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:
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 Mountain — An 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.