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.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

4 Jan '02 07:50:51 AM

I supppose I can clarify that a bit. First of all, I listen to the album in a maybe nonstandard way (though I bet there are others who do this too), since I have the version from the Peel Slowly and See box set. In that version, the album is preceded by a live version of "What Goes On". This has a couple of side effects for me. First, even though the next song, "Candy Says", is the beginning of the album proper, I don't think of it as such. The next song after that is the studio version of "What Goes On", so I somehow associate that track (the third on the CD) with "the beginning of the album," maybe because it's the first song again, only the studio version. This means that I think of "Candy Says" as some kind of bonus track, a demo or single or something stuck in before the album starts. None of this is deliberate, by the way, and it's not as if I've never known or been able to know the proper tracklisting and source of the tracks. I'm just stopping to think about what it seems to me I actually do when I put the CD on.

More importantly, because of that first live track, I always start the disc there and think of it as being part of the album that follows. I think this makes me less concerned about wanting to stop so earlier. Also, after the album there are a number of other live and bonus tracks, which I've never yet paid much attention to and never care to hear. So, stopping early for me sort of involves treating the songs I cut off as part of all that other junk at the end that I'm avoiding.

Why stop at "I'm Set Free" rather than "That's the Story of My Life"? Admittedly, although I'm not really big on the latter, I don't think it's a bad song. But the next song is "Murder Mystery", which I don't want to be on this album. Yes, the Velvet Underground were an experimental band at times. No, I do not want their half-assed "experiment" of a song stuck on after all the great songs that precede it. Surely it fits in better on an earlier album, if it fits anywhere. The record as a whole isn't "experimental" enough to warrant saying, in the song's defense, that it's kind of a patchwork thing, with some songs more experimental than others. The song sticks out too much for that to work, because the other songs are too conventional. So, again with the guilt by association stuff, I don't want to hear "Story of My Life" because it precedes "Murder Mystery" which I don't want to hear, and I consider "Story of My Life" more of a piece with "Murder Mystery" than with "I'm Set Free" because... why?

I'm not sure I have a good reason - remember, I said I'm just reflecting on what I do by habit.

I do like my records to end on end-of-record-sounding songs like "I'm Set Free", though. That may have something to do with it.

Also, it may be that I just consider "I'm Set Free" to fit in better with what precedes it than I do "Story of My Life", which would mean that I think the record as a whole is more unified if I stop there. Possibly this explanation, though it's not much of one, is more acceptable (because it is more plausible for me to say without further explanation that "Set Free" goes better with the other songs than to say that "Story" goes better with "Murder Mystery" than "Set Free"). Unfortunately "Story" and "Free" fit together lyrically...

4 Jan '02 04:22:05 AM

Jimmy found my blog recently and we got to talking. I'm happy to see he's moved his own journal online. I think everyone should, of course.

Coincidentally, I found myself listening to The Velvet Underground today, but I still would prefer it if it stopped with "I'm Set Free".

2 Jan '02 10:33:20 PM

Ewing in rough on Flavor Flav shocker. Well, yeah... more would have been nice. But isn't it good just to hear him?

(Alternately: isn't there a middle ground between what Tom says, and all the people who praise the track for Flav's "amped up" etc. appearance, when he's barely on it at all? Though the oh-are-you-from-my-hood-too chatter at the end is amicable and pleasing because of it.)

2 Jan '02 08:25:04 AM

I guess that's where the "glitch" comes in - otherwise it's sort of hard to tell. ps i love you rather than Down with the Scene.

2 Jan '02 08:23:59 AM

And it's a very small album - you have to listen in.

2 Jan '02 08:14:51 AM

At times, just some, Prefuse 73 reminds me of Boards of Canada, maybe someone else trying their hand at the BOC thing but coming from a different perspective.

The quote - which I suppose is from Herren, at least it sounds like something he'd say if what I've heard about him is any indication - about wanting to go back farther, have something "more classic," not just "rappers rapping over a beat," bothers me a bit. That alone is the sort of authenticity talk that should be regarded circumspectly, but it's just made worse by the context. The album is praised as "glitch-hop," and though there are rappers on it, it's mostly instrumental hip-hop, meaning beats and melody fragments, and other noises and things. So, a genre where claims to authenticity are often central (as if they're not in other genres - I wonder...). And music that claims to be an experimental take on the genre, so perhaps this is a reason for it to defend its own authenticity.

Perhaps it's just a strategic move, though, one of self-definition. The music here is different from Boards of Canada, definitely, but I think the two are similar enough that it's reasonable to ask why the Prefuse record is treated like a hip-hop record, and Music Has the Right to Children is not. If it's just a matter of taking them for what they claim to be (as I recall, there wasn't much discourse around the Boards of Canada record that treated it like hip-hop, although hip-hop was certainly mentioned in reference to the beats, so maybe people just didn't bother), then what's gotten by doing this? What would be gotten by treating them differently? (Prefuse as an IDM record, for example.)

This probably sounds a little too suspicious anyway. I mean, if Prefuse are glitch-hop, then they're being treated as part of a loose group of music that's got some connection to IDM, and to other non-hip-hop music. But when I see them mentioned, the focus seems to be on hip-hop - it's just worth thinking about what this does, and how much it's guided by the music on the record.

Here's a thought: it's guided more by the louder songs, and not by the quieter songs, which occupy a hazier area.


2 Jan '02 06:29:28 AM

I was reading some of A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes the other day and thought the following section might be of interest to those like Sterling, thinking about songs to those who are absent.

The Absent One

absence / absence

Any episode of language which stages the absence of the loved object - whatever its cause and its duration - and which tends to transform this absence into an ordeal of abandonment.

1. Many lieder, songs, and melodies about the beloved's absence. And yet this classic figure is not to be found in Werther. The reason is simple: here the loved object (Charlotte) does not move; it is the amorous subject (Werther) who, at a certain moment, departs. Now, absence can exist only as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain. The other is in a condition of perpetual departure, of journeying; the other is, by vocation, migrant, fugitive; I - I who love, by converse vocation, am sedentary, motionless, at hand, in expectation, nailed to the spot, in suspense - like a package in some forgotten corner of a railway station. Amorous absence functions in a single direction, expressed by the one who stays, never by the one who leaves: an always present I is constituted only by confrontation with an always absent you. To speak this absence is from the start to propose that the subject's place and the other's place cannot permute; it is to say, "I am loved less than I love."

2. Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the Woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys; Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). It is Woman who gives shape to absence, elaborates its fiction, for she has time to do so; she weaves and she sings; the Spinning Songs express both immobility (by the hum of the Wheel) and absence (far away, rhythms of travel, sea surges, cavalcades). It follows that in any man who utters the other's absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized. A man is not feminized because he is inverted but because he is in love. (Myth and utopia: the origins have belonged, the future will belong to the subjects in whom there is something feminine.)

3. Sometimes I have no difficulty enduring absence. Then I am "normal": I fall in with the way "everyone" endures the departure of a "beloved person"; I diligently obey the training by which I was very early accustomed to be separated from my mother - which nonetheless remained, at its source, a matter of suffering (not to say hysteria). I behave as a well-weaned subject; I can feed myself, meanwhile, on other things besides the maternal breast.

This endured absence is nothing more or less than forgetfulness. I am, intermittently, unfaithful. This is the condition of my survival; for if I did not forget, I should die. The lover who doesn't forget sometimes dies of excess, exhaustion, and tension of memory (like Werther).

(As a child, I didn't forget: interminable days, abandoned days, when the Mother was working far away; I would go, evenings, to wait for her at the Ubis bus stop, Sevres-Babylone; the buses would pass one after the other, she wasn't in any of them.)

4. I waken out of this forgetfulness very quickly. In great haste, I reconstitute a memory, a confusion. A (classic) word comes from the body, which expresses the emotion of absence: to sigh: "to sigh for the bodily presence": the two halves of the androgyne sigh for each other, as if each breath, being incomplete, sought to mingle with the other: the image of the embrace, in that it melts the two images into a single one: in amorous absence, I am, sadly, an unglued image that dries, yellows, and shrivels.

(But isn't desire always the same, whether the object is present or absent? Isn't the object always absent? -This isn't the same languor: there are two words: Pothos, desire for the absent being, and Himeros, the more burning desire for the present being.)

5. Endlessly I sustain the discourse of the beloved's absense; actually a preposterous situation; the other is absent as referent, present as allocutory. This singular distortion generates a kind of insupportable present; I am wedged between two tenses, that of the reference and that of the allocution: you have gone (which I lament), you are here (since I am addressing you). Whereupon I know what the present, that difficult tense, is: a pure portion of anxiety.

Absence persists - I must endure it. Hence I will manipulate it: transform the distortion of time into oscillation, produce rhythm, make an entrance onto the stage of language (language is born of absence: the child has made himself a doll out of a spoon, throws it away and picks it up again, miming the mother's departure and return: a paradigm is created). Absence becomes an active practice, a business (which keeps me from doing anything else); there is a creation of a fiction which has many roles (doubts, reproaches, desires, melancholies). This staging of language postpones the other's death: a very short interval, we are told, separates the time during which the child still believes his mother to be absent and the time during which he believes her to be already dead. To manipulate absence is to extend this interval, to delay as long as possible the moment when the other might topple sharply from absence into death.

6. Frustration would have Presence as its figure (I see the other every day, yet I am not satisfied thereby: the obejct is actually there yet continues, in terms of my image-repertoire, to be absent for me). Whereas castration has Intermittence as its figure (I agree to leave the other for a while, "without tears," I assume the grief of the relation, I am able to forget). Absence is the figure of privation; simultaneously, I desire and I need. Desire is squashed against need: that is the obsessive phenomenon of all amorous sentiment.

("Desire is present, ardent, eternal: but God is higher still, and the raised arms of Desire never attain to the adored plenitude." The discourse of Absence is a text with two ideograms: there are the raised arms of Desire, and there are the wide-open arms of Need. I oscillate, I vacillate between the phallic image of the raised arms, and the babyish image of the wide-open arms.)

7. I take a seat, alone, in a cafe; people come over and speak to me; I feel that I am sought after, surrounded, flattered. But the other is absent; I invoke the other inwardly to keep my on the brink of this mundane complacency, a temptation. I appeal to the other's "truth" (the truth of which the other gives me the sensation) against the hysteria of seduction into which I feel myself slipping. I make the other's absence responsible for my worldliness: I invoke the other's protection, the other's return: let the other appear, take me away, like a mother who comes looking for her child, from this worldly brilliance, from this social infatuation, let the other restore to me "the religious intimacy, the gravity" of the lover's world. (X once told me that love had protected him against worldliness: coteries, ambitions, advancements, interferences, alliances, secessions, roles, powers: love had made him into a social catastrophe, to his delight.)

8. A Buddhist Koan says: "The master holds the disciple's head underwater for a long, long time; gradually the bubbles become fewer; at the last moment, the master pulls the disciple out and revives him: when you have craved truth as you crave air, then you will know what truth is."

The absence of the other holds my head underwater; gradually I drown, my air supply gives out: it is by this asphyxia that I reconstitute my "truth" and that I prepare what in love is Intractable.

2 Jan '02 05:55:21 AM

ILM had been inundated with lists lately, but I like the point to this one from Jess. I tried one of my own; like all my lists it seems kind of boring to me.

I do find this list interesting in one way, though, and that's that I'm not that uncomfortable with choosing these songs as "life-affirming." I don't like that phrase, probably because it's usually used to disparage music that I love as somehow being inimical to life affirmation (that would mean that it denies life, I guess, but putting it that way should just make it even more clear what a stupid way of talking that is - this is music that people make and love, dammit). So maybe I'm offering the list ironically, or ultrasubjectively, although I think people would tend to agree that a lot of these are life-affirming in the conventional sense. Whatever. They are my-life-affirming, is the key thing. And most, but not all of them, I took notice of especially in the past year.

Of course, I've known about some, like "Back and Forth," for plenty of time. Even then I was treating it sort of ritually, accorded the kind of respect deserved by something that makes me so happy and gives me so much hope. I remember a time earlier this fall, which I unfortunately didn't write about, when I was walking home at night from the first time I had been out walking and exploring in St. Paul. I chose to listen to Emergency & I not really out of any definite plan to affirm life or anything like that, but hearing it, especially the ending sequence starting with "You Are Invited" and ending with "Back and Forth," I realized that I was probably starting to use it sort of ritualistically for that, in a very loose sense. I mean, often I'll just put it on to hear it or feel good, but I could tell that it had begun to have more deliberate uses too, deliberate and also backed by a small and growing personal tradition.

Of these other pieces of music, maybe "Eclipse" and "Get Up" are closest to "Back and Forth" in the above way. There are family resemblances between all of them, so that I don't treat everything on the list the same way, but there are some songs I treat similarly to others, some which I treat more ceremonially, if you will, others which just make me feel good.

1 Jan '02 10:30:58 PM

On tracks like Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose James Brown sounds overwhelmed by the band. I don't mean just that they're a lot louder than him. On studio recordings from around this time, he's in control. Here, it doesn't sound like the band is following him. Everything is frantically keeping up with the groove that the band as a whole is setting.