josh blog

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.

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12 Sep '02 04:53:11 AM

Most striking thing in my life today, on the anniversary: the unexpectedness and brevity of my confusion, crossing I-94 on the bus and seeing the sky not charred black or horror-movie red, but plain old late summer midmorning bright.

Most emotional thing in my life today: later on the bus, the lyrics in the middle of the Magnetic Fields' "Meaningless": "and if you feel like keeping on kicking feel free". This was not an unusual reaction; there was no connection to the anniversary.

11 Sep '02 08:32:12 AM

Yo La Tengo, "We're an American Band"

There's something characteristic about a number of guitar solos that go on for a while, but I never hear that here. Maybe because it mesmerizes me, so that once it turns into a squall, I'm surprised. And the squall sounds unpredictable (still), otherworldly (still). There are so many beautiful things that make me cry now that it's probably not worth my time to enumerate them. But this is still one of the worst (best).

(I told myself I should write more about this album, since I hardly ever do for how much I like it. But this is all I came up with, at least that I'll show you now.)

11 Sep '02 08:30:11 AM

I had still never really gotten any Wire albums to sit totally well with me, even if I liked spots, until today when I put on Chairs Missing because Geeta mentioned it. I haven't really been putting any work into the album, so the change surprised me a little. I was captivated, amazed, enthralled, excited, others for the entire time. I have to listen more now so that I can say something about it.

11 Sep '02 08:26:57 AM

Strong memories of place I associate with CDs currently in my carrying case (I'm leaving out recently acquired ones, where the places are always 'walking down the street' or 'the living room' or something like that):

The Sea and Cake, The Fawn - The first thing I think of is Lisa, because she's the one who introduced me to the band, but then I just remember places I talked to Lisa, like the studio or a restaurant, and those memories themselves aren't strong for me.

Eminem, The Eminem Show - Not the album, but the single, on the radio, me tangled in my covers in bed.

Mobb Deep, The Infamous - I've had this record for long enough to form more than the sorts of associations I ruled out above, but I don't have any. So, walking to Seven Corners and back.

Tom Waits, Alice - My room, the living room. Doh.

Sonic Youth, Murray Street - The patio sort of area on the West Bank of the U of M campus, bright hot son.

De La Soul, De La Soul is Dead - The east end of the Washington Avenue bridge, north side, heading west, hands in pockets.

The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs, Vol. 2 - Walking south on Stange from Hawthorn Court in Ames, warm windy day.

The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs, Vol. 1 - My apartment on Stanton in Ames.

Mogwai, EP + 2 - Passing through Pearson Hall at night, "Small Children" on the headphones for the first time, startling me when it explodes.

Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children - My bed, in my apartment on Stanton in Ames.

The Dismemberment Plan, Is Terrified - Bed. Again.

Oh, I give up. They're all like that.

9 Sep '02 05:35:10 AM

More on that Rosen quote about the leading role of the string quartet. He makes what seems to me a very deep point just because it rests on such a simple fact:

"The string quartet -- four-voice polyphony in its clearest non-vocal state -- is the natural consequence of a musical langauge in which expression is entirely based on dissonance to a triad. When there are fewer than four voices, one of the non-dissonant voices simply must play two notes of the triad, either by a double stop or by moving quickly from one note to the other[.]"

9 Sep '02 04:46:58 AM

From the opening to the "String Quartet" chapter on Haydn, p. 111, in Charles Rosen's The Classical Style:

"Although some of the independent national styles -- French grand opera, for instance -- continued to exist and to develop in a direction not much affected by Viennese classicism, the supremacy of the Viennese style, or rather of Haydn and Mozart, is not just a modern judgment, but an historical fact, internationally acknowledged by 1790. As for Beethoven, in spite of difficulties in winning acceptance for his larger works, by 1815 even most of those musicians who did not like his music would have admitted that he was the greatest living composer: some of the admiration he won may have been unwilling, but it was uncontested (except of course, by the lunatic fringe that is the normal burden of the taste and criticism of any age)."

That last parenthetical remark there is astounding to me. But check this quote, p. 120: "The two principal sources of musical energy are dissonance and sequence -- the first because it demands resolution, the second because it implies continuation. The classical style immeasurably increased the power of dissonance, raising it from an unresolved interval to an unresolved chord and then to an unresolved key." Rosen is emphatic and consistent about relating the achievements of the architects of the classical style to what the composers did to bring out the particularities of the way the tonal system organized sound (p. 137: "[T]he leading role of the string quartet is not the accidental result of a handful of masterpieces: it is directly related to the nature of tonality, particularly to its development throughout the eighteenth century."). Just that fact, by itself, and the way that huge portions of the art music canon (works from the medieval, baroque, and classical era especially but maybe later for all I know) work with special constraints on the way music can be made, constraints that work in sort of rule-like ways - those seem like they play very fundamental roles in the way that despite internal disagreements the art music world can be in tight enough agreement for there to be a "lunatic fringe". Is someone who doesn't think say the Beatles were great (great what? would specifying change the answer?) part of a lunatic fringe? Well, the answer most people give would likely be yes, it seems, but with less certainty, I think. Less matter-of-factness. In part because the musical world that the Beatles are a part of runs under different rules (maybe in two hundred years it will be more conclusively pinned down what exactly they were doing and they can be great at that thing, and maybe then I won't care, but I thing I would still want to defend my right to reasonably say that they were not).

Yes that's right you should be thinking of Frank Kogan's Death Rock 2000 again. No tight rule-like constraints? No tight consensus of opinion, no lunatic fringe.

8 Sep '02 06:44:16 AM

I met my students' discussion sections (for "Philosophy and Cultural Diversity") for the first time on Thursday. As a way of finding out more about them, I asked them to write down (along with some other things) on index cards five records - not necessarily their favorite, but perhaps, or five they had heard recently, or that they had been enjoying, or five that they hated, whatever. When they introduced themselves to one another I had them say two of the records.

I haven't tallied them exactly or anything but I think Weezer was the most-mentioned band. This surprised me a little, just because the blue album, which came out when I was in high school, came up three times. The green album came up once and Pinkerton came up once (oh well). Maladroit did not. Ha.

I think Minneapolis hip-hop group Atmosphere came up the next most often, three times, but different records.

I had heard of almost everything. I have good reason to think that the records or bands I had not heard of were, most of the time, emo or hardcore.

8 Sep '02 04:03:01 AM

Another thing that happened to me (er well this may have happened before the site went down, but I never mentioned it): I dropped my copy of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, my favorite piece of philosophy, a key inspiration for this site, a book I refer to constantly, in the fucking toilet. It was not salvagable (ew).

This displeases me all out of proportion to how much I think it should because the publishers of the book are mercenaries and charge around $45 for either the dual-language or the English-only-translation editions, and I can't afford that at all right now. I haven't yet found a used copy (in fact, I bought mine used, otherwise I wouldn't even have had a copy yet). Aside from being the greatest thing ever, this does not appear to be a book that should be $45, in either edition. The demand for it should be much greater than for a number of books I see every time I go in a bookstore; other books by Wittgenstein are nowhere near as pricey, and except for maybe the Tractatus it seems unlikely that any of them are as popular.

There's a Wittgenstein course running here in the spring. Maybe I'll be able to get a used copy then through the campus bookstore. Until then I'll just grind my teeth every time I want to look up something like "Describe the aroma of coffee". Argh.

8 Sep '02 03:53:40 AM

One thing that happened to me while the site was down: my headphones broke. This is unspeakably terrible. Allow me to say more, then.

My headphones are Sony MDR-D33s. Er were. But that part hasn't changed, I guess. I paid a lot for them about six years ago - $90-$100, I think. There were surely better ways to spend money on headphones, but I didn't especially know or care at the time, and was delighted with these because they were the best-sounding headphones I'd ever had (or heard, being only marginally less cool than Damon's, which were the home version of mine, and so which had a slightly better bass response and er 'presence'). Everything sounded better on them, and when I tried other headphones (like my old pair of Sonys, which I must've bought sometime in high school, and which cost a lot less but still more than most people seemed to spend on headphones, which is why they still seemed somewhat expensive to me I suppose), everything sounded muddled.

Well, walking home last month from buying the new Sleater-Kinney album, the left channel suddenly cut out. I haven't yet tried (with my roommate's help) to repair them, but unless there's just a short in the external wire I don't know what I'd fix. I'm considering just getting some new headphones (better ones, like Grado SR80s, which would still be cheaper than my old ones, but I would have to try finding some Grados to try first), but besides the not knowing if mine can be fixed yet, I've also been deterred from spending the money for other reasons.

In the meantime I've been using the Philips Magnavox headphones that came with my portable CD player. I had never used them before - when I bought the CD player, I already had my good headphones in my bag and never even bothered to try the cheap ones. They sound terrible. Like having two transistor radios - really old cartoon style scratchy ones - strapped to my head. Everything sounds totally different, not just in the quality of sound (like all the bass I've lost, or the way I keep hearing what sound like the little bursts of noise approximating the sounds I should be hearing, instead of the fucking sounds), but the placement: the soundstage is totally deformed. This makes me not want to listen to a number of things. Some things end up sounding better than others, but it's hard to tell anyway as I've gotten accustomed to the poor sound. Aside from walking around or riding the bus, when I generally can't go without, this makes me elect not to use my headphones, more often than not. At times this means that I don't get to listen to what I want or how I want. I am not at all pleased.