Archive for April 2009

A classic is something that everybody wants to have heard

April 28, 2009

I admit that since I arrived in Vienna, culture has not been my watchword.  Not least when it comes to music.  Thus far I’ve seen a jazz concert, an American folk singer and I’ll be going to see the Ting Tings this Saturday.  Yesterday, however, I redeemed myself.

One of my Irish friends, John, plays the double bass for orchestras in both Ireland and here in Vienna.  I saw him play just before Easter with the Uni Wien orchestra and he recently invited me to go and watch a performance by a professional orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, perform Mahler’s 6th Symphony.  Feeling I should embrace the culture of the city, I said yes.

My view during the performance

My view during the performance

We had standing tickets and it was quite literally standing room only; the concert hall was so packed that we could not, in fact, see the performers.  I was surprised that the place had sold out, moreso that the demographics were pretty varied.  The audience seemed to range from my age to people in their golden years.  The other thing that I noticed was how warm a room can become when lots of people are standing together in a non-air-conditioned room, I was half asleep on my feet by the time the orchestra (allegedly) took the stage.

Because, of course, the music is the important thing here.  However, I always find myself facing a problem when whenever I hear classical music.  I can enjoy it, and appreciate the subtle melding of different melodies in a piece, but because there are no lyrics to explain what the song is trying to convey, I don’t really understand the emotion of what I’m hearing.  For example, the start of Mahler’s 6th was rather rousing, but I found it made me thing of the first Star Wars movie, I imagined a great power or evil chasing after a nobler soul and I found myself wondering what story the music was really trying to convey.  I felt that if I’d had a better understanding of what was happening I would have been able to better appreciate what I was hearing.

I’m curious if I would be able to follow along had I had a book explaining what the different staves meant, as I saw several people in the concert hall reading them.  As it was, for most of the performance I found myself zoning in and out and the most memorable moment was when a half-asleep old lady jumped out of her skin at a sudden crash of percussion.

This is not to say I was rude during the performance.  I was surprised to find that every squeaky floorboard seemed amplified even during the louder orchestral pieces and I was desperately worried of receiving disdainful looks from my fellow audience members every time I shifted my weight, even in spite of people committing the much greater classical music crimes of receiving phone calls or walking out of the concert hall doors during the performance.

I may be a philistine, but at least I am a respectful philistine.

Though I didn't enjoy the concert, the architecture in the concert hall was amazing!

Though I didn't enjoy the concert, the architecture in the concert hall was amazing!


I’m English (me old fruity)

April 24, 2009

I did something yesterday that I’d never done before.  I sent someone a text saying “Happy St. George’s Day”.

I’ve never really paid much attention to St. George’s day; this is largely because I spend most of my time playing up the fact that I am, technically, Austrian – born halfway up a mountain in Austria is more than simply a quirky blog name, after all.  However, my usual “I was born there, therefore I am one of them” schtick falls down somewhat when I arrive in the country, unable to fully communicate and having spent 18 out of 21 years living in the UK.

So here I’m English.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m proud to be English, England is where I was raised and I am part of it’s culture.  Being “Austrian” is simply something that makes me stand out from the masses a little bit.

The problem I’ve been finding in writing this, though, is finding aspects of English culture which are distinct from British culture.  I’m proud of British humour, which takes it’s cue from the whole nation’s absurd, self-depreciating, occasionally macabre tastes.  I’m proud of the amount we’ve contributed to literature and science, but authors from all over the country write comparable works and our scientific advances have come about from group research.  I’m proud of the BBC; I’ve met so many non-British people who use the BBC news service and watch it’s programmes, because it offers more balanced reporting and more varied programming, but that of course is the British Broadcasting Corporation.

But then, when I lie back and think of England (har har), I don’t think of those things, nor anything that could be learned from textbooks.  I think of my family and of somewhere I can go back to if all my worldly ambition falls through.  I think of sharing a pint and laughing with my mates down the pub.

On my walls there are two flags, a Spanish flag and an Austrian flag.  I’ve been asked before why I don’t also have a flag for England.  Put simply, Spain and Austria are places where I’ve lived; their cultures and languages fascinate me, but I will always be an outsider to some extent.  England is my home.  And that’s more than a flag can truly represent.

So while, after all I’ve seen, I can’t romanticise the English countryside as the most beautiful in the world, nor the weather the finest, nor the politicians the least corrupt.  I can say that for many years now since first hearing it sung by The Divine Comedy, I’ve always this poem going through my head – and occasionally my iPod – when I return to England from a holiday:

I travelled among unknown men
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.

‘Tis past, that melancholy dream!
Nor will I quit thy shore
A second time; for still I seem
To love thee more and more.

Among thy mountains did I feel
The joy of my desire;
And she I cherished turned her wheel
Beside an English fire.

Thy mornings showed, thy nights concealed,
The bowers where Lucy played;
And thine too is the last green field
That Lucy’s eyes surveyed.

William Wordsworth

And I mean it every time.

Caught Up

April 23, 2009

You’ll forgive me for saying that this feels a little odd.  Not the act of blogging itself, no, what I find odd is the fact that I’m posting a blog directly to WordPress without changing the “date published” setting.  Even now, I find myself wanting to change the time to make it look like I’m not posting just before midnight, as if there’s some unwritten blogger’s code which marks me as some sort of deviant for doing so.

Up to now I’ve simply been copying and the relatively small number of blogs I’ve previously posted in various dark corners of the internet, changing the time and date to the original time and date of publication and leaving it at that.  Even this past fortnight, I was drafting these blogs in a diary to copy up neat here later.

However I realised around midway through my “Complicated” entry – the irony is not lost on me – that this method was a) pointless, as any form of computer-based word processing allows me to change and correct segments without leaving scribbles and lines through everything, making it b) a collossal waste of paper.

That said I now have a two thirds unfilled diary to find a use for…

Ingrid Michaelson at Chelsea

April 22, 2009

Thou shall not think having a blog makes you a journalist

– From Thou Shall Always Kill (De La Edit),

Dan LeSac Vs Scroobius Pip

I should probably start with that point.  I am fully aware that I hardly qualify as part of the new wave of journalism.  I will not be reporting,  nor offering commentary about the news any time soon, mostly because if I were to look into what’s going on in the world today, my first stop would be Wikipedia.  However, one of the great many benefits of having a blogging account is that I’m able to give into certain pretensions, certain desires to be something like a journalist.  And so it is that in this entry, I will be reviewing a gig.

I’ve adopted the view that, whatever I do, I’ll leave my Erasmus year in considerable debt so I may as well enjoy myself.  So it was that last night I found myself in the Chelsea pub to watch Ingrid Michaelson perform live.

Before the gig, I had never heard Ingrid Michaelson, I’d barely even heard of her, nor had I been to the bar she was playing at, despite it being a major Viennese venue for up-and-coming performers.  I went in with absolutely no expectations, nor preconceptions about what I was about to see, which made the overall experience all the better



Chelsea is the perfect underground music club; built into the arches of a U-bahn bridge just outside of the city centre.  It reminded me of the Cavern in Liverpool, all brick archways and windowless walls with tattered posters everywhere and I was lucky enough to arrive early with my friends and find a perch at the bar next to the stage, a perfect place for music appreciation, especially if the band turns out to be bad.

Martin and James

Martin and James

The warm up act were a couple of Glaswegian guys called Martin and James who played a set of acoustic indie songs, which to my mind were completely indistiguishable from one another.  This is not to say they were bad, they both had voices tempered by a Gallic lilt and they played their instruments well, but there was no song or tune which stood out and stuck in my memory.  They did manage to generate a good rapport with the crowd and I got the feeling that they have a charisma which they’ve not yet fully tapped.  Maybe in a few years I’ll come across them again and I’ll reserve full judgement when and if that time comes.

The main event however, was a totally different story.  Ingrid is a talented songwriter; each song is distinct and she makes use of several different instruments (Piano, Guitar and Ukelele), while following the same folk style.  Her songs speak of love and happiness in simplicity, with memorable lyrics and tunes which make me smile when I hear them all sung in a voice which is simply beautiful.  It should say something that the morning after the gig, I downloaded Ingrid’s first album from iTunes because I still had Breakable stuck in my head.

The highlight of the gig was her banter with the audience between songs.  You can see that she enjoys her job and it shines through as she jokes about such simple things – an audience member’s high pitched sneeze, for example – with a quick wit and improvisation which would put many stand up comedians to shame.  She has a very self-depricating sense of humour as well.  She joked several times about how she and her sidewoman, the charming and understated Allie Moss, stare at each other during her love songs and was not afraid to laugh at herself when she made a mistake mid-song.

Ingrid Michealson (Right) performing with Allie Moss

Ingrid Michealson (Right) performing with Allie Moss

From going in having never heard a single Ingrid Michaelson song, I left sad that the encore – a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in which she showed off her vocal skills – hadn’t been longer or contained more of her own songs.

At the very least I would recommend her first album Girls and Boys to people, but I would most certainly go out of my way to attend a gig if she were playing near me again.

Ingrid Michaelson can be found at

Martin and James can be found at

I don’t know the Irish for “Welcome Back”

April 20, 2009

The Irish are back. Most of my time spent in Vienna is spent with a group of three Irish girls and an Irish guy and they arrived back on Sunday. Jon rang me when they got back, inviting me out to lunch – which, incidentally was the first internal call I’d received since arriving here, causing me to jump out of my chair at how loud the phone’s ring was.

Despite having just flown in from Ireland, we went to an Irish pub for food, and whilst we were sitting, talking, it occured to me that this was the first time in a fortnight that I’d had any contact with my peers. For all that I love about it, everyone I know in Kitzbühel is at least ten years older or younger than me, which can leave you kind of alienated.

They also meant that I got out of the house more.  I thought that I would wander around the city during the last few days of my Easter holidays, but I felt no real compulsion to do anymore than I needed to.  I have a theory that, whereas in Seville, where I would go out to get personal space away from my roommate, in Vienna, where I have no roommate and infinite personal space, I want to spend time with people when I go out.  Of course, I could just motivate myself, but I want to justify my laziness.

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?

April 19, 2009

I have a sneaking suspicion that I have a subconscious desire to make life more complicated for myself.

As of today, for example, I possess accounts for Hotmail, YouTube, Twitter and – obviously – WordPress (to which you probably don’t need a link).  Quite aside from being an affront to nearly every grammatical rule I’ve ever learnt, these are websites dedicated to messages, videos, shorter messages and blogging, respectively.  All of these service are offered by Facebook.  And yet, I find myself more and more disinterested with Facebook, in spite of its services.

At the same time, I have, for many years now, resisted any suggestion that I should get a phone for anything other than calling and texting.  Blackberries and iPhones can probably take pictures and video as well as my digital camera and play music as well as my iPod and they have the added benefit of being a phone in a casing so slim that people wouldn’t even notice it in your pocket.  Yet, I possess a phone, a camera and an iPod which, when carried together, make me appear to be following in the fashion footsteps of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Moreover, with the combined amount  I spent on phone, camera and pod, I could have easily purchased a top of the range phone which offered the features of all three and paid the monthly fees for a year with change to spare.

Admittedly with the internet sites there are some benefits not offered by Facebook; relative anonymity for one.  I enjoy putting myself online, I enjoy the feeling of being connected, even if very few people read what I have to say, but I would never be so open on a site like Facebook, because everyone I know in real life is on there, from people I’ve known since before I started school, to people I’ve had a passing encounter with once, to potential employers.  There are friends who, if I learnt they read this, I would not mind – I might even encourage it – and they would be the ones most likely to read a note of mine on Facebook.  Nonetheless, I don’t want everyone to have access to it, which is why few of my friends know of my my myriad [insert letter here]logs.

However, those same benefits don’t exist in the phone world, most of the options I’d lose from my iPod or camera would be the superfluous ones I don’t use in the first place, so I’m spending more money for things which I don’t use.  With websites, I just have a few more bookmarks, with electronics I have a lot less money.

The irony here is that I’ve always insisted that I choose to have seperate things for specific taks for the sake of simplicity.  When did simplicity become so complex?

Things to do

April 18, 2009

According to a list I wrote on the back of a receipt last night, today I had to do the following things:

1.     Buy Spanish exercise book

Attempted, failed.  I tried several bookshops local to my flat with no joy, eventually I had to go the the Bucherei (German, lit: bookery – a bookshop) at the university, where the teacher had assured the class they could find the book.

It wasn’t there either

I was delighted to find some Jasper Fforde books in there – in English, though I do wonder if I could find them in German – but the Spanish book won’t be in until the end of the week at the earliest.

I’ve resolved to go to the library on Monday to find the book, they should have one copy, at least. (update: did you buggery – 20/04)

2.     Top up phone

Done.  It was a remarkably easy thing to do, I only had to go to the one shop.  However, the guy at the counter twigged I was English and apparently wanted to practice his.  We both seemed to think the grass was greener in the other person’s respective country (he preferred England to Austria and vice versa).  After fifteen minutes though, I started to worry he was going to keep me there all afternoon, but he had to deal with a phone call and bade me goodbye not long after that.

3.     Go to gym

Done.  Now repeat daily.

4.     Finish editing and uploading videos from Kitzbühel

Did one, still have to record a bit for the fourth one.  I should also do a few “lost weeks” videos for Sevilla using photos.  I’m not sure why I think this is something I should do.  Maybe it’s a symptom of the era I grow up in; all our lives must be broadcast!

“Our lives must be broadcast”.  That suddenly got me thinking of a friend of mine who I haven’t heard from in ages, because she deleted her Facebook account.  I feel bad about it, but I wonder if I would still want to contact her if she did have Facebook.

I’ve found myself wondering recently if Facebook allows me to take people for granted, because they’re always in plain site.  Why do I need to get in contact with anyone, when even the most trivial of news is all laid out before me in a convenient feed.  I’ve been debating recently whether or not I should delete the thing, the people that care enough will find another way to contact me and I’m sick of always feeling the ned to update photos and statuses and other such gubbins.

We shall see.