I have been thinking about this entry for months…at least since visiting Taiwan in 2013. I have been putting it off for two reasons…

  1. It deals with religion…particularly Buddhism. I know next to nothing about Buddhism.
  2. It is also ‘about’ my friend Tom who died some years ago. This blog doesn’t quite seem like the place to talk about him…the blog doesn’t usually stray into personal territory. Tom was a Buddhist and he knew I was sceptical and an atheist. I didn’t want to write something about him that was slight. Maybe what follows doesn’t add up to much but now I think it is better to write something than say nothing.

I was going to start with a postcard that I bought in Dens Road Market in Dundee in the mid-1970s. Tom might have been with me at the time, I don’t know. My memory of the postcard was that it was in black and white and showed a group of traveling musicians in Nepal or Tibet. I have just found the postcard after a long search and this memory is only partially accurate. It is in black and white, there are two musicians, two acrobats and a large family group with horses in the background…so they are probably nomadic performers. But the location of the picture is ‘Kirgisen’ which is now Kyrgyzstan. The people in the picture are probably Muslims and not Buddhists. So this opening paragraph, instead of making a direct link to Tom, opens up questions of memory.

I didn’t see Tom between him telling me he had cancer and his death. He thought there was more time than there turned out to be – I wanted to believe him and did. The last time I saw him he left me this card:


‘Nam-myho-renge-kyo’ is a phrase to be chanted. ‘Kyo’ is ‘the sound or vibration that connects everything to the universe’. At Tom’s funeral outside Glasgow there were beautiful unaccompanied Buddhist chants sung by his friends from the temple of which he was a member…suddenly it seemed to me that I had underestimated his beliefs. I regretted not seeing him before he died. I was sad that we often did not see eye-to-eye though I also knew that our friendship had been robust and we never fell out. We grew up quite close to one another before we met and there were, I think, many complicated bonds between us…bonds of difference and bonds of similarity. If Tom had been asked to depict the chanting he might have drawn this:






I might draw this:







In Taiwan, I found myself in a culture where Buddhism and its manifestations were never far away…even though it was probably not the kind that Tom adhered to. One afternoon, as part of the work I was doing there, I visited the University Hospital and there were street stalls selling little ‘Buddha boxes’.











Our guide advised me against buying one of these because she said that they were just for people who were dying. I didn’t believe this (it turned out I was correct…they were being sold at the hospital to give comfort, not to accompany the dying into the next world).

Then that evening we went to one of Taipei’s oldest temples. Compared to any Christian church this place was really lively but there was no music (I am not entirely sure of this…maybe there were prayers).  I picked up one of the free cassettes:





Then we walked around the Night Market…if the temple had been an intensive visual and olfactory overload, this was multiplied in the market and had an added layer of cacophonous sound. At a corner near the temple I stopped and recorded a woman sitting on a bicycle chanting the name of Buddha.


Compared to the sound at Tom’s funeral, the cassette tape and even the little Buddha box, this chant is harsh and discordant and it is the flip side of the calm that these other sounds generate.

I think about Tom most days.

13 from ’13 (= ‘zero)

cassetteHardly a ‘best of’ or a ‘top ten’ (or even top 13). Here are 13 sonic experiences from 2013 kind of rushed because it’s time to get onto 2014. They come from all over the place and all over time:

1Ten Freedom Summers (3 nights in November at Cafe Oto). Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet with the Ligeti String Quartet and Jesse Gilbert…for its ambition, historical perspective and generosity.wls4001

2Head Slash Bauch (2002). AGF. I got this in Oxfam back in the summer. Fragmentary and unresolved music that I kept coming back to for the rest of the year. At the end of the year I picked up a BBC sound effects CD for 49p in the same Oxfam…’Trains BBC CD SFX 041’…just as unresolved and compelling on one listen but with less ‘depth’ I guess. Still…here from the ‘Trains passing’ section is Track 42 ‘Single diesel locomotive passes under a bridge.’ (with unidentified birds).

3. The sound of the wind passing through metal fins on the top of the world’s second highest outdoor viewing platform on the world’s fourth tallest building, Taipei 101 Tower.

4. All Comes to an End with Disco in Hell. This was one of a number of compilations that I made last year…mostly the content defined by which CDs I had picked up in charity shops. The title was a gift and now I can’t remember where from (though I know that Russia and Chris M were involved and maybe he can point me in the right direction). I have a sentimental attachment to cassette compilations and have carried this through to these. I even like that they have their physical manifestation in those much-unloved and derided slender silver discs…


5. That impromptu gig in Belo Horizonte…see https://likeahammerinthesink.wordpress.com/2013/09/

6. ‘Listening evenings’…an indulgence. Three or four times a year I get together with 2 friends and we listen to recorded music together. In strict rotation we play our tracks in the hope of surprising, educating, delighting. We usually get through about 30 tunes in an evening…almost too much but a pleasure from beginning to end.

7. Innocence is Kinky by Jenny Hval (2013). A great album and a stunning performance with her band at the Vortex in May.

8. Keith Tippett solo at Oto…see: https://likeahammerinthesink.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/keith-tippett-cafe-oto-30-iv-13/ But also so many other Cafe Oto gigs: Marc Ribot solo and Trio, Thurston Moore with John Edwards, Fire!, Little Annie and Larsen and on and on. And more in 2014…

9. The Necks generally…the new album ‘Open’ and 2 nights at Oto.

10. The Sixteen at Christchurch, Spitalfields, 17th December. For the space and a programme of Poulenc and Britten.


11. Musica Electronica Viva…Oto again. (Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum, Frederic Rzewski). Because I should have known about them but didn’t and went along ‘blind’. http://cafeoto.co.uk/mev.shtm

12. Pictures of Sound; One Thousand Years of Educed Audio: 980-1980. (Dust to Digital 2012) Patrick Feaster. I have not really made my mind up about this yet…the CD is made up of sound ‘image’ (sometimes notation) translated into actual sound – hence the ‘educed’ bit. So as sound it can be elusive and as translation, somewhat melancholy. The book explains the process of doing all this and the author claims these are ‘ways you should be able to duplicate yourself…’ Hmmm. Here are some samples: http://www.firstsounds.org/sounds/

13. The last record I bought and the last record I listened to in 2013. (Complete with the cover it came in.) The over-familiar suddenly fresh and alive again and now stuck in my head still on the 3rd January 2014.


The Look of Love

This Bacharach and David song seems to have followed me across three continents this summer.

  1. Manchester. Elisabeth Fraser performs it a cappella at ‘Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis’…possibly the best part of the evening. The Youtube clips of this don’t do the performance justice so I won’t provide a link.
  2. In Brazil at Inhotim in an installation by Valeska Soares called ‘Tonight’ in her pavilion ‘Folly’. Dusty Springfield singing a gently remixed version (uncredited) over a film of ghost ballroom dancers projected into an octagonal mirrored room. While there some young Brazilian couples come in and dance shyly for a few minutes…first the women (their handbags on the floor) and then, more tentatively, two of the men. soareshttp://valeskasoares.net/works/Video/Tonight/
  3. In the breakfast room of FX Hotel in Taipei City. The same selection of lounge music is played every morning during my stay and so every morning I hear this bland instrumental behind the Mandarin conversation and crockery sounds.
  4.    dw                                                                                                   The day after I arrive back from Taiwan I pull out at random ‘Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Motion Picture Hits’ and ‘The Look of Love’ is the first track. Dusty’s version is the original and is definitive (it was used in the 1967 wayward Bond film ‘Casino Royale’) but I think that Dionne Warwick’s version is a close run second place. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AImXW5wgfQI
  5. The next day I am listening to a CD that I bought in Oxfam just before leaving for Taiwan: ‘The Wild Bunch; Story of a Sound System, Mixed by DJ Milo’. The final track is a version credited to the Wild Bunch but without a credit for the singer (Shara Nelson?)…there is some scratching and some samples (of Dionne Warwick’s version?)…the melody breaks up over the deconstructed beats of the turntables and then fades out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sHcTS9k21E. So I guess I have come full circle.