Saturday, 23 January 2010

Aural landscapers

Talk in bed this morning with the boys about dragons - one featured in a recent nightmare, apparently - perhaps inevitably turned to Ivor the Engine (a fluting "I'm cold, Mr Jones" is a bit of a catchphrase in our house). It reminded me we hadn't watched the DVD for at least a year, having watched it for what felt like every day for a few months (after that sort of exposure certain phrases stick in the mind.)

There's been a fair bit of celebration of Oliver Postgate's genius - and I use the word justifiably - since his death in 2008, including the BBC4 documentary last shown just before Christmas (it isn't available on the iPlayer at the moment but presumably will be at some point). Of course, the chief focus is bound to be on the animation, the landscapes, the characters and the stories. But in this documentary, as well as elsewhere, there's been too little attention paid to the music and the sound more generally: the Bagpuss folk songs were featured but I don't believe Vernon Elliott received even a mention. Elliott was the composer and bassoonist behind the theme and incidental music in Ivor the Engine, Pogles Wood, Noggin the Nog and Clangers.

Listening to Ivor this morning, whilst the boys watched, I'm in awe of what I suppose one would call the aural landscape. I may well have no clue about this but I would guess that Ivor the Engine is one of the richer TV experiences for blind children.

In the wake of watching yesterday's Brian Eno evening on BBC4, which celebrated his ability to create distinctive, well, aural landscapes, I'm wondering whether Oliver Postgate is the Brian Eno of cartoons? Or is Brian Eno the Oliver Postgate of pop? Whatever, they make marvelous twin eccentric inventors, both very English in their improvisation and playfulness. Hobbyism taken to transcendent heights.

If you want to enjoy some Vernon Elliott performing his Ivor the Engine themes straight-up, a CD can be bought from the Trunk Shop (a site that specialises in recovering unfairly disregarded pieces of pop culture - the wonderful Tony Hart's 'Vision On' logo being their latest project). As well as sounding lovely - bassoon and piano alternately upbeat and melancholy, rich and light - it's great music to do things to, unsurprisingly as it was written to accompany a hard-working steam engine. The 'Cruising Theme' and the 'Fast Theme' also provide unusually non-annoying but nevertheless distinctive ring tones. The 'Cruising Theme' works for me, anyway.

Having searched the web for some straight-up Vernon Elliott to end this post it looks as if the Trunk Shop has the market cornered. So instead here's an Eno collaboration featured last night whose ineffable beauty had somehow slipped my mind (don't be put off by U2's presence, or try not to be). Along with Malcolm McClaren's 'Miss Butterfly' it's the only decent pop/opera combination I've come across:

5 comments:

Sean said...

I am good with African click languages btw, I think it must have something to with being brought up on.The Clangers

Its amazing what you pick up when you are a Kid through those aural landscapes.

I tuned in to Eno for about 3 minutes last night (I will catch up later) Dawkins turned up, I turned off, yesterday was miserable enough without Richard wiping any faint hope from my soul (which I obviously dont have)

Enos "An Ending" what can I say? if you did not know the title you could probably know it fairly quickly,
without guessing

proves your "aural landscape" argument all on its own?And Chomsky and Bacon

Sound is a very powerful thing

Gadjo Dilo said...

Sorry - and please don't take this as a tit-for-tat about the ice skating, which it isn't - but when I saw that Pavarotti and Bono were on the same video clip I could go any further.

Gaw said...

Sean: Glad it turned so much up for you.

Gadjo: Can't say I blame you - one to hear rather than watch probably. Sorry to be rude about the ice-skating - I'm a philistine as far as most kinds of dance are concerned. Though I did enjoy Swan Lake once.

malty said...

Party pooper that I am Gaw, read the undead AA Gill take on the Eno documentary in the ST, one hundred and eighty degrees out, as usual.
Every time I play McClarens Paris I am in receipt of boatloads of hackies from my nearest and dearest, probably because she has a hate thing for that fashion disaster Westwood.

Very good post about painting pictures with sound, try this.
Although a little assistance from the happy baccy bag adds to the enjoyment.

Gaw said...

Malty, listened to some Bo on YouTube - very nice, a lot funkier than I guessed. A bit like Traffic. I shall search out the CD.

One of the many joys of not reading the Sunday Times is that most of the time you can imagine that AA Gill doesn't exist.