April 15, 2001 (link)
"What does it mean to be a skeptic? Some people believe that skepticism is rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse 'skeptic' with 'cynic' and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas -- no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position."
"A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions."
All this comes from skeptic.com, which is the site for a magazine to which I'll have to subscribe, someday, when I have disposable income. The website limits its content for obvious reasons, but the "Jr Skeptic" section has an amusing article on cow tipping.
Hmmm. Two cows in four paragraphs. I guess I'll put on Atom Heart Mother.
I may well be first on the Net with this one:
LIVE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: WESLEY WILLIS GETS BOMBED
Tonight I went with my girlfriend and my "best-buddy-in-the-long-run" Mike V. to see Wesley Willis play at a frathouse on the UPenn campus. It was the first live rock show I'd attended in months, barring my unsuccessful foray to see Low's performance in Baltimore (cancelled due to a snowstorm).
The show was absurdly crowded and there were, I think, quite a few people who were there more to see the freak show than out of genuine affection for Wesley. We saw two opening acts -- the Stinking something-or-others and the Lapse. The Stinking whatevers weren't bad; they played an entertaining breed of all-instrumental power-trio metal, and they had decent chops -- especially the bassist, who played upright on most songs and managed to nail down some pretty tricky chromatic unison lines. The Lapse weren't really the right band for the occasion, and had the good sense to get off the stage relatively quickly (the wisdom of which is even more of a virtue than one might think).
The drunken masses shouted Wesley's name until his manager led him to the stage (after miraculously creating a path through the jam-packed crowd). After a few minutes of tinkering and a bit of banter (during which he responded to song requests by asking everyone to leave him alone because, as he said, "I'm just trying to do my job"), Wesley launched into his opening song -- was it "Get the Fuck Out of My Face"? He clearly seemed unnerved by the size and boisterousness of the crowd, and I felt rather awful for the poor guy.
After the next song ("Superman", I think), people began to slowly trickle out, easing the crush (which had gotten very bad), but a small group of two or three drunken schmucks began to mosh violently, pointedly smashing into people who were clearly uninterested in being knocked about, and ended up spilling beer on Wesley's keyboard after "I Whupped Batman's Ass". Wesley justifiably berated the crowd, telling them not to spill beer on him or his keyboard, which cost a lot of money, and that he would raise hell if his keyboard were damaged. The moshing continued and got worse during "You're Making Me a Lunatic" (or something like that), but things seemed to calm down a bit by the end of "Cut the Mullet" (a masterful tune for which this site was, in part, named).
About halfway through the next song -- was it "Rock and Roll McDonald's"? -- I noticed my girlfriend had disappeared. (I'd been distracted by the moshing, concerned that a fight would break out.) I looked around a bit, didn't find her, and returned to my previous spot next to my comrade Mike. Shortly afterward, I suddenly smelled a sulphurous odor and subsequently saw a cloud of smoke beginning to billow out from around one of the speakers. I didn't spend much time speculating on the cause -- I thought the odor was matches, and Mike thought the smoke was a fog machine -- but decided to get out of there as quickly as possible.
We soon realized that someone had set off a smoke-bomb. Pandemonium didn't ensue, fortunately, and everyone got out safely and smoothly (and I discovered that my girlfriend had fortunately gone outside to get some air when the bomb went off). But it was a huge disappointment to have the evening end so suddenly, and so badly. I've been listening to Wesley Willis for quite a long time now, and have developed a real affection for his idiosyncrasies and his honesty; he comes out with some really wild and funny things, but is also, as Jello Biafra points out, damn near the only person in the world who can do a song called "Stop the Violence" and have it be both credible and completely sincere.
The worst thing of all: apparently, when Wesley realized what was happening, he made the heartbreaking comment, "You ruined my rock show!" How awful is that?
Other news: To the reader that emailed me disagreeing with my negative evaluation of Speak No Evil -- I haven't yet gotten a good moment to write back. However, despite my failure to reply, I've taken your words to heart and have listened to the album twice more, and intend to listen to it another five or six times, so as to form a more thorough opinion of it. May I post any of what you said, here?
This entry is fairly incoherent, I think. I'm very tired. It's been a long day.
April 11, 2001 (link)
Tonight's listening included Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter (Blue Note) and the Spacemen 3 tribute with Low, Amp, Bowery Electric, et al. on Rocketgirl Records. Neither disc was particularly satisfying; of course on the Shorter disc the musicianship is on a high level, as are the compositions, but somehow I found it lacking as an album, and the soloing in general on this disc is sub-par for these guys. "Speak No Evil" is a great tune, but I liked it more in the context of The Best of Wayne Shorter than I do here.
Rocketgirl's put out some very good records, like the Low/Piano Magic/Transient Waves Sleep at the Bottom 7-inch, but I've never found the Spacemen 3 disc to be one of them. Maybe I just don't like Spacemen 3 -- to be honest, I don't know their stuff beyond a couple songs, though I've heard a Spiritualized album, which I didn't like at all. But some of the stuff on this disc really misses the mark, I think. The only tracks I like are "Ode to Street Hassle", playfully done by Flowchart, and of course Low's well-known cover of "Lord, Can You Hear Me", which is the best thing on the record by far. (I'd be afraid to ever appear on a compilation with Low; it's amazing how trivial they can make everyone else sound by comparison, like listening to heavy-caliber Bach in the midst of an album of Telemann.) The Transient Waves track might be OK, too -- I didn't really get a good listen before the CD player began to skip. Everything else I can do without, in degrees ranging from vague apathy (Bowery Electric's cover of "Things'll Never Be the Same") to active distaste (better not say who).
I just discovered DJ Martian was kind enough to link to me, and I'm happy to return the favor. Nice page, too.
April 10, 2001(link)
I realized that I put a lot of emphasis on what one might call "guilty pleasures" in my last entry. I have a tendency to play devil's advocate, I think; when I'm around people of any given persuasion, I gravitate towards the opposite point of view. I tend to imagine my readership as being musically erudite, and that makes me want to champion what I perceive as diamonds in the rough, like old-school Nintendo game music and incidental music from PBS.
I think, though, that making a habit of that kind of contrariness will raise the irony quotient of this journal, and that's something I want to keep to a minimum. There aren't enough people out there who are willing to say "You know, this album just knocked the wind out of me, and it's absolutely amazing and it makes me happy. And if it's not cool to like it, fuck off: I think it's beautiful." If there's anything I want to do, it's that. And though I do maintain that there is a lot of beautiful music to be found in the sources I mentioned, it's also possible to take that position with a degree of ironic detachment because they are diamonds in the rough. To some extent, the same thread runs through a lot of independent-music culture; many reviewers, I think, will subconsciously take into account the straitened circumstances in which they suspect the album was made, and judge an album less harshly than they might judge a major-label release, which they "expect to be perfect".
If this sounds inane, consider, by way of analogy, the perspective that one might imagine a good creative writing teacher would take concerning the work of his or her students. There is a love with which the best teachers approach their students' work, and which feeds the joy they take in their accomplishments, and which leads them to forgive certain flaws. Those teachers don't, in all likelihood, read the works of most published authors with the same loving, forgiving mindset. They do, however, read those works with an unspoken expectation of awe, as do the rest of us, I think. When you pick up a book by Hemingway or Kafka or Harlan Ellison or whomever, you expect to be awed. You expect something that is somehow grander than yourself and beyond anything of which you imagine yourself capable. We expect revelation from these authors, and when we don't get it, especially on first acquaintance, we're bitterly disappointed: either we are somehow disjunct from the world, and are failing to apprehend something of importance, or the world has held up these men as false prophets, for we've sought out what we've been told is Great, and found it wanting.
Our culture has of course blurred the line between greatness and commercial success. Trying to find analogues in the literary world for bands like the Beatles and Nirvana is foolish, in part because the world of rock music and its siblings has been too thoroughly infiltrated by the notion that the definition of Great Music is whatever sells records, and in part because rock music hasn't yet had to face the test of time in the same way that the Great Books have. However, I think the majority of people do approach the Great Books (whatever they may be) with the same anticipation with which they approach what they believe is Great Music, a music which is almost invariably on major labels. When we turn away from those major labels, disappointed, and seek something with which we have greater affinity, I think that, in the course of doing that, we do set aside that expectation of awe, at least to some extent. Often, we trade it in for tolerance and open-mindedness -- an ability to appreciate substance when flash is absent, for one -- and instead of seeking out revelatory experiences, we seek out our affinities.
But I do think that many people like far too much music and love far too little music, and I think that's a phenomenon that, in some way that I can't entirely articulate, the indie music community -- especially its elitist elements -- somehow encourages. It's a depedestalization (!) that has its benefits, but also its consequences; as so often happens in every aspect of life, we find ourselves emancipated, but godless. We gain a personal relationship with the music and sometimes even the musicians, but perhaps the opportunities for awe are fewer and more unlikely.
Hmmm. I'm laying it on a little thick here, perhaps, but I think what I'm trying to get at, however unsuccessfully, is important.
In any event, here's a list of ten releases -- some on (relatively) independent labels, some on (relatively) major labels -- that I will defend to the metaphorical death, no matter how unhip they might seem to anyone, because they have given me that experience of awe that I described above: they left me flabbergasted, my jaw hanging open, my mind dazed and happy, and my musical self changed permanently. Whether or not I still love them as intensely as I once did, these are albums that, for me, have been far beyond "cool": they've been beautiful, and perhaps even sacred.
In chronological order -- that is, the order in which they hit me like a ton of bricks:
That was amazingly hard to cut it down to ten; my list got up to the high forties, and I could only make ten by restricting myself to one record per artist* (otherwise, Pink Floyd and Low would've had one more each). For the record, here are the honorable mentions, as it were. I feel like I really should've put the Doors Greatest Hits album in the top 10 (probably instead of Dots and Loops), since it's the album that got me started on music. And I didn't even put Thriller in the honorable mentions, though I must have played it a hundred times as a child. So it goes.
*I don't like the word "artist" for musicians and similar performers. It's always seemed pretentious to me. Still, it's the only word I know of that includes everyone that makes music, and thus doesn't implictly exclude anyone.
April 9, 2001 (link)
In light of Josh's imminent (albeit temporary) hiatus, I'm not sure whether to react with the fiendish suggestion that his readers come hither during his absence, or with concern that my own small-but-growing readership will dwindle, as most of my traffic comes from Josh's page. Regardless, he'll be missed in the meantime.
It occurs to me that I haven't really introduced myself, nor is there any sort of "about me" link. I'll have to make one.
I recently made some disparaging remarks to a friend about Vince Guaraldi. Relistening to some of his Charlie Brown music tonight, though (specifically 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas), I suspect that was fairly stupid of me. Sure, he's not a great jazz pianist as such, but that's not the point. His scores for those cartoons were masterpieces, because what he wrote was so impossibly appropriate that the cartoon and its score have become practically inseparable -- it's almost impossible to think of Peanuts without hearing that music. It embodies the spirit of the cartoon effortlessly and perfectly, and at its best, it is beautiful.
So he's tame, or his compositions have been watered down into oblivion by the likes of George Winston -- who cares? I shouldn't, lest I wake up one day and find myself more snob than sincere. There's probably more of value in Guaraldi's Charlie Brown music than in...well, you can finish that sentence yourself.
Does anyone have an archive of the incidental music from Sesame Street? I'm thinking in particular of two things -- a slow 3/4 melody in B-flat minor featuring prominent bassoon and glockenspiel (I don't remember the visual), and a happy 6/4 song in C major that played behind a man hurtling downriver in a kayak. Sesame Street, like much of PBS, has used some pretty fantastic music for transitions and brief segments. NOVA once had an unusually good episode about quantum mechanics and grand unified field theory; its credits featured a remarkable bit of what one might call "space blues" that has stayed with me to this day -- in fact, it's definitely influenced my own composition, believe it or not. (I don't know who played it.) And even the shoestring late-night astronomy program "Star Hustler" used a synthesized version of Debussy's 1er Arabèsque for its theme music; it was a bit hokey, sure, but I rather liked it.
April 8, 2001
Golly, these tracks by Pan American, aka Mark Nelson of Labradford, are pretty good, especially the second one ("Both Ends Fixed"). I think I have to get it sometime. Although I quite like Labradford, I had stayed away from it for whatever reason -- probably because I read something, somewhere, that put me off. Or, perhaps, because I have a distrust of people's "solo projects", which are often mediocre (cf. Pink Floyd's numerous examples). Anyway, it's good.
Also, it looks like MP3.com is ripping people off. I'm too lazy to elaborate; basically, they're charging people $20 a month to receive royalties, and they're paying those people royalties based on a percentage system of a lump sum of $1,000,000 -- but that percentage system includes people who haven't paid the $20, and the remaining money goes into MP3.com's pockets.
It'd be kind of like saying to ten kids, "Hey, if you'll clean my yard, you can divide $100 between all of you." They agree and begin. Halfway through the job, you then tell the kids that they have to pay $2 each to rent your equipment, or they won't get paid. 8 kids refuse and leave, but the other 2 agree, pay the $2 each, and finish cleaning your yard. You then pay them not $50 each, but $10, keeping the remaining $80 for yourself and confiscating (rather than distributing) the shares of the children who had left, having only paid a net of $16 rather than the $100 you promised.
So if you've got music there, you may want to move it elsewhere.
April 6, 2001 (link)
Mac users on a slow connection would do well to check out MacLynx, a text-only browser that handles most text-oriented pages quite nicely (and reveals the bad design of many others). It's surprisingly fun to tool about in it; in some ways, it really does make all the graphics and such seem like a distraction. Lynx, which was originally written for UNIX-based systems, is available for other platforms, too.
Tonight's listening included:
The For Carnation album is a surprise favorite that I've been listening to occasionally for a while. I really like the feel of this EP; it's intelligent, understated, tasteful, and has a coiled-spring quality that I find appealing. I'll have to pick up their later stuff.
Original copies of Ambiant Otaku were selling for $100 or more before it was reissued. I don't really know why; the album's garnered a lot of raves, but I think it's mediocre, and in some ways is exactly the kind of ambient music I don't like. Too many airy, digital-sounding synths and heavenly choirs...too much pandiatonic rambling...and too much damn treble! It seems like almost every time an album gets tagged with the word "ethereal", as this one does, it means that it's got too much treble and voices saying "ah".
Anyway, it's not bad, exactly...but it isn't engaging at all, even after a half-dozen listens. It certainly falls far short of Inoue's Datacide albums with Atom Heart (Datacide II and Flowerhead -- but not Ondas, which is a clunker).
I hadn't listened to the second disc of Live in Tokyo 1972 before, though I bought it nearly a year ago. A lot of people know the first part of this set as Side B of I Sing the Body Electric; what's on there is one of the most explosive and wild 20-25 minutes you'll ever hear. When I found out that the complete, unedited performance was available, I knew I had to get it, even if I had to import it from the Netherlands (which I did). Unfortunately, it's a letdown, and Disc 2 is even more so than Disc 1. When listening to Disc 1, you discover that the I Sing the Body Electric version was very heavily edited -- but that those edits were brilliant and added to the impact of the music tremendously. Those jump-cuts were straight out of Miles in more ways than one, and just as the editing room made Bitches Brew what it was, so too was it responsible for kicking the Body Electric version into overdrive. Without them, the impact of the first set is significantly muted.
I'd held off on Disc 2 because I had great expectations for what I hoped would be a superb version of "Orange Lady", Joe Zawinul's beautiful hymn-like meditation, and wanted to save it for an occasion when I could really give it a good listen. Unfortunately, it turned out to be fairly disappointing. Zawinul overplays and changes the chords (not for the better), and neither Shorter nor Vitous sound terribly inspired. That's pretty much the story with all of the second disc -- it's made up of inferior versions of material from their first, self-titled album. On that album, songs like "Orange Lady" or "Tears" are haunting and delicate and elusive; in this live version, they sound sloppy and overplayed.
I'd stick with I Sing the Body Electric. Even if you hate Weather Report, get Body Electric just to hear Eric Gravatt, who has got to be one of the most tragically neglected drummers out there (I heard that, after Weather Report screwed him over, he basically gave up on music to run a children's program in Minneapolis, and plays straightahead jazz in a tiny club every week or so). Imagine if John Bonham played jazz -- and played it well, and with subtlety -- and you've pretty much got it. He pounds the living shit out of his drums, and does it beautifully.
Finally, the Ravel is great. Abbey Simon moans under his breath, but it's easy to ignore, and he plays the hell out of Le Tombeau de Couperin. It's funny how the Minuet, which I used to dislike, is in some ways my favorite movement now.
Remember to listen to music with your computer off (assuming it has a fan and makes noise). If you listen to lots of MP3s, dub them to cassette or burn them to CDR. Something like the For Carnation album just isn't the same if you don't have a quiet environment to really hear it in. For that matter, nearly anything sounds better that way -- and the more delicate a piece of music is, the more desperately it needs it. You just can't really hear in a noisy environment.
April 4, 2001
Recent listening has included Subject 13's Black Steele Project (Selector), which I bought having enjoyed their track on Whirling Records' mostly excellent Space Shuttle Lounge compilation. I've had BSP for a while but have never really listened to it in its entirety -- I guess I kept hoping it was better. It's not very good, though; parts are OK, but it tends to all seem like a very dull and uninspired hodgepodge of drum-and-bass-meets-jazz clichés after a while. One track in particular, "So Much Feel", features an egregiously out-of-tune vocal, by one Claire Callahan, that just ruins the whole thing. The compilation track that initially drew me in, "True Skillz (Endemic Void Remix)", is here, but has a somewhat different and notably inferior outro.
Oh, well. I suppose with titles like "Just 4 You" and "Dinner Time Jazz" I shouldn't have expected much. (Ooh, don't I sound elitist.)
April 3, 2001
Oh, the humanity...
April 2, 2001
"Slings and arrows" still keep me busy, but I just wanted to comment that Eyes Wide Shut is one of the most execrable pieces of crap that I've seen in quite a while. I'm dumbfounded by those reviewers who saw fit to give this positive reviews; it's badly acted (Cruise and Kidman are embarrassingly awful), the dialogue is wretched (must so many of the movie's lines be made up of literal repetitions of the preceding line? "Remove your mask." "Remove...my...mask?"), the script is ludicrous and stilted, and the direction is pretentious and uninvolving.
And (to tie it back to the purpose of this site) the score is terrible. I don't know if the blame goes to Ligeti or to Kubrick; it sure sounded like an identical excerpt was used repeatedly, and it's not György's fault if so -- anything can become annoying if it's beaten into the ground. Still, that ninety seconds or so of single-note piano music was not exactly an inspiring exploration of the power of minor seconds and ninths. It was, rather, more like...well, like bad Ligeti.
(For good Ligeti, see Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, the String Quartets, etc.)
By contrast, Madonna: Truth or Dare, which I saw the night before, was better in every way -- including the music!
he says good things, and is always engaging reading.
"delivering cultural sound knowledge for the intelligent generation"