The Ten Second Habit: How Do You Listen To Music?

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I’m making an effort to listen to some of the biggies; classic music albums which have become legends for whatever reason. And that’s exactly what it is sometimes; an effort. A Love Supreme is revered amongst jazz fans as a masterpiece by a man who is himself a bit of a legend; John Coltrane. I’m not much of a jazz fan so the thoughts of listening to this entire album from beginning to end made me feel daunted. That’s the thing, you see, I promised myself that if I do listen to these ‘important’ albums then I’ll listen to them properly; from start to finish, in the correct order, not skipping about like I normally do on Spotify, not listen to half a track then half of another track, not listen while playing a game or writing my shopping list, give them the respect and the time that they deserve. Yes, it was a big effort.

This particular album was probably the hardest one I could have chosen to start with. After five minutes, I started to feel like I was listening to a audio book in Urdu. Shown below is the musical score and also some of Coltrane’s own notes on the album and these too seem like impenetrable hieroglyphics. Jazz is like a foreign language sometimes and I felt like I definitely didn’t speak the lingo. But I hadn’t given myself the option of giving up, like I usually would. I’d vowed to stick it right to the end.

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The album is a four-part suite, broken up into tracks; ‘Acknowledgement’  ‘Resolution’, ‘Pursuance’, and ‘Psalm’. The first part is interesting if only for the sound of Coltrane chanting the title of the album over and over. Unexpected. But after that, I hit the wall. The feeling of listening to something which made no sense got stronger. There’s no melody, no familiarity, nothing to latch on to. There doesn’t even seem to be much feeling at this point. This is where, normally, I’d switch off. But I didn’t. Was it worth it?

Yes. The second half is amazing. Maybe you have to go through the groundwork of the first half to prime your ears for the last bit. In the last two sections everything changes. You’re still listening to a foreign language, you still can’t figure any of it out, there’s still no melody and nothing familiar to comfort you. But now there’s emotion.

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Everything starts gearing up to an amazing climax. It’s like the band is a living, writhing animal. Where the preceding parts felt stilted and kind of lifeless, now there’s life, lots and lots of life. Now, listening to a foreign language is a great experience and it doesn’t matter that you don’t understand the little symbols on the page. Music and emotion are languages common to everyone.

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A Love Supreme is often listed amongst the greatest jazz albums of all time. It’s reported that Coltrane, who struggled with drug addiction, got his inspiration for the album from a near overdose in 1957 which caused him to turn to spirituality which would figure in much of his composing and playing from this point onwards. The album was composed at Coltrane’s home in Dix Hills on Long Island. His quartet played A Love Supreme live only once in July 1965 at a concert in Antibes, France.

I ended up really enjoying it. If I’d carried on listening to music in the same way I normally do, the way many of us do now with the rise of the net; flicking from one track to another, listening to 10 seconds of this and 10 seconds of that, I’d have missed out on an appreciation of something great. Truly good stuff usually demands more than 10 seconds.

Total Eclipse of the Facts

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I bet you didn’t know this about the eclipse…

 The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and, by sheer coincidence, the sun is 400 times further away from Earth!! That’s why, when a solar eclipse happens, the moon fits exactly over the sun from our viewpoint. How can that have happened by chance?! Earth is the only place in the solar system where this happens!

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The moon’s shadow will zoom across Earth’s surface at up to 5,000 miles per hour.

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The birds will stop singing because they’ll think it’s night time. As the Moon passes in front of the Sun and the darkening sky triggers night-time behaviour, nocturnal creatures like owls and bats could become more alert while farm animals and pets may look for a place to sleep.

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There won’t be another solar eclipse of similar magnitude to this one until August 12, 2026 when 95 per cent of the Sun will be obscured. Britain will not see a total solar eclipse until September 23, 2090. I’ll be 120 years old by then; Iooking forward to it!

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A solar eclipse was used by the British astronomer and mathematician Sir Arthur Eddington to prove Einstein’s theory of general relativity, in 1919

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Tidal friction, which causes that lengthening of the day, is making the moon gradually drift away. In about 600 million years it will appear too small to cover the sun, and there will be no more total solar eclipses.

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This Gun Shot Andy Warhol

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I saw this Andy Warhol creation at Tate Liverpool recently. I liked it even without knowing anything about it but what I didn’t realise was that the gun depicted is very similar to the one used, on June 3 1968, to shoot him. On June 3, 1968, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas shot Warhol at his studio.

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The woman who shot him was Valerie Solanas who had been a known figure on the scene having written the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, a feminist tract that advocated the elimination of men (sounds like good, frothy, holiday reading). At 2:00 pm that day she apparently went up into his studio looking for Warhol. She rode the lift up and down until Warhol finally appeared. They entered the studio together. The phone rang; Warhol answered. While he was on the phone, Solanas fired at him three times. She missed twice, but the third shot went through both lungs, spleen, stomach, liver, and esophagus. She then shot art critic Mario Amaya in the hip. She tried to shoot Fred Hughes, Warhol’s manager, in the head but her gun jammed. Hughes asked her to leave, which she did. Warhol was taken to hospital where he underwent a five-hour operation.

Amaya received only minor injuries but Warhol was seriously wounded and barely survived. Surgeons opened his chest and massaged his heart to help stimulate its movement. He suffered physical effects for the rest of his life, including being required to wear a surgical corset. The shooting had a major effect on Warhol’s life and art and lead to death being a theme for much of his subsequent work.

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Above, Warhol shows the wounds caused by the shooting. The actual moment-by-moment experience of being shot must also have been a life-changing, work-changing experience. The shooting was very real but to him felt unreal. I’ve had moments in my life where certain things (usually events which are shocking or upsetting in some way) happen and it’s like time slows down; the whole thing’s like a dream. Like when you’re in a car accident or somthing similar and you feel like you’re watching it happen in a film? Real things can feel unreal (as with the shooting) and unreal things can feel real (as with images of iconic celebrities).

“Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there—I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television—you don’t feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.” 

ANDY WARHOL

I Can’t Think

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I had to do a very short presentation type thing at work recently. Above are some of the notes I made. As I was preparing for it the night before… (I always prepare for things the night before so as to create the maximum amount of anxiety)… I realised that my capacity to learn stuff has dropped off a cliff. It’s about five years since I last did any kind of formal studying but it feels like, since then, my brain has evaporated. You know when you leave something in the microwave too long and it shrivels up into a dry, crumbly, useless piece of shit? That’s my brain.

Actually I don’t think it’s anything to do with a reduction in brain cells. I still have the same number of brain cells that I had five years ago (about nine). It’s more to do with an increase in anxiety. I’m even more anxious now than I was then about getting it right!! How can that be?! Surely I’m supposed to be getting more confident as I get older not less!! Well, basically… nope! This time next year I fully expect to be drooling and slumped in a chair clutching a puzzle compendium. The question is… why?!

100 YEARS LATER: Time Travelling Pub

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The photo above was taken about 100 years ago. The photo below was taken last month by me. They both show the same place taken from as near to the same angle as I could get. The Barley Mow is a pub in my home town of Runcorn, Cheshire, England.

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HOW TO GET POWER!

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I took these photographs of Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. It gulps down 195 million litres of water every day from the River Mersey. As a kid I always thought that the vast chimneys were pumping out poison which would inevitably kill us all. In fact they pump out only steam. In 1984 one of the eight chimneys collapsed due to high winds apparently, but was rebuilt. Why was I not notified?!!

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