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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26 Sep '01 06:21:10 AM

Tim offers as always some interesting thoughts on jungle, but he does say one thing I want to take issue with: "... reaching for the isolationist spirit (if not necessarily the specific sounds) of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock at the beginning of the seventies."

I think both the music and the notes (with lots of comments from Herbie circa the early seventies) on Herbie's Warner Brothers albums speak to the contrary. I'm not sure if the notes are completely consistent - you might be able to poke a hole in what Herbie says if you try - but they paint the picture of a music focused on group interaction, a communal sort of thing. He also talks about how at the time he thought music was supposed to "make you high, to give you an experience so that you can transport yourself from wherever you are and that whole physical contact with the world so that you can gain a little more consciousness - inner consciousness. ... [My new music] is set up to make you high." And at the end he says "I'd go to friends' homes and see my albums on the shelves with lots of other people's records, and they'd play all the others except mine. My intention at the time was to play music to be listened to with undivided attention; but how many people have the time to approach music that way? Before, I was so interested in spirituality that I didn't recognize that a person puts on a record with his hands and not his spirit." (This was meant to explain the shift from the Mwandishi-era material to the Headhunters-era material.)

So the reason you could maybe poke a hole in this is clear: the spiritual high that he talks about sounds awfully personal, awfully isolated from other people. But I think that's a pretty literal reading. He doesn't say so explicitly but the impression I get from his stated preference at the time for a group-dominated (rather than individual, or soloist-dominated) dynamic is that music as a spiritual experience was supposed to bring people together - maybe because of the greater consciousness attained, even if it is individual consciousness, even if the music transports you from "physical contact with the world."

I think the Mwandishi-era music bears this out quite well, even aside from the added interpretation the liner notes give. Yes, the music (including that on Sextant, though it's on Columbia) is strange and otherworldly, so perhaps in one sense it's isolationist in spirit. Appreciating music like that might require you to sort of disengage yourself from the "normal" world that everyone else is involved in, figuratively (and musically!) speaking. But once that jump is made, the music is so much group-driven music, music where everyone is listening to and responding to everyone else, that it's exactly the opposite of isolationist.

I suspect a similar case, based on the music, can be made for a lot of electric Miles as well. But it would work differently. (The word "separatist" rather than "isolationist" might turn out to be useful.)

26 Sep '01 05:49:51 AM

Mark wrote in asking me about what the hell I was talking about the other day, regarding the Coltrane album with Johnny Hartman. He also wanted to know if I liked it, since I didn't actually say. Here's what I said:

I've only heard it four or five times (it's short!) but I like it quite a bit.

I guess what I meant had something to do with appropriateness. You know how some music, when you play it, just seems to be perfectly suited to be on, in that place, at that time, with the people listening who are listening, or doing whatever? You could take some Baroque chamber music as an example, have it playing at a posh reception (only there might be a problem with it like I pointed out, namely that the people holding the reception would be playing Bach because they have high opinions of their culturedness and think that's what they should be playing). Or, say, a good 'party joint' as the kids call it, playing at a college party with the right crowd. Not only could that be perfectly appropriate, but playing 'Ascension' or Renaissance village-idiot music or whatever would NOT be appropriate. So, with that in mind: it seems like this Coltrane album is so special, so out of the course of most people's lives, that no one could ever play it and have it be appropriate in this sense, because it would always present a kind of ideal world with sophisticated lovers in it that would be incongruous with the one the listeners are actually in.

Does that make sense?

26 Sep '01 05:44:12 AM

Two articles [1, 2] on 'chills' from music and the neurophysiology behind them. Thanks for the links, Geegaw!

24 Sep '01 06:50:22 AM

I listened to the first Soul Coughing album on the bus today and though I knew they were all there, hearing a lot of the lyrical elements in sequence took on new eerieness: the plane flying into the Chrysler building, "schools he bombs he bombs", the NOI references, "you get the ankles/and I'll get the wrists", and others.

24 Sep '01 06:46:30 AM

The Charm of the Highway Strip feels reassuringly quaint at first.

24 Sep '01 06:44:50 AM

John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman: is there actually anyone in the world who is currently truly elegant enough - not just putting up a front of elegance, surrounding themselves with it, because that's what their social station sets them to do - to play this and not have it or the world it reflects (projects?) seem optimistically imaginary?

22 Sep '01 10:17:53 PM

Whenever I listen to drum-n-bass I seem to be disappointed by how unarchitectonic it is. Why does Bitches Brew always sound a million times better in that respect?

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.