Does Your Gut Wobble When I Do This?
ONE of the interesting features of Modern British Life is that music people actually like is Never Played on the Wireless. Well, I suppose somebody must like the output of the popular radio stations, but not me. And nearly everyone I know is in the same position. People thrust dodgy CDs onto me. "Here. I copied this for you, I'm sure you'll like it." And so I do. So why have I never heard it on the radio?
It's not even as if I have particularly narrow tastes in music. I like all sorts of things. The only characteristic they have in common is that no DJ in Britain thinks they're worth playing. Or perhaps the DJ does like them. But radio station playlists are chosen not by people but by computers. Apparently computers have inflexible views on records. Music must be danceable, despite none of my computers having much of a facility for dancing. The lead singer should be aged between 17 and 18, and built like a twiglet. The voice is much less important. If the band got their big break on television, so much the better. And the substance of the song should not be in any way disquieting or troublesome. If by mistake a lyric of some depth is let through, then as long as you have a catchy chorus, people probably won't notice. So I'd all but given up on radio as a means of discovering new music.
But then Mike gave me a tuner. Or rather, he decided to get rid of the tuner that we'd owned jointly when married, and I bagsed it on the grounds that although he now owns all the remaining marital property, the bugger's not allowed to throw any of it out without giving me first refusal.
There's a weird problem in algebraic topology, something about the maximum number of electronic components that can be wired up, each to the other, behind a television, in three dimensions. The tuner clearly exceeded this limit, but once I'd nipped down to Maplins for a 4-dimensional adapter, all was well.
I tuned in a variety of stations, including Radio 3. Now, I don't much like classical music, but there are times when it's handy to have. I was surprised, however. Whatever I'd tuned into, it wasn't classical music. It turned out to be Late Junction, a late night programme that plays, well, all sorts of stuff. "And now we have the second movement of the only extant symphony for Durrphhorn, an Icelandic instrument popular in the eighth century and carved from the hollow antlers of a moose." That sort of thing.
It proved an expensive discovery. They play lots of stuff we like, although we might not know it yet. Our musical horizons were broadened. It was possible to listen to music, read the playlist on the web, order the records from Amazon, all in one easy movement.
We discovered Jah Wobble in this manner. "But he's been around for donkey's years!" cried Sue. "I listened to him in my mis-spent youth." New to us. We downloaded more samples. On a night when there happened to be a Jah Wobble gig just down the road, the opportunity arose for a spot of babysitting. Wobble wasn't just on his own, but playing with his supergroup, Solaris. We wondered what, if anything, it had to do with Stanislaw Lem. The publicity material for the gig was illuminating. "The approach taken to the performance will be 'holy minimalist', weaving textures of jazz, world and dub in a largely modal soundscape." This didn't, in fact, give us the faintest idea what to expect.
I was, in any case, worried about attending another live concert. Since Jonathan was small, I've been plagued by a weird gut lurgy. Every so often, I suddenly have bursts of intense pain and have to lie down until it goes away. "It's probably your gallbladder," said the doctor. "We'll use a weird machine to look at your innards and see if you have gallstones. But there is, inevitably, a wait. It's the NHS, after all." So I was concerned that I might have one of my funny turns while at the show, and have to leave. But we went along nevertheless.
Ocean's a great venue. Newly opened, it has lots of concrete and weird swirly things. Arriving fashionably late, we found that there were seats laid out for the early. Everyone else there seemed to be on a free pass. We sat in a corner and waited for the band to come on. The room filled up. The music started with gentle, almost soothing piano from an otherwise empty stage. Fairly quiet, quite pleasant. Then Jah Wobble came on, and overlaid this with phenomenally powerful bass.
Now, I've often heard loud bass music before. Previously, it's been in the context of loud music generally, and the bass has just formed part of the overall picture. But this was different. The music wasn't otherwise overwhelming. It wasn't directional. It was, in fact, completely internalised.
Jah Wobble was playing my intestines.
It was very peculiar.
Gradually, people started leaving. I don't think we've ever been at a gig where so many people have walked out. Perhaps they were all the people on free passes? But we quite enjoyed it. The lengthy improvisations were punctuated with Jah Wobble's bizarre east London poetry. Surely the North Circular would be a better road to eulogise than the A13? We bought a couple of albums, and left happy.
What's more, I've had no further problems with my guts. When I finally went for the ultrasound, there was nary a gallstone in sight. I think perhaps Jah Wobble's dulcet bass tones completely dissolved them.
And as for the title of this article, my ex-husband helpfully points out that my gut wobbles under a wide range of experimental conditions.