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 Feb '02 07:28:10 AM

This afternoon I did a little music writing, but not any I can share since I shipped it off in a letter. It feels kind of special for that, though. Nice to write, too - just a blank piece of paper, noting down my impressions, bright blue ink.

25 Feb '02 05:56:51 PM

Does Flavor Flav keep rhyming "bass" with "face" ("bass for your face, London!") just because they rhyme? Because, well, the face... why is the bass for your face instead of something else?

25 Feb '02 05:55:00 PM

On a poorly stocked jukebox last night, I chose:

The Commodores - "Brick House", B.B. King - "How Blues Can You Get", Peggy Lee - "Fever", House of Pain - "Jump Around", Smashing Pumpkins - "Silverfuck".

But it didn't play the Commodores and instead of "Silverfuck" (oh excuse me "Silverf*ck", it was the censored liner notes version) I got "Spaceboy". Doh.

25 Feb '02 05:52:43 PM

It Takes a Nation of Millions is really pretty tuneful.

25 Feb '02 07:48:31 AM

And what this means, I guess I should say, is that if I want to be better acquainted with some of the classical music I've been listening to I should listen to it less like I usually do and more like this: play one composition, listen carefully while not doing anything else, stop and give time to think, or maybe repeat. This annoys me because it's in accord with the stereotype that one has to listen a privileged way to classical music in order to really get it. But given the time I spend and the things I discuss below, I don't really think I'm conceding much (who am I fighting anyway?). And when I think about it, I listen to a lot of things where I may have some memory of their feel, or where that might feel very familiar once I listen, but which are hard to remember in their own ways because they're de-centered, less developmental, or whatever. A similar injunction to listen more carefully to those might apply if I wanted the same things out of them.

25 Feb '02 07:31:12 AM

Why doesn't classical music stick in my head until I've heard it a lot more than other kinds of music? This has been puzzling me off and on but I think a few things contribute to my impression being a little mistaken.

One big thing is that most of the classical that I listen to (and I don't spend much time listening to it now) has some significant degree of sameyness, either because of the music itself or the format in which I listen to it.

The latter has an obvious effect. Lots of the things I listen to come multiple compositions to a disc because they're short, or because I prefer to buy "complete" collections of whatever. I'm thinking of Chopin's nocturnes, or Mozart's wind music or piano sonatas (even with the piano music, there might be three or more compositions per disc, which is enough to make them run together, especially given the next reason).

More importantly, I've gravitated toward compositions that are just more samey sounding, because of their forms. What have I listened to most in the past few years? Piano sonatas, string quartets, nocturnes, sonfoniettas, canons, fugues... For one thing, lots of small group music. Solo music or string quartet music can sound samey because the timbres of all the voices are so similar (groups like the Budapest String Quartet make it their ideal to sound like one instrument, and I suppose that's not totally unique to them). Music like Bach's "Musical Offering", which is one of my favorites, puts the focus almost totally on counterpoint, and a restricted kind of counterpoint at that, where much of the material is sonically similar to the basic material. Less rigid small group music probably still has to devote more attention to counterpoint than, say, a symphony. Also, a lot of the forms for smaller groups are just tighter - they involve more self-similarity because of the way the material is reworked throughout the form (I'm thinking here of the way the theme is returned to in sonata form). I guess you could argue that that should make it easier to remember the music, but we're not talking about strict repetition - instead it's a kind that smooths things out and makes them harder to distinguish offhandedly, which is kind of how I tend to listen to lots of things. And thinking again of the comparison to a symphony or other large group work - even in a mixed ensemble, a small group tends to be less diverse in terms of sounds than a large one like an orchestra, just because of the greater number of instruments and ways of combining them. (Besides just the combinatorial ways, there's also the fact that a massed group of the same instrument can have more power to it, as far as memory goes. Groups like that are used often to write more memorable melodies, too, exactly because of the power.)

Part of the reason I had these thoughts is that I used to listen to a lot more symphonies, when I was starting to learn more about classical music at the beginning of college. One of my side motivations was learning about things that were considered important for quizbowl, which mostly means symphonies of the canonical composers and then some other stuff (they tend to be easier to ask questions about, for one thing). And I realized tonight that aside from the fact that I haven't listened much to those symphonies in quite a while (even though some were among my favorite pieces of music, like Mendelssohn's "Scottish" or Mahler's Fifth), I remembered at least parts of them much better than I seem to remember lots of the music I listen to now, allowing for the differences in attentiveness and time spent listening. And I think the reasons above go quite a ways toward explaining why.

Related things that may be significant: I have a harder time remembering solo jazz music like Dave Holland's Emerald Tears album than I do group jazz. (The difference in content breaks this distinction down some though - though I have a harder time remembering say solo jazz piano than piano trio jazz, the solo is still easier than solo classical. Of course the solo jazz I listen to most is Monk, and with his compositions and soloing methods things are sort of different anyway - though notably it's easy to be confused about which of his compositions I'm hearing even if I know what's coming up.) And as for the sameness that comes from listening to lots of music in the same form, maybe Miles and Coltrane provide good examples for me to think about, because the problem of separating out individual songs in styles that I listen to a lot of may be similar to the problem in classical.

24 Feb '02 09:56:10 PM

So I put on Soundgarden's Superunknown, and I was sitting there enjoying myself, and "Drown Me" ended, and I had the usual remembering-how-the-next-song-starts-before-it-starts thing, only it was for the wrong song. I don't think it was even a song on this album - probably something off Badmotorfinger, though I can't remember what (starts "I wish to wish I dream to dream"...). How exactly did that happen, hmm?

24 Feb '02 09:46:41 PM

Awesome.

24 Feb '02 10:29:49 AM

Listening tonight: Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company by the Shipping News, Rusty by Rodan, Dmitri Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, and a disc from Miles' In a Silent Way box.

Topics considered tonight: my inability to understand math rock as a genre, the tendency for new classical music to not 'stick' with me despite supposedly being plenty receptive (I should think).

Progress made: nil.