Archive | February, 2014

No-brainer: initial thoughts on the possible dumbing down of media and popular culture

28 Feb

“’Ere Mister, have you seen-…”
Not now Kid, I’ve got this blog to write, and can’t you see there’s a national crisis in progress with mass flooding and veteran sex criminals in the dock. It says here in the paper. But with the lack of flooding here in the north west, there are other concerns reaching my eyes and ears, and perhaps to anyone with a bit of intelligence.

Earlier I was stood queing in Boots, for their not-very-value-for-money ‘Meal Deal’, when I became struck by the rows of vacuously adorned magazines, revelling in people’s misery (usually famous people, or at least anybody who has ever appeared on television, probably once). Often these magazines featured women with no clothes on, which is problematic enough at the best of times, but even worse when it’s attached to a story bitching about how fat or thin they’ve become.

Add to that consideration a national music chart arguably full of the most disposable and uncreative dross ever heard in the history of the UK charts (and that includes ‘Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep’ and ‘How much is that doggy in the window?’) There is music of greater substance in there, as always, particularly the album chart. But it shares space with some music big on production values, but low on creative excitement or dignity. The charts are now more sanitized and homogenous than ever, with Simon Cowell’s X-Factor brand particularly dominating. Maybe things were always similar to this way, but the names were different and I might view their time with more fondness because it’s seen through the prism of nostalgia or just the easing of time. Who knows?

But never have a generation had so much knowledge and information at their fingertips, and yet a significant minority may never know any more than they would have before the digital revolution. Working in education, teaching and facilitating learning in an inner city college, I see this dichotomy first hand. Is this an unfair view, or I am I close to the truth? Could this just be me seeing things differently now that I am a little older? Most teenagers are vibrant passionate people, but I feel there is a dumbed down culture which is not inspiring some of them to investigate the many worlds of creative endeavour. Surely we can help change this. Instead the likes of the Kardashians and Peter Andre are projected as the kind of people we should be fascinated by. No offence to them, but really?

Perhaps this is a topic I could do well to contemplate further and offer thoughts on again in the near future. In the meantime, any views are as welcome as ever…

Now, where did that kid with the One Direction exclusive go?

Ice on Fire: an enduring love for Ravel’s Bolero and the talent of Torvill and Dean.

14 Feb

This St. Valentine’s Day, I’ve received a timely reminder of a couple I’ve known about for thirty years, but only more recently did I come to realise that they were never the passionate lovers their ice skating routines suggested. But Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s close friendship has endured, and with it their love of their sport, which is almost a performance art. Despite their numerous performances, their 1984 dance to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, remains their most famous and arguably finest five minutes.

Plus thirty years later and they can still make it happen on the ice. Torvill and Dean were invited back to Sarajevo, where it all happened for them, to recreate their gold winning 1984 Olympic dance. Next time anybody moans they’re too old to do this or that, I kindly suggest they stop talking, and instead spend the energy on doing what they love and are good at…here is exhibit A. They are still fantastic:

Bolero thus became my own introduction to classical music, at the age of eleven. I still love it, although Ravel was occasionally dismissive of its power. Ravel once said that the piece had, “no form, properly speaking, no development, or almost no modulation”, and yet he confessed to having a surefire hit on his hands. The full version is over seventeen minutes long, much longer than the specially abridged version Torvill and Dean accompanied. Premiered at the Paris Opera on the 22nd November 1928, it proved to be a sensation; the audiences loved it. The well known dancer Ida Rubinstein originally commissioned the piece, but it went through many changes before the version we know today emerged (Ravel was originally going to make an orchestral transcription based on a set of piano pieces by composer Isaac Albeniz, before eventually creating his own original one-movement orchestral piece).

Bolero is a repetitive movement, to be sure, but that is no criticism. On the contrary, the instruments build up the whirlpool of sound slowly and hypnotically; the sound of passion climbing to the all embracing exhaustion and flood of climax. When Torvill and Dean chose it as the soundtrack to their emotional dance in 1984, it was stroke of true inspiration.

In the program for the work’s 1928 debut, the following scenario appeared, scripted by Rubinstein and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska:

Inside a tavern in Spain, people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. [In response] to the cheers to join in, the female dancer has leapt onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated.

However, returning to the talent of Torvill and Dean; seriously, if you’ve never seen this, watch it now. It has the same effect on me as it did as a kid; you will not be able to take your eyes off the screen. They are riveting and with what starts happening around four minutes in I’m surprised the ice didn’t start to thaw. Passion and lust and a touch of the beautifully tragic; there’s  a story in those moves.

Somewhere Maurice Ravel was smiling in approval.

What Nietzsche said.

9 Feb

I suppose the hardest thing to write about are the feelings and challenges following the loss of a loved one, and while bereavement isn’t the sort of personal occurrence I’d usually include as part of this blog, it has effected everything, and this site is no different. I even missed a month without a single blog entry being posted, and that’s never happened since I started it. Not to say it won’t happen again; I’m under no obligation!

In addition I’ve had other less permanent losses to contend with as well, so not a happy time. But I am back! So I would say that times like these are possibly the best times to be channeling energies into something creative. Hopefully this will not involve penning awful angst ridden poetry, but instead be something worthwhile and much more palatable for sharing, like more reviews and articles on films and music. Plus, although it doesn’t really qualify as a creative endeavour in the traditional sense, a friend of mine has asked if I’d like to start fencing again. No, this isn’t some foray into landscaping, but rather the martial art involving swords. I need to get a bit more physically active, and I always enjoyed that. Fitting it into my average working week could be tricky though, but where there is a will (no black humoured pun intended there, but it did provoke a wry smile).

A more long term plan is to downsize a bit and ‘declutter’. These all seem like quite cliched things to be doing after significant life changes, but that doesn’t make them any less valid actions to be doing. Regular readers will know I’m from Manchester, but more accurately I’m about twenty miles out from the centre and would like to move a lot closer, which will help with work commitments and commuting, but also put me more in the midst of all the exciting events large and small that happen in the city, and might even serve as topics for this blog.

So, that’s me done for now, and hopefully explains the lack of blogging activity. That’s as personal as I’ll get on here, nothing else to share right now. But keeping active, and in particular creatively active is a crucial focus at times like these, no matter how small the creative act. I wrote this blog today, and that’s something in itself.

See you again soon with more of the usual, and the beginning of a new type of normality that will emerge from this transitional period.