Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

October 18, 2003 (link)

9:13 PM

Written on a piece of paper I turned up tonight in my apartment:

Bohren & der Club of Gore = "Godspeed You Private Detective!"

All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors = "My Bloody Clementine"

Got any others? There's gotta be one to make about the 5uu's vis-à-vis Yes/Jon Anderson, but I can't come up with it.

(NB: I quite like both Bohren and the Flavors.)

(Comments for October 18, 2003)

October 15, 2003 (link)

4:59 PM

I found this passage, of which I'm rather fond, in -- of all places -- a GRE test preparation book:

[Virginia] Woolf's focus on society has not been generally recognized because of her intense antipathy to propaganda in art. The pictures of reformers in her novels are usually satiric or sharply critical. Even when Woolf is fundamentally sympathetic to their causes, she portrays people anxious to reform their society and possessed of a message or program as arrogant or dishonest, unaware of how their political ideas serve their own psychological needs.

Not that I'm hostile to activism; that'd be a misguided stance to take at best. But I do think that passage hits the nail on the head when it comes to a lot of activists I've known -- past and present, and of every possible political persuasion -- the enactment of whose activism seems largely to consist of the superimposition of their own psychological dramas upon the political stage. The key word in the above is "unaware"; it's precisely upon that -- upon the unarticulated needs, and the unconscious conflicts, to which one is held in thrall by anxiety and fear -- where the whole thing founders, and where Woolf's antipathy is justified. But give voice to those needs, understand and master those conflicts, and we have "where 'it' was, I shall be": a process that can help people to become enriching presences in the world, whether as activists or whatever else. It's not that we're not supposed to have needs and conflicts, but we, and the rest of the world, are certainly a lot better off when we can talk of them truthfully, and with insight.

Current music: Marvin Gaye - "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You"

(Comments for October 15, 2003) (5 comments so far)

October 12, 2003 (link)

12:57 PM

To my knowledge, only once in my life have I ever hallucinated, and I'm not even completely sure that I wasn't dreaming at the time. It was 6th or 7th grade, and I had been hit pretty hard by some sort of flu, one which put me in bed for a few days. I don't particularly remember the headaches, or the aching, or anything along those lines; I'm sure those symptoms were there, but they've long since been confabulated with other colds and flus I've had over the years. But I know that I was quite sick -- not dangerously so, but enough to make me feel like hell and disrupt my sleep -- and there are two things I remember vividly from the whole episode.

The first is the hallucination: I was lying in bed, almost definitely trying to sleep, and become aware of my mother passing by me. But her passing-by-me was distorted in a way that's difficult to explain: she was going both very slowly, as if in slow motion, and very quickly, like film that's been sped up. And there was an auditory hallucination too: as she passed, I kid you not, I heard the sound of an oncoming train. It sounds comic now, but it was something of a harrowing experience! I felt completely confused and dissociated, as well one might.

The other strong memory happened while I was awake late at night, completely unable to sleep, and feeling like hell. I remember reaching up to touch my hair or my scalp, and suddenly getting the oddest sensation in the tips of my fingers, one I found both bemusing and frightening. The closest thing I can liken it to is the feeling you get when you tent your fingers (à la Mr. Burns) and move your hands in and out, causing the tops of your palms to move towards each other. When I make that motion, the fulcrum points of my fingertips become oddly numb, although "numb" isn't quite the right word for it -- it's as though there's a barrier of sensation I can't break through, something muting my tactile sense in a strangely creepy (and oddly sublime) way. And it was incredibly disturbing that night, for some reason; if my hallucination made me feel as though I were losing control of my visual and auditory perception, then this made me afraid for my sense of touch -- which somehow made me feel more viscerally under attack than the hallucinations did: one threatened my mind, the other my body. It was almost as if I were in danger of floating away, of forgetting to breathe, of losing touch with my body completely (heh, "my hands felt just like two balloons" indeed). I remember trying to find something to hold onto that night, something that felt different under my fingers to give me a sense of stability, but I don't remember whether I found anything, or what it was.

What does all this have to do with music? Well, a few things, all of which sparked something of a web of association for me the other day. I was thinking about a song I'd written recently, one that struck me as having a few interesting ideas, but ultimately didn't quite work. So I started playing around with it mentally, trying to change different things about it in an effort to make it work, and one of the things I tried was speeding it up by something like 50%, taking it from a fairly moderate speed to an almost comically quick one.

But when I imagined it, something about it creeped me out in an oddly familiar way -- and I realized that it was evoking in me a sensation much like the one I got when I hallucinated that my mother was a fast/slow train. When I thought about it, I remembered another experience that gave me that feeling: playing emulated video games with the speed cranked way up. I'm sure that sounds ridiculous in a dozen different ways, but it's true: playing, say, Robotron: 2084 at 300% speed is amusing for about 30 seconds, but if I keep going past that, it suddenly becomes intensely unsettling, even frightening, as though the fundamental rhythms of my perception and my time-experience are being thrown off in a way that's dangerous to me, psychologically or even biologically. Never having made any real headway in feeling the effects of substances other than alcohol, I have very little sense of the time-distorting effects reputed to happen under the influence of other drugs -- but if it's anything like that feeling, I'm not inclined to seek the experience out.

And then I found myself thinking of another, very different experience. When I was a teaching intern after college, my friend Mike K. wrote a quartet for flute, cello, electric bass, and percussion. It might be a stretch to say the bass part was written for me, but we worked together a fair amount on the part, getting it to be as, um, "bassistic" as possible, and I was the player he had in mind when he wrote the piece. It was a nice composition, full of interesting ideas and surprising twists, and had some real challenges in the bass part -- lots of fast notes in one section, and in another, some intriguing and tricky rhythmic figures I was gratified to be able to play with relative ease:

An excerpt from Mike K.'s quartet.  The rhythmic figure is an eighth-note triplet, followed by a quintuplet, followed by an eighth-note triplet, all in one bar of 4/4.

When you play an amplified instrument in conjunction with acoustic instruments, you obviously have to be very mindful of your volume level, since even the most sympathetic listener is likely to be expecting balance problems. Plus, you have the problem that, while the other instrumentalists are playing a sound source that comes from right next to their body, giving them a visceral experience of their own tone production, your instrument (in the case of electric bass, anyway) mainly comes at you from a distance, which makes it even trickier to keep things where they ought to be. So when we practiced and performed the quartet, I turned way down, and things blended fine as far as I could tell.

At one particular rehearsal, though, something strange happened to me. Perhaps it was that I had turned down too far, or perhaps it was that we were playing unusually quietly -- I'm not sure. But in the middle of one of the quiet passages -- perhaps even right after my initial entrance, which was pianissimo -- I suddenly felt a profound sense of dissociation, as though the connection between myself ("my self") and my instrument had been severed or numbed. The right notes were still coming out, but they felt infinitely far away, and my body felt strange and muted -- my fingertips, in particular, felt very much like they did on that night all those years ago. I suddenly felt a tremendous sense of anxiety, as though I were about to faint, as though I were about to stop breathing or to have the air taken from my lungs -- most of all, as if I were about to drift away, upward and outward, into nothingness, like a balloon being let go...

But, of course, I didn't drift away: somehow I fought my way through it, and I finished the rehearsal without any problems. For a few weeks thereafter, though, I was plagued by hints of the sensation -- mostly when I was playing the piece (naturally enough!) but occasionally at other times too. I suspect it stuck with me because I didn't, and still don't, understand what it was that I was feeling. Had I gone with the feeling, rather than willed myself past it, what would have happened? Would I have passed out? Would I have succumbed to some sort of damaging effect -- the semi-mythical "negative vibration" -- that might've thrown off the rhythm of my heart, or of my brain waves? Or would I have just felt light-headed, and then felt normal again? I'm not sure, though from what I understand, people who are prone to fainting can often keep it at bay by consciously fighting the sensation off. I've never fainted to my knowledge, but I've certainly felt light-headed, and at times I've felt something in that light-headedness to which I could give in. Thus far, I've always chosen to fight it off: wisely, I think.

Finally, on a totally different note, a spam sent to me recently ended with the following oddly attractive phrase:

"the month as i was among the exiles by the river chebar the heavens were so that the treasure"

It turns out to be an amalgam of lines from the books of Ezekiel and Haggai. The combination is appealing if nonsensical, though the part I probably like best -- "as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar" -- appears wholesale in Ezekiel.

Current music: Sleepbot, now playing "Lost in the Humming Air" from Budd and Eno's The Pearl

(OK, this is the fourth track from The Pearl I've heard in the last 12 hours or so, and on two different online radio stations...! I know it's a watershed album of sorts, but four times in 12 hours? Is the cosmos trying to tell me I need to buy some Eno?)

(Comments for October 12, 2003)


Current reading:

Platform, Michel Houellebecq

Just finished:

Euripides I, ed. Richmond Lattimore and David Grene


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