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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27 Sep '02 05:56:10 AM

Some questions I often think about (or at least, that often come into my head - I don't usually think anything else about them) while I'm listening to 69 Love Songs:

How much am I missing by not being familiar with the original musical contexts that many of the songs obviously seem to be related to? (In "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits", the music sounds to me kind of like a nostalgic 50s style rock-n-roll song about teenagers in love, but only in the most tenuous sense possible - tenuousness due more to my not being acquainted with songs like that at all. But what kinds of emotional responses to songs like that make sense to people who are more familiar with that sort of music? I have no clue.) It gets worse - often I have even less clue what the stylistic antecedents might be, just that they must be back there.

Why do I still not get the joke in "Papa Was a Rodeo"? Or even know if I'm wondering about the right part being the "joke"?

Why is there beeping in "Absolutely Cuckoo"?

What role does the cheap production play? This intersects in lots of ways with other questions: what roles do different kinds of smallness or triviality or inconsequentiality or silliness etc. play? Is it significant that at times the cheapness (etc.) seems to come to the fore? Or that even though most of the songs can be seen to be somewhat like this, I stop hearing some of them that way? (Rather, stopped long ago, though sometimes it comes back - "Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" suddenly sounded overwhelmingly cheap today, because one of the synth parts sounded more prominent and I could hear it repeating.)

Do the small or less "complete" sounding songs have a different function? What?

If it helps make sense of songs or if it helps make songs sound better to sing along to them or to pretend as if you are or could (this is a large and untested and undeveloped claim), then what difference does it make that a listener doing so is only one person, compared to the range of performers, narratorial voices, styles, etc.?

Are the singers deployed in any significant ways related to their appropriateness (or inappropriateness) to the songs they sing, to their genders, to their sexual preferences, to the sexual preferences of the narrators, to the gendered characteristics displayed by the narrators, to...?

Related to cheapness, etc.: questions about authenticity of emotion, sentiment, performance ("This one sounds like a band in a room." "Oh? It's not."), sincerity, etc.

I don't think I can really come up with answers to these that I'm happy with without going through the album song by song like I am now - multiple times, focusing on different things at different times (but never the same thing all at once - that would be folly).

Etc., etc., etc.,

26 Sep '02 07:03:43 AM

What I most wanted to do this evening, at least for five minutes, was sing out loud to "Queen of the Savages". But I was walking outside, in public, with my headphones on, so I didn't. Sadly the moment passed.

25 Sep '02 07:53:39 AM

Tonight I took the bus home from downtown Minneapolis after midnight. I had been out so I didn't have my headphones or anything with me. The bus was very empty and very quiet. I had some music in my head, though:

Stereolab, "Metronomic Underground" - because I put it on a mix I made for Katie's birthday, but I had it in my head anyway because it happened to be on an old mix I threw on this morning on my way to campus. Just hearing the bass line and imagining little variations on it and trying to see if I think that's what the actual variations are in the song (and also how long I could go before it seems like I had to vary it, and which ones seemed like the ones that I had to change the part to) was very entertaining and entrancing. It was harder to hear the vocal parts because I can't replicate the sounds they make (either because they're in French or too delicately nuanced a variety of nonsense).

Cee-Lo, "Big Ole Words (Damn)" - but only the part around "which is essential for provin' my people's potential", because I couldn't get away from it. I think I can sort of hear the fake synth-flute too.

Whitesnake, "Here I Go" - so just the other day I wrote to waking ear and commented how I would find it hard to do the same project, because the things that show up in my head every morning seem to be pretty limited to what I've heard recently. But that strangely that morning this Whitesnake song - which I hadn't heard in years - had popped in totally unwanted and for no apparent reason. Unfortunately it popped up again tonight while I was walking home from my bus. Interestingly, despite being so long, I still remember lots of it. Hearing the part leading up to the chorus in my head is surprisingly like just hearing it, as far as the big dramatic surge and effect on me are concerned.

24 Sep '02 05:01:10 PM

I always forget: I only mean that stuff about the first half of the record.

23 Sep '02 08:00:03 PM

Listening to Mouse on Mars, especially Niun Niggung, reminds me of the last English course I ever signed up for. It has sort of special meaning for this page and for me. The course was on American literature from 1945 to present, and it focused on postmodernism (maybe I should put scare quotes around that but I don't feel like it). On the first day, the professor read a poem and then lectured on the view that what's distinctive about postmodern art is the way it attempts to defamiliarize what's familiar to us. I only went to that one day, because although the topic sort of interested me, it sounded like the course wouldn't be rigorous enough, wouldn't press the questions that always seemed to come up in literature courses, but that never got enough attention. I went and dropped the course and signed up for two philosophy courses, one on philosophy of mind and one on twentieth century continental philosophy. The first two days of the latter were so good that I went and changed my second major to philosophy instead of English.

I've never thought much at all about the idea I encountered that day, defamiliarization, though it certainly comes up in certain ways in all kinds of things that I do. But, as for Mouse on Mars: today they sounded to me like the paragon example of postmodernism as defamiliarization, defamiliarizing enormous chunks of all dance music. Paragon, not just because they're so thorough about it, but because it all sounds so natural and easy. That seems to me to be a strange thing to accomplish simultaneously.

And sound seems so plastic on the record.

23 Sep '02 04:18:17 AM

Oh looky.

23 Sep '02 03:43:00 AM

(What would it look like to apply these minoritarian / majoritarian distinctions to normatively applied genre words like "rock" or "indie" or "jazz"?)

23 Sep '02 03:37:15 AM

Phil with a story about learning from the Real Book.

23 Sep '02 01:36:54 AM

Claire Colebrook in Gilles Deleuze, p. 117:

The distinction between minorities and majorities (or between a molecular and molar politics) is therefore not one of numbers, but of types of quantity. A majoritarian identity has established its extended unit of measure -- its notion of a proper or representative number. It makes no difference how man men or humans there are; we all still know what 'man' is. This is an extensive multiplicity. Adding more members does not alter what the group or multiplicity is. It is therefore possible for humanity to include or recognise women or blacks as 'equal'. It did so, not by changing its notion of the human (as rational, individual and goal-oriented), but by arguing that women and blacks could also be rational, democratic, economically-motivated and moral, 'just like us'.

A minoritarian politics does not have a pre-given (or transcendent) measure or norm for inclusion or identity. Each addition to the group changed what the group is. (When non-middle-class women were included in the women's movement feminism had to change its image of femininity as domestic, well-mannered, refined and 'lady-like' to include women who worked and laboured outside the home. When women of colour were included this led to a challenging of women being 'equal' to men, for many of the norms of masculinity were tied to white Western culture.) An intensive multiplicity cannot increase or decrease without changing its quality. You add more light to a colour and it becomes a different colour. This is an intensive multiplicity. You take one red thing out of a box of red things and you still have a box of red things. This is an extensive multiplicity. Following on from this, a minor literature does not write to express what it is (as though it had an identity to repreat or re-produce). A minor literature writes to produce what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as a a 'people to come'. Its identity is always provisional, in the process of creation.