Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The First Commandment

Last night I went back to Wilton's Music Hall to see a performance of Mozart's The First Commandment (Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes) .

An early play-bill for the Hall lists acts like "Madame Pedley and the Infant Lotto", or "Syluest the Monstre" (what on earth could they have been like?): at the time he wrote this piece, Mozart was himself travelling Europe as an equally Dickensian "infant phenomenon". At one point, he was confined alone with pen and paper to prove he could write such music without help.

For a piece about what should be done to ensure salvation, Wilton's, with its scaffolding-props, damp stains, bare bricks, exposed joists and its fate by no means certain, seemed a fitting environment. The occasional uncertainties and asperities of tone in the period instruments contributed to the mood; even the trains passing nearby managed to contribute ominous rumbles at just the right moments.

The piece is the first part of a trilogy written for Lenten entertainment in the palace of the Archbishop of Salzburg (the other two, by other composers, are lost). Because of the season, the pieces had to be religious in theme, but this translation (barely theistic, let alone theological, in content) was sprightly enough to have delighted the notoriously potty-mouthed young Mozart, though not perhaps the Archbishop: "Get up you lazy sod / Prepare to meet your Lord!".

The music is full of hints and pre-echoes of grown-up Mozart, with many delightful moments. However, the arias, though tuneful and demandingly florid, are in the "Say what you're going to say, say it, say what you've said" manner, which halts dramatic development rather than forwarding it. This leaves a lot of scope (or should that be temptation?) for stage business - or busyness.

So the lapsed Christian becomes a back-packing student asleep at an airport boarding gate, with Justice and Forgiveness as contrasting check-in operators, the Christian Spirit as a rather fearful security attendant and the Worldly Spirit as a show-stealing flirty party girl who would probably get the flight diverted to Prestwick. She force-feeds the protagonist Christmas lunch and throws sweets to the audience, before he turns his back on his fears of Judgment Day to run off with her.

Even while singing the final trio, the attendants board a queue of extras through the celestial security gate - one of them sniffed and barked at by a live dog.

The youthful cast sang beautifully (sometimes almost too powerfully for the hall). By contrast, well over half the audience must have been over 50 - the Herbivore class in full ruminant mode. I heard one distinguished-looking older gentleman discussing his outrage at having to pay a booking fee at the Wigmore Hall, despite being a Friend: "I said, in that case, I'll join the Enemies of the Wigmore Hall. Mind you, I'm the only member".

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

LOMO loco

One of the incidental pleasures of strolling around London is that you never know what you might come across. Especially, these days, in Ken's Circus Maximus.

Last Saturday, it was the turn of the Lomography World Congress to give us the slightly maze-like LomoWorldWall.

Lomography uses LOMO* cameras for spur-of-the-moment snapshots, often in multiples, or with odd colour or fisheye or other trick effects.

A WorldWall puts lots together in colourful mosaics; but dress it up as they might with introductory artspeak posters, the cumulative effect takes the eye away from the individual images. Any effect they might have on their own is lost in the overall pattern.

Still, it made a cheerful contrast with the looming presence of the National Gallery, and for once the old cliché "All part of life's rich tapestry" was almost literally, and unexpectedly, true.

*Lomo is also Spanish for pork loin; what do they make of "lomographia" in Spain?

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Freewheeling fun and games

I expressed some doubt about how London Freewheel would cope with all the people that might be tempted to turn up without registering.

Well, I don't know what the figures were, but what I saw suggests that everything went very smoothly. The weather was perfect, and there was every sign that a good day out was had by all. There were families with children of all ages, some pedalling furiously on their own bikes, and some in trailers (some people had brought their dogs in trailers and baskets as well), there were braves and goths and a not-quite Kendo Nagasaki, there were roller-bladers and skateboarders and even some people on Segways.

I went to the Victoria Park "hub", where the attempts to rev up the mood with cheerleaders and a unicyclist seemed to be dampened by the kind of embarrassed British reserve you'd expect at 11am on a Sunday. By the time I'd taken the tube to rejoin the route at Bishopsgate, there were still only a few discreet tinklings of bells.

But by the time people got into the Blackfriars underpass there was woo-hooing and screaming to beat the band; and in St James's Park, there was one elaborately decorated recumbent (see the video-clip below) with a trumpet as well.

Apart from one stand-up row with a bus-driver in Bishopsgate, one or two few tearful children getting separated from their parents en route, one show-off riding on the pavement (and doing a wheely) along the Embankment and a little boy tumbling over outside Buckingham Palace, there really didn't seem to be any problems. But did the St John's Ambulance people have to ride on the pavement along Embankment? And please can someone stop cyclists jumping the red lights at Elephant and Castle in the morning rush hour? It happens every day.

The "festival" in the Park amounted to some commercial stands and displays of artistic cycling and BMX daring. A big hit was the opportunity to try out various unusual kinds of cycle.

If I'd thought about it in advance, I might even have picked up on the opportunity to hire a bike and join in - except that the Freewheel website didn't list any in Tower Hamlets. However, I was quite taken with this possible afternoon out; and even if we don't (yet) have anything like the Parisian Vélib, we have the makings of a start. I even began to reminisce about the bike I loved dearly as a teenager, and the terrible old wreck I kept for years after it ought to have gone to the tip. Maybe I should invest in a bike again; or maybe I should future-proof myself for old age....

Saturday, 22 September 2007

See The World - forget about your Oyster

One of the advantages of living near the Thames is that we don't have to make an effort to see visiting ships. This week, dwarfing a large block of flats is this moving block of flats - sorry, "ocean residences" - that's known as The World.

For a few million dollars and an annual service charge that would pay the salary of several MPs (if you need to know exact figures, you obviously can't afford it), you too can enjoy cruising around in your own home, complete with access to a spa, golf simulator and the kind of things that come with luxury cruises. Wherever you go in the world - and this ship seems to stick to the well-travelled cruise ship destinations, you're in - as the small ads used to say - the privacy of your own home: or at least your holiday home. Or one of them.

It wouldn't suit me: when I go away it's because I want to experience a different way of living for a while. The whole point is to be in unfamiliar surroundings; and if hotel rooms can sometimes be a strangely dislocating experience (you can never quite just chuck off your shoes and curl up with a cuppa), a good alternative is a home exchange, which I've done from time to time.

But taking my neighbours with me everywhere I go? I think not.

And what it must it like for the places they visit? I had a holiday on Mykonos once: in the height of summer, a street of village houses, white like sugar cubes, were open to the street to display their wares: fur coats. Who else would buy them but people off the cruise boats?

Imagine travelling from place to place and finding that, no matter how scenic it may be, it's been set up to offer you whatever you can get everywhere else you can go. Imagine being the kind of person that wants it that way.

These last few weeks, the people of The World (!) been exploring the imperial glitter of St Petersburg, the amber of the Baltic states, the elegance of Oslo, and this week - Deptford.

Because it's so big, The World is hardly able to pass in style through Tower Bridge and berth in the Pool of London, unlike these more modest cruise ships. There are plans for a swanky cruise terminal just opposite us, but it seems to be stuck at the hole-in-the-ground stage, so the likes of the World and the Ark Royal have to make do with a couple of portakabins on a pontoon.

There's sort of appropriateness about a cruise from St Petersburg ending in Deptford: it was, after all, here that Peter the Great came to study shipbuilding (and turned out to be the tenant from hell in the house of the diarist John Evelyn.

Though it may not be very recognisable from The World, there are some of the eighteenth century buildings of the old naval dockyard left. From here, Captain Cook set sail for Australia; a century earlier, it was here that Samuel Pepys restored the Navy - his contemporaries knew him as a leading administrative and political figure, not the backstairs gossip and skirt-fumbler we know from his diaries. Earlier still, of course, it was in Deptford that Marlowe met his mysterious end.

I'd like to think the people on The World might be interested in all of that. Perhaps the people who've moved into the converted council flats on the site of the old dockyard might be able to afford a place on The World and tell them all about it.

Much more scenic nautical visitors recently - to Canary Wharf this time - have been some sailing ships. I like the contrast between the bland sleekness of the buildings and the complexity of the rigging (however does anyone remember what rope does what job?).

This is the Tenacious, one of the Jubilee Sailing Trust's ships, which enable able-bodied and disabled people to sail together. Not much luxury cruising, I imagine, but probably a lot more fun: and perhaps nicer people.

Not so much fun, and definitely not run by nice people, were the slave-traders. I missed the visit of the Amistad, the replica of the ship that was taken over by its captives, and became the subject of a film. Various mishaps delayed their planned arrival: and, according to the local paper, it looks as though the crew didn't entirely enjoy their stay in London. I wonder what they would have thought if they'd been moored on the West India Quay side - the other end of the sugar trade the slaves were captured for.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Sunday cyclist or lycra lovely?

That's one of the kinds of cyclist you can be, according to those jolly people over at London Freewheel. The other categories they offer are "Love cycling. And pies" and "Old bike, old legs".
Which one you choose governs the advice on preparation they offer those planning to join in this mass ride around a bit of central London this coming Sunday.

The Hi-de-Hi-ness is unrelenting (what, no knobbly-knees and glamorous granny competitions?).

Writers "Abel Ryder", "Penny Farthing", "Max Speed" and the like tell you all about the fun and frolic that await at the Hubs and the Freewheel Festival in St James's Park (I'm wondering how they'll cope, not just with the 38,000 people they expect, but with all the other people who'll have heard it mentioned or seen a poster, but didn't realise they're expected to register - for what?).

If being patronised wasn't bad enough, cyclists might be able to judge how far some people at TfL have to go from this notice at bus stops where routes will be diverted. Apparently, the "event will take place on ...roads with live traffic [= cars, lorries, taxis, vans and buses]" and - now, how do they describe roads that are closed for people to enjoy? "A sterile road network", that's how.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Silence is golden..

.. but not if you work for London Underground.

Canary Wharf station, for all its grandeur, is one big platform. This morning, we were treated to two competing streams of commentary from platform staff on each side, interspersed with relays of their conversations with the control room, and overlaid with the more routine system announcements ("I am pleased to announce we have a good service on the Jubilee Line", "Slight delays on the Metropolitan Line", "Always touch in and touch out", "Always keep your belongings with you").

And when I got on the train, some loon seems to have decided it's a good idea to thank us for travelling on the Jubilee Line. At every station. And the scrolling visual display says "Attention! Attention! Thank you for for travelling...."

And none of this was information anyone really needed to know.

We do not need to be thanked for travelling on the tube. We have no choice.

We do not need to be told there's a good service running. London Underground has no choice - that's their job.

Millions and millions of people have managed to use the tube successfully using just their wits and printed signage. Those who can't, for whatever reason, usually manage to find someone to ask if there's something they need to know.

Back in May, on the Going Underground blog, there was some lively debate about announcements, and a train driver listed some of the scheduling instructions management had issued: far too much, far too often, of course.

Here's my suggestion:

Only make an announcement when something goes wrong
Then we'll know we need to listen to it.

The more people are lectured about things they've heard a thousand times before, the less notice anyone takes. It just becomes blah, blether and bedlam. Ever heard of the boy who cried "Wolf!"?

So, please, just step away from the microphone and SHUT UP.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Champagne, conscience and cloud-capped towers

London Open House weekend is a chance to see what's behind the façades you see every day - grand, bland or merely mysterious.

First off today was Wilton's Music Hall, like 19 Princelet St a magical shadow of its former (and this case rather raucous) glory: the song Champagne Charlie was written here, and they say up to fifteen hundred people could be there, though I don't see how. There's a small personal interest - my great-great-grandfather lived nearby in Wellclose Square in the 1830s, and he might well have known the public house that preceded the Music Hall: as someone who described himself as a "wine porter", I assume he'd have had some dealings with the Prince of Denmark, though he'd moved well away by the time the Music Hall was built.

It's a plain and simple auditorium behind a façade of terraced houses, and it feels almost domestically proportioned, comfortable and welcoming, even in its present crumbling state. Its future is still not secured. I plan to check out what a performance there is like: the next occasion is a Mozart oratorio (written when he was only eleven, for heaven's sake).

While there I noticed a leaflet for the opening of St George's German Lutheran Church nearby, so, passing up the full English breakfast in Poppies Diner on Royal Mint St (The coldest drinks in town), I went round there.

En route, I passed this evidence that it's possible to do something interesting with railings round empty land. Glancing at the estate agents' windows and the various "luxury" flat/rabbit-hutch conversions, I wondered what my great-great-grandfather and the denizens of Wilton's would have thought of the idea that Wapping would one day be one of the most expensive addresses in London, or that any part of it would attract so many of the heritage-visiting classes.

Come to that, it would have been as much of a surprise to the people who turned out in these streets to halt the Mosleyites in 1936. I was reminded of them on arrival at St George's. This fine and austere interior (complete with its 18th century box pews) received Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while he was pastor at nearby St Paul's German Church, before returning home and joining the resistance to the Nazis, for which he was executed. His church, by the way, was bombed flat in the Blitz. But it says something that the German community was able to go on worshipping at St George's, in German, throughout the Second World War.

From heritage and history to anything but. The Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden is barely ten years old, and the hub of a vigorous and confident community. Just count the trophies, awards and photographs of the visiting great and good in the foyer, and savour the firm reminders (in the exhibition on Hinduism) of how much of our mathematical knowledge comes from ancient India.

You approach along a particularly noisy and depressing stretch of the North Circular and eventually turn up an ordinary suburban traffic rat-run. And then, around a bend, there suddenly appears from behind the semi-detached houses a confection of white marble towers, tipped with gold and topped with flags.

Closer to, you can see the extraordinary intricacy of the carved marble. It's like this everywhere, inside and out, in the woodwork and the stonework. Photography is (politely) limited to the exterior, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Sadly, there's airport-style security on the way in. But once you've stowed your shoes, you can appreciate the airy foyer, with two double-storey atria, lit from skylights and looked on by the windows of upper rooms, with false balconies and supporting pillars. Every part of the surface is covered with carved wood. Miniatures of Ganesh the elephant god, flowers and leaves and I don't know what. A rather stern-looking man directed visitors into the exhibition on Hinduism (and the Shri Swaminarayan movement in particular); Swaminarayan was a guru from around 200 years ago, whose followers are now widespread and clearly very active around the world (there's a school over the road). Upstairs is the Mandir or prayer room. Here all is white marble, in the same intricate carving of pillars and ceiling, leading into a domed space lit by a clerestory; it's not quite as silent as the warning signs would like it to be. To one side is a door opening on the ceremonial staircase, roped off on this occasion to make a terrace, from which there's a fine view of those other temples to modern British forms of worship - IKEA and Wembley Stadium.

The detail of the decoration and the style of architecture reminded me of Moorish buildings in Spain or Mogul palaces and (dare I say it) mosques I'd seen in Lahore, though they wouldn't allow the representation of idols. I couldn't help feeling the contrast between the exuberance of the decoration and the selflessness emphasised in the exhibition. But then, I've often felt that in the more Baroque Catholic churches. And the shop reminded me of them too: burnished domestic shrines in various sizes (£75, £90, £120), and figures of gods in various rather bright shades of plastic, and all sizes, from pocket size at pocket-money prices up to rather jolly music-playing Ganeshes and Hanuman (the monkey-god) in both contemplative and warrior-like poses at £35+.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Do NOT....

...dispose of your Metro newspapers on the escalators.

So says Mr Grumpy over the loudspeakers at Canary Wharf.

He has a point of course, the damn things make a mess and if one ever got caught in the tines at the end there'd no doubt be an expensive jam to be cleared.

But where are the litter or recycling bins? ONE crate outside the station, apparently.

What earthly use is that? In Toronto there are newspaper recycling bins on every platform, by the exits. In Paris, you can barely walk five steps on a busy street without passing one of these:

Of course there's an issue about security and fire risks, but I don't see why clear plastic bins and bags are any more of a risk than piles of litter and newspapers all over the place. And until there's one at the top AND bottom of every escalator, and no more than ten yards apart on every platform, people will not get the message: and they certainly won't by one more ratty lecture over the public address system in the middle of all the others (but that's another issue).

Now, back to my nice cup of tea. And breathe......

Monday, 10 September 2007

Lettering mad...

Thanks to Matthew Rose at the Paris Blog for linking to Erik Kastner's site where you can:

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Brick Lane and Princelet St

Today was the Brick Lane Festival. It didn't seem that different from any other Sunday crowd visiting the markets, though with the traffic taken away there was more room to spread, for the restaurant tables and the crowds alike.

Fifty or so years ago, I was taken to Petticoat Lane by my parents. I don't think we would have ventured up Brick Lane. Markets tended to be even more about entertainment then than now. Instead of today's blaring beats, there were the china salesmen, who could take a cunningly-interlocked 24-piece tea set and chuck it around in the air, while running through the familiar stand-up routine to which the audience can recite the punchlines (Everything I make goes towards the mother-in-law's holiday, and the more I make THE FURTHER SHE GOES).

Now as then, markets offer the novelty and diversion on which city life thrives. You can find some very different goods: the main attractions in Spitalfields and the lower end of Brick Lane are arty rather than practical or second-hand clothing, handmade jewellery and lighting. At the northern end, once you pass the area where the East London Line extension is being built, the market becomes more general, more second-hand. Here, among the batteries, bargain socks, toiletries, offcuts of flooring, cheap mangoes, cooking pots, mysterious tools and bits of electrical gear, bankrupt stock, ends of lines and things that might possibly have been helped off the back of a lorry, there's a whiff of continuity with that childhood visit here. And foods from all around the world: not just the curries on the Lane itself, but stalls offering dim sum, falafel, stir-fries, crepes, Ethiopian, Caribbean, paella, empanada - and some decidedly retro cupcakes.

The processes by which we got that diversity have not been without controversy. In the disused synagogue at 19 Princelet St, there are plans to open a Museum of Immigration and Diversity. Today was one of the few days this fragile building could be opened to the general public (last chance for 2007 will be through the London Open House weekend, 15/16 September.)

Surrounded by the discreet good taste of expensive restoration in Georgian Spitalfields (and less discreet or tasteful burglar alarms and estate agents' boards) No. 19, once you enter, is a shadowy, grimy space, here and there propped up on scaffolding. Daylight filters through coloured skylights on the narrow gallery, the dust-laden chandeliers, the painted boards commemorating the synagogue's donors, the fragments of lino and the stored away furniture.

In and around the space, the Suitcases and Sanctuary exhibition tells the story of the successive groups of immigrants to the area (Huguenots, Irish, Jews, Bengalis, Somalis), through the imaginative and touching contributions of local schoolchildren (most of them children of immigrants themselves), and some installations and artwork by immigrant artists.

The building is also famous for the room abandoned by its last caretaker. His life was explored in Rodinsky's Room, a fascinating parallel investigation of the facts and the myth-making surrounding his apparent disappearance. The prosaic truth, was unsurprisingly, sadder and stranger than the myths: a family's withdrawal into the remembered habits of the abandoned shtetl, while the community around them adapted to the "get on and get out" hustle of life for new arrivals in London. The last of the family, David Rodinsky, became a reclusive auto-didact. Alone in a little room above this abandoned meeting-place, he pursued his self-designed curriculum, that would perhaps have been understood and accepted by previous generations in eastern Europe, but was seen by his London contemporaries as strange, and ultimately mad.

In the large scale, the history of immigration is a collection of individual success stories, but with so much sadness along the way, as with the Rodinskys. So many memories deserve, like this haunting building, to be preserved.

And even more than buildings and memories, living refugees need help. Now.

The Great River Race 2007

Lifeboats, longboats, pilot boats, dragon boats, gigs, wherries, skiffs, Hawaiian outriggers - any "traditional" boat may compete in the Great River Race from Richmond to Greenwichthrough central London, as long as they have a minimum of four paddles, no sliding seats, a cox and a flag of the required size (which adds that Canaletto-ish touch, especially as they arrive at the finish by the Royal Naval College).

By contrast, other long boat races seem more utilitarian. In London, the Head of the River Race (a mere 4 and a bit miles, or the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race course in reverse) allows a bit of spectacle as nearly 400 eights arrive at Putney Bridge in a relatively short space of time; but the race fits into the annual rowing calendar as a chance for crews to evaluate their winter endurance training in preparation for summer regattas, so it usually takes place before the spring has really established itself. At the same time of year, the Devizes to Westminster canoe race takes so long (122 miles) competitors travel overnight. The Boston Marathon (31 miles from Lincoln to Boston) is, well, a little remote for a casual spectator.

But that's not to say the Great River Race is a gentle paddle. As you might expect after 22 miles, there were a good few cramps, aches and strains being massaged once the crews came ashore by the Poplar Blackwall Rowing Club: and heaven knows how many blisters.

There are competitors from far afield. By the nature of the boats, some are from the upriver Thames, many are from coastal waters (many Cornish and Welsh flags in evidence) and some from the Netherlands. There are a fair few corporately sponsored boats, and various "comedy" labels (one crew was calling itself the Discharged Seamen) and outfits (I did wonder at the commentator's description of the "pretty" flag of the Imperial German Navy, but perhaps I've read The Riddle of the Sands too often).

Occasionally a signal gun will mark a finish, but there seems to be no great rhyme or reason to when it's used. Otherwise it seems to be left to the crews to judge which is the finish point as they pass the barge in the river - and at least once when I was there the commentator had to tell a crew it hadn't finished yet.

Spectators are a mixture of curious locals out to see the show, and friends and families of the competitors. As with so many rowing events, any spectator interest is in the general spectacle, which can soon pall. That's why regattas have enclosures with tea-tents (and perhaps more importantly, beer-tents). Here there's no enclosure, but the Rowing Club boathouse is a hive of activity. There is a tea-tent in the Island Gardens for the substantial bevy of be-chained mayors of the riverside boroughs. Their civic cars are lined up outside: it might be more fun if they were all rowed down in one of those elaborately-decorated barges. Some at least showed an interest in the crews coming in.

One thing all of these races have in common: no matter how tired competitors may be at the end of the race, they still have to get all their equipment out of the water and packed up at the end of the race. In the process, one man I saw did himself a most unfortunate injury on a rowlock.

There are a few more photos on Flickr, and here's my video clip:

Thursday, 6 September 2007

How many united teams....

were playing in the Premiership in the 2005-06 season?

Well, that's what one member of our pub quiz team understood the question to be: fortunately the rest of us understood what was meant. The real surprise was that we guessed right, and the number of "City" teams as well. And we aren't really interested in football. What's more, we knew enough about national parks, foreign political leaders, movie posters, literary figures and collective nouns to WIN the whole thing. On our first go.

Slightly embarrassing in a way. We'll have to go back and lose now.

But it was great fun. They stop after every few rounds to mark them, and throw chocolates at people who shout out the right answer; there's a stand up, sit down individual knock-out competition for a bottle of wine, and another bottle for the team that comes bottom.

And best of all, no tobacco smoke.

But it is, of course, entirely monocultural. How would we cope with Bollywood filmstars or the geography of the Caribbean?

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Back to the holy books

Never mind shopping days to Christmas, there are only a couple of weeks left to see the British Library's Sacred exhibition on the holy books of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, with such wonders as a fragment of the Dead Sea scrolls, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Luttrell Psalter, one of the only three Tyndale bibles to survive (except that its text does largely survive in the King James Bible), Sultan Baybar's Qu'ran, amazing examples of miniature travelling copies of the Qu'ran, illustrated Armenian and Coptic Christian texts and Hebrew texts from all across the Middle East and the diaspora (including China and India). Some of these works are of an amazing age: not just the Dead Sea scrolls but also the Codex Sinaiticus and a gospel found in the coffin of St Cuthbert, still in its original binding.

Having only given it a preliminary glance when I came across it by accident a couple of weeks ago, I went back to day.

The exhibition is all set within a framework of explanation of various aspects of belief and worship in all three religions, with the laudable aim of common understanding. It makes clear what aspects they share, and how visual presentation of texts in the different religions influenced each other. It also points out the processes of determining what texts were part of the sacred canon, and the fate of representations that were disapproved of, some lucky examples of which are here.

There are beautiful things to wonder at in this exhibition: but as far as its primary aim goes, I have to say - as a person of no faith at all - that I came away with a sense that faith itself is as much as an act of human will as the dedication with which it was expressed with such skill and craft in these works.

Or in other words, my basic convictions were reinforced. Would anyone committed to any of these faiths come away feeling any different? Is it not, well.... preaching to the converted?

Famous for fifteen minutes

According to Martin Handley on the Radio 3 breakfast programme this morning, a conference on minimalist music is to feature a piece in which two keys on an organ are to be anchored down: for fifteen minutes.

I laughed (as who would not) at Handley's comment - are they going to anchor down the audience?

The quiet one-note hum of an organ pump or a heating system in a particularly atmospheric church, say, can no doubt aid contemplation; and I can imagine there's a considerable human interest in studying the audience's reactions while desperately trying not to make it obvious that that's what you're doing (though I suspect a lot of people will come away with far too detailed a knowledge of the ceiling).

Can it count as "music" if there's no human intervention? Perhaps there'll be some particularly interesting way of varying the volume from time to time.