Music and Memory

With a title like that this could be one hell of a dissertation!  It’s not going to be, but if someone wants to take it on then go for it!

Why is it that some songs stay in the mind for longer periods of time than others, occasionally for an annoyingly long time, while other songs barely register?  Quite often this effect is a perfectly adequate sub-conscious self-selecting mechanism, at other times it can be quite annoying – the irritating jingle that wont go away, for instance.

Occasionally there are songs or collections of songs (in my case usually in the form of albums) that have such a profound effect that they simply keep resurfacing; sometimes with months or even years of absence.  For me the album ‘Forever Changes‘, by the 60’s West Coast psychedelic band ‘Love‘, is such a collection of songs – I can go for a significantly long period of time without listening to it, but then the urge takes hold of me again and I find I have to play it obsessively over and over before I am fully sated.

There is another type of song, or more accurately ‘song experience’, and it came upon me just the other week.  Completely out of the blue my head was fully of the melody and words to a song I had completely forgotten about and I hadn’t heard for more years than I can remember – in fact I don’t believe I’d thought of this song since I was a pupil at my old school about twenty-five years ago!

The song was a one hit wonder in 1982 called ‘I Won’t Let You Down‘ by a group called ‘Ph.D‘ (apparently it reached No. 3 in the UK charts).  I absolutely love the melody of this song, it’s simplicity and melancholy.  It really reminded me of the early 80’s when I obviously first heard it.I Won't Let You Down - Ph.DI know that I have a love of old analogue synthesizers (Tony Hymas plays the distinctive synth sound on this track), and songs with a strong melody and powerful or unusual vocals (Jim Diamond is the vocalist), so how this song escaped my memory for as long as it did is a bit of a mystery.

Why it suddenly came to mind, I have no idea!  Was I reminiscing, thinking back to a simpler time (well I was only about seven years old when it was released)?  Was it a mood I was in that somehow connected with the mood of the song?  Had I recently heard something that reminded me of the era which in some way accessed this long forgotten memory – who knows!

It would be interesting to hear if anybody else has had this type of ‘song experience’ – surely I cannot be alone in this phenomenon?

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Photographs by Erik Johansson

The photographs of Erik Johansson combine the surrealist eye for the absurd (in a similar way to Rene Magritte) with the visual contortions of the work of E.C. Escher.

Johansson is a professional photographer who has produced work for Microsoft, Adobe, National Geographic, Google and Volvo, amongst others.  It is interesting that he does not try to conceal his digital manipulations; going so far as to produce videos revealing the laborious behind-the-scenes manipulations he has to go through to, as he puts it, “realise the ideas in my mind“.

Considering the amount of torn up countryside, roads scored or dragged through the landscape and general disintegration evident in much of his photography, I wonder if it reveals something about his inner psyche…?

Leaving Home

Go Your Own Road

Fishy Island

Greenfall

Arms Break Vases Don’t

Cut And Fold

Common Sense Crossing

–oOo–

 

 

Lost Knowledge of the Ancients

I know – it sounds like the title of an Erich von Daniken book; but I’m not about to make fanciful claims about the interstellar origins of civilisation, this is far more interesting because it is based on actual scientific inquiry.

The national health service is prominently in the headlines at the moment while it is used as a political football, with all parties claiming to be its saviour.  Rather than point scoring politicians, some of the focus should really be on the incredible work that is done behind the scenes to create the medicines we rely on for our exceptional level of health.  No one now remembers a time before antibiotics and how many died from what are now easily curable problems, let alone the physical pain that many people had to simply put up with.

Being able to cure the majority of ailments has for a long time been taken for granted. I am not a student of medicine but before our golden era of medicine it appears that we had to rely on herbs and/or magic, if you were lucky!  Otherwise you might have to risk a concoction created by a quack-doctor, simply because you couldn’t afford a real doctor.

Much of what was administered did nothing to cure the problems, and if the patient survived is was more likely due to luck than any form of healing properties of the medicine. Although we can now see how misguided much of medicine used to be we should not dismiss out of hand the endeavors to find cures before modern scientific analysis.

There has long been a snootiness from the scientific community towards what has been termed ‘alternative medicine’, but surely a scientist should be open to alternatives until they are proven or diss-proven.  The following example, from the University of Nottingham, is a case in point:- AncientBiotics – A Medieval Remedy for Modern Day Superbugs?  Bald's Leechbook - example of textThis is the story of a 10th century medical text from the British Library called ‘Bald’s Leechbook‘, which describes a remedy for eye infections, but has found to kill the notorious MRSA superbug.  The text reads:-

“Work and eye salve for a wen, take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks gall, of both equal quantities, mix with a leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night-time apply with a feather to the eye; the best leechdom.”

Translated by Dr Christina Lee and tested at the University’s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences by Freya Harrison, a microbiologist, the astonishing antibacterial qualities of this ancient mixture is as efficient (about 90%) as modern antibiotics.  The next conundrum is to find out exactly how and why it works!

This is just one example of what may be lost if we do not seriously investigate ancient texts.  Yes, much of it probably is nonsense – but what about the knowledge we may lose through our own arrogance, it is all too easy to dismiss the investigations of the ancient world as ignorant fumblings.

We do not know everything and with our over reliance on antibiotics and the increasing resistance to it’s effects, this may be a very good time indeed to investigate the ‘alternatives’ more thoroughly.

Hole in The Ground

So what would you do with a 76 foot deep circular hole in the ground situated at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive near the Chicago River?Chicago Spire HoleIntended as the site for a huge spiraling tower of apartments called the Chicago Spire (designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava).  It would have been the second tallest building in the world at the time of it’s intended completion and the tallest building in the western world.  The only part of the project that was actually completed was the foundations, consisting of the already mentioned hole in the ground.  Unfortunately financial problems, aided by the global financial crisis (but then again, what isn’t blamed in the global financial crisis!) over took the project and it was abandoned. The image below is an impression of what the Spire would have looked like; above is a photo of the current site, which has been abandoned since 2008.Calatrava's Chicago SpireAny ideas yet?

There have apparently been six proposals to re-use the site.

One is by SPACE architects and called ‘Mine The Gap’ – it uses the empty tube as an open air entertainments venue (although it will have a retractable canvas roof when necessary) and will be powered by wind turbines above.Mine The GapAnother idea is to turn the whole site in a mini nature reserve.  Called ‘Birds in Horto’ and designed by Peter Schaudt, the pit will be flooded and a walkway will allow people to pass through the site without disturbing the wildlife.Birds In HortoThe third idea looks far too busy and commercial for my liking.  Called ‘The Urban Island’ and designed by Michael Day, it appears to be an attempt to enliven a drab part of the city by creating a mess of shops around a transport hub and cultural space – I’m not so sure.

Urban IslandThe next idea is essentially a replacement skyscraper using the existing foundation.  I didn’t bother including an artist’s impression because it is a far too unimaginative use of the space – at least the others try to do something different and unexpected.  Although if you do want to see it, and all the others, they are here on designboom.

The fifth idea is beautifully simple – turn the place into a giant swimming pool which siphons the river water and filters it before returning it back to the river it cleaner than it was; it’s called ‘The Swimming Hole’ and is designed by Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn.Swimming HoleThe last idea is ‘The High Tech Hot Tub’ by Clare Lyster and Alejandro Saavedra, which initially made me sigh with disappointment; but on discovering the reasoning behind it, it actually sounds quite good.  Why not use the hole as a huge data storage centre and cool the machines with the cold water of the Chicago River – the resultant hot water can then be used to heat hot tubs at the surface for the public to use.High Tech Hot TubIf you’d like to find out more you can read the original article on designboom, here.  It is interesting that most of the comments after the article on designboom think that the proposals are a waste of ‘valuable urban space‘ and it would be better to ‘try to finish the Spire or build an even more outstanding one (taller and grander). The city needs more skyscrapers‘.  I find this quite amazing from readers of a design orientated website.  It is a very unimaginative view of space – yes, it is a valuable commodity in a city, but surely not only in financial terms.

So which is your favorite – or do you have a better idea?

U.K. (Eddie Jobson + John Wetton) at Under The Bridge, London, 1st March 2015

As I have mentioned in a previous post (a review of The Green Album – an early post on my blog, so please forgive me!) Eddie Jobson is one of those musician/composers who really should be better known.  Having contributed to many albums and featured live with bands such as Roxy Music (where he replaced Brian Eno), Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Curved Air and (temporarily) Yes among others; as well as a couple of solo albums after forming U.K. with John Wetton.

In my opinion U.K. was the last of the great Progressive Rock groups from the original age of Prog and should be more highly regarded and generally better known (but then again, you could say that for the whole of the Prog genre in general). I have known Eddie’s music for many years and own a few of his albums on vinyl – partly because it is so difficult to get hold of his solo and U.K. work on CD in his home country!  I have also known of John Wetton for about the same amount of time, largely through his work with King Crimson, so I had high expectations of both of them – expectations which were not disappointed.

I initially kept King Crimson at arm’s length (I found them quite intimidating, as I sure many people would understand) and it wasn’t until I saw John Wetton live in Southampton about fifteen years or so ago and heard him play ‘Starless‘ live that I really woke up to the power and emotional range of both King Crimson and John Wetton’s voice. In terms of the band U.K. I instantly fell in love with the second album Danger Money (featuring the trio of Eddie Jobson, John Wetton and Terry Bozio), but for some strange reason have never moved on to the self-titled first album (with Bill Bruford and Allan Holdsworth) nor the third one Night After Night (a live recording).  I have no idea why, maybe it has been partly due to the difficulty in getting hold of the recordings, or maybe I just refused to believe they could live up the dazzling Danger Money.

In more recent years U.K. had reformed and played a few gigs, but to my frustration I always found out about their fleeting visits to London after the event!  I don’t know if Eddie is still based in the U.S. but the Americans do get far more live shows, as do Japan, than Great Britain – and I still don’t know why we appear to be so neglected, it seems to be a particularly British thing of not appreciating our own talent.  Anyway, I managed to hear about this concert long before it happened and booked the tickets on the day they were issued to make sure I got them – and thank goodness I did, this is the last U.K. tour and the first of only two gigs in the country!

Under the Bridge is round the back and underneath Stamford Bridge Football Stadium and although I’d never been there before was very easy to find, being a short walk from Fulham Broadway underground station.  It is a new venue but with all the photo’s on the wall, reminded me a lot of Ronnie Scott’s (but with better air conditioning!).  Luckily we got there early enough to get seats and actually heard the band do a sound test, finishing with a run through of ‘Caesar’s Palace Blues‘ – jokingly said that we could go now, but I was glad we stayed for the main show.  The sound quality was excellent – although I was certainly glad of the ear-plugs!U.K. Live in London 2015 1 The performance seemed to be predominately music from the first album to begin with, but they did throw in a few tracks from the second album too and ended up performing pretty much all of the songs from both albums – I did lose track of exactly what they played, so I may be wrong. As well as the obligatory drum solo (well, this is prog after all!) – and I must mention Virgil Donati, who’s drumming was outstanding throughout! – there was also the Eddie Jobson solo feature.  He began by pointing out how he’d managed to avoid having any ‘hits’ throughout his career but was recently surprised to discover at a gig in Poland that one of his pieces had become regularly requested on a radio station there during the Soviet era.  Apparently it was known as the Ping Pong Ball Song – if you know Eddie’s Theme of Secrets album you’ll know which one I mean (‘Inner Secrets‘ is such a strange and melancholic theme to become ‘popular’) – so he began his keyboard solo with this then moved onto his classic acrylic electric-violin, back-lit to heighten and emphasise its clarity.  He actually used three acrylic violins – one clear, one transparent green (as featured on the back of The Green Album) and what looked like a dark transparent blue one. U.K. Live in London 2015 2During the performance I wondered why they didn’t finish ‘Carrying No Cross’ in the main set, but this was solved later on by morphing ‘The Only Thing She Needs’ into the final verse of ‘Carrying No Cross’ as the final track of the second and last encore – and it was a perfect end to the evening.  The first encore included the essential ‘Caesar’s Palace Blues’ and was a great way to come back on stage.  I should also mention the guitarist, Alex Machacek, who was evidently an excellent Allan Holdsworth replacement, although did seem a little superfluous a lot of the time (who needs a guitarist when you have such a powerful trio anyway!). U.K. Live in London 3 - Eddie JobsonThey played for about two hours and a very satisfying concert it was – it is a shame that this is their last tour (but you never know!) and I would be glad to see any of them perform live again in any combination they choose in the future. U.K. Live in London - John Wetton

Cataclysm Happens by Evgeny Kazantsev

Evgeny Kazantsev (a Russian digital artist/graphic designer) has produced a series of images which ponder how the world would look if the extremes of climate change were inflicted on highly recognisable places around the world.

Called the ‘Cataclysm Happens‘ series, the images are quite striking and I find the ones featuring famous architecture to be the most effective.Evgeny Kazantsev Cataclysm Happens - VeniceBeing a variation on a view of Venice this image obviously has parallels to Canaletto‘s work which has been projected into a drought inflicted future.Evgeny Kazantsev Cataclysm Happens BarcelonaBarcelona is a beautiful city, but not in this alternative future – desert winds whip a sandstorm around Gaudi‘s Sagrada Familia.Evgeny Kazantsev Cataclysm Happens MoscowCrowds gather around St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow to witness a striking demonstration of the Northern Lights, normally restricted to the very north of the country in the arctic circle.

These images are quite striking in their exaggerations, they are obviously amusing and reminded me of The Day The Earth Caught Fire or any number of other climatic disaster movies; but they also remind us how easily our apparently stable world can change through our own negligence and arrogance if we let it.

Deflated – The Gradual Demise of Gasometers

It’s easy to look abroad to find worthy structures for preservation (like the possible demolition of the Shukhov tower in Moscow – as I covered in previous posts, here and here) and to over-look apparently ‘ordinary’ structures much closer to home.  It is exactly this type of invisibility, or territory-blindness, to our built environment (which comes as a result of close proximity and over familiarity) which allows so many historic and important structures disappear, often before their true significance is realised.Gasometer at the Oval Cricket GroundThe term Gasometer is actually quite misleading, Gas Holder is more accurate – the structures were used purely for storage and were not used as a measure.  They have been dotted around our urban landscapes for nearly two hundred years and were used to store coal gas (or town gas, as it was called) and then natural gas before the pressurized gas system made them virtually redundant.  With the huge increase in pipe capacity there was less and less need to store gas in these huge containers and they have been falling out of use over the past couple of decades. I remember seeing these strange morphing monuments when I was little and wondering at the reasons for these hulking great remnants from the first great industrial age.  Like slowly breathing metal lungs – one week filled up and blocking out the sky, the next oddly skeletal; a steampunk monster slumbering on the edge of the city. 1900 photo of Gasometers near St Pancras JunctionEssentially the National Grid have realised that they are in possession of quite a large amount of land in potentially lucrative areas and are in the process of dismantling the Gasometers all over the country.  There are two problems with this: One, is to do with the current geopolitical situation – we cannot predict how things will turn out and we do not produce enough of our own gas to be self-sufficient for any significant length of time; and Two, is from a historical perspective – so much of our industrial heritage has already disappeared and it would be a shame to lose these too. I for one believe that a good selection (particularly of the more decorative and early ones) should be saved – and it is not just the structure that is important (a point which is made in this interesting article, here, which has a lot more detail than I have included) the space they contain is equally important.  I have found a few other articles on the subject which may be of interest, here and here.Remnant from the East Greenwich Gas Works which closed in 1970I am sure alternative uses could be found – how about museums of industrial heritage or new technology, art centers, or music venues.  Such things are far from impossible – for instance the huge oil tanks which used to contain the fuel for the Bankside Power Station, before it was converted into the Tate Modern, are now used as performance spaces – there is an interesting little video, here, all about it.  It just needs a combination of imagination, communication with the people of the areas and the application of great design – so who’s up for it?