On how I may now not resume buying classical music magazines

Every month for as long as I can remember, I’ve been buying paper copies of Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine, “Music” being how the BBC refers to classical music.

All over my home, these magazines have accumulated in shelves and in heaps:

I haven’t had these magazines on order, because I don’t trust my neighbours not to let in burglars through the front door we all share, and because I like the exercise of actually walking to a shop and buying these magazines.

Which means that during the recent Plague, I’ve not been getting either of these magazines. The shops where I would have bought them have all been closed.

One of the many changes I am now contemplating in my life is: Not resuming buying these magazines. Are many people now contemplating a similar decision with regard to these or other such printed publications? Surely, they are. Are many people contemplating buying printed publications they do not now buy? I doubt this very much.

If “normal” ever returns, it will, for most of us, in big ways and in small ways, be a different normal, not least among those who publish the magazines like the ones in my photo. It’s not just the obvious ways in which we will remain nervous of the Plague returning, though that will definitely happen also. It’s that by being jolted into doing this for the first time, and not doing that any more, we are all now shedding old habits and being pushed towards acquiring different habits. I try to resist generalisations involving words like “we all now …”, but I really do think that the above generalisations are largely right. (You need only look at the recent numbers for postings here per month at this blog, on the left, to see this kind of thing happening to me and maybe therefore also for you.)

So, habits are being dropped, and acquired. And, are you, like me, and provoked by the above experiences, going beneath and beyond such changes of habit, and asking yourself: What other habits should I now decide to shed, and decide to acquire?

After all, and especially for the likes of me, life has just got shorter.

Get your fake-photos Rendaroed

So I open up Guido Fawkes to see what political bullshit is happening (that posting being an example of Guido at his considerable best) and top right, there’s an advert for something along the lines of (it’s gone now so I cannot be exact) “3D renderings of 2D architectural plans”. Having long wondered about who does all those fake-photos, like the ones that I like to stick up here from time to time, such as the ones in this earlier posting here about a possible new City of London concert hall. (I wonder how that’s coming along.) So, I click on the advert, and find my way to Rendaro.

Here is a fake-photo example of their work:

What I would really like (Google?) would be an advert by an enterprise which which 3D prints 3D models from 2D architectural plans, and better still, somewhere I could go and take a personal look at such 3D models. And where I could photo them.

But meanwhile, these fake-photos are a fascinating fact about modern life, and especially modern architectural life. They mean that both architects and designers can see what they are cooking up even as they do their cooking (the design equivalent of sticking your finger in the stew and sucking it), and all manner of onlookers can look over the shoulders of the designers, and also see what’s being cooked up. People like me can see London’s Big Things coming, years before they’re actually built, while still having time for a life doing other things besides.

However, the very ease with which these 3D renderings can be churned out has the paradoxical consequence that, unless you are paying very careful attention (that is, unless paying such attention is your full-time (see above) job) you can never be sure what will actually end up getting built. I, for instance, constantly image-google for some London Big Thing that I happen to hear about which is in the planning permission pipeline, and I immediately get half a dozen different visual versions of it, each recording a particular stage that the design went through while they were trying to get decide what they wanted and then trying to get permission for it from the politicians.

Which means, strangely, that the only way that you can be sure how a new London Big Thing will actually end up looking is to go there and actually look at it when they’re actually building it, and see if there are any fake-photos of what they’re actually doing on the outside of the actual fence around the actual site. Failing that, you just have to wait and see. See, that is, the actual Thing itself.

Signs of our time

Regulars here will know that I love to photo signs and notices. So evocative. So precise for defining a time, a place, a mood, or an official attitude. And never more so than right now:

Those are some signs I photoed yesterday, inside the entrance to Oval tube, and on the side of a bus. Right now, such verbals are commonplace. Soon, we must all hope, they’ll become an impossibly weird reminder of an impossibly weird time.

Here are three more that I photoed in April, of signs in shops windows:

On the left, the bog standard sign that happened in nearly every shop. We’re shut for the duration. Sorry. In the middle, the regular signage at the front of my local chemist, and on the door, a scrimmage of irregular signage, concerning this and that. And on the right, one of the signs saying: We’re still open. Come in. Buy stuff.

Finally, one of my favourites, from way back in March at the Wigmore Hall, at one of the last public events I attended, a performance of all the Beethoven String Trios, as I recall. Superb. We were up in the socially distanced seats at the top and back of the hall. Normally the Wigmore would have been packed out for a show like this, but this time, there were empty seats. If we’d known then blah blah, we’d surely not have gone.

They don’t allow photoing of performances, but at the beginning and at the end, you can photo away, so I photoed this, at the beginning:

And we obeyed. My impression, as I recall it, was that there was actually less coughing than usual.

A great souvenir sign, from pretty much the exact moment when it all suddenly kicked off and got serious.

Strange creatures in Exhibition Road

Just over a year ago, in May of 2019, I was making my way from South Kensington Tube, up Exhibition Road past Imperial College, to the Royal College of Music, there to witness a performance which involved GodDaughter2. While making this journey, I encountered this strange creature:

I wonder what that was, I thought to myself from that moment on. Then, while rootling through the photo-archives, as I do, I encountered this taxi-with-advert photo, which seemed to feature the above creature:

Now I had some words to work with, so googling went from difficult to easy, and I began to learn about the One-Eyed Creature. He is one of the stars of a juvenile movie franchise, involving such things as One-Eyed Creatures, but also similar but Two-Eyed Creatures. Despicable Me. Also Despicable Me 2. At around that time, Despicable Me 3 was being plugged. Also there is a Bean Boozled connection, involving some sort of toy. Now that I know I could understand all this, I no longer feel any need actually to do this. How do I feel about having once cared? Despicable Me, that’s how.

I think a symptom of getting old is that you see more and more things that baffle you, and you don’t like the feeling. It’s not that we Oldies really do care about knowing trivia like this. What we care about is not knowing.

Soon after photoing this One-Eyed Creature, I photoed this couple:

I don’t feel quite so Despicable for being entertained by these two, but I still do somewhat. I found a few mentions of them on The Internet, in connection with Halloween. But this was May, so, no reason for them to be out and about in South Kensington. But then again, no reason for them not to be.

And we could also use more Ancientism

Yesterday I said Modernism isn’t going anywhere. Today I say that this doesn’t mean we can’t also have more Ancientism. Like this:

That’s Photo thirty-five in the top fifty architectural photos that were competing for this prize. It’s Eltz Castle and it’s actually not a nineteenth century rehash, done by that bloke who paid Wagner’s bills, however much it may look like that. (Blog and learn.)

Whatever. We need more of the spirit of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Why can’t there be more edifices of this sort built, now? Why can’t most of us get at least some of the architecture we like, now? What’s the big problem?

Maybe these guys could do it. They seem perfectly willing to do either Ancientism or Modernism, depending only on who the customer is. Now there’s an idea.

The winning photo out of those fifty was a photo of a bridge I have already written about here, making points not dissimilar to those I make in this posting.

Howard Goodall on the world’s first recording star

I’ve been dipping into Howard Goodall’s Big Bangs, which is a book (based on a BBC TV show), whose subtitle is “The Story of Five Discoveries That Changed Musical History”. I have started at the end, with Bang Number Five, which was when Edison recorded sound. Here’s what Goodall says about the impact of the nascent sound recording industry on the life and career of Enrico Caruso (pp. 218-220):

Enrico Caruso was one of seven children born to a working-class Neapolitan family living in the Via San Giovanello. He received his first singing instruction as a choirboy in a local church, and as a teenager he made a few lire every night singing favourite Neapolitan songs for the cafe customers on the harbour waterfront. He began work in a factory, but eventually he was able to turn professional with his outstanding voice. After a shaky debut in Naples – he vowed never to perform there again – he was invited to sing at the holiest of all opera’s shrines, La Scala, Milan. It was here in March 1902 that Fred Gaisberg, the Gramophone Company’s European representative, heard Caruso performing in Franchetti’s popular opera Germania. Gaisberg offered the young unknown a deal to record ten arias for £100; Caruso duly accepted the offer, to the horror of Gaisberg’s London office, which tried to forbid the spending of ‘this exorbitant sum’. Gaisberg, however, backed his hunch, using his own money. That April, in Suite 301 in the Grand Hotel, Milan, the ten records were cut, beginning with ‘Studenti, Udite’ from Germania. Gaisberg went on to recoup his investment thousands of times over – and the records earned his company a fortune.

Most of the ten masters made on that occasion remain in perfect condition to this day. After their release, Caruso’s fame spread dramatically throughout Europe and America. He made two recordings, in 1902 and 1907, of the aria ‘Vesti la giubba’, from Leoncavallo’s opera I Pagliacci, which between them sold over a million copies. I Pagliacci was at this time a relatively new opera (it was given its first stage performance in 1892), based on a recent real-life criminal case. It’s hard to find a modern equivalent for this – a modern opera being as commercially successful as I Pagliacci. Even the hit records released from the shows of Andrew Lloyd Webber are based on stories from the past (Evita is probably his most contemporary non-fiction subject). As for the work of contemporary ‘classical’ composers, the thought of Harrison Birtwistle writing an opera which included a million-selling song is, let’s face it, laughable.

Caruso was to the early gramophone what Frank Sinatra or Maria Callas were to the LP, what Elvis Presley and the Beatles were to the 45-rpm ‘single’, and what Dire Straits and George Michael were to the compact disc: the ‘software’ of the music that drew listeners to the ‘hardware’ of the machines and materials. He was the first recording megastar, as much a household name in his day as Charlie Chaplin, prodigal son of another medium also in its infancy. Caruso’s voice had a timbre and range that perfectly suited the limitations of the medium, it could soar and tremble with such strength and depth that the background hiss and the indistinct accompaniment were all but forgotten. To many people, hearing him scale the summits of high opera was both miraculous and moving and this was not just their first experience of the true potential of the gramophone but also a gateway to the whole classical repertoire.

Edison’s humble contraption was to become a universal gift with the popularity of Caruso, catapulting classical music out of the small, exclusive world it had hitherto known.

The Gramophone and Victor Companies were buoyed by Caruso’s success. What’s more, all the other top singers now wanted a piece of the action, hurriedly dropping their objections to the quality of the medium once they realised that it could make them rich. The female equivalent of Caruso was Nellie Melba, an Australian soprano with a peach of a voice, and a good head for business, who held out until she got £1,000 – and her own label in passionate mauve.

Corona Time

Yes: “Corona Time”. I just heard this phrase, from the all-the-rage-just-now Icelandic classical pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. He was being interviewed on Radio 3’s Music Matters, and talking about how he’ll be juggling his work during the next few months, in the face of the tornado of cancellations that he and others like him now face. Far fewer public performances and lots more time spent studying and practising, and recording.

A lot of people are about to have a lot of Corona Time in the next few months.

Some people are going to be more deranged than others. Basically, the more sociable you are, and the less solitary and virtual in the way you live, the worse it will be. I especially like this Babylon Bee title:

Nation’s Nerds Wake Up In Utopia Where Everyone Stays Inside, Sports Are Canceled, Social Interaction Forbidden

Nerds have always had lots of Corona Time.

LATER: More Corona Time advice. I have in mind to write, like he says.

Happy Birthday Dear GodDaughter2!

Happy Birthday is the worse song there is, because you only ever hear it sung by people who would never, never otherwise attempt choral singing. But this song, they do attempt, with a combination of extreme shitness and the excruciating embarrassment that comes with everyone knowing that they are perpetrating extreme shitness upon one another. This ghastly song reaches its nadir of ghastliness with that high note towards the end: Happy Birthday dear … whoever. Ghastly. Totally, totally ghastly. I have never heard Happy Birthday not sung ghastlily.

And then came last night. Last night I attended GodDaughter2’s birthday party, here. GodDaughter2 is studying how to sing, at the Royal College of Music, and so were the majority of those also present at the party. Oh, there were some civilians present, but the heart of it was singers. So there I was just sitting there, spouting rubbish to some poor defenceless singer, who had to listen to me because I am GodDaughter2’s Godfather, when, guess what: Happy Birthday starts up, behind me. I do not turn to look, thank goodness, because I am a very poor judge of singing when I am looking at it being sung. I just listen. And as soon as it gets under way, I realise that, for once, the Happy Birthday bit at the end is going to be sung not just non-shittily, but actually well, really well. So I don’t just enjoy that bit when it finally arrives, I am able to relish beforehand how good it was going to be. It was the opposite, in other words, of how Happy Birthday usually happens, when all present know beforehand how shit it will be, especially the last bit. and then have to listen to how shit that last bit especially duly is.

So Happy Birthday last night was … well, St Matthew Passion, eat your heart out. It was glorious. The high note was nailed to perfection by all who attempted it, and there were also harmonies. And I did not see this coming. I had forgotten all about Happy Birthday. It all happened in a rush. And when something that is usually ghastly is instead glorious, the glory is at least twice as glorious.

The entire party was, so far as I could judge after one champagne and two pints of lager (to get how that would be for you, multiply by three – I have a low alcohol threshold): really good. But even if the only thing about it that was good had been Happy Birthday, it would still have been great to have been there.

There is always more space if you just keep looking

For quite a few months now I have been pacing about in my little flat in London SW1 (one of the many unfashionable bits of that postcode) looking for more space to put shelves for books and magazines and CDs. Will I have to move? The Horror. Will I have to chuck out some of my books and CDs? Double The Horror.

No. The great truth about shelving is that there is always, always room for more, if you just keep looking.

Example, look at this huge empty lump of absolutely nothing, in my bathroom, above the door-shaped gap that leads to the toilet, into which I now plan to put another shelf, upon which I will pile ancient copies of the BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone:

That giant gap of empty air with a wall behind it has been there for thirty years. I just never saw it for what it was, a big mouth shouting at me, saying: Give me a shelf! Give me a shelf! I can help! Just let me do it!

That will make a huge dent in the problem.

I put up these photos to basically get me to do this job. I have completed the design. I have the necessary brackets and screws, and one of the many planks I have collected over the years is the perfect size and ideal for the task. I just need to do it. So these photos are – indeed this entire blog posting is – a memo to self. Do this.

But before I do, I note that there is and has for several decades now been paint falling off the ceiling. So, before I embark on this construction project, I need to vacuum clean the ceiling, which I cannot do at night because it might disturb my neighbours, above and below. After that, it’s all go.

And no I don’t know what all those pipes are on the right, as we look. Strange, very strange.