Letter to The Wire, January 2009

I’d like to address a couple of the points made by David Keenan in his section of the Unofficial Channels feature in The Wire 297. Firstly, Keenan is way off beam in his assertion that downloading music “gives primacy to the platform through which it is received.” On the contrary, downloading inevitably focuses the listener’s attention on the music itself, rather than the attendant paraphernalia fetishised by Keenan.

Secondly, it’s a bit rich of Keenan to claim that CD-R and cassette culture “keeps music social” when the distribution of these artefacts is so limited and, arguably, elitist. I would have loved to own Christina Carter’s exquisite Masque Femine album, for example, but with a total edition of a mere 80 copies my chances of acquiring one were always going to be slim. How, then, to hear this spectral masterpiece? Nothing else to be done: download the monster, then listen to it in the dark, on headphones, where the fact that it’s coming to me as a sound file on my iPod rather than as a CD-R becomes supremely irrelevant.

Keenan accuses technology of having an “isolating influence,” a frankly absurd contention given that current filesharing protocols allow music to be shared between like-minded individuals more effectively than ever before. One fine example, and a notable omission from your feature, is the Dimeadozen website, a goldmine of commercially unavailable live recordings from every genre and era imaginable. Because the site uses a “share ratio” as part of its technology, its members are incentivised to make their recordings available as much as possible, thereby exerting precisely the kind of communitarian influence that is absent from the “guerrilla media” Keenan advocates.

Go Rapid!

(A rare non-music piece…)

With my son and I having become regulars at the home games of Rapid Vienna this season, it’s my fervent hope and expectation that they will run out champions of the Austrian Bundesliga this year. The men in green and white have been in scorching form of late, with their recent run of scorelines telling its own story: 5-2, 5-1, 5-0, 8-1… At the time of writing they are a mere three points behind leaders Salzburg in the table, with plenty of time to make up the deficit before the end of the season.

There are of course two Bundesliga teams in Vienna, but Rapid’s deadly rivals FK Austria, who play at the Horr Stadion in the 10th district, need not concern us for long. Connoisseurs of the beautiful game are advised to head instead for the Gerhard Hanappi Stadion near Hütteldorf station, where around 18,000 committed fans make their way each week to see Rapid play their exciting, attacking style of football.

Rapid’s star striker, the 6’8” Stefan Maierhofer, has had a stunning season so far, scoring 18 goals in 20 games. He forms a highly effective partnership with the team’s captain Steffen Hofmann, who creates frequent chances in the air for Maierhofer and displays a Beckham-like precision with free kicks.

There’s a certain choreographed beauty to the activities of Rapid’s hardcore fans, the Ultras, in the west stand of the stadium during a game. They let off flares, sing intricate chants and display fiercely worded banners declaring their fervent devotion to the team. On match days the streets around the stadium are thronged with real Viennese; this is about as far from tourist Vienna as it’s possible to get.

(originally published in Ether Magazine)

Ether column, December 2008

For once I don’t have any concerts at all to recommend in Vienna this month; there just doesn’t seem to be much going on here as the year draws to a close. Come with me instead, then, to Bratislava, where those willing to make the short journey across the Slovakian border will be rewarded with a festival featuring some of the key names in European experimental music.

Regular readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that my top tip for the Next Festival is the German free improvising saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, here performing in his well established power trio with bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmueller. By the end of this year Brötzmann will have played over 100 gigs in Europe, Japan, North and South America, a remarkable achievement for a musician of any age, let alone one of 67 whose performances are as high-energy and draining as this man’s are. But that is Brötzmann’s way: to play until he can play no more, because there’s nothing else for him to do.

Other artists appearing at the festival this year include Phil Minton, Ilpo Vaisanen and Hildur Gudnadottir. Minton is a great English eccentric, a free improvising vocalist who has spent the last thirty years exploring the possibilities of the human voice as a sound source. In Bratislava he will be presenting his unique Feral Choir project, a workshop followed by a performance with non-professional singers. As Minton says, “anyone who can breathe is capable of producing sounds that give a positive aesthetic contribution to the human condition.” Vaisanen is one half of Finnish electronic duo Pan Sonic, a forbiddingly loud and fierce unit who blend industrial-strength drones with ear-bleeding techno rhythms. When I lived in London in the early 90s I once spent a memorable evening watching them drive around an empty car park in an armoured vehicle which had been kitted out with a massive speaker system and was spitting out wave after wave of abstract noise. It made a lot of sense at the time.

Gudnadottir is a classically trained cellist from Iceland. She played on Pan Sonic’s most recent album and also arranged the choir that graced In the Shadow of the Sun, the live soundtrack to a film by the late Derek Jarman which was performed by Throbbing Gristle at the 2007 Donaufestival in Krems. She, Vaisanen and Dirk Dresselhaus (a.k.a. Schneider TM) will be performing together at the festival as Angel, a collaborative project which has so far released two albums on Peter Rehberg’s Editions Mego label. And that’s your lot for 2008.