Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

December 28, 2001 (link)

8:08 PM

Quandary: I bought a used copy of the Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny CD Song X in part because I wanted to get rid of my tape of it, which I've had for seven or eight years now. But the tape actually sounds better in a way, since I pushed the levels so hard when I made it that the whole thing comes off as rather more wild and raw, on account of the tape compression and mild distortion. (By contrast, the Coltrane on Side A sounds terrible, since I pushed the levels much too hard on that one -- the bass distorts heavily, and "My Favorite Things" sounds like poor Jimmy Garrison is playing through a 15-watt Gorilla amp.) What to do?

Rounder Records, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and JVC World all have recordings that make me drool. There's something particularly appealing about Folkways' selection of special-order discs that you can only get on custom CDR. It makes me hope that all of it will eventually be put out on pressed aluminum, but I suppose the odds of something like "Barkley, Alben W. - 'Veep': Former Vice-President Alben W. Barkley Tells His Own Story" getting wide release are rather slim. At my old job, though, I did things like transferring six hour reel-to-reel recordings of a microbiology conference from 1968 (the tape speed was so low, we had to record it at double-speed and pitch-shift it on playback), and jobs like that made me quite aware that old, semi-unwanted recordings are all over the place. Speaking of that recording, I can't remember whether this was on the tape, or whether my boss told it to me (in reply to something that was indeed on the tape): apparently, some European village in the early part of the century kept coming down with typhoid, and consistently (and indignantly) ignored warnings that it was being caused by cross-contamination of their water supply and sewage system: "How can that be -- our spring is half a mile away and we keep it very clean! That's insulting nonsense." So some intrepid (and now-legendary) microbiologist performed a simple, and very public, experiment: with many observers present, he took a pretty large amount of, I think, black ashes, and poured them into the sewage system (did he simply flush them down the toilet? I don't remember). He then walked to the town's water source. Within a short period of time, black streaks were showing up in the vaunted spring. His point was made.

1:26 PM

One of the things that seeing Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring reminded me of is how much happier I tend to be when I hold true to the things I love, without worrying about whether someone, somewhere might be able to "critically interrogate" them in a damaging way. There are so many people with opinions out there, and so few who can actually create anything of value. The latter are far more interesting, I think.

I was absolutely blown away by the movie, myself. It isn't perfect in every detail, but that doesn't really matter -- overall, it was tremendous, and reawakened a sense of wonder in me that had gone dormant for far longer than I'd realized. I plan to see it in the theater again, which is a pretty rare thing for me -- I don't go to the movies very often, let alone going to see the same film twice.

(Comments for December 28, 2001) (3 comments so far)

December 22, 2001 (link)

1:41 AM

I have a habit of occasionally letting an album sit for months before I really give it a good listen. I used to think it was a rather decadent habit on my part, but on the other hand, one might well think of the man with a gigantic library who, when asked "So, have you read all these books of yours?", replied "Goodness, no -- who would want a library full of books they'd already read?"

Anyway, I got this Tarpigh album, Monsieur Monsoon (Northeast Indie), some months ago, but I only played it once or twice --- and since I didn't really give it my full attention, it didn't make much of an impression on me. Listening to it now, though, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. It's got a wonderful, slightly dry sound to it that somehow feels very familiar to me, though I can't come up with any specific antecedent -- maybe it's just the "sound of home recording". Whatever it is, it feels very honest and spontaneous, perhaps a bit like what I heard in Movietone's The Blossom-Filled Streets, though of course with a totally different and far more openly experimental/improvisational bent. The reviewer for Delusions of Adequacy wrote a pretty good review that will give you an idea of what to expect from this disc (though I disagree that "Shaporatake" has "no coherent flow whatsoever" -- it strikes me as one of the more straightforward tracks on the disc, actually). If you like Cerberus Shoal, you'll probably stand a good chance of enjoying this CD, inasmuch as Tarpigh was a part of them for about four years -- but this definitely isn't a Cerberus Shoal disc, either. There are no long-form song structures at all, and there's very little of a "rock" flavor to proceedings; the music on this disc is highly improvised, frequently atonal (even microtonal), and fairly "difficult" by most standards (though that's offset a bit by the feeling of playfulness in the air). Still, there's a definite connection -- there are moments in this disc that make me think of the intervals between songs in a typical Cerberus Shoal concert, during which the members will pick up a variety of found instruments and hand percussion and make very "small", subtle sounds. The Tarpigh CD is generally more direct than that -- some parts are very aggressive and loud, if only briefly -- but it does share something of that improvisational spirit, and joy in sound, that makes Cerberus Shoal such a great live band.

(Comments for December 22, 2001)

December 19, 2001 (link)

11:16 PM

Couldn't help but be struck by this quote, which I got here:

"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger." ---Herman Goering, Nazi Air Force (Luftwaffe) commander, the Nuremberg Trials

(Comments for December 19, 2001)

December 17, 2001 (link)

10:20 PM

This -- especially track 3, "Stout-Hearted Men" -- is one of the funniest things I've heard in a while. As this page says (with slight changes), "Whee, shoo soo sah, shoo soo swah, shoo voo plah, doo doo rah, doo doo sah, doo doo rah, soo-da-li-twee-dat, soo-da-li-doo-ton-plee-blah, dwee, dah dah shrah, plah plah sah, dah dah rah, plav da shree, loh ku pah, dav du sah!" What was this guy on? Every time I think I've run out of new wrinkles to explore in (what they're calling) "outsider music", something comes along that leaves me in hysterics -- or, as in this case, genuine amazement.

I've been listening to a bunch of old Columbia-label tapes lately. You know the ones I mean -- white label, red block letters, usually no liner notes (and half the time with the tracks rearranged in some random order). So far I've dug out three self-titled albums -- Maynard Ferguson, David Gilmour, and Jefferson Airplane (their 1989 reunion album). They range, respectively, from cheesy-and-overblown-with-occasional-flashes-of-excitement, to dull proto-beer-commercial music with bad lyrics, to downright awful. I played the Ferguson a lot when I was 12 or so, but I've never really spent any time with the Gilmour or Airplane albums (i.e. they got one play each and then ended up in my "box of tapes I don't listen to"), and I can see why -- the Airplane album is nearly unlistenable. Much as I love Pink Floyd and early Jefferson Airplane (up to Volunteers or so), they and their members have both turned out some major-league crap. Why was it that no good band from the 1960s could make it through the eighties intact? Was there some law that said you had to dumb down your songs and compress the shit out of everything? At least Pink Floyd made it as far as The Final Cut -- an album which I quite like, even love -- before things really went south.

Other than "Stout-Hearted Men", the other thing to catch my ear lately is the opening track on Invisible Soundtracks: Macro 2 (Leaf), "Aldrigpunkt" by Polyester Orkester. (Try this if that link doesn't work.) It's an attractive and sparse series of slightly aliased, spacious, chiming tones, slightly reminiscent of a cross between certain Super Nintendo music (especially the themes in Drakkhen) and Seefeel's great Succour album. Also good is To Rococo Rot's "Die Dinge des Lebens" ("The Things of Life"), which is a nice, restrained track built out of a very appealing set of looped chords in A-flat minor. This area of electronic music (i.e. quiet, understated, and sometimes-melancholy music like Arovane, late Seefeel, Datacide, and Boards of Canada's better moments) is one in which my preferences are often hard to define, but, like pornography and a certain Justice of the Supreme Court, I know it when I "see" it. Makes me wish I had a radio show -- I used to, back in college, but at the time the station was too weak and inconsistent to build up any kind of an audience.

12:32 AM

Some interesting links: first off, the Voice of America broadcasts, in about two dozen different languages, available in Realaudio format. From listening to a few different streams, it seems like most of the broadcasts tend to have similar programs, which could be an interesting opportunity for students of languages (inasmuch as you can infer a lot if you already know what the broadcast is more or less about). Also, have a look at this page full of news and information on Afghanistan, which in turn led me to Afghan News Network Services, which had a few stories I hadn't seen.

Also, here's a link to an online edition of "The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing". I was prepared to be confronted with an over-the-top polemic, but it's better than that, and of what I've read so far, some passages are interesting and thought-provoking. Others, however, fall far short of offering any kind of satisfying solution to the problems they examine. For instance, they suggest changing this passage --

"In the tragedy of the Challenger, Man himself, homo sapiens, is the protagonist...Of this remarkable protagonist -- Man -- must it not be said that his capacity to adapt his universe and its physical laws to his own needs and desires and purposes -- his science and technology -- is one of the qualities of his greatness?"

-- to this:

"In the tragedy of the Challenger, humanity itself is the protagonist...Of this remarkable protagonist -- homo sapiens -- must it not be said that our capacity to adapt our universe and its physical laws to our own needs and desires and purposes -- our science and technology -- is one of the qualities of our species' greatness?"

The problem here is that words like "humanity" and "our species" are not fully effective substitutes for the word "Man" in that passage, because the passage's rhetorical effectiveness depends on its invocation of a single archetype with whom one can identify as an individual. "Humanity" and "our species" are, to most people, abstractions -- and as such they don't have the same resonance, in terms of identification, as an imagined individual does. There's also a subtler change, in that the revised version suggests a perspective that somehow places less emphasis on the individual; in the first passage, Man serves, in a way, as the personification of the individual as representative of his/her species, whereas in the second passage, it is the species itself that is the active agent. In other words, the first passage frames its narrative in the context of an individual who represents all of humanity; the revised version replaces that individual with a weaker, collective agent. Indeed, I might even go so far as to say that the first version implicitly stresses the individual nature of the conflict it describes; by identifying the protagonist as "homo sapiens", the revised version almost seems more...I want to say "colder" or "more biological", as though it sees "human" and "homo sapiens" as synonyms, and that the experience of being human is the experience of being an example of the species known as homo sapiens, rather than speaking to some more universal condition of spirit -- or, better yet, of will. The former passage feels almost like a call to arms -- "this, which I describe, is in you!" -- whereas the latter feels like a detached observation of collective tendencies, too general to identify with.

The problem, of course, is that the English language lacks a good way of identifying such an individual without inherently "gendering" that individual (and "his/her" is clumsy enough, let alone dealing with "he/she" and the like). Other languages might be able to do an end-run around some of this problem -- for instance, French uses the same possessive articles for masculine and feminine subjects, so that sa and son can mean both "his" and "her" -- the gender agrees not with the subject, but with the object: "sa maison" = "his/her house", "son grand-père" = "his/her grandfather". (For that matter, in French and German, there are gender-neutral words that translate as "one"/"you"/"people" -- on and man, respectively -- which is something for which English lacks an effective counterpart.) Or take this example -- they suggest changing "A man who lies constantly needs a good memory" to "A chronic liar needs a good memory". The revision may be nonsexist, but it's also toothless, and changes the tone of the passage significantly. For their suggestions to be effective, the authors need to offer solutions that don't diminish the effect of the prose they're revising. (Here, by the way, a reasonable solution would be simply saying "A person"; I'm surprised they didn't suggest that themselves.)

In any event, effective writing needs to be able to summon the image of the individual who represents the whole, because the process of compassionate identification, if you will, is a much "lower-level" process when it happens on the individual, concrete level -- "he is like me, and I am like him" -- than on the collective, abstract level -- "people in general are like me, and I am like them". Perhaps we tend to see ourselves as the protagonists of our own narratives -- it would be a fairly natural point of view, after all -- and need to be able to identify with specific individuals in order to be able to identify with their narratives. Later on in the book, the authors complain about "accounts of human evolution are couched in terms of mankind and forefathers, with frequent references to 'his' cultural artifacts...'his' animals, crops, pottery, villages, etc., etc." They prefer phrases like "ancient people" and "these early human populations". And perhaps, most of the time, these phrases are to be preferred. But I still maintain that, though it may be exclusive, the original language also encourages us to imagine this hypothetical ancient as an individual, and in so doing provides ground for a kind of emotional connection that's much harder to come by with collective nouns and conceptualizations. The problem is real, and I can certainly understand how it contributes to feelings of exclusion, but we need a better solution than just replacing everything with generalities and collective nouns. I wonder if there are any languages that have third-person pronouns that are genuinely gender-neutral (as opposed to neuter, like "it" and the German "es"), so that it would be possible, in the first passage I mentioned above, to write that whole passage without "gendering" it, but while still referring to an individual. It's probably something that would never catch on in any language that did have male and female pronouns, though -- for it to be maximally effective, it'd have to be a natural way of speaking, not an obvious contrivance to evade a declaration of gender. I suspect that in any language that has "he", "she", and a non-neuter "it", the specificity of the first two will tend to drive out the third -- after all, if you need to refer to someone specific, using a gendered pronoun narrows it down quickly (i.e. "That person stole my wallet! Stop that person!" vs. "She stole my wallet! Stop her!"). So I don't think a new class of pronouns in English will be implemented anytime soon, nor is it likely to evolve organically.

(Comments for December 17, 2001)

December 15, 2001 (link)

11:43 PM

This afternoon I listened to (and greatly enjoyed) some Pink Floyd bootleg tapes that I hadn't spun in quite some time. The three concerts I dug out are rather "of a piece", in that, first, they're the only tapes we have from Pink Floyd's January - February 1970 tour, during which they experimented with their setlist far more than they ever did again, playing a lot of wild stuff; second, they are, thus, the only tapes in circulation that have performances of "The Violent Sequence" and "Main Theme"...and third, they all sound like crap! At least by conventional standards, anyway -- I actually find them very listenable, particularly now that I have a deck with pitch control to fix the raging speed problem that afflicts at least one of them. That'd be the legendary Birmingham show, from February 11, 1970, which has been immortalized on the vinyl bootleg Violence in Birmingham; reading about an upcoming -- and, rumor has it, vastly improved -- new release of that show got me excited enough to drag out the old tapes and give them a listen. Like the other two shows I listened to (Croydon 1/18/70 and Paris 1/23/70), it suffers from hiss, distortion, distance, generation loss, dropouts, cuts, muffling, and all manner of other problems. But I've always been reminded of what my friend Jay said when he first heard one of these tapes: "That sounds...almost otherworldly."

And that's a good word for it -- there is something rather magical about such lo-fi recordings, and their almost total lack of high end (except for the hiss!) makes them surprisingly effective for night-time listening. Of the three, there's probably little chance of ever seeing a quality recording of the Croydon show, and the new Birmingham release will still probably sound pretty rough, but the Paris show is actually from an AM radio broadcast, so there's hope of seeing that one in high quality someday. French radio actually rebroadcast a few of the tracks -- one in the '80s, and two more in the nineties. I have the latter rebroadcast, and it sounds very nice, although there still is a certain charm to my old, crummy tape. If nothing else, it reminds me of how narrow a thread it was that got those tapes all the way from the original tapers to me. Before the advent of digital trading, the distribution of tape bootlegs was something like the transmission of oral poetry, or even of ancient secrets and spells. Each generation was a bit further removed from the original text, a bit more distorted in one of myriad ways, but on the other hand, there was a certain magic to knowing that my tape could be traced, through convoluted transactions and across continents, all the way back to some man in Britain or Sweden or Japan who I've never met. Now, of course, it's easy -- perfect digital copies are freely available to all who want them, and when I had my cable modem, I could just download a SHN file from somebody's FTP server, thus getting the show of my choice without even having to put anything in the mail. It sometimes seems less fun this way, but at least it avoids the disappointment of getting a crappy tape or screwed-up CD (click, click, pop, pop). And it means that I don't have to scam endlessly to get a low-gen copy of something like the complete Amsterdam 1969 broadcast, or the Zabriskie Point outtakes, or this Birmingham show.

One more funny search that led someone here: "picture of unfinished taj mahal that was never finished". As opposed to the unfinished one that was finished, I suppose...?

I quite like this idea, by the way. I'm tempted to enter in all of the Ciphered Mixes for Spherey, if only to imagine the befuddlement with which some might look on my sequencing choices: "Take On Me", followed by Regurgitator, the Staple Singers, Archie Shepp and Count Five? Satie followed by Green Day? Pansy Division, and then Gesualdo? Erwin Schulhoff, The Jerky Boys, Pizzicato Five, The Leaders, Man is the Bastard and the Ink Spots? In terms of absurdity, it's easy enough to top those, of course (say, the Waitresses, then Merzbow, then Vivaldi, Conway Twitty, and Gravediggaz), but mine worked, dammit. I hold, myself, that part of the art of a good mix is to articulate unexpected relationships between adjacent pieces, as well as trying to sculpt the overall arch of the set into a coherent and pleasing whole. There was a great sequence on Side B of the first mix that Absintheur ever gave me, which I unfortunately lost, but which pulled me out of a bad funk and gave me a boost when I needed it. It went something like "If You Love Somebody, Set Them on Fire" / "Blue Buddha" / "One Thing Leads to Another" / "Jazz (We've Got)"/ "Girls of Porn" / "Blues Music" (G. Love). It was probably the single greatest sequence on any mix tape I've gotten; the only thing I don't remember liking on that side was the final track, which was something by Spacemen 3 (I can't recall what). I've actually been trying to reconstruct that tape for a while, as it sure was a good one; I think the A-side went something like "Train Sound" / "Polynesian Fertility Chant" / "It's All True (version 1.0)" (proto-WMF) / "Sivad" / "Abducted by the Work Aliens" (Heavy Vegetable) / "Jack-in-the-Green" / something by the Jungle Brothers / something by Three Mile Pilot (but not from Chief Assassin to the Sinister) / "Purple and Green" (Sentridoh) / another Sentridoh song. But I'm definitely missing a track or two from the A-side, and possibly one from the B-side. Hmmmm. Here again, by the way, there's something about the sound of tape itself that makes our transition to CD-based mixes a definite trade-off, albeit one that in the end is worthwhile. "Blues Music" and "Blue Buddha" sounded especially nice on tape.

(Comments for December 15, 2001)

December 10, 2001 (link)

11:44 PM

Recent searches that have led people here:

Given the fact that I found myself disagreeing with almost every single thing he said about art in the opening chapter, it's a little surprising that I find myself enjoying W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence as much as I am (though Of Human Bondage is easily one of my favorite books, and I quite liked The Razor's Edge as well). It's quite good, though, with innumerable epigrammatic observations on human nature of the kind that would come off as smug in lesser hands, but which seem insightful (if occasionally glib) coming from his pen. The reading, by Robert Hardy, is generally quite good, and noticeably smoother than Atkinson's was on Tom Brown's Schooldays, despite the fact that he has far more text to cover -- Tom Brown was abridged and lasted barely two hours, and this set is unabridged and clocks in at over eight! He manages to convey the personality of different characters, male and female both, without resorting to caricatured falsettos or anything like that (although his reading of the Dutch painter is a bit overly broad).

(Comments for December 10, 2001)

December 8, 2001 (link)

10:58 PM

A few days ago I received a belated birthday present: a gorgeously packaged 2-CD set from Absintheur, consisting of live selections culled from (all but two of) the recorded concerts of our ol' band WMF. (You should see the artwork on this one -- it looks great.) With the exception of "Paul Renzi" (from our third show -- our drummer lost the tape), it's got versions of pretty much every song WMF ever played live. So, by request, a track-by-track review of More More More - Live '97-'98:

Disc One:

  1. Weirder Noise: Yes, that's quite a bit weirder than the last one.

  2. Thoughts from Fowzy: There's no one quite like Fowzy Butt, God love him. Everybody touch Matt Mitchell's body!

  3. Words Words Words: Nice transition to this song. Always a tough one to pull off live, this rendition, from March 27, 1998, is one of the two times that we managed to get it to sound as heavy as it ought to. Nadir's guitar on this sounds great -- yet another testament to the power of good equipment, as I think he was using a Fender tube stack. I wish we'd done a studio recording of this song; it was a fun one, and the beatboxing at the beginning is a blast and works really well. I've always liked the fact that this song consists almost entirely of five-bar phrases, which definitely adds an unexpected (and yet completely natural) twist.

  4. Milk Jackson: Smooth fade, a bit of a volume drop notwithstanding, to this song about a Serbian spy, based on my friend Mateja (who's not a spy, but is indeed a Serbian). At this show from the McCullough lawn (May 22, 1998), I obviously didn't know the lyrics (and had by then lost my original draft of them -- never did find it again, either) so I had to pull every fourth line or so out of my ass. Sometimes that was not without a measure of felicity -- "he's not a genocide kind of guy" -- but more often I just sound half-incoherent. I defy you to name another song that has structurally functional lines in Serbo-Croatian and Urdu! Nadir's solo isn't one of his best, but the band, collectively, sounds very good on this track. I remember having my friend Nat come up to me after the show and cite this track as one that caught his ear. 24 hours after this was recorded, I was vomiting my guts out in a women's public toilet; 48 hours after this was recorded, my father was fighting for his life in a Maryland hospital.

  5. King of Pain: Another good fade to this, our hardcore (???) version of the Police's standby, which we only played twice (at our first two shows). Along with "Danny DeVito" and "Ice Ice Baby", this was one of the tracks I tried out with Jeremy and Stephen H. over Field Work Term before WMF was actually formed. Truly hideous bass blunder from yours truly in the intro. Otherwise, though, "the crowd seems to love this".

  6. Evolution Litany: EQ seems to have brought out a weird high-frequency problem (wow) in the original tape, which is a little bit distracting. I was sick as a dog for this show (May 2, 1998), at Mezze in Williamstown, MA, having pretty much spent my immune system at the show I played the previous day with my "other band", Transport to Summer, at Middlebury College. This rendition is reasonably solid, though I think I prefer the version we played at the McCullough lawn. It's our slowest and quietest song, and was always a gamble to play as an opener. The considerable level of crowd noise makes it hard for the song to float, but I think we did OK.

  7. Liability Boy: The only performance ever (from what was one of our best shows, Nov. 15, 1997) of this song of mine, which I never really fleshed out to the extent I ought to have done. Some dud lyrics, a weak verse and weaker chorus (ripped off from, of all things, "Inch By Inch, Row by Row"), but there's still something appealing about it. About two measures into my keyboard solo on the bridge, I discovered that the keyboard had retuned itself, so I played the whole solo with one hand on the pitch level, coaxing it back into standard tuning. This was the show's closer (barring the two subsequent encores), and was supposed to end with a slowly building mass drone on G, gradually increasing in intensity until it reached a thunderous climax. Unfortunately, because I wanted to play bass at the end of the song, this required a mid-song change of instruments, which turned out to be an unusually bad idea, as in trying to get my bass to work, I managed to unplug almost every other member of the band. Not a good end to an otherwise great show -- which was also the longest show we ever played by far, clocking in at over ninety minutes, of which over fifteen minutes was dead time (instrument changes, tuning, and so forth). Our friend Gus guested on this song (among many others at this show), and I suspect this semi-trainwreck was a major factor in his decision to stop playing with us.

  8. Baadababah: This show in the McCullough living room (December 1997), on the other hand, was probably our worst ever -- at the end, there was but one person in the audience (my girlfriend at the time). Certainly, it was probably the worst recording we ever made of one of our shows; we taped it to DAT, but the mic brickwalled so hard, we would've been better off using my dictaphone. As our opener, we attempted to play "Baadababah", which on our album was a 5-in-the-morning rush of inspired lunacy, based around the demo mode on a friend's keyboard. Unfortunately, when we played it live, we hadn't rehearsed it, and couldn't hear the keyboard, so things fell apart within about a minute...

  9. Candy (excerpt): I was surprised that Absintheur chose this version (from the McCullough lawn show), in which the two guitars are badly out of tune. His guitar sounds nice, though. (Gotta love that Mesa Boogie. When are you going to get one of those?) This excerpt cuts early, as later in the song there are, shall we say, unexpected polychordal developments...

  10. Hey Coprophage (part 1): I'm still damned proud of my opening line in this one -- "I was walking down the avenue / Wondering where I could buy some condoms for a frolic / With my Pakistani lover later on". When WMF played this song "unplugged" to a roomful of Pakistanis, it brought the house down. (Alas, that show went untaped.) This is from our fifth show, July 23, 1997, played (without Fowzy) to an audience of high school kids who were attending the Bennington summer program. For this version, I took over the guitar part (and got badly shocked by an ungrounded mic -- my first few lines are very loud and clear, but after I got zapped I backed off the mic), and we had Jonathan G. on electric cello, who provided a swirling, muddy wah-wah backdrop (and a great solo on the version of G.G.W.W. from that show). After the cello solo, Jeremy loses a stick, and we come to a crashing halt during the third verse. Spliced in before we resume is:

  11. Pablo: WMF had a minor tradition -- one which, some time later, came back to bite us in the ass -- of playing impromptu, 20-second songs in which we would caterwaul the name of a friend of the band whom we saw in the crowd. "Pablo" is one of these songs, taken from our very first show (April 4, 1997), and punctuated by Jeremy's comment, "He can really cook his ass off!"

  12. Hey Coprophage (part 2): "I suck!" says Jeremy. However, I think my diagnosis of the problem is more accurate...

  13. With or Without You: Nice crossfade to this one, recorded at our second show, April 25, 1997, opening for...was it "Myrrh"? I'd never heard of them before, and haven't since. One might call this "Transport to Felix". Jonathan Livingston, TTS's guitarist and singer, sat in for this high-speed rendition of the U2 warhorse, which we only played the once and which later ended up being a mainstay of TTS setlists. Did I play on this one? I don't think so -- I think it's just Jonathan, Jeremy, and Captain Collarless.

  14. Danny Devito: Another selection from the November 1997 show. I think I've told the story of this one before, haven't I? Here's the story, from an old email:
    (I had a dream in the summer of '96 -- I don't remember the exact date, but it's in my journal -- that I was seeing Danny DeVito in a nightclub wearing a Blues Brothers-style outfit and fronting an R&B band that was playing the chord changes E-flat minor 7 | B-flat minor 7, over which he was singing falsetto. I woke up, wrote it down, came up with a complementary bass line, half-forgot about it, decided to record it as a lark with my friend Jeremy in February of '97, made up some words on the spot, laid it down in mostly single takes, got it stuck in the head of everyone who heard it, and thus set the ball rolling for WMF!)
    This one is certainly not -- by a long shot! -- the best vocal rendition of Danny I'd ever turned in, especially as I'd shouted myself hoarse at the beginning of the show during "I Live" (which appears later in the set). But in terms of the funk, it's probably the best we ever did, owing to the presence of the Big Boog himself, the esteemed Tom F. He turns in a very nice keyboard solo (one which ends up a bit distorted on this version -- I think the levels are a bit high, maybe?), complete with lovely, delayed "Riders on the Storm"-style sweeps which inspire a roar of approval from the crowd. At the end, my falsetto gives out completely, my voice cracking like Peter Brady ("when it's time to chaaa-a-a-a-ange!"), and I think I laugh as much to play it off legit as out of any real amusement.

  15. Bal-Bas-Bow Ain't Nothin' To Fuck Wit': Same show as the above, this features several guest MCs -- Jonathan again, as well as Katie Y. and Matt S. -- to whom we had promised a chance at the mic. This was the first encore, and we hadn't actually decided what to play behind our guest MCs, so I think I told Fowzy to "make something up in E minor". Jonathan sounds like a small, angry dog, but in the best possible way -- I really like his bit. Matt's definitely the steadiest rapper, though, and the part where he and Jeremy both shout "Bal-Bas-Bow Ain't Nothin' To Fuck Wit'!" is absolutely great. Too bad they only do it once. Bal-Bas-Bow, by the way, was our old band name, under which we played our first five shows or so.

  16. Boys of Summer: BIG jump in volume on this one, as it's going from a fairly spacious DAT to a highly compressed camcorder recording. From the Downstairs Café, same show as Fowzy's thoughts above, and featuring Matt Mitchell on lead vocals. Very, very sloppy, though the second verse sounds pretty decent, and the ending is fun (my impromptu harmony vocals are just too high for me to sustain, alas). I think the keyboard sound I picked for this one was just a bit too hideous. We only played this twice, at this show and the "lost" show at which we played "Paul Renzi".

  17. Honey Apparatus: The first show at Mezze, April 15, 1998 -- our other "best" show. I remember being told that after the show we got lots of compliments for this track, our closer; most of Absintheur's tunes got, all around, the best renditions they ever got at this show, and this one's no exception -- everything sounds great and reasonably tight. There's one bobble after the bridge -- we were all in different places, and the impromptu agreement we reached proved a bit surprising to Absintheur, leading to a funny octave slide -- an "oh-shit" gliss, as I described it to him. We opened for our friends Chick Magnet 225, who played two songs or so before nearly getting into a band fistfight...

  18. Lucinda: This (from the March 27, 1998 show) is where that tradition came back to bite us in the ass. To make a long story short: she got piss-drunk. She clambered on stage, grabbed the mic, harangued us to play her song, which we'd done once before at our second show (somewhat against my preferences in the matter, I might add). We did; it was joyless and hostile. Jeremy told her she wasn't welcome on stage. We went into our next song. She grabbed the mic again. We stopped. I told her to get off the stage. It wasn't fun. She was apologetic a day or two later (though not to me), but then did the same thing again at a Cerberus Shoal show two months later -- and as it happens, I was the one who managed to get her away from the stage before she caused any major trouble, which somehow gave me a degree of closure about the whole thing. (She was also loud and drunk at my first Transona Five show.) So where's the line of demarcation between being an alcoholic, and just being an asshole? Does it matter?

Disc Two:

  1. Bal-Bas-Bow Intro: The actual music and "Bal-Bas-Bow!" sample from the video game Virtual On. Gotta love it.

  2. We Do It Like You Do It (When): Tough call between this version, from the McCullough Lawn, and the one from the first Mezze show, but the band-as-a-whole probably sounds best on this one. The fast, cycling bassline on this track proved tricky to sustain -- my hands were cold, and my joints were stiff. We never quite got the sound I was looking for on the "refrain" of this song -- I was thinking of something a bit like the Brand New Heavies' "Death Threat" with Kool G. Rap. I'm still not sure whether the big unison line on this song was a success; I wanted it to be dissonant and angular, but it sounds remarkably tame now. Ah, well.

  3. Gigantic: Our Pixies cover, taken from the July 1997 show, with electric cello. We played a great version of this song (and "Danny DeVito") at the open mic at the start of fall term, but alas, that didn't get taped. We played this song three times, all told; it was fun, but that lifespan was probably just right -- had we played it any more, it would've been too much. What a dirty song! The unison between the cello and bass is nice.

  4. The Big Boog: Another track from the November 1997 show. I wish I/we had done more with this song, which we only played twice. The surf-guitar music was derivative at best, but I like some of my lyrics, in-jokey though they may be -- "He's our mutual goomba and he's got panache / And his boyfriend don't got no silly mustache". Of course, calling them "my" lyrics is a bit of stretch; Fowzy, Jeremy, and Absintheur all contributed at least a couple lines, which was somewhat unusual for us -- usually each songwriter just brought his lyrics in, whether finished or not, and collective lyric-writing didn't happen very often at all. (There are some of Absintheur's lyrics that I didn't know until this year; I'm not sure if there are any of mine that the other folks in WMF don't know.) Oddly, I really like the way my voice (which was shot by this point) sounds on this recording -- very sharp and clear (especially when I sing "his name is alive"), and slightly deranged.

  5. Persecution Complex: On the other hand, there are some lines in this song (taken from the same June 1997 show as "Boys of Summer") that I would gladly leave undeciphered! Terrible, pseudo-political lyrics from me, full of ineffectual vitriol split evenly between my ex-girlfriend and a friend's ex, although the line "I've seen through your secret sin / If the cable man's not white, you won't let him in" has a certain charm. The music, a lame attempt at ska (!), is even worse; the unusual tritone chord progression in the verse is about the only thing going for it. Written in haste, and it shows. The bridge is kinda nice, though, with big "O-o-o-o-o-ohhh!" Polymoog glisses. Mercifully, the fade-out is brisk, concealing the fact that no one clapped at the end of this song. Politics and music: don't mix them unless you really know what you're doing.

  6. Mary Early: By far the best of our "name songs", taken from the same show as "Pablo". I shout her name twice as fast as Jeremy does, which is fun counterpoint -- and, well, there's no other way to say it: we sound like a couple-a 'tards. Good stuff.

  7. Why Can't You Get Married?: Another cut from the November 1997 show, and yet again, Jonathan Livingston on guest vocals. I personally think our later, faster, louder renditions of this song were better -- though they admittedly lack the Vestmaster's vocals, so I suppose it's a wash. This was a big favorite on campus; there's at least one person out there who loves this song and doesn't like anything else by WMF. So it goes.

  8. Another Intro (5/4): I always thought it was a quote from something. At least it's not Rush!

  9. It's All True: Absintheur thought Allison was saying "Daaayy-amn!", but she's saying "Art feeeeelm!" which is a story in itself. June 1997 again, and one of the better performances of this song -- my delivery is definitely a cut above the usual. This was the song during which Lucinda grabbed the mic ("I want you all to be insane...deranged...glad..."), and we never played it again after that, which was just as well, as it had gotten stale. No live version of this one ever really captured the laid-back vibe of the studio version -- probably because we knew our odds of pulling it off live (as a groover) were pretty low. Nice drums from Jeremy. Closes with some enigmatic comments from Matt Mitchell...

  10. Sergei: Yikes! Major tuning problems -- with Nadir about 25 cents flat of me, and Absintheur about 20 cents sharper than I was, the difference between the two was nearly a quarter-tone. Zoiks! One of Absintheur's best songs, though we didn't do it justice here; a pity we only played it a few times -- once at the "unplugged" show, once here at the McCullough lawn show, and once at our last show. The ending goes a bit haywire, and the tuning problems are particularly brutal, since both guitars are playing the same chord forms.

  11. G.G.W.W.: Ah, the legendary "G.G.W.W." Taken from our first show -- a version I probably never would've chosen myself, owing to my embarrassing patter during the band introduction (as the Big Boog pointed out, "Why does Phil swear so much when he's on stage?"), but musically it is indeed a good one. (The one from June 1997 would be even better if it weren't for my massive blunder during the ending.) This version has the old, "son-of-a-bitched you" lyrics. Hard to sustain the intensity on this song, but we did a good job here. I've always loved my martial guitar rhythms on this song, which can sound remarkably sinister, like jackboots or military drums -- chunk-chunk-chunk-chunka-chunka-chunk-chunk. Lotsa big bass.

  12. Ice Ice Baby: Another one from the June 1997 show. A pretty good version, though my favorite is still the one from our first show. Playing this was a blast; Jeremy handled lead vocals, Absintheur and Fowzy doubled the bass part, and I played a fun "Cannonball"-style guitar part. Jeremy's cymbal-and-bass-drum whacks on "with this" are great. We played this one at our first five shows, then dropped it; probably a good idea, but it was definitely a crowd-pleaser.

  13. Teleprompter in the Sky: Great song, written by Fowzy; pity I couldn't sing it! The November 1997 show again (as are the next two tracks), so my voice was shot, which is a convenient excuse -- some phrases sound passable, but I'm all over the place on others. Who's yelping in the crowd during my falsetto part?

  14. Take On Me (Bridge to BCHC): Whenever we played "Take On Me" -- which we dropped, like so many other songs, after the Lucinda show -- we would play the third verse in a wildly incongruous style: country, jungle, reggae, you name it. My favorite is still the very first performance we ever did of this one -- or maybe the second, which we did in the style of Low and which was also good -- but this version features Matt S.'s hardcore vocals and alternate lyrics, which are fun. It was hard to figure out what to do on stage while he had the mic -- do I stand there and smile approvingly? I probably did something along those lines.

  15. I Live: One of the best moments in WMF's history. The buildup to this show, our first real show of our senior year, had been big. WMF, as Bal-Bas-Bow, had been something of a joke/cover band up until that point, but we were determined to turn things up a notch, and had added some new, original material that was pretty damn good. We'd practiced our asses off, were raring to go, and had hyped the show to pretty much everyone we knew. We were the closing band, with three openers before us; the first two bands -- I don't even remember who they were, and can't be bothered to check my notes -- were pretty good, and we felt like we'd have a nice crowd to start off with. However, the third band turned out to be a self-indulgent noisefest which -- any intrinsic merits or lack thereof aside -- was totally unsuited for the occasion, and which drove away a good three-quarters of the crowd. I was pissed -- I couldn't believe that Jeremy had let these guys play right before us, and I was watching my hopes for this show fade before my eyes.

    When they finally finished, the crowd began to recover a bit, but as we soundchecked I was still incensed, and convinced that we'd end up playing to an empty house. The studio version of "I Live" is based around a Doors sample, and is fun, but a bit prancy. The live version of "I Live", though, is pretty straight-up funk of a kind that WMF hadn't really tackled before this show. So when we opened with this track -- with the Big Boog on keys and Gus on guitar -- the crowd was certainly pleasantly surprised, just on the basis of style alone; you can hear someone in the crowd go "Yeah!" when the organ enters. But on top of that, we were angry, and it made our rendition far more fiery than anything we'd ever done before; I was yelling at the top of my lungs, partly out of rage, partly to get my nerves off. Within moments, the dancefloor was absolutely packed -- people were really diggin' us. It was a great feeling, and if I were ever tempted to turn my nose up at playing dance music, what I felt from the audience at this show certainly cured me of it! I'm still not sure how Jeremy knew so many of the lines -- did we give him a copy of the original? At one point he screams out a line that I'd since changed, but I think his loud cry of "Save the whales!" certainly trumps anything new I'd written! Someone out there would be quite appalled if they knew the story behind the last line of the shouted interlude of this song (an interlude which I, famously, completely bugger up); that last line also gives this set its title, as it happens.

  16. Day-Glo: Another one from the first Mezze show. Easy to pick a live version of this one by Absintheur, since we only really got it right once -- the intro is an intricate and exposed passage for two guitars, which sounds hideous if it's even a little bit out of tune (see the second Mezze show and the McCullough lawn show for some excellent examples of that!). Some tempo problems at the solo section, but we get back on track after the solos are done. The "pre-bridge" (and, to a lesser extent, the bridge) to this song is one of the best passages in any WMF song, and has always struck me as having a significant flavor of (what I like about) Phish. A really fun song to play. "We've got one more", we announce at the end, and so we do:

  17. Walking on the Moon: I don't know how it happened, exactly, but if you were to add up all the covers played by rock bands that I've been in, the number of Police and Sting covers I've been involved in would likely top the list -- I can count at least four, and there may have been still more. (I played in a Led Zeppelin cover band, and I played Dark Side of the Moon live once, but let's say those don't count.) I always had high hopes for our extended version of "Walking on the Moon", but we never quite got it together; it was always a bit too loose and messy, whereas I imagined the middle section as floatier -- something a bit closer to, say, the midsection of Phish's "David Bowie". Still, this version, from the Lucinda show, is pretty decent, and features Fowzy's yowling-cat delay effects, which are pretty nifty and which come in at exactly the right time. After the rap comes a (probably unplanned) bass solo, then one last time through the verse and chorus, and so we close the set.

Thanks, man! Hearing these tracks, sequenced and blended like this, gives one some interesting insights; the transitions from "Words Words Words" to "Milk Jackson" and from "Day-Glo" to "Walking on the Moon" are particularly nice. Makes you wish we'd played twice as many shows, doesn't it? Not to mention gotten studio recordings of "Words Words Words", "Ice Ice Baby", "We Do It Like You Do It", and maybe "The Big Boog" or "Liability Boy". Ah, well -- maybe we'll do it someday.

(Comments for December 8, 2001)

December 6, 2001 (link)

4:07 PM

Until recently one could download several different versions and sequencings of the Beach Boys' legendary SMiLE album, of which I'd only heard bits and pieces, from the web. It strikes me as more unfortunate than ever that the techniques used by the High Llamas (and even Stereolab) have come to be seen as spiritual descendents of the Brian Wilson sound. Certainly, there's an obvious superficial resemblance, but the difference, to put it bluntly, is that they don't mean it and he did. Of course SMiLE is a mess, but the best parts -- "Heroes and Villains", "Wonderful", "Windchimes", "Good Vibrations" of course, and especially "Our Prayer" and "Surf's Up" -- are beautiful, wild, and/or completely beguiling. It's a crying shame this album wasn't finished and released; it really could've changed everything.

Listening to Rowan Atkinson read Tom Brown's Schooldays (by Thomas Hughes) was a trip at first, particularly given the temptation to hear it as a barely restrained paean to homoeroticism. However, once they started throwing the word "fag" around quite liberally -- which I'm inferring means, in this context, "to assume a subservient role (fetch things, etc.) for an upperclassman" -- it got a lot less fun, not because I was offended but merely because it's distracting to have an explicit word blaring at you when you're trying to smirk at unintentional subtexts.

There's a band that's often been compared to Stereolab. The comparison has always, to my mind, been rather unjust, and I've often protested it. However, track 7 on their new album sounds pretty much exactly like Stereolab for its first 30 seconds or so, until the vocals come in. Ah, well. (As for who I'm talking about -- well, if track 7 clocks in at 3:27 or so, we're on the same page.)

(Comments for December 6, 2001)


current reading:

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

just finished:

The Moon and Sixpence (on tape), W. Somerset Maugham, read by Robert Hardy

Tom Brown's Schooldays (on tape, abridged), Thomas Hughes, read by Rowan Atkinson

Mumu (and Kassyan of Fair Springs), Ivan Turgenev, trans. unknown


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