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December 31, 1999

I once read Tricky's Angels with Dirty Faces described as "brutal slag funk," but never understood the funk reference until hearing James Brown's "Hot Pants (Part 1)." Still, all the funk seems to have been squeezed out, or scared away, or something.

Hurting for a compilation #2: Cake. Parts - just parts - of Fashion Nugget are brilliant, like the (cribbing from Tom here) breathless delivery in "The Distance" ["assail him/impale him/with monstertruck force"], or the twisted-around loser-stance in their cover of "I Will Survive", or or the distillation of so many things in the picture painted in "Stick Shifts and Safety Belts": "I need/you next to me/not way over there/in a bucket seat," guitars and voices in country twang to mirror the quaint image of bench-seat-lovin'.

Still thinking about Glenn McDonald's odd idea, retiring one's favorite artists.

More thoughts on diction and such, this time spurred by a late night walk across Ames, listening to Fugazi's In on the Kill Taker. Hopefully you (dear reader) can snag a copy to hear, because these are tough to describe:

complete control for cassavetes
if it's not for sale you can't buy it buy it
- "Cassavetes"

The word, "Cassavetes," is spit out, then the next line even moreso. Like the Minutemen quote from the 27th, the second line is faster than the first, in order to stay with the rest of the song. "Buy it buy it" becomes a howl, and "if it's not for sale" is largely incomprehensible (but then I've always been bad with lyrics).

we need an instrument
to take a measurement
to find out if loss could way
we need to know value
we need to place value
in case it all comes true
could it be loss could weigh?
- "Instrument"

Rhythm and melody repeated across lines. Fugazi in one of their favorite rhythms, the menacing, swaggering plod - to which group-hollered vocals are eminently appropriate.

What will you be listening to at midnight? I'm not much interested celebrations like the New Year (among other things, I just don't assign passage-of-time importance to the change of date at midnight...), so maybe I'll be perverse and listen to Godspeed You Black Emperor!.

"We are all trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
and the machine is bleeding to death."

December 30, 1999

Experiencing the end, or just a change, of a relationship, can really foreground how much depressing music you own.

December 29, 1999

The silver saxophones (sax-a-PHONES)
say (short) I (really long)
should (really short)
refuse (short-long) you (long)
- "I Want You," Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan

This is an excellent example of why lyrics aren't necessarily poetry, and why poetry can't always match the power of song. This just doesn't scan this way, without music. Dylan is, of course, full of examples like this - it's sort of what makes him, as a singer. To what degree does less idiosyncratic singing depart from the spoken word, as far as diction and scansion are concerned?

A synopsis of Rachel's albums, recently posted to rec.music.classical.

Early in the morning, around 3, I came across a Perry Mason movie on TV. See Glenn McDonald's comment on "Perry Mason"...

Allow me to clarify the material from the 26th (about Ornette Coleman and time) with an anecdote:

While in high school, I was an avid trombone player, playing in the band and jazz band. Of course, when younger, learning how to count time, how to keep a beat, was important, and it was often encouraged of us that we tap our feet. Later this was considered slightly more unseemly in concert band - some people were asses and couldn't help but clomp about like them. Foot-tapping was something to be done gently, unobtrusively, when you needed it. Jazz band was a different story. Jazz is much more physical than concert band music, and especially for corn-bred white kids, some formalistic requirement for body-motion is necessary, to get them to move their asses. I learned, though, that this was only a crutch: when I concentrated too hard on keeping the time, as well as playing with it, my timekeeping faltered. Like Coleman's 'spread rhythm,' I preferred to tap when my body was ready for tapping, and sometimes, not. This is, I think, appropriate, because not all music is house music: as the music ebbs and flows, so does our participation in it. Sometimes the groove fades into the background, and sometimes it seizes our attention.

December 28, 1999

Deluge today...

My CD player has a 'music clip' feature that lets me memorize tracks to play (and thus, also tracks not to play). Pan Sonic's A, up through the first seven tracks or however long it was before I started going crazy from THAT DAMN NOISE, is an excellent argument for using the music clip: the beginning of the disc is more ambient than any real ambient I own, simply because it's the most nominally musical. Somewhere comfortably to the right of a sound effects or nature CD, but to the left of Brian Eno, if you will.

Squarepusher needs a singles compilation.

I've been thinking recently about compositional forms, usually not a big point of discussion in popular music, after an argument on rec.music.classical.

Hip-hop has antecedents everywhere. Cf. the liner notes to the Bitches Brew reissue, which discuss how the various tracks were obtained:

"As with Miles' sessions during this period, things would be recorded in segments, some complete, and some just rehearsals or false starts. 'Bitches Brew' (as with the final version) is made up of two basic sessions, Part 2, the rubato section... and the Part 1, the groove section. The session reels (and track sheets) reveal a different basic compositional structure, with 'Bitches Brew' having five parts. The groove section... was recorded first... 'John McLaughlin' is actually Parts 3 and 4 of 'Bitches Brew'."

This deserves some comparison. From what I've heard of Krautrock, say from Faust, the editing methods are similar, but where Krautrock bands tended more often to build compositions from relatively uncomposed noise and jams, Miles built from something already composed: he assembled a plan, then took it apart.

This also bears a slight resemblance to standard studio practices today, where various parts of a song are recorded separately, often both in space and time, then pieced together later. Again, the difference is that the elements, by themselves, are somewhat lacking: who wants to hear just the backing vocals from a Britney Spears song?

That's what one of the reasons Bitches Brew is not only made up of great songs, it's a great album to listen to whole. Structure - not conventional, but structure nonetheless - pervades the two discs. And why not? The songs are structured bits of structure, spread around, mixed together, chopped apart...

Why do I never hear comparisons between Autechre and Bach? Echoes of canons and fugues abound...

Thanks to Tom for reading and sending people my way from Freaky Trigger, which you are directed to visit by no less than the Categorical Imperative.

December 27, 1999

Back in the days
When I was a teen-ager
Before I had status and
Before I had a pager
You could find The Abstract
Listenin' to hip-hop
My pops used to say
It reminded him of be-bop
I said well Daddy don't you know
That things go in cycles
- "Excursions", The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest


I make certain
that my head is connected to my body
- "It's Expected I'm Gone", Double Nickels on the Dime, Minutemen

It has a certain forcefulness to it, maybe because of the way it scans. The first line occupies less than a measure, but the second line doesn't start until the next measure, and finishes before the third starts. Thus the second line is forced out, rapid-fire. Beautiful!

Revisiting Blur's Modern Life is Rubbish on this wake-up-late day. If Alex James played his parts an octave lower, I'd wager that (a) he'd have a reputation as a monster bass player, and (b) Blur would be considered more of a 'rock' band.

I wouldn't wager very much, though.

It's possible to slink a slinky exactly in time with the beat to Massive Attack's "Karmacoma," even getting in the little syncopated kachink at the end of the loop.

December 26, 1999

The part of Olivia Tremor Control's masterpiece, Black Foliage Volume 1, that seems to attract the most negative comment is track 19, "The Bark and Below it". That the album seems otherwise so uniformly brilliant, and that the 10 minutes or so of tape manipulation that make up "Bark" are too intricate to have been simply tossed off, suggest that the track deserves a litle more attention. Some ideas that might help one appreciate (understand?) the track and its relationship to the rest of the album:

Ornette Coleman explains his concept of time:

... my music doesn't have any real time, no metric time. It has time, but not in the sense that you can time it. It's more like breathing, a natrual, freer time... I like spread rhythm, rhythm that has a lot of freedom in it, rather than the more conventional, netted rhythm. With spread rhythm, you might tap your feet awhile, then stop, then later start tapping again. That's what I like. Otherwise, you tap your feet so much, you forget what you hear. You just hear the rhythm.

Today, thinking about this quote and listening to Coltrane's "Countdown," from Giant Steps. When I follow the beat too hard, I lose sight of the notes, I'm trying so hard to keep up.

Listening to a lot of jazz during the holidays, for multiple reasons. I've been toying with a DID list (no it's not ready for public consumption yet), and of course at least 4 or 5 jazz albums made it, so I've been doing some careful re-listening. Also, to combat holiday blues, I picked up Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert and A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory.

The former isn't quite jazz - that's too restrictive. Completely improvised solo piano, two nights worth. Astounding. The latter, which I'm told is one of the high water marks for rap in the 90s, draws heavily from jazz, sampling old jazz records in a couple places. Ron Carter (to me, memorable from Miles Davis's second quintet) guests.

Does jazz pervade our culture?