Monday, July 30, 2007

MIFF report 3


Yesterday I caught a tram into the city to buy a vacuum cleaner and as I skipped down the front steps of my house I set my iPod to random – as I generally do – and was confronted by the Benny Hill theme tune. “Very well, little friend,” I murmured to the traitorous music device, “that’s the way it’s going to be, is it?”

My extreme scepticism towards all things mystic and metaphysical is balanced only by my equally extreme superstition and belief in things mystic and metaphysical. It’s a tough combination. In this case, I sometimes wonder if other people put some kind of portentous faith in their personal electronics. Most of the time, if my iPod’s random setting serves up an excellent playlist of a morning, I’ll take it that I’ll have an equally excellent day. The reverse, of course, is also true.

So during my vacuum-cleaner-purchasing trip, I decided to let every song play out in full to see if things could go uphill from the Benny Hill debacle. And boy, it was probably the best playlist the thing has ever delivered. In order, here is what it gave me:

Howard Johnson, The Sundays, Emiliana Torrini, the soundtrack the 1965 western The Big Valley, Beck, Cold War Kids, Mouse on Mars, Coldplay – WAIT A MINUTE, I thought. Finally, a break in this uninterrupted run of aural perfection. When those unmistakable opening bars of “Clocks” came on, I felt let down. My disappointment was premature, though, when it suddenly transformed into a very good and previously unheard rhumba version. All is forgiven! Then it was onto The Orb – three minute break as I purchase vacuum cleaner – back to Cut Copy, Dusty Springfield, Beastie Boys, Television, M. Ward and suddenly I’m home again. And after all that, yes, the rest of my day was fantastic.

I’m sure my iPodomancy is no more or less irrational than trusting the stars, the weather or a psychic hotline. But then again, what this lengthy and mostly pointless preamble serves to prove is that a collection of music probably isn’t that illuminating an insight into a person’s universe.

But that’s the rationale behind John Peel’s Record Box, a British made-for-tv doco (BBC I think) centred around the world’s most famous radio DJ. When Peel died in 2004 his personal collection of albums numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but a secret box of 100 singles on vinyl was found beneath a desk in his study. These records, according to the film, were his secret stash, his true treasures, the ones he’d want to save from a house fire as everything else goes to hell.

It’s a fascinating collection, too, and we’re given various famous faces (Elton John, Billy Bragg, family and friends as well as artists contained in the collection) who pore over the box and give insights into the man through his chosen few tracks. These range from minor punk bands to Sheena Easton, an unexpected devotion to The White Stripes (20 of the 100 records!) and some odd, jokey bands as well.

But we’re never really given an explanation for the box’s existence, and as my companions noted once it was up, it could have just been the bunch he packed for the previous weekend’s DJ gig. It could have been leftovers he hadn’t sorted yet. It could have been anything.

The interviews and old footage do a great job of delving into the life and mind of an obsessive lover of music, and if it’s a pretty weak hook to hang a film on, it’s still a fairly entertaining piece. The made-for-tv format means that it isn’t exactly daring or ground-breaking stuff, but it’s short and worth a look if it ever does come on the tube.

It was preceded by a local short which I found as interesting, if not moreso:


From the 1950s on, electronic music in Britain WAS the avant-garde when it came to composition. Broadly defined, it was music that didn’t use microphones but was created through the manipulation of signals and frequencies and recorded directly to tape. Some of it was awful, some deeply innovative, and some just a bit stupid.

This short hunts down the pioneers of the form, mainly looking at the trio behind Electronic Music Studios (EMS) who are now getting on a bit, but still plugging away separately. They’re musical geniuses, it’s quickly clear, who were way ahead of their time. Now, as one laments, their legacy is mostly as the guys who invented a pretty crappy synth.

It’s a bit odd that this is an Australian made doco, although one of the guys does now live here. But it's pretty fun to watch a piece about a period when the future really did look like it would be based around computers the size of houses able to generate music that now sounds simpler than the most outdated ringtone. People were predicting this with absolute conviction. Guess you shouldn't have too much faith in such predictions. For now I'll stick to my iPod.

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