Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

 

October 30, 2001 (link)

11:06 PM

Aquatic, by the Necks, is an interesting disc. The label says that "The Necks are an Australian three piece band (piano, bass, drums), whose music might best be described as the missing link between improvised jazz and minimalism. Their lengthy pieces slowly unravel and achieve a hypnotic intensity by layering melodic, tonal piano against steady, jazz beatscapes that continuously change over time (think of a Basic Channel approach to acoustic, ambient jazz)." I'm not sure what I think of that description, but I found myself enjoying the disc, especially the first part of it. There's a certain temptation to compare it to In a Silent Way, inasmuch as, like that album, it's made up of two long tracks, the first of which is a groove piece, in D, anchored by a steady pulse of eighth notes on the drums and various ostinati on the bass. But that wouldn't be an entirely fair comparison -- though it is, perhaps, a bit like a Neu! cover of that album's opening track, as recorded by rogue members of ECM's production staff. Anyway, it's limited, but it can feel good if you're in the right mood for it.

Speaking of ECM, I also found myself enjoying some tracks of Eberhard Weber's The Following Morning very much -- specifically "T. on a White Horse" and "Moana I", which I haven't listened to that much. Considering I named my site after one of his songs, that probably shouldn't come as a surprise, but I still find myself forgetting how much I like Weber's sense of timbre (and that of his sidemen, especially Rainer Brüninghaus). Of course his songs have duff moments now and again -- not every oboe flourish in "White Horse" is to my taste -- but overall, his work consistently appeals to me. Pendulum, his solo bass record, is also surprisingly nice in spots, if a bit hampered by a somewhat new-agey tone to some of the compositions. (Nothing overt, but there's a streak of toothlessness.)

Does anyone know the name, performer, or genealogy of the quiet waltz ("Guarda Me", I think it was called) in Italian that was played over the credits of what I think was the final episode of MTV's Liquid TV, back in the mid-nineties? I miss that show; I'm a real sucker for experimental/avant-garde/minimalist animation. Which reminds me that I really need to renew my efforts to track down a rental copy of this movie, which has gotten rave reviews from friends and family...

(Comments for October 30, 2001)

October 28, 2001 (link)

6:58 PM

On the way home today, I idly attempted to put together a mental list of movies that I really love, choosing only one per half-decade. Here's the best I was able to do:

1925 and before: The Gold Rush
1926-30: All Quiet on the Western Front
1931-35: M
1936-40: Make Way For Tomorrow
1941-45: The Maltese Falcon
1946-50: The Third Man
1951-55: Pather Panchali
1956-60: The Seventh Seal
1961-65: Lawrence of Arabia
1966-70: 2001: A Space Odyssey
1971-75: Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii
1976-80: Heaven's Gate
1981-85: My Dinner With Andre
1986-90: The Tall Guy
1991-95: A Midnight Clear
1996-2000: Breaking the Waves
2001-: ???

It's a decent approximation, albeit a total mess. Some were easy -- Breaking the Waves, The Tall Guy, Pather Panchali -- but other half-decades were almost impossible. I was completely stuck on 1941-45 for a while, and my choice of The Maltese Falcon is totally unconvincing to me, but I just couldn't come up with anything else. (Perhaps if I'd seen Citizen Kane I'd feel differently. I did see it, but something like 15 years ago, and I fell asleep about halfway in.) Dr. Strangelove, The Wild Bunch, Chinatown and Tess are all reasonable contenders for the years 1961-1980, in that order. And my choices for 1935 and before amount to placeholders -- I remember liking The Gold Rush a lot, same with M, but it's been so long that I can't say my opinion might not be different now.

And what a quagmire 1991-95 is -- there are so many good ones to choose from: Heavenly Creatures, Crumb, the much-maligned (and seriously flawed) but gorgeous Until the End of the World -- even Ed Wood isn't a totally ridiculous choice. What I did choose, A Midnight Clear, is a little-bit left field and probably not as good a film as the others, but it's in keeping with my taste for movies with crushingly downbeat endings (after all, there're only two comedies in the list, and almost every other movie I've listed ends with a death of some sort). My predilection for social-realism-meets-sweeping-epic will probably be somewhat apparent, too. Some of you will probably chuckle, or worse, at Pompeii, but hey -- I love Pink Floyd, they're probably my favorite rock band of all time, and I'm not about to apologize for it, since where would that leave me? Heaven's Gate is also not going to win me any popularity contests, but it's a great movie, its flaws notwithstanding.

I still feel like I'm missing a lot, though -- especially French movies, so many of which are my favorites. Should Jean de Florette be on there? It would, if it weren't for The Tall Guy. And I know I'm forgetting some early-nineties independents, like Highway 61, that might lead me to question my choices even more. And my choices for the sixties are much too pat -- I feel like I'm forgetting lesser-known movies that've had a more profound impact on me.

But, what can you do...

(Comments for October 28, 2001)

October 26, 2001 (link)

12:17 PM

Here, have another kick in the soul. (The first two sentences, that is -- the rest of it is largely incoherent.) Sorry, H. -- you may want to skip this.

(Comments for October 26, 2001)

October 25, 2001 (link)

1:01 AM

On a less tangential-political note, I'm not sure what I think of Murder in the Cathedral. I've made a point of avoiding any reviews of it, particularly because I have a vague memory of a passage about it in one of Craft's Stravinsky books (and I can't remember whether the passage was high praise or -- as I suspect is more likely -- an aphoristic put-down, possibly from Auden). One thing I definitely don't like, however, is its tendency to omit the articles before its nouns -- i.e. "For us, Church favour would be an advantage, / Blessing of Pope powerful protection / in the fight for liberty." Why not "The blessing of the Pope"? And another thing is the constant, self-conscious alliteration -- "Shall he who held the solid substance / Wander waking with deceitful shadows? / Power is present. Holiness hereafter." "Power obtained grows to glory, / Life lasting, a permanent possession. / A templed tomb, monument of marble. / Rule over men reckon no madness." Perhaps these things are historical devices, particular to certain modes of speech or discourse which Eliot wishes to imitate; I don't doubt that I am thoroughly ignorant of much that would illuminate these and similar passages. But whatever the motivation, they distract me and seem contrived. The second part, however, has fewer of these tricks, and, not coincidentally, it seems the more effective half of the play -- to my taste, anyway.

12:53 AM

Being the crank that I am, in response to this, I wrote this:

In this paragraph --

"...According to Brian Mitchell's 1998 book, "Women in the Military" (Regnery), there are 24,000 single moms and about an equal number of single custodial dads, [...]who must also arrange to leave children with friends and relatives when called up."

-- you mention single custodial male parents, whereas in these passages --

"Are we as a nation in such desperate straits that we must ask single moms to fight and die for our country?...And if it is not necessary, is it even a civilized thing to do? Yes, I know, these women all volunteered..But still, by the strict demands of contractual morality we may be justified at holding these mothers to their word...That these women are bravely willing to live up to their commitments, I do not doubt. Their willingness to serve is commendable. Can we say the same about our automatic willingness to order Kody's mom, and thousands like her, into harm's way?"

-- you do not.

Might I ask why?

It strikes me that by any reasonable yardstick, metaphysical or otherwise, single fathers are every bit as "important" as single mothers -- to their children, to the cohesion of our society, and so forth. Why imply that it's mainly the single moms who need protection, whereas single dads are suddenly absent from your key paragraphs and thus, by implication, are less deserving of protection? Certainly you can't believe that it's somehow "worse" for a mother to get shot to pieces, blown up, gassed, or what-have-you, than for a father to sustain the same?

Why not write "single parents", instead of "single moms", and "men and women", instead of just "women"?

(Perhaps it was an editorial decision, and not your own?)

I suppose the exception would be breastfeeding; from what little I've read I tend to agree with those who hold that it's a necessary part of an infant's young life, both emotionally and in terms of the quality of the nutrients provided (and as I recall, resistance to certain diseases as well).

But otherwise, who among us has the chutzpah to stand up and say, "Yes, mothers are more important than fathers"? Anyone? Since I do hold that that's the implication of the choice of language in that paragraph: mothers, and by extension, women, are shrinking violets who need to be protected, whereas men are "supposed" to be heroes, willing to be cut to ribbons on behalf of their family, country, loved ones or whatever you care to name.

It's a viewpoint that's demeaning to both sexes, I think.

(Comments for October 25, 2001)

October 23, 2001 (link)

11:02 PM

Two thoughts for the day:

Through work consciousness comes to itself. Desire has reserved to itself the pure negation of the object and thereby its undiluted feeling of self. But this is exactly why such satisfaction is fleeting: it lacks objectivity and permanence. Work is desire held in check, transience staved off, in other words it forms (the thing). The negative relation to the object becomes its form and something abiding because it is for the worker that the object has independence. This negative middle term or fashioning deed is at the same time the individuality or pure being-for-self of consciousness, which now, in the work outside of it, acquires an element of permanence. It is in this way that the consciousness of the laborer comes to see in the independent being [of the object] its own independence. . . . . .Through this rediscovery of himself by himself, the bondsman realizes that it is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own. Without formative activity, fear remains inward and mute, and consciousness does not become for itself [or "cannot see itself"].

-- Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, Oxford University Press 1977, pages 118-119
All the lamps were turned low.
You slipped out quickly in a thin shawl.
We disturbed no one.
The servants went on sleeping.

-- Osip Mandelstam, No. 3 from Stone, trans. Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin

9:16 PM

Interesting additional information on Rouge-Mort: Thanatos, which someone was kind enough to type up for me from the liner notes of the Violostries CD (which I believe is out of print):

"After Carmen by Prosper Merimee. Choregraphy by Vittorio Biagi, Nice Opera Houose.

"Merime's simple style reveals a set of themes that are close to Greek tragedy. Each character is inexorably pushed toward his ruin. Thanatos, here, after Eros, represents the duality of an inevitable fate.
"The use of a magic ritual, justified by the gipsy origin of Carmen, enables us to punctuate the accomplishment of the tragedy with a series of iterative premonitory signs. To certain of these signs, I have given sound equivalents, with either timbres or melodic motifs. As Carmen is a very well-known work, it was less important to respect the details of the story than to reconsider the myth in the light of different means, such as those electro-acoustic music."

It turns out that it's an excerpt from a larger piece called Rouge-Mort, of which Thanatos is the sixth movement. I'm not sure how this information changes the way I hear the piece, although it certainly takes care of any doubts as to the presence of programmatic/associative content.

12:06 AM

I just found a great little program for the Macintosh, called Webchecker. Basically, it's a lot like the Internet Explorer "subscriptions" function, which checks webpages for you to see if they've been updated, except that -- unlike IE 5, anyway -- it lets you organize your subscriptions into specific subgroups so that you don't have to check all of them every time. This is very useful to me in a lot of ways. For one, I can now, with one click, check every comment file on my site to see if anyone's left new comments, without having to check them all every time (or worse, manually). Or, I can have a separate set of subscriptions for threads on message boards that I follow, so that I don't have to wait for aeons every time I want to check my usual haunts, but can check the threads in question (some of which can get quite large) when I feel like it. Anyway, if you're on a Mac and want to save some time, you should check it out. It's small (640 KB) and it's shareware, so it shouldn't take long to download.

(Comments for October 23, 2001)

October 22, 2001 (link)

11:24 AM

I dreamt last night that I was leading a band in an outdoor performance of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Dream" during a total solar eclipse. We were still in the intro (which I was silently admonishing everybody, perhaps with motions of my bass, to play very slowly) when I woke up.

I was listening last night to the jazz station, 90.1, out of Temple University. They played a feed from NPR for about an hour, a Joe Lovano Nonet concert from Copenhagen this past summer; it wasn't very good at all. I much prefer Temple's own programming, conservative and half-assed though it is; the NPR attitude towards jazz can be insufferably smarmy and faux-cool, and last night's broadcast was no exception. If people think that this is what jazz is (and what jazz is now), no wonder it seems irrelevant and "dead" to so many people. It'd be like thinking that a Steppenwolf reunion tour reflected the current state of rock music. At least the Temple broadcasts seem a bit less packaged, though they seem to keep a very tight rein on their programming (and manage to slip in as much as three or four minutes of very slow and uninteresting DJ talk before each song).

Tangentially, I haven't really been reading Murder in the Cathedral (which is a very short play) all this time; I misplaced my copy when I got about halfway through, and only found it again last night. I've been reading Sophocles, a memoir of James Herriot, and a book about the Yukon in the meantime.

Finally, it may be of interest to some to learn that an unreleased Syd's Floyd song, "Beechwoods", has emerged from the mists, along with an instrumental version of "Vegetable Man". I haven't heard either one, but I look forward to doing so sooner or later. Apparently the tape comes from a 1969 interview with Nick Mason, where Nick brought along a reel-to-reel with these two songs on it (plus the full version of "Vegetable Man") and played it for the interviewer, a college student. His interview reel was stolen shortly after he did the interview, but he'd made a copy of the music portion for a friend, and it's this that's apparently surfaced. Neat, no? One by one, all of the Holy Grails of Pink Floyd bootleg collecting seem to be surfacing, including a lot of things we thought we'd never hear: the Wall demos, the Zabriskie Point outtakes, Syd's "Bob Dylan Blues", and now this. Now what I want, personally, is a rerelease of the soundtrack to More that has those outtakes on it -- "Hollywood", "Seabirds", and Roger singing "Cymbaline". That would be very pleasant.

Oh, and I got my hands on the Pop'eclectic album. I'll try to review it soon. It's interesting, and in its first two tracks samples, among other things, lots of Pink Floyd from the Saucerful of Secrets album -- "Let There Be More Light", "Remember a Day", and I think "Corporal Clegg" perhaps.

(Comments for October 22, 2001)

October 21, 2001 (link)

12:26 AM

Another link about Parmegiani, this one a whole bunch of reviews of his Pop'eclectic, which sounds interesting (I haven't heard it).

(Comments for October 21, 2001)

October 20, 2001 (link)

11:32 PM

As an experiment, some impressions of Bernard Parmegiani's four-movement Rouge-Mort: Thanatos, written down as it plays (I've listened to it twice, but only casually, before today):

Premiers signes: What is the relationship between the high-pitched, insect-like sounds and the hooting, pitched sound that begins the piece and subsequently reappears? At 2:30: I know this sound, what does it remind me of?

Derniers jeux: The pitch complex F-sharp - B - F-natural appears, played by something reminiscent of a flute. Meanwhile the hyperactive roly-poly sound from last movement becomes dominant, and competes with fleeting synthesized tone clusters. Now the pitch complex adds other notes reminiscent of B lydian, and shifts to a harpsichord-like tone. Other sounds come in, at first suggesting some sort of pitch context, then becoming clusterized, and now suggesting again some sort of pitch center on B. E, F, and F-sharp are all present, leading to modal ambiguity. The tonal background is definite; other sounds, almost all pitched but moving so quickly as to have no harmonic function, move in and out of the stereo field. The feeling of B lydian is still present, competing with the liquid-revolving sound that suggests Bsus4, then glissandos upward. The harpsichord sound goes further afield, then cadences (in a way) to close this part of the track. A strange, motto-like chiff comes out of the silence, and gives way to low rumbles and train-like sounds which then fade out.

Séduction froide: The "hooting" sound reappears. Long, slowly-moving, metallic-oscillating sounds swell in and out of the soundfield. At 0:50 one crescendos. The time scale of this movement is obviously very different than the arguably frenetic pace of the previous one. I'm beginning to find the sounds a bit grating, but I'm listening a bit loudly too. At 2:25 other elements begin to surface. A low E suddenly becomes a buzzing cicada-sound. The interference patterns begin to create a very tangible (if oppressive) sonic space. My room is full of buzzing metallic sounds, intermingled with the harsh resonant E. And the movement ends.

Ultime danse: Again the hooting. Somewhat pitched buzzing with a sharp attack alternates with what sounds like wood- and skin-based percussion, playing irregular and unpredictable patterns. Is this a dance? It almost felt like one for a moment. Now the trebly sound is gone, replaced with a sound that reminds me of a train which cuts in and out while the percussion continues sporadically. I hear pitched elements in the train sound, but they don't seem to be harmonically functional. The percussion and train sounds stop, leaving a harmonically rich reverb tail. Three pitches are played. Pitched sounds with a moderate buzzing component emerge. Now tritones (based on B, D, and E) are played on an instrument that sounds like a reprocessed violin. At 3:45 a tritone out of equal temperament appears briefly. Another one at 4:05. The feeling of B is subtle, but palpable. At 4:35 it's getting very quiet...and fades out.

And now, for the fun of it, a second consecutive listen, again with my comments "on the fly":

Premiers signes: I do like that first sound, the F-sharp hooting. Does this piece, then, have intentional tonal implications? The insect-sounds start out very quietly. What am I missing on account of my computer's fan (not to mention this typing)? And at 1:03, the sounds cut out, the hooting reemerges, and now the sounds have a much more overtly trebly component. There's almost nothing below 2 kHz or so. And the hooting again, at 1:45. It's an enigmatic sound, well-chosen by Parmegiani, one that makes me think of Heimdall's horn or something similar.

Derniers jeux: The roly-poly sound (in other words, it reminds me vaguely of the sound made by a roly-poly toy, but has a stronger wind-like component) seems to be a set of pitches at constant intervals from one another. The transformation of the pitch-complex from "flute" to "harpsichord" happens subtly, then overtly -- the sound is introduced quietly, then jumps to the fore. What processes made this music? And what of the harmonic implications -- what was in Parmegiani's mind? Is there a programmatic meaning to the use of a sound that sounds so much like a real classical instrument? Is it an actual harpsichord? The gliss at 3:20 is almost too obvious -- I can imagine the knob turning on a delay unit. What a bizarre way to end the movement -- I originally thought the chiff at 4:15 or so was a new track. I can't see any relationship to what comes before, although then again I somewhat like the "Oh no!" feeling it gives, but it's almost too campy.

Séduction froide: What should I infer from the title of this piece ("Cold Seduction")? I'll be flip, if honest, and say that I find nothing seductive about it. Strong hint of G in one of the sounds -- even the nonharmonic sounds tend to stay within equal temperament. (But why? That seems unnecessary, unless there's a structural reason I'm not getting.) It's amazing how tangible the stereo image becomes towards the three-minute mark -- not so much in terms of being able to place particular sounds, but just in the feeling of presence. When the treble subsides at 3:30, so does that feeling. The surging, slightly distorted E isn't making sense to me. Why is it there?

Ultime danse: There's something apocalyptic, or at least vaguely ominous, about that hooting. It's an obvious structural device, but I like it a lot. The dance feeling comes into focus and disappears again. Is it a live percussionist? (In one sense, who cares? But it feels like one.) Oh, it definitely is -- now the question sounds silly. Should I be reminded of L'Histoire du Soldat? (Whatever "should" means in this context...) What is the function of those three notes? And why is this section the end? I don't feel like the thought's been completed.

That was an interesting experiment. I'd like to do it again sometime.

11:02 PM

The used bookstores near where I live seem to have developed a charming habit of leaving piles of books outside of their front doors, free to anyone who wants them. One of them tends to have less exciting stuff -- though I did pick up a couple Stephen King novels, a thesaurus, and a pocket language guide for my little brother, among other things. I just discovered the other one, though, and managed to pick up a nearly complete set of Euripides (in the Lattimore translation), as well as Lattimore's Iliad, Lysistrata by Aristophanes, a copy of Julius Caesar, Paradise Lost, the Cambridge edition of Keats' complete works, an absolutely miniscule edition (it's slightly larger than a pack of playing cards, and much less thick) of a pair of novellas by Turgenev, "Mumu" and "Kassyan of Fair Springs", and something called Gotthold's Emblems, which appears to be a book of what might be called "Christian wisdom". This last has an inscription on the front inside cover, dated "J. M. McCalla, March 24, 1893", and a rather interesting second inscription in a different hand:

'This curious and most helpful book of my dear father's I leave to our dear first man-child -- Edmund Lee Goldsborough Jr. Or, if he die first, to our dear first-born -- Helen Louisa Goldsborough.

'If they both die without issue, to my dear husband for life. At his death to my dear sister, Louisa McCalla Thompson, or -- if she is not then living -- to my aunt Maria F. McCalla, or my cousin, C. Louise Blackburne.

'"In Christ shall all be made alive". Signed -- Isabel [?] McCalla Golsborough -- June 1909.'

And on the next page:

'"It is twice blest: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes." {this quotation from Shakespeare, a favorite one of my father's.}'

And so, for a brief moment at least, some echo of these people reaches us.

(Comments for October 20, 2001) (2 comments so far)

October 19, 2001 (link)

4:13 PM

Saw Low Wednesday night at the Unitarian Church. I'm not really going to write about it, as I'm too busy among other things, but I will say this -- I don't think I ever would've expected to hear Alan say the word "vagina" on stage! Times are changing indeed.

I managed to break my turntable last night. One or two of the wires on the cartridge have repeatedly been giving me grief -- nasty hum and that sort of thing. In my efforts to fix them, I managed to, instead, sever all four of them, rendering my turntable useless until I can get it fixed. I'm hoping it won't cost too much, but I know the reputation of turntable repair centers -- that is to say, they screw you for as much as they possibly can. Bleah.

Some video games that have great music: Drakkhen, Actraiser, Super Metroid, Spiderman and X-Men, The Secret of Mana, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, all for the SNES. Ecco the Dolphin for Sega Genesis. Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Xexyz, The Adventures of Dino Riki (in a couple spots, anyway), and of course the Mario series, all for NES. (Marble Madness, too -- there's a theme in it that's surprisingly reminiscent of a passage from La Mer by Debussy.) The Macintosh game Shodan, a Shanghai clone. I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch. And I'm saying this unironically, in case there's any doubt -- I think the music for The Secret of Mana is at times absolutely beautiful, and there's certainly no reason for equivocation about Shodan, which has a heartbreakingly gorgeous loop of traditional Chinese music, one whose origins I've never been able to track down (much to my dismay).

(Comments for October 19, 2001)

October 15, 2001 (link)

6:58 PM

I think one of the things I like most about Movietone's The Blossom-Filled Streets is that it really does feel like it was recorded at a seaside cabin, as if the musicians had rented a cottage from an old instrument repairman in some remote part of northern England or Scandinavia and decided to make a record with whatever instruments were at hand -- a clarinet, a slightly dodgy upright piano, an old upright bass, lo-fi drums, and the like. The recording techniques really help to bring out that quality; the album sounds impromptu, but not overly casual, and very natural, with scarcely a hint of compression to be found. It's got some rough edges, but overall it's a wonderfully intimate and quiet record that, in a way, very much reminds me of the afternoons and nights I used to spend at my friend Morgan's house when I was in high school, playing with music and sounds and whatever we could get our hands on (African slit drums, various saxes, clarinets, an upright piano, a didjeridu, a Casio synth, a clavinet, my trumpet, a shaker egg, and a bass guitar, among other things). Definitely recommended.

(Comments for October 15, 2001)

October 13, 2001 (link)

10:43 PM

From dictionary.com:

Usage Note: People have been using the noun quote as a truncation of quotation for over 100 years, and its use in less formal contexts is widespread today. Language critics have objected to this usage, however, as unduly journalistic or breezy. As such, it is best avoided in more formal situations. The Usage Panel, at least, shows more tolerance for the word as the informality of the situation increases. Thus, only 38 percent of Panelists accept the example He began the chapter with a quote from the Bible, but the percentage rises to 53 when the source of the quotation is less serious: He lightened up his talk by throwing in quotes from Marx Brothers movies.

10:17 PM

One thing I forgot to mention about the Amanset show was how startlingly homogeneous the crowd there was, both in appearance and in what I could hear of their conversations: "Do you like the Shaggs?" "Oh, they're just like Godspeed You Black Emperor." And so forth. It just seemed like the whole room got painted with a big Indie Brush. (I should point out that those two quotations I just offered were separate incidents, but it would've been very funny if they had been question and answer.)

Today's listening has included Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, Bruckner's Symphony No. 1, Boards of Canada's Hi Scores EP (which I've lauded here before), and Ida's Losing True EP (which I've also lauded here before), as well as a smattering of tracks from the Listening Chambers on I Love Music, most of which I didn't like (the exceptions being an Ida track and a J-Pop track by a band I'd never heard of). I've listened to the Schoenberg twice and it hasn't really pulled me in, but I suspect I need to give it some time away from the computer. I have a very weird reaction to certain Second Viennese School pieces, and this is one of them -- it's almost as though, not knowing the piece (and these are pieces that require multiple listenings), and finding the language both familiar and difficult, I tend to fall to a less engaged mode of listening in which the piece is nice, but somehow opaque to me. The phrase I'm trying to avoid is "background music", because it's not really accurate, but maybe this is the way that some people hear, say, a Mahler symphony -- it sounds nice, but I don't really understand it yet, and there's no single narrative line that's obvious enough to be clear to me on first exposure, so it's all too easy to hear it as a bunch of pleasant moments, rather than as a coherent whole. (Oddly enough, I don't think I have that problem with Elliott Carter, whose music is in some ways far more "apparently" complex. But I may be deluding myself a bit.)

Johan, if you're reading this -- the more I think about your comments on how Cage's problem was his "undialectical understanding of musical history", the more spot-on they become. I wish I had the resources to muster some sort of coherent argument about the issue of ahistoricism (and the impossibility thereof) in music, and how it dovetails with the failure of Cage and his apologists to muster more than a "self-satisfied shrug". It's an issue that's crucial to me, and I feel like I'm wading in ham-fisted to these arguments, so that by the time I remember what the critical issues are and how best to address them, I've already barked up the wrong tree too many times. Perhaps you, or one of my other readers, could point me in the direction of a work on aesthetics that addresses this? Also welcome would be a good book that deals with the relationship between popular and art music -- ideally, one which provides the argumentation I need for the conclusion I'm already tempted to reach, namely that the latter can offer certain kinds of complexity and subtlety that the former seldom, if ever, reaches, but that the former is also much more than just a dumbed-down version, or cheap imitation, of the latter. (Of course, the dividing line between "popular music" and "Western art music" is unbelievably vague, but while the middle is a no man's land when it comes to critical taxonomy, there are certainly works that can be approximated, at least, as one or the other...)

(Comments for October 13, 2001)

October 12, 2001 (link)

3:03 PM

This is one of the best Google-searches-that-led-someone-here that I've seen in my referral stats yet: "what constitutes dark blue ink?" Alas, if only I knew.

12:48 PM

My replies to Absintheur's thoughts about our somewhat embryonic, but still fun, "Mahavichy France" (I pulled that title out of thin air at the time, and it seems to have stuck):

  • The vibes: yes, that worked out very well indeed.
  • The drums: it's a tricky business, putting in drum tracks without a live drummer or a really nice set of patches. I'm pretty happy with what we've got in many ways, particularly the place where for whatever reason (I don't remember doing it, so I suspect it may be quantization) the bass drum doesn't hit on the downbeat -- I think that helps a lot. My concern would be that a drum part that got too "interesting" would disrupt the main thing the song has going for it -- a poised, suspended, almost half-there feeling. But having said that, I definitely think the drum part could be improved; a good live drummer is by far the quickest solution, but a small amount of quiet hand percussion could indeed help as well.
  • A drum drop-out: I don't know, it sounds pretty suspicious to me -- an overly dramatic gesture for a piece whose main selling point is, in a way, its lack of overtly dramatic gestures. But I'm always game to try things -- after all, we got those good samples by experimenting, more than by having a perfect picture in our heads of exactly what we wanted.
  • The bass: really, you didn't notice the similarity? I did from the start, but it doesn't bother me at all. I think it's a pattern that predates Stereolab, certainly. I was playing something a bit different beforehand, but I forgot it. On the other hand, if the drum pattern were embroidered a hair more -- in other words, if slightly irregular patterns like the drop-one in the bass drum were a bit more frequent -- then the bassline could synchronize precisely with the drums, and that would get us out of the metronomic underground.
  • Acting swishy: that could be nice.
  • Guitar line: that also could be nice.
  • Longer fade: although I like it the way it is, I suspect you're right. We should try it, anyway.

And yes, definitely, get a dictaphone. I'm only barely able to remember the Momus-like song I wrote while lugging forty pounds of groceries up the hill a couple days ago -- and I suspect that when we rely on memorization to "take notes" on new compositions, we often end up inadvertently homogenizing them and making them more pat than they otherwise would've been (since unexpected twists and subtle irregularities are much harder to memorize than more conventional progressions). Not to mention the tendency they sometimes have, while stored solely in memory, to take on a greater and greater resemblance to songs we already know! Get the Radio Shack CTR-96; it's cheap, it takes cassette tapes, the batteries last forever, and it sounds quite good, relatively speaking. And you can use it to tape shows, as I have on myriad occasions.

12:03 PM

More about Arovane, who I wrote about last month -- an interview here, and a review of Tides here. The latter also uses the Boards of Canada comparison that I invoked, which is somehow reassuring.

What have I been listening to lately? Stravinsky conducting his own music, on vinyl -- Praeludium, the Ebony Concerto, Tango, and so on. Right now, Bernie Kraus's Whales, Wolves and Eagles of Glacier Bay. A bootleg recording of Pink Floyd playing in Lund, Sweden on March 20, 1970. Arovane's i.o. EP, twice consecutively last night. Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life. Datacide's Ondas. (I've had this album for over a year and am still totally unimpressed -- it's not bad as such, but what a letdown by comparison! It's a very, very jokey album, and I certainly wouldn't have spent my hard-earned $14 on it if I'd known what it was like. It's so different from Flowerhead that I honestly feel a bit cheated, which of course is a thorny issue to get into.) Chick Corea and Gary Burton, Crystal Silence (this and Bright Size Life are old ECM standbys of mine from high school). Quicksilver Messenger Service's Quicksilver, which has left me thoroughly unmoved -- are these guys really compared to Love and the Doors? They sound more like bad Grateful Dead, although that's a pretty shoddy analogy on my part. Davide Mosconi's La Musica Dell'Anno Zero, a "piece constructed of studio and field recordings (with no electronic manipulation) made of the lighthouse foghorns on the coast of Scotland, with a map serving as a score." (It's pretty good.) Recordings of Lakota songs by one Earl Bullhead (on first hearing, not really my thing). The Concord Sonata of Charles Ives, as played by Gilbert Kalish on Nonesuch -- a piece that seemingly gets better and better each time I hear it. Well, perhaps that's not exactly true, but I find myself responding to the first movement, "Emerson" (which has always been my least favorite by far) a lot more now than I used to. But I've always loved the other three, especially "Thoreau" and "Hawthorne". Marc Johnson's Bass Desires and Steve Reich's Tehillim -- another pair of ECM standbys, not so much the Reich piece (which I still can't make up my mind about) as the former album, which has Bill Frisell (and John Scofield, prior to his "assimilation" by the NPR/frat-funk posse) and is very, very good.

(Comments for October 12, 2001)

October 5, 2001 (link)

3:15 PM

So it was Michael Jackson's voice in that damn Simpsons episode! Ha, I knew it.

The American Analog Set show at the Khyber (the same one that Absintheur attended) was quite good, by the way. Priceless moment: during the Q&A session, someone requested "On My Way". "No...we don't play that anymore," replied Kenny, sounding just shy of annoyed. He answered another question or two, then turned to the band to start the next song. The first note hit...and it was "On My Way"! I guess you had to be there, but it was very very funny and sweet, and everybody cheered. Amanset were in very good form; I don't know what I think of the new songs, but the older songs ("I Must Soon Quit the Scene", "Magnificent Seventies", "On My Way", "It's All About Us") sounded great. It was definitely more of a "rock show" than I've seen them do in the past, but the absence of quieter material was (perhaps surprisingly) not a handicap at all -- it was just in a different vein. The addition of the vibes was a splendid thing.

(Comments for October 5, 2001)

October 3, 2001 (link)

8:16 PM

Well, I didn't expect September 17th's entry to be my last of the month, but September turned out to be a pretty hectic month. Within a span of about a week and a half, my mom had a heart attack and had to have a quadruple bypass (she had never been under general anesthesia before, but is recovering rather well), and I had to move out of my apartment. I have had things to post, but between all of that, I just haven't bridged the proverbial gap between cup and lip.

One thing I found myself thinking about was The Who, particularly their album Who's Next which I taped for my girlfriend. Although I don't listen to The Who very often, I think they hit me at just the right time to earn a permanent place in my musical hall of fame. For a period of a few months when I was 12 or so, I used to listen to the greatest-hits album Hooligans almost constantly, and I still love most of the music on there. My brother-in-law/band director introduced me to Jaco Pastorius soon after I told him that I thought John Entwistle was the greatest bass player I'd ever heard -- a statement that he recounted somewhat smugly a year or two later, as though he had cured me of some ridiculous notion. I suspect I probably rolled my eyes in some sort of yeah-how-could-I-be-so-naive expression of agreement. Now, though, the comparison seems stupid. Of course Entwistle can't play as fast as Jaco can, can't play bebop, and so forth. But golly, he's a great bass player. Take "Won't Get Fooled Again" -- what a great countermelody, high up on the neck, to the "Tip my hat to the new revolution" lines! And is that a quintuplet right before Daltrey sings "We don't get fooled again"? Entwistle played the right notes, that's what matters.

I feel like there was something else to which I gave a lot of thought during this hiatus, but I'm not remembering it. It'll come back to me. Today I listened to Miles' Nefertiti for the first time in quite a while, and was struck again by how gorgeous Wayne Shorter's "Fall" is. Back at college I briefly had designs on putting together a piano trio and performing this piece in public -- with me on piano! -- but, perhaps mercifully, it never happened. The old Real Book has rather different chords than what gets played on the record, but interestingly both versions work very nicely, and suggest subtly different outlooks for the tune -- while the version on the album has a fair number of suspensions in the bass, and thus seems "tenser" and more turbulent, the Real Book version has more stable chords, which make it seem perhaps less harmonically rich, but more openly lyrical/introspective/bleak. The version on the album is beautiful, and I remember spending an afternoon in the Bennington music library just listening to the Miles box set and this tune, feeling peaceful and meditative and surrounded by the sounds of good music. I do wish it got quieter for longer, though; Herbie Hancock's solo is so beautiful, and when Tony Williams comes in with the 12/8 feel, it's great but I wish I'd had more time to enjoy the drumlessness. It took me a bit longer than usual to "get" Nefertiti, especially the title track, and some of the tunes still strike me as a cut below those on Miles Smiles, but the playing documented on this disc, and others of the period, is just unreal -- in its unity above all: this is what it sounds like when musicians of supreme accomplishment and taste, who listen to each other and know each other's playing deeply, are able to reach something utterly ephemeral and timeless. I think if any musician's oeuvre stands to show that improvisation can create things that could otherwise never be made as perfectly, it would be that of Miles Davis.

(Comments for October 3, 2001) (7 comments so far)

current reading:

The Theban Plays (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone), Sophocles, trans. E. F. Watling
Selected Poems, Osip Mandelstam, trans. Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin

just finished:

Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot
The Odyssey, Homer, trans. Robert Fagles

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