September music

Unexpectedly I’m going to attempt to write about music. Although I would like to recommend a couple of books – David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Will Self’s Shark – plus the remarkable hospitality of everyone I met in Indonesia in August while working in Malang, Surabaya and Jakarta. But apart from exam candidates, I heard only a smattering of live music while over there (and alas no live gamelan), so I’m hoping to top up with Cooly G in Bradford tonight, and Dave Kane’s Rabbit Project in Leeds tomorrow. And Loose Tubes again next week.

Meanwhile I’m listening, listening. Anything put out by Pi Recordings ( is worth investigating – so far this year, Henry Threadgill’s Zooid (In For A Penny, In For A Pound), Steve Coleman’s Synovial Joints, and now a new cd by Liberty Ellman (first for nine years) – Radiate. Exciting, angular stuff with edgy textures and rhythms – three horns, guitar, bass and drums. Serious New York musicians.

And a solo cd by Mary Halvorson (Meltframe) – I saw her at the Vortex with the Thirteenth Assembly a couple of years ago – she was the standout performer, so focussed and intense, no unnecessary notes or gestures. She operates in the world of jazz/impro (loosely defined) but brings in a lot of indie-rock riffing and distortion, more Derek Bailey than Charlie Christian, sounds rather than virtuosity. Compelling!

And earlier in the year, a third cd in the Coin Coin series by Chicago saxist Matana Roberts, an intense long-term project reinterpreting the black USA experience – a unique work – she’s playing in London and Brighton in early Oct and I’m gutted to be unable to go. Recommended!

Writing about music is much harder than writing about books – Liam Noble ( does it much better (eg posts about Ornette Coleman and John Taylor this year) – basically I just want to say “this is great, listen to it” – subtle criticism comes less easily.

Meanwhile, last week I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – initially intrigued but then obsessively gripped so that I had to read the last 300 pages in one evening. Now recommended by I’m reading China Mieville’s The City And The City – similar feelings!

On the national anthem – I haven’t sung it for years and years – and I never say Amen in church either. Hope Mr Corbyn sticks to his guns – slightly militaristic sentiments for him, I know. I’m hoping he will go for the red poppy/white poppy combo on 11th Nov.


This week’s reading

Two books have been consuming my spare time recently. “Indonesia Etc” by Elizabeth Pisani – I don’t ever read what might be described as a travel book usually, but this had received good reviews and seemed appropriate when I came across it at the Salts Mill bookshop. Mostly she writes about the further reaches of Indonesia, a massive country with thousands of islands spread out (along the line of a geological fault) and the fourth largest population in the world. She writes about generous hospitality, and the survival of long-held traditions in the face of the incursions of modern life and trading and technology, in a country massively rich in natural resources and fertile. The transition from living just to feed yourself and your village to living as a wage-slave in the capitalist economy. And then the contrast of these distant corners of Indonesia with the central island of Java, the capital Jakarta, the overcrowding and shanty towns and thousands upon thousands of small motorbikes constantly on the move. Everyone looks like a gangster. And the concept of gangster, of a “free man” (no particular mention of a free woman) is also significant in the film “The Act Of Killing”, where veterans of 1960s anti-communist death squads re-enact their executions for a contemporary documentary film crew, with pride and excitement, rather than self-questioning. To be a gangster, a “free man”, romantically on the edge of society – but in fact doing the dirty work of the military state, and thus free from impunity. Quite a disturbing film, and not one that would make you more enthusiastic to visit Indonesia!

The second book, David Harvey”s “Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism” bears some relation, at least in its emphasis on the importance and tolerance of crime, illegality, exploitation and the unofficial economy in the growth of capital and capitalism. Having struggled dutifully through Marx’s “Das Kapital” thirty years ago, through the thickets of of obscure idealist philosophising to describe the inherent nature of the commodity fetish, this book is a much more readable, clear, comprehensible analysis of capital/capitalism and its irresistible growth and seemingly unstoppable destructive proliferation. Highly recommended! I’m only halfway through, but very much looking forward to discovering what his practical suggestions are for countering and replacing this way of living we are all apparently stuck with.

It’s the kind of book I fondly imagine Jeremy Corbyn might have on his bookcase (and have read). Wishful thinking perhaps.

But without wishful thinking, how will we ever imagine, let alone achieve, an alternative future?