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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2 Feb '03 08:42:25 AM

My CD changer: is broken. I: am not pleased.

29 Jan '03 07:18:29 AM

At a masterclass for composition students I briefly attended last fall, Libby Larsen discussed some settings she wrote for Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (which by the way sounded very good, and had the effect, together with her analysis of sonnet 28, of making me actually want to read the sonnets, which is rare since I don't like pre-modernist poetry much). At some point she indicated something that was happening in the music, and how it was supposed to help create a certain effect that enhanced what was happening in the vocal part and lyric. She said something to this effect: the composer should always hide their tricks from the listener.

I'm not going to discuss that potentially very worrisome imperative at the moment. But, listening to 69 Love Songs tonight I wondered about it. Are there any songs on the album whose tricks I would say are hidden? Are not right out in the open? Are these musical tricks, or lyrical tricks, or both, or neither?

Why do I ask? Considered separately from the whole album, a number of the songs might seem rather cheap, generic (and I don't simply mean, representative of a genre), even if of some measure of distinction. Listening deeply, or for a long time, or all one after the other, I tend to overlook this. This may obscure an effect that might be gotten from leaving the tricks out in the open, which is what might perhaps be going on when it seems like nothing is hiding.

(Or maybe leaving all the tricks out in the open is what makes a song sound generic in this way?)

29 Jan '03 07:03:55 AM

I think tonight, somehow, I started coming around to hearing some of the Claudia girl-with-guitar songs on 69 Love Songs as negative commentaries on faithfully performed songs of those genres or styles. The trick seemed to be thinking, OK, there's no way this could be sincere because it's too awkward, or too lame, or too etc., and Merritt is too good a songwriter. (Obviously this trick elects not to accept the filler thesis.) I'm not totally sure why I have resisted this in the past, despite knowing full well that the album and band have a reputation for, how shall we say, "the irony" and the other things that are supposed to get in the way of sincerity, feelings, all that good love song stuff. Perhaps because so many of the other songs ring truer?

It may say something that these girl-with-guitar songs (I'm not going to go back and check to see that they all fall neatly into a group as I'm suggesting, because I don't want to be wrong at the moment) share this quality, and that it's not just Claudia's presence (some of the other songs she sings on being not apparently deliberately awkwardly written, adverbs oh yeah, and also despite Merritt's predilection for using singers that don't fit the song, which he seems to do more with Claudia, in my recollection, than Dudley or LD or Shirley or himself) that gives them the quality. It's unclear to me simply from the record how ultimately sympathetic Merritt is to music that doesn't value strong soundwriting, in the "traditional" sense. ("Traditional" in quotes because there is obviously a wide historical and stylistic variation in what he's apparently interested in and thus probably values, and while there are probably people who might make a case that this broad variety of "good songs" can be assayed by some single way of "strong songwriting", I am of course suspicious.) But. If you take a number of the songs that don't seem to use any of these deliberately-lame devices (there may be other such devices) as positive assertions of the value of "strong songwriting", then an even stronger case for the girl-with-guitar songs being critical of entire styles of songwriting or performing, or at least a number of instances of those if not the ideas in general.

I am aware that this could have been said more succinctly.

28 Jan '03 07:48:28 AM

Reading on Wittgenstein in the Tractutus in the past few busy days has got me eyeing the showing/saying distinction all speculative like. Like, lazily thinking, yeah yeah yeah the ethical and aesthetic, value is not part of the world, can't be expressed propositionally, must be shown, consequence fuck music writing. Now, I'm a serious reader and thinker and all so I know that this view is supposed to fall out of or be consistent somehow with the dubious (because of Investigations criticisms and just inherent dubiousness) metaphysics of the same book, and I dig that consistency shit so I can't just glom onto this showing stuff all piecemeal, but see I'm busy and excited about other things and also at the same time still tired, tired of finding just that right expression for capturing what was wonderful about what I heard today (a busy day, a short list: first Wu-Tang, 69 Love Songs Vol. 1, Red & Meth, and Getz and Gilberto), tired of hoping for things to sound wonderful when they don't (just sounding alright or even just sounding, period, is plenty fine on some days, many days, but this sounding alright doesn't deserve to be valorized as some special end, reviews written about it, archetypal sounds-alright records picked out and lined up, because of course those things betray the point of sounding alright), tired of well lots of things.

This will pass, no big deal.

27 Jan '03 07:01:31 AM

Michael Hardt, co-author of Empire, has some very helpful notes on Capitalism and Schizophrenia on his Duke page. His dissertation is also surprisingly helpful on the development of Deleuze's thought during the time when he was doing studies of individual philosophers.

26 Jan '03 01:34:36 AM

The professor for my Wittgenstein course noted that Wittgenstein admired Georg Lichtenberg, whose advice in writing he seemed to take. A couple of quotes from Lichtenberg:

"Merchants have a waste-book in which they enter from day to day everything they have bought and sold, all mixed up in disorder; from this it is transferred to the journal, in which everything is arranged more systematically; and finally it arrives in the ledger, in double entry after the Italian manner of book-keeping. ...This deserves to be imitated by the scholar. First a book in which I inscribe everything just as I see it or as my thoughts prompt me, then this can be transferred to another where the materials are more ordered and segregated, and the ledger can then contain a connected construction and the elucidation of the subject that follows from it expressed in an orderly fashion."

"Waste-book method highly recommended. A note made of every phrase, every expression. Wealth can also be acquired through saving up truths in pennyworths."

Information about how Wittgenstein wrote, even in the pre-Tractatus notebooks but especially later on, shows that he followed this advice not only by organizing and arranging his thoughts after writing them, but constantly reworked pieces of writing as small as or sometimes smaller than the sections of the Investigations. I knew this before but on being reminded of it, it occurred to me that there might be a conflict between this method of writing, and the confessional approach to writing here that I have been not completely deliberately taking for a long time now.

Question to consider later: why do I have trouble reworking the older entries, or rather, why does it seem as if it would be wrong to do so?

17 Jan '03 08:35:23 AM

Been thinking idly about how to describe what I like about Dylan - has always seemed very elusive to me (what I like, not Dylan). Add to the list: everything is so flat. (Obviously not literally true of many things, but the general sense is right; Frank Kogan remarked that Dylan was depressed, which had never occurred to me before. Sounds depressed? Or was?)

Relevant to this is the sense of things going on and on, the repeating being done with little apology. (?)

17 Jan '03 08:31:48 AM

Two typical components of rockism: transparency of recording, and psychological realism. The transparency of recording doesn't secure the psychological realism, but it has a practical function, weeding out records whose psychological realism may be compromised by recording "tricks". (NB: of course, "weeding out" is rarely totally accurate.) The psychological realism is probably a criterion against which the other parts of the music are judged, too (as "performances" because the recording is supposed to be transparent), but it's especially applied to the singing, and thus the lyrics because the singer is supposed to be singing words, or, an exception, making noises suitably representational of the singer's psychological state.

One tenet of psychological realism: honesty or sincerity unless mediated by dramatic or poetic expression, generally of the sophisticated sort as what should be expressed is sophisticated.

(breaks off here)

16 Jan '03 10:00:41 AM

Looking back at what I wrote here, I think I may have left an important part of it unsaid, or even obscured because of the mention of Wittgenstein on intentions. It intrigues me that talk of getting by might be like talk of intentions in that respect, that it derives from certain usages and then is sort of extended. But W's writing on intention is also often critical of that extended idea of intentions, the one that is used in cases where nothing goes wrong. I suggested otherwise, but I think it could be that what is obscured by the extension of talk of getting by that derives from "paradigm" usages (like someone listening to "uplifting" music, or especially personally meaningful music, especially in times of extreme difficulty) -- that what is obscured by it is that music often serves similar purposes in less paradigm circumstances, so that it may still make a good deal of sense to talk about using music to get by in those circumstances.

It may have been that the reason any of this stuff about getting by came to mind was the difficult time I was having at the end of the semester (around the time of writing), but what interested me in bringing out the distinction above is that I had in mind the time I had just mentioned, during the summer, when I did little but work a bit, and listened to Murray Street. I don't think I can say I felt especially great before this, but once I was regularly working, leaving the house, and doing something, I felt pretty well surprisingly often from day to day. Even at the time, but certainly moreso in retrospect, I counted listening to the record so often as contributing to my relatively stable sense of well-being. Yet I can understand why someone else might press me if I claimed that the album helped me "get by" in anything more than the prosaic sense in which music is said to be important to people's lives, without really appreciating the texture of that importance, the subtlety it can take on, or does always take on.

I was prompted to take note of this by something David wrote me.