Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

June 29, 2005 (link)

11:37 PM

"You know I hear you speaking and saying things about certain bass players..."

(Well, hey, thanks for the recommendation -- I'll check him out!)

9:09 PM

M. sent me a link to Music Thing, which certainly seems worth a look. In a post about the late British musician Basil Kirchin, Tom mentions the following --

He did things like being the first person to ever tour with their own PA system in the 1950s, and possibly the first (of countless) person to claim to be "writing music for an imaginary film".

Actually, predating Kirchin is none other than Arnold Schoenberg, whose Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene ("Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene"), op. 34, dates from 1929-1930. From the New Grove Dictionary of Music:

At this time he became interested in the problem of film music. Unwilling to subordinate his music to the requirements of a real film he chose instead to illustrate in his Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene an imaginary and unfilmable sequence of emotions: threatening danger, fear, catastrophe. He employed a kind of free variation form, and thinned out his recent style considerably to suit the programmatic nature of the undertaking.

I don't know if anyone else had attempted anything similar before Schoenberg, but he's the earliest example of which I'm aware.

By the way, you can get Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene as part of a very nice, all-Schoenberg CD on the Koch Classics label, conducted by Robert Craft with the London Symphony Orchestra. Also on the same disc is Herzgewächse (1911), and if ever there was a piece that deserved to be called "astonishing", this one's it. Written for high soprano, celesta, harp, and harmonium, and all of three-and-a-half minutes long, it almost never gets played...which is a shame, because the combination of brevity and the jaw-dropping "wow" factor (you'll see what I mean if you listen to the piece) would make it an ideal lead-off single, so to speak, for someone discovering Schoenberg for the first time.

Current music: Arnold Schoenberg - Serenade, Op. 24

(Comments for June 29, 2005)

June 17, 2005 (link)

12:46 AM

(Or (d), because I'm a sucker for anything south of A=440...)

(Oh, lordy, and now the old Janssen comes to mind -- is it, then, that flat tunings remind me of my childhood? As simple as that?)

(Should I admit that that connection was sparked by listening to the opening music to Chrono Trigger? [Which is tuned to something like, I don't know, 427 or 453, depending on how you reckon?])

(Yes, of course I should: who on earth would I want to know who'd be fazed by that? Too cool for school? Forget about that.)

("That's right," says Miles Davis.)

12:13 AM

As in:

  • What happens when fandom and "living myth" intersect with some of the best parts of the lo-fi aesthetic? (Not to mention the influence of "Palestrina, des Prez, and de Victoria", to quote her site.)
  • What if Pygmalion-era Slowdive had scored the movie, instead of Howard Shore?
  • What if she had scored the movie? She says on the page that she thought Shore "perfectly captured the essence of Elvish music", but personally, I think she deserves that praise far more -- I'd replace his score (and all its heavy-handed pseudo-leitmotifs) with hers in a heartbeat. (An opportunity for a remix?)
  • Am I more partial to these recordings than I would otherwise be, because
    • (a) of their unassuming, lo-fi quality (though occasionally a bit too lo-fi),
    • (b) of the fact that she possesses a lovely, clear soprano voice of the kind that I tend to like very much, or
    • (c) because I've done a few recording experiments that sounded not dissimilar? (What can I say, I'm a sucker for the reverb and the lo-pass filter...)

The best tracks are the first one and the last two, I think. I hope that, when she makes "proper" recordings, she doesn't lose the elusive, veiled quality that makes these so attractive. I wish recordings of medieval and Renaissance vocal music sounded a bit more like this.

Some of my favorite music is the stuff that's made in home studios, with four-tracks and minijacks and using a pair of headphones for a mic, then quietly posted somewhere online as MP3s. Alas, when there's no barrier to entry, the only problem is, as ever, finding the good stuff amongst the piles and piles of junk...

12:07 AM

You wouldn't expect something like this to be any good -- or at least, I didn't -- and yet...

Current music: Jessica Butler - "Faer Edhellen"

(Comments for June 17, 2005)

June 12, 2005 (link)

2:25 AM

I've just discovered -- sitting in one of my inboxes -- an unanswered email, dating back to 2003, from someone who has since taken his own life.

That's pretty sobering.

(He was asking me for my thoughts on where to send some music by these folks to be mastered to vinyl. I'd forgotten completely about his email...at the time, I couldn't place him, and basically didn't have any idea who he was, though I was flattered that he said he had "been reading Eyes That Can See in the Dark for a while now". I don't think I decided not to reply, it just...didn't happen.)

Current music: Junior Boys - "Teach Me How to Fight"

(Comments for June 12, 2005)

June 10, 2005 (link)

11:03 PM

Folks who have been reading my site for a while will remember the song-poem "Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Potassium" by Lolla Mont Gue, which I reviewed back in December of 2002. About a year-and-a-half later, I got a nice surprise in the form of an email from a man named Michael, who knew Lolla Mont Gue as a child, and who provided some fascinating tidbits about the woman behind the song.

I think I've remarked before about how, when I put things up on my site, I can never guess what will "take off". Some things, like the Rainer Brüninghaus transcriptions, have never gotten the interest I hoped they would -- whereas other things, like my Shooby Taylor transcription, have gotten far more interest than I ever would have expected. (In hindsight, of course, it's a bit obvious -- the appeal of Shooby's take on "Stout-Hearted Men" is, I think, rather more universal than that of Mr. Brüninghaus's beautiful piano solos. Which doesn't bother me, though it seems a pity that such a wonderful pianist doesn't get more attention!)

Well, "H, N, K" seems to be one of those topics that has a momentum all its own. It started with a Google search: when a referral on "hydrogen nitrogen potassium" showed up in my Sitemeter logs, I was curious enough to duplicate the search myself. Most of the links were what you would expect, but then:

"Wait, the sheet music is on Ebay?"

And, sure enough, there it was, featuring as its cover a picture of none other than Ms. Mont Gue -- who was quite a handsome woman in her day, in that 1950s sort of way! And, as you can see, the cover tells us that Montague Music (note the added A, à la Shakespeare) is based in Crawford, NE, just as Michael said. Meanwhile, the auction text indicated that the music dated from 1952, which was far earlier than I would have guessed (apparently, predating the death of Ms. Mont Gue's daughter).

When I first discovered the auction, the bidding was at $2.50 or so, and I fancied my chances of winning. However, with a day or two left, the bidding quickly went much higher, and -- though I was tempted -- I decided, as a poor graduate student, to call it a day.

Normally the story would end there. But, in an optimistic spirit, I decided to contact the auction winner, on the off-chance that we might be able to come to some arrangement so that I could see the contents of the music, particularly the lyrics, and compare it to the recorded version and my transcription thereof.

Well, thanks to the remarkable kindness and generosity of E.C., I'm sitting here with an absolutely perfect photocopy of "Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Potassium" on my desk -- and let me tell you, it's worlds apart from the song-poem version! For starters, the melody and harmonies are completely different, bearing little if any resemblance to the Jim Hall & the Radio Pals version. The next surprise is the introduction: while the recording has an eight-bar intro in boogie-woogie style, the sheet music has a solo piano intro of half that length, followed by four bars with vocals, marked "verse", that feature lyrics nowhere to be seen in the recorded version:

Why, do I cry my heart out, for a chemist?
Why, oh, Why, oh, Why?

Which vindicates the speculation from my original review: "I wonder if this is a love song to a chemistry professor?"

Immediately after that last "Why?" begin the lyrics we all know and love, marked "Chorus". Most of it is quite similar to what I wrote in my transcription, but there are some important differences:

  • On the first page, every occurrence of the word "him" also features, directly below it, the female pronoun: "I'm just HY-DRO-GEN, NI-TRO-GEN, PO-TASS-I-UM to Him/Her".

    This suggests a couple of things -- first, that Lolla Mont Gue was a pretty liberated woman, in that she was anticipating...

    (Wait, holy crap, this [other] song that I was about to reference is nowhere to be found on Google?!

    Just look around you, it's easy to see
    Come take a look at what women can be!
    We can be clowns! We can be cooks!
    We can be bus drivers! We can write books!

    I'm sorry, but that's tragic that no one's transcribed that! Come on -- the world needs to know that "women can be soda jerkers"! Someone needs to get on that one; I'd do it if I had the episode on tape...)

    Anyway, Sesame Street aside, she's clearly indicating that Women Can Be Chemists Too, which was still kind of a bold thing to say in 1952.

  • The second significant point is that the random gender-switching on the song-poem recording is now explained: after the first page, Ms. Mont Gue doesn't bother to spell out each and every opportunity for an alternate pronoun. Instead, she sticks with the masculine form and assumes, I would think, that the person singing will be smart enough to make the necessary changes with consistency. Alas, in the case of the song-poem world, that turns out to have been a mistaken assumption!

  • Still on the first page, we have:

    "I wonder why? I wonder why? I adore Him/Her I deplore Him/Her, I ignore Him/Her".

    This corrects my transcription, which was "I loved, oh, her / I did implore her". Ms. Mont Gue's protagonist is a very conflicted type, it seems! And "ignore" only thickens the plot -- a drama of self-contradictory psychological turmoil -- it's downright Wagnerian!

  • What I thought was "be the one and only" turns out to be "He's my only, One and only" in the sheet music. Jim Hall's Southern accent is behind this one -- "heemuh one and only". It's interesting that he makes the mistake as soon as the pronouns aren't explicitly specified -- was he reading off the sheet music? And if so, why did they completely throw out the written melody?

  • There are some slight finesses in the next few lines -- it indeed turns out to be "affection" ("And I'm filled with such affection"), and "They're in need" is actually "There is need", not that it makes any more sense that way, unless Ms. Mont Gue really is talking about birth control (which I highly doubt). The real revelation, however, is the next line:

    But I have an intuition

    It wasn't her fault!!! The malapropism I unjustly blamed on Lolla Mont Gue, thinking it evidence that English wasn't her first language...whereas now, from the looks of things, the responsbility lies squarely on the shoulders of Jim Hall.

    How on earth did he turn it into "institution"? If it's because he had a different, re-typed or handwritten copy of the song, then why do his gender mix-ups so perfectly coincide with the sheet music's pseudo-ambiguities?

  • Finally, the sheet music ends not with "But a torch for him I'll carry / Always, oh, always carry", but adds one more line, a triumphant "And that's the score!" The more I find out about Lolla Mont Gue, the more I like her spirit! No self-pity for her, just straight up: "Yep, I dig him, he doesn't dig me, and I'll probably never get over it: that's life!"

So in addition to the pleasure of learning a little more about Ms. Mont Gue, this experience has offered a revealing look at just how desultory and casual the song-poem studios really were. Make no mistake, "Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Potassium" is a quirky, weird, oddball song -- and its original melody, by the way, is scarcely any less strange: it's hard to be sure without hearing a proper interpretation, but on the page, it seems jumpy and mercurial, with quick, hopscotching figures in eighth-notes, matched to a prosody that occasionally verges on the Stereolab-esque ("THERE is NEED of PRO-tect-ION, I'll AD-mit").

But it's a lot more coherent than the Radio Pals' rendition would have us think. Of course, that's also half the charm of the record, hearing them stumble, mushmouth, and malaprop their way through the song. Given the copyright date on the sheet music, I'd love to know when the recording was made; outside of a handful of blues records I probably haven't heard, I don't know of any guitarists from the early fifties who were making that kind of jangly, near-atonal racket with their instruments.

So: cheers to you, Lolla Mont Gue! ("Jesus loves you more than you will know...") It would've been fun to have met you, but I'm glad we have your music.

Current music: could it be anything but H, N, and K?

(Comments for June 10, 2005)

June 7, 2005 (link)

12:25 AM

Five terrific things:

  1. The Perry Bible Fellowship. (Also found here.)

  2. Frederic Rzewski's decision to make his pieces freely available under a "copyleft" license, including downloadable PDFs of two pieces.

  3. The poem "Always", by Pablo Neruda.

  4. Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages.

  5. "Secret yets" (though the examples they give aren't so great: I remember seeing the first one as "the location of his liquor is...").

Current music: Mark Kozelek - "Duk Koo Kim"

(Comments for June 7, 2005)


Current reading:

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle

Character Analysis, Wilhelm Reich

Tom Jones, Henry Fielding (if at first you don't succeed...)

just finished:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle


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