Tag Archives: Classical music

Free jazz has killed my CD collection

Will I play these again?

Will I play these again?

I own hundreds of CDs. More actually, well into the four figures. I know this because, before moving to the U.S., I had to pack and carry four cratefuls of them to be shipped.

As I did so, I wondered: what’s the point? Do I need these things? Will I ever play most of them again?

And then I reassured myself that of course I would, that they were a vital part of who I was, that they were intrinsic to my well-being. Many of them had been a part of my life for years, so how could I live without them? Seriously?

It’s now November 2017 and I’ve not listened to a CD properly in 16 months. As I type this, the same crates are lying in my basement, alongside my CD player (which, damaged in transit, hasn’t worked since I arrived in Portland). With the exception of taking the occasional disc to the car to ease the commute, I haven’t unboxed any of them.

And – though I never thought I’d write this – it hasn’t mattered. Like most amateur music listeners, I now listen to music via a streaming service, aware that the sound quality is not as good, that the speakers are not as hi-tech as those with my old CD player, and that my booklet-perusing days are all but over. The audiophile I want to be is horrified.

Jan Garbarek. Pic: Yancho Sabev

Jan Garbarek. Pic: Yancho Sabev

Sometimes I feel a pang of regret – like, for instance, when I gaze upon my beautiful copy of Harry Smith’s Anthology. But rarely.

Rarely that is, unless I want to listen to music issued on ECM. The German jazz-classical label opted to keep its output off all streaming services in recent years. Not being able to listen on Spotify was bad enough – knowing that I had dozens of ECM albums sitting in boxes close by was a tease.

As time passed, the only reason I had to buy a CD player was to listen to Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, and others who’d recorded for the label. Now that last reason’s fallen.

Last week ECM, making somewhat sniffy noises about piracy, relented, and placed its back catalog on a number of streaming services.

It’s great for me. I can now listen to Art Ensemble of Chicago while driving, or Tomasz Stanko while working out, or Dave Holland’s free jazz while writing blog posts (the latter’s probably not wholly advisable).

But, now that the initial excitement has faded, I’m left with an existential music listener’s question. Will I ever listen to my once-beloved CDs again?





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This recording will clear your mind

Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt. Pic: Woesinger

Tintinnabular composition – ring a bell?

If so it’s a bell that operates within a triad on the tonic note, accompanied by a melodic voice operating over diatonic scales. Simple, really.

Simple like Speigel im Spiegel.

Even if your commitment to minimalist music begins and ends with the question ‘is that it?’ you’ve likely heard Arvo Pärt’s 1978 composition.

It’s been used in many films and documentaries. Every New Year’s Eve it crops up on the RTE evening news, accompanying a list of the names of the past year’s road traffic victims.

I first heard the piece in full while driving from Dublin to Wexford on a winter’s afternoon in 2007. The full 10-minute performance on radio was a different beast to the clip I’d heard in Touching The Void; I recall pulling over and scribbling down details of the recording.

I wasn’t the only one who had such an experience. Reading an interview with music producer Manfred Eicher last weekend I discovered that he too first heard a classic Pärt composition by chance on a car radio.

Unlike me, as boss of the ECM music label Eicher was able to gather Keith Jarrett and others to make a landmark recording.

I contented myself to seeking out a copy of Alina, the recording Eicher made for his classical imprint, ECM New Series, in 1995 which included Spiegel im Spiegel. I kept the disc for a few years before it disappeared in an apartment move.

Or so I thought. After reading Eicher’s interview last weekend I embarked on a box-ripping quest to find it, digging among crates in storage until I located the stark-sleeved disc, a diamond in the mine. (Unlike most of my old CDs, cassettes and records, the ECM release isn’t available on streaming services.)

The years that passed since I’d heard the piece in full had been busy ones. I’d forgotten the mind-clearing feeling of a deep listen to Pärt’s spare, resonant composition.

I could write more, about stillness, space, the effect of silence and the contrast of piano and violin. But Spiegel im Speigel demands both less and more than this. It’s an experience wrought only by listening.





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‘The strange courage of the second rate’

Charles Bukowksi

Charles Bukowksi

No one remembers the person who comes second. Or third. Or twelfth.

History, in as much as it remembers anyone, reserves its slots for the winners.

And yet almost all of mankind’s graft, humanity’s progress and civilisation’s march has been done by the also-rans, the forgettable others who simply got on with it.

As Charles Bukowski had it, for every Wagner there’s a Bruckner.

While the mercurial Wagner revolutionised opera and was seen as the inventor of modern classical music, his contemporary was a humbler man, who acknowledged Wagner’s greatness while producing some lesser known symphonies of his own.

Anton Bruckner

Anton Bruckner

Bukowski was himself no stranger to the world of uninspiring graft. Until the age of 49 he worked various mundane jobs, most notably as a post office clerk, while writing at night.

Perhaps that explains his affinity with those who did “the best they could/and kept on doing it/even when they knew they/were second best”.

Milton’s thousands, “who only stand and wait”, become Bukowski’s second raters, those of us “who refuse to quit”.

His short poem ‘Bruckner (2)’ is a tribute to their presence, their perseverance, their “strange courage”.

Bruckner wasn’t bad
even though he got down
on his knees
and proclaimed Wagner
the master.

It saddens me, I guess,
in a small way
because while Wagner was
hitting all those homers
Bruckner was sacrificing
the runners to second
and he knew it.

and I know that
mixing baseball metaphors with classical
will not please the purists

I prefer Ruth to most of his teammates
but I appreciate those who did
the best they could
and kept on doing it
even when they knew they
were second best.

this is your club fighter
your back-up quarterback
the unknown jock who sometimes
brings one in
at 40-to-one.

this was Bruckner.

there are times when we should
the strange courage
of the second-rate
who refuse to quit
when the nights
are black and long and sleepless
and the days are without








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