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piano 503

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danger in paradise

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general strike - david toop, steve beresford, david cunningham

When you listen to music - instead of merely letting it prattle in the eardrums - your instincts are driven to interpretation that should fuse something of yourself (assuming one is alive to start with) with the sound. If these vibrations in the air impart information, or provoke agonies, or quench spiritual thirst, or flicker at slumbering purposes -then you are obliged to be receptacle, confidante, curator. We must stop traducing music, for its power to help us may be waning as our miserable century staggers to its climax -we should stop, and listen over. What good is this hearing, if we do not listen too? That leaves us with only a great deal of time on our hands. As one contemporary composer has noted, even in the midst of a singularly hateful discourse on music, business and the general worthlessness of just about everything -without music to decorate it, time is just a series of schedules for paying bills.

So listen over. This music, from General Strike is an apposite place to begin, for its example draws from the practice itself of listening intently -listening and acting on that listening. Most of it does sound like bits from other musics that have probably passed your way at some time or another, whether you were listening or not. Most of it is threads from rock or jazz, doowop and reggae, synthetically generated tone patterns and sounds as emotionally human as a baby's cry. It's music that could comfortably be heard. It could plink genially in the background. I don't wish to be too descriptive about it, but some of it might have been drawn from a particularly industrious afternoon concert in an elves' toyshop.

The atmosphere which General Strike conjure together suits an old fashioned, cold war-ish scenario of technology. Their 'Interplanetary Music' is the space pop of George Pal and 'The Day The Earth Stood Still', of computers built like Blackpool Tower in order to struggle through simple trigonometry, of 'The Jetsons' and I.G.Y. They go no further than Expo 67, the world's last gasp of optimism. And although there are dark and disquieting moods set in this mosaic which their listeners have pieced together, it is made with a humour which is true to the spirit of adventure which those references apply. The sanitation merchants who make up most of the world's record-makers today would forbid our ears from hearing these strangely electric keyboards, earthworked textures, bizarre chatterings of percussion, and voices that seem like puzzled robots. Cataloguing the sound in that way makes it all seem a bit of a joke, but it isn't: laughter is encouraged, but it's serious music, made with a great deal more serious spirit than the great and disheartening mountain of music which today implores you to hear and not listen.

For that reason alone, this collection IS dangerous. The motive for its conception has something more behind it than the need to sustain a career or succour an easily-satisfied requirement. As opposed to the wasteful music that shouldn't exist -the music that pretends to do more than decorate schedules and winds up becoming a timetable itself -the sounds of General Strike did not HAVE to exist, and that is their danger, their force. Their collection is a synthesis by Beresford, Toop and Cunningham of forms they have listened to, absorbed and acted upon -so it sounds like a series of exercise games, played for fun, hard but fair, serious in its choice of amusements. Look at the titles: dogs, dolls and snowdrops, but guided missiles and hell too.

I will conclude without a resolution: this is music made up from diagrams which still becomes amorphous, made for provocation yet playable for ambience -the distinctions are yours to elicit. What you have to do first, of course, is listen.

Richard Cook

danger in paradise -general strike
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1984 Richard Cook