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.
'Not only does the wind of chance events shake me about as it lists, but I also shake and disturb myself by the instability of my stance: anyone who turns his prime attention on himself will hardly ever find himself in the same state twice. I give my soul this face or that, depending upon which side I lay it down on. I speak about myself in diverse ways: that is because I look at myself in diverse ways. Every sort of contradiction can be found in me, depending upon some twist or attribute: timid, insolent; chaste, lecherous; talkative, taciturn; tough, sickly; clever, dull; brooding, affable; lying, truthful; learned, ignorant; generous, miserly and then prodigal – I can see something of all that in myself, depending on how I gyrate; and anyone who studies himself attentively finds in himself and in his very judgement this whirring about and this discordancy. There is nothing I can say about myself as a whole simply and completely, without intermingling and admixture. The most universal article of my own Logic is DISTINGUO.'
'… It is necessary to work our way backwards and understand how one who is so thoroughly immersed in the time flow 'sees' the city and its social relationships: understand, that is, what kind of vision of the whole is implicit in the novel with a suspense plot.
I shall try to clarify this with two examples, one concerning the social dimension of the modern city, the other its spatial features. Lukàcs has written that Lost Illusions narrates a story set in a period of extremely rapid expansion of capitalist social relationships, which invest and subjugate even the field of 'spiritual production'. Second: when Lucien tries to sell the manuscript of his historical novel he is forced to turn to several publishers, and thus compelled to roam Paris's entire intellectual milieu and observe its urban and architectonic peculiarities, local slang, representative individuals, and so on. These two statements – one 'on' and one 'from' Lost Illusions – are, doubtless, true. But then it would seem that what has been said thus far needs revision. It would seem that the suspense plot – as depositary of the meaning of the text – is yielding to social history on the one hand, and to some new form of description and classification on the other. One is led to believe that the plot is simply an instrument, the necessary means to the emergence of much more substantial realities.
Yet this is not the case. In the Balzacian novel, social relationships and the urban landscape, far from disputing the primacy of the plot, have a right to citizenship only within the limits dictated by the plot itself. They are evoked only to reinforce the plot as plot: to intensify its complexity and unpredictability. Thus, the plot is not at their service, but they at the plot's. The syntagmatic axis not functional to the institution or the explication of paradigms (as in the case of myth): rather, the paradigms are the springboard for the story. It is not a 'story' at the service of a 'moral' capable of summarizing it, but thousands of 'morals' aimed at developing the taste for suspense, that is, for the temporal flow abstracted from the content of individual episodes in and for themselves.
If we now translate these observations into terms of urban psychology we perceive that the novel accustoms us to 'seeing' the city in a glance – not so much 'absent-minded' as intermittent. We see the city to the extent that it hinders a specific action, interposes between us and something else, and makes us 'waste time'. This situation culminates in some of Hitchcock's films, but it is experienced daily by anyone who lives in the city. It is precisely this interlocking of time and space that explains one of the city dweller's most bizarre perversions: his unswerving, arrogant and deliberate ignorance of the place he lives in. The urban dweller seems to make a point of honour of knowing as little as possible about his city, and is capable of walking a hundred times past a church by Borromini without ever going inside. How so? Because, the city dweller complains, I have no time. He lies; no one has ever had more free time. It is not that he has no time, but that city life does not allot time to contemplation. It allows time only for activity, of whatever kind. It allows for a time always dedicated to weaving relationships, obtaining things, and carrying out duties. It conceives of the flow of time and of the organization of life as the most gripping story possible, compared to which the city cannot stand out as an object worthy of attention in and for itself. It is only background: perceived perhaps clearly and violently, but always framed and defined by the exigencies of a temporal order.'
'The "air" that Pascal describes points to a fundamental openness, to a desire and willingness to engage in conversation. A certain air invites conversation as opposed to moral or physical violence: conversation with oneself and others. As Pascal suggested, someone who writes in this way comes across not as an "author" who takes pride in his book, but as a "man" with whom we can talk. The ultimate purpose of conversation is the reconciliation of differences (with oneself and with others), but this reconciliation is never a final product. It is always in the making. In the ancient tradition, the practice of philosophy usually takes place in a pedagogical or therapeutic relationship. In Montaigne, it is a conversation between equals in the welcoming setting of a private home. All the details Montaigne gives us about his physical characteristics, his inclinations, his tastes and distastes, are not aimed at fashioning a "self" in the sense that they would add up to a more or less coherent image or persona. More precisely, they point to a certain way of relating to oneself and others, a way that could be defined as open, trusting, and intimate. Writing about himself candidly and openly, presenting himself in a private setting, is Montaigne's way of drawing the reader into a conversation: "An open way of speaking opens up another man's speech and draws it out, as do wine and love."'
Winter listening diary, January 21:
Weekend Scandinavian-fest edition!
Tord Gustavsen Trio – Changing Places
Tord Gustavsen Trio – Being There
I thought this would be nice and meditative but I think these guys might be meditating too much. As a country or a geopolitical region. I read a lot about ol Tord having a church music thing going on but I haven't really noticed it yet. The quiet parts are a little too quiet and the non-quiet parts suddenly sound very exciting and interesting, which is good except then I wonder why they can't do that more often. Everything here is good, fine, but it has made me start wondering about the origins of the critical impulse to discriminate, to view things in terms of a contest to be the best, to conserve one's attention for only the most original and most pleasure-affording.
Bobo Stenson Trio – Contra la indecisión
Bobo Stenson Trio – Serenity
I get this suspicion that maybe too many ECM artists have gotten lost in their Bill Evans records but really I didn't even realize that I had picked multiple albums by two piano trios, maybe because I had thought somehow Bobo Stenson was a drummer (doesn't that sound like a name for a drummer?), and here and there the drummer really seems to have the full support of whomever is making all the decisions.
Trygve Seim – Rumi Songs
Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs
The personnel is not that much different here from the piano trios above, but I think maybe given the size, a saxophone is a more fruitful choice for exploring the ECM-style small group sound. Hearing so much Evans in the piano trios, I think what I miss is the tumbling, rolling quality of Scott LaFaro's bass from those famous Village Vanguard recordings. Something about it leaves the other players constantly on the move. I hear more of a Ron Carter thing from the bassists on the albums above—they're playing a lot of nuanced, complex stuff, but stuff where they are often hanging back and interjecting. The pianists are left with lots of space in which to lyricize and the drummers can express themselves in rhythmically subtle ways. What makes a horn better here is that all the natural possibilities for doubling and ambiguity can get fully exposed. In 'Helsinki Song' the melody on the tenor gets doubled by the piano, playing single-handed. Seim's tone is pretty vocal and he plays tastefully with putting a wavering edge on it, so that you can always be put in mind of connections and contrasts between horn play and song. On the album of Rumi songs, with texts sung in English by Tora Augestad, and with backing from an accordion and violoncello, that possibility is fully embraced. There are points where Seim and Augestad trade off or interlock, and seem to be saying the same things, or also not saying anything (in mere words), in the contrast. In the background, the spacious production and the solemn atmospheres and silence are enhanced by this playing. But on the piano trio records, where the piano only occasionally seems to meet the bass as an equal partner in tone-sounding, the music seems to be deriving unearned atmosphere from the production choices.
Rainer Brüninghaus – Continuum
It is customary for ECM to be given a certain amount of shit for their pristine production values and their staid programs and colorless album cover design, but what this record makes me think, especially, is that people don't cut them enough slack for having been a label of the 80s. Pretty much everything in the world of music sounded like shit back then and it was all weirdly glossy and thin and had bad spiritual values, so hey, at least Eicher was able to keep up an artistically respectable business producing jazz records for public consumption, through all that. Given the history they have to just be allowed another decade or so to shake off whatever set in throughout the 80s, right? This one is ALSO pianist-led but it's the flugelhorn that sounds front and center. Brüninghaus's thing seems to be flowing arpeggios and ostinatos and such, puts me in mind of Charlemange Palestine or the more fidgety minimalists.
Jan Garbarek – Sart
Jan Garbarek – Triptykon
Jan Garbarek – Dis
To me Triptykon has the 'right kind of sound' for what's going on, Sart (noisy fusion electric guitar and some electric piano from Bobo Stenson somewhere in there, added to an otherwise similar ensemble) does not, and Dis (high saxes and flute and Ralph Towner playing 12-string and classical guitar and wind harp, plus a little brass) is clearly onto something but maybe not necessarily something I want at length. For sure though, in the 70s, ECM was weirder and scratchier and I would be surprised to be told that they were commercially thriving. The rhythm section on Triptykon is knotty and cluttered with cymbals and what seems like it must be auxiliary percussion, and makes for a bed of sustained crackling for Garbarek to go off over. The pulse is of the agitated post-65 free type, as suits a marquee saxophone soloist. On Dis the playing is sparser, the echo turned way up, the accompaniment more left-field, the folksong and other extra-jazz references more prominent, but the basic creative impulse seems similar: find ways to let this guy blow a while.
Eberhard Weber – The Colours of Chloë
Sometimes this sounds like a post-rock record, I mean specifically UK-style post-rock, where the draw is supposed to be not that it's a standard-issue rock ensemble ripping off minimalist ideas or playing with a symphonic sweep, but an ensemble of weirdos who are mixing musical styles because they started out in rock but eventually had too much love for some other kind of music and could no longer be constrained or creatively satisfied. The only thing that's missing here is some proper electronic work, really—there are synthesizers and the band's modulated jazzy pulse is set at about the right pace and texture, but for the most part the sonic profile is naturalistic, and slightly too pretty. Fiddle with the production a little, drop something more motorik in the middle of the running time, and you've got yourself a fine 1993 classic.
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra – Happy Endlings
Big band as weird juggernaut. Something about the vocals makes me think about the music for Star Trek, which who knows, could even be intentional. I suppose it's hard not to relish the idea that if you are making music like this in the twenty-first century, it ought to be a little weird. But it's not too weird. I haven't listened much but so far my impression is not of individual pieces of music so much as of a great and unwieldy apparatus which heaves into operation so that some fitting space can be found within which the players can take their little turns, and expect that they will seem as strange and otherworldly as maybe the solos in Ellington's bands once seemed.
Winter listening diary, January 18:
Sunwatchers – II
Luomo – Convivial
Gorguts – Obscura
The Germs – MIA
Geto Boys – The Foundation
Napalm Death – Scum
V/A – Fire in My Bones: Raw Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944–2007)
Autechre – Move of Ten
2pac – All Eyez on Me
Massive Attack – Blue Lines
Guns n’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
I never realized when I was 12 or whatever just how messy Axl was.
Winter listening diary, January 16:
Soundgarden – Superunknown
The Rolling Stones – Some Girls
Another first day of class—at a school where I haven't taught for about 8 months, due to the vicissitudes of scheduling. I'm less stressed because I'm repeating, almost everything at the moment—from just this fall or from last spring—and because I can accomplish mundane practical tasks without as much thinking or worrying. On Monday I was teaching at a 'new' campus—I moved my philosophy/film course from the commuter-satellite dungeon to the main campus—but I've been over there three or four times and seen most of what needs to be seen. I luxuriated in the experience of forgetting my index cards and dry-erase markers at home, then standing in a first-week line at the bookstore with all the students buying textbooks, since I had time to spare. I found the local off-campus coffeeshop ahead of time and walked around the block until I knew where it was. The owner seemed to be the one working, because employees are never that friendly; and the coffee was fine. I had made a plan to print even without an office, and it pretty much worked (still had to tolerate the idiosyncrasies of the stupid web printing server again). Before class I ran into my 'boss', the chair, whom I hadn't seen since August, and enjoyed stopping to chat with him. I found my classroom and taught and did it up right. Still, though, like today, I was preoccupied for most of the time, my mind running. Today, same deal, I took a pretty new route to campus, stopped by the HTC (I was happy to see the cute barista still working the same time of day, I also last saw her in May), found a spot to plop on campus, ate my vegan cookie and drank my coffee, then went to the library to hit up tech support (new computer, no campus printers installed) and get my syllabi printed. I found my new classroom and taught my class and did it up right. Again, though, my mind running and preoccupied the whole time. Not just because of the first day and the need to teach, but because of the rush and the disquiet of commuting and arriving and having no place to call my own, no place to think, no time to spare for letting myself do it. I 'know' one way to teach that satisfies me, but it involves projecting my thoughts ahead during a reflective pause, planning and formulating and testing and imagining the students and mentally reviewing reading I've already done. I 'know' another way that satisfies me, too, about as reliable but always seemingly a bit riskier, of having done something like this preparation, in some form, yet not having an opportunity for the last crucial bit, the quiet reflection, and instead trusting to the spontaneity of the classroom. I'm getting pretty good at that, actually. In theory I could take the moment whenever, wherever, on the bus or train or walking down the street, but that doesn't really seem like how it has to work in practice. I have known teachers who would banish students from their office for some time before giving a class, to have that quiet preparatory moment. It was a quiet bus, a quiet train, sure, and sometimes I can even take the quiet moment on headphones. On this morning I was in a hurry out the door, wanting to catch the next bus a block or two down, and rather than deliberate at all about what I'd be hearing, I chose the Soundgarden record, one of the three of theirs I've played hundreds of times in recent years. An index: I would hardly say I heard it, but that I hardly thought anything in particular about my upcoming class, either. Once I got to my stop on the train, I switched to the Rolling Stones—again, something i've played the crap out of in recent years—and, again, heard or thought little. Just a soundtrack.
2pac – All Eyez on Me
After class, another change for the walk to the next train. Sometimes what I like best about this record is what a specific mixture his performance is, confident above all else yet paranoid and fatalistic, ecstatic and brooding, vulgar and grandiose.
Winter listening diary, January 15:
Pan American – Cloud Room, Glass Room
2013 release from the side project of the Labradford guitarist who I didn't realize had kept putting out so many albums after 1999, the first and last time I'd heard any of them. I wonder what this impulse was, among slowcore-adjacent Krankyish indie rock types, to make ambient music, but as / as if a band.
Eleh – Home Age
The real shit, straight up modular synthesis, WARM AND BORING.
Brian Eno – Discreet Music
One of the ambient albums I had never much auditioned back when. I'm surprised more by the second half (an LP side I suppose, which would cordon it off more safely?) with Bryars rearrangements of Pachelbel where everything is all out of whack. It seems intentionally confrontational—to undercut such deeply instilled, and empassioned, expectations as that piece arouses, again and again.
Jeff Mills – Purpose Maker Compilation
I.e. a comp of releases from his Purpose Maker sub-label. One thing I've been struck by recently is just how aggressively monotonous a lot of this techno is willing to be, compared to what I have been listening to by choice for the past ten years or so. The latter certainly would seem monotonous in many ways to lots of listeners, so I guess this is an index to how deep the monotony can really run in techno and how lightly a lot of producers will wear theirs, presumably in service of more palatable sounds. Monotony is sharp, like the strong taste of a cheese or whiskey, in the sense that you can have a palate for it and you can 'learn to like it', learn to like the other aspects of the experiences that it comes inseparably from, but it never permanently subsides with familiarity or comfort level.
Roscoe Mitchell – Sound
If there's an analogous test for the listener here, say in 'Sound 1', it's a test of patience, which interestingly enough is not at all what's tested by aggressive sonic monotony. I don't know how the title is intended but aside from the noun construal, the way the players play draws me to the verb, 'to sound', which seems to account for the way the horn players become fascinated by mouthpiece noises and near-airless vocalizations (at least, that's the word I reach for in describing the quieter ones, even though the players are still operating at the extreme limits of playing with the use of standard embouchures, mouthings, whatever, and not singing through their horns), and for the kind of undirected quality of the silences around them; it's not as if their noises cut the blank space naturally into an experience of time or sound that puts a lyrical aspect of the playing into relief. The sounds just sit there, being what they are, not necessarily with the 'right' kind of movement into the next one, or the next, or the next. Eventually there's more interaction and the appearance of something like a rhythm section, and with more agitation it seems like the players have moved on to something more purposive, but it does not seem like a something that cancels out the cumulative impression left by the playing as 'sound', that refuses or tries not to accept 'just' being musical. I'm reminded of Beckett writing in French, I guess. Thus of Derek Bailey looking to avoid idioms. So what would a listener who feels like they are having to be patient, be being patient for?
Art Ensemble of Chicago – A Jackson in Your House
It's funny, one reason I never really got with the Art Ensemble is that long ago I only had one record, which maybe was the most easily available one for lots of people at the time, the Urban Bushmen album on ECM, which I found way too stagey and arty (in a very specific sense that I can condone, as a term of critique!) to explore. Actually though, well before that they were already arty as fuck, so it must say something characteristic about them, because artiness is not really an association I make for a lot from the late-sixties-on free jazz era, even. I think it must stem from the same sensibility that leads them to do so much mock-raucous talking and yelling, as if generating an informal social context to complement the sound and semantics of their own group playing—like an improv troupe, of actors, not just musicians.
Joey Beltram – Places
My apartment is very small, in a small, close-quarters building, so I generally try to be mindful of playing music too loudly, especially when it has an obvious potential to be annoying (unless I want to strategically annoy someone, like the upstairs neighbor who has some kind of slide-out furniture and has a habit of sliding it back and forth both too late and too early for me). But the other day I let some techno play for a while at a satisfyingly reasonable volume. Beltram is more abrasive than these others recently, on average, but it's because the beats are more jacking, with more spread rhythmically and sonically between the parts, as I'm hearing them, so that they seem to saw repetitively back and forth, hop around, scratch and slide and wobble. So he seems less confining, as a sound designer; a lot of things are put in motion and they leave enough room for the listener to do as he wants inside them. Even if it's just lie in bed.