DEREK BAILEY
PLAYING FOR FRIENDS ON 5th STREET (2004)

Director: Robert O'Haire
Year: 2004 
Time: 50 mins
Music: Derek Bailey
Eye of Sound: The camera's movements are casual, and the post-production efforts meagre. But that is just part of the narrative strategy to convey the sense of intimacy implicit in the title: a small friendly circle of amicable ears and eyes, casually enjoying the music of someone who just happens to be the most celebrated guitar player in the history of adventurous music, but who behaves as if he were just playing a few chords while waiting for his dinner to cook. In between, a few funny stories about the man's past as a guitar teacher in London, some interactions with the "public", and even Django-like interludes and a Penthouse Serenade quote to boot. Both the performance and film-production were designed as an intimate portrait: of Bailey and his music, of course, but also of the DMG (Downtown Music Gallery) store in Downtown NY, where several such performances by avant and not-so-avant musicians have been hosted before. The camera effects used to spice up the film are absolutely superfluous and risible, but the sound capture is close to optimal: Bailey's surgical attacks on the strings sound as clear as in any other good recording you may have, and probably as close to the listening experience you'd have there as possible. Bailey's performance is unsurprisingly entrancing: twisting notions of tonal and atonal, at times hectic but also placid and meditative, his acoustic guitar playing covers the sometimes irreconcilable values of emotionality and artistic adventurousness. Of course, one may legitimately ask how free these improvisations actually are, given the unmistakeable "baileyness" of the performance; but I'd say that in view of this 2001 performance's impressive technique, passion and inventiveness, such issues sound like mere theoretical trifles. 

8 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. i never saw bailey live, only heard him on records, and not too many of them. the closest i got to hear him was in solo recordings, with him play, speak, pause. on paul haines' "darn it" he's with two short tracks - from the moment i heard these tiny snippets of what he does, i was a fan.

    i guess this film of him performing can help put the record straight and show him what he was - not a legend, but a very human musician of his own kind. amen.

    thx for serving this, senor eye of sound. :D

    p.s.: i deleted my above comment, because i accidently used the present form "show him what he is", may he rest in peace.

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  3. p.p.s.: my time in acapulco came to an end, it was fun while it lasted. right now i'm eating dust in yogyakarta, cough! :(

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  4. Hi there, Lucko.

    Since I live in a 3rd world country, I only had the luck to watch Bailey live once: it was a huge theatre, crowded with unsympathetic people who, as is often the case here, only show up at these events because half of the tickets are given away to vips. In such a disproportionate venue (an opera house) and with such an impatient crowd (who'd rather be at a Phil Collins gig or whatever), Bailey was hardly at home. But he delivered a great performance (which I recorded on my old mini-disc: future sharing projects) and defeated the adverse setting.
    I can't say I'm a Baileyologist but I think that anyone interested in his music, even experts, will be delighted with this performance and the close-up it offers on his playing: profoundly vital, powerful, lucid, even emotional - much like his concert in that house of sociological horrors where I had the luck to see him playing.

    Hope you're enjoying your Yogyakarta adventure, despite the dust. Will update the geo-info on the headers section, once you tell me who's the movie star entertaining you now.

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  5. Sunship Traveller1 November 2010 at 17:23

    Thank You Eye! I never had the pleasure re: Baily Live so this is much appreciated.

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  6. entertaining isn't the right word, but i met cut mini from "laskar pelangi"-fame about a week ago. we discuss the urgency of getting away from yogya because of the eruption of the volcano merapi, flights and trains are cancelled, i guess we'll take a bus to bandung if we're lucky to make it. what a mess... ;)

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  7. now, that should make some lovely headers...

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  8. Absolutely wonderful performance. Thank you.

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