Data Set from Bowie Symposium Talk

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At the Symposium on the Stardom and Celebrity of David Bowie last July, I presented some data visualisations of trends and consistencies that exist in Bowie's catalogue of songs. In preparing my talk, I didn't just want to talk about trends I 'suspected' were there, I wanted to back up my points with something a little more concrete. Also, compiling the data gave me an excuse to listen to David Bowie records in the name of 'research' (such hardship, right?)

Anyway, after the talk many people asked me if they could access the spreadsheet. So here it is. I added some 'sound-alikey' categories (Scott Walker/Frank Black/Anthony Newley-esque, etc) on the advice of one symposium delegate I chatted to after I gave the presentation.

It's a work in progress and certainly not meant to represent anything other than very general categorisations to illustrate a point I was trying to make in my talk (which I'll write up and post here shortly). I am well aware that many complexities in the music are ignored in these categories, and that Bowie's often oblique/abstract lyrical approaches are not well served by the simplistic themes I've listed here. I'm also aware that many might disagree on the categories I've chosen. By 'Modal Effect?' I'm referring to any significant modal or diatonic signature that is present, and am not suggesting that the entire song adheres to that tonal profile. That said, the data set can certainly be refined, and if you want to fiddle about with it and have some additions/amendments/objections by all means let me know (l.kardos@kingston.ac.uk) or adapt your own version to suit.

General Bowie Vocalisations vs Song Content (Excel) (Numbers)

For the visualisations, I used the free version of Tableaux Public. You can access the visualisations here (also embedded below, though it seems not all of the tabs are showing). Click the different tabs to see the visualisations I prepared for my talk 'Can You Hear Me? looking at the recurring sonic and musical gestures in the works of David Bowie'.



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Recording at Abbey Rd for Lonesound

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The wonderful graffiti wall out front.

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The Dark Side of the Moon console, a.k.a. MUSIC TECH PORN

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It should say: "On hearing an alarm, ignore the screams of your burning friends and colleagues. RUN to the second floor corridor and rescue the Sgt Pepper 4 track console. Ride it to safety."

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James helps James with those high notes.

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Sonic Fascination

A while back I was honoured to be asked by my record label (Bigo & Twigetti) to come up with a playlist for February. It features a selection of pop, experimental and classical composers stepping over genre boundaries and borrowing from each other. It's also a celebration of studio composition; where the sonic elements, like timbre, texture and ambience, communicate ideas just as effectively as words, notes, harmonies and rhythms do. Have a close listen, be fascinated and enjoy.



Click here to listen to it via 8 tracks

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You Cant Hide Beat

You know I'm a massive David Bowie fan, right? I'm not ashamed to say I'm a little bit obsessed. Hidden away in private fangirl seclusion, I've often enjoyed bashing out the odd cover version to myself - mainly the piano-driven ones (Time, Changes, both Ladies, Grinning Soul and Stardust, that kind of thing). Almost like a ritual, it’s another way to experience and appreciate the music from the inside out. Generally speaking, I despise most cover versions of songs that I love - why mess with something that already exists and is pretty much perfect? For this reason, I've never done this sort of thing in public often, and when I have it's only ever been for an audience of friends and fellow fans.
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The first of the three Bowie cover gigs I’ve performed was for Trevor's 49th birthday party. Trev is a lovely man and Bowie fan of legend who I had gotten to know through BowieNet (www.davidbowie.com). He had asked my band to come and play the gig - I was fronting for Helzuki at the time. The band couldn't make it but I decided to offer to play some covers instead. Lugging my red furry piano, I pitched up and played a set of slightly more obscure/unobvious numbers. I met a few quizzical looks, but on the whole it went down pretty well. He invited me back the following year for his 50th birthday party - again with my piano, again with a new set of slightly off-kilter interpretations. Standout surreal moment of that party: singing Under Pressure with a Bowie impersonator.

The third, and last, time I did this was for Phil's 40th birthday party in February 2010. For Phil (another lovely man and Bowie fan of legend whom I had gotten to know via BowieNet), I wanted to do something a little bit different. With the party being held in a venue in SE London, it was impossible to lug my heavy piano across the city on the Tube. I decided to perform with my keytar, doing a set of songs in an electro style. I thought it might be funny and give the fans a bit of a laugh (while solving my
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transport issues, since the Roland AX-7 weighs about the same as a cricket bat). I created some backing tracks in the studio, going for a Lady Gaga meets Goldfrapp kinda vibe. I cut the drum loop from the beginning of Soul Love and used it to accompany my new version of Always Crashing In The Same Car. I took the piano riff from Aladdin Sane and used it to flesh out the backing for I'm Deranged. So cheeky, I thought, and only a fan would have the awareness to spot it. After the gig, I had mixed reviews - in the eyes of some I had desecrated the holy relics, others loved it and asked if they could buy recordings from me. This was the best reaction yet, I thought to myself. Mental-note: I should record these for a laugh.

Once the summer hols had started, and I had a bit of spare time, I decided to get Liz to come up to Bedford and help me get the vocals down. I'd chosen six tracks, some new and some from Phil's electro birthday set. We got drunk on Jack Daniel’s and I bellowed out the lyrics while she pressed record in the control room. It was FUNNY. The productions were crude, bashed out quickly in a DIY-bedroom style. We joked about getting gothed up and posing for a cover photo in the woods sitting in a tree, and about how horrified the fans would be when they heard what we had done.

But, as time passed, it started getting serious, with the suggestion of a possible news feature about it on BowieNet. Liz arranged for the artwork to be done by the infamous Rex Ray, whom she is friends with. I started to panic - I enlisted my friend Paul Ross to help me with the productions. I started all the arrangements again; for the first time I had to really think about what I wanted to do with these songs - how could I put a modern spin on this, without taking the piss?

Inspiration came from everywhere - starting with Bowie's own back catalogue, which I scoured for usable samples to embed in my arrangements. Anyone who reads my blog will know that I'm really into this idea of using recordings as resources to construct new things, so I figured why not try it out here? At best, it might suggest new shades of meaning through association and memory; at worst it would be a type of treasure hunt/guessing game for the fans. Other inspiration came from a general desire to make a modern sounding trip-hop record - something that I have wanted to do for ages now; mixing the deep downtempo sounds of 90's-style trip-hop with more modern timbres you might associate with current pop or dubstep.

I've worked hard on this, and I'm proud of the result. I'm honoured and humbled by the volunteered involvement of so many talented and creative people:
Kristian Purcell painting my face to look like Screaming Lord Byron and taking the cover photo, Rex Ray volunteering to design the cover and make a fangirl's dream come true, Matt Greasley and Izzy Foster for making those beautiful videos, Paul Ross, who helped me raise the bar on this project and spent many long evenings after work making my voice sound good, my boyfriend Matt for putting up with my absenteeism and helping with the mastering... and not forgetting Liz Tray who was there, drunk and giggling with me in the beginning, who really championed this project and pushed it from being nothing more than a joke to something we can both be proud of.

Here it is:

You Can't Hide Beat

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Kristian Purcell


R34 at Mineola, NY, 1919, 2010 (Oil on canvas, 61x76cm)
click the images below to get info


Sometimes, when someone tells me they make art, I might expect the stuff they make will be "Ok...". Maybe it's just me and my pessimistic outlook on life, but I often have low expectations when it comes to these things (it's a good way to be, since most of the time I'm pleasantly surprised, which is a nice reaction, right?). These arty people show you their latest thing and you're all "Oh wow, that's great!" but in your head you're not really thinking it's truly great art, only that its great that they are pursuing creative endeavours in general. I've been in bands and struggling to have my music heard for years - some of it not very good at all - so I know what it feels like to be humoured by your mates. And of course you're grateful for it, that's what your mates are there for. We all need encouragement.

But then there are people that come into your life who are so good that they knock you on your arse, and you can't believe they are working day-jobs in Bedford and not being shown at the Tate. A person who forces you to recalibrate your scale of superlatives (that handmade coffee cup you liked on Facebook is suddenly not so literally "awesome", for example). Kristian Purcell is such a person. A proper artist. I also have the honour of calling him my friend.


I met Kristian rather unglamourously, as a result of trolling Myspace for potential musical collaborators. This was back in 2007 when Myspace was still sort of happening, but also sort of starting to shrivel and die. He lived in Bedford, he liked Bowie, he could sing and play guitar. That was enough for us (well, enough for me - I'm sure Matt would prefer the Bowie connection didn't exist, since he has had to endure both of us drunkenly screeching our way through "Teenage Wildlife" at least a dozen times to date. I don't think he finds it amusing, which is a shame since I'll probably be inclined to do this as often as I'm drunk on red wine for the rest of my life). He joined the band, we gigged a little bit, wrote some music together and
made a record in the spare room of my house. He worked various day jobs, teaching contracts and working at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum; he wasn't famous or critically lauded or making any money from his wonderful art and it didn't seem right.

Girl in Red, 2006

I remember when he transformed the Wellington Street house he was living in at the time into a makeshift gallery and invited the town to see (and possibly buy) his work. It was a genius bit of initiative, and Matt and I both felt like arseholes for trying to haggle down the prices of the two small pieces we ended up buying that night. Mates rates? C'mon we're all struggling artists here... I also remember sitting with Kristian in the Gordon Arms a few days after Xmas 2008, having a deep discussion about music and art and what the hell we were doing with our lives. We're both the same age, and we share the same frustrations that stem from being unknown, from dealing with universal apathy on a daily basis, the fears that we might have missed our opportunity to be successful. During the course of that conversation we discussed studying our disciplines again and maybe I should take the plunge with the PhD. Within months that wishful drunken chatter had become a reality for me, a decision that (I feel) has put me on the right track with my career.

Kristian deserves success because his art is great. And it's getting better. If you're reading this and you're not familiar with his work, you need to
check it out immediately. If you have the means to, invest in one of his pieces now - they're bound to be worth stupid amounts of money one day (chat to him, he might be able to do "mate's rates"). Comment on his blog, because god knows we all need a bit of encouragement.

And the musical collaboration continues, sort of. There are wishy-washy plans to record new material with the band in the new year, but a far more concrete prospect is a gig we'll be playing together at Bedford Esquires on the 20th of November (this Saturday night). It's more a Kristian Purcell solo gig with me accompanying on piano. I think we're even doing a couple of Helzuki songs from that record we made in my spare room in 2008. Should be fun to bust out the furry red stage piano once again, it's been too long.

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UPDATE: GIg has been and gone, and
here's a review


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Winter blues, singing along with The Flaming Lips & remembering Rostropovich




2009 is rolling along inevitably towards a bleak winter and new year; mid-November already and I can barely remember October at all beyond a general dark cloud of bullshit college stress, being tired and fighting off a cold. Oh, I did go and see "This is it" with Matt on Halloween night - a great film no doubt, so tragic and bittersweet. Left me feeling slightly raw, though. I guess this is our generation's Lennon or Elvis "is gone" moment. Surreal.
November has been better - saw the Lips last week at the Troxy in London, and if any gig can defeat the winter blues and put a smile on your face it would be theirs for sure. Confetti cannons, bouncing balloons, lazers, great songs, good times, good friends, Wayne Coyne in a plastic bubble, a room of people singing Yoshimi, Do you Realize?? and Fight Test in a booming unison... it was a tops night out, just what I needed.

Next week I'm attending a study day at the LCO where I get to take part in a music workshop that explores the links between composition & architecture. Just the mere thought of writing something that the London Chamber Orchestra might play in a workshop scenario makes me want to pee with excitement. I can't wait. Then on the 9th of December I have Fitkin's new Piano Concerto premier to attend. Suddenly Winter doesn't seem so dreary. :)

Dudley gets bigger by the day, and he's totally integrated into our lives now, it's hard to imagine what we did without him. Such a sweet pup, Matt and I had a minor scare when he ate a pig's ear a few days ago.... one minute he was happily chewing on it, next thing we knew he had gulped it down and let out a big burp. We freaked out for a bit, not knowing what to do. We looked online - which is probably the one thing a slightly paranoid puppy owner should NEVER do - and scared ourselves silly reading stories of dogs that died because of intestinal blockages, etc. We made such a fuss, but he wasn't bothered. He's a little toughian. Who will never get to nom on a pig's ear again.




Finally, I recently dug out some old Rostropovich recordings to compile into a mix tape for a friend - Lady MacBeth of Mtesnk District, the Shosta Cello Concerto and his wonderful recording of Britten's Cello Suites. Too good for words, honestly... I can't even begin to blog about how special these recordings are. I encourage anyone who likes their soviet era music to be bleak, tragicomic, intelligent, powerful and bleeding with raw downcast emotion to seek them out. Particularly the Lady Macbeth double disc from 1979. Perfection.
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Currently in love with...

... Sir John Tavener's ‘The Protecting Veil’. I’ve been listening to this 1992 recording by LSO + Steven Isserlis on cello .... just sublime!

I’ve always loved Isserlis’ playing, but after listening to this performance on repeat for a whole day at work I think Tavener is becoming a new hero.

Anyone who can take this horrid rainy English day of boring school admin and transform it into a life-affirming soul-soothing mouth-watering lush-and-slippery tender-and-tired glowing spiritual experience is a hero of mine.

Now I attempt my own orchestrations with fear and intrepidation. Also anxiously waiting for word from UQ. It’s been 2 months now, I need to be put out of my misery.



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A portrait of the most obsessed Morrissey fans in the world...

... that’s what the heading said on the contents page of the Times Magazine last weekend, and I kinda feel like I don’t live up to the title somehow.

Later on tonight I will be going to the Cambs gig and I’m sure I’ll see people there WAAY freakier than me. I think it’s awesome that the one weekend of my life when I had silly purple hair is the one where I get photographed in front of the Salford Lads Club, the one that gets printed in national media. And I’m wearing rainbow fingerless bum-gloves.
Click on the ‘read more’ link at the bottom of this post to see the whole article (cheers for the scan, Liz).

I know it’s been a little while since I last blogged what I’m up to; I’ve been mostly working on finishing my band’s (long gestating) EP and writing incidental music for a documentary project. Also, the school year is wrapping up for 2008/9 so I’ve been working some extra hours trying to help the kids finish the year in style (or in some cases, just finish!). I would be stressed out, except that I know summer is just around the corner, starting with Glasto, which I am terribly excited about. Neil Young on the pyramid stage, nuff said. :D

Matt and I also have our families coming to stay with us over the next 2 months - his mother and father arrive in 2 weeks, they stay until we leave for Glasto, and then as we’re driving back from glasto we pick my mother up from the airport. And she’s staying for about 3 weeks after that. Will be nice to take a break from ordinary life for a little bit and go on lots of holidays, show them a bit of England and Europe while they’re here. Also... 2 months of mum-cooked meals FTW!






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