Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Congress, Alligators, and a Stairway to Heaven

The Colombian Congress is, it seems, notorious for the frequent absence of its senators or whatever they’re called. So a concerned senator proposed a bill to fine (I suppose dock the generous pay of) the worst offenders. Unfortunately the bill could not be passed, because — er — not enough people had turned up to vote on it.
Other important news is that near Disneyland in America a real alligator made off with a real (well, American) two-year-old, and Led Zeppelin have been accused of pinching the interesting chord sequence from the opening of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ from, I think, a piece by the group ‘Spirit’.
That last item makes me wonder — how much, or how little, of a piece of music makes it unique, mine, copyright-able? Surely there can be no copyright in a mere sequence of chords? Or can there? Some chord sequences are at once recognizable: if I were to write a song using the same sequence as, say, ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’, or even just that characteristic I, III7, VI7, II minor opening, I would at once be accused of plagiarism. But what about the twelve-bar blues sequence? Surely anyone may use that? And how about the descending tetrachord, either in usual or Andalusian form? Is, say, Dylan’s ‘One more cup of coffee for the road’ ripped off from Dido’s lament in Purcell’s Opera?
Sometimes even a single chord can be immediately recognizable, and if anyone else uses it it is regarded as a quotation — think of the Tristan chord, which I wrote about a while ago, and which Britten used very obviously in a jokey context in one of his operas. Should the estates of Purcell and Wagner sue Dylan and Britten?
I don’t think I’m making any special point here; just the general one that things are rarely as simple as the newsreaders suggest.
Here is a stairway to heaven by Bouncing Bill Blake of Bermondsey:

Friday, 10 June 2016

Toilet Training, and Realer than Real

The government of India has been for some time trying to supply lavatories to every house in the country. Of course they didn’t bother to ask their electorate if they wanted toilets in their houses. They don’t. They are turning their toilets into cupboards, and going out to shit in the fields as they have always done. So in its wisdom the government has sent out officials to patrol favourite open-air shitting places and force all who approach to go home and shit indoors.
I am reminded of the old lady in this little Greek island who, some years ago whispered confidentially in a shocked tone ‘Do you know, some of these foreigners actually shit inside their own houses.’

You couldn’t make it up, but it’s true, and perhaps explains why the Lenovo company has just invented a mobile ’phone which takes photographs which, they say, ‘Enhance reality’.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Transport by Tree

Someone appeared in our village today on a wooden bicycle. Almost inescapably for a bicycle of otherwise conventional ‘safety’ pattern, certain parts were metal — it would be hard to imagine, let alone make, a chain and sprocket transmission out of wood, and wooden head, wheel, and bottom bracket bearings in wood might be rather stiff, though perhaps lignum vitae might work — but frame, front fork etc. were all in laminated wood. The weight felt roughly the same as a normal steel or alloy bicycle. It’s made by a company called Coco-Mat; I’ll put in a picture if I can find one.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Robert Schumann

Today is Robert Schumann’s birthday. (Or would have been were he still alive; you know what I mean.) Robert was a bit of a loony and it shows in some of his music, most of which I don’t like all that much; this morning I listened to a sonata of his for violin and piano and I could have sworn I was listening to something by Brahms. (Though I do like Brahms’s music, including his chamber pieces, especially the late ones for clarinet and strings, the result of his meeting and befriending a very god clarinettist, but as so often I have strayed from the point.) My favourite Schumann pieces are his Lieder.
Anyway, in his efforts to improve his piano playing Robert invented and used a device involving weights and pulleys intended to strengthen, or perhaps improve the independence of movement of, the fourth finger, the one next to the little finger. (Just try placing all your fingertips on the table and then lifting the fourth finger without the other fingers moving.) This device screwed up his hands completely and it was his wife Clara who became the great pianist. (When she came to England with Robert and played for Queen Victoria, the Queen tactlessly asked her ‘Does your husband play too?')
Robert is reviled by some feminists because allegedly he impeded Clara’s efforts at composition. I don’t know how much evidence we have for this; certainly very few of her compositions have survived, but of course that is not in itself evidence against Robert.

Anyway, poor Robert became more and more doolally in later life, and threw himself into the river. (Not sure which river; perhaps the Rhine.) He was rescued and spent the rest of his life in the bin.
Here is a picture of Robert and Clara: