Proms Review: Prom 44

Funny story written by Ellis Ian Fields

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


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Three minutes and counting...

Ligeti, Berio, Xenakis, Harvey, Andriessen, Cage.

Byron Fulcher - trombone
Sound Intermedia
London Sinfonietta
London Sinfonietta Academy Ensemble
André Ridder, conductor.

Pierre Noxious writes:

The earlier Prom last night was some nice stuff by Delius, Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky played by the Royal Phil under Charles Dutoit and featuring hot property young ivory-tickler Benjamin Grosvenor. I'll have some of that with a glass or two at the interval, thank you very much.

"No you won't," they said. "It's the 10.15pm one for you, Pierre young fellow-me-lad. There's some oddities on and we'd like a review please."

Oddities? Bleedin' wierdities, if you ask me! Wierdities… viz. Ligeti - Poème Symphonique; Berio - Sequenza V; Xenakis - Phlegra; Harvey - Mortuos Plango, vivos voco; Andriessen - De snelheid; and John Cage - 4'33".

Why me?

The Ligeti is a hundred ticking metronomes. Brilliant! During the unlistenable Berio, the trombonist turns to the audience to ask "Why?" And we bloody well say "Yeah - why? We could be in the pub!"

But, of course, the really famous thing here is the Cage. If you're not familiar with this piece of genius, it's just over four-and-a-half minutes of time off for the band. The 4'33" of the title is four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

There was a new recording of this a couple of years ago by Cage Against The Machine (see what they did there?) - an attempt to keep Simon Cowell's X-Factor dullards off the number one slot at Christmas.

But how do we know it's actually been recorded? You go to a concert and you can see the musicians not playing. And you dutifully pay attention to the ambient noises and the noises in your head: the blood rushing in your temples, the voice telling you that you might get away with burning down the Royal Albert Hall... they shouldn't have put you through this... and how will the conductor end the piece? With a flourish? Or a gentle down sweep of the arms. Is his watch accurate? Supposing it's a crap watch... you might have to listen for longer!

If you listen to it on a record how do you know when it's finished? Unless you play it on CD and watch the timer... then you're not concentrating on the piece are you? And on CD, how do you know it's been recorded digitally - you know DDD and not one of those AAD transfers from an old recording?

(Gramophone's review of that recording was a blank column, with Peter Dickinson's by-line at the bottom. Clever sods - they still won't ask me to write for them.)

Anyway, the missus didn't fancy this, so I went up with Pete and Tig and we made a night of it in some Kensington boozer before the gig. I know last time I took Tig to a Prom he nearly burst himself needing the bog half way through some Beethoven after a few jars, but this was just a short listen (it might seem an eternity - but I reckoned he could hold himself) so we thought he'd be OK.

And so he was. Well - not really. No - he didn't need an urgent slash. But he was beside himself: "If you ever make me sit through such a pile of unmitigated bollocks like that again I'll take the entire pile of manure posing as the canon of post-war modern western composing and shove it up your wossname!"

But we decided there's money to be made here. So Dave, Tig and I have recorded our own downloadable version of 4'33'.

You can get it at iTunes, by Pierre Noxious and the Noisome Nastiness (that was our punk band name way back when).

It really is a revolutionary new version and because of my re-reading of the middle section, it comes in at four minutes 41 seconds. How's that for value for money?

The funny story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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