Observations 03-2009

(01) Rising Curtain: “The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

Yesterday I added my “recent” purchases to my CD shelf system. A load of classical albums including Paul Lewis’ Beethoven piano sonata cycle (brilliant), a couple of Ahmad Jamal double and single CDs (early stuff and equally brilliant), the Oscar Peterson Clef/Mercury Box (I had most single issues but … well, it was Mosaic), a few soundtracks I picked up for next to nothing (“Les Choristes” and “Gladiator“, only the former of which I really like), the Andreas Vollenweider live double-CD (yeah, shoot me), a number of Ruby Braff (shabby compilations but hey, the only place the stuff is available) CDs reissued by these Spanish scam artists, some J.J. Cale and John  Mayall discs I had picked up to more or less complete my respective artist collections, a bunch of Teddy Wilson CDs (mostly Storyville reissues) and probably another ten or twenty CDs (some of which were Deep Purple releases before people started remastering stuff, some ECM classical and jazz releases, etc.).

See, this is how it works at my place: I have a CD holder next to my stereo that houses recent purchases and “Must Hear!” (at least until I get tired of them) discs and that one can hold, if I stuff it, about 30 CDs maximum. Usually, that system works, but because I hadn’t really invested any time into shelving new purchases, I also had two or three ten or twenty centimeter piles next to that stand, plus an assortment of CDs and DVDs (some great Oscar Peterson from the 50s and 60s) flying around in the kitchen, my workroom and next to my electronic drum kit.

A mess.

So, instead of devoting my time to pressing work I actually had to do, I (as usual) resorted to finally shelving what was new (or had been pulled out weeks and months ago) and getting my collection into order.

Because I have a rather eclectic (if not asinine) system, it turned out that I had to fill the few empty spaces by rolling my collection up from the back. My collection is basically arranged across around 40 meters of shelf space and the empty space I had in my classical section had to somehow be shifted 20 meters back into the fusion section, not ignoring the space I needed in my pop, blues and whatnot sections 10 meters back from there.

To make matters worse, I noticed that my constant reshuffling of my collection had lead to things ending up in the wrong place and – worst case scenario – to my buying something a second time because I didn’t think I had it (I did, but it had shifted to the wrong place in my collection). Bummer.

In short, I ended up moving whole meters of CDs this way or that, having to pull out everything I had and compacting it to make sure it fit.

And that’s when the worst thing possible happened.

I filled the last available hole.
One last jewel case.

Out of space.
And nobody can hear me scream.

Mind you, years ago when I set up my shelf system, I invented ingenious ways of hiding that I don’t know how many meters were left empty for future purchases, I filled empty spaces with empty collector’s boxed sets, paraphernalia and whatnot, at some point I moved out safety burns and catalog CDs from various labels, removed the “Various Artists” CDs to another place (bedroom … groan) in the apartment, etc. – all in an attempt to keep those empty spaces to perhaps fill them with future purchases.

I tried to artificially uphold a feeling of security, the cushy feeling of “Yes, you can … if you want to.”


I maxed-out my carefully planned system.



Yes, I know there are worse things in just about any universe.
Third-world poverty.
McDonald’s chicken wraps.

We collectors are of a different breed though. We know all of those things are bad, we might even help to alleviate some of these problems (although I haven’t figured out how to get rid of McDonald’s chicken wraps yet), but we derive pleasure from organizing, buying and, most importantly – listening to what we have. At least I do.

As of now, I’ve got a real problem.
And I ain’t kidding.
It’s a problem that needs to be solved.

I’ve already let my collection grow into totally unrelated parts of my place, I’ve gone out of my way to reduce my living space without resorting to cluttering up my place (I am German, hence: orderly), I’ve exercised more and more restraint when faced with purchasing decisions (seriously, these past 12 months I haven’t bought one tenth of what I had bought previously), I’ve digitized and removed … to no avail.

This sucketh.

Add to that the fact that despite me, myself and I writing and featuring storage solutions on this site once in a while, I simply don’t have the cash to invest into a new (=neat) setup to hold what I have.

Searching the Internet I have time and again come across collectors with similar problems, who have turned at least one major room into a music library with endless rows (literally, like in a library), who have seemingly invested more money into the storage solutions than into what is housed therein, or, worst case scenario, have stuffed every nook and cranny with music.

Summation: If it’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s too expensive, if it’s cheaper, it looks like shite.

Currently, I’m stumped.

Just thought I’d mention it.

(02) Just Quickly: “Manu Katché vs. Anke Helfrich”

The other day I traveled to Mainz (my state capital) to see a double-bill jazz concert with the Anke Helfrich Trio opening for Manu Katché‘s “Playground”. As is often the case, my opinion of that concert was diametrically opposed to some friends’ opinion of the same that they saw 200 miles away at a different venue.

I thought Anke Helfrich smoked Manu Katché in a very large pipe.



I had never heard of Anke Helfrich aside from the fact that she was supposed to display shades of Thelonius Monk (really?), but I had listened to Katche`s ECM recordings (and many others with Sting, Peter Gabriel, etc.) endlessly. Manu Katché, who has been walking the thin line between pop and jazz successfully for most of his life, who has a regular and endlessly fascinating program on Europe’s best TV channel, Arte, fusing just about every style of music into a stimulating whole, who is an excellent and eminently exact and precise drummer of world-wide renown, took the stage with a crack team of excellent musicians, was great … but didn’t hold my attention for all too long.

Sorry, Manu. 🙂

The music had a sameness to it and was lacking a range of dynamics (aside from a tune or two) that reminded me of the many reasons why I had dropped listening to any fusion music (of the GRP et.al. type) years ago. In comparison, it was predictable, followed a repetitive “plot” structure (THAT was the real killer for me) and even delivered predictable highlights. I knew they were coming a few minutes before they did.

I really like Manu Katché, but I did not – in retrospect – really enjoy what he and his band members performed that night.

It took a while for that sentiment to sink in, just because during the concert I was overwhelmed by the musicianship, the experience, …. the artistry.

It just didn’t move me much.

Enter (or exit and re-enter): Anke Helfrich.

Yep. Never heard of her in any cohesive context.

If you are now thinink “God, he’s going to write another miule-long appreciation post,” you’re wrong. I#d like to, but I don’t have any of her recordings. All I can tell you is that she caught my attention within seconds, switching between the piano and a Fender Rhodes, even taking off one dress shoe to replace it with a single (gray) sneaker in order not get caught by the Rhodes pedal as so many others before her have, varying styles, throwing in curve balls, improvising as if her life depended on it, intelligently!

I liked it.
And I will seek out what she’s done.
A name to remember.

(03) “The Beatles”, once again (and finally).

OK, OK, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (in slightly different shades of red): The Beatles reissue dilemma experienced for decades (!) by fans is the epitome of what’s wrong with a dying music industry. Ignorance, failed promises, really damn stupid marketing decisions, big-headed industry executives, musicians with brittle spines, in-fighting, … you name it, I could include it here.

It is unbelievable how far removed from any market sensibility these people are. You have, literally, a million fans WANTING to buy the same product over again which they have bought three times already … and, nope, no go.

It’s not like I haven’t wondered about small businesses in Germany which, despite an economic crisis and rapidly rising unemployment, simply close for an entire afternoon because they feel they don’t need their customers’ money (or because they are just to damn complacent, happy enough to complain for 25 hours a day about the evils of a globalized economy, about their dwindling sales and about the unfairness of life), but a global player? A company that doesn’t give a hoot about earning a single cent? Reminds me of General Motors and other seriously demented companies who were used to buying up foreign companies and to driving them into certain bankruptcy until they themselves were suddenly faced with chapter 11. Finito. And, you guessed it, of course, every single OTHER individual is or was at fault, the government, the weather, globalization, space radiation and whatnot. Not their own ill-conceived strategies. Nah. Not at all.

To get back on track: As every somewhat Internet-savvy fan of the Beatles has done in the past, I looked elsewhere. Hell, they even have a Wikipedia entry to help us ignoramuses out.

So, I turned to an individual (or group) that calls itself “Dr. Ebbetts”. Yeah, I know, many of you will immediately favor someone else (and do let me know if my decision was faulty), but I decided to check him/them out and leave “Purple Chick” and other collectives on the sidelines.

And, lo and behold, a ridiculously major improvement in sound. I think I have everything that was published legally for the digital market, and all of it is ready for the trash can in comparison … and it’s heading that way next week.

I’m not going into the rest. Have a look for yourself, especially if you happen to be as frustrated after 20 years of industry ignorance.

Hey, Apple!
Just lost another future customer.
I think I was number twelve-million-six-hundred-and-twenty-four.
Or was it thirteen million?
I forgot.
Who really cares anymore?
The Beatles are (finally) off my list.

(04) “Poof”?

I have pretty much given up on Internet forums (Jazz and the rest) because they are populated by too many egocentric wannabes, I’ve unsubscribed from many mailing lists in my ongoing fight to keep my inbox at a manageable size, and I’ve stopped reading a ton of newsletters that tried to sell me the umpteenth reissue of 80s and 90s reissues and re-re-issues (in better sound, of course).
Crap, all of it.

Besides the fact that I think I have what I wanted (if that is at all possible, given the psychological problems all of us collectors apparently suffer from), removing yourself from the Internet hype and discussions actually saves you tons of money.

Still, and I’m wondering if you are experiencing the same, I have the impression that quietly, and mainly unnoticed by the general public, a ton of stuff is simply … disappearing. See, I did keep my “shopping baskets” at various global player sites and, to be quite honest, many of them were 10 and more pages long (= messy to the extreme), but when I checked a week or so ago, a lot of the stuff that used to be easily and seemingly forever available is suddenly either gone or has risen dramatically in price. Fantasy, Prestige, some Universal stuff, old French RCA reissues, and , and, and … unaffordable or unavailable.

Damn, I think what I’ve often written about is actually happening.
Rarer stuff is disappearing at the speed of light … and unless the Spanish scam artists pick it up, I do believe many sessions are dead and gone.

Guys (and the two gals) … am I wrong?
Or right?
Let’s hope the latter isn’t the case and my eyesight is to blame.
Or my stupidity.

(05) “Art for Art’s Sake?”

The other day I attended a concert at our school. A accomplished pianist from the Ukraine performed some Bach, Chopin, Ravel and Stravinsky, amongst many others. Besides the fact that he had to put up with a rather dilapidated Steinway, he did a fabulous job, even though a) he had to sit in a music room lit like any morgue at any German hospital and b) had played another three concerts the day before.

I really enjoyed listening to him, especially his interpretations of Ravel’s “Jeux D’Eau” (one of my favorites) and  Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (a true highlight of the concert). The man is also an extremely pleasant and widely-experienced global citizen, in short, a great man to talk to.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that we talked for quite a bit afterward, that we were driven home by a great colleague of mine (himself an accomplished musician), and that I found out that he, a man with an abundance of competition prizes to his name, tons of CD releases under his belt, dedication and a consummate artist … does at times not earn enough to keep the German foreign police off his back. You know, the type of monkeys that have no idea of who they are dealing with. Cleaning lady from Turkey? Machinist from Poland? World-class musician from the Ukraine? Everyone is treated equally … bad. True democracy, and all of that.

More proof that technocracy has finally achieved a stronghold.

I was a foreigner myself often enough during my lifetime, was (almost) expelled from Denmark in my last high school year for formal reasons (only “divine” intervention from the highest government echelons was able to help me out of that fix), I basically had to work under a pseudonym to circumvent the most restrictive regulations possible, had to stand in line wasting days of my life organizing another (short-term) residence permit (“Come back in four weeks and we’ll submit you to the same kind of sub-human treatment”.) and had to continually prove that I did not need, want or even appreciate a single cent from the Danish government.

True hell.
And that was before the right-wing nutcases took over.

To get back to the point, I’d like to contact the artist in question and see if I can conduct an interview with him. I have no idea if he wants to be associated with this site (although we do have friends like Ed Thigpen and Tord Gustavsen here), but I’m going to try my best to give him a stage to say his peace (or is that piece)?

(06) Closing Curtain: “Frustration”

I don’t know about you, but because I know some of my more regular readers, I don’t think I’m too far off assuming that you might share at least some aspects of the following sentiments, wherever you live.

If one is halfway intelligent, and I would count all of us into that group, one can do nothing but shake one’s head at things transpiring around the globe. Here in Germany we have a government fighting an economic crisis in a a major election year and, naturally, they are doing everything wrong they possibly can. At the moment, although election years have their own dynamics, we are experiencing an explosive shift in general opinion, veering away from a lowest common denominator grand coalition to all kinds of extremes (actually one of them, the liberal party, is not really an extreme, but I have serious doubts that once they are swept into a major power position by general dissatisfaction … they won’t have anything to show for themselves … which is, to be quite honest, probably more than the current coalition has on display).

We have a general populace that is about as passive as can be. It is unbelievable (but very German) how much crap everyone puts up with and relegates to private discussion instead of actually standing up and being counted.

We have a caste of unbelievably “removed” management monkeys who screamed for years at any state intervention … and are now barking up the government tree to subsidize their stupidity. And pronto, if possible.

We have an educational system which is failing all across the board.

We have a music industry that is in shambles.

Yeah, I know, the cynic in me is speaking his mind again, and other places around the globe are worse off. And, yes, I’m behaving exactly like the people I’m criticizing.

Shoot me!

I turn to music time and again to calm my nerves, my over-sensitive radar, my frustration with current affairs.

Franz Liszt.
Glenn Gould.
Pepper Adams.
Bill Evans.
Bill Evans. 😉
Chet Baker.
Alfred Brendel.
Billo’s Caracas Boys. 🙂
Bohren & Der Club of Gore.
Alexander Borodin.
Johannes Brahms.
Miles Davis.

Eclecticism abounds.

On a closing note: One of the best books I’ve ever read was one by a man called “Günter Gaus” who was, typically enough for times long gone, the (West-)German Ambassador to (East-)Germany. Of course, tautology did not allow us to have an ambassador in a country we politically accepted but secretly or openly despised.

No matter what, Gaus published one of my (then) life-defining slim paperbacks entitled “Wo Deutschland liegt. Eine Ortsbestimmung (1983)” In it, he described how an entire population (sans the party bigwigs) removed itself from state influence into private circles, clubs, church activities and “allotment gardens” (correct term?), going private and staying private. In that book he dramatically (but in very simple language) described a political system that was coming apart at the seams, his description predating actual events by more than a decade.

What fascinated me at the time – and I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single word has stayed with me ever since I read that book – was the total removal of a larger part of the population into an untouchable private sphere.

The problem is that I’m noticing similar behavior in my little village and others around it, which might well be very different from the rest of Germany.

I think that’s a very alarming trend.

But, I guess, I’m crying “Fire!” again without substantiation?
No idea.

I just have a very vague feeling that it’s time to turn off my stereo.
Where is The Clash when you need them?


Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. Volkher,

    Which Ahmad Jamal CDs did you pick up?

    By the way, I suppose you’re aware that those “Dr Ebbetts” Beatles discs are bootlegs.


  2. Volkher,

    Great to see you back online and posting!

    I just wanted to comment on your storage problem because I am in the same boat as you…..out of space! My music room is part of our re-done attic and I have the diagonal ceiling making my beautiful 6ft tall wood cases too tall. I had two that held 750 CDs and one that held 900 and they looked great in our apartment but now they are obsolete. I resorted to lying the 2 750s on the floor and I bought some Benno wall shelves from Ikea (they hold 100 CDs each). The idea was to line the walls with the Ikea shelves but we figured the space needed was too much for the walls so I put the 3 shelves on the floor too. I have 2000 discs on display and another 2000 in rubbermaid totes, cardboard boxes and in piles on my desk and stereo table. Start adding my growing vinyl collection and its complete madness!

    My wish is still the Can-Am Cabinets, they provide the perfect solution for my space but the price is too high (thousands for what I need) and I can’t spend big $$$ in this economy. Hopefully you will post what you find online, your storage columns are always the best.

    Heavy Metal Addiction


  3. @Hans

    Only the ones I mentioned in my last post:

    “I walked away with “Ahmad Jamal Trio. Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961. Chess Jazz/Universal 1998″ (which includes most/all? of his famous Pershing Lounge 1958 recordings!) and “Ahmad Jamal. Chamber Music of the New Jazz. Argo/Verve 1955/2004″.”

    The Beatles are bootlegs?


  4. @Steve

    Nice to have you around again. I’m still a regular over at your site as well. 🙂

    Storage problems suck. I recall seeing some photos of your CDs/Benno shelves on the floor somewhere? No matter how, as long as the CDs are kept out of harm’s way, any improvised solution will do.

    I’m thinking of further reducing my collection by getting rid of a ton of fusion CDs I bought in the 80s and 90s, all of which I haven’t touched for a decade or so. I just got fed up with it all and have the distinct feeling that I won’t be hitting that kind of music again in my lifetime. So, if I get rid of it, I’ve got about 5 meters of extra space. 🙂

    Years ago I got rid of most of my heavy metal stuff (I regret having done so for some artists … but I did keep digital copies) years ago which allowed me to add on a lot to the jazz section.

    It’s a dynamic /passion/hobby we have



  5. re Ahmad Jamal: Oops, hadn’t seen those titles.

    re Beatles: just thought I’d mention it… 🙂


  6. Hans,

    I’m aware of the dilemma I find myself in. I’m totally opposed to “ripping” artists off, which also includes most of the illegal downloading going on, but in the case of the Beatles we don’t really have a choice, do we? If we do want a decent-sounding copy of basically any Beatles session, we have to turn to shady sources to get it. That is, in a nutshell, the sorry and sad state of affairs in the music business.

    As I’ve stated before, no matter if one even likes the Beatles, they are a cornerstone of 20th century music and as important as any major work of art. It makes me endlessly angry to see how the industry (and perhaps even the surviving band members and their relatives themselves) is (are) treating the back catalog.

    And, yes, I’m egoistic in the extreme here. I do believe that everyone has the right (!) to decent-sounding copies of this music, just as I believe that humanity has the right to have somewhat normal access to any other major work of art.

    Foolish, I guess, but I can’t help it.

    P.S.: I’m totally into “Ahmad Jamal Trio. Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961. Chess Jazz/Universal 1998″ at the moment. That is some seriously cool stuff!!!


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