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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21 Sep '01 05:26:28 PM

In my philosophy of music class we're reading Hanslick on representations of emotion in music. (Sorry, but those notes aren't that interesting at the moment.) Major mistake I find in his approach: he argues against emotional content but doesn't ever consider the basic cases. That is, there are plenty of songs that people seem to agree are happy or sad - meaning that there's some kind of intersubjective consensus where he claims there cannot be one.

But what about happy songs that make you sad, and vice versa? I don't think this is truly in conflict with the fact that the songs are still supposed to be 'happy' or 'sad'. Not sure how to explain it yet though.

21 Sep '01 07:48:02 AM

At times, rather than being delightfully uncomplicated, Mozart's piano sonatas are irritatingly simple. The left-hand lightness that inspires Keith Jarrett - chords dropped in, lightly underscoring, supporting quick, airy right-hand melodies - is here not bolstered by his rhythmic sense and more free-ranging melodic sensibility. Mozart begins to sound like an endless stream of massless high-key tinkling. There is no sense of embodiment - the music does not occupy the sound-space allowed it.

I will change my mind tomorrow. Or perhaps if K545 starts again before I go to bed.

19 Sep '01 05:56:57 PM

More notes from my principles of aesthetics course, this time on some unsatisfying (especially unsatisfying because they were low on content and also on things to write about despite the being low on content) papers about the "aesthetic attitude".

17 Sep '01 11:51:43 PM

I listened to the Mekons' Edge of the World again this afternoon and again liked the spoken-word thing and the sea shanty the most, which makes me think that I should look for an album of all sea shanties. But I would want them to be cool Mekons-style sea shanties, not dumb ones. Well, dumb is OK. Corny is not.

Yarrrr.

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.