Function Two: Goldfrapp live in Cologne


Function Two copyI spent three days in Cologne last week. This is why.

A few months ago, when being able to swan around Europe  seemed very distant, I got an update on my Facebook feed telling me that Goldfrapp were going to be headlining the Electronic Beats Festival Cologne. I love Goldfrapp – if you watch the video above, you may get some idea of why – and basically on a whim, I bought a ticket.

This was a good whimsical decision.

View of the Kölner Dom from the eastern bank of the Rhine. Leading to the cathedral is a large iron bridge mounted on stone pillars; one and a half of its long metal arches are visible. The greenish river water reflects the blue, partly cloudy sky aboveOther things done in Cologne: visited the Schokoladenmuseum on the banks of the Rhine (they had a chocolate fountain and gave out free samples), took a boat tour on that same river, climbed one of the towers of the Kölner Dom (over 500 steps!) and descended deep into its treasury to see Frankish burials goods and relics of the Magi. Time well spent.

View of the eastern bank of the Rhine, near the southern end of Cologne. The river bank is grassy, and some metres back from the river are many tall, rounded trees. They are reflected in the gently rippling water. Above are numerous grey-white cumulus clouds. At the far left, where the sky meets the river, a few far-off buildings are visible, including the tall double spire of the famous Cologne Cathedral

Pensée: for May 17 2014


ImageNormally the view from my window is not really very impressive; just overlooking a bunch of apartment buildings. (From the other side of the building you get views of Sacré-Cœur and the Eiffel Tower.) But an evening rainstorm a few weeks ago revealed an unexpected delight.

A large rainbow curves across an overcast sky. Below it, several apartment blocks and the leafy tops of trees are visible. Above it and to the right appears the fainter double rainbow.

Now Playing: ‘Marry Gus And Celia’, Emily Loizeau & Camille


Now playing copyIt’s strange. I feel the universe (or, at very least, the powerful force known as Coincidence) very much wants me to go see Emily Loizeau. Just yesterday I was wandering around the 3rd arrondissement, near the Hôtel de Ville, when I encountered a very compact music store offering a whole bunch of CDs for 5 euros each. I hadn’t heard of many of the albums, but one of these unknowns stood out to me with its pretty cover and puckish mix of English and French titles. I thought about buying it, put it back, shrugged, and walked away.

And that is where things might have ended. I thought, while continuing to wander, that I might look up the artist’s œuvre online, only to realise that I’d forgotten part of her name. But passing through a Métro station on my way home, I just happened to pass by a poster with her name on it quite clearly (white letters on black background). When I got home, my cursory Internet search revealed that Mme Loizeau has an upcoming concert, in Paris (and not far from where I’m living), on May 19. So on Monday I’m going to see Emily Loizeau perform at the Théâtre Déjazet, having by that point known that she existed for about 100 hours. Tell all your friends: being in France has made me impulsive.

Anyway, I went back today and bought the album, of course; and ‘Marry Gus And Celia’ is one of my favourite tracks from it. A YouTube version, acoustic, is below. But the original is a duet with Camille, and it’s just gorgeous. It twinkles and bounces, as Loizeau and Camille’s harmonies spiral ever higher. Joyful.


Function Two: Petites pratiques germanopratines


Function Two copyA few days ago I went on a ramble on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. It seemed like the right decision, what with being in Paris on a warm and sunny afternoon and all.

Things to see in every direction! A whole bunch of very pricey shops, beautiful buildings, interesting sculptures (the one in the Place du Québec was really cool – the pavement blocks slope upwards like they’ve been cracked open from below, and there are fountains underneath). Plus, of course, the solidly elegant Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés and three of Paris’s most famous cafés just nearby (Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, Brasserie Lipp).

Topping the list of things I was not expecting to find: a mediaeval garden, planted only with things actually found in France during the Middle Ages, on the Rue de Cluny. A very pleasant place to spend some time.

Now Playing: ‘Still’, The High Wire


Now playing copySome things you encounter in surprising ways. I wasn’t, for example, expecting Chris Martin to tell me about the band of one of his friends, and encourage me to download said band’s latest LP, through a post on Coldplay’s Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. But, yoked to social media as I am, I took his advice; which is how I encountered The High Wire’s eight-track offering Found In Honey.

I hesitate to classify Found In Honey as an album; it’s barely 25 minutes long. But it’s simultaneously sweet and a little sorrowful, and in fact sounds a lot like what I imagine The Joy Formidable’s Wolf’s Law would have sounded like had that album’s title track been more representative of the whole. The High Wire and The Joy Formidable share the same pretentiousness, true, but it’s not there all the time. And when it rightfully fades into the background, some very effective performances can show through.

‘Still’ is a good example of this ethos. You might find it a little mawkish. I did, to begin with. But just pay attention to the start of the second verse, where a truly excellent vocal harmony resolves with the aid of grumbling guitars (around 1:08). You might reconsider.

(P.S. If you do reconsider, you might then be interested to know that Found In Honey is available free here until the end of the month.)

Pensée: for March 17 2014


ImageI’ve been hearing stuff about gravitational waves for years. They’re oscillations in the curvature of spacetime, created by specific kinds of motion (usually that associated with massive objects, like stars). About an hour north of Perth, there’s an observatory dedicated specifically to their detection, with a really cool science centre just next door; and I’m science-y enough that I’ve visited the precinct at least eight or nine times. So I’ve known about the idea for a while, and about how fruitless the search has been so far.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that a team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, led by Dr John M. Kovac, announced that they had found evidence for gravitational waves. And not just any waves – ones that greatly bolster inflationary theory, which looked like one of the best models for explaining the structure of the universe before today and which looks even better now.

A goodly number of people (see links below) are suggesting that this discovery is Nobel bait. And it certainly fits the criteria: as defined in Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded “to the person who shall have made the most important ‘discovery’ or ‘invention’ within the field of physics”. Of course, confirmation of the results has yet to be made, but it’s highly unlikely that it’s not forthcoming. The New York Times reports that the chance of a fluke is around one in 3.5 million – a level of certainty consistent with the highly rigorous standard used elsewhere in physics.

The Harvard team made the discovery using data from a detector with the improbably cool name of BICEP2 (which stands for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation). And just where is BICEP2 located? Why, the South Pole.

There are very few ways in which this could become more awesome.

More information:

Function Two: Nearer to Narnia


Function Two copyIt’s days like today where I regret that I don’t have a decent camera with me in Paris. This afternoon, I went out for a walk around the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, which is only fifteen minutes away from me in the 19ème. It’s hilly and lush and beautiful; and with its lampposts and European greenery, I felt like I’d stumbled upon a little Parisian patch of Narnia.

Some things I saw of which I couldn’t get decent photos:

  • A very elegant older woman up at the Temple de la Sibylle, extremely stylish in her green coat and heron brooch;
  • Lots of children playing a sideshow game involving fishing plastic ducks out of a pool;
  • Real ducks, of various sizes and colorations, swimming in the lake;
  • An overpriced little café with some rather nicely-done street art painted on the side;
  • Bumblebees! I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen them before.

Function Two: A cemetery


Function Two copyPère Lachaise is my favourite place in Paris.

I like the solitude. It doesn’t expect anything from you.

Long Tail Eight 2013: #5


Long Tail Eight copy

‘Wolf’s Law’

Media type: Song

Artist: The Joy Formidable

Album: Wolf’s Law

Year: 2013

I’m not exactly a Downton Abbey worshipper (I feel it’s been sliding since season 1), but I really liked the trailer for its fourth season, which came out about half a year ago – not for the teasers but for the music. Happily, some nice YouTube commenters* posted the song’s name and the artist; and this is how I found out about The Joy Formidable and ‘Wolf’s Law’. So I downloaded the track from iTunes, back when I still had iTunes credit, and was all the happier for it.

It’s an awesome piece of music. ‘Wolf’s Law’ is the title (and final) track from The Joy Formidable’s second album, and it puts lead singer Ritzy Bryan’s very elegant soft-then-loud vocals to great use. The track drastically changes mood partway through and is all the richer for it, handling the transition much better than Catching Fire ever did. In places it’s delicate; in places it’s raucous. The lyrics get a little meh towards the end (‘Don’t wait, let’s go, go, go!’), but it hardly matters; Bryan’s voice merges with the piano line and the electronica in a glorious crescendo. It sounds like lost love and desperation and joyous abandon, which, given the name of the band, is certainly appropriate.

The rest of the album is good, too, but it’s a very different listening experience to its title track, which is why only that track makes it into my Long Tail Eight. Maybe I should have twigged when Pitchfork reviewed Wolf’s Law and mentioned The Joy Formidable and Muse in the same sentence, numerous times. The album’s other tracks feature far more guitar work and distortion, which seem to flop as often as it succeeds (take a look at how Pitchfork describes the guitar solo in ‘Maw Maw Song’ and you’ll get the idea).

But ‘Wolf’s Law’ still reigns supreme. There’s a reason it made the Downton Abbey trailer so good; the music parallels the video’s swift suite of emotions and desires excellently. So watch the trailer and hear what hooked me in the first place. Then listen to the track, in its entirety. And love it.

*Not, as it turns out, a contradiction in terms.

(A heads-up for the clip: you may find it a little icky in places – lots of insects, a few brief shots of sperm cells, some scenes of childbirth starting at (I think) 2:30. But it’s a nice video overall.)