Autour de Babel



Image credit: Claude Léonard

The Real International Language


In March 2013 I chanced upon an internet stream of a mix in the ‘Autour de Babel’ strand of musiq3, a channel of the French-language Belgian radio station RTBF.  I mailed saying how much I’d liked it and asking about back numbers of the podcast, and before long found myself agreeing to take a stab at doing a mix of my own.  The original plan, given my complete lack of studio experience, was simply to supply the material with detailed instructions for its sequencing to sound engineer Katia Madoule.  In the end, though, having gained a little experience in the (excellent) Audacity program making the Hendrix Matrix referred to below, I needed little persuading by Katia to do the whole thing myself (save a little expert balancing of levels at the final stage).

My starting point, suggested by the strand’s title, was the idea of the Tower of Babel.  To be more exact, the simple notion that while people in various parts of the world are separated by verbal language, music can transcend this obstacle.  Hence the opening Hendrix Matrix, in which a mashup of Jimi’s surreal ramblings at Monterey provides the backdrop for a procession of snippets from all the other tracks in the mix, first straight then upside-down and back-to-front.  Because in the digital age, for better or worse, any fool can work with a classical device like retrograde inversion. After its initial ‘babble’ phase has given way to the balm of a sublime slice of renaissance polyphony, in turn succeeded by a trilogy of modern classics by Ben Johnston, Michael Nyman and John White, the mix settles into a sequence of pieces in a wide variety of musical dialects, after which the theme, having served its purpose, rather fades from view.

You can listen to the mix, which I call The real international language, right here:

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And / or download it as an mp3 by right-clicking here (choose Save Link As …).

Running order:

00.00     ANON  The Tower of Babel.

00.53     FIN O’SUILLEABHAIN Hendrix Matrix.

03.22     STEVE REICH  It’s Gonna Rain (extract from Part 2).

09.10     BRIAN ENO – DAVID BYRNE The Jezebel Spirit (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts).

14.04     ANON  O Bone Jesu.  The Early Music Consort of London / David Munrow.

17.10     BEN JOHNSTON  String Quartet No 9 (3rd movement).  Kepler Quartet.

21.15     MICHAEL NYMAN  Wheelbarrow Walk (Drowning by Numbers soundtrack).  Michael Nyman Band.

23.44     JOHN WHITE  Autumn Countdown Machine.  Ensemble.

29.21     TRAD arr FIN O’SUILLEABHAIN   In the Dropull Plain.  Unknown performers.

32.39     LEOŠ JANÁČEK arr ŠKAMPA QUARTET  Gnat’s Wedding.  Iva Bittová, Škampa Quartet.

33.29     TOMMY McCOOK & THE AGGROVATORS  A Dancing Version.

35.38     PLANXTY (Uilleann pipes: Liam O’Flynn)  Slip Jigs: The Kid on the MountainAn Phis Fhliuch

39.27     KAUSHIKI CHAKRABARTY  Palak Na Laagi.

46.12     ÂME  Rej.

54.09     PIERRE BOULEZ  Messagesquisse (2: Très rapide).  Ensemble Intercontemporain / Boulez.

56.01     PIERRE BOULEZ arr JIMI TENOR  Messagesquisse (2: Très rapide).

59.54     CHARLIE PARKER QUINTET  Quasimodo.

62.47     JOHN CAGE  6 Melodies (1950) (4: Without indication).  Gidon Kremer (violin), Naoko Yoshino (harp).

65.21     GIULIO CACCINI  Amarilli.  Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo), György Fischer (piano).

68.28     JEAN SIBELIUS  Song of Praise  (Swanwhite Suite, Op 54).  Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Järvi.

71.40     STUMBLEINE  Colourvision.

76.21     THE RESIDENTS  Spotted Pinto Bean.

81.53     THE BEATLES  Long, Long, Long.

First broadcast 14 June 2013.  Thanks, Katia.