I’m back! It’s been a long hiatus since my last blog post, but I’ve now returned to working on my children’s book project. I’ve only just begun working on the final drawings, but if I’m able to keep to schedule, I should have the book finished by early next year.
As I mentioned in my previous post about the project, it brings together a random assortment of influences, from Alexis Deacon to the Slow Movement. Oddly, it seems that more and more of the music I’ve been introduced to lately has been making its way into the book in some form.
Alexej and I recently went to a Saul Williams gig at the Jazz Cafe in Camden. I admit, I hadn’t really listened to much of his music beforehand, except for what Alexej plays at home. I’ve been completely hooked since the gig. One of my favourite tracks is ‘Coded Language’ off Williams’ first album Amethyst Rock Star:
Our music is our alchemy
We stand as the manifested equivalent
of 3 buckets of water and a hand full of minerals
thus realizing that those very buckets turned upside down
supply the percussive factor of forever
If you must count to keep the beat then count
Find your mantra and awaken your subconscious
Carve your circles counterclockwise, use your cipher to decipher
coded Language, man made laws
Climb waterfalls and trees, commune with nature, snakes and bees
Let your children name themselves and claim themselves as the new day
for today we are determined to be the channelers of these changing
frequencies into songs, paintings, writings, dance, drama
Photography, carpentry, crafts, love and love
We enlist every instrument
acoustic, electronic, every so called race, gender and sexual preference
every person as beings of sound to acknowledge their responsibility
to uplift the consciousness of the entire fucking world
I love the beginning lines of that excerpt. One of the first drawings I did for my book was of a sloth busking with a bucket drum. Even though Williams’ lyrics are obviously much more serious than cute animal drawings, but I like to think that the book will still reflect some of the same sentiment.
This weekend has been especially packed-full of amazing music. I took a half-day off work on Friday because Alexej and I snagged some last-minute tickets to British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park. Massive Attack with Young Fathers were headlining, and Ghostpoet, and Patti Smith and her band were also playing.
It’s hard to explain just how amazing Patti Smith is live. We saw her play on two consecutive days at Primavera Sound festival in Porto last year. She played a stripped-down set the first day, and then all of Horses on the second day.
Last night, we went to see Penguin Café at the Barbican Centre. It was part of a performance series called Possibly Colliding, curated by one of my favourite musicians, Nils Frahm. I didn’t know much about Penguin Café before the concert and I was mainly excited to see Nils Frahm.
The opening act was Swedish musician and singer Anna von Hausswolff, who impressed us with her mix of industrial rock, church and folk music, and her Kate Bush-esque singing. It was beautiful, dark and Gothic.
I doubt many people wouldn't recognise Penguin Café Orchestra’s most famous songs, like ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ and ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’.
The original Penguin Café Orchestra was created by composer Simon Jeffes in the 1970’s. After he passed away in 1997, his son Arthur, also a composer, formed Penguin Café as a tribute to his father.
On the Penguin Café website, Arthur Jeffes recounts the story of how his father had the inspiration to create the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
“My father, Simon Jeffes, was in the south of France in 1972-73, where he got terrible food poisoning from some bad shellfish and spent 3 or 4 days with a terrible fever. During this, he had very vivid waking dream – a nightmare vision of the near future – where everyone lived in big concrete blocks and spent their lives looking into screens. There was a big camera in the corner of everyone’s room, an eye looking down at them. In one room there was a couple making love lovelessly, while in another there was a musician sat at a vast array of equipment but with headphones on so there was no actual music in the room. This was a very disconnected de-humanising world that people had made for themselves…
However you could reject that and look further afield, and if you went down this dusty road you would eventually find a ramshackle old building with noise and light pouring out into the dark. It’s a place you just fundamentally want to go into, and this is the Penguin Cafe. There are long tables and everyone sits together, and it’s very cheerfully chaotic. In the back there is always a band playing music that you are sure you’ve heard somewhere but you have no idea where – and that is the Penguin Cafe Orchestra – they play this music.
When my dad woke up he decided that he would write the music that would be played by the band from his dream, and so with that as a criteria he then wrote for the next 25 years and that is the world that we now also inhabit…”
Arthur Jeffes, BBC London – February 8th 2014
I love that one of Penguin Café Orchestra’s pieces was created when Simon Jeffes tried to make a call from his studio in Holland Park and got a crossed signal between a ring tone and an engaged tone. He recorded the two tones, and then added a bass line played on a rubber band. The piece is aptly titled ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’.
Part of the idea of my children's book was that it would include found and self-made instruments. There is a Sound Garden at the Horniman Museum near where I live. Every weekend when we go to the Farmer’s Market, there are kids playing the percussion instruments. Even the smallest kid can enjoy beating a drum or tapping along the pipes to make different tones. If you’ve ever heard a kid with an instrument, you know it can often become a horrible cacophony, and probably everyone nearby instantly regrets the decision to have given the kid the instrument. Somehow the Horiman Sound Garden always produces lovely experimental ambient music, even if that label means nothing to most of the little musicians there.