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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7 Jan '03 11:14:23 AM

I haven't written much directly about it here, but I've been working on and off on a paper since last spring, trying to flesh out the "plateau" concept that Simon Reynolds (writing in Generation Ecstasy) casually lifts from Deleuze and Guattari. He doesn't use it much, but I think it has an obvious appeal and appropriateness for not just dance music but all kinds of other music. It also provides a nice angle onto a couple of his other borrowed toys.

One big problem in fleshing out the concept is that Deleuze and Guattari don't use it much themselves, and what they really think of it involves a lot of their other concepts that make a lot less sense (especially, pragmatico-stubbornly thinking, if you want to know what the use is of this stuff for music and criticism) - immannence, desiring machines or assemblages (of er some sort), the body without organs, and it goes on, I'm sure.

This is part of why the quote below from Rodowick excites me. Some other things that Rodowick goes on to say in subsequent chapters make the time-image sound kind of like what Deleuze and Guattari say about plateaus, and it's the most concrete example of some of the things I think (?) plateaus have to offer as far as a concept for thinking about music goes.

Here is one of the relevant mentions of "plateau" from the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus (p. 21): "A plateau is always in the middle, not at the beginning or the end. A rhizome is made of plateaus. Gregory Bateson uses the word "plateau" to designate something very special: a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end. Bateson cites Balinese culture as an example: mother-child sexual games, and even quarrels among men, undergo this bizarre intensive stabilization. "Some sort of continuing plateau of intensity is substituted for [sexual] climax," war, or a culmination point. It is a regrettable characteristic of the Western mind to relate expressions and actions to exterior or transcendent ends, instead of evaluating them on a plane of consistency on the basis of their intrinsic value." They say something similar on p. 158 in a discussion of the body without organs, where they also say that "A plateau is a piece of immanence. Every BwO is made up of plateaus."

The thing that excites me most about the quote below is that Rodowick makes it sound like Deleuze gives some actual psychological characterization of one of his concepts, which he seems to me to do rarely. I don't have the books on cinema so I don't know if Deleuze really does do this or if it's Rodowick's reading, but either way that psychological gloss - "an increased sensitivity to time" meaning that "the interval suspends the spectator in a state of uncertainty" provides me with a welcome way of connecting some of the more abstract stuff about the plateau and the concepts that share space with it with actual everyday experience of music. So too with the stuff about India Song. A more traditionalist (and well maybe to some extent Deleuze is, he's a pretty unrepentant modernist) reading of a film like that would probably, I think, see the editing as a way of aestheticizing the shots themselves, demanding that the viewer appreciate them "in themselves" (yeah I know whatever that means), for their sensual properties, formal properties, however "the aesthetic" might traditionally be characterized. Now compare to the idea that things like texture, the feel of a rhythm from moment to moment, the visceral reaction to timbre or volume or noise etc., are what become more important to experience of music which is structurally undeveloped, by western art music standards.

More later, more later. (I would like to actually finish this paper sometime this month - maybe I'll dump lots of its material here. If the things I've dropped from Deleuze lately seem confusing enough, then maybe the goal of the paper will please you: to map out where a concept like "plateau" would fit into a toolbox or arsenal of ideas about pop music.)

7 Jan '03 02:45:18 AM

(For later thought - relevance of example below of the time-image for talk of "plateaus" in dance music, other music that could be said to involve plateaus; also stuff like this.)

D.N. Rodowick in Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine, pp. 14-5, writing about Deleuze's concept of the time-image (as opposed to the movement-image) from his Cinema books:

"This difficult passage may be unpacked in reference to a well-known film and one of Deleuze's principal examples of the cinema of the time-image, Marguerite Duras's India Song (1975). The opening shot of the film frames a red sun setting into clouds over a verdant delta. This is a direct image of time in its simplest manifestation: an autonomous shot describing a single event as a simple duration. The ensuing shot of the piano in a darkened room is nowhere motivated by this image. Nor will there be any clear spatial or temporal links in the cascade of images that follow. The cut defines an unbridgeable interval, and having done so, each shot becomes an autonomous segment of time. Similarly, instead of linking one to another, the images divide into series -- the embassy interior with its piano and its mirror that unsettles the difference between on- and offscreen space, the ruined exterior of the villa, the tennis court, the park, the river.

The same may be said of the soundtrack. At the beginning we hear the beggar's cries, then the two "intemporal voices" whose mutual interrogation initiates India Song's uncertain narration. The sounds themselves divide into distinct series -- the beggar, "les intemporelles," the piano theme, the voices and music of the reception, the cries of the vice-consul -- and it is never certain whether they occupy the same time or not.

Between and within the relations of image and sound, the interval divides and regroups but never in a decidable or commensurable way. By the same token, this geometry is not totalizable as an image of Truth. This does not mean that India Song is randomly organized; quite the contrary, it is rigorously composed. But unlike the organic movement-image with its relatively determined and predictable relations, the image of time portrayed here is more probabilistic. The autonomy of the interval produced by the time-image renders every shot as an autonomous shot: a segment of duration where movement is subordinate to time. And because the interval defines only incommensurable relations, the divisions both between and within the image and soundtracks split into series whose progression can only be interpreted in a probabilistic manner. If, as Deleuze asserts, the crystalline regime produces an increased sensitivity to time, this means that the interval suspends the spectator in a state of uncertainty. Every interval becomes what probability physics calls a "bifurcation point," where it is impossible to know or predict in advance which direction change will take. The chronological time of the movement-image fragments into an image of uncertain becoming."

6 Jan '03 11:43:40 PM

Three comments on The Blueprint 2:

1. By the time "Poppin' Tags" ends, without fail, I no longer feel as if I've been listening to a Jay-Z record. Part of this must be down to the style of the track; even though it seems a little thicker and less rhythmically clicky than any proper dirty south I've heard, it's still pretty distinct from most of Jay's past beats (maybe because it's Kanye West producing - I don't know if he's ever done any beats like this before). But he exacerbates the dominant effect the foreign style has by dropping his verse first, then disappearing (except for some yelps) for the rest of the six minute track to let three MCs more at home in the style than him rhyme.

2. The production on "I Did It My Way" confuses me.

3. Just how are we supposed to take Big's verse on "A Dream"? I'm not talking about the question of whether or not it's crass or deep to take a dead MC's verse and drop it in, Natalie Cole style. I like that part of it here, and think it works - somewhat strangely, since by now I've still heard The Blueprint 2 more than Ready to Die, and though I like Big as an MC I can't really profess any special love for him or interest in his death. No, it's not that stuff I'm worried about though it is important to think about. It's the way the verse is edited. The original in "Juicy" goes "time to get paid / blow up like the World Trade". Here that line is edited, audibly cut off right at the end of "the". "World Trade" disappears, and Big picks up the verse with the next line. There is no explicit mention of this in the rest of the track.

I don't know what to make of this, or rather, what I should make of it. (I do know how I react to it.)

6 Jan '03 08:51:08 PM

I was wondering the other day when it became de rigueur for "remix" to mean, in certain cases, "the same mix basically only with some different verses over the beat and maybe the chorus parts moved around". But maybe that's always been one of the meanings of "remix" and I just never knew.

Anyway, as per our earlier discussion re world pop reform, I need an MC to guest on Einsturzende Neubauten's "Dingsaller". I find myself at a point of indecision. I am expecting some scatological rhymes based on the title, as well as some "dings alla y'all". I mean, come on. It's only natural.

Some funny German words, possibly in a funny German accent, would be ace too.

But only a few. Maybe kinda "watch while I freak it in Korean".

6 Jan '03 09:39:42 AM

I'm not sure whether I have to retract my fuck the Village Voice now that I got a ballot, since I had to bother them and spend a day arguing with Chuck Eddy to get one. Either way, I've submitted it now, and changed my old lists substantially.

1. Sonic Youth - Murray Street - 20 (DGC)
2. Herbert - Secondhand Sounds: Herbert Remixes - 20 (Peacefrog)
3. Dave Holland Big Band - What Goes Around - 10 (ECM)
4. Jay-Z - The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse - 5 (Roc-A-Fella)
5. Tom Waits - Alice - 5 (Anti)
6. Cee-Lo - Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections - 15 (Arista)
7. No Doubt - Rock Steady - 10 (Interscope)
8. Bobby Hutcherson - Dialogue - 5 (Blue Note)
9. Eminem - The Eminem Show - 5 (Aftermath)
10. V/A - Total 4 - 5 (Kompakt)

1. No Doubt feat. Lady Saw - "Underneath It All" (Interscope)
2. Eminem - "Without Me" (Aftermath)
3. No Doubt - "Hella Good" (Interscope)
4. Louie Austen - "Hoping (Herbert's High Dub)" (Peacefrog)
5. Cee-Lo - "Gettin' Grown" (Arista)
6. Nappy Roots - "Po' Folks" (Atlantic)
7. LL Cool J - "Lollipop" (Def Jam)
8. Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland - "Dilemma" (Universal)
9. Clipse feat. Sean Paul, Bless & Kardinal Offishall - "Grindin' (Selector Remix)" (Star Trak)
10. Freiland - "Frei" (Kompakt)

Each entry on the albums list also gives the number of points, minimum of 5, maximum of 30, assigned to the record, as per the Voice's requirement to split up to 100 points among up to 10 records. Singles don't get points (I'm not sure why).

If I can come up with anything, I hope to write something about everything here that I haven't already written about. At the moment I can say something about the trouble I had making lists, though. Not the general trouble that I always have, but some particular trouble with these lists, in this year.

I didn't listen to as much new indie (or as much old indie really) in 2002. Lots of my old favorite bands didn't release new albums, which probably would've had a good chance of showing up in this list. (But, note that Low and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I think - released new records that I didn't even buy, so it's not guaranteed.) But at the same time, I didn't really care to try out anything new, either really new (like all this garage rock crap or post-punk revivalism), or stylistically familiar to me (like, uh, whatever it is I didn't try). My limited energies were directed elsewhere.

I should say that there were a few albums that kind of fit into this category, "old favorite bands". I loved the Mekons' last album, though I haven't really enjoyed their older ones that I've heard. The new one seemed good at spots but I didn't often feel like listning to it. I wanted the wisely-resigned-and-wearied sound and feel of the last one, and was disappointed. I enjoyed the last two Wilco albums quite a bit, but aside from a couple of spots the new one put me off. I love Sleater-Kinney, but found myself, frustratingly, unable to listen to One Beat. It took me quite a while to really like their last three albums; I hope this one opens up for me eventually. At the moment whenever I play it, I hear bad parts of rock (the style, the monstrous historical entity) that I enjoyed the absence of (implicitly) on the older records.

But, like I said, my energies were mostly directed elsewhere. Limited energies - more on that later. I haven't counted, but I'm pretty sure well over half of the records I bought this year were rap records, old or new. That's a lot more than I've ever bought before. There's more to say about this, but for the moment I'll just note that I bought lots of albums that I found uneven, but enjoyed or found interesting in all kinds of different ways. The problem is that I still tend to judge my album list using consistency of some sort (consistency in quality, tone, my response, etc.), and this left me unsure of what to do with all these records that I had been playing but wouldn't normally put on an albums list. (By way of comparison, aside from the Stereolab which I have turned considerably on, I think everything on my 2001 list is at least still pretty tight as an album, even if I think differently of it now for other reasons.)

So, there are both flawed albums (in the above sense) on this year's list, and a number of flawed ones I left off but still enjoyed somehow. The Jay-Z is flawed in some typical double album ways, sadly. I'm not sure if the Cee-Lo is flawed in first solo album ways, overreaching ways, or typical contemporary black pop album ways. The Eminem is flawed in typical contemporary chart rap ways. And then there are the ones I left off: Scarface, Missy, LL, Clipse, N.E.R.D., the 8 Mile soundtrack, the other Tom Waits, and others.

I am sure this is all quite interesting to you.

4 Jan '03 10:31:10 AM

The record is Ella and Louis. There is a quiz.

Ella is Missy. Who is Louis?

a. Meth? b. Jay? c. Luda? d. Tim?

Oops, problem, Ella is not Missy. Oh well.

4 Jan '03 10:27:51 AM

Yes, all these other songs should have the stutter right at 2:45. Trust me, I know what I'm doing. If I had meant that all songs should just have a stutter, I could've said so.

It will be kind of like a holiday. You have them on the same day every year so that everyone knows when they are, so they can get ready for the excitement, and all observe the holiday together.

4 Jan '03 08:46:56 AM

Andy has started something new.

1 Jan '03 08:04:18 AM

A confession has to be part of your new life.