Monthly Archives: November 2012

“A song doesn’t have to mean something: it is something.”

I’ve been saying the above phrase as often as possible for the last few years: it’s my own personal counterpoint to the oft-expressed adage that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. My bugbear is that most music writing isn’t writing about music; it’s largely literary criticism applied to music (and, thus, mostly lyrics) plus some historical / cultural context (“X is in a lineage from Y” rather than “X sounds like ∉ because they did ♣ with Ψ”). The stuff that steps beyond this, that deals with sound, with texture, with consumption (with technology, or musicology itself, which is beyond my expertise), is the stuff that fascinates me.

The other month I had the pleasure of interviewing a prominent art historian about his research. The next 300 words or so are taken straight from that interview, after the conversation turned to areas where, as a music writer or some semblance thereof, I felt very strongly that the experiences and bugbears I describe above became violently analogous to what the professor was saying. It’s pretty much verbatim from the tape, minus one short interjection by me where I explain how much I identify with what’s being said.

“The other thing which gets me out of bed is wrestling with the solution to a problem common to all art historians, which I’ll express in a banal way: if pictures, or sculpture, could be represented in words there’d be no need to make them as pictures and sculptures. They’re self-sufficient, they’re very rich, they work in a form of cognition which I think you can only call sensuous – they appeal to eye and hand. And we’re left, as art historians, in the odd position of trying to use words to capture something that quite properly lies beyond words. It doesn’t mean that painting and sculpture are not intellectual; they’re incredibly intellectual, it’s just that the form in which the expression is couched is not verbal. So we’re in a ‘silly’ profession if you like. It’s very difficult to overcome. Students in schools are not trained in ‘visuality’, so if you give people a picture to write about, everybody tries to go through the picture to talk about what lies beyond, as though the picture reflects ideology X or reality Y, and it’s an obvious and easy temptation. It’s not just students who do this, its art historians as well – a great deal of the writing on Victorian art will simply assume that they can talk about the social world of Victorian life of which the picture is a product. But I think ‘no’, the word is mediation, and that means we’ve got to pay attention to texture, to brushstroke, to colour, to composition, to what the artist is working with, the expectations of the audiences (which is plural, because there are many audiences). The whole thing is incredibly difficult to unpick and we’ve got to find a way of using words that keeps the work of art and the experience of works of art central to the discourse.”

You could very easily switch the words ‘art’ etcetera to ‘music’ and so on, and it would make perfect sense. To me, it means exactly the same as “a song doesn’t have to mean something: it is something,” but it elucidates and expresses itself better, couches the argument fully. So there it is.


On moving house

So 12 days ago, after 6 months of offers and contracts and searches and management companies and freehold arrangements and stress and houses falling through, we finally, almost a year after we decided to do it, moved house.

After the endurance test that was the purchasing process, I thought the moving day itself would be a doddle. And in many ways it was – we completed just after 11am – but getting all our stuff (2,000 CDs, giant Italian sofa, 3 pairs of speakers, I dread to think how many books, dozens of framed prints and photos, 2 enormous cats, etcetera etcetera) out of a flat that was up three flights of narrowing Georgian stairs proved to be a mammoth task. The removal men arrived at quarter to 8 in the morning. We left our old street about 2pm, and the removal men left our new house, with an empty van, at quarter to 5. Today, 12 days later, they finally came and collected the cardboard boxes that have been cluttering our new space.

We also finally got a new sofa today, too – the giant Italian thing, that we saved for and wanted for ages, and loved dearly, was awkward to get in, and even more awkward to get out. Luckily our buyer was concerned about getting a new sofa in the flat, and we’d been pondering doing something different with the space in our new house. So we came to an agreement, and as well as our flat he bought our sofa. I threw in our awesome light shades for free. I suspect he’d have liked to buy the place furnished, almost.

Some 24 hours after getting the keys I had a bit of a panic that we’d done the wrong thing: after 5 years in our flat, which we’d bought freshly refurbished and very firmly put our stamp upon, I felt like we’d just dumped our belongings in someone else’s house. Em expected me to be the stoic, pragmatic one, and her to have the emotional wobble, but that wasn’t how it worked.

When I moved into new digs at university I always liked to get posters up, CDs and books out, as soon as possible, to make a space mine. I’ve essentially only ever lived at “home” (my parents house was bought when I was 6 months old, so I remember nowhere else), at university, and in our first flat, so I guess it’s not surprising that I’d fine transplanting our lives wholesale into another set of walls slightly unnerving. I put up as many of our pictures as I could, using the previous owners’ hooks and nails. Some of them seem to fit wonderfully well. Some of the others we’ll move in time. We have more walls now, too, so we’ll have to acquire more pictures.

The television is in the corner now, rather than in the middle. I like that. I think it will encourage us to read and talk and invite people around more, and watch downloaded American TV shows a little less.

We also have a proper, big dining table, bought second hand for about a seventh of what it should have cost new, and four new dining chairs; cheap, unofficial Eames DSWs (I don’t believe in paying £200 each for licensed proper versions, when these chairs were designed for mass-production, were meant to be utilitarian solutions for everyday people; so we picked up 4 for £160). And we have a big, proper kitchen, which takes a small table – we found an old yellow Formica-topped thing for £25.

We still have walls to paint, some more furniture to buy over the next couple of years, but we’re getting there. It’s amazing how quickly somewhere can feel like home.