Lullaby For a Frenetic World


I love that Max Richter describes SLEEP as  “a manifesto for a slower pace of existence” (and it is intended to send the listener to sleep) and am really curious to listen to all eight hours of it, assuming I don’t fall asleep midway but then again that is exactly the purpose.

This isn’t something new in music, it goes back to Cage, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young, and it’s coming around again partly as a reaction to our speeded-up lives – we are all in need of a pause button

I also love that I know next to nothing about Richter — aside from his Vivaldi Recomposed of which I’m not sure to be a fan (the jury is still out on that one) — but the few details of his biography I’ve read this far (peppered with names like Future Sound of London, Roni Size, Tilda Swinton, Sigur Rós, Arvo Pärt and Haruki Murakami) announce a brilliant new exploration.

The release date is September, 4th (a one hour abridged version will also be available)

• • •



By coincidence, and much to my astonishment as I have been for years a staunch critic of that form of music, it so happened that I started attending a few free/improv jazz (don’t really know what to call it) concerts lately.

I guess it takes getting used to and especially experiencing it live.

The concert I’ve enjoyed most until now was a few days ago. First because it was performed by superior musicians — and the simple fact that I can now (subjectively) tell the difference between musicians that I like better than others is to me the ultimate surprise as I always thought of the whole thing as glorified noise where individual musicianship and the quest for a common vibe were simply irrelevant variables — and second because the music made me think so much and so incredibly clearly.

It started with the obvious question of structure and the lack of it: coming from a background of loud, simple and fast 4/4 tempos I have always thought of myself as a musician with a need for clear and linear boundaries, as if they defined the base from which I could elaborate and reach (or at least try) for more and more multiples of complexity. As if whichever absolute one pays allegiance to could be glimpsed in some strange attractor in a hidden fractal formula, one which needed simply to be codified.

It became stranger when I realised that not only had I been assuming this premise as obvious all my life but also that I only applied it to music. It never occurred to me that, looking at the way I live my life, structure is really the least of my yearnings or even talents. For some reason, amidst the dissonance (is it really one?) the paradox became so obvious that it made me smile.

“So, what about them?” I thought. That they live in a musical world of absolute fluidity with no bars no tempi no structure and no score doesn’t exclude the fact that they too are reaching for the absolute they pay allegiance to. This is what we all do and musicians especially have no choice but to do it, this prayer of sorts.

What was clear to me was that tempo is what made the difference and who am I, a complete virgin, to say that there is no tempo there? Maybe there is. Maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking about the discrete measures of time assuming that they’re infinitely divisible (which they are, but still by definition discrete) and that all those forms can somehow be combined to create ladders to climb to higher levels of aufhebung.

What struck me is that the music I was listening to, did have tempo. It’s just that I couldn’t process it. I wondered if tempo is fluid, continuous and analog after all, if my 4/4s and 13/8s and what have you are just crude (but much more powerful) representations of a pulse of infinite complexity, a pulse of a complexity that cannot, should not be understood.

As if what I was marveling at in those musicians was seeing how their form (because there is one however elusive) commanded that reaching a level of rational understanding immediately implied stepping into a greater unknown, a greater mystery where nothing is understood at all until the next level of understanding and then letting go again. As if pure feeling and musicianship were paradoxically the ultimate expression of both abandonment and supreme reasoning.

Bound but free but not, all this while they played.

I can’t wait for the next one.

• • •

The Strange and Terrible Thing



I suppose I will never cease to be intrigued by how much easier it is to confess how I’m feeling to a perfect stranger rather than to the ones closer to me. It’s not that I don’t realise that there’s an explanation for it, I do: it is one about baggage attached to a familiar face or, in the case of the perfect stranger, the lack of it but it doesn’t make the whole affair any less intriguing.

Reading Stoner by John Williams made me feel like the stranger, someone who can but listen and is never allowed to retort.

It is simply a report of a life with no dramatic events of the kind that carry the plot to unexpected stories. It all happens in the same city and is focused around William Stoner’s ruminations, as he grows from a country boy to a university professor, about his parents, his family, his lover and his colleagues. It could be anyone’s life. It could be my own or yours with their failures and successes big and small and the pain that inevitably recedes into the distance and the shame and the joy and love.

The most accurate summary for the book would probably be “nothing happens” (and the point is driven home right on the opening paragraph), except that everything does. What truly happens is a lesson in refusing to let yourself be engulfed by those circles, wider each time, the circles of an increasingly blurred self, out of focus. A lesson in developing character, no matter how clumsily. A lesson in becoming more than just almost someone.

In that sense the story doesn’t need a retort at all. It is our story and we know it well:

He found himself trembling; as awkwardly as a boy he went around the coffee table and sat beside her. Tentatively, clumsily, their hands went out to each other; they clasped each other in an awkward, strained embrace; and for a long time they sat together without moving, as if any movement might let escape from them the strange and terrible thing that they held between them in a single grasp.

• • •

The Smallest Feather on The Wind


It has been a very long time since I’ve read a book which insinuates itself like an epiphany on my unsuspecting self or a disease which I can’t get rid of (maybe the same thing?)

In my own subjective and wholly unqualified ranking of masterpieces Franzen’s Freedom is instantly recognizable as a one if only for the microscopic and tender attention paid to every single detail, no matter how painful or casually exquisite. This is an unfair reduction however: there is at least Carver and Updike and Roth and even sometimes Dos Passos in his genes and a ruthless pursuit of mind-blowing prose and plot on every single page, paragraph and word.

It is significant to me that when I closed the last page there lingered that same bitter aftertaste that Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften left behind forever: it made me think of parts of me that I never knew were there or much less needed thinking about. It first made me angry at discovering that no moment is ever trivial and then sad at the fundamental impossibility of cataloguing them all and then at peace at the prospect of the depths to which one can navigate to consider just a single one of those moments.

The tripe which surrounds us is not obvious, it being the bland, processed and artificial manifestation of sentiments like those. Not an easy foliage to shed.

Freedom helps. Simply and immensely.

And so he stopped looking at her eyes and started looking into them, returning their look before it was too late, before this connection between life and what came after life was lost, and let her see all the vileness inside him, all the hatreds of two thousand solitary nights, while the two of them were still in touch with the void in which the sum of everything they’d ever said or done, every pain they’d inflicted, every joy they’d shared, would weigh less than the smallest feather on the wind.

Jonathan Franzen — Freedom

• • •

Une Charge Trop Lourde

Ces mots, nous devons les oublier, parce que, à présent, personne ne nous dit des mots semblables et parce que le souvenir que nous en avons est une charge trop lourde à porter.

Agota Kristof — Le Grand Cahier

• • •

• • •



I suppose that I could try to explain the thrill of the first piano chords of Gloria, while Patti slowly slurs “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” — an anticipation of a long build-up which explodes like an angry orgasm five minutes later, complete with all the tender moments, false warnings and crescendos that almost get there but need to be reined in for the sake of the final blast.

The catch is precisely that by trying to do so I’d end up killing my own memory of that rush and I don’t want to relinquish any part of it.

Not the sweaty jumping around next to a potential girl-friend at some high school party and not the yelling of the lyrics at the top of my lungs with a sense of freedom that only a teenager can hope to achieve in the process of defining the cornerstones of his musical fabric.

I could never appropriately describe Lenny Kaye’s focused and intense presence on stage, not Jay Dee Daugherty’s precise, powerful and agile drumming which marked me forever, but especially not Patti’s luminescence, raw, angry and mischievous, punctuating what was to me a sonic revelation with chosen bits of beat- and 19th century french poetry, a surprisingly fitting combination on the first punk rock concert I ever attended. And I use the term “punk rock” very very loosely here since she was then already so much more than that.

It is confusing to me that she should have become famous for the song Because the Night (which is technically Bruce Springsteen’s and the 3 minute predictable pop-song structure shows) on what I consider to be one of her weakest albums, Easter ( I refuse to discuss Wave for reasons that should be obvious.) Curiously enough it is precisely on Easter that she and the band achieve something of almost Gloria greatness: Babelogue/Rock’n Roll Nigger is both monumental and monumentally ignored and the only reason I own that record in the first place.

It is because of all this that I don’t want to go back in time and in the process destroy my teenage self (or at least those parts which would conceivably be worth preserving.) I’ll keep on believing that both Horses and Radio Ethiopia were composed and produced specifically with the purpose of giving me a soundtrack to those years of my life.

The best I can do is this:




• • •

The Moon-Anointed Shelf


The Pleiades are sinking calm as paint,
The earth’s huge camber follows out,
Turning in sleep, the oceanic curve.

Defined in concave like a human eye
Or a cheek pressed warm on the dark’s cheek,
Like dancers to a music they deserve.

This balcony, a moon-anointed shelf
Above a silent garden holds my bed.
I slept. But the dispiriting autumn moon,

In her slow expurgation of the sky
Needs company: is brooding on the dead,
And so am I now, so am I.

Lawrence Durrell — Lesbos

• • •


Ich bin froh, dies alles und noch mehr zu erleben, denn gerade diese Erlebnisse, die traurig sind, klären den schaffenden Menschen.

— Egon Schiele

Portrait of Arthur Rössler, 1910

Portrait of Arthur Rössler, 1910

• • •

Strategy For Life

What does it mean to be yourself?” he asked. “If it means to do what you think you ought to do, then you’re doing that already. If it means to act like you’re exempt from society’s influence, that’s the worst advice in the world; you would probably stop bathing and wearing clothes. The advice to ‘be yourself’ is obviously nonsense. But our brains accept this tripe as wisdom because it is more comfortable to believe we have a strategy for life than to believe we have no idea how to behave.

— Scott Adams

• • •

Women (mini)

IMG_20150607_163151 2

I’m not entirely sure which gods I have to thank for the profusion of women both drop dead gorgeous and powerful in my life, all the while wondering if I deserved it at all; just the thought of having to play football (the sport you play with your feet, not the other one) with sons and grandsons would be enough to make me reach for the gin bottle.

I must be doing something right.

Hello Alice ❤️, welcome to the club.

• • •


And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning.

Anthony Burgess — Enderby Outside

• • •

A Cold Hand On a Warm Forehead


Much like an athlete preparing for weeks to run a marathon, I’ve been circling around Karl Ove Knausgård’s Min Kamp, a six book series (and thousands of pages) of an autobiographical novel. Every review reminds me of Proust and of how difficult it was to read In Search of Lost Time for the first time (or tenth). That said I think I’m now at an age where I can perhaps better grasp the subtlety of a structure which at first glance feels like there isn’t one at all.

I can’t speak for other writers, but I write to create something that is better than myself, I think that’s the deepest motivation, and it is so because I’m full of self-loathing and shame. Writing doesn’t make me a better person, nor a wiser and happier one, but the writing, the text, the novel, is a creation of something outside of the self, an object, kind of neutralized by the objectivity of literature and form. The temper, the voice, the style. All in it is carefully constructed and controlled. This is writing for me—a cold hand on a warm forehead.

The Paris Review — Completely Without Dignity: An Interview with Karl Ove Knausgård

• • •

The Unexamined Life

I suspect that my grandfather’s life was real in a sense that my father’s life hasn’t quite been, and my life is not at all. The crucial difference is the lack of self-consciousness, and that self-consciousness is yet another hallmark of the perpetual, infantilised adolescents we have all become, monsters of introspection hovering twitchily on the edge of self-obsession, peering into the abyss of our own inner disconnection, occasionally aware that while the unexamined life may not be worth living, the life which only exists to be examined is barely manageable; barely indeed a life.

Michael Bywater — Big Babies, Or: Why Can’t We Just Grow Up?

• • •

Philosophy Is Like a Tree

I drink, therefore I am . . . drunk. Ha ha! I thought this would be easier after my sixth glass of wine, but alas, it is still absolutely terrible. Oh, how my world grows smaller when I think of you not in it, and—no, you know what? Let me start over. Philosophy is like a tree, and it has all these branches that extend outward, but you’re like a shrub. Cute and small, but not well versed in rationalist thought. Do you get what I’m trying to say?

René Descartes

More hilarity at Philosophers’ Breakup Letters Throughout History (The New Yorker).

• • •

Where Life Is


There is an infinity of purposeful silence during the microscopic pauses of the torpid white noise.

• • •

Harvest Moon

I know I should toddle off to Marco’s now and have a good cry and listen to his sweet useless pep talk and pretend to make sense of it all. But there’s nothing in me but weariness. I’m weary of moving through life in this way, punished for my capabilities, betrayed by the glib promises of love. I’m weary of managing these disappointments. I’m weary of my body’s gruesome tick. And I’m weary of telling women it can be different.

In this mood of enervation, I wander the docks, the old schooners burdened under ornate masts, the colonial cemetery dressed in gravestones, names and years in elegant rows, and roasted garlic everywhere, everywhere tourists in their pink summer legs and dusk on the bricks, rain gutters fat with pigeons and rooftops sprigged with antennae, the sediments of beauty, I mean, and the widows on their stoops, done with the suffering of men and silent before the soft click of bocce balls. There is so much time in this life for grief. So many men lying in wait. And here, tonight, there is a harvest moon, which hangs so heavily yellow above the sea it might be God, or my heart.

Steve Almond — The Evil B.B. Chow

• • •


The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name.

William Thackeray — Vanity Fair

• • •

Tira la Música por las Ventanas

…or at least that’s how Debussy described Isaac Albéniz’s music, mostly known for his epic Iberia. These “rumours” were inspired by the beach of La Caleta, in Cádiz, where every rock has a specific name.

It’s hot outside. Open the window and sleep tight:


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