Archive for July, 2010

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

In Defence Of The Vuvuzela

(This piece was commissioned a couple of weeks ago for a broadsheet but bumped for reasons of space. Still got paid, mind)

The ceaseless, barely differentiated, sheet waves of tuneless, b-flat drone, hour after hour, game after game – I love the vuvuzela. In full, choral effect, the vuvuzela reminds of the sustained tsunami of air horns which used to accompany European and international games in the 1970s and early 1980s. This was one of the most impressive auditory experiences of my young life, one which connoted the remote, exotic nature of international live football.

The air horns eventually disappeared, replaced by more conventional terrace chanting. However, they were, in my freak instance, the gateway that led me to a fascination with more extreme modern musical forms such as the primal, electronic Krautrock of Faust, the cosmic, exploratory jazz of Sun Ra, the pioneering work in musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer and Stockhausen. Sadly, I’d appear to be in a freak in that regard. For despite its introduction into the  aesthetic canon around a century ago, and despite its having been a key component of other world musics for centuries longer, there remains a strong, mainstream Western, hands-over-the-ears fear and loathing the idea of noise as a form of cultural expression.

The range of satirical responses to the vuvuzela has been somewhat unanimous; wags in both tabloids and broadsheets have compared the noise to “a swarm of bees”. TV pundits, meanwhile, have observed more than once that vuvuzelas resemble “a swarm of bees”, while over in America, on Jon Stewart’s razor-hip The Daily Show, they suggested that the sound of the horns was like “a swarm of bees”. Guys, do better. Remarks like these offend me not as a lover of dissonant music but as a lover of comedy. But it’s the anguished anger, rather than the feeble mockery, which is most striking.

The vuvuzela has receded into the background as the tournament has settled down and the TV channels found ways of filtering away what they and many of its audience consider its “worst excesses”. However, after the blaring crescendo of the opening World Cup game, which featured hosts South Africa, there were immediate cries for the instrument to be banned. One Facebook group set up calling for its suppression swiftly escalated towards a membership of 200,000 after just a few days. The virulence of the complaints and the extent of the distress suffered by those merely watching games on television, including headaches and tinnitus, has been extraordinary. It would be unfair to tar all plaintiffs with the brush of racism, though remarks on Facebook such as “bunch of white guys afraid to tell a bunch of black guys what to do” and references to South African culture as “retarded” makes me wonder if there is indeed a dubious moral whiff about the anti-vuvuzela movement, which has echoes of the resentment at the noise levels generated by West Indian fans at cricket games. The noise of our own, traditional, familiar sing-songs and party rituals we can cheerfully bear. The noise of others, of other cultures, rather less so – particular, perhaps, those of darker skin colours, with murky associations of the primal, the untamed, or, to borrow a word from our Facebook friend, the “retarded”.

The implications of primitivism are particularly ironic, since contemporary art forms owe much to Africa – Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon, the birthpoint of non-figurative art, clearly took African masks as its inspiration, though Picasso rather stuffily denied it. Early Dada events featured naïve recreations of African tribal drumming.  Further afield, Buddhism, the dervishes, Japanese gagaku and gamelan have influenced academically approve artists ranging from Debussy to extreme Improv group AMM. Since the Crusades, which introduced to Western music a host of new Eastern instruments, “high” classical music has developed by plundering other cultures.

The Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo would have been aghast at today’s “passéist” aversion to noise. In his Art Of Noises manifesto in 1913 he joyfully thundered, “We find far more enjoyment in the combination of the noises of trams, backfiring motors, carriages and bawling crowds than in rehearing, for example, the Eroica or the Pastoral”. He even devised crude lever-operated “noise intonators”, prototypes for today’s synthesisers, to illustrate his point.

Composers from Edgard Varèse onward excitedly took up Russolo’s ideas, which have resounded and developed down the decades in jazz, rock, improvised music and various electronic hybrids. And yet, 100 years on, Russolo’s ideas have failed to stick with a wider audience, even of the sort who regularly frequent in huge numbers the Tate Modern and contemplate its Rothkos and Pollocks. For although modern, abstract art and modern, dissonant, atonal music developed in tandem during the 20th century, derive practically from the same root, their fortunes have diverged. Modern art has an extremely lucrative high end, is reverentially pored over at by the shuffling multitude at exhibitions. Modern, avant garde music has no equivalent of the Original, no high end. It is still relatively obscure, gets little or no wider airing and still sounds foreign and absurd even to people who have long since acquired the good taste to understand that a Jackson Pollock is not the result of a madman run amok with tins of paint, indulged by a gullible arthouse establishment. Over the years, the price tag of the original, and endless newspaper stories about Rothkos, Bacons, Picassos, etc, going under the hammer at auction for millions, have accustomed people to the idea that this abstract art stuff is of authentic and high value. Avant garde music remains marginal and undervalued by comparison.

Moreover, experimental sound is liable to inculcate more distress than the visual. Were this bright, abstract, African friezes we were discussing, there would be no complaints of people experiencing eyeball strain, or exasperation at the lack of animal, fruit or people shapes. Music is different. You cannot shut it out, there are no earlids – you cannot walk away from it as you can a canvas –  you must be enveloped in it for its duration. Unexpected noises, moreover, raise fears that date back to our hunter-gather prehistory. Despite its longevity, “deliberately inflicted noise” is something to which people are generally unaccustomed, unexposed, protected by broadcasters and record companies fearful of scaring away mass audiences, offering instead the tonal, the tuneful, the familiar, the reassuring. With this World Cup, however, an audience of millions upon millions has had the rare experience of being held in prolonged captivity to instrumental noise, and a great many have reacted with exaggerated and reactionary ferocity. Yet if you’ve listened, as I and many others have, to, say, the US minimalist Phill Niblock then the vuvuzela holds no fears. It’s on the same spectrum. Not to make claims for its use in stadia as high art but there is a way of attending to the vuvuzela en masse, rather than indignantly lamenting the lack of a tune, which yields its own pleasures – its undulations, its textures, its individual details, the happy way it occasionally washes rhythmically back and forth, or simply its awesome passages of clamourous intensity. And frankly, what it does drown out – the boorish, over-familiar chants, a British brass band playing The Great Escape ad nauseam, infuriatingly inane commentaries? Aren’t all these things worth forfeiting?

Quite apart from the cheapness and plasticity which has piqued many detractors (“real” music should be expensive, metallic), the vuvuzela has exposed a persistent, aggressive timidity which has always denied wider access to the music dreamt of by Russolo, Varèse, Schoenberg long before most of us were born. Sound does have its inherent difficulties and one does sympathise with the eardrum damage that can be suffered by a 124 decibel blast of a vuvuzela at close range. But for most of us, it is a distant phenomenon. I harbour the hope that as this tournament progresses and excitement mounts, the stadium noise will became less of a bone of contention, even acquire positive connotations. Maybe a young freak or two out there might even make the exciting leap from the vuvuzela to John Coltrane’s Ascension.

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

The Wing Commander’s 2010 World Cup Diary – Part Two

June 21

Finally, the truth can be revealed about goings-on at the England camp – that all is well. Englishmen, redouble the number of flags attached to your wing mirrors. Foreign guest workers, clean those toilets to an even higher shine. You are also exhorted to learn our Constitution off by heart, to wit, all six verses of the National Anthem, as well as the ability to recite by rote every monarch since King Egbert. You will be deported in any case, but this wisdom will prove both instructive and helpful.

North Korea v Portugal (0-7)

Nothing less than the total annihilation of North Korea would represent a satisfactory result. As for today’s game, I am indifferent. Portugal – their best days are behind them, I feel. Prior to the 1974 coup they were thinking along the right lines. However, a cue delivered during the “Eurovision Song Contest” of that year precipitated a regrettable coup against the dictator. A further argument, to be added to repeated Balkan connivance, for the cancellation of that annual cavalcade.

June 22

France v South Africa (1-2)

And so, as in 1940, the French have tasted early defeat, the Maginot line of their defence having once again collapsed under the gentlest of prodding from first the Mexicans, and now the South Africans.

It seems that defeat can be ascribed to discord in the camp –  that the French were fighting among themselves. There is no more amusing spectacle than this. When the French fight the French, they always lose, even though it is only the French they are fighting.

On the field, they were a scattered shower. Indeed, the French have played as if hoping that members of the English and American teams would wade ashore and enter the fray to save their hides, as in happier days. And so, they were dispatched from the tournament, unloved, undone, unwashed. The final spectacle was of their man Ribery, sullen, frowning, unable to battle his way even out of his own shirt.

Argentina v Greece (2-0)

England have nothing to fear from this fellow Messi. He’s called “Lionel”, hang it all. What’s he going to do? Tap dance us into submission? Lions versus Lionels. I know whose remains will be scraped up from the den after that one.

June 23

England v Slovenia (1-0)

So FIFA are insisting this afternoon’s game goes ahead? Their pedantry defies belief and is an insult to England and their world standing, to Her Majesty, Princess Anne, the former Duchess of York and her buxom daughters. However, like Harfleur in Henry V, Slovenia have a last chance to surrender. Or else we will storm their defence, mock their women, rape their goats.

June 24

Italy v Slovakia (2-3)

Late in the game, and now PLO on the pitch, according to the commercial channel’s commentator.  A terrorist outrage afoot – the folly of hosting the World Cup in a troublesome, naive continent, as many of us predicted. Still, the game goes ahead, with Slovakia, despite only semi-existing as a country, prevailing.

As the Italians discovered in 1941, it’s a long way back home from Africa, especially nursing the sore backside of defeat. It is not my business to suggest that angry fans hang their manager by his ankles from a lamppost. However, I would advise that when pelting their returning team at the airport, they use  sun-dried, not rotten tomatoes. They squelch less but sting more.

Japan v Denmark (3-1)

Too many short teams qualifying for my liking – Korea (S), Mexico, now Japan. They must be discouraged – they will only bring things down to their level. We need some sort of sign, the like of which one gets at amusement parks. “You must be this tall to get into this round.”

Poor showing from Denmark, particularly its would-be young Prince Niklas “To be or not to be of any fucking use” Bendtner. This is why “Great Briton” is in reference to Newton, Shakespeare, Brunel, Mosley, etc and “Great Dane” is in reference to a dog. Given that all Denmark has ever contributed to civilisation is bacon, you’d think they’d have had more time to practise defending free kicks

June 25

Portugal v Brazil (0-0)

Nothing to fear from Brazil. Their manager and star player are synonymous with excrement. As for us, it is John Terry, not John Faeces, Steven Gerrard, not Steven Pile Of Shite. It is all about mobility. British movement versus bowel movement, such is what an England-Brazil final would represent.

June 26

Reminds me of the extraordinarily hot Summer of 1914 out there. But fear not, as then, the real fun of slaughter will commence soon enough, upon the morrow. I am reminded of the wistful, scratchy chimes of a ditty composed at the start of the Great War to buoy British troops, its haunting, balladic strains not dissimilar to “Come Into The Garden Maude” rendered upon an old gramophone player. It was called “Annihilate All German Scum Or Die, Die, Die Trying, You Dogs”.

Uruguay v South Korea (2-1)

Helpfully, as in their restaurants, the Koreans are identifiable by number as well as by their names. No guarantee you won’t find a dog’s tail in your soup, mind. Meanwhile, switching to the other channel, I witness confirmation that  the British Broadcasting Corporation is indeed a hotbed of homosexuals. They are currently showing the tennis. If association football is, according to the seditious Mr Orwell “war minus the shooting”, then tennis is sodomy minus the anal sex.

Ghana v USA (2-1)

Culturally jarring, no doubt, for the USA to be departing a conflict midway as opposed to entering it midway.

June 27

England v Germany (result disputed)

Nothing to read here. Keep calm, sit up square and carry on scrolling down.

June 28

Sensible of England to return home, having amply established superiority to sundry, conquered nations. FIFA can forward the trophy to FA HQ, by running boy and then by RAF helicopter to the nearest courier depot. Word reaches me, however, that mascot Capello is to be kicked out. Evidently, the England team grow weary of his flapdoodle and riddle-me-rees. Perhaps they should hire a Spaniard to amuse the team instead? Benitez the Bungler, perhaps, who could perform a routine in which he attempts to cook a paella, only for his trousers to catch fire?

Holland v Slovakia (2-1)

A low country, an even baser one. England have nothing to fear from either of these teams in the forthcoming rounds. The 57 year old bald fellow in the orange appears to present a particularly negligible threat. How, one wonders, did a codger like that get in the team? Did his son, the Minister for Sport, pull strings?

Brazil v Chile (3-0)

There is only one matter of importance in this fixture. As ITV’s commentator reminds us only barely adequately, the English referee is England’s Howard Webb, an Englishman who hails from England. The two English linesmen also hail from England, which, being English, makes sense. And so, the final score is indeed 3-0. Englishmen 3 (Webb, Linesman, Other Linesman), Foreigners nil.

June 29

Paraguay v Japan (0-0: Paraguay win 5-3 on penalties)

The Paraguayan National anthem sounds like their military falling backwards down the Palace steps en masse during a bungled coup attempt. This game is a wet paper bag and those very sporadic, muffled sounds you hear are two inferior nations failing to punch their way out of it. Uninterestingly, the referee is not English.

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

The Wing Commander’s 2010 World Cup Diary – Part One

June 11: Opening of the 2010 World Cup.

As the formality the World Cup tournament commences, and thoughts already advance to the knockout stage, questions play upon my mind, chiefly this; should England practise taking trophies? I say not. I am confident John Terry will grasp it with two firm, warm hands on July 11, with no slip-ups on the podium leading to accidental collisions with other players’ naked wives.

Meanwhile, a message to all UK-based foreigners, who find themselves flanked on all sides by the flag of St George and might consider that in some way they are regarded askance as hostile aliens. Fear not. Agree to support England and you may stay. Till half time. Then gather up your rags and await instructions by bullhorn. As for Englishmen concerned with the level of fervent patriotism shown by their next door neighbours, ie, failing to display a flag of St George with the word “ENGLAND” helpfully emblazoned across the middle in order to distinguish it from the French flag, take heed of the following instructions. 1. Stay calm 2. Call the police, who will presently arrive in Morris Minors.  3. Turn up your wireless to drown out bludgeoning noises through the walls as they handle the matter.

The opening ceremony. Since no one else has said it, I will. There appear to be a remarkable number of negroes in this stadium. However, it is pleasing to see that the adverts on commercial television being brave enough to depict the truth about South Africa’s darker-skinned citizens – that they are all living in cheerful poverty. I, too, would be smiling and cheerful if I were a darker-skinned South African, and not just at the thought of working 14 hour shifts in the diamond mines to advance the interests of my distant English employers. I would be in a state of constant, tickled amusement at my own language, and the phrases, nameplaces it throws up. “Vuvuzela! Bafana! Mandela!” All hilarious. Life for these people must be like rolling in one long aisle.

Mexico v South Africa (1-1)

The Mexicans are showing the same marked reluctance to remain in their own half as they do their own country. The commentator ejaculates to the effect that “South Africa have liberated themselves” – as if to imply that this were necessarily a good thing. However, a draw is the right result. Wins over-inflame the peasantry of third world nations, losses make them querulous. Draws leave them properly subdued.

France v Uruguay (0-0)

It seems the French team is a mixture of English foreigners (Anelka) foreign foreigners (Ribery) and English foreign foreigners (Henry). My advice to the Uruguayans is, when in close contact with the French in midfield, whisper in the players’ ears something amusing Mr Jerry Lewis once said or did, reducing them to helpless hysterics. Then advance and score at will.

June 12

England v USA (1-1)

Anticipation mounts, despite the absence of key members of our defence. This being the United States Of America, however, a 0-0-5 formation ought to do the trick. Moreover, highly as I regard Rio Ferdinand, I deplore his being named after the second city of a hostile nation. Why not Birmingham Ferdinand? A timely name change by deed poll could boost England.

As for the USA, another reminder. The game tonight kicks off at 7.30. Not 7.55, not 8.45 but 7.30. We would be obliged if you could be in this conflict from the start.

June 13

Serbia v Ghana (0-1)

Serbia. Not so much a team as an assortment of sinister henchmen. Mr Roger Moore would make short work of them. As for 11 Ghanaian men, I am less sure.

Germany v Australia (4-0)

Hmm. One can sense the German supporters – their vuvuzela drones have audible umlauts – vüvüzelas, if you will. As for the Australians, well, the South has performed poorly, as a hemisphere, throughout history and tonight would appear to be no exception. Their play is ponderous, futile and doomed, as if having taken to the field wearing Ned Kelly-type makeshift suits of armour. A fast and free-scoring start for the Germans – as ever, they have started off well. However, I would not be drawing up the blueprints for the redesign of Berlin just yet.

June 14

Japan v Cameroon (1-0)

Japan-Cameroon on the British Broadcasting Corporation. Both teams beaten by England so I have no idea what they are trying to prove. They are equally vanquished. As it is, the Japanese prevail.

Inscrutable in victory, the Japanese. Not like our own Alf Ramsey, whose expressions ranged wildly from grim satisfaction to grim dissatisfaction. But then, foreign nations as a whole do not experience emotions they way we English do, merely fall into ritualistic behaviour patterns – dancing, bright colours, so forth – as befits their animal nature.

Sir Alf: Delirious, and (below) devastated

June 14

Italy v Paraguay (1-1)

A simple glance at the map is instructive. Italy; the shape of an effeminate boot. Great Britain, by contrast; plumed, regal, sedentary, breaking wind in the direction of France. As for the National Anthems, both Italy and Paraguay should have theirs confiscated. Both sound composed in haste following coups whose success surprised even the plotters.

June 15

Only three more days till the next World Cup game. Meanwhile,  I am alarmed at possible fissures at Camp England. Joe Cole says England “can” win the World Cup? Why the “can”, Mr Cole? Not unlike saying, gravity “can” prevent you from floating into space. The word is “will!” Go to it with one. I trust John Terry has stiffened the lad’s sinews, summoned up his blood.

New Zealand v Slovakia (1-1)

FIFA’s insistence on playing out these fixtures among the world’s pre-doomed minnows is risible. One suspects that were the alternative channel to broadcast a two hour programme entitled The Unremarkable History Of The Rain Gauge, they would garner more viewers than for this. New Zealand? They are Australia’s own little Australia, for Australians to laugh at the way the rest of us laugh at Australia. As for the Slovakian anthem, it summons all of the despondency to which East Europeans are chronically addicted. It reminds of a four mile trudge to the marketplace, only to be informed that there will be no beetroots till next month.

Portugal v Ivory Coast (0-0)

A querulous encounter, this, between truculent, swarthy and as such effectively internecine adversaries. An English referee would have shot his revolver into the air by now. How typical of foreigners, however – fighting among themselves.

June 16

Hmm. Herr Beckenbauer, doubtless obeying orders, loudly asserts that English football is a matter of “kick and run”. Nothing wrong with than, I retort. Worked well for us in Empire. Kick out the incumbent, large featherhatted native in charge: Run his country.

Chile v Honduras (1-0)

The global dregs. One hopes the British Broadcasting Corporation features a two hour interview with Jamie Milner instead. Subtitled, naturally.

Spain V Switzerland (0-1)

What have the Spanish given us? Flu, fleas and practices. And that first half. A poor haul, all told.

South Africa v Uruguay (0-3)

Hmm. Those drones – like swarms of bees assailing a pondful of mallards – fall queerly silent. A message, however, to disappointed South Africa fans – do  not transfer support to England. We have more than enough fans. We are full up. You will be turned away.

June 17

Greece v Nigeria (2-1)

This Nigerian team appears to be full of Nigerians. As for the Greeks, this ball might as well be an Elgin Marble, so incapable are they of retaining possession of it.

Argentina v South Korea (4-1)

Yet another Argentine handball, as is their swarthy wont. Could FIFA not institute the sanction of amputations for persistent offenders? Or at least the removal of a thumb for first time transgressors. Still, Nothing for England to fear from Argentina – a country so amusingly destitute that cattle is now their official unit of currency.

Mexico v France (2-0)

Some of these Mexicans are, I suspect, women. A senior English FA official must make it his business to go down to the dressing room at half time to conduct a spot genitalia check on them. Perhaps two England players could accompany them. No female, with the exception of Her Majesty The Queen, could resist throwing themselves mouth first at any our players – the game would at once be up.

June 18

An interesting statistic. The Axis nations have all made a fast start to the tournament – Japan, Germany – even Italy, proud conquerors of Abyssinia, got a draw. What this all means I am uncertain, but know this – it means a great deal. And now Argentina are running rampant, the flag of their complacency hoist aloft the Goose Green of their forthcoming nemesis.

English fervour builds, but still the forces of Political Correctness and Liberal Elitism stalk the land. Just this morning, a policeman arrived at my fireside, woke me and arrested me for wearing an England shirt. Bleary but with sound instincts, I  reached for my revolver and shot him in the knee. Turned out to be Seppings bringing me my mid-morning flagon of port but it nonetheless remains a disgrace.

Germany v Serbia (0-1)

The Serbians must be unaccustomed to this flat surface as the open playing space of their own country consists mainly of  mass graves, across which the ball is apt to bobble.

USA v Slovenia (2-2)

2-0 down at half time, and hard to see USA recovering from its current state as a nation. Drenched in oil, humiliated by a Balkan backwater. On no account waste your energies attempting some sort of second half comeback. Instead, throw in the towel, rejoin the Commonwealth!

England v Algeria (0-0)

Who to keep goal? Can I suggest, as a gesture of lip-curled contempt for the foe, our mascot Capello, dressed in full jester’s motley?

The final whistle, and England, insofar as they remain England, are winners. Leaden, lethargic, overhyped, incompetent, clubfooted, arsefaced cunts paralysed by a bizarre mixture of arrogance and anxiety? Clearly not. Appalled, following the victory, on being rickshawed by Seppings past Trafalgar Square to see no fans dancing in the fountains this evening. Doubtless English bobbies five rows deep are being obliged to repel massed celebrants in Northumberland Avenue, lest offence be given to the Algerian ambassador. A disgrace. Fortunately, advertisements on the commercial channel strike the right tone. Children! Have a Mars bar! A burger! A Pepsi! The diet of future English World Cup winners.

June 19

Netherlands v Japan (1-0)

Queer, given their display in the recent world war, to talk of “Dutch courage”. What next, “French hygiene”? “Danish interestingness”? “Greek policework”?

Ghana v Australia (1-1)

A lot of Princes in Ghana team. Feels like cheating. We could have played Princes Harry and William, our best men yesterday,, and won even more easily. Still, the Ghanians in their expressions are evidently happy to be on the same pitch as Caucasians, even of the lower-rung, antipodean variety. As for the Australians, they have acted in accordance with what would doubtless be their Latin national emblem, were any of its countrymen capable of speaking that tongue; “Only poofs finish with eleven men.”

June 20

Astonishing news from the French camp. The French train? Shabby. England do not train. To do so is poor form and ungentlemanly. We shall see the results of this policy on the field of play, mark my words. Disgusted, also, at reports of an unauthorised person berating players in the English dressing room following the Algeria game. Capello is team mascot. He should know his place, and his duties, which largely involving the jiggling of a bladder on a stick.

Excellent to learn, however, that John Terry, now England’s player/manager is giving a team talk tonight. His authority is evident in his eyes, bearing, torso and, doubtless, scrotum.

Slovakia v Paraguay (0-2)

Slovakia, Slovenia, interchangeable. How do we know some of these Slovaks aren’t Slovenia players, sneaked in illegally? Has anyone checked? Typical Balkan ploy. Confuse the enemy by making them wonder who the hell any of you are and why the hell are you squabbling with each other when you’re all Slavs anyway, and who give a hang about what happened to your ancestors in 1173? (Not like 1066, of course, which, as England’s last defeat in any sort of field, still rankles).

As for Paraguay – I cannot remember whether goats are worshipped or eaten there, or both. Whatever it is, it is wholly unacceptable.

New Zealand v Italy (1-1)

“New” Zealand! Are you implying there was an “Old Zealand”? There was not. You are “Zealand”, near the bottom of the Directory of Nations. A draw – but do not write Italy off. They are apt to win the World Cup under robust, no-nonsense Fascist regimes, eg Mussolini (1934-8) and Berlusconi.

Ivory Coast v Brazil (1-3)

That Scandinavian dimwit in the dugout looks familiar. Did we not employ him once in some groundskeeping capacity? Sacked for doing nothing, apart from standing at the side of the pitch with the air of an empty car park in Stockholm?

Brazil make the game look far too easy. The art is to do as England do and make it look as difficult as it actually is.