josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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9 Sep '02 02:46:58 AM

From the opening to the "String Quartet" chapter on Haydn, p. 111, in Charles Rosen's The Classical Style:

"Although some of the independent national styles -- French grand opera, for instance -- continued to exist and to develop in a direction not much affected by Viennese classicism, the supremacy of the Viennese style, or rather of Haydn and Mozart, is not just a modern judgment, but an historical fact, internationally acknowledged by 1790. As for Beethoven, in spite of difficulties in winning acceptance for his larger works, by 1815 even most of those musicians who did not like his music would have admitted that he was the greatest living composer: some of the admiration he won may have been unwilling, but it was uncontested (except of course, by the lunatic fringe that is the normal burden of the taste and criticism of any age)."

That last parenthetical remark there is astounding to me. But check this quote, p. 120: "The two principal sources of musical energy are dissonance and sequence -- the first because it demands resolution, the second because it implies continuation. The classical style immeasurably increased the power of dissonance, raising it from an unresolved interval to an unresolved chord and then to an unresolved key." Rosen is emphatic and consistent about relating the achievements of the architects of the classical style to what the composers did to bring out the particularities of the way the tonal system organized sound (p. 137: "[T]he leading role of the string quartet is not the accidental result of a handful of masterpieces: it is directly related to the nature of tonality, particularly to its development throughout the eighteenth century."). Just that fact, by itself, and the way that huge portions of the art music canon (works from the medieval, baroque, and classical era especially but maybe later for all I know) work with special constraints on the way music can be made, constraints that work in sort of rule-like ways - those seem like they play very fundamental roles in the way that despite internal disagreements the art music world can be in tight enough agreement for there to be a "lunatic fringe". Is someone who doesn't think say the Beatles were great (great what? would specifying change the answer?) part of a lunatic fringe? Well, the answer most people give would likely be yes, it seems, but with less certainty, I think. Less matter-of-factness. In part because the musical world that the Beatles are a part of runs under different rules (maybe in two hundred years it will be more conclusively pinned down what exactly they were doing and they can be great at that thing, and maybe then I won't care, but I thing I would still want to defend my right to reasonably say that they were not).

Yes that's right you should be thinking of Frank Kogan's Death Rock 2000 again. No tight rule-like constraints? No tight consensus of opinion, no lunatic fringe.

8 Sep '02 04:44:16 AM

I met my students' discussion sections (for "Philosophy and Cultural Diversity") for the first time on Thursday. As a way of finding out more about them, I asked them to write down (along with some other things) on index cards five records - not necessarily their favorite, but perhaps, or five they had heard recently, or that they had been enjoying, or five that they hated, whatever. When they introduced themselves to one another I had them say two of the records.

I haven't tallied them exactly or anything but I think Weezer was the most-mentioned band. This surprised me a little, just because the blue album, which came out when I was in high school, came up three times. The green album came up once and Pinkerton came up once (oh well). Maladroit did not. Ha.

I think Minneapolis hip-hop group Atmosphere came up the next most often, three times, but different records.

I had heard of almost everything. I have good reason to think that the records or bands I had not heard of were, most of the time, emo or hardcore.

8 Sep '02 02:03:01 AM

Another thing that happened to me (er well this may have happened before the site went down, but I never mentioned it): I dropped my copy of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, my favorite piece of philosophy, a key inspiration for this site, a book I refer to constantly, in the fucking toilet. It was not salvagable (ew).

This displeases me all out of proportion to how much I think it should because the publishers of the book are mercenaries and charge around $45 for either the dual-language or the English-only-translation editions, and I can't afford that at all right now. I haven't yet found a used copy (in fact, I bought mine used, otherwise I wouldn't even have had a copy yet). Aside from being the greatest thing ever, this does not appear to be a book that should be $45, in either edition. The demand for it should be much greater than for a number of books I see every time I go in a bookstore; other books by Wittgenstein are nowhere near as pricey, and except for maybe the Tractatus it seems unlikely that any of them are as popular.

There's a Wittgenstein course running here in the spring. Maybe I'll be able to get a used copy then through the campus bookstore. Until then I'll just grind my teeth every time I want to look up something like "Describe the aroma of coffee". Argh.

8 Sep '02 01:53:40 AM

One thing that happened to me while the site was down: my headphones broke. This is unspeakably terrible. Allow me to say more, then.

My headphones are Sony MDR-D33s. Er were. But that part hasn't changed, I guess. I paid a lot for them about six years ago - $90-$100, I think. There were surely better ways to spend money on headphones, but I didn't especially know or care at the time, and was delighted with these because they were the best-sounding headphones I'd ever had (or heard, being only marginally less cool than Damon's, which were the home version of mine, and so which had a slightly better bass response and er 'presence'). Everything sounded better on them, and when I tried other headphones (like my old pair of Sonys, which I must've bought sometime in high school, and which cost a lot less but still more than most people seemed to spend on headphones, which is why they still seemed somewhat expensive to me I suppose), everything sounded muddled.

Well, walking home last month from buying the new Sleater-Kinney album, the left channel suddenly cut out. I haven't yet tried (with my roommate's help) to repair them, but unless there's just a short in the external wire I don't know what I'd fix. I'm considering just getting some new headphones (better ones, like Grado SR80s, which would still be cheaper than my old ones, but I would have to try finding some Grados to try first), but besides the not knowing if mine can be fixed yet, I've also been deterred from spending the money for other reasons.

In the meantime I've been using the Philips Magnavox headphones that came with my portable CD player. I had never used them before - when I bought the CD player, I already had my good headphones in my bag and never even bothered to try the cheap ones. They sound terrible. Like having two transistor radios - really old cartoon style scratchy ones - strapped to my head. Everything sounds totally different, not just in the quality of sound (like all the bass I've lost, or the way I keep hearing what sound like the little bursts of noise approximating the sounds I should be hearing, instead of the fucking sounds), but the placement: the soundstage is totally deformed. This makes me not want to listen to a number of things. Some things end up sounding better than others, but it's hard to tell anyway as I've gotten accustomed to the poor sound. Aside from walking around or riding the bus, when I generally can't go without, this makes me elect not to use my headphones, more often than not. At times this means that I don't get to listen to what I want or how I want. I am not at all pleased.

8 Sep '02 01:32:10 AM

Epictetus on server downtime:

"8. Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well."

14 Aug '02 08:55:47 PM

"maggoty pigfucking underground" (i.e. Jess writing about Murray Street)

14 Aug '02 05:19:56 AM

I'm dubious of his analysis at the moment, but Marcello has at least gotten me to pull out Black Elvis / Lost in Space, which I haven't listened to in maybe more than two years (almost three now?). Why? Because he seems so unflinchingly positive about it, but for better reasons than "Keith's rhymes challenge conventions" (that one jumped out at me from a review I ran across online, I thought Frank might like it - one thought, how much can a record which most people who care about conventions will never hear challenge them, especially if it wouldn't be convincing to them?), "he's funny and talks about space peepee doodoo pistols", or "he was a mental patient you know". Especially because he's positive about the beats. A number of reviews think they're the weakest part, and one of the things that made me stop listening to the album was my agreement with that assessment. Things sound different now, though. I'm more experienced. And now I'm still listening, waiting to see what I think next.

13 Aug '02 05:27:01 AM

If I were filming it, maybe an appropriate if hackneyed image would be me, in a small room, walls, floor, ceiling closing in on me. My musical world has contracted.

Selling hundreds (?) of old CDs this spring just made me focus more on what other things I own but never listen to. I still have plenty left, but I never feel like playing them. I count many good records among them. But this isn't enough to make me want to hear them. What's most unsettling (?) about this is that those records I haven't wanted to play in a long time start resembling the ones I haven't wanted to play because I think they're no good.

"No good" is loaded, but yeah, no good. Even if Loveless is a great achievement blah blah sonic cathedrals blah blah vacumn cleaner blah blah I don't ever want to listen to it for any reasons other than sort of dutiful curiosity - is it any more appealing to me this time? A lot more? Then who the fuck cares?

This attitude is extending itself to a great number of records I have formerly found much more appealing than I ever found Loveless. In one way, what it is is my past slipping away from me. My recent past, sometimes as recent as a couple of years ago. I have memories (not necessarily events in the world, memories of people or places, but even just sensations, emotions, attitudes, feelings) locked up in some of those records, and their potential repeatability, some day, with some other records, isn't enough to stop me from regretting that I haven't done more to hold on to them.

If indeed I could have. I put it that way, haven't done more, because it seems as if for years I've been listening in a certain way, one that's made a lot of differences, but one which may have increased the rate of attrition. Buying lots of records, it's easy to focus on newer ones rather than older ones, and among the older ones, on records I have stronger connections with, or that I have reasons for pursuing (like Loveless, again) despite lack of connections. I also have a tendency to follow my whims. If I seem to want to listen to Sonic Youth and hip-hop for three months straight, then that will structure the bulk of my listening experiences accordingly. I think this means that the albums I connect with the most, the ones that hold a special place in my life, do so partly by chance. (I realize that I might be inclined to say this is normally how things work anyway, but you get me.) This may mostly be a matter of listening time. Mine is more fragmented and constantly reapportioned than it might otherwise be (how many times did I listen to any of my favorite albums, aged 16?, versus now?), and I maybe even consciously try to override any attempt at conscious control of it.

So lately I've been thinking about canons and lists and things, in this light. The last time I tried to make a list of my favorite albums, this is as far as I got:

Aquemini - Outkast
Bitches Brew - Miles Davis
Camofleur - Gastr Del Sol
Change - The Dismemberment Plan
Crescent - John Coltrane
The Curtain Hits the Cast - Low
Dirty - Sonic Youth
Dots and Loops - Stereolab
Emergency & I - The Dismemberment Plan
From Our Living Room to Yours - American Analog Set
The Golden Band - American Analog Set
The Hot Rock - Sleater-Kinney
I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One - Yo La Tengo
In Utero - Nirvana
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space - Spiritualized
Mission: Control! - Burning Airlines
Music for 18 Musicians - Steve Reich
Music Has the Right to Children - Boards of Canada
Musical Offering - J.S. Bach
Pinkerton - Weezer
Red Apple Falls - Smog
Red Medicine - Fugazi
Rock Action - Mogwai
69 Love Songs - Magnetic Fields
Straight, No Chaser - Thelonious Monk

There's no way I would want this list to stand, because I know where its flaws are, as far as representing what I wanted it to. I tried to only pick albums that I feel a very thick or deep connection to - records I like for lots of different reasons, or in lots of different contexts, or at lots of different moments, or especially strongly, or for a long time. None of that explains what I mean. But even with that criterion, there are problems. Some of these are more recent additions, and I can tell that they're just the sort of thing that might disappear from such a list in two years. Some I haven't listened to as much in the past year or two, and when I have I haven't felt as strongly about them. Some that made it onto a previous, much shorter version of this list have disappeared, but I would seem to love them as much as some of the ones listed here. I left them off, though, to remind myself. (And so I don't forget, one is Massive Attack's Protection, which a listen to a week ago reminds me is still wonderful.) Also, with some artists, I just hit too many walls. Surely there are more jazz records that mean as much to me as some of the records I listed above, but I don't know how to pick from among at least handfuls by some artists. E.S.P.? Miles in the Sky? Giant Steps? A Love Supreme? Stellar Regions? And more: it's short on things I want to pay more attention to, or things I love but don't have albums for, or or or...

I'm not so sure this list does much for making my own fragmented and complex life as a listener intelligible. But it is good for at least one thing, potentially: articulating a body of things that I would like to pay more conscious attention to (differentially, not uniformly, because of the above comments), as a way of preserving those records - those moments, experiences, feelings - that might otherwise fall away from me. Now I have to do the work to keep these things alive, or at least, give them a better shot.

There are things to do besides just listen.

12 Aug '02 04:26:00 AM

My roommate said Sam Prekop sounded like the guy from Modest Mouse. I was aghast.