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.
Winter listening diary, January 13:
Juan Atkins – The Berlin Sessions
One thing I've been reminded of jumping around between the discographies of different techno luminaries is just what all can go into the purity or hardness of the music, some of which I don't hear as often by choice because it can make it a lot more overbearing to listen to in my non-functional context. Generally the kicks here are rapid, but they're subordinated to lower-end bass synth figures, whose repetition on very short cycles tends to structure everything else about the music, even once Atkins adds a tumbling high-end figure that sounds (sounds—it's still cycling really quickly) like it's knitting a melodic line together across the bars and leavening the repetitiousness a bit. The musical idea here isn't far off from a Tresor dancefloor banger, with pummeling kicks: the effective cycle of the music becomes as short as possible, 4 bars or 2 bars or 1 bar, even 1-2-1-2 or 1-1-1-1 forever. That structural analogy must be part of what people respond to when they perceive certain techno as more or less dancefloor oriented, but also more or less enticing, popular, melodic. On Transport I hardly even think of the occurrence of cycles, because everything is layers and slight differences in timescales and the fundamental rhythmic feeling is more often a pulse than a repeating cell (but both are periodic, right?).
Juan Atkins – 20 Years Metroplex
I.e. a lot of Cybotron, Infiniti, and Model 500 stuff. I liked my idea from yesterday about distance and intimacy, so immediately (philosopher!!) my thought was about how it would not hold up on certain other techno. An idea that I've been poking at recently on my TV project has to do with what one might say about the role of artistic intention in cases of mass art that are especially fitted to the postwar era, where there are lots and lots of 'works' (episodes, tracks, songs, albums) possibly of corporate/non-auteurist authorship, produced or enhanced by technological assistance which alters or negates the simple operation of human intention as exhibited in speech or singing or the use of an instrument. I think I must have read some review anticipating Eno's remastering of his ambient albums that mentioned 'nonintentional music'. Which as I understood it would not just be to say, thinking of Cage or certain other aleatoric/process music, music made to happen with no presence of intention whatsoever; but music made to happen in such a way as to secure the withdrawal or bracketing of intention. (What could that mean? An association between ambient music and mood would be relevant.) The connection to postwar music more generally, I think, would be via the way in which it becomes more and more designed, and designed in such a way (this marks a difference from fully through-composed music) that there need be no point at which a design becomes realized by performers who must naturally or traditionally act as bearers of intentions in certain ways anticipating the music-maker's intentions. Anyway, if music is designed, I mean if music production occurs through methods and procedures of design rather than some kind of more traditional methods and procedures of composition and improvisation (the latter also somehow relevant in the new era, or a relative of it) in this way, then I think we would have one way of understanding the coordinates for the kind of private/public inversions I was talking about yesterday in the two projects of M.v.O., but especially the more normative (for techno) side where the whole production codes as deeply inner. One reservation I had in mind when I said that was that naturally, more dancefloor-oriented productions ought to appear predominantly outer in their musical profile. Because of the well-known ways in which electronic dance explores modes of unity and alienation I don't think that's a straightforward contrast to draw at all, but maybe one parameter in it is the ways in which a style or a production leverages its materials in a way that is more or less rhetorical. That's one way I understand the Atkins tracks here; although at times they are so rooted in electro and funk that it could just seem accidental that they are made using what I am thinking of as design-centric rather than intention-centric methods, they do use the former. But they do it via or with a massive overlay of the rhetoric of intention-centric methods (funk riffs, desperately futuristic sound profiles for the synths, industrial-style tempos and soundstages for the highly metallic percussion kit, the film score tropes of SYNTH DANGER looming over every moment, the subject matter of cars and robots and space). I suppose you could think of that as a way of casting the underlying reality of the musical materials into intelligible form, of making the music something to work or to live in. I say 'cast' because I don't want to suggest it has to conceal those musical materials; there's no hiding them on a track like 'Game One'.
Jeff Mills – The Other Day
When I think about this kind of thing I am often reminded of something Phil Salathe said a long time ago about the significance of the exact repetition in In a Silent Way that comes from not just reprising the earlier part of the music, but of Teo repeating the earlier stretch of tape. The same principle applies to anything where there can be a passage of time, a change, an increase or a decrease in volume or pitch or tempo, before we even get into the sources of the sounds. Like in 'Solarized' here—although it's placed at the start of this compilation, which does transpose it into a more intention-bearing structural location, the album experience being what it has been, it still can't help but play out its design, starting too quietly, rising too slowly, to be heard as just the same thing as an intro. Apparently it was originally half a B-side on a 33 1/3 rpm 12", and (in the middle?!) ended in a locked groove. The slow burble that runs for most of the track—in a different musical environment, it would be odd for that not to code as patient, as requiring from the performer or calling on the listener for patience. But here something of that intention is withdrawn from consideration. You have another order to contend with.
Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald – Transport
I said I've been 'poking' at this idea about intention because I don't really know what could be done to ground it and make it useful—especially on the other side, when one considers what to say about how a creation or a work that is after all some complex weave of design and intention is understood. I suppose that listeners can't help but treat techno tracks and albums as intentional objects, however modified the role of intention in making them. I just don't really know what to say about it (not that I know better how to say for a lot of other music I know better, like jazz). I suppose my reason for stressing the role of intimacy with this record is that it seems to get at the right sort of level at which the music, however it works, is designed to be intention-bearing, or intention-affording (in the Gibsonian sense); the place it makes for you from which to share in something specific.
The 7th Plain – Chronicles III
I remember the discourse around IDM in the mid to late 90s being stuck in oscillations between the virtues and vices of music being functional or functionless, and the likely spuriousness of 'intelligent' as a descriptor. It seems nobody talks that way now, even though there is still plenty of music being made in ways that seem to represent a capture of various audience segments by some of the values being contested in those older arguments. Maybe one thing that that represents is an arrival at some settlement concerning outer and inner in this music; concerning the different ways different styles distribute intention for the purposes of listener understanding and gratification with the help of their conventional design features.
Krallice – Wolf EP
They're experimenting again, or doing something; for most of this they don't even really sound like themselves, doomy tempos and little black metal tremolo, someone else on vocals or their usual vocalists trying on new voices. They like to cover for these off-cycle releases, so maybe some of these aren't theirs, I don't know.
Winter listening diary, January 12:
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Sounding Lines
Tony Allen & Jeff Mills – Tomorrow Comes the Harvest
The most recent Trio album, swapping out Sasu Ripatti (who is apparently on a sabbatical from the music industry and sounds kind of depressed even if he swears he likes living on an island and making music for no one) for Tony Allen, but also adding production by Villalobos, who intuitively does seem like an alternative to Ripatti's 'small instruments' (cf. Art Ensemble of Chicago) style percussion clutter, but since it's accomplished in his whole style, almost makes this seem like a different outfit entirely. I think Allen is captivating on everything I've heard of his recently, it's really just a matter of what other colleagues are doing around him. The Trio has to become a bit too bouncy to find a match for his constant snare-cymbal patter, though that's evened out somewhat with a full range of sound where you can hear the low end. On last year's EP with Jeff Mills the slower tempos seem more fitting for what Allen is doing but that seems to push the whole thing closer to downtempo/ambient arrangements in the synth colorings (not so much melodies, or their functional equivalent, I'd say because Allen dominates, his snare often given a very long envelope effect).
Moritz von Oswald Trio / Digital Mystikz – Restructure 2
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Vertical Ascent
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Fetch
The first busier and more rhythmic, the second more atmospheric and more overtly dubby, with a handful of outside guests floating through. Some point on the third is the first spot where I really thought about Basic Channel in relation to the sound (though there is another spot where one of Ripatti's characteristic sounds that I hadn't heard from them in a while suddenly stood out, too, which maybe says something about the cooperation there).
Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald – Transport
Maybe one thing this record—which is much more lushly produced and environing than any of the above, and seemingly far from being ‘experimental’—shows about the Trio is just what the names of the projects already indicate. A ‘trio’ made up of M.v.O., Ripatti, and the other guy already starts out being music made of interaction between musicians, i.e. happening as a process or event in an exterior space; and it does sound like an attempt to take their customary musical modes ‘into a room’. This Atkins/M.v.O. project, on the other hand, which is actually billed as them presenting ‘Borderland’, a name for the project taken from their first album, already takes a conventional step into abstraction and depersonalization (it’s not them, it’s them behind a persona-noun), and the music is what I would call deeply interior, in a familiar way. On that score I would see these different projects as different interpretations of intimacy and distance in electronic music. Transport has lots of track titles that denote/connote the latter (‘Transport’, ‘Lightyears’, ‘Odyssey’, ‘2600’ if you wanna include the distance of history and memory, and hey ‘Merkur’ is a German Ford brand from the 80s), while the submerged, abyss-resonating basslines and spacious production ground the feel of the music in the here-and-now of a subject, a moving and traveling and moody and remembering one. In this mode techno cymbal production codes as deeply intimate, so clean and hyper-focused on the presence of those little tick tick ticks. It’s a sound that takes you just enough out of yourself to register that you are in touch with the outside, it syncs you up a little bit, but it’s small enough that your center of gravity remains elsewhere, wherever else the music has placed it or taken it. This makes this album very satisfying to listen to, even if maybe the Trio albums ought to be more interesting to think about—and I have the sense from reading reviews and talk that long-time techno fans were a bit more enthusiastic about them for this reason—because they do constitute more of an effort to invert the scheme, which is why (despite a relatively modest amount of sound that codes as ‘improvisation’) the records even come across as jazz or jazz-adjacent to some listeners, because jazz (when ensembles are small enough and the playing is restrained enough) is a precedent for that kind of granular-time intersubjective intimacy in our music culture.
Sun Electric – Present
A 90s album from ‘the other guy’ in the Trio, Max Loderbauer plus others, with Thomas Fehlmann executive-producing. I guess it is or was slotted as IDM, but I never heard them when I listened to this kind of music back then. It’s tracky with nimble, fleet-footed beats that get jungly (it was 1996), and the usual complement of blurpy synths and ringing, resonant electric pianos and string pads. Lately I’ve been listening to the box of three Chronicles releases collecting off-album stuff from the same era by The 7th Plain, another act I never heard then (not as Luke Slater, either), and what strikes me about both is just how bright they are. In that they sound a bit more like very recent indie-electronic which I don’t always like very much (too fiddly and aimless), but unlike more big-name/in-style electronic, which tends to seem so grey and gloomy now. But everything here is so sharp that it feels like hearing music from the present, with only certain stylistic affinities to betray its historical origins.
Winter listening diary, January 11:
Future – DS2
Acid records always make taking drugs seem advisable, Future records never do.
Gloria Barnes – Uptown
Hearing more church in here than I was expecting to.
Joseph Jarman – Song For
Art Ensemble of Chicago – Go Home
Art Ensemble of Chicago – Chi-Congo
Actually I was just starting to listen to a bunch of AEOC because I had never gotten around to them before, I didn't know Jarman was going to go and die on us. Hearing them operate as far back as '67 makes me realize how lopsided my picture of jazz history still is.
Jan Garbarek – Triptykon
I was listening to Trygve Seim so I wanted to feel more like I was wandering around in a gleaming Nordic-designed space, which I guess has to do partly with winter and partly because I was engaging in more commerce during the winter break, and the kind of commerce I engage in (sitting around in coffeeshops, dining establishments, and public transport) makes me think about Nordic-designed spaces. (If I made money I would have taken a vacation to Vancouver by now, a place I associate with that feeling, partly from going to a coffeeshop located inside a little museum or something.) This is not one of Garbarek's more Nordicy records—like a lot of the things from the 70s I have been playing, he sounds too much like an Ornette enthusiast for that at this point—but if getting experiences different from the ones I wanted to get deterred me then I wouldn't be able to listen to records.
Salt-N-Pepa – Very Necessary
Over the break I was thinking about my successful philosophy, film, and the meaning of life course from the fall, and reading a bit of the math pedagogy literature. I used a scheme in my course where I iterated over and over to students that what we were doing was 'an inquiry', and I tried to pitch most of our discussions as if they could always be finding things out, so that students would be aware that they were the ones doing the inquiring and stood to improve at it if they realized it. Classroom discussions were pretty typical of what I do, but a little bit broader, and I was struck by how much they drew on my knowledge, of lots of things. I know a lot of things. That's usually something I try to lean into in the classroom, as a way of appealing to as wide a range of student backgrounds and interests as possible. Often what happens is that I still know more than they do about things they're interested in knowing. But seeing someone care about their knowledge interests them. This is gratifying for me, to rely on and perform my knowledge in this way, but doing it this fall reminded me that my knowledge is still not valued by my employing institutions. It's extra, gratuitous, it doesn't come through official channels or in expected ways. One of my students accidentally handed in his computer science homework, elementary exercises on how variables and assignments and evaluation operators worked—in Python (which i don't know). I graded it for him and returned it anyway! Later in the semester I had to give a quick spiel on the Bildungsroman and artist's novel while we were talking about Persepolis. When we talked about Plato and Lucretius and Epictetus I could talk about different mechanisms of and criteria for persuading and being convinced and knowing, and their relationship to the rhetorics of speaking and writing. When we talked about Lucretian atomism I was secretly drawing on my knowledge of debates about theoretical posits of scientists. When we talked about Jeanne Dielman I was drawing on a LOT of implicit familiarity with a lot of things from a lot of areas. I think all of this is normal (for me) and should be normal (for a philosopher) but I do still feel like, when I am asked to account for myself by the official, professional world, I am not quite able—all this knowledge that I carry around, that is part of me, slips out of view as irrelevant. The irony is that it's what helps me make things relevant, as a teacher. All of which is to say, one of the things I know most about while talking least about it in a classroom is music. I have always felt like there must be a difference between teachers who have never performed in any capacity, and teachers who have. Also that it must matter what they have experience of, a taste for. Say, for rap. You can get it in other ways but I think there's a perspective on language that a teacher will probably just not be able to see unless they've listened to rap. But your students have. So?
Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald – Transport
I mean, a swell of Afro-Futurism can rise up in popular culture at any moment. Say in a Hollywood cinematic megaproperty.
Skee Mask – Compro
The record from last year I listened to most aside from Autechre. I think of it as quiet, which it is not very, but that has to do with the way it frames small details, like any music that puts a premium on moods (which can persist or change without your noticing) and noticing (which you can especially do when you're in a certain mood or frame of mind, and which doing can serve to break or bring to awareness a prevailing mood).
Winter listening diary, January 10:
En Vogue – Funky Divas
I think I would have understood a lot of things differently from middle school on or whenever if I had realized that 'My Lovin' was built around a 'Payback' sample.
Posthuman – Back to Acid
Absorbing and chunky.
Ben Lamar Gay – Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun
Well there's certainly a lot going on here, isn't there.
Art Ensemble of Chicago – Certain Blacks
DO WHAT THEY WANNA, DO WHAT THEY WANNA
Jaimie Branch – Fly or Die
Does a lot with a little, enough to make something that must be pretty old (I keep thinking of Sketches of Spain) seem continually fresh.
Justin Brown – Nyeusi
Wild future synths in throwback fusion.
Yak – Alas Salvation
I guess these are mostly what are called 'rave-ups' (there is even a skronky saxophone!). The singer spends every moment strutting and imploring and such but he really seems too anxious and British to be very sexual. There's more than a little Nick Cave / Birthday Party in their notebooks, I reckon, but just as an expedient. It sounds intriguing on laptop speakers but thin and a little uninspired on headphones. Sometimes I wonder how it is that the kids get into rock music these days. But compared to what i heard in SMASH BURGER last night I guess Yak would seem positively thrilling.
Winter listening diary, January 9:
All jazz or jazz-adjacent today.
Sasha Masakowski – Art Market
It figures that it would take an actual musician to make the kind of fusion-of-styles record I am always being teased with but rarely really hear.
Vanishing Twin – Dream by Numbers EP
Vanishing Twin – Choose Your Own Adventure
They have their own sound and I'm sure there are lots of reference points that explain the similarities, but the simplest comparison—which I'm surprised I haven't seen more reviewers make, since it seems really obvious—is that they sound like Stereolab (especially whenever organs or vocal harmonies show up) if you took away the interest in motorik pop and drone rock. Their structures are ambling and slightly distractible and the songs' moods maintain a lightness despite an inclination for the pretentious. The drummer Valentina Magaletti has sensitive judgment and gets a nice beat going with a snare.
Camila Meza – Traces
This record has many charms but the most apparent one on my first couple listens is that Meza is a guitarist and singer, and she will often double her own lines, even when improvising. This gives her sound a very poised kind of control that I realize I don't always associate with guitar-playing, singing, or maybe even improvisation. You hear someone making music and you tend to focus on the aspect of the sound that seems like it could get away from them, even though you recognize that the spontaneity with which they make the sound stays their own throughout. Meza can play and sing at once in a way that makes the sounds seem too close to her to even be able to get away, which is to say, she lets you hear them as self-controlled.
Julian Lage – Modern Lore
One of those kinds of extremely listenable albums that exposes its slightly obtrusive bits more readily because it wasn't necessarily designed to be played on repeat—but that will smooth out with familiarity. Colorful and melodic guitar trio. There's one part that reminds me of Blue Öyster Cult!
Winter listening diary, January 8:
Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity of Experience
I still don't really like this guy, sometimes because his melodic sense seems too corny, but sometimes like here maybe because he plays like someone who's fonder of melodic playing than he is able to write melodically. I dunno though, whatever.
Richard Hell & The Voidoids – Blank Generation
None of the songs are ever as cool as the title cut, which is way too late (at the end).
Rites of Spring – End on End
Ancient enough that you can actually hear bits where they sound like a band who couldn't help but listen to 80s metal.
Ritual Necromancy – Disinterred Horror
Not as much verve as Dead Congregation, but alright.
Obliteration – Cenotaph Obscure
Loose drumming, with a bit more ferocity or unhinged feel in the riffing they would be all the way there.
Soundgarden – Down on the Upside
Idris Muhammad – Power of Soul
Understated drumming, for a drummer.
Rezzett – Rezzett LP
I like how the beats turn up surprises over the runtimes of the tracks, consistently. Lots of techno artists are not that good at transformation.
Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
I don't know which drum i like Harvey Mason hitting best.
Bardo Pond – Dilate
You should never completely trust anyone who can't like at least some music without vocals.
Coptic Light – Coptic Light
I read a review that complained that mostly all they did was 'jam', that's the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, people who write record reviews should learn something about other kinds of music so they can say something more insightful than 'jam' when a rock-style band plays three things in 45 minutes and actually uses, like, musical thinking to do it.
('One of our responses to this plurality of definitions has been to rely on “Jamesian Confidence.” James’ (1890/1950) famous phrase: “Every one knows what attention is.” is implicitly (often explicitly) invoked whenever researchers report work on attention without supplying a concrete definition. The presumption is that the researcher’s sense of attention will be clear from context and that James’ exhortation can be taken to imply more than it says, that is that everyone knows what attention is, and they all think it is the same thing. In fact, communal practice reveals that we do not. Attention is subdivided by modality (visual versus auditory), level of analysis (feature versus object), and spatial extent (focal versus global). Attention is invoked as the label for a general preparedness to respond. Attention as vigilance has both a negative aspect (in that one may fail to detect a target) and a positive aspect (where one fails to inhibit a response when presented a non-target item). Attention is treated as a vector where there can be deficiencies in magnitude (implied by the phrase attention deficit) or direction (implied by a term like disengage deficit). Attention can also be given a temporal dimension when people speak of an attention span. None of these senses seem quite what James had in mind as the obvious one. …')
('Benennen und Beschreiben stehen ja nicht auf einer Ebene: Das Benennen ist eine Vorbereitung zur Beschreibung. Das Benennen ist noch gar kein Zug im Sprachspiel, – so wenig, wie das Aufstellen einer Schachfigur ein Zug im Schachspiel. Man kann sagen: Mit dem Benennen eines Dings ist noch nichts getan. Es hat auch keinen Namen, außer im Spiel. Das war es auch, was Frege damit meinte: ein Wort habe nur im Satzzusammenhang Bedeutung.')