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March 31, 2000

A discussion forum for josh blog - try using it if you like. If it takes off, well then. Thanks to Jon for the idea.

Tom deservedly promoted this fine piece from Michael Daddino on synthesizers in 60s pop.

New note: Tom nailed on the head just the thing I forgot while writing, that is, that it's rhythm that makes the acceptance grudging. And yes, Sextant is highly uncanonical, if only because so many jazz fans don't like fusion and so many rock/pop fans don't like jazz. So it's left to the losers who hunt out freaky spacy albums like Sextant. Oh well.

What is it about certain kinds of music that makes us see it as abstract, or at least, more abstract than some other music?

Often people who don't like bebop cite its abstractness (well, even people who do like it do so as well...) as a big obstacle in coming to appreciate it: with melody de-emphasized, and soloing over changes brought to the fore, the traditional musical anchor, the melody, leaves the listener floundering.

Similar complaints are made of classical (i.e. western art) music - that it's hard to follow because melody is not as prominent, because there's so much more emphasis on harmony and structure, and the development of those things. These criticisms become more and more popular, the more modern (i.e. 20th century modern) the music becomes.

Herbie Hancock's Sextant is one of his Mwandshi-group fusion albums - spacy, complex, relentlessly funky and abstract electric jazz. Thinking that tonight reminded me that (a) a large part of jazz's (grudging) acceptance into the western canon has been its highly abstract nature [*], and (b) a lot of the special character of jazz comes from the way it combines abstraction more typical of western art music with rhythm. Sextant is really quite out there - and Bitches Brew is more so. Yet both have, at least to me, an undeniable appeal to them - in the parlance, they both GROOVE LIKE A MOTHER.

Similar things can be said of other popular styles, but it seems that few of them have as consistently (genre-wide, that is) adopted this tendency toward abstraction, as jazz did.

[*]: Though interestingly acceptance has come more open-armedly and more quickly to older jazz, especially, of course, Ellington, Basie, Parker, and then Gillespie - jazz which did not share as much in, or was only the beginning of, the abstractions brought forth by bop. This is perhaps just an artifact of time, though, because acceptance broadened and is still broadening over time to include later 50s and then 60s jazz musicians.

March 30, 2000

Snippet from a GYBE! review:

"The writing process in this band is like trying to shit 50-pound bowling balls," guitarist Efrim eloquently explains.

"Generally, it works likes this - someone comes up with a simple riff and starts playing it, and then everybody starts playing along at the highest volume imaginable until the original riff is completely lost.

"Then we stop playing and nobody talks for a while. Then someone loses their temper and disappears into the corner. Someone will earnestly try to suggest a structure or game plan, but everyone is too busy smoking cigarettes and sighing to listen or care. Then we'll all start playing again, just as loudly and stupidly. Then someone else has a tantrum. Then practice is over.

"Eventually, we book a tour or make recording plans, proceed to ignore the impending deadline as best we can, and then, at the last minute, hammer out shit in a spiralling panic and compliment each other on our savvy and flair."

A Silver Mount Zion is a side project of 3 members of GYBE!. Looks interesting.

There's a great Low interview here but unfortunately it's in French. Fortunately someone from the Low list fed it to the Babelfish, and got back this somewhat recognizable stuff. At least it captures the gasoline of the interview.


Slow fox trot Tension

Five albums since 93, Low forms part of the pieces of furniture. **time-out** on
the basis of slowcore to decipher some zone virgin, the trio of Duluth form
around couple Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, which himself be meet with age of
nine year, be one of these rare formation which with equal of Slint, Sonic
Youth, Mogwai or of Velvet Underground have deeply influence the rock'n'roll
modern, him insufflate a ethics make of asceticism, of work on oneself and of
tension, new escape vis-a-vis with superficiality of
company contemporary. Meet with a myth which makes fun well its pedestal :

At did the beginning of the recall, at the time of the concert in old Belgium
with C Make Say Think, you carry out a resumption of a pop group anorak ?

(Alan) Yes, " Hairdresser in the sky ", it is a piece which was on a
compilation  Sarah records. A friend had made me a cassette of this compilation
and there is this piece of Music Seen above. It is my song preferred on this
compilation, I had never played it before this evening.

Are you fans of this type of music ?

(Alan) Yes, partly, a group like Field Mice for example.

What do you think of the album of remixes of Low published on Vernon Yard ?

(Alan) Ca was done without our authorization, it is all. One was not implied at
all in his realization, in the choice of the remixeurs. I believe that there are
very good things and very interesting top but like one did not take part there,
one does not feel so concerned.

Does the presence of Jimmy Somerville have what to surprise ?

(Alan) I like his remix, because it makes sound our song like a pop song disco
music of the Eighties.

Which is the influence of your successive producers, Kramer, Steve Fisk and
Steve Albini, on your music ?

(Mimi) I believe that Kramer belongs to a very particular musical style. When we
started with him, we were very " new " with regard to the recording. We were
completely naive. There was not a plan, one did not know what one wanted to do.
Kramer just took us and made of it this album, " I could live in hope ". It was
what we needed at this time there. While passing to other producers thereafter
we invested ourselves more in our music, in the direction which we want to give
him, one had more ideas.

(Alan) One was fans of Galaxy 500 and one knew that it was him which had
produced them. One said oneself that it would probably be appropriate for us and
that was the case. One was very hesitant and him, by its experiment, could see
what there could be the special one in us and to help us to propose it. Steve
Albini is right the opposite, it does not give a form to the sound, it does not
come with ideas on the way in which should make you songs and on how that should
sound. It acts simply as if it formed part of the
group. It is just very gifted to collect the way in which one sounds when one
plays, this natural side. Steve Fisk is intermediate between Kramer and Steve
Albini. Steve Fisk firstly saw us live and he wanted to capture the gasoline of
what we were, he had also certain ideas on the way in which we could sound. I
believe that at the time when one collaborated with him, it was the ideal time
for us.

Which is the place of ' Songs for A Dead Pilot' in your discography ?

(Alan) It was significant for us to do it. We had been just transfered by Vernon
Yard and Caroline. At this time there, one wanted to make another disc, to prove
that one could organize a round ourselves, to be honest compared to ourselves
and a label. It is a disc without concessions. At this time there we wanted to
also test with certain things, one thus bought recording equipment and one
learned how to use it.

You already have behind you five complete albums, some maxis, live, an album of
remixes, without for showing the least sign of weakness as much, how do you
explain your longevity ?

(Mimi) I think that one would make perhaps well think of stopping here
(laughter). Not, not really. Since the beginning the things progress,
evolve/move. More and more from people come to our concerts, for reasons which
one cannot explain. I believe that we liked always much what we did. I believe
that it is something which plays much.

(Alan) I also believe that one works hard for that and more and more with the
passing of years. One withdraws a certain satisfaction in our way of living, it
is very related to this quality of life. What one does with Low is gratifiant.
One decides from when one will do something, record or make a round. Ca shows
good enormously our work paid in return. There is much chance, it does not have
there many groups which can have a course like ours, which after five years
continues  on the same rate/rhythm like us.

Do you believe that it is possible to explain the alchemy of your group by three
dominant feelings in your music, brittleness, decency and dignity ?

(Mimi) That' S Nice, thank you.

(Alan) I believe that they are witty remarks to express what one tries to do. I
believe that if it is that that people feel with the listening of our music, it
is good

(Mimi) One tries to be honest with all that we do, with what one puts in the

(Alan) I believe that when one is honest, that becomes automatically fragile.

" Secret do Name " is your most melody disc, how explain this evolution?

(Mimi) One always tries to reach something, to write better songs. I believe
that some of our best songs, it is obtained them when one uses our two votes
together more melody way.

(Alan) On the first discs, the vocal ones were perhaps hidden, it was necessary
to seek to find them. With time made we leave them and granted we to them more
importance. Today what we have to say is perhaps quite as desperate, but we let
us say it more directly. Since the beginning we try to be increasingly direct,
simpler and more effective to make pass our message or our ideas in our songs.
With more one works, with more one advances with more one realizes that to make
the melodies strong and the vocal ones to before A more impact. Perhaps become
we also more trustful. Perhaps is this regarded as a bad thing by certain
people? I do not know. I think that we cannot hide us for always. Time to hide
is finished and it is time maintaining to say something.

Are there discs which changed your way of hearing and to make music?

(Alan) Yes, there are many discs which influence us, especially with regard to
the recording, the production. Live, I never believe to have seen a group making
the things in a way similar to ours, I believe that I never saw a group which
had the same goals as us live. There are people who think that we are chiants,
that we are right a group calms moreover. As regards the discs, there is of it
much which inspires to me a little, but one never fell sat while listening to a
disc, by thinking that one wanted to sound like that. One functions more in
parts of songs, one thinks that that sounds as of Phil Spector for example.

Which is the influence of your music on your life and the influence of your life
on your music, is it easy to separate the two sides?

(Alan) It is the good question. I do not know, one exists for a rather long
time, one worked enough for saying that our music is our life, the things about
which one speaks in our music and the things that one tries to make with our
music reveal many things of our life. I suppose that our whole life is
influenced by the music. I do not believe that I could live without doing what I
do, without doing what I do with our music.

Which is the importance of humour in your music; I think of songs like ' Lazy',
' Hey Chicago' or ' Missouri'?

(Alan) I believe that even in the saddest moments, a person must always be able
to look herself with irony and to laugh at itself even if the situation is
horrible or miserable. One moment of decency is also very owl, it is the moment
when oneself is looked at, where it is realized that one is perhaps a little
insane (smiles). When one laugh at oneself that comes from there, at this time
there, one can be happy or hate oneself. Resignation with a situation can be a
humorous thing.

Which is the significance of the song " Hey Chicago "?

(Mimi) It is right the history of somebody who did something of evil and which
is paid in return (laughter)! It is basiquement that. In a vague, very vague

(Alan) is the history told?

(Mimi) I do not prefer.

Which is your opinion on the music of groups like Spain or Bros Radar?

(Alan) I like the Radar Bros, one already played some time with them. They are
OK. I do not listen to Spain, people suppose that I like their music, but not. I
am sure that they are happy people; many people listen to their music, it is
well for them.

Do you include/understand how and why you influence many groups throughout the

(Alan) I saw many groups which quoted us among their influences; we ourselves
are undoubtedly influenced per many groups. I do not know, we are not the only
slow group and calms.

(Mimi) It is difficult to see sometimes.

(Alan) In any event it is something of pleasant, it is something which flatters
us. There are many people who love us and among them there are people who begin
a group and whom one inspires. The therapy is strange I believe.

Which is the importance of simplicity in your music?

(Alan) It is difficult to make simple music.

(Mimi) It is hard to do something which is at the same time simple and
interesting, like a ballade. It is difficult because we are only with three
instruments and two votes, one must create songs starting from these reduced
elements. Sometimes it is difficult.

(Alan) There is a share of sacrifice in the fact of always going towards the
simplest form while preserving the gasoline of the song.

There are two songs on ' The curtain hits the cast' which are separate in your
discography, which is each time an idea, ' Coattails' and ' C you know how to
Waltz', which vision do you have they?

(Alan) I believe that it is especially ' C you know how to Waltz' which is
different. It is something which you can do only once. I do not believe that one
could remake a song with this slow construction on three agreements which
becomes noisy and extends at this point. It was done once and it is not a field
on which one wants to concentrate. **time-out** it himself be occur something of
significant when one have make this song, one himself smell extremely compared
to it. It is not necessarily something which one would like to repeat. There are
other groups which make this type of music and which are come out of there
better than us. 'Coattails' is closer to than we are, this way of sounding like
OMD. If one sounded always in the same way, one would quickly become tedious. It
is well to introduce something of outside into our music which makes us sound

' Venus' seems to be your fastest song, did you try to make songs faster than
the normal?

(Alan) Not, not really, there are sometimes fast songs which come out, one
assied then for a long moment and one wonders why they also quickly are played,
they sound often well when they more slowly are played. One really does not
sound very well when one plays quickly. Heaps of people do that much better than
than one could make, one thus does not see the interest to make it. It is
interesting to test, because one likes much the pop songs, but it is not
something which one likes to often do.

Did the way of singing of Alan evolve/move much since the beginning, you think
that from a certain way you learned how to sing? You sing more like Mimi than at
the beginning.

(Alan, Mimi) (laughter)

(Alan) I believe that it is with time that I learned how to better sing. Since
the beginning one pushes one the other on the way of singing, on the way of
improving to make the song, it as possible as well. I know that I am not a very
good singer, but I try to become better. Ca took much time to me to arrive where
I am now and it is not yet very good.

Which type of city east Duluth?

(Alan) There are about 100 000 inhabitants, it made cold there. Nobody wants to
settle over there, because it is too cold. The population remains identical
since long years. It is an owl city with a large lake which gives the impression
to be close to the Ocean.

Did you from the very start use limited elements of battery?

(Alan) With the whole beginning, there was only one cymbal, the two other
elements arrived thereafter.

(Mimi) It was all that we had at the beginning. I started has to play of the
battery in a brass band at the school. I never really played on a complete
battery, I do not even know if I of it would be able (laughter). It is also less
expensive to have a limited battery and also less difficult to transport

Do you live of your music?

(Mimi) I have a work part-time in a bookshop.

(Alan) Yes, one works a little at side and one turns much. It is difficult to
reconcile that with the job, one leaves one month and one returns to work. It is
not always very owl.

Is it easy to have a life of family beside the life of group?

(Mimi) When one is at the house it is easy, that can become strange in round. I
soon will have a baby, I suppose that the life of family will change as from
that moment. Ca will make troubles in more at the time of the rounds (laughter).

Do you have spare time between work and music?

(Mimi) To read, there do not remain tons of time, but there is as for the work
of wood.

(Alan) Jouer of the guitar is my hobby and then also to read data bases

What do you think of the last discs of Mercury Rev and of Flaming Lips, that
could be also a way to be followed for Low?

(Alan) I like these discs but I do not know, that would seem too obvious for us
to do something like that. Perhaps, perhaps not. That seems to be a possible
thing. One knows a little Wayne of Flaming Lips. I know his ideas, his
convictions, which it has desire for making with its music and I believe that
what it tries to make is interesting. I do not know, I believe that we must be
careful, I do not want to make a disc to hear thereafter that it is as well as
the disc of Mercury Rev or something like that. Perhaps that to go in this
direction would be too obvious of our share.

Is it easy to be always natural?

(Mimi) It is difficult to be oneself in its music, to be natural.

(Alan) Parfois one does not want to be ourselves because of all our problems.

(Mimi) One must force oneself a little, it is a question of integrity and
honesty. If we do not try to be natural, to be what we are, Low would quickly
become a gimmick.

(Alan) To be honest is the best thing to be made for us. But it is not
particularly easy when for example you have the impression that what you are
does not deserve to be exposed. But there is necessary to remain open to
criticisms, it is the best thing to be made, not to contain themselves.

(Mimi) Criticism is sometimes difficult to assume when one is honest.

(Alan) You takes a part of yourself which is invaluable for you and which
represents you and you it offers with somebody, that made very badly when the
person does not want to take it. It is not the same thing when you take
something which is external for you, if the person does not refuse it problem.

Is it possible to see your slowness like a reaction to the modern life? Is there
a dimension political, ethical, a preoccupation with an authenticity?

(Alan) I think it. All the three we are very conscious and critical in
connection with our company, because of hurrying, to fill all the time free, on
the fact of returning of the job to waste its time in front of the medias or on
the Web. Perhaps no more time ago to be simply human. What shocks to me it is
the way in which all this generation has completely immoral behaviors, lack
completely of the direction of the responsibilities compared to our company. One
loses the things which one does not take care and there is not average to
retrogress. Perhaps what one tries to render comprehensible that with our music,
perhaps which one tries to make pass something by the integrity?  Our discs are
perhaps moments when people can slow down and reflect. It is until we wait, we
will not change the world but perhaps a little.

March 29, 2000

The latest thing I've been smitten by, which I found by chance when flipping through CDs at the station: the Who's "My Generation". I found it on the Austin Powers 2 soundtrack, but the track appears on the BBC sessions disc. The Motion review is right: they sound like they're physically restraining themselves from trashing the place. And it's great when it's like that.

Tonight I tried to write some about Low's Secret Name and didn't get very far.

March 28, 2000

An agent of Smokey Lung Records contacted me recently after seeing a post of mine about Olivia Tremor Control.

It seems to me updates have been sparse lately, though clearly it's not that bad. Still, my apologies, and I hope to have some more for you soon. In the meantime, do check out the revamped singles bar at Freaky Trigger, now a singles blog.

March 27, 2000

Sometimes I sure wish Miles Davis was less famous, because it seems that often people are reluctant just to open up and listen to his music, all of it, rather than only liking Kind of Blue or the fusion or the first quintet or the second quintet or... or anything at all.

March 25, 2000

Tom's blue lines refers us to an Atlantic Monthly article about music being bad for us. Some comments:

In 1981 the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre published After Virtue, an influential attack on the fragments of Enlightenment philosophy that constitute much of our contemporary moral discourse. Part of his argument is a devastating account of the rise of twentieth-century "emotivism," and nearly the only thing he missed is its curious parallel in the rise of recorded music. People began to imagine that morality was a set of feelings rather than a system of ideas at around the time they began to be able to evoke any mood they wanted by putting a 78 on a phonograph.

Now, is that really true? I've never read MacIntyre, but obviously the view that moral statements are only emotive ones arose before records: Ayer expresses the view in Language Truth & Logic and it had already been around a bit when he published in the late 30s.

More from the article:

But what happens in a culture without thought, a culture with expression but nothing to express? The way we listen to music re-creates, more than anything else, Hesse's Glass Bead Game: a complex and sophisticated rite filled with delicate connections perceived by its priestly scholastics, lacking any meaning, and consuming the culture's intellectual and emotional energy. All that remains is ironic incongruity and the decadent moods that can survive irony: memory and desire -- or, rather, nostalgia and concupiscence, the feeling of memory without anything to remember and the arousal of desire without any object of desire.

It seems a cruelly small profit on our enormous investment, our vast sophistication, our wiring of the entire nation for sound. Everyone I know adores music, as I do. But our elevation of a secondary art costs us something. Music cannot build a culture, and in America today music is in the way -- keeping us from the higher arts that could aim at a unified idea and a public metaphysics, a purpose and meaning for our all-encircling noise.

What bothers me most about this article is that its apparently-deepest points revolve around its claims that music is fundamentally meaningless, not in the everything-is-meaningless sense of the existentialists, but relative to "higher arts" like painting or literature (apparently). That's because the article never really justifies those claims at all. Without that justification all of the author's posturing about "a unified idea and a public metaphysics" has only an emotive (ironically) effect.

March 22, 2000

An anecdote from rmb:

Monk hired a bass player for a Tues-Sun. gig in a club in Washington DC, and told him there would be a rehearsal at the club before the first gig, starting at 4PM.

The bass player showed up at Monk, no band, club's closed.

He waited for an hour, and someone came and opened up the club.

He waited until 7, still no Monk, no band.

Gig started at 9...Monk rolls in at 8:45, the bass player says "I thought there was supposed to be a rehearsal today !!"

Monk says "Oh, yeah, man...that rehearsal was for YOU."

The gig starts and the bass player's doing OK w/most of the tunes, but there are a couple that are kicking his ass.

Goes home, practices the ones w/which he's having trouble, comes back Wed. night, does better.

Goes home, practices them again, OK on Thursday except for one tune...can't seem to hear it.

Spends Friday and Saturday working on that tune, finally the last night of the gig he feels like he can play it.

Aftert the gig, he says the usual things to Monk, then adds "Oh, by the way, that one's REALLY hard. Took me all week to get it together."

Monk's answer..."Shit. You played it better when you didn't know it."

Again from rmb:

Steve Lacy, when asked by Derek Bailey to describe in 15 seconds the difference between composition and improvisation:

"In fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds."

And, of course, this description came in at exactly 15 seconds long.

Idea that occurred to me today:

So far I enjoy the second half of Emergency & I a lot more than the first half. I thought of what people would think if it came as an EP, with just the second half. Assuming it didn't need the first half to make it seem brilliant, I still think people would be tempted to discount it a bit for not being long enough. "Great stuff, too bad it's not a whole album." And such.

Which led me to think this: maybe part of what causes dichotomies like that between song/album (short/long, commercial/artistic, pick any one of millions of analogues) is the perniciousness of the dichotomy: if it's harder to shake once you've started using it, then it's more likely that you'll use it anyway. Which is somewhat fatalistic, if you don't like these things.

This seems like something I would've read in Derrida, but I don't recall it, so off I go hunting.

Listening to Masada today has gotten me down about how little of America's musical tradition seems to be their own, and not borrowed or stolen.

But maybe that's not abnormal.

Soul Coughing just broke up, which I suppose is a good thing if their last album was any sign. At least they got two good albums out of the deal.

Brynne has graciously provided a translation to some of the German referenced on my Goodbye 20th Century page.

Emergency & I is slowly worming its way under my skin.

March 21, 2000

I don't recall which track it is, but after hearing it some more I get the impression that the blues ballad from Dylan's John Wesley Harding is not one of his best tunes. By a bit.

March 20, 2000

If you've been avoiding Sonic Youth's A Thousand Leaves just because they've been around for a million years and it's just another Sonic Youth album, then perhaps you should pick it up and check it out. It's a very very solid album. Not so earth-shatteringly great as Daydream Nation, but it's far better than listening to, say, Korn.

Sorry about all of the links lately. I'm in research mode.

Critical work on Confusion is Sex.

The Art of Noises.

March 19, 2000

This is an interesting article, even if you just skim it.

The down beat archives are very interesting.

It doesn't look nearly so hard written like this...

Working long hours, nothing better to do than find quotes:

"The three worst sons of bitches in the world are Hitler, Frank Sinatra, and Buddy Rich - and two of them are in my band!" - Tommy Dorsey

"I never had much interest in the piano until I realized that every time I played, a girl would appear on the piano bench to my left and another to my right." - Duke Ellington

"Every rocker I ever knew got into it to get girls."
- John Lennon

Said to be from Monk:

"I like to sleep. There is no set time of day for sleep.
You sleep when you're tired, that's all there is to it."

I did a little cleaning on my want list.

Surely Tom might take umbrage with the idea implicit here, but an old email I just ran across. The topic being discussed is the inclusion of popular culture into the quiz bowl (game for nerds - ring buzzers - answer questions) canon.

Since I don't know anything about history, in order to learn a little bit (for quizbowl - I'm such an opportunist) I'm poking around on historically-oriented web sites. At an "any day in history" site I discovered that King Crimson debuted on April 28th 1969. My birthday is on April 28th, 1978. How bout that? In other music-related news, WOI, Ames' public radio station was founded as the first educational station licensed in the US, on April 28, 1922.

A strange little chain of events:

  • Today while flipping through my roommate's Rock Music Styles book (for his "history of rock and roll" class), I noticed that they called the bass part to Dylan's (and thus Hendrix's) "All Along the Watchtower" a "passacaglia", which in classical music is a 2-measure repeated form where the bass ascends and then descends. Or thereabouts.
  • At Disc-Go-Round today with Lisa I found a copy of John Wesley Harding and bought it.
  • Today while reading rmc I saw someone complain about teaching music appreciation to college students, saying that the theme to the Eddie Murphy movie Beverly Hills Cop, "Axel F", was a passacaglia. So I pointed out the more appropriate example, "Watchtower".

In the first and last events above, I wondered about the meaningfulness of calling any manifestation of some formerly-studied form (like passacaglia) in modern culture, by its "known" name. Is the passacaglia in "watchtower" the same as the one in a baroque concerto? Does it matter what the composer/artist intended - i.e., did they have to "know" they were using passacaglia? The immediate answer is "no, of course not" - names like this can be used to identify forms as they're found "in the world", just as we might say "we found a group structure in the interactions between particles at the quantum level". But caution is important: there's a difference between someone using a form, who has studied that form, and someone who just picked it up somewhere, and doesn't know about its history or its breeding. Also, forms can come from different sources - going through formal, as well as meaningful, changes along the way.

I think there's more here, a lot more, to be said. I should get out my books on Mr. Intentional Fallacy.

March 18, 2000

Waking up today I heard (and am hearing) some opera on public radio. After I'm sufficiently lacking grog, I notice that the singers (it also took a while for the soprano to start sounding like she was singing words) were singing Russian. Pretty soon I started to pick up a lot more of what they were saying - not enough to piece together the plot that well, though. It was clear how simple the language in the opera was, though, from how much I understood. Compare to Tarkovsky's Solaris, which I watched a couple weeks ago - I didn't understand a lot of the dialogue, which was still somewhat simple and direct.

Another thing I noticed is how dumb everything sounded. Now, I don't like opera. I've never tried to like opera, but that's just the way some things are. I'm a busy listener. But this is the first bit of opera I've heard where I could understand the language the libretto was written in. And it still sounds dumb.

That, my friends, is a subtle, searching criticism of the western operatic tradition.

The opera was Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

People say that I'm hollering.
Man, I feel like hollering.
- Charles Mingus, in the notes to Oh Yeah

March 17, 2000

Man, ALL music is folk music.
You ain't never heard no horse
sing a song, have you?
- Louis Armstrong

I stopped my experiment with Music for 18 Musicians around 3:30 in the AM today. After I finally wrote some code for Ashlock tonight, with a bit of duress, I felt that I needed some kind of closure. As a whole piece 18 does have closure, but after hearing it for however long it was, it's hard to feel the closure. Much like the
Evans tune I wrote about recently, 18's cyclic structure can seem endless (thus lacking closure) when it's played end-to-end.

To get my closure, I returned to an old favorite, Kind of Blue. Even if it is modal.

Tonight while paging through one of those massive histories of art - modern, in this case - I was struck by a dissimilarity between art history and music history. A passage discussing Picasso and the development of cubism said:

Picasso, in 1907 - and Braque at the same moment - asserted for the first time the principle that even the figure could be subordinated to the total painting. It could be distorted, cut up, transformed into a series of flat-color facets essentially indistinguishable from comparable planes composing the environment in which they existed.

This passage presents the history of painting dialectically, representing Picasso's and Braque's work as one party in the dialogue. Now, I know that's done in music criticism and music history (take for example the transition from classicism to romanticism in western "classical" music - as puts it, "formal concern, intellectuality and concise expression were augmented by sentiment, imagination, and effect"), but (a) I got the impression from my reading tonight that the presentations of the musical dialectic I've read have never gotten as incisively at the nature of the change, and (b) such haifalutin mumbo-jumbo, much as I love it, has been confined to academia and thus to classical music.

Considering that this isn't all that world-shattering an idea, I assume it's been come up with before. I can even think of examples. Bob Dylan, for example, is well-known for redefining the nature of popular song in many ways (which I won't attempt to reel off here so I don't look ignorant when I get them wrong or miss the most important ones). Same goes for the Beatles. Then there are people like the early progressive rockers, who introduced drastic changes in instrumentation, performance, and composition. Et cetera. So why is it that I don't feel that the dialectic in music has been elucidated as clearly as that of painting?

March 16, 2000

A thread on the ambient music mailing list recently asked people to give their ages and a little listening history. I was surprised by how many older people responded! Many were over 40 or 50.

An attempt at describing Low to a newcomer:

Low are a band from Duluth, Minnesota who make very slow music. That's not the only thing there is to their music, or even the most important thing, but it's what you'll notice first. Low play pretty standard pop songs, stripped to their bare essentials: slow tempos, quiet voices, powerful lyrics, and spare instrumentations.

More again: there's something special about that 2 seconds of silence (save for the whirrr of the laser arm) as the disc ends, then returns to the beginning to start over.

Still more on my 18 experiment: I've developed the uncanny ability to look up at the catalog display every time track 3 or track 7 comes up. I don't think it's that I'm recognizing them as track 3 or 7 - rather, I'm suddenly intrigued, and I wonder what track it is I'm listening to. So, there you go: experimentally verified results. If you want the good stuff, go to tracks 3 and 7 first, home listeners. (Not that you should try this at home. At least not without hip-hop supervision.)

Quote from a Brent S. Sirota Pitchfork review:

Every shipment of discs I get seem to scream: deconstruct this, you prick! And so, I find myself on the business end of an OED and a dog-eared copy of Adorno, trying to come up with two dozen different ways of saying the word "groove" without being implicated in a bourgeois aesthetic ideology. Goddamnit, how many discs can I describe as "Kafkaesque" without eventually losing every last shred of credibility? I don't even know what rock music sounds like anymore.

More on my Music for 18 Musicians experiment: when I returned home tonight, it was once again fresh. In fact, track 7 sounded completely different to me, from how it usually does. Track 7 often stands out for me when listening, because it's got a lot of piano interplay (there are seven pianists credited on the disc, but it's hard to tell exactly how many are playing when - certainly multiple pianists, though). This time, though, it seemed much quieter. Much of the work has a rhythmic drone at its foundation, but in Section V (that's track 7) a lot of the other instruments in the drone drop out, leaving behind the filigree woven by the piano parts. Other instruments, like the bass clarinet, return nearer the end of the track.

I'm not sure, but perhaps Section IX (track 11) is one of the places where Reich used phasing to structure the section.

So, earlier, I had an urge to put on Goodbye 20th Century when I got home, but now I'm content to continue testing my limits with Reich.

Motion looks to be a nifty review and information site.

I've been on the lookout for a few years for Stuart Dempster's Underground Overlays in the Cistern Chapel. I'll probably just order it eventually, now. Glenn McDonald's review first got me interested in it. I bring this up because Dempster has worked with Pauline Oliveros, one of whose compositions is on Sonic Youth's Goodbyte 20th Century.

I've begun collecting some information about Goodbye 20th Century

March 15, 2000

Sometime after the last time I woke up, I started Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians playing. I intend to let it play as long as I feel comfortable, which I hope will be a few days.

The most interesting thing I've found so far is that while I'm not sick of it, I have a strong desire to hear something else, just because I habitually listen to a lot of music. For instance, I watched Shine (about nervous-breakdown-pianist David Helfgott) again tonight, and then wanted to plumb through my classical collection, especially the Rach 3.

As I said, though, I'm not sick of 18 yet - it's still beautiful and surprising.

Here's some info on the piece, if you've never heard (of) it:

The official page at ECM has a sound clip. IIRC it's of track 1, which is structurally a little different from the 11 central sections of the piece, but they sound similar, on the surface.

The 1998 recording of this (by Reich's own ensemble - there was an earlier version back in the 70s or so, too) won a Grammy for best small ensemble (classical) performance. But the Grammies still suck. has some biographical information on Reich, and a list of other recommended works.

An OK review which explains a bit about the music and what it sounds like.

March 14, 2000

The complete composition "Piano Piece for David Tudor #1" by La Monte Young, during his Cage-influenced conceptual art days:

Bring a bale of hay and a bucket of water onto the stage for the piano to eat and drink. The performer may then feed the piano or leave it to eat by itself. The piece is over after the piano has been fed, or after the piano eats or decides not to.

The above is snipped from a good paper on the origins of minimalism in modern classical music.

If you read regularly, don't forget that I love to get mail about things I write about in the blog, even if it's just minor signs of support. Discussion is even better!

Here's what I think is an interesting note:

Out of 834 discs, I have 118 classified as "classical" (though one of those is Indian classical, which is actually a lot more important to me than some of those classical CDs...), and only 90 classified as "jazz" of some form.

I don't quite know how to gauge it, but it seems that, if asked, I'd have to say that jazz, as a genre, is far more important to me than classical music. I guess this means I just love what recordings I own that much more, since I own them in disproportionate amounts, apparently.

Even more interesting... I've gotten more than a third of those jazz CDs in the past year, so obviously I haven't spent that much time with many of the recordings. In contrast, I haven't bought more than a handful of classical in the past year (though I would have bought more 20th century classical, in particular, though others as well, if it were readily available in Ames). Even before this year, in fact, probably ever since being a music listener, I still would have said that jazz was far more important to me than classical music.

Further comments withheld, perhaps, for a future date. Because I have a lot of them, and they're incoherent as a whole.

But since Nick Hornby has gotten me into a list-making mood, here are my favorite classical recordings (this one is easy, since I feel so detached from the genre right now):

  • J.S. Bach, The Art of Fugue / Musical Offering, on a Philips bargain double, performed by musicians from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. I never even listen to the disc - and - five - tracks of The Art of Fugue, either, just Musical Offering, which is probably my favorite piece of classical music.
  • Beethoven, late string quartets (op. 127, 131, 132, 135), including the "Muss es sein?" quartet, performed in mono by the Budapest String Quartet
  • Erik Satie's piano music (on cheapo Naxos discs) and his Gymnopedies, the orchestrated versions
  • Dmitri Shostakovich's string quartets nos. 14, 15, which I've still not listened to nearly thoroughly enough
  • Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians

There're more, though, but I feel bad putting them down because I haven't listened to some of them in so long, or at least, haven't listened to them with any seriousness. Some of these were even once among my favorite pieces of music, like Mozart's "Dissonant" and Mendelssohn's "Scottish" symphony.

  • the aforementioned Mozart string quartet K. 465
  • the aforementioned Mendelssohn symphony no. 3
  • piano concertos of Rachmaninov, especially 2 and 3 (Ashkenazy)
  • symphonic music of Rachmaninov, specifically symphonies 1 and 2, and the tone poem Die Totsenisel (Ashkenazy)
  • Mahler symphonies 5, 6, 7, 1
  • Beethoven piano sonatas, symphonies 5, 7, 6, 3
  • Aleksandr Borodin, "In the Steppes of Central Asia"
  • Schubert's "Trout" quintet, and impromptus
  • Ralph Vaughan-Williams, symphonies 3, 6
  • Hildegard von Bingen, "11000 Virgins: Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula" (Anonymous 4)
  • Arvo Part, "Fratres"
  • Vivaldi, that old saw, "The Four Seasons" suite (Bernstein and Corigliano)
  • Chopin nocturnes
  • Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition", Ashkenazy's piano version
  • Dvorak's 9th, "from the New World"

Hmph. It makes me feel so pedestrian, which I hate both simply for the feeling pedestrian, and for the feeling responsible for being a "good listener".

In contrast, if I do this for jazz, i.e. at sort of the same level of "favorite recording" - that is, not being extremely picky - I end up quoting a lot more of my collection. I had to hold back, below, to make the lists line up somewhat. I feel as if I like all of these a lot more than the classical above, even though in some sense that's not true.

  • Brubeck - Time Out
  • Coltrane - A Love Supreme, Giant Steps, Live at the Village Vanguard, My Favorite Things
  • Miles - Jack Johnson, Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, Kind of Blue, Miles in the Sky, Miles Smiles, Nefertiti, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain
  • Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch
  • Ellington - The Great London Concerts
  • Bill Evans - Conversations With Myself
  • Diz - Birks Works
  • Herbie Hancock - Sextant, Head Hunters
  • Keith Jarrett - The Koln Concert
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra - Inner Mounting Flame
  • Mingus - Blues & Roots, Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Mingus Ah Um
  • Monk - Live at the It Club
  • Sonny Rollins - Volume Two
  • John Zorn - Masada Live in Jerusalem

More to think about in the future...

Jesus! If it wasn't 1:30 in the A.M. I would now be turning my stereo up as loud as it can go. Though I was swiftly taken by Mojave 3's second album, Out of Tune, which I bought first, I wasn't that interested in their first, Ask Me Tomorrow, which I bought second, and which seems more awash in generic 4AD ambiance and written less brilliantly. I suppose, though, I never listened that closely to the end of the album, because just now (it's over now though in the time it took me to start writing) the ninth and final track, "Mercy", which I'm now listening to again, kicked in with full-on power chords, drum fills, and what suddenly felt like a ten-times-bigger sound. So instantly I'm thinking, "what the hell?" because though it's great, it's slightly out of place on this album, which in general is much more reserved than this, though the end-of-album-placement redeems it slightly. The only thing I can think of is that this is one of Mojave 3's last major ties to their (partial?) former incarnation as Slowdive, which I still haven't heard.

My intention to rectify that oversight is doubled, now.

March 13, 2000

More help on the Plan: they've got a synthesizer and they're not afraid to use it.

Also, for wussy dainty fellows like Jon and Tom, Belle and Sebastian have set the release date for their new album. Heh.

Tom on writing about music (see #20), and my old thing on impressions.

While baking a cake tonight I was surprised to hear the sounds of Aphex Twin's "Boy/Girl Song" (from the Richard D. James Album) coming from the TV in the living room. It turns out the song was being used as background music for a Special Olympics commercial, while what looked like some sort of chromosomal-disease sufferer talked.

I'm not sure about the ramifications of this. It smacks of the production people being overly cute - Aphex Twin's music is routinely childlike, often fractured and slightly disturbed (take "Milkman" from the same album, where James' manipulated voice sings, "I / would like / some milk / from / the milkman's / wife's / tits"). Fractured enough, that it seems vaguely insulting to all those involved in the Special Olympics to use the music, especially since 99% of people who see the commercial won't get the joke.

On the other hand, though, there is an ebullient, exhilerating quality to some of Aphex Twin's music, and those qualities are at their peak in "Boy/Girl Song". In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that I know the rest of the album, I'm not sure I would associate any qualities of childlikeness or fracturedness with the music used in the commercial. But still...

On other fronts, I realized that I forgot to mention what the Dismemberment Plan sound like, or at least, what you might find it convenient to label them as. Most loosely, they're "emo", short for "emo-core", which is short for "emotional hardcore", which I always thought was a dumb name. Also, the "hardcore" part of that label, which is often overlooked, doesn't really apply to the Plan. While it's clear from some tracks that they can really rock hard, their chops are more often used to generate jittery, twitchy grooves than the bludgeoning, massive chunks of sound more familiar to related bands like Burning Airlines.

Speaking of Burning Airlines, JR Robbins of Burning Airlines produced Emergency & I and the album was released on de Soto Records.

So, anyway, the Pixies, Talking Heads, Fugazi, and others have been identified as showing up somewhere in the Plan's sound. The Talking Heads, especially in the lead singer's nervous voice and delivery (maybe Black Francis could be said to have had a nervous voice, but I prefer to think of it as 'crazy'). Also, funk, soul, rap, and hip-hop, according to Pitchfork's Brent DiCrescenzo, though those influences are harder, apparently, for a dorky white guy like me to spot. There is a notable amount of "patter" on the disc, though, which I suppose is likely to be linked to rap these days rather than other musical forms (specifically, musicals... ick).

March 12, 2000

Yesterday I read Nick Hornby's first novel, High Fidelity. I don't know if I think it's as earth-shatteringly good as it was made out to be (in the reviews I read), but it's still quite good and worth your time if you'd like to read Hornby's observations on (a) music fandom or (b) the love life of a thirtysomething north London go-nowhere.

The novel could be roughly divided into three parts, where the first and last parts are each shorter than the much thicker middle part, and they're both funnier and more full of music-related writing. When reading the first part I was convinced I was reading one of my new favorite books (and like the book's characters, who constantly (though not as constantly as I was hoping - nerd) call off top-5 lists to one another, I should give one (subject to change at any moment): 1. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, 2. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3. Don DeLillo, Underworld, 4. Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 5. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby) but later I changed my mind. The middle section was far less exhilerating, and as it was less focused on the music-geek aspects of main character Rob Fleming's life, was also less interesting to the music-geek in me. That interest was piqued more again near the end, during which Rob's life takes an upswing again.

This isn't to say Rob's love life is uninteresting. Hornby's writing here is also witty and entertaining, and it certainly has some decent component of truth to it. But, perhaps intentionally, the middle section of the novel is also the most difficult, emotionally. Rob comes closer and closer to hitting rock-bottom in life, and finally does so near the end of the section. This isn't as much of a downer as you might think - here I can't help but think of Boogie Nights, which is one of the most miserable films I've seen in years, where even after all the typical 80s-cokehead-freakout-washup scenes drag on, Dirk ends up being beaten after trying to sell a look at his unit for $20 to a guy in a pickup truck - but it's noticeable after the fast-paced, flashy, exciting prose of the first section.

John Cusak bought the movie rights to this book, put himself in the starring role, and moved the setting to Chicago. Though it's obviously been changed a bit (for example, in the commercials for the film, they show part of the scene in which a father comes into Championship Vinyl looking for Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" for his daughter; in the book, they don't have a copy in, but Barry yanks the guy around, because he disapproves of the choice of music, then pretends that they do have it in stock, refuses to sell it to him; in the film, Barry tells the father that his daughter probably doesn't even like that song, and asks if he even knows his daughter...), it seems that this has the potential to be very faithfully adapted, so I'm looking forward to seeing it at the end of the month.

Along with my books (High Fidelity and John Berryman's Dream Songs), I got the Dismemberment Plan's Emergency & I in my order.

I've already heard the CD in bits and pieces from playing KURE's copy during my show, and from hearing Neil's copy once or twice, since he ordered it before me. Despite that it's interesting to watch how my feelings for the music change, because until last week or so I didn't really like any of the songs on it, until I heard the jittery, spasmodic "Girl O'Clock". Yesterday I heard the disc probably 5 or 6 times, most of those one after the other. Even in that short time, I could see myself liking parts I hadn't liked before. This music seems to have just the appropriate amount of catchiness and needs-listening-ness for me to watch my taste change like that, over a short period of time.

I'll probably type up some more thoughts on this album over the next week or so, during which time I'm on spring break.

Last week I also picked up Will Oldham's new Lost Blues 2 and Yo La Tengo's first album, Ride the Tiger. I haven't listened much to the Oldham yet but his cover of AC/DC's "Big Balls" certainly is amusing, the one or two times I've heard it so far. In the liner notes to Tiger Ira Kaplan notes that he sees the album as a Dave Schramm record (Schramm was their first, and primary, guitarist, before he left to eventually form the Schramms), and right now I'm inclined to agree. You can hear the seeds there, but it doesn't really sound like a Yo La Tengo album.

March 10, 2000

One more midterm left and all I want to do is float up to heaven in a big syrupy elevator of Antonio Carlos Jobim.

March 8, 2000

I thought about this 3 or so years ago, not for the first time, and obviously not for the last: picking favorite music. My thoughts then were relatively free-form - I hadn't connected up very well with the various approaches to a popular music canon that exist - but still relevant, I think.

So anyway, tonight I was reflecting on the "desert island discs" list" I pretended to work on a month or two ago. One big problem I have doing that, or just picking a broader / larger group of favorites, is picking something from artists of whose work I like more than one thing.

For example, I feel obligated to put a Nirvana album somewhere in my top n albums, but it's hard to decide between Nevermind and In Utero, which are the two that I like the most. Or, for Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space or Lazer Guided Melodies. And so on. Only Miles received enough unwavering devotion and attachment from me to garner two immediate places on my list, no questions asked, for Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew.

It's even tougher for some like Frank Zappa. I like, even love, lots of Zappa stuff, but can't decide if I could place one thing decisively over the others. The Ryko double-release version of Apostrophe' / Overnite Sensation is a joy to me, but it doesn't capture enough of Zappa-the-guitar-soloist or Zappa-the-20th-century-composer for me.

Such a moon -
Even the thief
pauses to sing.

I finally made my first online purchase today, for the Dismemberment Plan's 1999 CD Emergency & I, John Berryman's complete Dream Songs, and a book by Nick Hornby called High Fidelity, a novel centering around the lives of English music fanatics, which I'd heard about long ago from Sarah but was spurred to reading by the promos for the John Cusak film version of the book, due out this month.

March 7, 2000


Through the kind gift of a benefactor, I was able to procure the new Dirty Three, and though the verdict isn't in yet I'm quite pleased. Also picked up John Zorn's Masada group, live in Jerusalem (Klezmer - jazz fusion, by which I mean a joining together, not referring to rock-jazz fusion).

Standouts on the Dirty Three album are "I Offered It Up to the Stars and the Night Sky", which reaches a feverish, ecstatic climax, and "Lullabye for Christie", which isn't as gentle as it sounds.

I absolutely love the Masada - it's ecstatic, vibrant, vital, both jazz and not-jazz, true to its Jewish music sources and its combo-jazz roots simultaneously. It swings like a mother, it grooves, it's in the pocket, it's out of the zone, and it's live, and not just live, but live when the band was on.

Two questions someone asked recently on rmb, which I actually have to stop and think about:

  • What do you listen to, and why do you listen to it?
  • What does it give you, and how ?

And a great response...

Another response in that same thread, responding to someone who said they didn't like any rap:

I would recommend Arrested Development's 3 Years, 5 Months, 2 Days (1992) album for anyone with a condescending attitude towards anything labeled 'rap'... unless you're secure about your feeling that way and would rather not be interrupted.

March 6, 2000

For some reason I keep getting the urge to listen to my Sonny Rollins CD, just at the times when I don't have it with me. It feels kind of like a craving for... turtles... yes, turtles... which will never go away or never be satisfied...

March 5, 2000

Just two more days until the new Dirty Three - Whatever You Love, You Are - comes out. And I'm all out of money!

March 4, 2000

Lonely night, listening to Nick Cave's (and the Bad Seeds' I suppose) The Boatman's Call as I wait for the ol "Metalworks" show to end and the Josh & Neil show to start. Neil's gone this week so it's 100% quiet / droney / sleepy music.

March 3, 2000

Hmmm. Days pass funny when you don't get much sleep.

I'm not often prone to visualization (bad at it actually), but there's something inscrutable about Elf Power's A Dream in Sound that drives me to it. The production is flat - a lot of what sounds like it might potentially be even more appealing (guitar parts, horns, background vocals) is buried under something, but I can't quite figure out what. Even the lead vocals are somewhat de-emphasized. Lots of the songs are driven by prominent, bouncing basslines, but they're not so loud that they should be covering up the other sounds.

So anyway, to the visualization. A Dream in Sound makes me think of something tight, balled, drawn in to itself. Because Elf Power and Olivia Tremor Control are both Elephant 6 bands, and sound vaguely similar (though Elf Power sounds, to me, more like the Flaming Lips than OTC's Beatles), I'm given to compare the two, which maybe is only just so warranted. But by contrast, the sound on Black Foliage Volume 1 is open: exploded, three-dimensional.

I'm poor and have been thinking about finally selling off some CDs I never listen to. Highlights on my list:

  • Both Jackyl CDs. Sometime in high school I bought Jackyl because of the novelty of "Lumberjack," whose main selling point is the extensive chainsaw solo. Still can't figure out why I bought the second one. Maybe I was expecting more chainsaws?
  • Skinny Puppy's The Process. Even Skinny Puppy fans don't like this one. Part of what kept me away from electronic music for just a wee bit longer than I might have otherwise.
  • Paula Abdul, Spellbound. Give me a break. I was, like, in sixth grade. And she was hot! Ah, youth. Will anyone ever buy this fucking thing? The future is cloudy.
  • Silverchair. I must admit I had some fun with Frogstomp, but mediocre songwriting can't save the harder-core grunge knockoffs for me, finally.

Interestingly, there are still some things I've listened to just barely more than these in the past 4-6 years, that I don't even think about selling. I loved Everclear's Sparkle and Fade during high school, but bought So Much for the Afterglow mostly out of habit and duty - and ended up not listening to it much, after the first couple months. I pulled Sparkle and Fade out maybe 6 months ago and listened, enjoyed it, and then put it back on the shelf. But it's not up for dumping.

Thoughts on The Refreshments.

March 2, 2000

is there a hole for me to get sick in?

March 1, 2000

"I am the logical poet!"

... the songs on this specific record are not so much songs
but rather exercises in tonal breath control...
the subject matter - tho meaningless as it is -
has something to do with the beautiful strangers...
the beautiful strangers, Vivaldi's green jacket & the holy slow train

Is everyone's copy of Surfer Rosa mixed really low, or is it just mine?

February 2000