to your question about Britain’s impact in a particular branch of the arts is, yes, in cookery. Culinary stars working with organ meats, also known as offal.

  33. WN certainly we all had great fun demolishing a blog on GU last year that claimed writers don’t make good artists. The fact that the author of said blog was a pompous ass added to the gaiety.

    So scrub all my last musings! Off now for 4 days so can’t muse further.

  34. wordnerd7


    Yes I do indeed remember the discussion, though not the pompous ass (selective memory, . .. ahem. . :). . . Have a _wonderful_ hol, and my collection of IOUs for all the life you’ve breathed into this thread is embarrassing . . . But I hope that the rest of us can continue in your absence, and perhaps you’ll join the chat again at the other end. . . you’ve given us lots of good stuff to think about.

  35. wordnerd7

    Oh, and if you have a last peep here before you go . . @Alarming, . . . don’t forget my point in an earlier blog (Editors begone!) about visual artists having more control over their work . . , The sad fact that the work of writers has to be put through editorial mills surely strengthens all the forces of convention and tradition.

  36. seanmurray

    What I was meaning though, wordy, was the failure of novelists to incorporate e.g. musical influences into the fiction itself, even in their audiobooks. Separate issue but connected: many writers are dreadfully informed about arts other than writing (nice to see some exceptions above).

    Hard not to see this as partly explaining why so many novels are about novelists. And harder not to see all this as masturbatory and not a little pathetic… ‘We novelists *do* matter. Yes we do. Look how important and fascinating our lives are…’ … the whole artform in a state of Sunset Boulevard-type delusion and denial…

    Once again: I’ve been working my way through the short animation canon and not one of these hundreds of films is about animators. What gives?

    Once again: average UK sales for Booker shortlistees prior to nomination: less than 1000. Mishari’s just told us his site’s had 1000 views in one day. (Mishari in 2030: ‘I am still big. It’s the blogs that got small.’)

    Alarming —

    By ‘strong’ I mean of high quality and having a notable impact on non-specialists. Yer wider cultural relevance and that.

    Btw these ravings are not a demand that novels must have high sales. Just that they please bin the cravat and fedora and stop disappearing up their own toners.

  37. wordnerd7

    What I was meaning though, wordy, was the failure of novelists to incorporate e.g. musical influences into the fiction itself

    Yes @Sean,

    I do know that you meant that — also the fine filament of a connection to our topic : ), for which, bravo .. . But please do take into account what I said in my last post, about the role of editors.

    Most artists, even if they have to please gallery owners to some degree, don’t have another set of decision makers breathing down their necks — and interfering both with (i) the overall conception of a book, and (ii) the fine brushwork, so to speak. (See Editors Begone! and its comments thread.)

    The commercialisation of book publishing has only increased that kind of interference. Disastrously — because the interferers, now, don’t even know or care very much about literature. . . Anyone new to this blog might want to look at my list of posts on this theme to date (see Book Publishing in the list of categories on the right).

    There’s a sense in which a book is like a consensus between people with nearly incommensurable goals. . .Or, if you like, writing by committee.

    That only works well for laundry soap and toothpaste. . . Also, the more a book is like a commercially packaged product, the more the people in charge want sameness and predictability . . . the reason why so many books read just like what sold well last year.

    So I’d say that (a) editors and art-by-committee, and (b) increasing commercialisation, are the obstacles to the multi-media experimentation and innovation you’d like to see.

    The only reason why your terrific John the Revelator trailer could show us how exciting all that could be is that it was a kind of experiment itself. Very short — runs for just two minutes, I think, and and made on a low, low, budget. . . in someone’s fireplace (!) as Peter Murphy told the rest of us in the Sunday Tribune interview.

    The question is, how do writers dump the editors and commercialisation committees without merely copying what they’ve been doing for years. . . . I mean that of course, even on a blog, anyone can get thousands of hits a day copying the ‘ordure floats’ model — no reference to anyone we know — of choosing simple-minded subjects and tossing in celebrity names.

  38. SeanM: but surely:

    “When the journo-novelists complain of writers writing about writers rather than about the real world (the real world as seen in the newspapers, presumably), they miss that fundamental issue. The so-called self-reflexive novel is more likely to get closer to the truth than those effacing the conceit of writing, even if that isn’t as close as we’d like. It is why dominant forms of fiction, and the journalistic definition of literature’s relation to the world, needs to be set aside in favour of a mediation between the world and the writer; an infinite mediation: like Thomas Bernhard’s.”

  39. wordnerd7

    How very curious! . . . taken from an essay by one of your dearest friends, I see, @obooki. . . 😉 . . .:

    Haven’t had time to read that, only to look it up .. . shall return.. .and in the meanwhile, it’s a treat to read authentic obookian posts again.

  40. BaronCharlus

    Off visiting at the moment but wanted to confess my freakbeat predeliction. 3p4, I would love to sample your homegrown sounds. Do you still have my email?

    I favour different instruments in different genres; love piano in jazz, not so much in rock; violin fantastic when it turns up (occasionally) in a funkier setting. Zappa does a deeply funky version of a Chuck Berry song with Jean Luc Ponty on lead violin. My favourite violin track is probably Wake Up Jacob by Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers.

  41. ISA

    What a rich post. “Cue piano,” indeed. I hope your other half appreciates you properly Wordy.

    I know exactly what you mean. Did your brows furrow?

    One of the last things I gave my father was a collection of the works of Brahms. Because of the memories of his grandfather, who was an amateur conductor in Pretoria in retirementand who would stop at the traffic lights in his old car and conduct an invisible orchestra waiting for the lights to change.

    Sometimes the lights would change but he would carry on conducting. The cars behind would often wait patiently behind him because he was a well known figure in the town. And he would come to and drive off.

  42. ISA

    I hope you haven’t got lost in a snowdrift over the weekend Wordy. Although I imagine you have.

    Do you remember Steppenwolf?

    He suffered when he heard Beethoven’s 9th played on a 78rpm turntable.

    But his epipheny was to understand that it didn’t matter. That in the scratchy recordin, Beethoven was present. And there is an echo of this in Nostalgia.

    The Christian man, the father who has tried to keep his children at home, locked away from the contamination of materialism. He goes to the Vatican and takes out a recording of Beethoven’s 9th and plays it in protest.

    “Be embraced ye millions.”

    Soon they take away the music player and they cart him off to a lunatic asylum.

    I did the opposite. I tried to introduce my children to Cabaret, the film the other day.

    A key moment in that film is where a beautiful blond boy in a Hitler Youth uniform (The current Pope?) gets up and sing

    “Fatherland, Fatherland show me a sign. Tomorrow belongs, tomorrow belongs, tomorrow belongs to me.”

    I remember my mother saying to me. “Nazism was so horrible. But that beautiful boy getting up there and singing and everyone slowly joining in…you feel you almost understand.”

    But my children’s mother spiked, as she often does, my attempt at broadening my children’s education. “It’s just a film about prostitutes she said.” But she likes the Rolling Stones and she was a massive Beatles fan and …

    Catholicism pisses me off sometimes, because It seems to me as if the personal tastes of a Catholic allows her to pick and mix morality – just like the rest of us.

    Values. What are they. And when you have some procrustean god-ruler, then any pea that doesn’t fit is discarded. The Platonic essence. The ideal.What a simplistic nonsense. Abstracted, simplified ideas of beauty. Can we agree that beauty is not simple?

    There is something very wrong there. Intuitively, I am a dualist. I am not a materialist. Materialism has a respectable pedigree, but it’s definition is outre.

    Just as Zen and the Art discussed the rightful place of rhetoric over abstracted ideas about the good, and just as he attacked Aristotle’s ideas, we need go further back to re-examine Plato’s idea of essences and see where Plato went wrong, and weakened the arguments for dualism by incorrectly defining it and so allowing materialism to eventually get the upper hand in the poor, Second Life version of philosophy that passes for philosophy these days.

    The biggest break humanity ever got was given to it by Hermes Trimagestus. Because Thoth understood in Tanis that the ability to hold an abstracted entity in the mind, like contrapunctual polyphony, for example, was the key to human development.

    The irrational square root of 2 is an imaginary number.

    First you must be able to create a space in the human mind to allow the foregrounding and interaction of ideas.

    So perhaps the piano supercedes the violin, not because it is intrinsically superior. The violin is closer to the root of all music, the human voice.

    The piano supercedes the violin because inspired by from the contemplative Oud. The music of the piano is foregrounded, and foregrounding is the the gift to humanity of Hermes Trimagestus.

  43. wordnerd7

    Perfectly marvellous stuff, @ISA, _thank you_ . . . like @BaronC you’ve caught the spirit of the post perfectly . . . a minor incident involving violins inviting a speculative ramble through trees laden with ripe, low-hanging fruit . . . a forest there’s no accounting for, with custard apples growing right next to Cox’s orange pippins.

    Can’t do either of you justice, today, alas . . . I’m sorry I’m a bit confusing: I am sometimes where it snows; sometimes not. Was on my way back to the beautiful fields of white yesterday but had to change the plan because of forecasts of gigantic storms that would have made the journey long and painfully slow. . . Yesterday I hoovered some fatigue and a few dozen cobwebs out of my head by going out to meet the same storms as mere rain, on the edge of the sea, and I’m going there again in a few minutes. . . I’ve been ignoring the computer, not turning it on at all.

    … just this about the Carmen discussion: don’t we subconsciously choose people who are our opposites for ‘balance’ or compensation for what we lack? ‘Desire and the pursuit of the whole is called love’ (Aristophanes). . . I found that scribbled in a twenty year-old diary last week, looking up something for someone extra-special. . . On the other hand, a thoughtful, much older friend predicted about me, at the age at which I made that note, that when I got to his age, I would probably choose someone as much as possible like me . . . and not the stimulating ‘opposites’ I found so irresistible at the time. . . But for your children, I would guess that the different degrees of intellectual adventurousness in their parents can only be a good thing. As long as they don’t turn out like, say, me – since I was brought up by parents representing exactly the same poles and having the identical arguments.

    This is amazing, given what you’ve told us about her history:

    === I remember my mother saying to me. “Nazism was so horrible. But that beautiful boy getting up there and singing and everyone slowly joining in…you feel you almost understand.” ===

  44. BaronCharlus

    Hermes Trimagestus! Hmmm…

    But the pipes were Pan’s gift, and Orpheus played a Lyre. Henry Thomas (pre-blues, pre-jazz) plays something like Pan pipes with a loose joy unheard elsewhere. And I have a feeling (and so does Nick Cave) that Orpheus’s lyre would be mightily amplified if he was playing now. Might sound like this:

    The solo is played by Eddie Hazel. Funkadelic band leader and producer George Clinton told Hazel to ‘play like your mother just died’.

    I’m a classical music ignoramus, so for me the piano is most pleasing as a rhythm instrument; even with great jazz soloists I tend to follow the sideman’s piano and drums more than the horns (Bud Powell, Monk, Hancock, Bill Evans). The violin, as ISA says, seems closer to the voice. There’s something collective and devilish there, perhaps because it’s portable. You don’t bring a piano to a campfire. Harry Smith pictured something called the (I think) Universal Omnichord on the cover of his Anthology of Folk Music. He had metaphyscial reasons for doing so: is this what you’re getting at with Hermes, ISA?

    @3p4, thank you so much for the tracks. I’m currently getting my scene on with some early 70s Japanese rock (at the urging of Julian Cope’s spledid Japrocksampler book): there’s a group called Far East Family Band that I think you’d dig. Your music reminds me of them.

  45. wordnerd7

    Dear @3p4 and @BaronC, just a quick note to say how much I appreciate you and @ISA keeping the conversation going with such extraordinary, sumptuous posts .. . I’ll return as soon as I can.

  46. ISA

    I am echoing Steven Yates, again, on Memory. He says that the story goes that Thoth (TGH) invented writing in Tanis and took his invention to the emperor and told him now that knowledge would be preserved much better and knowledge could be gathered independent of people. But the emperor then says that the invention will emasculate peoples ability to think, because it will prevent them from being able to hold large amounts of information in their brains and order and deal with it.

    As a result of formalised writing systems people would also lose the capacity to fully conceptualise.

    So Thoth, in addition to working out a writing system would continue the tradition of developing artificial memory systems in order to help people conceive of great things like pyramids and the afterlife and gods and stars and so forth. In fact I think it was at Tanis that they had the House of Sleep, so the idea of dream iconography and crossing conscious states comes into the mental skills that were developed and later learned and developed by the Greeks. In particular Simonedes and Pythagoras.

    Now pythagoras saw the relationship in octaves in a lyre (the ancestor and relative of the Oud) and used the idea of a music to help provide a metaphor for his philosophical musings and inspire his mathematical abstractions.

    The point is that music would follow a melody or harmonise, but there was no system of relationships and harmonics in music, because these relationships were discovered in a Thoth type mental space. The mental space of artificial memory grafted onto natural memory.

    So contrapunctual polyphony exemplifies that. The harpsichord was instrument of Bach and the piano is heir to the harpsichord.

    So the piano, though not superior to the human voice like sound of the wailing violin, can hold more music in it, so to speak, at one time and illustrates an evolutionary leap in the way people began to think after Pythagoras.

    With Pythagoras history cesaes tuning up, as Koestler says, and the orchestra starts to play.

    That is one of my most treasured quotes and insights. But I could be wrong.

  47. ISA

    because it will prevent them from being able to hold large amounts of information in their brains and order and deal with it.

    And after all, what complexity can you squeeze out of a mind that thinks in a linear fashion as if it was had to squeeze all its thought through a toothpaste tube.

    The creations, the children born of a capacious mind that allows though them through providing sufficient space and time to gestate and grow and connect, are whirring, breathing, fluttering complex, beautiful creations of great power.

    The piano is capacious –

    Cue piano.

  48. wordnerd7


    I had another quick peep, even though I’m not supposed to be looking (a three-day weekend, where I am, and sometimes these have to be respected : ) . . . Your ideas and those of S. Yates are all v. interesting, even if, like @BaronC, I’m not sure how Hermes T fits in.

    Just wanted to say that Pythagoras the great mathematician we learnt about in school never existed. See:

    === Other Lives
    M.F. Burnyeat

    It is hard to let go of Pythagoras. He has meant so much to so many for so long. I can with confidence say to readers of this essay: most of what you believe, or think you know, about Pythagoras is fiction, much of it deliberately contrived. Did he discover the geometrical theorem that bears his name? No. Did he ponder the harmony of the spheres? Certainly not: celestial spheres were first excogitated decades or more after Pythagoras’ death. Does he even deserve credit for his most famous accomplishment, analysing the mathematical ratios that structure musical concordances? Possibly, […]

    . . . Walter Burkert’s Weisheit und Wissenschaft: Studien zu Pythagoras, Philolaus und Platon (revised version translated into English as Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, 1972). The effect of Burkert’s book was to destroy for ever the alluring picture of Pythagoras as a mystical mathematician, a picture which has been endlessly recycled from antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond. Mystic, yes – or at least the leader of a religious cabal which believed in transmigration of the soul and was disciplined enough to take political power in several cities of southern Italy. But mathematician, no. ===

    . . .About this:

    ===As a result of formalised writing systems people would also lose the capacity to fully conceptualise.===

    .. , and hilariously enough, people of my grandparents’ generation had the identical criticism of children no longer being required to repeat the great feats of memorisation that were at the core of their educations.

    Not proper answers to any post . . .sorry …I’m not ignoring anyone.

  49. wordnerd7

    @ISA, . . . like @Alarming (I think) I’d say that I see the piano as closer to the human voice. Of course you’re right about it being in effect a replacement for the harpsichord . Its special advantage is written into its name – the capacity to go from soft (piano) to loud (forte). . . With absolutely no authority behind me (or not, for that matter …) . . . just an extremely personal feeling . . . I think of polyphony’s predecessor, monodic chanting, and similar forms of early music, as the human voice making music in the purest way – and to me, that sounds most like the piano (articulation).

    After some hours of considering your suggestion that the violin comes closer, I thought, yes, Schubert lieder might be a good example . . . But the kind of singing that first came to mind as violin-like was unfortunately the nasal, ear-splitting female voices in Bollywood films (which make enduring even 15 minutes of these close to intolerable . . . er, @BaronC, I hope I don’t offend you by saying that the Maggot Brain clip on YouTube also sounded like a strangled cat to these uneducated ears). How, you wonder, could a country that gave us sounds as subtle and glorious as ragas also produce noise like that . . . which quite naturally invites questions about how a tradition that gave the world Bach and Handel could have led to screechy pop-schmaltz.

    … How does this Stephen Yates associate Hermes Tri with music? . . . Your post made me curious enough to do some checking (print sources here, not the net), and . . . though we can read a lot of what the Greeks wrote, and look at their sculpture, we’ve almost no idea of what Greek and Roman music sounded like … In the West polyphony didn’t exist before church music of the 15th and 16th centuries, did it? . . .

    . . . Sorry I didn’t say how much I enjoyed your story about your grandfather. Finish your memoir and sell the film rights and then perhaps we can all watch this scene: ‘Sometimes the lights would change but he would carry on conducting.’ …. !

  50. wordnerd7

    Well this has been a week for cryptic posts … @BaronC, now that I’ve had the thrill of knowing that I guessed right. . . I’ve been meaning to ask you, . . .

    . . . what is:

    (i) a freakbeat (arrhythmia?)
    (ii) a fuzzed-up freakbeat (anything to do with cops ‘n’ robbers?)
    (iii) a fuzzed-up freakbeat guitar . . . .??? (something confiscated after a search, and hopelessly contaminated by getting into the wrong hands?)

    Many thanks for those suggestions for violin in rock .. . I’ll try to listen to Wake Up Jacob the next time I’m looking for a diversion. (And re: Pan pipes and maggots, please see my last post for @ISA)

  51. BaronCharlus

    Freakbeat was a term coined to describe the explosion of beat groups that appeared in the wake of the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and other UK Invasion groups in the mid 60s UK; the US equivalent is usually referred to as Psych or garage rock. It was a spontaneous, international event, with many other scenes (Nederbeat in the Netherlands, Group Sounds in Japan etc). The terms were invented, as always, way after the fact. These groups were often teenage, often musically inept, frequently derivative but also – given their inexperience and enthusiasm, gifted with bizarre ideas and a youthful energy that gave the best of the thousands of records that appeared and vanished like mayflys an irresistible energy. Most were not hits, or were regional hits and one-hit wonders. The fuzz comes from the use of distortion on the guitar (and sometimes bass; fuzz-bass first appeared on the Beatles’ Think For Yourself). These groups, most not being major label, could often get away with a harder, rawer sound than, say, the Beatles (who debuted feedback on I Feel Fine). The Kinks’ Dave Davis slashed his amp with a razor to achieve the fuzz he wanted. 10,000 teenagers and chancers did likewise. Some of the most life-affirming, bratty, joyful and unintentionally hilarious music ever made. Imho


    When my grandfather died I got the run of his desk, which was filled with bizarre objects. I picked out a little box of plasticky Egyptian trinkets shaped like various gods. I assumed they were tourist mementoes picked up during his time in North Africa during the war. Many years later, I chanced upon them again and something – perhaps a visit to the British Museum – made me see them differently. They weren’t plastic but (I think) faience, and were over 2,000 years old. I have a battered leather case that I use for carrying the manuscripts of my novels; hanging from it is a small, hard leather purse and buttoned inside that is an amulet of Thoth.

  52. wordnerd7

    I hope you’ll write a novel that packs in a lot of what you know about contemporary music, @BaronC – you’re a platinum mine of information on this subject.

    === I have a battered leather case that I use for carrying the manuscripts of my novels; hanging from it is a small, hard leather purse and buttoned inside that is an amulet of Thoth. ==

    That’s better than perfect. Thanks to @ISA, I found myself reading to recall what I knew about Hermes T a long time ago, and this was part of what I came across:

    === As a divine fountain of writing, Hermes Trismegistus was credited with tens of thousands of writings of high standing, ===

    . . . may he bring you excellent luck.

  53. Panpipes one of those instruments that in the right hands aree very good but unfortunately they are almost never in the right hands.

    Last October we worked in Gandia ( province of Valencia in Spain ). Valencia is famous for its love of noise – firework noise in particular but any form appears to do. A Bolivian pan-piper drowned us out every night with his ironic interpretation of “Sounds of Silence”. One pan-pipe turned up to 11, accompanied by a PA blasting out a rhythmic accompaniment.

    In Zaragoza there were rows of them – all with sound systems and lighting too. Real professional set-ups too. 10 year’s ago I might have attempted to defend the pan-pipe – there are some lovely field recordings of Andean groups – but the time has passed. They are on their own now – and seemingly not doing too badly commercially.

  54. BaronCharlus

    Henry Thomas’s Fishin’ Blues. He was in his fifties when he began recording, capturing a sound that predates blues and jazz. He was itinerant, played where he could – including children’s parties. For my money there are few freer, more joyful sounds. The pipes are a DNA strand back to earliest times.

    “Here’s a little something I would like to relate…” Indeed.

    Not sure about the visual, though. An arid rock? Why not, uh, a fish or some water?

  55. wordnerd7


    === A Bolivian pan-piper drowned us out every night with his ironic interpretation of “Sounds of Silence”. ===

    . . . . 🙂 ! . . . but then I know people who find silence offensive, so I expect he was just expressing an opinion.


    That is absolutely enchanting . . . before the pan pipes come in, it’s just another dear little blues song . . . but the pipes lift it from merely cheerful to ecstatic, and make it unforgettable. I’ve saved the link for dedicated fisherwo/men I know . . . Why would a song like that be classed as blues, though? Baffling, even for someone like me who routinely plaits good cheer with tristesse, . . . serious arguments with fun . . . Since Fishing Blues struck me as up all the way, how is its classification justified ?????

  56. BaronCharlus

    Blues was an appelation to sell records. Dock Boggs’s deeply un-blues Country Blues (a banjo mountain song) was so-named to draw custom. A little like the way the words ‘rag’, ‘rock’, ‘boogie’ turned up in many song titles in their respective eras. It’s the 20s equivalent of shaking your moptop and going ‘whooh’.

  57. wordnerd7

    Thank you, @BaronC, . . .

    what a scrumptious sentence,

    === It’s the 20s equivalent of shaking your moptop and going ‘whooh’. ===

    Over at Phil’s . . . ( . . . I’ve mentioned David Thomson, the dazzling encyclopedist of the cinema — and I hope you know that you could easily be his equivalent for popular music, if you wanted to.

    I’m still puzzling over your refusal to choose between the piano and violin, though. Surely he’s heard Chopin, is what I’ve been thinking.

  58. sean murray

    Obooki —

    Good to hear from you again. A few of us were wondering where you´d got to…

    Is that Bernhard quote from Steven Augustine? If so, I´ll just have to say I disagree with the man (and yourself, presumably). I also strongly disagree with him about the merits of Berhard himself (one of the few writers I actually hate), formalism vs James Wood-style ´the novel can do anything´, celestial Boogie vs Satanic mid-80s poodle rock… We are allowed to disagree, you know.

    I´m not saying there was never any merit in novels about novelists. I´m saying we´ve now had way, way too many of them, a symptom of the ongoing onanisation of the artform.

  59. sean murray

    I managed to get the Bernhard link to work at last.

    Well, yeah, I´ll just have to say I disagree. Writers can only (predominantly?) get closer to ´the truth` by writing about being writers?

    So we´re to regret that Macbeth, say, was not a scribe, as such a story would have got us significantly nearer ´the truth´? And if such stories get us nearer the truth, are we to regret that all of Shakespeare´s protagonists weren´t scribes?

  60. BaronCharlus


    Jonathan Bate notes that ‘it was Hazlitt who said that a viewing of Coriolanus would save one the trouble of reading both Burke attacking the French Revolution and Paine defending it because Shakespeare gave both sides of the argument.’

    I always find myself turning to Shakes when wanting to support an argument. There is a law (I forget the name) noting the number of posts on a fractious Internet forum before one poster calls another a Nazi. There should be something similar for lit blogs and Shakespeare.

    I agree with you, by the way. Keep writers out of fiction. Unless they’re bad writers, who are funny. Or Stephen King; he at least has the good taste to send his writers mad, have them stalked by their own noms de plume or just cuts their feet off. ‘Spect you’re thinking of more litr’y fare though?

  61. Isn’t it the equivalent of bands who, third album in, start singing about how tough it is being on the road?

    In film though I do like Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze’s endless self referentiality to the point of absurdity exercises. What rescues them is the addition of some seriously fucked-up figures of authority/ responsibility who should be above all the goings on but are also too self-possessed to progress. It makes all the navel gazing out to be what it is – fiddling while Rome burns.

    Interesting that Jonze has since made a version of “Where the Wild Things Are” with Dave Eggers which, apparently the studios are refusing to release as it’s too dark.

  62. BaronCharlus


    ‘I’m still puzzling over your refusal to choose between the piano and violin, though. Surely he’s heard Chopin’

    I can’t choose. Do you choose sunshine or starlight, spring water or wine, Lascaux or Santa Maria Novella? Re Chopin; as with literature, I tend to have a blank spot between the medieval/early modern and yer actual modernism. I jump from Cervantes to Joyce, from Tallis to Bechet. I tend to make genres of music into projects. I had never listened to jazz until 1998 when, bored with rock, I immersed, listened, learned some names and trends and slowly the colours deepened.

    One day I will attempt the same with classical but I’ll need time and a way in (my guess is it’ll be Bach). My mother has a large classical collection that I’ve dipped into occasionally but I’m still at the stage of anyone unfamiliar with a genre, be it jazz/psych/blues/Cajun/ska/afrobeat/hip-hop/post-punk, whatever. I listen, nod, then go ‘duh, it all sounds the same’. I know it doesn’t but it’ll be a while before I put on my pit helmet and begin to chip away at the virginals.

  63. ISA

    An amulet of Thoth. How extraordinarily propitious, Baron. You are indeed blessed. I am sure that if you tried, you could fit a whole cathedral into your head – pews and all and sit in it and listen to organ music in it.

    I am trying to do something along those lines, but my mind is so messy.

    No Wordy, I am stopping up my ears. I will not hear a bad word said about Pythagoras. He did exist. He existed on the cusp. I think Des wrote a very nice poem on him, so he is on my side of the bed here.

    I tired out second life and it was an interesting adventure. In second life you can go to real concerts.

  64. Hazlitt

    Hello Baron/wordy
    Strange coincidence that you should mention William Hazlitt as I am reading Born under Saturn by Catherine.M MacLean.Have just finished reading Hazlitt’s early experiences leading up to the French Revolution,including Joseph Priestley’s house beeing burned down by a mob incited to violence by Burke’s attacks on Unitarians in Parliament .
    Now here is a nice link to the musical side of this thread:(of which I haven’t a clue)
    “In his study of history he had always been conscious of of the age-long fight between Liberty and Oppression…Also he lived in a district in which there was much to touch his mind with the past.Both what he heard and what he saw made it living to him.The sound of village bells seemed to him to link the workaday life of the present with that of the past for it was “the poor man’s only music.’
    The curfew seemed to tell the tale of the generations that are lost.The castle bell on the other hand,’with it’s brazen throat and iron tongue’, spoke to him of the ‘conqueror’s iron rule and peasant’s lamp extinguished,’ and filled his mind with a touch of fear and wonder.”

    I assume Mr Anthony Blair saw himself as Coriolanus.?? 🙂
    I see ISA has just been nominated comment of the day(revolutionary stuff) on the Seamus Milne thread where I wrongly refered to Priestley as JB Priestley..&&%%%/**
    Shall I stand in the corner wordy?

  65. wordnerd7

    As far as I’m concerned this is one of the most magnificent threads, anywhere, ever — reincarnated essayists of genius, now, . . . after 21st-century worshippers of Egyptian gods, and defenders of a mystic with a feel for numbers who was so superstitious that he died because he refused to cross a field of beans . .. ahem . . .

    No @Hazzy, lovely to have you back, but I can’t make you stand in the corner when I haven’t done my homework . . . Seamus Milne . . . who he??? . . .someone in Cif? . . . will have to look …

  66. wordnerd7

    === The sound of village bells seemed to him to link the workaday life of the present with that of the past for it was “the poor man’s only music.’ ===

    A formidable wrench in that thought . . . Is that why I was kept awake all through the night in a tiny village in the Languedoc by church bells sounding every _quarter-hour_? . . . I’ve never solved the mystery of why they were still doing that, well into the 00’s . . .Does anyone know the answer? . . . It was like trying to sleep with your ears plugged into your iPod.

    @Sean . . . wretch . . . are you saying that there was something wrong with my Bernhard hyperlink? . . . Funny, a would-be lover pressed one of his books into my hands, sure I would also become a mega-fan, but it never happened and my view of TB, so far, is identical to yours.

  67. wordnerd7

    For anyone interested in what @Hazlitt meant here, ‘I see ISA has just been nominated comment of the day(revolutionary stuff) on the Seamus Milne thread’ . . . a time-saving step, which includes the url for the Cif blog:

  68. Bear with me on this.

    We once performed a large clock show about 15 years ago at Roskilde rock festival in Denmark. We built it on top of a freight container box. On the hour we came out instead of the traditional medieval automatons and performed a short little performance involving conflict and lack of resolution ( or something to that effect ). We had very sculptural large Knight costumes made of fibreglass which split in half to reveal the puny protagonists inside – you’ll be glad to hear we avoided any clockwork mime like the plague.

    Our soundtrack was a mix of bells, some from a record I had of Slovenian carillons. It was played on a puny little PA system. One time we came out just as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page started their set across the field. All through “Whole Lotta Love” which they played through their mega- PA system you could still hear our bells clanging away.

    Bells are an extraordinary instrument – they appear to exist on another level of sound and can float over almost any other combination of instruments – even piano and violin ( knew I’d get a link in there! )

    Was it Chopin who wrote “La cathedrale Engloutie”? or the submerged cathedral. That’s a lovely piece of piano music which features bell-like sounds.

  69. wordnerd7

    === Bells are an extraordinary instrument – they appear to exist on another level of sound and can float over almost any other combination of instruments – even piano and violin ( knew I’d get a link in there! ) ===

    Oh dear, @Alarming, secretly, it was Francophile you I was counting on to explain those maddening all-through-the-night church bells, and yet you won’t tell . . . I agree about their extraordinariness, which must be where the expression ‘ Hells’ bells’ came from.

    This is drool-worthy, though:

    === We once performed a large clock show about 15 years ago at Roskilde rock festival in Denmark. We built it on top of a freight container box. On the hour we came out instead of the traditional medieval automatons and performed a short little performance involving conflict and lack of resolution ( or something to that effect ). ===

    One day you’ll stage something like that again and everyone but wn will be within watching distance . . . oh the agony . . .

  70. I’m no expert but I think it’s because bells are slightly out of tune with other instruments but perfectly in tune with themselves. So they don’t affect other instruments sounds.

    A similar percussion stand out is the Brazilian cuica – a friction drum that sounds like a barking dog, an intemperate cello or a whooping laugh. t’s played in many samba tunes played by small ensembles and you can hear it easily in the 200 plus drummer’s sections of carnival parades. If you YouTube search for cuica you’ll see what a gloriously daft instrument it is.

  71. wordnerd7

    === it’s because bells are slightly out of tune with other instruments but perfectly in tune with themselves. ===

    An interesting idea, grand merci . . . but my question was about why small villages persist with those bells all night long — today.

  72. wordnerd7

    ===the Brazilian cuica – a friction drum that sounds like a barking dog, an intemperate cello or a whooping laugh. =====

    Irresistible, @Alarming, I’ll go looking as soon as I can . . .

  73. Perhaps the bells are there to remind the populace that they have Christian duties at all times. A less megolamaniac way of making you feel small in the face of gods than say, Aztec temples or vast murals in high RC churches in Italy.

  74. wordnerd7

    Yes, @Alarming, that does seem to be the most popular opinion – and likely explanation. I’ve looked for the answer on the net before and never found one as good as this post – by someone with a keen eye for irony — which turned up after lights-out for all of you over there:

    Posted 14 Jan 07, 4:01am by mark

    A group of people in the village where we used to live spent years trying to sue the mayor to force her to turn off the church bells. (This, remember, is France, where the church buildings are owned by the secular state.) They produced evidence from educational psychologists that being woken every hour by the bells was bad for their children. The mayor’s response was that the bells provided a public service by telling old people who were too myopic to see the clock what time it was if they woke up in the night.

    There have been cases in the past where British moslems have attempted to achieve parity by chanting the call to prayer from their minaret five times a day, which, strangely, have not been supported by the local vicar.

    @BaronC, after . . .

    I can’t choose. Do you choose sunshine or starlight, spring water or wine, Lascaux or Santa Maria Novella?

    .. . I can’t resist asking, how much longer than anyone you dine with in restaurants does it take you to order — on average? . . . Since you write so fast and well, how do you choose between words that say virtually the same thing? . . . [In other places, there are emoticons with devil- faces and little devils’ horns: please insert one of them here.]

  75. BaronCharlus


    In restaurants I always order baked potato with a G&T.

    Church bells can be wonderful. My grandparents lived very close to Norwich Cathedral and I have happy memories of the different peals marking the hour, half hour etc. They didn’t clang at night, however. The bells in the town I stay in in the Netherlands bang out the hour all night, although I think it’s the town hall. Inexcusable; although one does get used to it.
    The church outside my window has an appalling bell that sounds like a pewter spoon bashing a bucket. They abuse it for ten minutes every Sunday morning which, if only on aesthetic grounds, is too long. It somehow manages to be out of tune with itself.

  76. wordnerd7

    Yes, @BaronC . . . but now you’re in a Sicilian or tandoori or Szechuan restaurant. ‘Positively no potatoes, sir’ the waiter says, adding, ‘May I ask, what is that?’.

    . . . What on earth do you do?

    === It somehow manages to be out of tune with itself. ===

    I’m not sure @Alarming will admit such a possibility, but we’ll see . . .

    The town hall in Holland . . . hmm. What’s your theory for this curious behaviour involving bells?

    . . . missed my chance to see Norwich cathedral, alas . . .

  77. BaronCharlus

    ‘. . . What on earth do you do?’

    I have my man Sancho bribe the maitre d’ to dispatch a boy to the nearest tuber vendor. As a sop I permit him to fill the potato with the local specialty.

    ‘. . . missed my chance to see Norwich cathedral, alas . . .’

    It’s still there. The coastline is eroding but the North Sea hasn’t quite reached the steeple, yet.

  78. wordnerd7

    Stunning resourcefulness . . .

    === As a sop I permit him to fill the potato with the local specialty. ===

    Where @Suzan is at the moment, that’s boiled tapioca paste. . . Still the same generous concession?

    . . . Yes I’m not surprised that the cathedral is still there. It’s just that the circumstances of my failure to see it make it unlikely that I’ll try again . . . or so I think.

  79. I would relish a bell being out of tune with itself. If it were next to my bedroom window however even a tuneful bell would make me murderous.

    I used to have a small carillon with one of the chimes completely out of whack. Always made us laugh when played.

    I’d like to think it gave the music played a Thelonious Monk feel but more accurately it was like an epic Les Dawson piano recital.

  80. sean murray

    Baron —

    Yes I believe the Nazi rule originated at some Oxford Uni debating society. And I believe there´s now also a rule about those who mention that very rule on online threads.

  81. BaronCharlus

    ‘And I believe there´s now also a rule about those who mention that very rule on online threads.’

    I once went on a cycling holiday with some friends, one of whom had a hell of a time. Whilst the rest of us had toe clips and baseball boots he had no toe clips and big old clumpy Doc Martens on. He struggled to keep up. We had to slow down and change our route – via Belgium.

    That’s me on the Internet.

  82. I think it’s named Godwin’s Law – the Nazi rule not the Doc Martens in Belgium on a bicycle bit

  83. wordnerd7

    === He struggled to keep up. […]

    That’s me on the Internet. ===

    That’s everyone, @BaronC . . . believe me, high-powered techies in Silicon Valley say exactly the same thing . . . I saw on GU that you have a MySpace/Facebook page, which is more than I can say for myself . . . and then I somehow don’t see myself Twittering . . .

    Which brings me to a question for our blogger-veterans, @Sean . . . @Des . . . @obooki:

    How on earth does this theft happen so fast:

    . . . Steve fought a battle with scrapers on Michele’s behalf, but that was on Blogspot. . . . Any idea of what gets the fastest results on WordPress?

  84. 3p4

    In restaurants I always order baked potato “””””””

    ’nuff sed

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    (more tracks on the way)

  85. Hello @3p4, I’ve just liberated a comment by you in this thread from the spam queue . . . and another in surreal vacations . . . Sorry: can’t thank you enough for not giving up on the site while the problem is investigated . . .

    How do @BaronC’s endlessly surreal holidays fit his gastronomic conservatism, I wonder. 😉

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