Thursday, December 17, 2009


Over the last 25+ years I've made a handful of efforts to get down w/ Sibelius, but tbh I'm not really feeling it in the main. It just doesn't bite me.

It's too, I dunno, pastoral...tho maybe that's the wrong word - okay, too representational or something. It's like the musical equivalent of quasi abstract art - the stuff that you see in seaside craft shops that initially look like really bad Rothkos, but then you suddenly realise "Oh, fuck, it's just a beach..." Or that's a piece of seaweed on shingle painted with a bit of an Impressionistic blur. Or that triangle is just a boat sail, you know what I mean.

Soon as I know what something is I immediately lose interest. It's like a very poor puzzle has been solved too quickly.

I have the same problem with a whole bunch of early 20th century music, not just Sibelius - but assorted pastoralists and Welshmen - it just doesn't pull me in. You listen to it and think: oh, right, this passage is supposed to be sunlight glistening on water; that bit is dark clouds parting over a moor; that's some birds; oh, great, now some horsemen have arrived.

I just can't be doing with it. It's like listening to a galleryful of bad paintings.

I'm not a fan of v. early twentieth century art either; my tastes in both music and art seem to get increasingly excitable and overwraught as we hit the nineteen o'teens, then there's a load of strands I really, really like that you can trace n track through the middle part of the two-ought century, but it all seems mostly to fizzle out for me in the late 70s/early 80s, when composition re-embraced Romanticism and Art became increasingly Conceptualised, but w/out an nth of the wit and invention of DuChamp. I lose it somewhere around neo-Geo. I guess I'm just an unreconstituted Modernist. Or summat.

If you go backwards from about 1909, there's not much I that I really like in art or music til you hit the Baroque. Then it gets increasingly interesting for me as things get more Medievalised and alien-looking/sounding. There's all sorts of odd symbols, techniques and references in play. I don't like it when I understand things.

Still, Sibelius.

On paper he should theoretically tick a lot of boxes for me:

1) He's Finnish.
2) "Tone Poems" - anything with the word "tone" in it makes me go all swoony, girly and moderne.
3) He's inspired by mythic/epic folklore cycles, ie the Kalevala.
4) He's Finnish.

I mean, those are all very good things indeed and I'm getting kinda horny just thinking about them, but when I actually listen to the music I immediately go soft. Sorry, Sibelius.

My latest attempt at giving Sibelius the benefit of the doubt (godammit, I keep thinking that I should, y'know, like him...) involved this beautiful double-css that a friend gave me (along w/ a carrier-bag of other Classical tapes - none of which I like much in the slightest), and which has become a very-loved totem in its own right, if only for the lovely scuffed packaging...

So, when I convene The Sunday Morning Drawing Club (which mostly involves me and my daughters just sitting down and drawing at the kitchen-table) this is sometimes the soundtrack. While it's playing the girls randomly jump down and run round the room pretending to be water-nymphs inbetween drawing robotic snowmen and bus-sized bars of chocolate. Which is cool.

The music works best for me as a background thing, played (as I've said numerous times before) at near-subliminal volume-levels as if on a partially-defunct radio tuned to a 1956 Light Entertainment Station. Best of all is when the tape-player's batteries begin running down and the music takes on a James Leyland Kirby kinda stretched-tape wobble grotesqueness that inches towards being 'sad' in some way. That's my favourite way of playing Sibelius.

Yeah, I know, I'm a fucking heathen.

There's one piece by him that I heard sometime earlier in the year - but I forget what it's called because I'm shit like that - where the first 40, 50 seconds are kinda atonal and sour-sounding - strings hovering over each other, rubbing against each in an unexpected manner...but the moment doesn't last long; straight after that, a flight of seagulls suddenly fly up the side of a stark, slate-grey cliff and a woman appears, waving her hanky at a ship somewhere out at sea...

I think you can make the rest up yourself.