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.
Last night I put on The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. I was up a little later than normal, but not much. Yet for some reason I stayed in bed an extra eight or nine hours. Since this is an album that never played right before my home CD player was repaired, I've almost never heard it at home - always either while on the move, or while studying and paying more attention to something else ("more" maybe is not appropriate, it's complicated). So the times when I woke up - at 8 and 12 and 4 - the music's being in the foreground was more noticeable than ever. Especially after the first two tracks. They're all very repetitive and minimalistic, but for some reason (perhaps repeated exposure? or the Ricki Lee Jones and sci-fi B-movie samples?) I always find them engrossing, exciting like good pop songs. The next three tracks seemed to me today to be almost dangerously repetitive. I don't think they're what kept me in bed, though (I was just tired).
There's a spot about 6 minutes into the third track where a knocking noise intrudes forward into the sound stage. Until then everything is sort of sunken into it, but the knock has more "air" on it. It's disconcerting. I think that's the only moment like that on the entire first disc, so it's not as if that's just something that they do sometimes on the album, like a musical device like playing a high note or getting louder. It makes it seem more like an accident even though it was obviously not.
U menya elektricheskaya ryba!
Over the weekend I picked up a Naxos recording of Beethoven's string quartet in A minor, Op. 132. I already own a recording of it by the Budapest String Quartet, on Sony/Columbia, but the recording is old and mono, and I've never been happy with the sound on it. I had been wanting a different performance for a while, and since the quartet is on the list of required or suggested (I can't remember which) listenings for my philosophy of music class, now was as good a time as any. Speaking of which, Applause, the classical/jazz branch of Cheapo in the Twin Cities, has loads of good stuff.
As I suspected, hearing the quartet in stereo, with a fuller, more modern sound, really opened it up for me. I've been listening to the whole thing, but so far the middle, third movement is the most captivating. A quote from the liner notes to the Budapest version:
A serious abdominal ailment in the spring of 1825 interrupted Beethoven's work on this quartet. His subsequent recovery is immortalized by the poignant inscription of the Molto adagio: "Hymn of thanksgiving to the Almighty, in the Lydian mode, offered by a convalescent." The "hymn" is heard in alternation with a second idea in bright D Major, marked "Neue Kraft fuhlend" (feeling new strength). For this listener, this miraculous edifice is the greatest slow movement in all Western music.
OK, so clearly, the author thought highly of it. He's not alone - Beethoven's "late" quartets (the last four) are pretty well regarded across the board. Lots of people claim them to be the best string quartets ever.
Now, you know what I think about talk like that. (Or maybe I've been reticent. But you should be able to guess.)
Which is troubling, at the moment, because I really really love that slow movement. It's hard writing about instrumental music, especially classical music, for me anyway. That I like it a lot just compounds the difficulty. That the music is so widely revered makes it even worse, because I can't stand to let it seem that, even if I like it for the reasons I'm supposed to like it (and I'm not saying that I do yet), that doesn't mean I want my further testimony, as it were, to add up with all that other talk of the quartet... in that way.
But what can I say about it at the moment? Little. The "hymn" portions are slow and beautiful, and we know what a sucker I am for slow and beautiful. The "feeling new strength" portions are led off twice by buoyant, stately melodies, the second time around higher and more wonderful than the first. At first the melodies seem so simple, so basic. Soon the typical classical-style eighth-note runs come in, especially between what seem like more prominent notes in the melody. These make me wonder about the melody, about how much could be stripped away. Aside from possibly some chords being sounded (it is a quartet, plus all the instruments are chordal ones), it seems like the basic notes to the melody are just six: the first three, with some eighth-note junk between those and the next three. Does the extra context help make that seem like a better-defined melody than it is? Is it that the notes are actually chords, voiced by different instruments? In different ranges? Not sure. But the basicness of the melody feels like a slight vindication to me, because it's got the kind of simplicity to it that it's easy to find in popular music. And aside from the fact that I'm no longer talking about the "hymn" or even the other four movements, which I'm sure have all kinds of formal unity yadda yadda yadda, I'd like to think that what sets so many people off about this quartet is that melody - a powerful one, yes, but also one not gotten at by formal devices claimed as the specialty of western art music.
Anyway, like I said, I don't know what I think yet. It's so soon. This is a pretty dumb reason, anyway, but it's something interesting to think about maybe.
Suppose the last track on the newest Boards of Canada EP is deliberately meant to sound like Kraftwerk from Trans-Europe Express? If so does it mean anything?
I did put on the new Bonnie 'Prince' Billy this morning, though, finding myself with an extra 5 minutes to spare. Surveying my kingdom, etc.
Most days I don't put on a record when I wake up, or after I shower. No time. But when I do now I always think of Maura, playing Liz Phair to dance to to dry her hair.
I can't hear the piano trio version of "Caravan" without hearing the smeared trumpet lead of the version I'm used to.
How long before it stands on its own?
Playing when we were out for pizza tonight: August and Everything After, which I hadn't heard in years. It sounded good. Do I want to dig it out and listen to it again? No.
Money Jungle moves from sounding like Ellington to someone entirely more modern at a moment's notice. But then I notice that what he's playing could sound like a piano part on a Mingus record (Mingus is on bass after all), or like a less knotty and cantankerous Monk playing Ellington.
I didn't mention it when it went up but you should check out my friend Ethan's first Pitchfork review even if the only rock band he likes is the Who. Hopefully Ethan will continue to write, even if he has to mail in the reviews on goddamned postcards thanks to his busted computer.