Monday, 14 May 2012

The marking playlist

A marking playlist isn't quite as simple as you might think. Anything too catchy is distracting. Anything too soporific means you may wake up face down on a pile of essays soaked in your own drool. Anything too upbeat may find you handing out the A-grades like O'Leary scattering LSD tabs at a happening. Conversely, play one too many requiem masses or blasts of Maxwell-Davies and you'll suddenly realise that you've failed every last mofo in the room. Then there's the vexed question of what your office colleagues can stand.

I've gone for a mixed bag today - a lot of the Leveson Inquiry which, while catchy, is a bit too distracting, given that I've exploded with cries of 'You LYING BASTARD' every few minutes. Well, it was Alastair Campbell, and I couldn't take his sanctimonious claim that his professional approach was to discuss only abstract philosophy with anyone who asked, while patting journalists' puppies and giving sweets to their children. Listening to him, you'd think he was an innocent abroad in a sea of vicious, slathering media attack dogs. I'm glad he was on our side(ish), but the idea that he wasn't part of the problem is laughable. He lied and lied and lied, and his pet hacks lapped it up because the stories he fed them were good copy and they had no time or inclination for actual journalism. He didn't start it. Nor did they. Neither of them wanted to end it. No doubt they all started with good intentions, but they all ended up selling the citizens down the river in pursuit of one more vote, one good headline, one quiet word.

Anyway, back to the playlist, which is what I started writing about in the first place only two paragraphs ago. Apart from Leveson, I played the new Nightingales album, No Love Lost. Horribly, I find myself in agreement with The Sun, which reviewed it a few days ago: it's seriously good (thankfully the hipsters' touchstone The Quietus loved it too. Unlike several previous Gales albums, it's got hooks, tunes and sounds like it was recorded on something more sophisticated than a taxi's CB radio. Obviously I wouldn't say anything if I hated it, given I share an office with the guitarist and am friends with them all, but it is a brilliant album and they're on tour now (in the words of Modern Toss: 'Alan, you bastard' - we're all marking essays). Is it any good for marking too? No. Too skronky, too many catchy hooks and arresting lyrical lines - it demanded my attention far too much.

The same goes for the new Richard Hawley album, Standing At The Sky's Edge. It's a departure from his previous alternative-crooner albums: louder, odder, darker but also folkier - everyone in pop has dusted down their Pentangle and Giltrap albums. Utterly brilliant, but won't fade into the background. This, I guess, is the mark of good music.

My default position for marking is the more contemplative end of classical: medieval and Renaissance choral music, or modern classical stuff. The same problem holds: you'd have thought that the abstract nature of Ligeti's 'The Viola In My Life' and similar pieces would be ideal, but with so few notes per minute, I find myself waiting eagerly for the next one, wondering what it's going to be - it too refuses to fade into the background.

Some stuff is now too familiar to surprise me though - all the Glass, Reich, Riley, Andriessen and Adams I've mainlined over the past twenty years no longer feels shocking, more warm and welcoming as the motorik grooves of the repetition beckon me in - very good for marking but it's sad to think that I'll never feel that thrill of a genre that felt so transgressive compared with the pretty stuff I grew up around.

I saw this performed live last year - one of the most sublime experiences of my life.

The older choral works are better: even if they're works of utter sublimity like the Gesualdo madrigals I bought the other day (actually, his music and his life were weirder than you might think), or Tallis at his best, the limpid, flowing lines and the language helps: I can follow the Latin if I try hard, but it's easy not to.

The other album I've been listening to today is Richard James's new one, Pictures in the Morning. I know this makes me sound old, but I remember when his first band, Gorkys Zygotic Mynci were teenage psychedelic punks, and now they're all making baroque folk-country loveliness. Only they could persuade me down the country route. Richard's new album isn't on Youtube, but here's one from his first album:

So now I've had a break from marking to write this, what shall I play until I get out of the office in a couple of hours? Easy: Slowdive.

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