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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17 Sep '01 11:48:01 PM

One way to approach Talk Talk's Laughing Stock is to think about what a peculiar fusion of 'rock' music and 'beautiful' music it is: it's made of stuff that isn't typically thought of as beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, yet it is apparently very much so. It's also a lot more rhythmic than most 'beautiful' music - the rhythms are more vital, more sensual, more embodied. Compare the loping beat of "After the Flood" or the strummed guitar on "Taphead" to one of the most popular examples of 'beautiful' pop music - Pet Sounds. There the rhythms sound like stilted, retarded gamboling. No below-the-waist to them at all.

Cf. also the bass to "After the Flood" - I'm sure that there are some people somewhere who would think that big fat pulses of low-end like that disrupt the beauty of the song. (They're wrong.)

16 Sep '01 10:24:22 AM

So you may have been wondering why I haven't written anything about the terrorist attacks of last week - in fact, not only have I not written anything about them, but I have been writing about other things with no reference whatsoever to the terrorist attacks.

This is not for want of thinking about them. I've been thinking about them since catching word of them Tuesday morning on my way in to my office. How do I feel about them? I don't know. I'm not feeling very much. I don't mean that to sound callous, but I'm just not. It's not a numbness of grief. I don't have much personal connection to the event, and as far as I know, everyone I know who may have been in immediate danger (including Mike, who worked in one of the towers) ended up safe. Some friends and acquaintances of mine weren't so lucky. I find some of their accounts of their grief and the mess of emotions they're experiencing moving - very moving. But a lot of it, especially what I get from the media, just doesn't affect me much. I'm never happy about loss of life or tragedies incurred by others, but the impersonality of the recent attacks is apparently not enough to make them seem any more astounding or comprehensible than similar tragedies that we hear about all the time without so much as batting an eye. I'm sorry that so many died, and I hope that the recovery efforts proceed as well as is possible, but that's not where my mind is, for the most part.

The most frequently recurring things I'm experiencing are nervousness, about the forthcoming reaction from the U.S., and a particular sense of moral wrongness and disgust, when I listen to the plans for that reaction, their justification, and the rhetoric they are inevitably couched in. I do not want a war. I do not want us to start killing innocent people. I do not want "my" country to use this as an excuse to continue exercising its greater economic, political, and military power however it pleases. I do not want "my" country to act as if obliterating n "A-rab camelfuckers", most innocent, will be sufficient to ensure the safety of the nation and its citizens from terrorism. I do not want "my" country to act as if its prior political committments and interventions play no role in its future. But at the moment it looks like America is "united" and won't have any of this kind of talk.

So that's what I'm thinking about. I am checking in with the news periodically (but not too periodically, ugh), talking to friends when I can, and trying to educate myself about for example conflict in the Middle East. And biding my time nervously, keeping busy with my new life as I go.

Ethel the Blog has been good reading recently, and probably before that, but I just tuned in.

What about music? The usual stuff basically - some of what you see here, some old favorites, some things I neglect to mention. Jay-Z is in high repetition. Today I have been listening to the Mekons' Journey to the End of the Night upon Sterling's mention of it on ILM. I've found it well-suited to the sort of mood I would like to cultivate.

I tried some "sad" music just to see... you know. It's just like anything else - I can make myself a lot sadder if I focus in on it, in a sort of special way. But that's not what I want. I can make myself sad about a number of things that make me sad, but haven't for a while, if I push myself. It's different when it just comes.

14 Sep '01 08:28:41 AM

Some brief and scattered thoughts on the new Jay-Z album, The Blueprint.

Things about the first listen through: seemed a lot more rhythmically plodding than I have been used to from the rap I've been listening to. I had heard about the Nas verse on "Takeover" before hearing it, but wasn't really aware that's what I was listening to until quite a way through it, when I thought, shit, he's being so casually, offhandedly viscious here. From then on and on later listens I caught a lot more of the lyrics, and the big fat Doors bassline made much better sense rhythmically (as someone on ILM said, the whole thing just feels totally relentless). Some later songs - predictably the Timbaland-produced "Hola' Hovito" - have less drab beats. In fact that one feels so much more vital that it underscores why Timbaland is of such value to the whole scene. The Eminem verses on "Renagade" surprised me. His intonation is a lot less spastic, except when he begins to employ a more spastic one to complement his lyrics later on. In fact, that's not enough - I should say that it's for the most part surprisingly smooth. The lyrics, too, are great. In an apparently much more adept way than in whichever song from his last album where he begged off responsiblity for perverting the souls of innocent children, he lays out a pretty convincing position (well, as far as pop song lyrics are concerned) wrt his effect on his listeners. If I get around to it I'll put up the lyrics and giggle over them in glee, as they touch on a lot of the basic points that come up in arguments about the intersection between ethics and aesthetics.

Aside from just now when I switched to Spring Heel Jack, I've been listening to The Blueprint all night, and it's been coming along nicely. I still think the beats are for the most part very straightforward - sometimes I'm not sure if they move me below the waist at all, to put it in Tom's words. But then I keep finding my ass moving a little more - and besides that, finding that the beats suit the emotional and lyrical tenor of the album well. I can see why Jay is highly regarded as an MC. It's an odd kind of flow for me, though, because it's so regular and uniform. There are rappers that sound to me as if they have similar sorts of monotones (and Jay doesn't, quite, but it sounds kind of like it to me), but often they're either taking advantage of that monotone for some more grating purpose (than Jay's, I mean, since on this album at least I think you might be able to link his tone to the content and style pretty well) or they're just bad. Clearly, though, Jay is an excellent MC, which means that it's something else (cf., oh yes, Danto on the "style matrix" and adding rows to it, though I didn't say much about it there (yet) so you'd really have to read the article to get it at the moment - I hope to add more later).

Eminem produced "Renagade" too - and the production is quite nice.

I even like the tracks that are a lot more soul and R & B influenced (partly maybe because they not just sample old tunes but build the rest of the track to sound like old soul tunes), though I don't really feel like the "even" is appropriate anymore. Maybe if I bought a Britney CD, or some Carpenters or something, it could be. But perhaps not even then, I suspect. I don't mean that the "even" is inappropriate because I think I just like anything, or that I would necessarily like a Britney CD. But my reactions to music that in the past I've deliberately or semi-deliberately avoided no longer surprise me, as in "I can't believe I actually like this." They haven't for a while, for the most part - this is just a moment of clarity. And what it means, maybe, is just that I'm being honest with myself.

More to come, I hope, as long as I can get myself to write some things down before they become too comfortable and I can't be bothered to write them. But I think I'll be listening to this album a lot.

12 Sep '01 09:14:32 PM

So let's say Autechre make process music. Is it any different in the way that it is process music, from other people's process music?

12 Sep '01 07:01:40 PM

Arthur Danto on the artworld.

12 Sep '01 07:45:02 AM

Musically, I'm stuck in a rut. It's a comfortable rut. When the headphones are on I don't want out. When I'm picking music from my traveling case I can't decide: I try to get myself to pick something less familiar, or something that I haven't heard in a while, that I put in the case in order to try breaking out of my rut. But then I'm indecisive and eventually cave in and just pick something I've been listening to non-stop lately anyway, like the Beta Band, or The Hot Rock or Crescent. The same indecisiveness plagues my attempts to start fresh and pick 24 new discs to carry around on my back all day: when I try to reload my traveling case I lose the will to hunt for CDs, and what's worse I can't bring myself to evict any of the ones already in the case, even the ones that I am consistently avoiding listening to.

I've had some new CDs recently, and even some ones I was very interested in, ones that I want to hear a lot more of like Spring Heel Jack or Einsturzende Neubauten or Fela Kuti. But even though they sound good when I play them, they make me tired. I don't want to do that right now. I don't want to try. I am trying at lots of other things. I am waking up early, at almost the same time every day. I am digging in for my new classes. I am meeting an apparently neverending stream of people. I am trying not to let "mundane" life details overwhelm me while I try to be a good Ph.D. student. So it's not just the work of writing about what I listen to that my self is rejecting (like a body rejects a new spleen, or a drug treatment: it's involuntary, impersonal); it's the work, internally, of responding to what I listen to - negotiating it, letting myself be taken in by it, tested by it. Instead I'm falling back mostly on records that I love and know I will feel comforted by. I'm finding plenty of tiny details about them to appreciate, but it feels like a more personal kind of appreciation. There are parts on the new Beta Band record (which if you hadn't figured it out, is far and away my most favorite record of the year so far, and I don't see how it could fail to hold that place for the remainder of the year and beyond... and it's kind of nice, having something stand out so definitely) that, when I notice them (and it's often, even though I've heard them before, the kind of 'notice' like 'oh! where did that come from?'), seem like they're private to my listening experience. Of course the sounds are there on the record, for anyone to hear, but when I catch them like that, especially for this record, it seems like I'm the only one who could hear them. The headphones matter a lot I think.

10 Sep '01 07:52:18 AM

Suggestion from prof in class on Friday re Weitz article, from some dude's response which I still have to look up: Weitz makes 'art' out to be an open concept based only on things perceivable in the works of 'art' themselves, so that he may be wrong if what makes a piece of art 'art' is external to the work. Will be more on this later, but for now, a question: if I can't tell whether or not it's a work of 'art' from just listening to it, what good does knowing do for me?

10 Sep '01 07:47:50 AM

At the moment I don't even like any of the songs on it better than my favorites on Things We Lost in the Fire, but it seems as if on their EP with Spring Heel Jack, Low tried something that pointed at another direction for them - one similar enough to what they seem to be trying on the new album that perhaps it could've served that purpose instead, and different enough that it doesn't just come off as a slackening toward mainstream prettiness. (Certainly, the "cinematic" soundscapeyness of the SHJ songs isn't all that unprecedented - and they're probably "pretty" in their own stereotypical way - but at least the discontinuity with their past makes me think they need not have completed what we now have, a history of the band that sees them "adding elements to their sound," "maturing," "infusing their icy Duluth slowcore with more human warmth," u.s.w. with more critical blahblah.)

7 Sep '01 06:41:15 PM

A sumary of the argument in Morris Weitz's article, "The Role of Theory on Esthetics". Anyone who has ever had to defend the idea that both Bach and the Beatles, or the Beatles and Public Enemy, or Cage and Radiohead (etc. etc. etc.) are music will appreciate the article, I think.