December 28, 2001 (link)
Quandary: I bought a used copy of the Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny CD Song X in part because I wanted to get rid of my tape of it, which I've had for seven or eight years now. But the tape actually sounds better in a way, since I pushed the levels so hard when I made it that the whole thing comes off as rather more wild and raw, on account of the tape compression and mild distortion. (By contrast, the Coltrane on Side A sounds terrible, since I pushed the levels much too hard on that one -- the bass distorts heavily, and "My Favorite Things" sounds like poor Jimmy Garrison is playing through a 15-watt Gorilla amp.) What to do?
Rounder Records, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and JVC World all have recordings that make me drool. There's something particularly appealing about Folkways' selection of special-order discs that you can only get on custom CDR. It makes me hope that all of it will eventually be put out on pressed aluminum, but I suppose the odds of something like "Barkley, Alben W. - 'Veep': Former Vice-President Alben W. Barkley Tells His Own Story" getting wide release are rather slim. At my old job, though, I did things like transferring six hour reel-to-reel recordings of a microbiology conference from 1968 (the tape speed was so low, we had to record it at double-speed and pitch-shift it on playback), and jobs like that made me quite aware that old, semi-unwanted recordings are all over the place. Speaking of that recording, I can't remember whether this was on the tape, or whether my boss told it to me (in reply to something that was indeed on the tape): apparently, some European village in the early part of the century kept coming down with typhoid, and consistently (and indignantly) ignored warnings that it was being caused by cross-contamination of their water supply and sewage system: "How can that be -- our spring is half a mile away and we keep it very clean! That's insulting nonsense." So some intrepid (and now-legendary) microbiologist performed a simple, and very public, experiment: with many observers present, he took a pretty large amount of, I think, black ashes, and poured them into the sewage system (did he simply flush them down the toilet? I don't remember). He then walked to the town's water source. Within a short period of time, black streaks were showing up in the vaunted spring. His point was made.
One of the things that seeing Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring reminded me of is how much happier I tend to be when I hold true to the things I love, without worrying about whether someone, somewhere might be able to "critically interrogate" them in a damaging way. There are so many people with opinions out there, and so few who can actually create anything of value. The latter are far more interesting, I think.
I was absolutely blown away by the movie, myself. It isn't perfect in every detail, but that doesn't really matter -- overall, it was tremendous, and reawakened a sense of wonder in me that had gone dormant for far longer than I'd realized. I plan to see it in the theater again, which is a pretty rare thing for me -- I don't go to the movies very often, let alone going to see the same film twice.
December 22, 2001 (link)
I have a habit of occasionally letting an album sit for months before I really give it a good listen. I used to think it was a rather decadent habit on my part, but on the other hand, one might well think of the man with a gigantic library who, when asked "So, have you read all these books of yours?", replied "Goodness, no -- who would want a library full of books they'd already read?"
Anyway, I got this Tarpigh album, Monsieur Monsoon (Northeast Indie), some months ago, but I only played it once or twice --- and since I didn't really give it my full attention, it didn't make much of an impression on me. Listening to it now, though, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. It's got a wonderful, slightly dry sound to it that somehow feels very familiar to me, though I can't come up with any specific antecedent -- maybe it's just the "sound of home recording". Whatever it is, it feels very honest and spontaneous, perhaps a bit like what I heard in Movietone's The Blossom-Filled Streets, though of course with a totally different and far more openly experimental/improvisational bent. The reviewer for Delusions of Adequacy wrote a pretty good review that will give you an idea of what to expect from this disc (though I disagree that "Shaporatake" has "no coherent flow whatsoever" -- it strikes me as one of the more straightforward tracks on the disc, actually). If you like Cerberus Shoal, you'll probably stand a good chance of enjoying this CD, inasmuch as Tarpigh was a part of them for about four years -- but this definitely isn't a Cerberus Shoal disc, either. There are no long-form song structures at all, and there's very little of a "rock" flavor to proceedings; the music on this disc is highly improvised, frequently atonal (even microtonal), and fairly "difficult" by most standards (though that's offset a bit by the feeling of playfulness in the air). Still, there's a definite connection -- there are moments in this disc that make me think of the intervals between songs in a typical Cerberus Shoal concert, during which the members will pick up a variety of found instruments and hand percussion and make very "small", subtle sounds. The Tarpigh CD is generally more direct than that -- some parts are very aggressive and loud, if only briefly -- but it does share something of that improvisational spirit, and joy in sound, that makes Cerberus Shoal such a great live band.
December 19, 2001 (link)
Couldn't help but be struck by this quote, which I got here:
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger." ---Herman Goering, Nazi Air Force (Luftwaffe) commander, the Nuremberg Trials
December 17, 2001 (link)
This -- especially track 3, "Stout-Hearted Men" -- is one of the funniest things I've heard in a while. As this page says (with slight changes), "Whee, shoo soo sah, shoo soo swah, shoo voo plah, doo doo rah, doo doo sah, doo doo rah, soo-da-li-twee-dat, soo-da-li-doo-ton-plee-blah, dwee, dah dah shrah, plah plah sah, dah dah rah, plav da shree, loh ku pah, dav du sah!" What was this guy on? Every time I think I've run out of new wrinkles to explore in (what they're calling) "outsider music", something comes along that leaves me in hysterics -- or, as in this case, genuine amazement.
I've been listening to a bunch of old Columbia-label tapes lately. You know the ones I mean -- white label, red block letters, usually no liner notes (and half the time with the tracks rearranged in some random order). So far I've dug out three self-titled albums -- Maynard Ferguson, David Gilmour, and Jefferson Airplane (their 1989 reunion album). They range, respectively, from cheesy-and-overblown-with-occasional-flashes-of-excitement, to dull proto-beer-commercial music with bad lyrics, to downright awful. I played the Ferguson a lot when I was 12 or so, but I've never really spent any time with the Gilmour or Airplane albums (i.e. they got one play each and then ended up in my "box of tapes I don't listen to"), and I can see why -- the Airplane album is nearly unlistenable. Much as I love Pink Floyd and early Jefferson Airplane (up to Volunteers or so), they and their members have both turned out some major-league crap. Why was it that no good band from the 1960s could make it through the eighties intact? Was there some law that said you had to dumb down your songs and compress the shit out of everything? At least Pink Floyd made it as far as The Final Cut -- an album which I quite like, even love -- before things really went south.
Other than "Stout-Hearted Men", the other thing to catch my ear lately is the opening track on Invisible Soundtracks: Macro 2 (Leaf), "Aldrigpunkt" by Polyester Orkester. (Try this if that link doesn't work.) It's an attractive and sparse series of slightly aliased, spacious, chiming tones, slightly reminiscent of a cross between certain Super Nintendo music (especially the themes in Drakkhen) and Seefeel's great Succour album. Also good is To Rococo Rot's "Die Dinge des Lebens" ("The Things of Life"), which is a nice, restrained track built out of a very appealing set of looped chords in A-flat minor. This area of electronic music (i.e. quiet, understated, and sometimes-melancholy music like Arovane, late Seefeel, Datacide, and Boards of Canada's better moments) is one in which my preferences are often hard to define, but, like pornography and a certain Justice of the Supreme Court, I know it when I "see" it. Makes me wish I had a radio show -- I used to, back in college, but at the time the station was too weak and inconsistent to build up any kind of an audience.
Some interesting links: first off, the Voice of America broadcasts, in about two dozen different languages, available in Realaudio format. From listening to a few different streams, it seems like most of the broadcasts tend to have similar programs, which could be an interesting opportunity for students of languages (inasmuch as you can infer a lot if you already know what the broadcast is more or less about). Also, have a look at this page full of news and information on Afghanistan, which in turn led me to Afghan News Network Services, which had a few stories I hadn't seen.
Also, here's a link to an online edition of "The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing". I was prepared to be confronted with an over-the-top polemic, but it's better than that, and of what I've read so far, some passages are interesting and thought-provoking. Others, however, fall far short of offering any kind of satisfying solution to the problems they examine. For instance, they suggest changing this passage --
"In the tragedy of the Challenger, Man himself, homo sapiens, is the protagonist...Of this remarkable protagonist -- Man -- must it not be said that his capacity to adapt his universe and its physical laws to his own needs and desires and purposes -- his science and technology -- is one of the qualities of his greatness?"
-- to this:
"In the tragedy of the Challenger, humanity itself is the protagonist...Of this remarkable protagonist -- homo sapiens -- must it not be said that our capacity to adapt our universe and its physical laws to our own needs and desires and purposes -- our science and technology -- is one of the qualities of our species' greatness?"
The problem here is that words like "humanity" and "our species" are not fully effective substitutes for the word "Man" in that passage, because the passage's rhetorical effectiveness depends on its invocation of a single archetype with whom one can identify as an individual. "Humanity" and "our species" are, to most people, abstractions -- and as such they don't have the same resonance, in terms of identification, as an imagined individual does. There's also a subtler change, in that the revised version suggests a perspective that somehow places less emphasis on the individual; in the first passage, Man serves, in a way, as the personification of the individual as representative of his/her species, whereas in the second passage, it is the species itself that is the active agent. In other words, the first passage frames its narrative in the context of an individual who represents all of humanity; the revised version replaces that individual with a weaker, collective agent. Indeed, I might even go so far as to say that the first version implicitly stresses the individual nature of the conflict it describes; by identifying the protagonist as "homo sapiens", the revised version almost seems more...I want to say "colder" or "more biological", as though it sees "human" and "homo sapiens" as synonyms, and that the experience of being human is the experience of being an example of the species known as homo sapiens, rather than speaking to some more universal condition of spirit -- or, better yet, of will. The former passage feels almost like a call to arms -- "this, which I describe, is in you!" -- whereas the latter feels like a detached observation of collective tendencies, too general to identify with.
The problem, of course, is that the English language lacks a good way of identifying such an individual without inherently "gendering" that individual (and "his/her" is clumsy enough, let alone dealing with "he/she" and the like). Other languages might be able to do an end-run around some of this problem -- for instance, French uses the same possessive articles for masculine and feminine subjects, so that sa and son can mean both "his" and "her" -- the gender agrees not with the subject, but with the object: "sa maison" = "his/her house", "son grand-père" = "his/her grandfather". (For that matter, in French and German, there are gender-neutral words that translate as "one"/"you"/"people" -- on and man, respectively -- which is something for which English lacks an effective counterpart.) Or take this example -- they suggest changing "A man who lies constantly needs a good memory" to "A chronic liar needs a good memory". The revision may be nonsexist, but it's also toothless, and changes the tone of the passage significantly. For their suggestions to be effective, the authors need to offer solutions that don't diminish the effect of the prose they're revising. (Here, by the way, a reasonable solution would be simply saying "A person"; I'm surprised they didn't suggest that themselves.)
In any event, effective writing needs to be able to summon the image of the individual who represents the whole, because the process of compassionate identification, if you will, is a much "lower-level" process when it happens on the individual, concrete level -- "he is like me, and I am like him" -- than on the collective, abstract level -- "people in general are like me, and I am like them". Perhaps we tend to see ourselves as the protagonists of our own narratives -- it would be a fairly natural point of view, after all -- and need to be able to identify with specific individuals in order to be able to identify with their narratives. Later on in the book, the authors complain about "accounts of human evolution are couched in terms of mankind and forefathers, with frequent references to 'his' cultural artifacts...'his' animals, crops, pottery, villages, etc., etc." They prefer phrases like "ancient people" and "these early human populations". And perhaps, most of the time, these phrases are to be preferred. But I still maintain that, though it may be exclusive, the original language also encourages us to imagine this hypothetical ancient as an individual, and in so doing provides ground for a kind of emotional connection that's much harder to come by with collective nouns and conceptualizations. The problem is real, and I can certainly understand how it contributes to feelings of exclusion, but we need a better solution than just replacing everything with generalities and collective nouns. I wonder if there are any languages that have third-person pronouns that are genuinely gender-neutral (as opposed to neuter, like "it" and the German "es"), so that it would be possible, in the first passage I mentioned above, to write that whole passage without "gendering" it, but while still referring to an individual. It's probably something that would never catch on in any language that did have male and female pronouns, though -- for it to be maximally effective, it'd have to be a natural way of speaking, not an obvious contrivance to evade a declaration of gender. I suspect that in any language that has "he", "she", and a non-neuter "it", the specificity of the first two will tend to drive out the third -- after all, if you need to refer to someone specific, using a gendered pronoun narrows it down quickly (i.e. "That person stole my wallet! Stop that person!" vs. "She stole my wallet! Stop her!"). So I don't think a new class of pronouns in English will be implemented anytime soon, nor is it likely to evolve organically.
December 15, 2001 (link)
This afternoon I listened to (and greatly enjoyed) some Pink Floyd bootleg tapes that I hadn't spun in quite some time. The three concerts I dug out are rather "of a piece", in that, first, they're the only tapes we have from Pink Floyd's January - February 1970 tour, during which they experimented with their setlist far more than they ever did again, playing a lot of wild stuff; second, they are, thus, the only tapes in circulation that have performances of "The Violent Sequence" and "Main Theme"...and third, they all sound like crap! At least by conventional standards, anyway -- I actually find them very listenable, particularly now that I have a deck with pitch control to fix the raging speed problem that afflicts at least one of them. That'd be the legendary Birmingham show, from February 11, 1970, which has been immortalized on the vinyl bootleg Violence in Birmingham; reading about an upcoming -- and, rumor has it, vastly improved -- new release of that show got me excited enough to drag out the old tapes and give them a listen. Like the other two shows I listened to (Croydon 1/18/70 and Paris 1/23/70), it suffers from hiss, distortion, distance, generation loss, dropouts, cuts, muffling, and all manner of other problems. But I've always been reminded of what my friend Jay said when he first heard one of these tapes: "That sounds...almost otherworldly."
And that's a good word for it -- there is something rather magical about such lo-fi recordings, and their almost total lack of high end (except for the hiss!) makes them surprisingly effective for night-time listening. Of the three, there's probably little chance of ever seeing a quality recording of the Croydon show, and the new Birmingham release will still probably sound pretty rough, but the Paris show is actually from an AM radio broadcast, so there's hope of seeing that one in high quality someday. French radio actually rebroadcast a few of the tracks -- one in the '80s, and two more in the nineties. I have the latter rebroadcast, and it sounds very nice, although there still is a certain charm to my old, crummy tape. If nothing else, it reminds me of how narrow a thread it was that got those tapes all the way from the original tapers to me. Before the advent of digital trading, the distribution of tape bootlegs was something like the transmission of oral poetry, or even of ancient secrets and spells. Each generation was a bit further removed from the original text, a bit more distorted in one of myriad ways, but on the other hand, there was a certain magic to knowing that my tape could be traced, through convoluted transactions and across continents, all the way back to some man in Britain or Sweden or Japan who I've never met. Now, of course, it's easy -- perfect digital copies are freely available to all who want them, and when I had my cable modem, I could just download a SHN file from somebody's FTP server, thus getting the show of my choice without even having to put anything in the mail. It sometimes seems less fun this way, but at least it avoids the disappointment of getting a crappy tape or screwed-up CD (click, click, pop, pop). And it means that I don't have to scam endlessly to get a low-gen copy of something like the complete Amsterdam 1969 broadcast, or the Zabriskie Point outtakes, or this Birmingham show.
One more funny search that led someone here: "picture of unfinished taj mahal that was never finished". As opposed to the unfinished one that was finished, I suppose...?
I quite like this idea, by the way. I'm tempted to enter in all of the Ciphered Mixes for Spherey, if only to imagine the befuddlement with which some might look on my sequencing choices: "Take On Me", followed by Regurgitator, the Staple Singers, Archie Shepp and Count Five? Satie followed by Green Day? Pansy Division, and then Gesualdo? Erwin Schulhoff, The Jerky Boys, Pizzicato Five, The Leaders, Man is the Bastard and the Ink Spots? In terms of absurdity, it's easy enough to top those, of course (say, the Waitresses, then Merzbow, then Vivaldi, Conway Twitty, and Gravediggaz), but mine worked, dammit. I hold, myself, that part of the art of a good mix is to articulate unexpected relationships between adjacent pieces, as well as trying to sculpt the overall arch of the set into a coherent and pleasing whole. There was a great sequence on Side B of the first mix that Absintheur ever gave me, which I unfortunately lost, but which pulled me out of a bad funk and gave me a boost when I needed it. It went something like "If You Love Somebody, Set Them on Fire" / "Blue Buddha" / "One Thing Leads to Another" / "Jazz (We've Got)"/ "Girls of Porn" / "Blues Music" (G. Love). It was probably the single greatest sequence on any mix tape I've gotten; the only thing I don't remember liking on that side was the final track, which was something by Spacemen 3 (I can't recall what). I've actually been trying to reconstruct that tape for a while, as it sure was a good one; I think the A-side went something like "Train Sound" / "Polynesian Fertility Chant" / "It's All True (version 1.0)" (proto-WMF) / "Sivad" / "Abducted by the Work Aliens" (Heavy Vegetable) / "Jack-in-the-Green" / something by the Jungle Brothers / something by Three Mile Pilot (but not from Chief Assassin to the Sinister) / "Purple and Green" (Sentridoh) / another Sentridoh song. But I'm definitely missing a track or two from the A-side, and possibly one from the B-side. Hmmmm. Here again, by the way, there's something about the sound of tape itself that makes our transition to CD-based mixes a definite trade-off, albeit one that in the end is worthwhile. "Blues Music" and "Blue Buddha" sounded especially nice on tape.
December 10, 2001 (link)
Recent searches that have led people here:
Given the fact that I found myself disagreeing with almost every single thing he said about art in the opening chapter, it's a little surprising that I find myself enjoying W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence as much as I am (though Of Human Bondage is easily one of my favorite books, and I quite liked The Razor's Edge as well). It's quite good, though, with innumerable epigrammatic observations on human nature of the kind that would come off as smug in lesser hands, but which seem insightful (if occasionally glib) coming from his pen. The reading, by Robert Hardy, is generally quite good, and noticeably smoother than Atkinson's was on Tom Brown's Schooldays, despite the fact that he has far more text to cover -- Tom Brown was abridged and lasted barely two hours, and this set is unabridged and clocks in at over eight! He manages to convey the personality of different characters, male and female both, without resorting to caricatured falsettos or anything like that (although his reading of the Dutch painter is a bit overly broad).
December 8, 2001 (link)
A few days ago I received a belated birthday present: a gorgeously packaged 2-CD set from Absintheur, consisting of live selections culled from (all but two of) the recorded concerts of our ol' band WMF. (You should see the artwork on this one -- it looks great.) With the exception of "Paul Renzi" (from our third show -- our drummer lost the tape), it's got versions of pretty much every song WMF ever played live. So, by request, a track-by-track review of More More More - Live '97-'98:
Thanks, man! Hearing these tracks, sequenced and blended like this, gives one some interesting insights; the transitions from "Words Words Words" to "Milk Jackson" and from "Day-Glo" to "Walking on the Moon" are particularly nice. Makes you wish we'd played twice as many shows, doesn't it? Not to mention gotten studio recordings of "Words Words Words", "Ice Ice Baby", "We Do It Like You Do It", and maybe "The Big Boog" or "Liability Boy". Ah, well -- maybe we'll do it someday.
December 6, 2001 (link)
Until recently one could download several different versions and sequencings of the Beach Boys' legendary SMiLE album, of which I'd only heard bits and pieces, from the web. It strikes me as more unfortunate than ever that the techniques used by the High Llamas (and even Stereolab) have come to be seen as spiritual descendents of the Brian Wilson sound. Certainly, there's an obvious superficial resemblance, but the difference, to put it bluntly, is that they don't mean it and he did. Of course SMiLE is a mess, but the best parts -- "Heroes and Villains", "Wonderful", "Windchimes", "Good Vibrations" of course, and especially "Our Prayer" and "Surf's Up" -- are beautiful, wild, and/or completely beguiling. It's a crying shame this album wasn't finished and released; it really could've changed everything.
Listening to Rowan Atkinson read Tom Brown's Schooldays (by Thomas Hughes) was a trip at first, particularly given the temptation to hear it as a barely restrained paean to homoeroticism. However, once they started throwing the word "fag" around quite liberally -- which I'm inferring means, in this context, "to assume a subservient role (fetch things, etc.) for an upperclassman" -- it got a lot less fun, not because I was offended but merely because it's distracting to have an explicit word blaring at you when you're trying to smirk at unintentional subtexts.
There's a band that's often been compared to Stereolab. The comparison has always, to my mind, been rather unjust, and I've often protested it. However, track 7 on their new album sounds pretty much exactly like Stereolab for its first 30 seconds or so, until the vocals come in. Ah, well. (As for who I'm talking about -- well, if track 7 clocks in at 3:27 or so, we're on the same page.)
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
Sophocles II (Ajax, The Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes), Sophocles, ed. Richmond Lattimore
The Once and Future King, T.H. White
The Moon and Sixpence (on tape), W. Somerset Maugham, read by Robert Hardy
Tom Brown's Schooldays (on tape, abridged), Thomas Hughes, read by Rowan Atkinson
Mumu (and Kassyan of Fair Springs), Ivan Turgenev, trans. unknown