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Losing at home

  Tue 17th March 2015

To Manchester, for a concert by Philip Thomas, the UK's foremost advocate of the work of Christian Woolf. Not a single mobile phone or watch alarm went off, and there was not a single person fucking about in front of a dazzling blue screen during the entire concert.

The first work was "For prepared piano" from 1951. After the piece, Thomas picked out the various items inserted between and on the strings, which included several door stops. He said that he'd found them in a hardware shop in Leeds. "Why do you wanted fifty-three?" asked the ironmonger. "To put them in my piano." "Oh."

One of Wolff's interests was rejecting the pervasive idea, in Western music, of continuity. To effect this break, he wrote the piece (at the age of seventeen) in the normal linear left to right fashion, before rewriting it vertically, down to the bottom of the page, then across for an inch or two (he wasn't fond of bar lines), then across, then up, then across, then down, and so on.

The result didn't make for easy listening. Whereas another well-known formalist model, twelve-tone music, can produce beautiful, passionate and affecting music in a way which is still mysterious to this Romantic mind, I struggled a bit with the hesitating result of Wolff's experiment. But I think Ray Conniff is playing Manchester on Thursday.


The previous day, Trina had got the hump about not being invited, and was getting on my wick no end with her rampant insecurity, alleging that my story was but a cover for seeing another woman. "You're totally wrong," I said. "Well, not entirely right. I'm seeing Samantha and her sister. Right, come on, are we having that drink?"

As we walked to the pub, I said I'd forgotten my key to Kirsty's house, and told her to walk on ahead. Back in my house I rang Chris and explained the scenario, and asked her to ring me at 7pm. "You don't have to say anything -- just nod and go hmm. I'll explain later." I changed Chris's name on my phone to "Samantha".

We were sitting at our table in the pub when, on the dot, the call came in.

"Oh hiya -- yes, just checking up about tomorrow. So, is your sister still coming? Great. And, er... will she bring those shoes and that skirt, you know, from last time? Brilliant. OK, so my train gets in at 12.45 and so I'll meet you and Theresa in the Lass O'Gowrie and we'll take it from there then. Oh -- by the way, the cover story, just to make sure we're singing from the same hymn sheet, is that I'm going to a concert of way out piano music at the University of Manchester. Just in case anyone -- you know. Ok then, thanks Sam -- can't wait!"

I put the phone down. "Just a friend," I said. "You're horrible you are," she said, smiling. Two young punky-looking women came and sat at the next table. They were carrying a placard which said "A Dress Is Not a Yes" and were going on the local Reclaim The Night march. I chatted to them briefly, before going back to our table, where Trina, with her customary lack of generosity, said that they were only tolerating me "because I am a lot older than them." It's not even worth pursuing.

Back at mine, with us both in our separate beds, she texted me from hers, amorously. I replied

No, to be absolutely honest Trina. You've not shown your best side today. Putting the phone down on me, suspicious, needy, demanding. We really really must keep this as friends where it works very well. But as a girlfriend ... it'd be like going out with a 16-year-old. I want a simple, enjoyable life and as friends, we're definitely on. But as a relationship you are hard work.


My brother, a Hartlepool Utd fan, came up from Hertfordshire on Saturday for the match against Morecambe and me and the girls went along. I'm not a football fan by any stretch of the imagination but it was a cracking good afternoon out, despite losing at home to the team bottom in the league, and by an almost comical own goal.

My brother told us about a time he was watching Hartlepool on a particularly cold afternoon. His friend kept disappearing to say he was going to the pie shop, then returning with no evidence of a pie. After the sixth such visit, my brother said "Are you quite keen on those pies then?" "I'm not eating them," he said. "I'm wearing them." He was stuffing them up his jacket and in his pockets to keep warm.

8 comments

Comment from: [Member]

i have also juggled relationships, and had to have similar staged phone calls. it was A LOT of work, and in hind sight, not really worth the resulting headaches. i am stunned that Trina still comes around - you’ve been direct with her, but she still holds hope. Like a train wreck, it’s hard to look away!

Wed 18th March 2015 @ 03:23

Ray Coniff of the easy listening genre? Is that who you’re referencing? Funny.

So now you’re making pretend phone calls? Is that what its come to? I’m with Daisy. I can’t believe she still bothers. You must be a real treat in bed.

The ticket made me envy your lifestyle.

Wed 18th March 2015 @ 11:41
Comment from: [Member]

Well, when everything else fails, try humour. It was either have a bit of fun with her with a fake phone call from one of the sexy sisters I am not seeing, or getting angry with her.

Yes, I’m astonished she persists. I can’t be any more direct with her than I have been. It’ll end when I actually do meet someone like Samantha.

By the way, after the concert ended, I texted Trina. “Wow, that was good. Especially Theresa… er, I mean The Second Piano Sonata.”

And yes – I was referring to the great Ray Coniff. (Oops! Conniff, two n’s).

Wed 18th March 2015 @ 11:49
Comment from: young at heart [Visitor]

no change here then!!!

Thu 19th March 2015 @ 14:04
Comment from: [Member]

Hello YAH! Long time no see. No — the car crash continues to unravel like a disaster movie in slow-mo.

Thu 19th March 2015 @ 14:09
Comment from: smallbeds [Visitor]

Whatever you think of his motivations, I’m not sure Wolff had the right idea when he imposed his aesthetic on the intermediate format rather than on the finished product.

The process reminds me of the modern fad for “GIF glitching", where people edit image files in text editors or similar, creating random and weird results. What’s written as “the glitch” almost never translates trivially into what actually happens to the animated image.

If anything, a musician trying to read Wolff’s score is likely to be more careful to follow it as a constraint than someone playing Vivaldi. Or indeed someone playing something based on tone rows.

(I was hoping to get a “Wolff messing” joke out of this comment but frankly I’ve let myself down.)

Sun 22nd March 2015 @ 10:14
Comment from: smallbeds [Visitor]

… Mind you, we were all a bit embarrassing when we were 17.

Sun 22nd March 2015 @ 10:14
Comment from: [Member]

Of all formalist experiments in composition I’ve heard, this one, for me anyway, was the least satisfying, despite me being quite intially sympathetic to the idea of breaking up the dogma of “development".

I think I’ll have a quiet afternoon in with some classics from Webern. You know where you stand with old Anton. And he knew when to belt up.

Sun 22nd March 2015 @ 13:54


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