Streaming L’Accordéon

Part 1: Getting to Rdio

So as not to bury the lede, I’ll just let you know that this story ends with me completely enamored with the Rdio service and the music it brings into my life. But it wasn’t a sure thing … Give a listen to this playlist while you read on!

https://rd.io/i/QWjoYzN9vhw

As someone whose aesthetic is devoted to an instrument founded in technology that was around before the Caesars — i.e., levers, valves, and bellows — it should surprise no one that I am rarely an early adopter of, to use a technical term, the “newly fangled.” I had to be counseled through the great CD conversion of the 1980s, and just five years ago, MP3s seemed like so much ephemeral cods-wattle to me.

I go through a process, I’ll admit. It resembles grief, in that there are stages. (ANGER: “F*&^ing music industry wants us to buy our music AGAIN in another format!  I don’t think so!”  DEPRESSION: “Oh, my beloved record collection … *sob* … vinyl … *weep* … beautiful covers … *salty tears* … wasted …”) But when I reach acceptance, I reach it completely, wondering how I had ever doubted in the first place. This is usually when my wife steps in and somehow signals that it’s time for me to get a grip already. It was my wife, for example, who bought me my first iPod, thus bringing my doctrinaire objections about the value of artifacts and “the authentic listening experience” to a deserved end.  Now that was cods-wattle.

So, in January my wife bought me a subscription to Rdio, a commercial music streaming service. Not something I had considered before. I had heard of Spotify and other such streaming services, of course, but I always asked myself, as Neil Postman suggests we do, “What is the problem for which this technology is the answer?” I could think of none. Subscribe to Spotify? Why would I do such a thing? You want me to pay for music that I wouldn’t then own??? What kind of IDIOT would do that???

I got the e-mail:  “You have subscribed to Rdio …”

What? At that point, I had never heard of Rdio (which, I later discovered, is pronounced in the pirate manner, “Ar-Dee-Oh”). Then I got the text from my wife, “I just subscribed you to Rdio …” My wife, as I have mentioned in the past, is a woman of marvelous virtue. She knows me, and she knows things. If she thought I should check out Rdio … hm.

Part 2: And What I Found There

What fresh new Hell is this? Ah … Wondrous!

In many genres, I have discovered, Rdio (and Spotify) present one with an unimaginable cornucopia of music. It’s stunning, and the price ($14.95 USD) is astounding when you consider the ridiculous availability, and the fact that suddenly, your shelves of CDs have shifted from being repositories of treasure to being sites of clutter and storage problems.

One of the first artists I looked up was Red Garland, a jazz pianist who I’m particularly fond of, and immediately I found The Complete Studio Recordings. Thank you very much. I think I will. Then I started looking for Baroque music — Bach, Handel, and all that — and sweet mother of God! One could listen their whole lives without exhausting the goodness there. How about the entire Topic Records catalogue, a cornerstone of BritTrad music? Yes, they do. What about … well, you get the idea. They had a lot of music in a lot of genres. They may not have had every specific thing I went looking for, but they had enough so that at any given moment in time I could find excellent music that would scratch whatever itch I had at that moment. Extraordinary.

But what about L’Accordéon? What about the tradFrench that runs through my free reed veins? Give a listen to the playlist!

An abundance! Perhaps I did not discover that long lost Marc Perrone recording I’ve been looking for — the one with “En Avant Blonde” — but I did find four others. I conducted a fairly thorough search and found a couple of La Chavannée recordings, some Patrick Bouffard. I did find some material that I had never seen before. Hurdy gurdy player Philippe Besson recorded on the Parsiparia label, and there was quite a bit of goodness there. Trio Safar, a fantastic group featuring accordéonaire Christian Maes, just one of the insanely virtuosic Belgians I found at the L’autre Distribution Rdio page. Chanson was well represented, from Edith Piaf to Emmanuelle Pariselle — very helpful and timely, since I’ve just been asked to play in a chanson tribute in Lewiston! And still, surprises arise!

Rather than run through the laundry list, I’ve put together a short playlist. I invite you to enjoy. It contains some new discoveries for me, but also some bog norm favorites. Patrick Bouffard’s “Valse A 5 Temps” is a staggering minute fifty-nine of music. “Nova,” from a compilation of Breton accordéonists, starts off in a suspiciously modern mode, but resolves to laride greatness. If I had included Irish accordéonists or more English players, the list would be very long.

I invite you to join me on Rdio. I am not a shill. This is not a paid advert.

“What,” I hear you say, “you can’t see paying for music and then not ‘owning’ it?” I would invite you to consider what the “ownership” of music means, and then have a conversation with Chief Seattle about what it means to own the land. I feel as if I’ve been given direct access to the greatest artistic achievements of mankind, and I intend to enjoy it.

Andy Cutting Interview Part 2: Gear Talk

Part One is Here.

Andy Cutting does NOT have an accordéon collection. Listening to Andy Cutting, one is entranced, of course, by his playing, but one also marvels — perhaps with a modicum of jealousy — at the sound of his instruments. I asked Cutting about his instruments. Is he a gear hound? Does he have a collection?

I wouldn’t say I was a gear hound at all. I’m primarily driven by playing music on a machine and have the instruments I feel I can best do that. I don’t really have a collection, as such. Although my wife would say otherwise! For those who are interested, the boxes I have are:


with the beloved Mory
  • Hohner Pokerwork D/G (my first box which I still play at home) 
  • Hohner one row four stop G 
  • Hohner Club 3 D/G 
  • One of those Chinese one rows
  • A small two row CBA thing that John Tams got in the Crimea when he was filming Sharp
  • Castagnari Mignon Gish, 
  • Two Castagnari Max, one in D and one in A
  • Castagnari Lilly D/G (bought by mistake!) 
  • Castagnari Handry 18 G/C
  • Oakwood (I’ve no idea what model. It was made for me), two row 21 button, 8 bass with stop for the thirds, G/C Bandoneon (octave) tuned, 
  • Two Castagnari Mory C/F and, finally, 
  • Castagnari Mory D/G (my most used and favorite box)

I also have on long term loan a Marcel Messervier Melodeon in D. So as I said, not really a collection.

How has he come by them? How did he first move beyond the Pokerwork?

I have over the years tried and played just about all the makes of boxes I’ve heard of. Some fabulous and a few dreadful. When I had been playing a few months I had the opportunity to play a Castagnari and it was just so much better than the Hohner I was playing. So after a lot of persuasive discussion and an approaching 18th birthday, I somehow convinced my parents that I needed a better box. We had been to Bromyard Folk Festival and I had been given a copy of the Castagnari catalogue by Rees Wesson (a fine one row maker). I sat down with my dad with a mind to get a Nik (two voice, two row, eight bass but with hand made reeds). My dad said that from all that I’d been saying, it sounded like I wanted something much more like … and he pointed to the Mory. I wasn’t going to say no, and so, with a bit of translation it was ordered. Several months later (!!) it arrived … and I hated it! It was so much bigger and heavier than my Pokerwork and I could barely reach the inside row of bass buttons, let alone the stops. I thought about it and knew that I would have to change the way I played. After a few days and a lot of work I totally fell in love with it.

Some items on that list are very intriguing! Two Maxes? Why two one rows? 

When I started playing with Chris Wood it was primarily to play some of the Quebecois repertoire. The only one row I had was in G and not super so I got the Max in D. Later I got the A one so that Chris could play in A. Fiddle players like A. Now I mostly use them in my Solo concerts and a bit with Martin Simpson.
With Chris Wood

And why is the Mory his favorite? Not that this is a hard question … why wouldn’t it be his favorite? But he’s got a Handry 18, G/C, the classic big box played by the likes of Bruno LeTron, Didier Laloy, and other Samurai. Why isn’t the HANDRY his favorite?

I bought the Handry 18 about fifteen years ago. I really like it but it’s just not me. It is in many ways too capable and as I’ve said before, I love the limitations of the instrument. With the big box it feels a little like cheating. I know it’s not, but the challenges that box brings aren’t the ones I’m so interested in.

It’s interesting that the box is G/C and the rest are D/Gs. Switching between the two can be difficult for some (okay, me) as the center of the instrument seems to shift from the knee end of the box to the chin. What’s the method behind Cutting’s key choices?

I play in D/G tuning because that is where most of the music I play is pitched. It is the standard in England. I have always tried to play in both octaves. So, I’ve never thought the difference [between D/G and G/C] too great. When teaching in England I try to get people playing in the top octave and when in Europe I get them to play in the bottom. It’s great practice and after a while you stop going eeak, the fingerings different! and just get on with it. 

Most people I work with are amazingly accommodating. I got the C/F box so it was easier to play in D & G minor with the pipes and hurdy-gurdy. If someone wants me to play and it’s in a daft key for the box. All it usually takes is a bit of explanation and nine times out of ten they’ll shift the key.  The singers I work with have mostly been more than happy to move key’s. 

In general, what does Cutting look for in an accordéon?

When trying out boxes it has to have a great action, an even tone across both ends and most importantly for me, have a very good response from very quiet to reasonably loud. I’m not into the bullworker melodeon, loudest is right thing at all. Volume is easy. Subtlety is not. But that of course depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

For me Castagnari seem to fit the way I play, or rather, I have learnt to play the way they work, better than any other make I’ve tried. That is just my personal taste. I would like a Melodie box and would dearly love to try a Bergflodt.

And, as an aside, what about the electronics?

For miking up the box I use an Audio Technica ATM 350 pro and for the left had I use the element off a PZM (Pressure Zone Mic) made by Realistic (or rather, no longer made by Realistic) mounted on the outside of the base plate with the mic looking through a sound hole. This is wired internally to a jack socket. Of the many mic systems I’ve tried this works best for me.