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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16 Jan '03 09:00:41 AM

Looking back at what I wrote here, I think I may have left an important part of it unsaid, or even obscured because of the mention of Wittgenstein on intentions. It intrigues me that talk of getting by might be like talk of intentions in that respect, that it derives from certain usages and then is sort of extended. But W's writing on intention is also often critical of that extended idea of intentions, the one that is used in cases where nothing goes wrong. I suggested otherwise, but I think it could be that what is obscured by the extension of talk of getting by that derives from "paradigm" usages (like someone listening to "uplifting" music, or especially personally meaningful music, especially in times of extreme difficulty) -- that what is obscured by it is that music often serves similar purposes in less paradigm circumstances, so that it may still make a good deal of sense to talk about using music to get by in those circumstances.

It may have been that the reason any of this stuff about getting by came to mind was the difficult time I was having at the end of the semester (around the time of writing), but what interested me in bringing out the distinction above is that I had in mind the time I had just mentioned, during the summer, when I did little but work a bit, and listened to Murray Street. I don't think I can say I felt especially great before this, but once I was regularly working, leaving the house, and doing something, I felt pretty well surprisingly often from day to day. Even at the time, but certainly moreso in retrospect, I counted listening to the record so often as contributing to my relatively stable sense of well-being. Yet I can understand why someone else might press me if I claimed that the album helped me "get by" in anything more than the prosaic sense in which music is said to be important to people's lives, without really appreciating the texture of that importance, the subtlety it can take on, or does always take on.

I was prompted to take note of this by something David wrote me.

16 Jan '03 03:48:22 AM

Missy is growling, here. I had never noticed that before.

It is quite fierce.

Well not really.

14 Jan '03 10:01:36 AM

At times during this, my first sitting with Derek Bailey's Ballads, I feel confident in using something like Monk's short version of This is My Story, This is My Song as a kind of model: a familiar song subtly altered by the introduction of dissonances. There's a significant obstacle to my doing so, though; I don't really know most of the standards being performed (if that is indeed happening). I should have a chance with "Body and Soul", but despite owning more than one (bop-era or later) version of it and having tried to learn the song, it's never stuck with me. (Being bop-era or later performance may be involved in this.) I do have an out, though. Standards sound pretty and normal, those being relative terms. So I can listen for the pretty and normal-sounding parts, and then appreciate the ways they are subtly transformed by the introduction of dissonances. As far as this takes me, it's alright.

("Pretty" is doing a lot of work here, in terms of referring to my comfortable and happy and chills-down-the-spine reactions and hopefully dragging along a few of those sorts of things from the constellation of things associated with "pretty".)

But as far as I am able to tell, Bailey only uses this technique so much. At many points, there are audible (to me - most of this revolves around "to me", around worries about how the ways I hear the record are parochial, because it's the most comfortable way for me to open up conceptual space, to try to imagine reasons that the record might sound the way it sounds that are more involved than my initial reaction to it) departures from the pretty or dissonant-pretty modes. These other sections - for simplicity I'll just call them out sections - are more complex than I am able to give them credit for in writing at the moment. But my experience of listening to them, as different from each other and as complex as they can be, tends to fall along similar lines. I pay attention less, perhaps because I have less of a sense of development, or forward motion, or dynamic of tension and resolution (marks of the western tradition or variants on it, that show up in the pretty and dissonant-pretty sections). To the extent that I do pay attention, I seem to put more emphasis on the rhythms, which have what sounds to me (there's the parochial worry again) like a typical avant-garde twitchy stuntedness. Focusing on these rhythms, with relative inattention to the (more confusing because weird sounding) harmonic and melodic aspects of the playing, is not so pleasurable.

Now that I say the above about stunted rhythms, I notice that although Bailey often plays, in the out sections, dissonant chords that bear no untutored relationship to the chords from the nearby standard, which chords are in something of a parallel relation to the material in the pretty and dissonant-pretty sections, he also plays faster in the out sections. He also plays more arpeggiated chords, and more single notes, and perhaps more prepared guitar sorts of things like behind-the-bridge notes. This seems to not have a parallel in the pretty and dissonant-pretty sections, where he mostly just states the basic melody and harmony.

I've seen Mark Sinker say that Bailey doesn't like being called a jazz musician, but I wonder if he's using a common technique from the bebop era and after - state the melody quickly in the head, then depart drastically from it during the improvisation proper. A number of the tracks here (fourteen total for 41:29) start with the pretty and dissonant-pretty parts, and then there's the break. Some of them have more out or more dissonant openings, and then soon a pretty part soon after. Because of the way the record is indexed, this makes some sense - the tracks are identified by the standards they contain (or reference? or quote? are performances of?). It may obscure the way the improvisation moves from standard to standard, though. I say that not knowing how it does, if it does in any way we might normally expect or hope - just that breaking down the more or less continuous performance in this way might obscure that movement. One kind of movement that seems typical to expect, to me, is some kind of associative or transformative movement. Bailey might eventually, in an out section, play things that bring to mind a standard - so he might start playing it. He might also (this might be separate, or it might be a way of deliberately moving from an out section to the basic theme of a standard once he's thought of it, for example) play in such a way that less arbitrarily introduces the standard.

But I'm being kind of optimistic, there, hoping that I am being overly parochial, interestingly enough. Because what I hear, more or less, is a forty-minute stream of Bailey's non-idiomatic free improvisation punctuated (yes, punctuated - before many of the tracks begin, often with a pretty section, there's a slight flourish or dramatic pause, slight, but evident) by brief statements of themes of standards. This isn't to say that if this is all it is, that it's bad. But if I can't tell whether or not that's all it is, I'm not sure what I think about it. It is a lot more pleasurable to listen to than, to pick a random example out of the one other Derek Bailey record I own, The Sign of Four. If you don't know anything about Derek Bailey, that praise might be misleading, and I wouldn't want you to buy a record you hated. Anton Webern comes up in Marc Ribot's liner notes, and the comparison is appropriate; this feels to me like listening to Anton Webern, only more fun, not as boring, potentially more interesting. If you really don't care for Anton Webern, though, there might be a problem here.

I have been able to extract at least one thing from the out sections; at times, after playing out for a bit, Bailey will play a fairly dissonant chord, but one which sounds to me far prettier than I reckon I would find it in a more conventional context. This is a strange experience, hearing a not-all-that-pretty thing as pretty, and I'm sure it's simply and directly related to the somewhat disorienting experience of hearing Bailey avoid tonality (pre-1900 tonality, at least) in the out sections. This is somewhat meager, as far as deep insights about free improvisation go, but it does suggest something more. Ribot's notes are brief and especially for that length they lean a bit too much on mystery - "The approach is integrative, standards inform the improvising and vice versa. How they do so is both mysterious and strong." Also: "The beautiful paradox is that this doesn't sever the relation of song to improvisation, but creates deeper, less predictable relations." Something is happening here because of the juxtaposition of pretty parts (which are the same time the standard parts) and free improvisation, and I would like to think that at the very least it's similar to my reaction to the pretty-not-pretty chords.

But Ribot pre-emptively attempts to ruin that for me: "Yet I don't hear this as a pastiche work, juxtaposing a preconceived concept of free improvising against a preconceived idea of how to play jazz standards." The complexity I begged off describing above is where this record is more than simply juxtaposition.

13 Jan '03 09:15:39 AM

Oh ha ha. Ten pages in to my copy of Spring and All, in Volume I of the collected poems, I found notes to myself for one of my applications to graduate school - "why I want to go to graduate school in philosophy". These notes will not be reprinted here. But. I will say I have remained surprisingly consistent.

13 Jan '03 07:47:34 AM

I've been looking for books of Ron Silliman's poetry since reading about it in Marjorie Perloff's Wittgenstein's Ladder. I didn't think to look to find that he has a blog. I love the interweb.

And, check what he writes in his first post: "The fact that the blog has the potential to carry forward the best elements of a journal and seems inherently prone to digressive, if not absolutely plotless, prose gives me hope that this form might prove amenable to critical thinking."

This train of thought continues soon after - in discussion of The H.D. Book. "So what we as readers must then confront is a text that straddles genres neatly between critical theory and autobiography and proceeds, as Shklovsky would have noticed, as plotless prose, a work whose point is never to get anywhere, but always to bring the reader into the presentness of reading itself." He also mentions WCW's Spring and All, which I've strangely written little about given how much I enjoyed it the last time I read it. That probably has something to do with the sharp music/non-music divide I try, perhaps ironically, to keep here sometimes. (I was keeping it more back then, the last time I was reading Williams a lot.)

13 Jan '03 07:27:27 AM

A tape I made a friend. I couldn't make a copy of it, but I'd really like to hear it again, so I'm actually thinking of making another one with the same tracklisting.

Duke Ellington feat. Mahalia Jackson - "Come Sunday (a capella)"
The Beta Band - "Dragon"
Talib Kweli - "Get By"
Basement Jaxx - "I Want U"
Miles Davis - "Rated X"
Yo La Tengo - "Be Thankful For What You've Got"
Saul Williams - "Twice the First Time"
Herbie Hancock - "Fat Albert Rotunda"
Spiritualized - "Lord Can You Hear Me"

Stevie Wonder - "Have a Talk With God"
Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott - "Izzy Izzy Ahh"
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - "Learnin' the Blues"
Cee-Lo - "Gettin' Grown"
Specials - "A Message To You Rudy"
No Doubt feat. Lady Saw - "Underneath It All"
Kardinal Offishall - "Maxine"
Outkast - "Spottieottiedopaliscious"
TLC - "Waterfalls"
DJ Vadim feat. Sarah Jones - "Your Revolution"

11 Jan '03 08:21:14 AM

This is a drunken post. Do not worry.

The worst thing in the world ever that can happen to one (while drunken) is to have one's batteries die when one is walking the last two miles home from the bus at 2 AM and it is 2 degrees (that is Farenheit but yes two) outside.

The best thing in the world ever that can happen to one (while drunken, and while on one's way home from becoming drunken) is to put on one's headphones on the bus (while alone), and play music. If one is drunken enough then it is almost irrelevant how loud the headphones are. I am sure that tonight mine were up to 10, but they didn't seem very loud at all. I played the socalled "classic" Stevie Wonder album Fulfillingness' First Finale, which Stephen Thomas Erlewine (who one should not trust) of the All Music Guide (which one might occasionally trust in certain limited respects) calls a "slightly stoned" album. For all that one should not trust Mr. Erlewine, this seems accurate to me. Everything is kind of, how shall we say, mooshed together and feely. (I should note that I can only imagine what it would be like to be slightly stoned, as opposed to sufficiently drunk, but I can at least extrapolate from other "stoned" music and bad comedy routines where people say "man" a lot.) When one is drunk this mooshed-together-ness is, er, experienced differently. It is still mooshed and feely but it seems less important that things are thus.

The loudness, I should say, the 10 on my headphones, has to do with the sound, the way it (the outside sound, coming in to my ears, from the world, not necessarily just the sound from the headphones) is er reduced, muffled, damped, like big pillows. What I forgot to say about the best thing in the world ever above is, to be precise, that this dampening happens so one can't hear say the bus driver announcing stops, or the whoosh whoosh whoosh (only it's not really broken up like that) of the bus engine and the outside rushing by, or the loud annoying people on the bus, or the sound of my headphone cable catching and scratching against my left headphone. So, all of the sounds. Except the mooshed Stevie Wonder sounds, which as I have indicated are already somewhat reduced, garbled, but in a pleasant way.

Except at the beginning of "They Won't Go When I Go", for one, which is all quiet and contemplative because of its theme of death etc., which makes being quiet for an extended period of time appropriate.

Hey baby how you doin.

9 Jan '03 02:19:51 AM

In the section before the extended outro, Herbert's remix of "Fantasy" (from Secondhand Sounds) takes a vocal segment where a woman sings "ain't my fantasy" and extracts the beginning (kind of "aeh" by itself) to turn it into a repeated sound that quickly becomes part of the beat ("beat" meaning all those sounds in what would be the rhythm section if this were a live band). Herbert leaves this going for a while, with the occasional stutter. It's so addictive to me that when the vocal line comes back once later in the sequence, for basically one full repetition, I'm annoyed that he's upset the levelling that's occurred.

(There might be something relevant here to say about "democratization" as Gracyk uses it in his defense of rock against criticisms like Bloom's and Adorno's in Rhythm and Noise, but I haven't gotten that far yet.)

7 Jan '03 10:14:23 AM

I haven't written much directly about it here, but I've been working on and off on a paper since last spring, trying to flesh out the "plateau" concept that Simon Reynolds (writing in Generation Ecstasy) casually lifts from Deleuze and Guattari. He doesn't use it much, but I think it has an obvious appeal and appropriateness for not just dance music but all kinds of other music. It also provides a nice angle onto a couple of his other borrowed toys.

One big problem in fleshing out the concept is that Deleuze and Guattari don't use it much themselves, and what they really think of it involves a lot of their other concepts that make a lot less sense (especially, pragmatico-stubbornly thinking, if you want to know what the use is of this stuff for music and criticism) - immannence, desiring machines or assemblages (of er some sort), the body without organs, and it goes on, I'm sure.

This is part of why the quote below from Rodowick excites me. Some other things that Rodowick goes on to say in subsequent chapters make the time-image sound kind of like what Deleuze and Guattari say about plateaus, and it's the most concrete example of some of the things I think (?) plateaus have to offer as far as a concept for thinking about music goes.

Here is one of the relevant mentions of "plateau" from the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus (p. 21): "A plateau is always in the middle, not at the beginning or the end. A rhizome is made of plateaus. Gregory Bateson uses the word "plateau" to designate something very special: a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end. Bateson cites Balinese culture as an example: mother-child sexual games, and even quarrels among men, undergo this bizarre intensive stabilization. "Some sort of continuing plateau of intensity is substituted for [sexual] climax," war, or a culmination point. It is a regrettable characteristic of the Western mind to relate expressions and actions to exterior or transcendent ends, instead of evaluating them on a plane of consistency on the basis of their intrinsic value." They say something similar on p. 158 in a discussion of the body without organs, where they also say that "A plateau is a piece of immanence. Every BwO is made up of plateaus."

The thing that excites me most about the quote below is that Rodowick makes it sound like Deleuze gives some actual psychological characterization of one of his concepts, which he seems to me to do rarely. I don't have the books on cinema so I don't know if Deleuze really does do this or if it's Rodowick's reading, but either way that psychological gloss - "an increased sensitivity to time" meaning that "the interval suspends the spectator in a state of uncertainty" provides me with a welcome way of connecting some of the more abstract stuff about the plateau and the concepts that share space with it with actual everyday experience of music. So too with the stuff about India Song. A more traditionalist (and well maybe to some extent Deleuze is, he's a pretty unrepentant modernist) reading of a film like that would probably, I think, see the editing as a way of aestheticizing the shots themselves, demanding that the viewer appreciate them "in themselves" (yeah I know whatever that means), for their sensual properties, formal properties, however "the aesthetic" might traditionally be characterized. Now compare to the idea that things like texture, the feel of a rhythm from moment to moment, the visceral reaction to timbre or volume or noise etc., are what become more important to experience of music which is structurally undeveloped, by western art music standards.

More later, more later. (I would like to actually finish this paper sometime this month - maybe I'll dump lots of its material here. If the things I've dropped from Deleuze lately seem confusing enough, then maybe the goal of the paper will please you: to map out where a concept like "plateau" would fit into a toolbox or arsenal of ideas about pop music.)