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Uddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

  Tue 22nd November 2011

To Huddersfield (silent h), for the Contemporary Music Festival.

On the train to Manchester, a Spanish family make a busy faff of sitting down at the table across the aisle. Suddenly, a pair of pink knickers is sprung onto my table. She grabs them back with a sorry. "That hasn't happened for a while," I say, to their incomprehension. A few seconds later I jokingly say "Here's my number," and I am instantly annoyed at myself for making too much of it. She explains what has happened to her family. The laughter spreads. As I get off at Piccadilly I tap their table and say "Gracias por las cuecas."

I arrive at Huddersfield and have to find an address in Slaithwaite, a strangely pronounced village in Yorkshire. It almost rhymes with "allow it" - a glottally stopped t, of course. A local on the bus refers to me as "love" and guides me to my stop through a black-windowed Gothic fog.

My host Ted is ominously dressed in clothes which suggest there won't be much drinking: a multi-pocketed "practical" green top, and khaki shorts which give of too much thigh and the forbidden area when he perches his ankle on his knee. Hospitable and kind: he had made a delicious spicy chicken and roast potatoes. "What would you like to drink?" Thought you'd never ask. "Beer?" I speculate. "Nope." "Wine?" "No, teetotal."

Ted says how much he likes Couchsurfing. He makes me momentarily open-mouthed with his unselfconscious statement that he likes it because of "the pleasure I give to others. And you can tell." I deflect a conversation about how he sympathises with Sepp Blatter.

Wondering a bit how this is going to go, I am won over by my accommodation. Breathing mist, we cross a communal lawn to a chalet available for collective use by the rectangle of council tenants to whom it is granted. It's the size of a classroom and smells of wood.

I revel at putting down the cushions from the settee, and unfurl my sleeping bag. I text Mary-Ann to tell her what a romantic setting I am in and how much of a her-wanting love nest it could be. The heater clicks noisily. I turn it off and I sleep poorly, a part of my upper back always cold; having to corral the independently minded cushions, but pleased to be there.

In the morning I go into Huddersfield with another couchsurfer, who is staying in Ted's house. He curls a thin red scarf around a necklace of square threaded beads (not gay then), wraps a very expensive coat round himself and sets a boxy hat with ties under his throat upon his head. He's from Sydney. He drips money but dodges the £2 fare from Slaithwaite to Huddersfield.

Bit of a dull year so far. Harrison Birtwistle's Oboe Concerto a disappointment; heard it all before. Hèctor Parra's work for Ensemble Recherce, Early Life, the highlight - a string trio, piano, and oboe, arguing between a constant wail of unfriendly glissandi and an impatient, percussive, crickets' leg-rubbing attack of bows on strings.

Many familiar faces, but the hierarchies of the festival, with the neglected audience at the bottom. Nowhere to socialise apart from a bleak "Juice Cafe" in a draughty corridor, a coffee machine's endless grinding, minimum wage employees routinely doing an empty performance of a type of care work.


Tomorrow I'm doing my presentation about Contemporary Music and Social Identity at the Girls Grammar. It'll be a rehash of something I've already done but I haven't even started its revision yet, so I am deflecting the worry about not having done it by blogging about not having done it.

I'm going to get them to try to detect the tone rows (the bright ones), or at least to follow the score (the rest) of the first fifty-five seconds of Boulez's Le Marteau sans Maître, then present some outdated research about why analysis is implicated in the pleasure of listening to such music. The idea is that I catch them, being clever girls, in the act of the pleasure of analysis, to talk about whether the fact that they are even able to do this contributes to their enjoyment of the piece, before we end up in an asexual orgy of recursive self-examination, thus reflecting some of what doing music at PhD level is about.

After that it's straight back to Huddersfield for the rest of the week and hoping that it picks up a bit or I at least have a chat with a woman. Mary-Ann was talking a possibility of coming over on Sunday night and us staying there, to see if all this kissing in art galleries and overheated texting could translate into actual fucking.

Pierre Boulez, Le Marteau sans Maître, (1953-4), first movement

5 comments

This is NOT what comes to mind when one thinks of music composed in 1953-4.

Do you know who John Cage was? In 1992 I was dating an architect who was much older than I was but had fire coursing through her veins. *I* could barely keep up with her! Anyway, when John Cage passed away, I went on a long diatribe about how I felt the front page obit in the New York Times was undeserved puffery. I think I might have called his music pretentious junk. When I had finished, she told me that she did her thesis at Yale on John Cage. Needless to say, that was the end of THAT!

Wed 23rd November 2011 @ 12:16
Comment from: [Member]

A little bit! I perform some of his pieces. I wish I could meet a woman into John Cage with fire in her veins.

Shame she didn’t say “No, you’re wrong. Listen to this, this and this… then tell me you don’t like it, and why.” Or you could have said “OK hang on you’ve got a doctorate from Yale in it, lead me though it then.”

Mind you - attracting women of that calibre? You must have been doing something right!

Wed 23rd November 2011 @ 14:16

Sometimes looby, I’m not sure if you’re being serious or taking the piss.

Isn’t the main point of music the fact that it can give pleasure by the simple art of listening, without having to work at it?

After the pleasure, the analysis of WHY it is pleasurable is indeed a worthwhile exercise, if you feel so inclined,but should not be mandatory.

Music should be able to trigger some sort of emotional response, but the only emotion I feel on listening to Le Marteau sans Maître is a curious mix of boredom (because there is no apparent meaning on which I can use my intillect) and anger at the time I’m wasting listening to this shite when I could be doing something else more enjoyable, like sawing of a leg without anasthetic.

Best of luck with the fucking, and of getting a drink somewhere in the depths of Yorkshire.
Can you still get Theakston’s Old Peculiar up there? I have fond memories of that beverage from my experiences during a 36 hour drinking session embedded in a 72 hour Army exercise which happened to be centered around an old Yorkshire village with a spelndid pub.

Wed 23rd November 2011 @ 17:05
Comment from: nursemyra [Visitor]

Was the boxy hat wearer from Sydney, Australia?

Thu 24th November 2011 @ 08:08
Comment from: [Member]

TSB: Isn’t the main point of music the fact that it can give pleasure by the simple art of listening, without having to work at it?

That can be it, but with certain pieces, like the Boulez, I like having to work at art at bit. I like the feeling that it’s me who’s finishing the creative process initiated by the composer. But I also enjoy it for its pure sound, just as you say.

As to it being mandatory - well, in a classroom, what I say goes.

Getting a drink in Yorkshire is very easy, as I will discuss in the next post. Working on the other. OP is widely available. It’s a regular in my local. I stay off it now after falling off my bike on the A6 one night after drinking it. I could have been killed if there had been a car behind me.

Nursey: yes, from that Sydney. Why, do you know a rich gay bloke who wears boxy hats?


Sat 26th November 2011 @ 14:39


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looby, n.; pl. loobies. A lout; an awkward, stupid, clownish person


M / 60 / Bristol, "the most beautiful, interesting and distinguished city in England" -- John Betjeman [1961, source eludes me].

"Looby is a left-wing intellectual who is obsessed with a) women's clothes and b) tits." -- Joy of Bex.

WLTM literate woman, 40-65. Must have nice tits, a PhD, and an mdma factory in the shed, although the first on its own will do in the short term.


There are plenty of bastards who drink moderately. Of course, I don't consider them to be people. They are not our comrades.
Sergei Korovin, quoted in Pavel Krusanov, The Blue Book of the Alcoholic

I am here to change my life. I am here to force myself to change my life.
Chinese man I met during Freshers Week at Lancaster University, 2008

The more democratised art becomes, the more we recognise in it our own mediocrity.
James Meek

Tell me, why is it that even when we are enjoying music, for instance, or a beautiful evening, or a conversation in agreeable company, it all seems no more than a hint of some infinite felicity existing apart somewhere, rather than actual happiness – such, I mean, as we ourselves can really possess?
Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

I hate the iPod; I hate the idea that music is such a personal thing that you can just stick some earplugs in your ears and have an experience with music. Music is a social phenomenon.
Jeremy Wagner

La vie poetique has its pleasures, and readings--ideally a long way from home--are one of them. I can pretend to be George Szirtes.
George Szirtes

Using words well is a social virtue. Use 'fortuitous' once more to mean 'fortunate' and you move an English word another step towards the dustbin. If your mistake took hold, no-one who valued clarity would be able to use the word again.
John Whale

One good thing about being a Marxist is that you don't have to pretend to like work.
Terry Eagleton, What Is A Novel?, Lancaster University, 1 Feb 2010

The working man is a fucking loser.
Mick, The Golden Lion, Lancaster, 21 Mar 2011

The Comfort of Strangers

23.1.16: Big clearout of the defunct and dormant and dull
16.1.19: Further pruning

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