Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal
 

May 29, 2003 (link)

11:58 PM

This, too, is true. "Little Martha" and "Mountain Jam" are my favorites from that album, I think, with "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" and "Melissa" close behind.

11:40 PM

Even better than "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" is -- with apologies to John Bigboote -- "if you can't say something nice, get someone else to say the not-nice thing for you".

(Though actually, I thought he was talking about "Handwriting", rather than "These Pearls".)

Current music: Graham Lewis and B.C. Gilbert - "Twist Up" from the compilation From Brussels With Love

(Comments for May 29, 2003)

May 26, 2003 (link)

12:35 AM

Pennbloedh Lowen to the guerreiro da batata do pesar das medusas!

Current music: William Parker - "Invisible Pages" from Song Cycle

(Comments for May 26, 2003)

May 20, 2003 (link)

9:29 PM

Now that the members of the Waldo the Poodle Club have had some time to spend with the discs I sent, I thought I'd post a few of my thoughts on the tracks I chose:

Disc One:

  1. Introduction

    I think it was on Slashdot that I originally found the link to the AT&T Labs-Research Text-to-Speech Demo. This URL -- which looks a bit like it's a collection of unreleased Transport to Summer recordings! -- now branches off into two different sites, but it's the upper one from which (in its old incarnation) our two friends came. The first one is named "Rich", and sounds like the archetypical African-American DJ for a smooth jazz radio station -- let's call him Smooth Rich. You know the kind of voice I mean: deep, rich, completely self-assured, and with a hint of a smile. If you give him the right words, Smooth Rich can be uncannily human-sounding; it's hard to tell how much of that comes from good programming, and how much from having a large library of sampled phrases. The second one is named "Mike", and so as not to confuse him with our own Mike V., let's call him Nervous Mike. Nervous Mike has some idiosyncrasies, as we'll discover...

  2. The Black-Eyed Snakes - "Chicken-Bone George"

    When I first heard about the Black-Eyed Snakes, I was afraid they'd be a sludgy, muddy sort of affair, but my fears could hardly have been less justified, as I discovered when I went to see them in concert. This was the first song they played at their show, and is the opening track on their album -- and as Smooth Rich tells us, "it's a good one". Their CD is great, get it if you can.

  3. Can - "One More Night"

    I wonder what kind of keyboard they used on this track, and what that recurring, vaguely drill-like sound is that comes in at 2:46 or so.

  4. Interlude 1

  5. Pinback - "Tripoli"

    I was listening to Three Mile Pilot's self-titled EP earlier today (courtesy of J. and the How'd They Do That? data disc), and found myself thinking that "On a Ship to Bangladesh" sounded more like proto-Pinback than any of the other 3MP tracks I'd ever heard -- if it were just a little less raw, with a little less distortion, it could easily have been on Pinback's first album. "Tripoli", meanwhile, is (I've decided) hands-down one of the best songs I've heard in the last two or three years -- great music, great lyrics -- and the fact that it's caught the ear of a few of my fellow Waldo the Poodle CD Club members makes me happy. I've listened to this song many times over the last year-and-a-half or so, and have yet to get even a little tired of it. (That bit in the middle is scratching, by the way.)

  6. Mick Audsley - "Dark and Devil Waters"

    I downloaded this one from nickdrake.net. The possibility that Nick Drake played on this song seems to be mostly speculation -- though the accompaniment does sound at least a little bit like "Time Has Told Me", something I never consciously noticed before writing this -- but it's certainly plausible. In any event, whether or not it's true, I'm glad people think it might be, since I've never seen any tracks from this album anywhere else, and who knows if I'd ever have heard this great song, or sought it out, if NickDrake.net hadn't put it up on their site. The music is gentle and rolling, the lyrics sad and wistful -- I wish all Britfolk were this lovely.

  7. Mister Rogers - "A Good Question"

    I could've sworn I got this one from the audio section of fugly.com, but it actually came from Earthstation1.com, a site that has a generous selection of bloopers and outtakes from the early days of radio and TV. The man with whom is Mister Rogers is speaking is Major Alfred Worden of Apollo 15, and apparently, one can get a videotape of their meeting.

  8. Lucia Pamela - "Walking on the Moon"

    Meow-meow-meow-me-ow-ow-ow!

  9. Pastorius/Metheny/Ditmas/Bley - "Poconos"

    I wonder what kind of creative process led to this tiny (0:58) little song. Since Paul Bley wrote it -- or at least he's listed as the author -- one imagines that this rendition is pretty close to what he had in mind for the composition. Out of all the songs I selected for Disc One, this is probably the track I picked the most intuitively/with the least premeditation or forethought. I think it works; I like its cryptic brevity.

  10. Faisal Al'Saad - "Ahla Al Leyali"

    I've written about this one before. I'm not quite as taken with it as I used to be, perhaps because I've grown more accustomed to its non-Western tuning, but on the other hand I'm starting to hear a lot of things in the song that I'd never really noticed before. For instance, there's all kinds of stuff going on in the harp -- arpeggios and subtle countermelodies that, if you're only paying attention to what's in the foreground, are easy to miss, but that contribute significantly to the song.

  11. Interlude 2

  12. Chappie - "Welcoming Morning"

    Much as with "Ahla Al Leyali", I'm perhaps not as high on this song as I used to be, but I'm hearing more in it than I used to -- for instance, the very subtle vocal harmony that starts at around 0:22, or the countermelody in the strings at 1:24. It's clear that a lot of good work went into the production of this song. It also has some of the hottest average levels I've ever seen -- I had to pull it back to -2 dB just to get it to sound reasonable next to the other tracks...

  13. Interlude 3

    ...just like Smooth Rich says!

  14. Sonic Youth - "Dirty Boots"

    The first time I ever heard this song was on Beavis & Butt-head; I remember being struck by how surprising and lovely the ending was. Then, much more recently, I downloaded an MP3 of it; the MP3 had a big skip in the beginning, but I liked the song so much -- I probably listened to it twenty times or more in the course of a couple weeks -- that, through repetition, I began to get used to the skip. Or, more correctly: I ended up thinking that the skip had actually cut out much more than it actually had, and imagined the "real" intro as being far more of an epic, gradual build-up, so that, when I finally got to hear an MP3 that didn't have the skip, I was disappointed by how straightforward the transition to the main riff of the song is.

  15. The Beach Boys - "'Til I Die" (extended version)

    I almost didn't include this song, but I'm glad I did. There's an interesting story behind this particular version:

    Brian Wilson's tour de force in the early Seventies was undoubtedly "'Til I Die", released on the Surf's Up album in 1971. The intensely personal lyrics reflected a deeply fatalistic resignation about life. Brian worked with the song on and off for months, recalls engineer Stephen Desper. This alternate mix was made by Desper for his own enjoyment. "I did that mix for me," he admits. His mix starts with a solo bass, then adds other instruments as the song builds lyrically and vocally. The vibes are especially prominent. Most interestingly, he loops the track, so that it plays through once instrumentally before the vocals enter. Desper played his mix for the Beach Boys, but "that was not the mix they wanted to put out," he says. Whether you think it's better than the released mix or not, you have to agree it certainly is striking.

    Myself, I much prefer this version to the one's on Surf's Up, though in fairness I heard this one first. I also prefer this mix, which I got from the bootleg Landlocked, to the mix on the Endless Summer boxset, which I remember as sounding slightly more brittle to my ears (though I only heard it once, and can't remember where). The only thing I miss on this version: the vocal harmony on "Hey, hey, hey". The song is simpler without it, but that harmony was beautiful.

  16. Jandek - "Green and Yellow"

    This is probably my favorite Jandek song. It's taken from Lost Cause, which is one of the handful of Jandek LPs that haven't yet been reissued on CD, and which has perhaps the most comprehensive overview of Jandek's different styles that one can get on a single LP. "Green and Yellow" is the album's opener, and has been described as "minimal 'I'm stuck in the sewer with my Stratocaster and a practice amp' blues", which isn't entirely inapt but which seems a bit limited to me. The chord progression is quite simple (F#ø7, then E7#9 without the root), but the meter is remarkably elusive -- those little fermatas at the end of every phrase displace the beat by a tiny bit, making it impossible to count metronomically through the song (though the rhythm is quite steady and natural). I like Jandek's vocal delivery, but perhaps there's something about it -- I want to use the word "detached", but that's not quite right -- that obscures the emotional content of the lyrics, which are quite raw, even moving. (Or perhaps it's absolutely perfect for them: you decide.)

  17. Josip Cubranovìc and Ivan Dijanic - "Otrgnem Rozicu Ruman Cvet, Potancu"

    Yeah, I think this track is funny, but I also find it quite amazing in its way. They're not always perfectly in tune, but on the whole they do a remarkable job of singing those parallel major seconds. And then at the end, to unexpectedly bust out a pair of shawms, and play a bizarre little dissonant, chromatic jig? Great stuff! I don't know whether this is "real" Croatian folk music, as opposed to something like Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, or Javanese kecak performances, both of which are creations of the modern era. But I hope it is, because I love to think that somewhere there are people to whom this is completely normal music.

    Hmmm, and as I listen to this, another connection: the chromaticism of the shawms, and their use of A as a pitch center, reminds me of the opening movement of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Certainly the connection (of Eastern European music to Bartók) is a fairly obvious one, but I'm surprised how apt it seems here -- the pitch contours of the second half of this song ("Potancu") are definitely at least a bit reminiscent of those in the Bartók: perhaps I should make a sped-up, two-voice, MIDI oboe version of that first movement sometime, and compare the two?

  18. Kraftwerk - "Tanzmusik"

    After the pungent dissonance of "Otrgnem Rozicu Ruman Cvet, Potancu", I love the way this song comes in and sounds so simple and ingenuous by comparison. Kraftwerk has never reissued the album from which this track comes, Ralf and Florian, but I think they've included "Tanzmusik" on one of their anthologies or greatest-hits CDs. I wonder if, on those CDs, you can hear the drum machine at the beginning of the song (i.e. before it actually comes in -- they must have muted it, but it bled through to other microphones), or whether they edited that out?

  19. Interlude 4

    You know, I'm glad everyone liked our computer friends (and their rutabagas). One never knows how these things will come off, after all!

  20. The Rolling Stones - "Miss You"

    There sure are a lot of songs on this set with bleak/downbeat lyrics. It's funny, I find both this song and "Tanzmusik" viscerally appealing in much the same way (read: they make me want to dance), but I can't remember the Kraftwerk ever getting stuck in my head per se, whereas it's hard to not get "Miss You" stuck in my head for a while once I've listened to it again. It's always nice when a #1 hit is also, y'know, a really good song (for a change).

  21. Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt - "Night and Day"

    I have a real weakness for certain chord progressions. One of them is the descent from a half-diminished chord, to the major 7th chord a half-step below it -- for instance, from G#ø7 to Gmaj7. This song doesn't quite use that sequence -- it's G#ø7 to G°7 -- but it's close enough. I also love the way the B-section sidesteps, Fmaj7 to Dmaj7 -- it's a nice, unstereotyped progression. Jazz violin is such a tough thing -- it seems like it's really hard to get a natural-sounding articulation on the eighth notes, i.e. to swing. Stephane Grappelli could do it, though. Did you know he once groped the members of Pink Floyd? (At least some of them, anyway.)

  22. Interlude 5

    Even I find this track a little too creepy to take. And those tapes are real, folks! Scary stuff!

  23. Ida - "Blizzard of '78"

    I've written about this one before, too. Perhaps it's worn off a bit, but I still think it's great, Pitchfork be damned. The piano is a big part of what makes this track work; it reminds me a little bit of the piano on "The Flower Called Nowhere". (I wonder why it cuts out for a while during the second verse?) I saw one of the first performances of this song back in 1998 -- maybe even the first one? I'm not sure. The basic shape of the song was there, but the changes they made definitely improved it. (No, I can't remember exactly what they changed, and yes, I'm too lazy to check right now.)

  24. Outro

    You might even be able to get away with just giving him the dollar, but being nice will definitely help.

  25. Carl and the Passions - "Cuddle Up"

    Sentimental? Schmaltzy? Overblown? Affected? Perhaps all of the above, but I still like it. In fact, I tend to find it more moving than "'Til I Die", though recently I felt like that might be shifting. For me, the key to this song is the way that the harmonies build and shift in the second section; Dennis Wilson (whose voice is probably not for everyone, but it works for me) was a fan of Wagner, and there's definitely something of Wagner's influence on a song like this (and even more so on "Make It Good" from the same album). It's interesting to compare Dennis's harmonic style to Brian's; on the one hand, both of them have highly individual (and very different) approaches to harmony, but they share a stylistic debt to classical music (in songs like these, anyway) that's much more pronounced than it is in the average pop writer.

And so, that's Disc One. Writing this has taken me all damn night, so Discs Two and Three will have to wait for another time.

Current music: first, Three Mile Pilot, "By This River" (from their self-titled EP); then later, Ciphered Mix 6: Life on Planet Zebes, Disc One

(Comments for May 20, 2003)

May 15, 2003 (link)

8:23 PM

Plus, he plays chess (and has almost exactly the same rating I do), reviews music, and was a composition major in college. And his homepage makes iCab smile. Is this guy my evil twin or something? The Hugo to my Bart? Hmmm, I guess not.

8:12 PM

He does have perfect pitch!!! (Yes, I only just now looked at his homepage. No, I am not, in fact, the sharpest tool in the shed.) Okay, there must be a connection there. What it is I don't know, but there's gotta be.

Current music: "E Lux, E Vox"

6:59 PM

Someone got here, via Yahoo, by searching on the phrase "can't visualize things". I'm the second hit on that search; the first hit, "I can't see anything when I close my eyes", looked interesting, so I checked it out...and ended up trying to decide whether I felt creeped out or vindicated, because the experience this guy describes is so exactly like my own that it's really friggin' uncanny if I do say so myself, even down to the "I do start to see things as I am transitioning into a dream state" and "If I concentrate hard, I can get a flash of 'Joe-ness', but it's very fleeting, and I can't fix that face in my imagination and look at parts of it." And I fail the red square test, too.

So now the question is: what makes him, and me, like this? I notice that he's also inclined towards auditory thinking, at least to some degree; I wonder if he has perfect pitch, as I do. To me, it almost feels like an inability to "turn off" my eyes and give myself over to my mind's eye. When I see things as I transition into dreaming, it really feels like my eyes are turning off, in much the same way as I can hear my ears turn off (and noticing it usually wakes me up) when I go to sleep in a noisy environment, like a car. But this raises other questions. For instance, chess grandmasters will often get up from the board and take a walk around the tournament hall during a game, while still visualizing the chessboard in their head and analyzing the position. Clearly, they're not really "turning their eyes off" in that sense, since otherwise they'd walk smack into the nearest vending machine (no doubt prompting a torrent of expletives in Russian). So what are they doing that I can't?

Dark thought: is it possible that perfect pitch and the ability to visualize are incompatible -- are they built from mutually exclusive genes? Or, is the area in my brain that I've given over to auditory-cognitive skills the same one that, otherwise, I might use for visual-cognitive skills? When I told C. the other day that I could play a Beethoven symphony in my head with no real difficulty if I knew the piece, almost (though not quite) as if it were playing from the recording, I was surprised that he was surprised: I still tend to think it's something that everyone can do, but I guess it isn't. But visualization seems like a much more remote possibility to me -- it'd require a quantum leap in my consciousness and cognitive ability, whereas having a "phonographic memory" just seems to me like an extension of most people's everyday listening skills. Maybe I'm wrong, though.

In any event I'd really love to gain the ability to visualize, for a number of reasons ranging from chess, to track 9 of Strange Days, to simply wanting the ability to genuinely daydream. My parents like to tell me "you were fifty years old when you were seven"; would things have gone differently with me had I been able to conjure visual fantasylands? Probably not, but maybe. Going into my one experience with hallucinogens (hi, Mom!), I had hoped to finally break through that barrier and have some sort of open-eye or closed-eye visuals (funny that I should go to such lengths to see things that aren't there, when many people suffer from that problem on a daily basis and are trying to get rid of it!).

Alas, my half-tab brought me no luck. For a split-second I thought I saw an enormous tree trunk growing out of a moose's head, but it was in fact just a moose standing in front of a tree trunk. Instead, the acid gave me a severe anxiety attack, and made me particularly creative -- I wrote two or three songs in an afternoon (all of them were parodies of jazz songs, admittedly) and ran an entire D & D game out of my head, most of which I can still remember: King Thraxnu and Graenon Haushknon, anybody? ("Just lost my street credibility, y'all!") Morgan knows what I'm talkin' about!

Every so often I entertain the notion that a higher dose might engineer a breakthrough, and am tempted to look into a second experiment, but I'm just not inclined to take any chances with my mental health. That's the problem with such things -- if it goes wrong, you can't flip a switch and turn it off. So for now, I'll stick with the iTunes visual, colored light bulbs, and pressing on my eyeballs every once in a while...

Current music: "Eureka", by Jim O'Rourke, from How'd They Do That? (Not that I've read the link yet: I'm being good, and listening to the CD before I read what he wrote about the tracks, so once I finish this song, commentary here I come!)

9:27 AM

It's Gadsby, the book without e's! I remember reading about this in Games magazine when I was a kid. Speaking of which, does anyone know whether Games is still being published? I haven't found it anywhere on the web...

Current music: none

(Comments for May 15, 2003) (3 comments so far)

May 8, 2003 (link)

2:20 AM

Okay, I finally got around to checking, and indeed it's "I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag". But now I'm left wondering: how exactly was it, then, that I picked up the impression that it was "I was raised by two black lesbians"? It wasn't an impression that came from listening to the song, but rather by hearing somebody make a reference to the lyric; further, it was an impression that was formed a long time back -- probably something like 15 years ago -- and as, up until last year or so, I hadn't really been paying much attention to the Rolling Stones since then, I've had no occasion to reexamine it until the topic came up with H. recently. I want to say that I had a friend -- Heath, maybe? -- who claimed that was the line, but I can't be sure of it. The only other thing I can think of is the movie Jumpin' Jack Flash, but could that really be it?

(The thing is, the misquoted line is -- to my way of thinking -- quite plausible, and I can totally imagine Mick Jagger writing it. But again, where did it come from? This time I know I didn't make it up, but then who did?)

Current music: Neu! -- "Für Immer"

(Comments for May 8, 2003)

May 5, 2003 (link)

12:28 AM

The other day I played a nice combination:

A diagram depicting move 17 in a chess game, with Black to move.  White has pawns on a2, c3, d4, e4, g2, and h2, a knight on g3, bishops on e3 and e2, rooks on a1 and f1, a queen on d3, and a king on g1.  Black has pawns on a7, b7, c7, f7, g7, h7, bishops on b6 and d7, a knight on c6, rooks on a8 and h8, a queen on a5, and a king on e8.

It was a 3-minute game, and I had the Black pieces. In this position I set a bit of a trap with 17...O-O-O, into which White fell with 18. Rxf7?. My reply was 18...Ne5!:

A diagram depicting move 17 in a chess game, with Black to move.  White has pawns on a2, c3, d4, e4, g2, and h2, a knight on g3, bishops on e3 and e2, rooks on a1 and f7, a queen on d3, and a king on g1.  Black has pawns on a7, b7, c7, g7, h7, bishops on b6 and d7, a knight on e5, rooks on d8 and h8, a queen on a5, and a king on c8.

Since the Queen and Rook are forked, White has to take the Knight with 19. dxe5, but then I played 19...Be6, which attacks the Rook and discovers an attack on the Queen (from the Rook on d8). MacChess 5.0.1 suggests 20. Bxb6 Qxb6+ 21. Rf2 Rxd3 22. Bxd3 after which, though White has rook, knight and pawn for the queen, his position is a wreck (Black might continue with 22...Qe3). My opponent played 20. Qxd8+, giving up the Queen in a different way, and eight moves later, we reached this position:

A diagram depicting move 28 in a chess game, with White to move.  White has pawns on e4, e5, g2, and h2, a knight on g3, bishops on e2 and e7, a rook on f8, and a king on g1.  Black has pawns on a7, b6, c7, g7, h7, a bishop on c4, a rook on d2, a queen on a2, and a king on b7.

In a lost position, White blundered with 28. Rf2?? and allowed me an attractive mate with 28...Rd1#.

A diagram depicting the final position of a chess game, in which White has been checkmated.  White has pawns on e4, e5, g2, and h2, a knight on g3, bishops on e2 and e7, a rook on f2, and a king on g1.  Black has pawns on a7, b6, c7, g7, h7, a bishop on c4, a rook on d1, a queen on a2, and a king on b7.

How much of this did I see in advance? I had a feeling White couldn't get away with 18. Rxf7, but I don't think I actually saw the follow-up when I decided to castle -- in three-minute chess, you can't spend very much time calculating, so you have to trust your intuition. After White took the f-pawn, once I spotted 18...Ne5! it was easy to see that ...Be6 would follow and that White had no way of checking his way out of trouble, especially since a recapture on b6 (or a capture on e3, if appropriate) would come with check. Basically, I only needed to see two, maybe three moves deep at the most.

I think that's one of the things people misunderstand the most about chess; while in certain positions deep calculation is crucial, in others intuition and pattern recognition prove more relevant. People often ask chessplayers "How many moves deep do you have to think?" but it's hard to (quickly) explain that, most of the time, it's more about things like understanding the dynamic energy in a position, or having a systematic knowledge of which king and pawn endings are drawn, and which ones are won. It's a good thing that's the case, since I'm a terrible visualizer! Most of my chess thinking is vector-based, and I can't even picture an empty chessboard in my head with my eyes closed, let alone a complex position. I'm an auditory thinker, and the only time I can imagine and visualize things with any degree of success -- by which I mean "as if I were looking at them" -- is when I'm about to fall asleep. I wish I could harness that ability; sometimes as I'm drifting off, I can see, in my mind's eye, pages full of coherent prose, rendered far faster than my conscious mind could possibly create them. I'd love to be able to do that while awake, and to transcribe the pages I see, but so far, no luck. At least I've had rather better luck with the songs I dream!

Current music: Fridge -- "Harmonics"

(Comments for May 5, 2003)

May 4, 2003 (link)

11:32 PM

The last five albums I've bought have been:

  • Stuart Dempster - Underground Overlays from the Cistern Chapel
  • The Necks - Aquatic
  • Ida - I Know About You
  • Füxa - 3 Field Rotation
  • Keith Fullerton Whitman - Playthroughs

I bought the first three about two weeks ago, and the other two today. Not sure if I want to say anything about them just yet, except that I've had the Necks album on MP3 for a while now and was excited to finally find it at a reasonable price. Also, credit to Epitonic for turning me on to the Stuart Dempster; it may've been two years ago, but it's still more evidence that free MP3 downloads = album sales, when the music's good.

Current music: Acid Mothers Temple -- "In C"

(Comments for May 4, 2003)

 

Current reading:

Euripides I, ed. Richmond Lattimore and David Grene

just finished:

Fires on the Plain, Shohei Ooka

Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

The Young Visiters [sic], Daisy Ashford

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