May 31, 2006 (link)
An interesting question came up the other day on the Jandek mailing list, one that can basically be paraphrased as: What do you find unlistenable? Now there are obvious, taste-based answers to this question...
("You sometimes drive me crazy / But I worry about you")
...but I'm not really thinking in terms of music one doesn't like, or even necessarily that one dislikes so much that one feels compelled to turn it off (I almost wrote "turn it up", which is a bit accidentally-eating-skunk-cabbage of me, innit?). I'm talking about music where the sheer sound of it is something you can't abide, even makes you feel physically ill.
(Someone might be thinking of vibraphones; someone else might be remembering a cassette player with varispeed; a third person might recall the phrase: "Nina Hagen, huh?" -- though I doubt it, and in a rather different context to boot. And she seems very recontextualizable, after all: if you take the initials of "Cosma Shiva" and reverse them, hmmm, what do you get? "Please feel free to go.")
And maybe I also mean music that's like watching Fred Savage about to do something spectacularly stupid on The Wonder Years -- you have to turn the TV off, you can't watch, he didn't, did he? It's an aural trainwreck that inspires not mirth, but simply the desire to get away, preferably as fast as possible.
So what's on my list? Quarter-note piano music, for one -- though I often don't turn it off, and make an effort to enjoy it, one example being the Ives pieces for two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart (the second one downward, otherwise things go boom). But man, sometimes it sounds like a musical representation of nausea, and I just have to get away. (And, lest you think I'm bigoted against microtones, I'm certainly not -- I enjoy Harry Partch, for one. Actually, some of the biggest microtone fiends I know are very anti-quarter-tone, arguing that it's basically the worst of both worlds, i.e. the "acoustic falsity" of equal temperament plus the ahistorical alienness of microtonality.)
I know I've had to turn off Kevin Drumm's Second, which "begins with a seriously high-frequency assault". Lots of stuff with digital distortion wears on me very quickly -- Kid606, some Hrvatski, things like that -- but at least with those I can enjoy them for a little while, before my ears say "Enough". This MP3-ahem-I-mean-CD, however -- it's like having a flyback transformer in your ear at full blast. Not pleasant.
On a completely different tack, I have yet to be able to get through the entirety of J0hn Ashcr0ft's performance of "Let the Eagle Soar". That's more the Wonder Years angle, I guess -- I just think to myself, How could things have come to this? No, actually, that's not true, it's really more like Make him stop! Can't he tell he's being lame? Which makes me think of that Vlad-awful TV pilot I saw ages ago, with the middle-aged dad who got angry at his son's insinuation that he wasn't hip, and starting spouting things about not being "groovy" and other nonsense. Vanity of vanities! Or, "a lameness within a lameness".
And, yes, sometimes, They Might Be Giants. It's the voices, they're just too punchable. Sorry.
Current music: Stan Getz Quartet - "Stan's Blues", followed by Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony, fourth movement
all kinds of stuff.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling