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.
I have been listening a lot to the Pixies' BBC sessions disc, and am even more entranced by the sound than before. Now that I've gotten more used to the record, I've got a harder time describing the sound, though. Some of the guitar leads are louder, but more importantly, feel closer in the mix (near-far in a very radial sense this time), especially in contrast to the very very roomy drums and 'rhythm' guitar (or whatever it should be called). I'm never happy with the lack of bottom to Kim Deal's bass, but on this disc especially it has a kind of woody thud that seems to lack any kind of percussiveness, it's just so evenly played, those big dumb eighth notes that she sits on. But the 'woody' element of the sound is where it's most percussive, with sort of a thwacking sound that overlays the gentle thuds. And lots of the songs here sound more cut-off than normal. Are they played any differently than their album versions? Some are, but I suspect most are not. So why do they sound different? Is it just that they're next to different songs? The running order and pacing of Surfer Rosa seems to have a lot to do with the effectiveness of the elliptical little songs, for instance.
Been tryyyiiiinnnn to meetchoooo
A lot of the time when I listen to Mi media naranja now I think about her. It's the kind of memory like where someone told me about it after it happened to someone else. Not the other kind. So there's no power to it, at first. It doesn't hurt, or feel good or bad. It's just sort of like driving by a sign, and taking note. Oh, there's a stop sign. If I think about it, in some sort of dissociated, listless way, I can make it start to feel like something, but I'm not sure what.
This may be an acceptable reconstruction of it. It was in February, maybe. On Valentine's Day, or close enough to it that we were celebrating it. She may have given me a little stuffed porcupine (or hedgehog?) grasping a heart with a message on it. I may still have this, in her box. We went out on a date. This was unusual, even though we had "dated" for a few years. It's the familiar regrettable story: familiarity bred a sort of apathy where I may have taken her for granted. (I am not sure if either of us accused me of this, or even her of this. But it feel as if it may fit the "facts" I remember, and it's so common as to be tempting.) So we dated less anyway. But worse, the previous summer we had broken up, tearfully. I suffered through a miserable fall, and after isolation at my parents' during the Thanksgiving break, where I ran across a picture of us together (I had almost none of these, because I so dutifully avoided cameras), I became determined to woo her again and reform our relationship. As soon as I returned home, I walked across town, nervous in a new shirt. It was foggy and cold. I did my best and we went for a walk across the field near her hall, where we talked about something. (Do I even know what, at all, I said then? I do not.) She agreed to take me back, and we were both happy.
But there was a caveat. We were to be less physical for a while, to give things time to become more comfortable again. This could have meant sexual frustration, I suppose, but I don't really think I experienced it. We still maintained some physical closeness, which I think is what I wanted most. But in the past I had perhaps treated her in certain ways, ways that are hard to explain. Maybe I was too taken with the fact that she was a woman, a glorious embodiment of woman, and not enough with the fact that she was a person. Even that much speculation seems to put too much of an interpretation on what I can only recall now as unmonitored tendencies. (There is more, I think, but I can't talk about it.)
So we still had some physical closeness, but it was more distanced, more formalized, than in the past. This date, for Valentine's Day, was significant because she acquiesced at the end of the night. Acquiesced to being physically closer, to letting me touch her more. If I experienced no sexual frustration of my own, there was at least some kind of frustration: I thought I knew how much she loved to be loved, and I missed having the chance to make her happy - because it made me so happy to see her so. That's why there was no sexual frustration. Sex didn't have anything to do with it, for me. I don't think I even took off my clothes that night.
It was probably foolish to put on Mi media naranja at that moment, because it never played the right way on my stereo and I knew it would probably present only distractions, despite my feeling that it was exactly the music I wanted to play. I had the suspicion that any fooling around with the stereo would annoy her - had annoyed her, thus the suspicion. But I put the music on anyway and it worked, played through with no problems at all, even when repeating.
So, these things I remember: the music, her stretched out on my green bedspread, her gray skirt. These things are all fleeting, mixed together, inseparable somehow, and not even the good kind of memory. And I can't think of it without thinking of her top, but I don't even really remember which it was. The maroon sweater she stole from her mom? The gray long-sleeved one, that always makes me think of her new haircut now, and her trip to Belize, and the picture of her standing in the airport, clutching her pillow? Or both, one on top of the other? Why does that detail hang me up?
I don't remember anything else about it.
All the rest, I just have to retell myself. And like I said, it doesn't really feel like anything really. So the music doesn't change.
What's more, something should be said about the compositional role those pulses play, together with the loping, almost loop-like lines. Loop as in sample loop, though there aren't any here. (Cf. what Sterling suggested about a hip-hop connection in the rhythms.) The songs mostly forsake or subvert expected dynamic and structural devices. So it shouldn't be surprising that the music has elements very similar to dance music, all kinds of "black" music. Even though it sounds very very white indie.
The word "pulses" should come in somewhere when describing the basslines on Tropics and Meridians, especially the first song and last song.
Is this a good test for whether or not something is avant-garde?: see if it a) annoys you, b) bores you.
Or used to.
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.