Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Terry Eagleton / Thomas Adès / Robin Guthrie

Started the day with a visit to a garage in Portobello to get an MOT done on the car. At 8.30am there was little to do after one circuit of the main street, but a lap of the equally deserted beach front. Back at the garage, I was told the car needed two replacment bulbs to go over the license plate. They had only one in stock and so I had to wait another or so hour for another to be delivered (or else fail the MOT).

Event #11: Terry Eagleton: The Meaning of Life

There's a world of difference in the quality of the atmosphere between the different tents strung around Charlotte Square for the Book Festival. At the Scottish Power-sponsored tent on Saturday, I felt energised and air-conditioned. Today, in the Royal Bank of Scotland tent, I felt spent and withdrawn.

As with Edmund White, it's about 20 years since I'd read anything by the guest author, in this case his short novel Saints and Scholars, which I confess I can only vaguely recall involved Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein and some others hanging out in Ireland. He's now moved on, more or less for the sake of a publishing dollar, to a short, over-priced volume on The Meaning of Life. For the first 25 minutes I really wished for the Monty Python crew to enliven things. After a very curt exchange with the moderator (left to sit back on the podium, redfaced, while Eagleton turned to the lecturn) we heard a woolly outlining of the book's quest, which I thought combined the worst of sophomore debating and a philosophical draining of the kitchen sink. After that some insightful points were made, one about the US as an "anti-tragedy society", and the other about religion connecting dots for some between big question and daily practise, but scarcely enough to induce me to buy the book.

As I was slouching back towards Leith, I was turning the last pages of Robert Charles Wilson's novel Spin. One of the principal characters, reflecting on the events of the preceding 440pp, says:
"When people come to understand how big the universe is and how short a human life is, their hearts cry out. Sometimes it's a shout of joy: I think that's what it was for Jason; I think that's what I didn't understand about him. He had the gift of awe. But for most of is it's a cry of terror. The terror of extinction, the terror of meaninglessness. Our hearts cry out. Maybe to God, or maybe just to break the silence."

Conclusion of the Adès Concerto: Thomas Adès & Anthony Marwood take bows

Event #12: Chamber Orchestra of Europe, conducted by Thomas Adès

The young British composer Thomas Adès conducted his recent Violin Concerto, with soloist Anthony Marwood. It's a moderately accessible piece with some lovely phrases, although not one I'd put on the CD player while coasting on the sofa (the Howard Blake Violin Concerto might get a run there). The first half of the program consisted of a rather obscure Beethoven overture, the Namensfeier and Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite.
I was really wondering if the COE were really paying much attention to Adès' rather piecemeal conducting style. Sitting in the Usher Hall's uncushioned Organ Gallery, I looked straight down through the percusson ensemble to the podium. There were little "Lenny hops" and nonchalant almost-hand-in-pocket moments - I was just waiting for him to segue into a Furtwanglerian tremor. The Pulcinella opened well, it was very sweet and unaffected, but it wasn't until midway in that I thought Adès was actually shaping the work ... and then he disengaged and I think the the orchestral soloists just kept on going.
After conducting his own work in the second half (and I won't attempt to judge that), he produced a rather exquisite reading of Sibelius' Third Symphony. It took me back to Sibelius' house Ainola, and an image of the composer looking up from his desk to see some deer in the grounds.

Cowgate under South Bridge

I had an hour or so to kick around the back streets until the next show - not quite enough time to catch a filler. Some French guys were selling hot food from a van in the Grassmere, so I had a "sky is blue" savoury crepe.

Event #13: Robin Guthrie: Lumiere

My old housemate Ian Hole introduced me to the Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance back in 1985/6. With the assistance of some engineering chums from college, he converted some sections of concrete drainage pipe into speakers for his stereo and guitar amp. He maintaind that these and other acoustic edifices, had a stability that ensured that the casing did not resonate along with the cones. Thus, in the room adjacent to mine he would sit, in his blue-striped pajama pants, noodling on his guitar while seismometers across the globe jerked around.
Fast forward 20 years, and Robin Guthrie, the guitarist behind the lush soundscapes of the Cocteau Twins is performing a solo show, improvising over a shimmering film of dreams, a one hour video of 23 Envelope imagery. There are no blue pajama bottoms, but more feedback equipment than possessed by Nielsen Media. There's about 6-7 "tracks" in all, each beginning on a chord that might have begun a song from Victorialand or Treasure. In the weird little space of the Baby Belly #1, the sound sometimes tickled my earlobes as it licked around the room. Suddely it was over, a little "Ian smile" from Robin.
After buying a couple of solo CDs/EPs, I stopped for an anoraky moment while Robin talked with some audience members about his recent performances in South America.

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