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Sonic Nurse [VINYL]
Sonic Nurse [VINYL]
Price: £22.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Vinyl version, 26 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Sonic Nurse [VINYL] (Vinyl)
I first purchased this album on CD during the first week of release. The edition I have includes 'Kim Chords' as a UK bonus track. I say all this to identify the particular CD I have as the sound quality is pretty dull and lacks texture. After years of indecision, I saw an offer of a vinyl pressing on Amazon that was not too expensive (I'd much rather spend my limited amount of pennies discovering new music.) However the sound quality is a revelation by comparison to what I've been used to hearing on this album. Jim O'Rourke's excellent mix is as beautifully crafted as on his own albums and this pressing reveals all the texture and expression one could hope for. For some reason side 3 (New Hampshire and Paper Cup Exit) suffers from quite a bit of surface noise which does get in the way a bit, but the rest of the pressing is excellent. All in all, I am one very happy customer. Oh, and this is a damn good record.


Squeeze
Squeeze
Price: £14.56

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Finally...., 29 Sep 2012
This review is from: Squeeze (Audio CD)
As a Velvet Underground fan (still ... after all these years) I used to buy anything with their name on it. And so I have lots of records with all sorts of crazy odd and ends on them - much of which is of very variable quality, but all of it is (far) better than Squeeze. Buyer beware. Every song is incredibly lame, which is a feat in itself. However, buying this may satisfy your curiosity as there may be that nagging suspicion that maybe the writer of this review just doesn't get it. And you'd be right.

Writing this has made at least made me go back through my Velvet LP's again. There's a lot of happy memories there. For my taste they are the best example of what can be done with a guitar band. Just stunning. At least it can be said that there's only one duffer that appears under their name. I wouldn't want to be without any other music by them, but then again the album of which this is almost a review isn't by them - It's a Doug Yule solo album. Moe Tucker is brilliant; in many respects unsurpassed. Sterling Morrison is a legend. Very few people have made as much crazy and wonderful music as John Cale (New album out BTW). And Lou Reed still trades on this band (as would I if I had this in my legacy). The addition of Nico on the first album made for tremendous listening. (Indeed, it's more than worthwhile to check out her catalogue as well.) None of their influence is discernible on this record.

There's a great deal of wonderful music in this world, none of which puts in an appearance here.


Human Nature: Fact and Fiction - Literature, Science and Human Nature
Human Nature: Fact and Fiction - Literature, Science and Human Nature
by Johnjoe McFadden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anthology of ten writers' presentations at ICA, 20 Aug 2010
Some of the accompanying hyperbole on the cover of this book is irritating - this is not a 'major new contribution on human nature, set to be required reading' etc.. This book grew out of presentations by ten serious (but entertaining) thinkers about the intersection of fiction and science. I think that anthologies like this are not only fun, partly because each writer has only a short amount of time to expound on their ideas and the variety therefore in such a collection, but I like to be challenged by ideas that I wouldn't normally come across.

I hadn't read any Ian McEwan before and his contribution is a delight, but far from standing out against a mediocre backdrop, I thought that all but one writer was of the first order. As for the writer I didn't enjoy, it was not the the quality of the ideas, but the effort of reading someone with whom I was not in-tune, rather than someone whose words were offensive - the 'fault' if it needs ascribing, is mine.

The issue of human nature is of great importance to me as I suffer from a brain disorder and find it very difficult to communicate with those who use language so differently to myself when talking about their experiences in the world. I found this book fun and thought provoking and, if not of much particular use to myself, I think that for a lot of people not so grounded in the science may well find this a good way into a set of problems that arise in our species. In many respects, it's a shame that this book is so short - if each speaker had twice the time/space for their contributions, there would be a lot more detail, and that's where the devil lay.


Cage - Piano Music
Cage - Piano Music
Price: £11.36

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sure-footed marvel, 20 Aug 2010
This review is from: Cage - Piano Music (Audio CD)
I have some previous recordings by Giancarlo Simonacci - the Complete Music for Prepared Piano which is very good, but whilst I enjoyed these recordings, I wasn't anything like as taken with them as I am by this current selection. Without the preparations you can really hear how sure-footed and clear Simonacci's technique is and, perhaps surprisingly, how much difference this makes to listening to Cage.

Cage, in his book Silence said 'The critic criticises himself.' He also recalled an anecdote regarding some musical entertainment that he'd laid on for a guest (Daisetz Suzuki?, I can't remember.) On one occasion the singing was good and his guest wore a beatific smile - on another occasion the singing was not so good and Cage was worried, but when he looked across at his guest, he saw the same beatific smile. Cage thought that if we can accept sounds as they are, rather than allowing our psychology to dictate premises for evaluation of quality (or genius of composition) then all the sound-world would be that much more interesting. I agree up to a point - Whilst I'm always up for re-assessing my critical faculties, I'm not willing to disregard them.

With all that said, listening to Cage is always quite different to listening to Bach, for example, but with these recordings, much of what I admire and gain from listening to a great Bach recital is also present here. Furthermore, the recording quality is very nice. I'm playing these recordings quite a lot - they are everything I've ever wanted from such music and I hope that more will follow. If you're new to Cage, I think that this would be a very good place to start.

The inclusion of Cage's 2 piano transcription of Satie's 'Socrate' and the piano and cello work 'Etudes Borealis' help to make this set a diverse wholly pleasurable listen.


On Free Choice of the Will
On Free Choice of the Will
by Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.45

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slim volume of a great(?) writer., 22 July 2010
At the dawn of the fifth century, Augustine couldn't pop into a local bookshop and pick up a copy of Origin Of Species. Galileo hadn't yet shown the way for empirical science and for all human success in a wide variety of fields, Augustine's was an age of superstition and ignorance compared with ours. It would, therefore, be churlish simply to measure the quality of this work and especially of the translation, by whether or not the contents have much validity for our contemporary world. In my opinion (and contrary to the translator and I imagine most of the readers of this review) these arguments for the concept of free will are unmitigated nonsense, just like the religion from which it is spawned, but I tell you this so that you can see the context in which I'm criticising the work.

Augustine's prose is quite attractive and the way he forms his arguments is really very good. The argument that Augustine wants to present is laid out in the form of a dialogue. One of the few negative comments that one could make is in the one-dimensional aspects of the presentation - both 'characters' in the dialogue have the same personality but, even worse, Evodius (Augustine's interlocutor) is prone to subservience and (conveniently) not noticing when the wool is being pulled over his eyes. Augustine keeps the pace going however and I can't help admiring some of the sophistry employed. The concept of free will is only investigated in a way that is convenient to Augustine, but that is why (considering the continued respect that is paid to him) this is worth a read. Any modern philosophy of religion book should give a much more coherent and far reaching treatment of the subject.

This is the first text I've read from this period (I've invested a lot more time in the Greek works) and I'm glad that I have read it. I've grown a greater understanding of who Augustine was and even though I don't agree with him, he seems like a reasonably decent chap. The translation appears to me to be excellent and it is quite amusing, the difference between the introduction (which is unintentionally funny and when comparing physics to morality, is as misguided as can be) and the main body of the work.

The best parts about this book: It's a slim volume, easy to read, very revealing about our history and it's pretty good literature - I've read a lot worse.


Historical and Critical Dictionary: Selections
Historical and Critical Dictionary: Selections
by Pierre Bayle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Dictionary of Fun, 22 July 2010
What could be more boring, at the outset at least, than a 17th century dictionary with most of the entries missing? Well, this is the most fun and courageous book I've come across in quite a while. Bayle was born into French Calvinism (Huguenotism), converted to Catholicism and later, heresy upon heresy, reconverted. To escape persecution, he fled to Holland.

There are many parts of Bayle's work which are admired by both Enlightenment thinkers and the religious alike, and despite his later day reputation, Bayle's work was given as a prize to the head student in several seminaries across Europe. Bayle was also happy to publicly debate (in favour of religion) his opponents.

Popkin's marvellous translation bears 44 entries for his selection, which cover subjects like 'Manicheans', the 'heretical' sect that could, for a while at least, boast of a membership that included the future 'St.' Augustine. The entry on David is the most famous and controversial (and to my mind, the most deliciously irreverent.) There are also excellent entries on the likes of Spinoza.

The signal importance of this text is that it was not only very popular (reckoned to be the most popular text of it's time - by virtue of records concerning the contents of libraries in estates of the deceased), but it gives us a taste of what was being discussed in late 17th century Europe.

Needless to say, this book was banned, which, as usual, helped no end in it's distribution. It's a wonderful read. It is by turns charming, offbeat and ironic.

The layout of the text is quite interesting and consists for the most part of relatively short entries on a given subject, supported by fairly extensive footnotes (which is where most of the action is.) I can highly recommend this book to both the religious and atheistic alike (which is a rarity in itself.) Happy reading.


The Poems of Wilfred Owen (Wordsworth Poetry Library)
The Poems of Wilfred Owen (Wordsworth Poetry Library)
by Wilfred Owen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reflections of the horror and the waste of the First World War, 9 July 2010
If there ever could be such a thing as objectively good literature, this would get my vote. I cannot think of any other collection of poetry that moves me with so much immediacy, vigour, fortitude and dignity. For my part, I feel somewhat ashamed that I cannot read 'Dolce et Decorum Est', even to myself, without being overwhelmed. I have yet to be able to intone this poem without my voice cracking as the emotions overtake me. This is not poetry for the faint-hearted.

I am no pacifist and I deeply respect those who are willing to fight for our freedoms, but that doesn't mean that I have any eagerness for conflict - far from it. There is a wonderful line from Thomas Paine 'If there's going to be a war, let it be now while I'm young so that my child may live in peace.' But to quote Paine in this regard does an injustice to Owen and to Paine. The First World War was a blasphemy by any stretch of the imagination. It was, to my historically barely literate understanding, an imploding of European powers fighting for their own self interest, not a war of emancipation such as Paine was invoking.

The essence of totalitarianism is in the abnegation of poetry, not just in the literal, but in the metaphorical sense as well. Our lives. Our poetry.

If you are unfamiliar with Owen's poetry, may I urge you to try this book. It is more powerful and direct than I can convey. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest works of literature and, for this reader at least, genuinely and greatly humbling.


An Historical and Critical Dictionary (Volume 2)
An Historical and Critical Dictionary (Volume 2)
by Pierre Bayle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.15

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Modern times?, 9 July 2010
This is the single worst presentation of a historical text that I've ever seen. Is it possible to be worse that this? Yes, but only insofar as Pierre Bayle's text is indeed discernible for which we can thank modern technology, not the competence of the publisher.

The copyright page includes the following text: 'While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.'

If this represents the publisher's best efforts, one wonders what this text would look like if they applied absolutely no effort at all. I would be more than ashamed to be connected with such a third rate effort as this. How comes it that such a shoddy effort ever gets created?

'We have recreated this book from the original using Optical Character Recognition software to keep the cost of the book as low as possible. Therefore, could you please forgive any spelling mistakes, missing or extraneous characters that may have resulted from smudged or worn pages? When in doubt, please consult the original scanned book which may be available from our website.'

So now you know. What is meant by the publisher's best efforts is the effort to get money out of people off the back of great and historical writing without any effort being employed in even the basic attributes of presentation. Most of the chapter breaks appear mid-sentence, some of the sentences having missing sections and are therefore unintelligible. There are frequent extraneous characters, punctuation and spacing of characters is uneven.

What of the quality of the text itself? What I've so far read seems to me to be of the first order and it is fully understandable why this work has entertained and enriched thinkers like Hume and Voltaire.

The publishers do indeed attempt to distance themselves from the text that they themselves publish (and so presumably this declaration extends to them as well) 'specifically disclaim[ing] any implied ... fitness for a particular purpose.'


Messiaen: 100th Anniversary Box Set
Messiaen: 100th Anniversary Box Set
Price: £42.95

25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5-star review, but caution recommended, 19 May 2010
This 14CD collection is far from perfect, but some of the performances are so good and moving that a lesser rating would be, I fear, unforgivable. I am not a music scholar, but I am very interested in composition technique and sampling the history and range of music. I make this point because a Messiaen scholar would, I'm fairly sure, fall over him or herself to get their hands on this collection - there are, after all, 4CDs of Messiaen playing solo organ music and he's no mean organist!

The solo organ pieces are well recorded (certainly for their time), but they lack the sense of scale, or emotional impact for my money. I could live without them, even though hearing a master organist is enlightening. (If organ is your thing, then I apologise: Listen to this collection and write your own review telling me how wrong I am!)

Next up on my list of things I don't find so appealing is vocal music. Much of the last 3CDs is vocal music. The writing verges on the unimpeachable and I don't doubt that the appeal of these particular works is more than slightly undermined by my lack of French. Still, I don't find myself enjoying myself and despite it's qualities, I wince at the high notes and jump for the volume control at the loud bits. Philistine that I obviously am, I prefer housework - it's more fulfilling!

Now, the good bits. The Turangalila Symphony, as performed by Andre Previn and the LSO is storming. This is the piece of Messiaen that I know best and not having heard this recording before, I was stunned - a real powerhouse performance with emotional impact. This is the kind of thing that marks out Previn as a true great for my money; this is not just 'the score', but the score with brio, gusto, etc...

The Quatuor pour la fin du temps, written during Nazi internment in Silesia, is everything one would, or could, expect from such a predicament befalling a great composer. Messiaen pulls out all the emotional stops in a work of human solidarity and resilience and this performance is certainly up to the job at hand. This is a formidable reminder of what can perish, be crushed, in war. It also stands testament to what kind of man Messiaen was when his back was up against the wall, and allows us to compare and contrast his writing when commissioned later (1963) to write a 'sacred' work for the dead of the two world wars. The result 'Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum' is full of lame religious piety (to my ears). There is none of the sense of solidarity, or even any acknowledgement of the value of the dead - the blasphemy that is war.

There are 2CDs of the pianism of Michel Beroff. The usual received wisdom, as I understand it, is to hunt out recordings by Yvonne Loriod for her intimate understanding of the man and his music, and indeed, she makes some very welcome additions to this box set, but Beroff is (again, to my ears) just as good. Certainly his performance of the Vingt Regards is every bit as good as the Loriod performance that I own and cherish, his recordings have a slightly fuller piano tone and are just as gripping. Great stuff.

Simon Rattle's recent performance (a world premier no less) of the 'Eclairs sur l'au-dela' is extremely focussed and masterfully detailed. Rarely have I heard such precision and I tip my hat to the performers - the Berliner Philharmoniker. After all that I've said about Messiaen being a great composer, this was his last work and it's not that one can't find much to admire, but it moved me not one jot. Enough said.

Much of this 14CD collection left me cold, or worse, irritated, but it's high points are magnificently high. I may revise my opinions in the years to come, but for now, I regret not choosing the other Messiaen box set. Also EMI haven't recorded an orchestral version of L'Ascension. Shame.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2013 12:17 PM BST


Cherished Library: Wales, A Very Peculiar History
Cherished Library: Wales, A Very Peculiar History
by Rupert Matthews
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Book Of Fun., 11 April 2010
Rupert Matthews has written a very light hearted, fun packed little book, which is delightfully illustrated. I can vouch that the publisher's description is accurate and I enjoyed the book so much that I've bought copies for several of my Welsh family members. Despite it's fun nature, this book is informative and very well put together.

To not award this book five stars would be churlish.


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