Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
I wonder if this reveals anything.
THE SCENE: midnight at a record store on new-release Tuesday.
CLERK (to white guy): The new Pearl Jam?
WHITE GUY: Yep.
CLERK (to black guy): Jay-Z?
BLACK GUY: Yeah.
CLERK (to me): What can I do for you?
Lately it's been no lightning flashes and no thunder. More like a constant crackle of static electricity. By itself this is frustrating. I constantly find myself thinking, if only I had the time to... or if only I could.... But this is probably a mistake, anyway. Most things I'm interested in aren't announced with meteorological activity of any sort.
"I can't help falling in love" should be somewhere in here, probably with "fooled into love". What a strange idea, that we can't help falling in love. Well, not strange because it's foreign. It's painfully familiar. (I cannot emphasize that "painfully" enough at the moment.) But the relationship to any "should" that might have a bearing on a relationship is obscure to me, and that relationship to a "should" is, I suspect, what makes the idea strange.
("I can't help falling in love": its being inexorable, ineluctable is part of the pleasure, part of the joy, something to be appreciated.)
("I can't help falling in love": it's not my fault; implicit recognition that there's something wrong with it, or something that might go wrong.)
(This applies to records too, as if that were more important.)
I found the text below sitting around somewhere. It must be from before this day, sometime in the summer. I probably never posted it here because I wanted to keep going with it, but I've since forgotten what I wanted to say. It looks like it was going to have something to do with how, even though Secondhand Sounds was the first record I heard to sound more like my mental picture of this kind of music, it leaves a lot of the possibilities I refer to unrealized. (Also, it turns out I was right in the first paragraph, but with a caveat: I love the second disc, and while the first seems good to me, it sometimes makes me feel like I'm listening to anonymous mid-90s female-voiced "electronica" (probably because of the basslines, somehow, the way they mix with the singers), which I don't like feeling as much.
I'm so, so happy that I ran across Herbert's Secondhand Sounds while in Madison last weekend. I can already tell that it will be one of my favorite records of the year, come December. This is, outside of buying a new album that I am basically fated to love, one of the most viscerally exciting things I can think of about hearing a new record.
I still have, really, very little exposure to dance music. So in some sense I'm probably poorly qualified to appreciate what a good record this is. But with the records I have heard and come to love, I've basically beem primed for this one - it's the kind of thing I've been waiting for since I started hearing about clicks, glitch, microhouse, anything with those kinds of affinities.
I am sure I must've gotten this idea from reading something somewhere before ever hearing a single such record, but the very idea that manipulation of rhythms and sounds on such a precise scale will be a major constituent of a style of music makes me excited for the possibilities for syncopation, polyrhythms, time manipulation, uh... lots of things. It's hard to articulate the good things I thought I would be able to hear before I heard them, because the kind of made-up music I occasionally hear in my head is always much better in an ideal sense than music I can talk about, if fatally flawed for being the kind of fuzzy mental image that I can never make resolve convincingly.
Anyway. This is the first record of the admittedly few of this sort I've heard that sounds like it does the sort of thing I expected. Oval - too floaty and post-everything. Matmos - too IDMy. Kompakt Total 3 - wonderful but not enough clicking glitching etc. Prefuse 73 (which Ethan tells me Scott Herren pronounces like the word for garbage, but I guess either way he gets the double reference at the expense of mispronouncing the other word) - too pretty. And above all too slow. I have something specific and probably a bit different from 'slow' in mind, though.
A while back I mentioned that I had been thinking about a question - what is there in a recording of improvisation to hear as improvisation? Actually, I don't remember saying "recording" - I think I just added that in. The question stands for either live or recorded improvisation, though. ("Recording" doesn't make this any more of a problem, that is, because it's no less of a problem when you've got the improvisers right in front of you: it's not like they just make mistakes or something live, and that's the distinguishing feature.)
I must have been listening to Monk when I wrote the question down. In the Rouse-Riley-other guy group especially (more than earlier groups of Monk's), the solos often become chains of variations on the melody played in the head of the song. But there's always something about them that I have trouble putting my finger on. They always sound fresh - even though I can tell the original melody is back there somehow, sort of ghostlike, each phrase sounds new or different, its own thing, so that there's a tension between sounding distinct and sounding like a variation. It's a sensation similar to listening to Bach's Musical Offering, but there it feels more like there were just a bunch of elements in the source material (a voice in a canon, usually) that have been manipulated in some methodical, principled way that I may not be aware of but which I could be if I wanted to. In contrast, this thing with later Monk (and I mean mostly Monk's solos and Rouse's solos, but it also happens in the piano comping and the bass solos) always feels more creatio ex nihilo, every time - even though I know there are a number of techniques involved in improvisation that amount to recomposing on the spot with the aid of some compositional principles, though that may not be the most accurate way to describe the actual practice.
I have some kind of suspicion that a big part of the answer to my question looks like this: you can tell it's improvisation when there's some kind of structure which is not closed (that's a verb) or completed or etc, followed through on somehow. Putting it like this leaves the matter of what structure or how closed open: that means the structure does not have to be very interesting or complicated, and the degree of openness can vary a lot. In some music this seems to result in a kind of slackness, laziness almost - maybe it's a good reason why, say, Phish songs were always sort of limp, especially on record where the actual process of fucking around with the structure is not apparent since the songs seem otherwise to be like other rock songs. But for other kinds of music - bebop for example - the structure places lots of restrictions on the possibilities, on what the musicians can do and still sound "right", have things resolve in something conforming or rewarding expectations, pleasing ways. In these cases, signs of improvisation don't need to be as blatant as those in a jam band performance (extremely slack structure or perilously observed deference or attention to it; excessively repetitive parts, by which I mean both in terms of numerical repetition, and implicit repetition due to relative lack of change in the harmonic rhythmic melodic etc. qualities of the music).
That's so vague that I don't know how much work I can do right now to make it more definite. But, here: I bought Ready to Die the other day and I was pleased by how improvisational Big's verses often sound. Maybe they were freestyled, I don't know. If not there are still interesting things that bear on questions about improvisation there, and in rap in general, which probably because of its historical sources still often has qualities that are at least similar to improvisation, even when every single word in a rap was written before recording, and the recording was manipulated and produced endlessly. Here's one: the freeform structure of the rhymes, against a relatively unchanging background beat and music. By "freeform" I mean the way that a rhyme gets picked up, and made for any number of lines, then dropped for another rhyme. Something about this form means that the rhymes can be "dumber" or more "obvious", that they can hit harder, be more intensely felt. "Dumber" and "obvious" only sound like terms of disapproval given the picture in which the words and rhymes are written at leisure, with time for careful consideration, hunting for rhymes that are new and surprising. But with the same picture, this kind of freeform-but-tight lyrical structure can be not a sign of inability to rhyme, but an indication that the rhymes are more spontaneous - or an injunction to treat them as if they were, for affective purposes.
Now transfer that line of thinking to jazz.
(It can even be transferred to rock, where the threat to structure does not seem as apparent, but where it is often put in a certain light by the recording-as-transparent-window-onto-performance trick.)
Note for later: the voice of a child.
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says, "Go over," he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something that he cannot designate more precisely either, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.
Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares.
Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
The first said: you have won.
The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.
- Franz Kafka, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir