Saturday, 9 May 2009

Charles Spearin - 'Vanessa'

'Be truthful -
Ah...! Never mind...
You're here, so am I
Maybe millions of people go by...'

'Yes, but they all disappear (Where?)
From view...'
(Dick Powell & Ruby Keeler, 'I Only Have Eyes For You', 1934)

Normal service will be resumed later today, with a fresh week's stories being approached; the backlog of entries from two weeks away being gradually posted - already posted one on Trollope today. There has had to be a missing week in this - the demands of life, work and everything made it impossible to keep it up. But it should be seen as a pause for breath, avoiding this blog merely becoming a mad rush to get words published; there may be further such pauses, but only if I fall as behind as I did with the writing side of things.

Anyway, much music listening - walking to and from the metro and work, and whilst reading. Bill Fay. Duncan Browne (MASTERFUL album that first one, more on 't, anon). Clifford T. Ward. The delectable Camera Obscura, new record and all. Moon Wiring Club. Kate Bush. Vic Godard. Aphex Twin. The Embassy. Pacific!'s 'Disappear'. Taken by Trees. 1958 'Threepenny Opera' ('Polly's Farewell Song' and 'The Song of Inadequacy' - which I can just about play on the melodica - in particular).

But this stands out; the whole record, 'The Happiness Project', by Broken Social Scene collective member, Charles Spearin, yes, but 'Vanessa' especially. The closest thing to this I have heard is Basil Kirchin's use of human and animal voices and sounds to make music. Profound, humanist music, that, and this: Spearin gets inside what makes our voices, words and music

I could also raise how Jarvis Cocker is best when speaking rather than 'singing', and the section from 1:34 of Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler's 'I Only Have Eyes for You', from Dames (dir. Ray Enright & Busby Berkeley, 1934 which encapsulates that long-lost Hollywood magic, made from humans rather than pyrotechnics. Berkeley made the human body the stuff of dreams, but the spoken lines from 1:34 elevate an already immortal song into the sublime... So warm and tender.

'Now you don't know if you're in a garden, do you?
Come on, answer me...'

'Vanessa' has musical lines echoing the speech, embodying and embracing it, as with the stately brass section that builds twice - the first time uncertain, watchful. Then after more speech the voice changes key - 'all of a sudden I felt my body moving inside' (or is it 'in sound'?) - and a Bryars-like spell is cast by guitars, strings and brass, which accompany that looped phrase in its ascension. This stateliness, this loveliness.

Spearin's Project is of course born of Toronto; it is difficult to imagine it working in quite the same way in Sunderland or Newcastle, but I'd like to find a way - and this might form one of two current big musical projects I am planning:

First: found sounds and recorded voices form the basis, washboard and melodica the only instruments as such used. Organic sources, but to be thoroughly processed. Theme yet to be decided. Setting - Tyne and Wear. Influences: Charles Spearin, Kirchin, Ariel Pink, Eno.

Second: sample and quotation based cultural history of Britain, 1945-79, with a track for each year, fitting onto one CD. Influences: Mordant Music, Ghost Box, Sudden Sway.

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