Here’s What I Read in August…

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August was a month of some gigs, some meetings, a week of R+R in Ireland, piccolo trumpet shedding and reading. Here’s where I tell you about the reading bits…

Another Day In The Death Of America (Gary Younge)

This one came as a gift from my mother-in-law, one of the few special members of the trusted book recommenders/gifters club. She’d read it and highly recommended it and it’s one I’ve seen now and again on bookstore shelves and in reading lists. It arrived on a day where I’d just finished a book and had a craving for some non-fiction after reading solely fiction in July, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Gary Younge is a Black British journalist who lived in the US for a number of years. The book focuses on this rather sobering fact – every day in the US, an average of seven children and teens die from gunshot wounds. Younge selects a day, November 23rd 2013 and tells the stories of ten such deaths; black, latino and white people aged between 9 and 19 who were shot and killed that day. This is an attempt to humanise; to present without judgement the lives of ten young people that are frequently referred to as statistics by politicians, activists and the media. It’s an incredibly honest and respectful book that touches on the issues that surround these deaths – issues like gun control, the incredible sway of the NRA in legislation and the relationships between police, state and the black community. A sore book but a necessary one.

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)

This is a tricky one. The book centres on an American family, chronicling their flaws and desires, their complex relationships with each other and others. It’s a slice of middle America in the 20th century. But I have to say, I resisted reading it for quite a long time because, with no searching or provocation, negative comments about Franzen and the book snuck into my brain and coloured my opinion before I’d even started. This is why reviews are often garbage (she says writing one. But this is a journal of books, not a review. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I bought it on kindle because it popped up in a sale and although I own a kindle and definitely understand the benefits of such a device, my reading experience is always worse than if I hold the book in my hand. Focus and the ability to become immersed suffers on an e-reader, I think. I would say it’s the type of book I love, but I didn’t love this one in particular.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (David Foster Wallace)

Short stories are a particular creature. For me, three authors have really ripped my heart out with their short stories; Raymond Carver ,(What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) George Saunders (Tenth of December) and David Foster Wallace. To make a profound statement in a short story is something special. It’s like a glimpse into a world that leaves you wishing you knew more. Succinct and devastating. I loved every one of the pieces in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men but if you’re only going to read two, read The Soul Is Not A Smithy and Incarnations Of Burned Children.

The part of the featherfall into sleep in which whatever lines of thought you’ve been pursuing begin now to become surreal around the edges and then at some point the thoughts themselves are replaced by images and concrete pictures and scenes. You move gradually from merely thinking about something to experiencing it as really there, unfolding, a story or world you are part of. Although at the same time enough of you remains awake to be able to discern on some level that what you are experiencing does not quite make sense, that you are on some cusp of edge of true dreaming.

In Pursuit Of Silence (George Prochnik)

If we’ve hung out in the last month or so, we’ve probably talked about silence and quiet and noise because it’s a major focus in my creative practice at the moment. I’m fascinated by society’s relationship with sound and silence. This book is wonderful and I’d highly recommend it (and probably have done already) to everyone I know. Prochnik explores our relationship with sound and silence in a range of different settings; trappist monks, astronauts, the links between noise and our health, technological advances designed to address an increasingly loud world to name but a few. It shines a light on an issue that many of us take for granted but is omnipresent. Like, did you know that the number of reported cases of mental ill-health rose significantly around the area of Heathrow airport following their expansion? And did you know about Audiac, a sonic analgesic developed by a dentist that was used sound as the sole painkiller for dental work and reduced the pain of a cavity treatment down to the level of a mosquito bite according to the majority of patients? OK, I’ll stop now. Go read it.

Down And Out In Paris And London (George Orwell)

Orwell was a visionary, a truly great mind. My mind was utterly boggled after I read 1984 for the first time. And it was written in 1948?! Extraordinary foresight in his social commentary that resonates as strongly as ever. I read Down And Out…last week while we spent the week in Ireland, another from my mother-in-law’s home library and I absolutely loved it. Profound words on the human condition, shocking insights into poverty and Orwell’s beautiful prose meets Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I’m drawn to books that deal with non-romantic relationships and this one does it so well, dealing with friendships and companionship borne out of circumstance.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)

My first Carson McCullers novel (though that’s probably the case for everyone…) which I finished this morning. It centres on a deaf-mute named John Singer and the people drawn to him as he lives in a quiet American town. Singer is like the sun in a solar system full of oddball planets, all of whom have created their own mythologies about the sun’s origin and purpose and spirit. It’s a beautiful illustration on the way people are drawn to stillness and quiet, all of the characters feeling a strong sense of calm and belonging while visiting Singer’s room in a boarding house. It reminded me of something Anne Truitt says in her journal, Daybook, about the importance in loving people for who they are rather than the idea of them that exists in you.

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves…The opposite to this inattention is love, is the honouring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

Now I’m onto Delusions of Gender but that can wait until September’s round-up…

 

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Thinking about podcasts…

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Last week I took my first steps into the world of audio production and editing, working on a podcast for Sebastian at London Jazz News. I don’t think the flood of job offers from podcast companies, the BBC, Channel 4 etc will start just yet but I did enjoy myself and managed to get to grips with the basics.

See the brilliant London Jazz News to hear the Essiet Essiet podcast I edited, plus a whole host of other articles, features and reviews.

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting up a podcast myself for a while now and what this job proved was how far you can get with a piece of free software like Audacity. It also got me thinking about what I look for in a podcast and which are my favourites…

Reply All – My all-time favourite podcast. It’s the only one where I’ll check pretty much daily to see whether a new episode is up. It’s about the internet, broadly speaking, but the scope is massive. What ties it together is that the two presenters, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, have strong chemistry and are great storytellers. Each episode will be focused on one topic with a couple of themed segments popping up regularly – Yes Yes No, where their boss brings to them a tweet he doesn’t understand and they decipher it and Super Tech Support where listeners essentially get in touch to propose stories for them to look into. Very well produced and I haven’t come across a bad episode yet.

Episode to check out: #81 – In The Tall Grass

Intercepted – This is the podcast version of online news publication, The Intercept_ and is focused on following the often surreal and terrifying activities of the US government since Trump became president. Presenter Jeremy Scahill, a well-respected political journalist and award-winning author, deals with one main issue per episode including an interview with someone connected to the issue. His conversation style when interviewing is strong and direct but not bull-headed and he presents facts and figures in a way that makes you come away feeling like you’ve learned something vital.

Episode to check out: Wikileaks vs. the CIA 

WTF with Marc Maron – I’m pretty sure if you’ve ever listened to podcasts, you’ll have at the very least heard of Marc Maron’s one. This podcast perfectly sums up what podcasting is about for me; conversations and honesty.  The traditional interviewer/interviewee set-up can often end up being a little stiff and reverential. It’s an artificial social situation and it feels that way. With WTF, it’s more like you’re a fly on the wall during a conversation. There are over 800 episodes and the guest list is amazing – from Edie Falco to Al Gore.

Episode to check out: 794 – Louis Theroux

I’ve searched a little for podcasts on music and books, two of my life’s great loves. But every one that I’ve found has fallen short; so many are dry or fawning. No personality.

I’m always on the look out for more to listen to, so drop me a line if you’ve any suggestions!

PS – I find my podcasts on Stitcher and Spotify.

 

See One, Do One, Teach One

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It feels great to hold in my hand a copy of the Deep Tide Quartet album, which was released worldwide on August 1st on Discus Music.

We recorded this double album over two days at Chairworks (I talked about one of my compositions which is included on the album here – Arundel) back in May so it’s been a very quick process from recording to release.

The music is a mixture of composed pieces and improvisations. The composed material includes traditionally notated music as well as some graphic scores and improvisations based on a series of photographs. We listened to the first disc in the car on Wednesday as we travelled through to Manchester and I’m very pleased with the way it’s been recorded. Laura, Walt and Martin sound extraordinary and there are some very special moments.

The art work is by Gonzalo Fuentes and is a painting called Headphone Calisthenics.

(If you’re wondering what the title refers to, See One Do One Teach One is a term used in medicine, nursing and midwifery that describes how practitioners acquire new skills…)

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

LINK DUMP

Discus Music – See One, Do One, Teach One (you can listen to some full tracks here as well as buy the album)

Laura Cole

Walt Shaw

Martin Archer