Fair weather, for big band

I’m just finishing off turning my transcription of the Benny Golson tune ‘Fair Weather’ into an arrangement for big band. I’ve included most of the elements of the small band version from Chet Baker’s ‘In New York’ album, expanded on the contrapuntal theme slightly, put a drum solo at the start and trumpet one in the middle. I really enjoy the chords on this tune — mostly made up of various 2-5s in C Major, but with temporary shifts into an E Minor tonality at the just the right points to make it awesome.

A science picture

Click the photo for a high-res version

Here is a photo I recently took with my friend Tom. It’s a little tube containing a suspension of colloidal particles (described a bit more on my Science page). Colloids are small but not microscopically tiny, which means that when they form crystals, the typical distances between particles are larger than those found in molecular or atomic structures. In fact, the distances correspond roughly with the wavelength of visible light, so the crystals scatter incoming light of all different colours and, as shown in the picture, look great. Natural and synthetic opals also display this ‘opalescence’, because they are formed by the crystallisation of colloidal sand particles.

I got this little sample when I was on a conference in Corsica and I’m very fond of it, because the only colloidal suspensions I usually get to see are pretend ones in computer simulations. The motivation for having spent a morning with Tom pointing a camera at a tube is, hopefully, to provide a nice green-screen background for an interview I was involved in for the Physics Department’s website. In the interview I managed to talk for 15 minutes about why Leeds is a good place to do a PhD, while forgetting to once mention its music scene. Well done me.

Thanks very much to Tom West for his incredibly steady camera-hands, and patience.

Le Boy, electro house

I used to be in a very nice band called Neon Kicks. It featured Chloe Elliott on drums, Natalie Graham singing and Rob Peck playing bass, and I was playing quite an old but good keyboard on which, in a near-perfect reflection of our music, the pitch shift wheel eventually broke due to overuse.

Rob is also quite clever with computers and synths and DJing, and I’ve recently been listening to some of his work. There are some nice long mixes which I’ve found very good for doing work to, and in particular there’s a great tune called Any One which I think (think) might be a Philip Glass remix — only because Rob told me he was working on one and this seems like it might be it [edit: now I don’t think it is, and can’t remember whether Rob told me otherwise..].

It’s one of those things which, as well as being good to listen to, has obviously identifiable musical peculiarities which it’s nice to go on about to your friends. In this case, I love the extra 2 beats on the leading tone which break up the harmonic movement but are smoothed over rhythmically by thumping electro-crotchetz. I also love the way the whole thing is just 3 notes over gradually more exploratory and wandering chords. It’s great.

Music for the shower

Since recently discovering that my phone is resistant to water and very loud, I’ve taken to listening to music in the shower. Not owning a purpose-built bathroom audio appliance, the only other option is to open the door through to the kitchen and use that whole room as a sort of giant speaker.

Now, songs are different lengths, and so are showertimes…. so:

I’m aware that even by the standards of a blog where the first proper post was a picture of some pasta, this is kind of inane.

Jerusalem and Audio Hijack Pro

I’ve just finished an arrangement of Elgar/Parry’s lovely socialist hymn, ‘Jerusalem’. This somewhat confused adaptation was part of a last minute effort by Steve Wright and myself to provide patriotic material for one of the gigs on LUU Dance Band’s 2011 tour of France — the gig happened to fall on St George’s Day, so the enthusiastic and numerous ex-pat community of Bergerac had requested that Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory be played that night. We forgot about it until a week before the tour, during which Steve was very busy with other things, and fun ensued.

I hope soon to upload an export or recording of Steve’s wonderful jazz-waltz setting (yes) of the latter tune, but for now here is an export of Jerusalem using the Sibelius 7 Sounds library.

Due to a minor bug and the fact that it was made in Sibelius 6 originally (I think), the inbuilt export chopped off a few notes, so I used the terrifying and excellent Audio Hijack Pro, a great Mac application that is able to steal the audio from any program and record it to a file.

Mark Richardson and his excellent video

There were lots of good teachers at my old school. It seems to happen that we look back at teachers and various other figures who (generally speaking) tried to help us out when we were young, and realise that we didn’t appreciate them as much as we do now. That’s probably natural — it’s hard to realise you’re being offered a good deal until you’ve had the experience of being offered other ones, or not being offered them at all.

Despite that, there were a few teachers who, even at the time, we knew were something special. One of them was Mark Richardson, who is an English teacher at Beverley Grammar School, a state comprehensive near Hull. He had such a clear idea of what the point of studying English was that the question of its relevance or otherwise seemed barely to make sense. Literature wasn’t something that had to be mangled and picked at in order to connect to our lives. Instead, what we did in lessons was to talk about how the world was and what it was like to live in it; and it’s important to point out that children do that a lot anyway, possibly more than most people. Mark knew this and he knew that by its nature, literature is the most important and valuable guide there can be to that discussion.

There are a couple of links to share. The first is a video made by Mark about the recent history of the school through the eyes of its outgoing headmaster Chris Goodwin (who, from what I’ve seen of the documentary, merits a thousand blog posts of his own). The second is a resources blog for his lessons, which is excellent reading for everyone, perhaps especially people who no longer have, or have never had, the benefit of going to Mark’s lessons three times a week. Both have been doing the rounds on Facebook, circulated by the many people who saw the deal that Mark Richardson was offering them and knew it was special. Cheers.

Update — this video that I dug out from Mark’s blog (made by a friend of his working with kids from another school in Hull) is too good not to share: http://vimeo.com/15328356

The ‘Prom of peace’ – Rostropovich and Dvorak, 1968

Paul Gambaccini’s Radio 4 show ‘For One Night Only‘ is quite a rare thing: a radio show about (as opposed to playing) music that manages to avoid being joyless, self-indulgent and too long. That might have something to do with the fact each episode is built around a specific historical event, in this case a live concert. The show is then nice and focused and grounded, and there’s much less of the tangent-wandering concept-wankery than you sometimes get with this subject matter.

At the very least, listeners find out about some music they didn’t know before. Better, it can provide context to music you already like, and make you like it a lot more. The episode I’m talking about is this one from 2008, which looks back at the BBC Prom of 21st August 1968, when (Soviet) Rostropovich and the (Soviet) USSR State Symphony Orchestra played (Czech) Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, amid calls for the concert to be cancelled and protests in London. That’s because it had also been the day that Russian tanks invaded Czechoslovakia.

It sounds like the plot of a film, and maybe it should be. The programme’s contributors describe a tearful Rostropovich playing the music in such a way as to make it ‘completely clear whose side he was on’. I would have loved to see him play at any time, but this is a whole new level. People shouting in the audience, protestors outside, and tanks in Czechoslovakia.

I’m pretty sure an mp3 of this episode of the show can still be downloaded from some places. The CD is available on BBC Legends, for example here, and now I’m going to buy it.