Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cam Butler

With his album ‘See (symphony no.1)’ Cam Butler and his Shadow of Love Orchestra garnered no small amount of critical acclaim. I read with approval the swooning, sycophantic review in the age. Lush, orchestral, epic, marvelous. Another reviewer described a Cam Butler live show as ‘possibly the greatest he’d seen in a decade.’ His music seemed straight up my alley. Long, loud instrumental music with the pretension to be treated as classical. Consequently I was pretty excited to read that Cam Butler and his ten piece ensemble would be playing a show at the Spanish on the night of my last exam. Oh cruel world. Imagine my disappointment when learning that those reviews had been written by a press agent or at best under duress or perhaps even by Cam Butler himself acting under a pseudonym. I had been deceived the reviews had been falsified the music I had been expecting was played but cruelly misshapen, meanly perverted, broken. What now that I can’t rely on professional music critics. Who am I going to now give my trust, the people? But democracy is for fools, given the choice the people would again choose the murderer Barabbas.

Where to begin with Cam Butler. Well it’s not that he makes bad music, he just barely makes music at all. I’ll describe the structure of one his songs, the formula of which was adhered to throughout his set as some natural law. It will begin with some simple, unexciting, guitar phrase. Repeated. Then one of the two drummers will start playing the cymbals, later the other will join in also. Don’t get two excited though, two drummers is all very well and good but only if they play two different things is their any sort of point to it. Next the four piece sting section advances with sentimental swells and melodic straining. I sure hope you like romantic and banal string music, like soundtracks to old hollywood romances. Because for the next ten minutes the song is going to build up a little as the bass begins, the acoustic guitar starts playing the chords and Cam Butler noodles around for a while. The drums will get a bit louder as the rhythm is established and the strings keep doing their thing. Then it quitens down as it began with nothing having essentially changed except the position of the hands on your watch. Then it’s over. And now ten more variations on the initial theme.

I’m being hard on Cam who doesn’t really deserve me to be. He’s a capable guy who plays guitar and thought it would be a good idea to have a small orchestra back him up. Which would have been fine, had he kept this fancy and it’s results to himself. I blame the people who encouraged him along the way. The people that said, “go for it Cam, you don’t need any knowledge of music to presume to conduct an orchestra”, that said “hey Cam that riff isn’t boring and you should just repeat it for the entire song, the string section will make it sound good”, who told him, “nah mate, you don’t need progression in music, you just need a string section to play to one idea”, who enjoined him to “forget the last 200 years of musical development mate... oh you don’t know it, even better, look just make sure everything is completely tonal and monorythmic” who encouraged him with, “sounds great champ, you should record a CD” who told him, “Yeah call it a symphony, you won’t be misleading anyone or appear breathtakingly audacious” who agreed with him, “what you want to play at the Spanish on the night of the last physics exam, good idea”. So I would absolve you Cam especially for this naive comment (taken from beat), “I have had people insinuate in reviews that it might be stepping over the mark. (to call this album a symphony) But even though I haven’t been to college or anything... this is up there with the great European tradition. The composers of yesteryear would have used instruments that were around at the time, and electric guitar happens to be what’s around now.”

Cam the reason this music isn’t symphonic is because it doesn’t progress. It has no movements and apart from the quiet/loud dichotomy no movement. The music is uninspired and so monotonous that there can not be even a cursory comparison to the most banal works of young Mozart. People are still today composing 'classical' music and they do indeed compose it for modern instruments. You’re not breaking any new ground in here, though maybe in impertinence... In fact a lot of modern instruments were pioneered by mid 20th century composers such as Edgard Varese. Glenn Branca for instance recently composed a piece he scored for 100 electric guitars. I point this out because you seem to think that because you scored your album for a string section it qualifies as classical music. Hardly. And look it’s not because you haven’t been trained musically, it’s because your music is inane and listless. You considering this album a Symphony would be akin to me considering this a well thought out and written review. Alas, however we may like it to be so, it is not.

Also playing at the show were Princess One Point Five and Registered Nurse. Princess One Point Five treated us to a warm set of well crafted pop songs.

Registered Nurse were admissible. Sometimes they really good and sometimes they weren’t but usually they fair. I can’t remember what they exactly sounded like now, but quoth my friend Andrew in a fair summation ‘they sound almost like a band that I’d actually care to see.’