November 29, 2001 (link)
Time for a font change. I'm partial to Verdana, and I think it's more readable this way; let me know if you disagree.
Here's another entry in the continuing series of Good Programs for the Macintosh: the rather unimaginatively named FTP Client from Vicomsoft is the first FTP program I've found for Macintosh that does resumable uploading. My dial-in connection craps out, without fail, every time I try to upload more than 3 MB or so at once. (Not only does this make it impossible for me to FTP large files, but after I get dropped, I almost always need to do a full restart of my computer in order to reconnect to the Internet. Aargh.) This program makes it possible for me to pick up where I left off, rather than having to start from scratch every time. Vicomsoft seems a wee bit corporate-looking -- they're "a BVRP Software Group company", an acronym that bears a curious resemblance to what a Roman might do when he feels fvll after a vnvsvally svmptvovs svpper. But the program works, and it's available as shareware, so...
Oh, while I'm at it: Absintheur, you might be interested in HFVExplorer, a free program for Windows 95/98/NT which lets you mount Mac-formatted media on Windows machines. Obviously, this is something that's very useful in a variety of ways. For instance, those of us with Macs at home who've burned Mac-format CDROMs full of MP3s, but who have to use Windows at work, can now play our tracks without having to burn new ISO/Windows-format discs -- that is, assuming you're allowed to download and install software like this on your work machine. I used "Dr. Axel Findling's excellent self-extracting installer", and it worked like a charm.
I just had a hilariously funny dream that I thought I might relay to you crazy kids:
I was watching the Simpsons for the first time in ages. The episode began with the premise, or reached a premise, in which everything appeared to be fine with everybody -- in other words, "Ah, everything's taken care of, now we can relax" was the prevailing sentiment. Suddenly, I and the show simultaneously remembered, "Wait, but what about the Danish exchange student? She needs to pay her tuition!" "How much is it?" a voice retorted. "Five thousand, two hundred and eighty-two dollars!" came the reply. The camera cut to a close-up of a bill for that amount, which was being held in the hand of Principal Skinner, who was sitting in his office with the Danish exchange student, who was a blond child who was wearing a sweater that looked plausibly Danish. Skinner looked the bill over and incredulously complained, "$5,282? Young lady, you need to change some things about your life!" The Danish exchange student promptly marched over to a shelf behind Skinner's head, threw a bunch of things into a suitcase, and angrily walked out of the office, presumably en route back to Denmark -- except that, instead of leaving the office, she jumped into a large, flat, white panel-compartment on the door, and closed the door to the panel behind her, allowing us to see what was written on the panel door, which was something like "Repository for Forgotten and Unwanted Characters. Will Self-Destruct in 10 Seconds." At that moment, Professor Frink, who we suddenly realized was totally smitten with the Danish exchange student, began furiously working in his laboratory to try to come up with some formula to save her before it was too late. The camera rapidly cut back and forth between his frantic efforts and the ticking clock, until with one second to spare, he arrived on the scene with two assistants (who were possibly monkeys), and poured his formula on the panel. Everything filled with smoke for a moment -- and when it cleared, we saw not Frink and the exchange student, but a smiling, rotund young boy of about eight, who might have been a younger version of Frink.
November 25, 2001 (link)
November 24, 2001 (link)
Northern Maryland is very, very dark. Profoundly so, at least along Route 301 -- there were long stretches where there were only one or two houselights visible for miles around. It was really quite something, and reminded me of the massive power outage that happened at my college in 1998, after a tornado struck right before graduation. That was the first time in ages that I'd been in total darkness at night, with no easy source of light. On Thursday I was reminded again that the advent of artificial light has permanently changed our lives in ways of which we are not always aware. Those dark fields, with the starless night above (it was overcast and the moon was down, I believe) -- there was indeed something about them. I grew up and have generally lived around hills and mountains; I don't know that I've ever been in a really open space at night, certainly not without artificial light.
Walking through the city this afternoon, I found myself thinking about covering some of the song-poems I've talked about -- particularly "What I Am, You Know" -- but I couldn't imagine really doing them verbatim. But then I remembered Will Oldham's rewriting of "Big Balls", which I'd seen before but still haven't heard. I don't know what I think of the actual changes, but the idea in principle...somehow it struck me as oddly liberating, to think that you really can do that (completely changing the lyrics to a song). Perhaps the word I'm getting at is "precedent". Will Oldham changed the words, I'm told Mark Kozelek changed the music (and maybe he changed the words, too -- I haven't heard that one either), and on hearing of these things my reaction is one of interest, perhaps because they haven't been presented to me in the context of deconstructionist hugger-mugger. The idea strikes me as having to do more with a "living song", as Absintheur would put it, than with a text rendered meaningless through infinite plasticity. So sometime maybe I'll take a machete to some of those songs, and see what comes of it.
If the Turgenev ("Kassyan of Fair Springs" and "Mumu") is representative of what one can expect from him, I'm definitely going to have to get some more of his stuff. Snooping around now, this is interesting (I've used a Google cache since the original page doesn't seem to want to work). And this talks about Turgenev's influence on Hemingway. The description of A Sportsman's Sketches, apparently aka A Hunter's Sketches, makes me wonder whether "Kassyan of Fair Springs" was taken from that book: and checking around some more, yes, it seems to have been. And this is the copy I have, a Little Leather Library book I picked up from the free box at the local used bookstore: apparently, Bookopoly is selling it for $20.00! (I prefer my price.)
November 21, 2001 (link)
I'm exhausted. Tons of listening over the past couple days, owing to long hours of freelance work. How many can I remember? Bowie's Low. Metabolist's Hansten Klork. An album, Il y a des jours, by a group called Hellebore. Crescent by Chalk. Most of a disc called Oto No Hajimari by Hirosi Siotani. Cerberus Shoal's Homb album. Three Low discs, none of which I quite listened to in their entirety -- I Could Live in Hope, the "Summershine" EP, and a concert from April 17, 1996 in Denton, Texas. A Pink Floyd concert from the Cow Palace, San Francisco, April 13, 1975, called Schism. In a Silent Way. Fuxa's Very Well Organized. The first CD of the original version of the Allman Brothers' Live at Fillmore East. About half of Gong's Live Etc.
Golly, that's quite a laundry list. I've talked about the first two here before. Hellebore's album, which dates back to the '80s, is all over the place and grating at times, but is a fun, unpredictable, unclassifiable and very French sort of affair. Tape loops; slow, arpeggiated, dissonant unison lines for alto sax and guitar; deliberately cheesy keyboards. I need more time and better listening to really do it justice. Crescent, I need more listens to talk about. Oto No Hajimari is Japanese electroacoustic music from, I think, the late '50s, and is composed largely of layered sine and sine-like tones (a little reminiscent of one of Stockhausen's early pieces for tape -- can't remember which one). It's attractive for a while, but it goes on, and on, and on, and after about twenty minutes I lose interest, which is about when the spoken parts come in -- I've no idea what they're saying, but it sounds like some sort of radio play or drama in Japanese. (I'm no doubt wildly incorrect.) Homb is great -- I'd never really given it a good listen before -- and may well be Cerberus Shoal's best. It almost exactly duplicates the setlist of the first Cerberus Shoal concert I ever saw -- that concert (Bennington College, Nov. 21, 1997) being one of the more powerful live music experiences I've ever had, as it was for Absintheur as well. (I made a great tape of it, too.)
I enjoyed the Low stuff a lot, and sang along with some of it at the top of my lungs, which helped to keep me awake as I sludged through my work. I highly recommend belting out harmony parts to "Caroline" if you ever need to jumpstart yourself late at night, especially if you think (as I do) that it's one of the greatest Low songs of all time. The Pink Floyd show is typical 1975 -- competent, enjoyable, but never revelatory, and sometimes a bit mechanical. I remember how my friend Morgan once panned In a Silent Way back when we were in high school, saying something to the effect that there was "nothing much going on there", so I avoided it for a long time. (If I were to needle him about that, he would be more than justified in pointing out that I used to think, back in my Maynard Ferguson days, that Miles Davis "sucked". In my defense, I'd only heard some of Miles's least-technically-showy performances, but still...!) Fortunately, it only made it that much more of a revelation when I did finally get to hear it. On the Fuxa album, I don't know what to call it -- "a miniature sound-drama of suggestion, constructed from brief fragments of speech and analog synths"? -- but whatever one might dub it, I really, really like "Witness to Natural Invention". It's really hard to do something like that and have it come off, but I find it totally effective and dramatically engaging. (It has an air about it that I can only liken to the SNES game Out of This World, one of my all-time favorites.)
The Allman Brothers kick ass, and so does Gong, and I need to get to bed. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
November 19, 2001 (link)
Lots of Berg this morning -- the Altenberg Lieder, the Lyric Suite (for orchestra), and 4 Pieces for Clarinet and Piano. My preference is probably for the Altenberg Lieder, which I'd never heard before today.
The MP3 I've got only has the first 30 seconds or so, but I must say that Chris Burke's rendition of "California Dreamin'" is remarkably in tune. Of course, it's easy to detect his condition from the way he enunciates the words, but still! And this predates Autotune, as far as I know.
I gave Hrvatski's Oiseaux 96-98 another shot recently. Initially, it didn't seem nearly as harsh to me as it once did; I found myself enjoying the opening track, "Routine Exercise", though (like Morgan said) I kind of had to make myself like it. I really like what he does with the brass motif that's prominent in that piece -- specifically, shifting the third measure down by a quarter-tone, which is both unsettling and completely intelligible. (Hmmmm...I put the track on again as I wrote this, and from the sound of the reverb tails, I wonder if the horn lines are actually just a verbatim sample? That's much less interesting if he just lifted them from a Don Ellis record or something.) And the rhythms jump all over the place in a way that's genuinely playful and engaging, though again I have to make a real effort to get past the heavy distortion/glitchiness. The next couple tracks, "Madrid" and "Atelier", are easier on the ears, and I find myself able to stay interested through them. But the distortion soon returns, and by the time I reach "Rhetoric", I just can't take any more of it (which is a shame, since the album finishes with an interesting cover of Pink Floyd's "Cirrus Minor"). I guess this album will probably remain a five-minute-special for me -- in other words, I put it on for five minutes, like it at first, and then get tired of it and move onto something that I find more timbrally rewarding.
About five of my CDs are showing signs of major deterioration. Three of them seem to be rotting from the outside in, so that you can literally see through the places where the aluminum used to be. Two others have acquired "pinholes" in the aluminum -- tiny dots where the coating has disappeared -- which cause the disc to skip at that point. Interestingly, the first three are all major-label discs produced by record clubs (2 BMG, 1 Columbia House), and the last two are both Pink Floyd bootleg CDs. (For the record, the affected record-club discs are In a Silent Way, the soundtrack to the Doors movie, and Jaco Pastorius's Word of Mouth. The rot has only reached the music area on the Doors disc -- the others still play fine.) I'd definitely keep an eye on your collection, especially if a significant part of it came from one of the nine-for-a-penny organizations. (Unfortunately, probably a good 20-25% of my collection dates back to my record-club days.) I guess the rumors -- that they use cheap-grade materials and masters -- may well indeed be true, and not just audiophiliac paranoia. And I'd think about selling those pressed bootleg CDs (if you own any) before they turn bad. I used to think of my collection of original "RoIOs" as a bit of an investment, but at this point I'm more inclined to sell them all and transfer everything to CDR and Shorten-based data backups.
November 17, 2001 (link)
Tangentially, I listened to some Deep Chill Network tracks before I went to sleep this afternoon, which prompted me to resume my long-ago project of reviewing all the tracks available on their MP3.com website. The only track that really got my full attention before I fell asleep was, as it happens, the next one on my list to review:
Once in a while, when I wake up after my sleep schedule's been badly disrupted, I awaken in a state of major confusion -- although that's not really the right word for it. It usually tends to happen after I've taken a mid-day nap, or have woken up in the middle of the night, or have had really erratic sleeping patterns. Whatever the cause, though, when I wake up I am completely disoriented, feel as though I could either fall back asleep or pass out in an instant, and have a hard time filtering out the background noise in my thoughts -- as though my own mind were engaging in stream-of-consciousness rambling in my ear, preventing me from regaining my focus. It's something of what I imagine schizophrenia must be like.
This happened today after a nap (in which I dreamed, quite vividly, that I was listening to a Frank Zappa album I owned but had never played before; wish I could remember the music, though I do recall that at one point there was a Beatles spoof which I thought was rather funny). In an effort to regain my sanity, I grabbed something to eat and went to my computer, looking through what I had handy of my MP3 collection to find something that would help, something that would make me feel like myself again -- "sane music", if you will. So, I browsed through my folders: "Low...nope...Bedhead...nope...Mission of Burma, maybe?...nope...aha! AC/DC!" Yep, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", and it worked -- my head felt decidedly clearer by the time the chorus rolled around. I will leave the proof of the theorem in question (AC/DC = sanity) in as an exercise for the reader.
November 12, 2001 (link)
For some reason, listening to certain kinds of techno -- in this case, Natural Born Techno 2 (Nova Zembla), featuring Xingu Hill and MDA Analog and a bunch of people I've never heard of -- makes me want to get work done. (Preferably as quickly as possible, in a manner reminiscent of Mortal Kombat or The Matrix.) I'm not sure what to think of that. Everything I've read on the net seems to suggest that NBT2 should be a 2-CD set, but mine's packaged as a single disc. Then again, I picked it up (back in 1997 or so) for a dollar, used; maybe that's why it was just a dollar...
I've always found it interesting that, in Gardner Read's Music Notation (something of a bible for copyists and composers), he takes at least three distinct opportunities to slam the notational practices (and, by inference, his music) of "the Swedish avant-garde composer Bo Nilsson" -- someone of whom I can't say I'd ever otherwise heard. A few samples:
"[Nilsson] has used several forms of fractional meter in his Mädchentotenlieder...it is extremely doubtful if the highly complex metric organization of these fractional meters can be justified by what is actually heard."
Anyone know why Read bore such hostility towards poor Bo? It seems bizarre to use such an obscure figure as a whipping-boy for notational folly, particularly when there are many composers of greater fame who have done far worse. Perhaps he was better-known when this book was written? He may be a prominent figure in Sweden, I suppose, but that argument doesn't really wash, since as far as I know this book was targeted for an American audience.
Playing music made for a fun weekend, The best parts sounded a bit like You-era Gong, with space whispers and everything. Good stuff. If I were a D&D character, though, I'd probably want to go on a quest to find an Amulet of Proof Against Noise Complaints from Hostile Neighbors. (Plus one.) Hey, at least the cops were pretty nice about it. (Perhaps because we weren't very loud at all.)
November 9, 2001 (link)
A few questions I'd like to know the answers to:
On Sunday I saw the Black-Eyed Snakes and Man Or Astroman? at the Khyber, and enjoyed both bands quite a lot. The Snakes were far more kinetic and propulsive than I would've guessed -- I was expecting Mississippi mud, and got raucous, distorted electric blues. Heck, Chicken-Bone George (better known as Alan from Low) just about took out the ceiling of the Khyber with a couple jumping punches. The Snakes' CD is great, too; I've seen a couple people criticize it as being "muddy", but it's a pretty accurate rendition of their live sound (though in person, they were even more thumpity and violent) and, I think, fits the music very nicely. They're great guys; make sure you see their show if they come to your town.
Man or Astroman? were a lot of fun too. Unfortunately, within a couple songs the mayhem caused by the moshers upfront got bad enough that I decided to leave the room, and missed seeing most of their set. I did, however, duck back in to see their rendition of "Interstellar Overdrive", complete with a full-sized Tesla coil shooting purple bolts of electricity over the heads of the audience and into the walls. That was -- there's no other way to say it -- really fucking cool. Clearly the folks in that band have spent some time and energy on their stage presence and the visual side of their show, and it's definitely paid off. I wish we hadn't been packed in like sardines -- I would've really liked to see the whole thing, but I was caught in between the moshers in front of me and the pissed-off people behind me. Between that, the smoke, and the heat, I just didn't feel like dealing with it.
Astor Piazzolla's Tango: Zero Hour is one of those albums that I seldom pull out, but always find myself enjoying when I do. I think Piazzolla said he thought it was his best; since it was the first one I heard, and is so far the only one I've really gotten the chance to listen to at any length, will it be all downhill if I start buying more? The discographies of people like Piazzolla, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Ravi Shankar, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and so on -- in other words, people from non-European ("Third World") countries, who basically defined their respective genres -- seem to generally be (a) really extensive and (b) full of potholes: I know there are suspect Bob Marley and Perry recordings, anyway, and I'm pretty sure the same is true of Fela Kuti. At least there are clear watershed albums in Marley's discography, though; I have little idea of where to start with Fela Kuti, other than with what I've already heard, and I've no idea where to go from here with Piazzolla. I'm not sure what my point is. Perhaps it's just that, when looking into these sorts of folks, once you stray from the recognized "classics" that have the NPR seal of approval, it's very easy to blunder into buying some unauthorized release of junky material on a no-name label that doesn't give any royalties to the artist or his/her family. Somehow I feel, intuitively, like the best material will often be found by navigating between those two poles -- it's the lesser-known album, quietly rereleased on some independent label in a pressing of 5,000 or so, that will prove to be the jewel. But I'm not sure if that's true -- in other words, whether an artist's best-known works will necessarily be their slickest, and often not their most rewarding -- or whether it's just my music-as-archaeology leanings talking. Maybe I'm just used to seeing too many of my favorite bands stumble, or retreat from their most challenging and rewarding music, and get plaudits for it.
I feel like there's more I wanted to talk about, over this past week. I had a dream that I was listening to someone take a second-rate trumpet solo over a groove in B minor; hearing them, I thought to myself, "I can do better than that!", and went to grab my trumpet and take my turn at the mic. I woke up before I started playing, though. I wish I could remember the groove in question -- it was a slippery one, with sliding chords, that I know I heard perfectly in the dream, but couldn't recapture at all upon awakening.
For the jazz musicians in the audience: do the chords to "Orbits" in the (old) Real Book bear any relationship to reality? Is there some alternate version that uses those chords? The version on "Miles Smiles" has no trace of anything much like them, and I tend to suspect that Swallow and Metheny (or whoever did the Real Book) pulled them out of their respective asses...
There should be entire genres based around "Rutti" and "Ebo", around "The Golden Band" and all of Datacide's Flowerhead. (Slowdive, Spool, and Amanset are the others.) And "Fearless", and "We Once Were (One)", and "Born by the Wires". Alas, we only get moments, and then they move on to other ideas. It's hard to sustain such things, I think.
November 4, 2001 (link)
Quite a shame. (And, apparently, it's pronounced "too-VAH-loo" to boot. Sigh.)
I am very, very sure that I've heard Kraftwerk's "Ruckzuck" somewhere before, but I have no idea where. The part of the song that begins at 0:25, after the flute intro, is intensely familiar to me, especially that G-G-F#-G-G-F#-F# organ line. Has this song been used on PBS? My best guess was that it was used for the credits of something like The Electric Company or Sesame Street -- it feels like that's the context in which I heard it. And I feel like I've heard it many, many times (which only stands to reason, if it were indeed played over the credits of one or the other -- as a child, I watched both shows quite regularly). But today marks only the second or third time that I've cracked Kraftwerk's self-titled debut, on which "Ruckzuck" appears. Weird, weird, weird.
November 3, 2001 (link)
Aha! I've discovered, much to my pleasure, that Shodan, a Shanghai game for Macintosh which I've mentioned here previously, is available for download at this site. Be warned, though -- not only is the music (a looped sample of traditional Japanese music) absolutely gorgeous, but it's also a surprisingly addictive game. (Much to my surprise, it works just fine on my G3.) Surprisingly, though the clip is fairly short -- about 25 seconds, maybe -- I don't find myself getting tired of it. If anything, playing this game puts me in an oddly meditative state. Perhaps that's an "obvious" thing to say, but there it is. I really wish I knew where the sample came from; when I asked him, the author of the game told me, "I downloaded it years ago from a CompuServe music library. Sorry, but I don't who uploaded it or who composed or performed it." Odds are it's nothing too obscure, but still, I'd probably need to sift through hundreds of recordings to find it -- and you never know, maybe it is an Asian-only import or a private recording. Sigh.
November 2, 2001 (link)
Can anybody who has both BOC Maxima and Music Has the Right to Children pull out both releases and tell me whether the mix of "Roygbiv" on Music Has the Right to Children has a lot more treble than the one on BOC Maxima? I only have them on MP3, so I can't be sure that my copies haven't been doctored. Maybe Music Has the Right to Children was just mastered differently, with a big treble boost to give it wider appeal (and thereby less appeal to yours truly, since to me the charm of Boards of Canada has a lot to do with their ability to evoke the sound of things like the music from 1970s Canadian documentaries, which are consistently light on the treble and heavy on the analog synths). I guess I need to buy the damn album, when I actually have some money, or at least borrow it from someone...
I've been listening to some interesting field recordings of Ituri Pygmies from the Zaire rain forest. They have an unusual heterophonic vocal style that isn't really like anything else I've much heard. It's another disc in the JVC World Music series (as is Liu Hongjun's Pipes of the Minority Peoples, which I mentioned back in July), which are pretty hard to find lately but seem to be of consistently high quality. My big wants from that bunch are discs by Lamine Konte and Hukwe Ubi Zakose; I've heard very appealing tracks from both ("Sidi Yela" and "Sote Tulifarahia", respectively).
I also listened to the radio for about half an hour yesterday -- all nu-pop and nu-metal and nu-R&B. I figured I'd give it a chance. It was terrible. The only thing I liked even a little bit was something I already knew I liked a little bit, that being (and you're going to laugh!) Limp Bizkit's "My Way" -- the lyrics to which are impossibly obnoxious and dumb, yes ("my way or the highway"? Has there ever been any more gratingly stupid phrase set to music?), but musically it's actually not so bad. I like the bass player's line in fifths, high up on the neck, and I like the sound of the guitar in the outro. The rest of it -- again speaking strictly musically -- I don't mind but can do without.
Everything else I heard left me bored or mildly annoyed. I remember hearing a song about a woman who has to turn tricks to keep her infant son fed -- his father was "smoking rock now/in and out of lockdown" or something like that -- that was particularly maudlin and cornball. And the relentless use of Autotune is crushingly dull -- does every R&B song have to use it? Does every song now have to have a few moments where they winkingly exaggerate it (cf. "Believe", "One More Time", etc.), as if to pre-empt an accusation ("your singers can't sing in tune so you Autotune the shit out of them")? An accusation I'm apt to level, having seen the mayhem of a televised live performance by O-Town, where the singers were in three different keys by the end of the song...
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
Mumu (and Kassyan of Fair Springs), Ivan Turgenev, trans. unknown
The Theban Plays (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone), Sophocles, trans. E. F. Watling
Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot