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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10 Mar '03 08:20:34 AM

I made a tape a few weeks ago, though it took me more than a while to actually finish it with the last few songs. I'm not completely pleased with it, but it is still enjoyable to listen to. I'll give my extra copy to the first person in the Twin Cities who drops me a line. Here are the contents.

Autechre - "Rae"
It seems every time I listen to this, I immediately wonder how it could be that I will stay interested in it. But the deceleration that keeps up through the track is deceptive. At first it seems like a sort of simpleminded trick. But after time it doesn't feel uniform; there are pushes and pulls, tiny elongations and compressions of time that leave me, generally, wanting to hear what happens until the end. (But: I still tune out sometimes.)

Brian Eno - "Everything Merges with the Night"
I suppose I chose this because I love Another Green World, and this song in particular, and had been playing the record constantly in January and February. But I recall thinking it would be a really good idea to follow the Autechre track with the Clipse track, but that I couldn't do that because it would be too much too soon and I wouldn't be sure where to go after that. Or maybe I thought the tape needed a break after "Rae", what with my constant initial doubts about its ability to maintain my interest. Despite being, happily, shown to be wrong. Anyway, this track doesn't do quite what I wanted, maybe because I didn't turn my stereo up loud enough today to check. On headphones I always play Another Green World as loud as I can (it's mastered too low), to make things like the guitars here (sort of hovering and swooping in, surging, constantly) sound as resonant as possible.

Clipse - "When the Last Time"
When I am listening around other people, Pharrell's opening ("niggas and bitches! you are now listening to the sound..." etc.) gives me a start. It doesn't when I'm by myself.

Tricky - "Christiansands"
Every time I go to Cheapo, I resent Tricky slightly, along with all the other acts that have been chosen by the market as the representatives of "electronica" (the divider in the store says "club" but I just know that's what people think when they go by Tricky's bin, unless they think "trip-hop", whatever), for filling up my precious store space with records I don't want. Then again, he made this.

Jimi Hendrix - "Manic Depression"
In general I make tapes the way I did my radio shows, which is to think a little bit first, gather some records together, then choose songs to play as they come to me, and record them as they come, all in one sitting. On radio shows, partly to combat my careening eclecticism (for the sake of my listeners), partly just to make for nice transitions (for the sake of my listeners, and because it made me happy), I tended to choose songs that made for nice sonic juxtapositions. This made for runs of songs in a similar genre, or similar mood, or just with a common thread (not a very thick one) running through them. But in contrast, for tapes I feel more of a compulsion to avoid runs like that. Longer than two songs and I start worrying. One thing I do, unreflectively, is start thinking that some kind of theme (usually title-based or lyric-based, but never on very close readings of the lyrics) might get me out of my dilemma. But I never really think about these themes for more than a song or three, and I never consider them in detail, so I make confused choises like the one to juxtapose "Manic Depression" with a Tricky song. I like this song, but it feels out of place here because one of my other compulsions is to make tapes that feel like honest representations of what I've been listening to lately, and I never ever listen to Hendrix any more. I didn't even remember that there was a guitar solo in the song - in my head I just hear the back and forth between the main guitar part, the drums, and part of the lyrics ("manic depression has captured my soul") which I don't even know if I remember correctly. And the guitar solo doesn't sound that good.

The Velvet Underground - "Candy Says"
This is too long.

The Beatles - "Revolution 1"
As with this tape, I found after taking this tape to my office that there was some kind of tape speed deal. That matters more for this song than the preceding ones, I think, because part of its charm for me is the precise pace at which it proceeds. It makes that much more ambiguous the question of just how much of a pessimistic sneer the song is. Slowed down on my tape, there's a lot less doubt.

The Notorious B.I.G. - "Ready to Die"
My roommate thought that when he heard "die motherfuckers die motherfuckers die", he was hearing the Geto Boys song from Office Space. So we discussed the possibility of one phrase being copied from the other, or maybe from elsewhere. But, as I suggested, the idea of wanting motherfuckers to die is not all that original. (I suppose someone wil tell me it's actually from a movie like Scarface or something. Actually, I would appreciate knowing.)

B.B. Seaton & Ken Boothe - "Whole World's Down on Me"
Another one motivated by my desire for some kind of thematic connections, but I also just wanted to put something on from the Trojan singles box set and liked this one.

Herbert - "The Audience"
I don't always hear what I wrote about here now, but that's usually for a lack of concentration. An example, for me, of a song that I can derive more effect from by thinking about what I once thought about it while listening, regardless (?) of what I still think of the song.

Green Day - "Paper Lanterns"
I notice that, like the selection in the link above, I've followed Herbert by a Green Day song about girls. Oh well.

Kraftwerk - "Trans-Europe Express"
On disc this runs right into the next track, and my pause-button solution to this problem is inelegant, to put it mildly. It's not quite a derailment, though. This opens the second side. Around this time I had been thinking of a tape that had "TEE", an MRI track, and Monk's "Kojo No Tsuki" all next to each other, but I feel bad putting three tracks of such length together, or even on the same tape really. Especially when they all have this character - on and on and on.

Decomposed Subsonic - "Discopatterntester"
Squealy meta-disco on Force Tracks' Digital Disco comp.

The Sea and Cake - "Sound & Vision"
A glittering, crystalline structure that makes Bowie's song sound like it actually came from the 80s rather than the 70s. It also makes me deeply confused about why the band would put the cover at the end of One Bedroom, the rest of which seems to be shown up by this beautiful, wonderful, perfect piece of music. In my more sympathetic moods I suspect that the juxtaposition of this with the band's own songs is supposed to reveal something about why the originals are actually good. But to be sympathetic I generally have to avoid listening to this one, lest it bias me.

Pixies, "U-Mass"
Like lots of things you've heard about.

Jawbox - "Savory (live)"
At Little Tijuana last month Geoff and I heard a cover of this, I think, so it made me nostalgic (if I can be said to be nostalgic for a song I played a bunch two years ago). Today I was reminded that just the one little spot where they sing "see you feign surprise" in harmony (it has nothing to do with the words, I think) makes me well up, automatically. I have no good idea why, beyond just that that sound makes me do that. I think that should be enough.

The Magnetic Fields - "Meaningless"
Another thematic "choice". See how totally awful this tape would be, as a themed tape, if it was really supposed to be? Next to everything else here Merritt sounds especially mid-90s "ironic". But not glib (the curse of our generation, he says, with some sense, if by generation you mean the people our age smart enough to be able to forego forethought but too delighted that they could direct their intelligence to suddenly-cool scorched-earth irony, sarcasm, and disaffectation).

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five - "Hotter Than That"
Someday, I hope to wrap my head around this. It all passes me by, though with some pleasure.

The Maytals - "54-46 That's My Number"
Another from the Trojan singles box. The short scat part ("da da da dee dee dee" etc.) makes my heart leap a little, and the gloriously redlined sound makes me wonder why latter-day analog purists never seem to make records with this particular sound, where the equipment is older and analog and the instruments are all "real", yes, but where everything is all mashed together and blaring and wonderful. Or maybe there are indie rock records that do ("lo-fi", ugh), but the things they're mashing together don't sound so great.

Yo La Tengo - "Blue Line Swinger"
This is where I was stuck for more than a week, after thinking that I didn't have that much fun making the tape (which was what I set out to do, a little project to relax myself), and being unsure if I wanted to finish it or ditch it. But this song struck me in my office one day, as it tends to do, so I finished the tape there instead of at home. So the speed differential got me the other way, too, since I tested out my tape at home this afternoon. Again, it could be more to do with my memories of the song, but it sounded a bit sluggish, and my heart balooned and rose a little less. The "proper" CD version manages feedback and distortion very carefully, and I suspect the differences in tone introduced by the tape speed pushed some of that distortion from the blissful-sounding region into the uneasy-sounding one. But overall, I still felt happy in the end.

Mogwai - "Helicon 2"
As I heard this today I imagined (I have never seen them) Mogwai playing this at First Avenue. I reckoned that the crowd would ruin it.

Pan Sonic - "Aktiivi"
kkkxshhhhxhkxkxshhhhh beep

4 Mar '03 07:59:35 AM

For super deep contemplative considered listening etc tonight I tracked back Vocalcity to the one with all the vocals, whatever it's called. It's one of the main tricks of the whole album, but I noticed it especially here: how Luomo maintains interest in what might seem like an especially uninteresting track by subtly transforming what a basic part is doing, like the bassline. "What it's doing": what it sounds like, whether this note or that note is squelched, or a bit longer, or sounds like it starts backwards. That sort of thing. This is not a novel idea, I just really felt aware of it tonight.

This coincides with a preoccupation with the idea of "interest" that I've had lately, as in, the thing that a composer looks to keep, usually despite a repetitive component to the music, or something potentially boring. For some reason I recall often seeing the word in discussions of composition in the western art music sense, but it's obviously relevant to dance music. (I wonder if I might say that in many relatively conventionalized or natural-seeming musical forms, people don't have a problem with seeing some part as potentially boring so they never have to confront finding a part which holds their interest. But this is probably more of a problem relative to a given set of tastes - someone who listens to Beethoven trying out rock music, or someone who listens to rock music trying out Mobb Deep - than it is a problem in some absolute, most-naturalized sense.)

I seem to have a hard time going anywhere with the idea, though. Probably because I'm just not thinking through it enough. But often when I start doing so I find myself thinking psychologically, and then I'm in a strange country - I don't know what to say, or what I can or can't say sensibly.

At the end of a Herbert remix today - "What's Your Fantasy?" probably, because that was the repeated chorus - I noticed that even though the hi-hat pattern that remained near the end of the song seemed pretty dead fucking boring to me, that didn't matter because I wasn't even really listening to it. Or at least, just listening to it: I was using it as a way of passing time, marking time, because I expected another cutoff "fantasy" vocal sample - it had already been made clear, I think (even if I hadn't heard the song so many times), that there was another one coming.

I suspect this is connected somehow with the problem I had long ago with listening to dance music, house in particular, of only being able to hear the kickdrum, or the hi-hat.

4 Mar '03 07:47:56 AM

Read a bit from Gravity's Rainbow on my way home, from my old copy - I still can't get into the newer one the same way. From the section where Gustav and Saure are arguing about music - "All you feel like listening to Beethoven is going out and invading Poland." I must've read it dozens of times by now. This time through I could particularly feel myself concentrating on each word, on thinking through it, picturing it, all that good reading stuff. I couldn't help but think of the last thing I listened to the other night while drunk, before going to sleep - Kind of Blue on the headphones. Even though I know that record much better than the Pynchon, somehow it's harder for me to concentrate on it in the same way. I expect every note - almost every note - yet there are always little bits here or there that I miss (often passing notes during a phrase, short ones that maybe I have trouble remembering because I can't whistle or sing that fast?), and in part that makes me feel like I'm always catching up, pursuing the music; the fact that it happens in time takes part of it out of my control, or rather my ability to consider it at my leisure.

3 Mar '03 05:03:58 PM

I can't believe they're actually playing this 50 Cent "remix" of "Cry Me a River" on the radio! The very definition of "half-assed".

1 Mar '03 09:48:51 AM

One thing, though, is that now the album (Camofleur yo) sounds like it was produced by a goddamn idiot. I will not think that tomorrow morning.

1 Mar '03 09:42:27 AM

The nice thing is that every note sounds like a really good idea. I mean, when I'm sober the notes still sound like good ideas but now they sound like really good ideas, really really. Can I say another 'really'? Yeah.

Even the dumb little twinkly notes at the end of this song.

1 Mar '03 09:38:21 AM

I know that properly to avoid being an indie caricature I should be saying this about AOR schlock or a Christina Aguilera song or something, but man this Gastr del Sol sounds beautiful right now. (The Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne songs I heard tonight sounded beautiful too, but then pretty much everything I heard today sounded beautiful, including ahem here this is for you Jeff Blind Willie Johnson. How great is that?)

1 Mar '03 09:32:50 AM

You know what is possibly slightly freaky when you are really drunk, is that Gastr del Sol record, "Blues Subtitled Untitled" or whatever it's called. Jesus, is is possible to keep things balanced in each channel instead of flittering back and forth? Perhaps it is not.

28 Feb '03 06:32:23 AM

The Bad Plus (a piano trio including Minneapolis-based Happy Apple drummer David King) have released a new record, their major-label debut, These Are the Vistas, on Columbia. It has seven originals (not all new to this release) and three covers, of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "Heart of Glass", and Aphex Twin's "Flim".

All the songs have liner notes (supplied by the band, as far as I can tell). The notes for the Nirvana and Blondie songs are related. Nirvana: "An enormous hit lovingly deconstructed." Blondie: "An enormous hit ruthlessly deconstructed." It's interesting, then, how similar the two covers are. I would say that neither original is especially harmonically rich. I'm not sure whether or not this need be a serious problem for a jazz-inclined cover; bop covers of "simple" pop tunes of the day often solved it by simply dispensing quickly with the melody. However, this is not a bop record. Though they play through more of the melody to "Teen Spirit", they ultimately end up treating the melody that accompanies the albino/mulatto lines as a melodic and rhythmic cell. Much the same happens with Debbie Harry's opening phrases in "Heart". But unlike something like Brad Mehldau's cover of Nick Drake's "River Man", where the cell is transformed, manipulated, basically treated as an object of composition via improvisation, here I just get the impression that the cells are being thrown around a bit. In that sense, there's not much separating the two covers. Perhaps I have high expectations for "deconstructed" covers, but the major distinctions between the two seem to be these: the Nirvana cover is played through a bit more completely (and, as I've read, it's like sad or something, hmm where have I heard of that trick before), and the Blondie cover is broken apart by a big noisy section before they stop fucking around with the rhythm and just go all-out disco. (The note for the song continues: "Is the long vamp (before the final drum salutation) joyful or tragic?") These don't seem like strong enough differences to warrant one song's being "lovingly" deconstructed, while the other is "ruthlessly" so. The Nirvana cover is more or less straight - including the "intense" bits - and the Blondie cover is too, if you consider the freakout in the middle to be confusing, instead of exhibiting a lack of mercy for the original (for its... what? integrity? unity? emotional tenor? substance?).

The cover of "Flim" does not share the flaw of insufficiently tarting up the original's melody. It's nice, straightforward, direct, kind of like the band's original, "Everywhere You Turn", which I first mistook for the Aphex Twin cover since it had been years since I played the original. But it raises its own questions, questions that many of the songs might also raise. When the music is performed live, on traditional jazz instruments (also, in the notes, someone is careful to add: "there are no edits or overdubs on this record"), but many of the usual hallmarks of jazz are gone, and the music starts sounding more and more like translations of electronic music into a live-performance setting, what are the reasons for listening to music like this as opposed to something else? For performing it? Now, as far as I know the record doesn't claim to be a jazz record, exactly. There are reasons for thinking of it in relation to the jazz tradition, and reasons for thinking of it apart from that tradition. Perhaps sorting through those will help me figure out why I might want to listen to this record as opposed to my Aphex Twin records and Miles Davis records (separately).