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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13 Mar '03 08:11:38 AM

Incidentally, I just received Silence as a lovely gift from Tanya. I couldn't be happier, especially as I've had the book on my mind (or rather the idea to read the book) often in the past few months.

(I get the impression Cage would have happily been able to follow Wittgenstein's suggestion that an entire book of philosophy - or in Cage's case, a book on music, or whatever, a book on both, or neither - might be written consisting of only questions, or only jokes. Happily, that is, aside from thinking it would be more interesting to not write a book consisting of only one thing.)

13 Mar '03 08:08:25 AM

From John Cage's "History of Experimental Music in the United States", p. 67 in Silence, something I thought Mark would like, or probably already knows about and does like:

About the same time, Willem de Kooning, the New York painter, gave a talk at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia. Afterwards there was a discussion: questions and answers. Someone asked De Kooning who the painters of the past were who had influenced him the most. De Kooning said, "The past does not influence me; I influence it."

13 Mar '03 07:59:36 AM

This is of interest for two reasons: a) it's Jess, writing again (not for big bags with dollar signs on the sides, or in the case of Citypages, big bags with dollar signs on the sides, made comically floppy by dint of being mostly empty), and b) it seems connected to me, in some way I'm unsure of yet, to the post I just made about dancing. In particular, what he says about the beat that Makes You Dance.

13 Mar '03 07:52:26 AM

On Saturday, I went out and happened to dance again. I never really wrote anything about the last (first) time. I did have a few things in mind, particular things. Perhaps my total and utter refusal to even try dancing, before, left me inclined to think it would be best not to start analyzing what happened once I did. (In the past, in this particular case, analysis has only helped me remain where I was. Actually, in this dancing is not so different from a number of other things I am anxious about.) But, you know. I have to do it now.

What, aside from my slowly building unease (building over years) at feeling I had no real reasons to avoid dancing, got me to dance? Hectoring (to be fair, it was not hectoring, I just like the word) from friends, like Jeff, didn't really do it. When I was a freshman in high school, I went on a trip for band - the long kind, with bags, hotels, sightseeing, that sort of thing. So there was a special dance on the last night, after the dinner, and nothing really else to do (that is, to use as an excuse to be somewhere else - we all had to be there). Nothing, aside from staying far away from the dancefloor. At the time, that didn't matter, because a big group of people came and found me and the nice couch I'd discovered, and carried me - bodily, picking me up from the ground - to the dancefloor. And dropped me on it, in the middle of a circle of them. It didn't work; surely it made things worse. I don't fixate on this memory, as far as my not dancing is concerned. I don't often think of it, at all. But it seems that, given what happened, and excepting any drastic changes in attitude I may have undergone in the more than ten years (!) since then, a little bit of ribbing and needling and questioning from friends will not be strong enough to move me.

Being drunk, now, that helped. But only so much. On Saturday, though I had been drinking quite a bit earlier in the night (since the afternoon), I didn't feel especially drunk by that point, after dinner and water and time. I had been sobering up quite a bit on the first night, too, up to the point where Katie dragged (to be fair, it was not dragging, I just like the word) me out to the floor. Anyway, I admit that it helped, but I certainly never do things while drunk that I don't already have inclinations, at least, to do when not drunk.

It occurs to me that each of the four times (three on Saturday, because I kept leaving the floor) that I took to the floor was after some girl encouraged me to. I can't say I stand around expecting or waiting for this to happen. I think I can gather some things from this, though.

I'll gather them tomorrow. I'm very tired.

I also need to think about this, or at least how to put what I want to say about it: there was no dancefloor epiphany.

Actually, about a list of things.

Dancing is hard, and it takes lots of practice to do well.

People seem to have very different attitudes, sometimes, to the experiences and habits that help form a person's identity, as opposed to say the things that make up a tradition.

It is interesting to me that Simon Reynolds so frequently advocates losing yourself on the dancefloor, but never seems (to me) to discuss just what dancing might be like (or more significantly, not be like) when you're not losing yourself, as I reckon perhaps happens to lots of people who are at least dancing to some of the same music Simon endorses losing it to.

It seems possible to me that the preference for losing it might sit very nicely with the habits of a listener who scrutinizes music a great deal, and routinely makes fine distinctions about music, and perceives closely what's going on in it. When you lose it, maybe you can stop noticing things like these, and, importantly, feeling constrained by them.

11 Mar '03 08:23:17 AM

(The tape is gone.)

10 Mar '03 07:20:34 AM

I made a tape a few weeks ago, though it took me more than a while to actually finish it with the last few songs. I'm not completely pleased with it, but it is still enjoyable to listen to. I'll give my extra copy to the first person in the Twin Cities who drops me a line. Here are the contents.

Autechre - "Rae"
It seems every time I listen to this, I immediately wonder how it could be that I will stay interested in it. But the deceleration that keeps up through the track is deceptive. At first it seems like a sort of simpleminded trick. But after time it doesn't feel uniform; there are pushes and pulls, tiny elongations and compressions of time that leave me, generally, wanting to hear what happens until the end. (But: I still tune out sometimes.)

Brian Eno - "Everything Merges with the Night"
I suppose I chose this because I love Another Green World, and this song in particular, and had been playing the record constantly in January and February. But I recall thinking it would be a really good idea to follow the Autechre track with the Clipse track, but that I couldn't do that because it would be too much too soon and I wouldn't be sure where to go after that. Or maybe I thought the tape needed a break after "Rae", what with my constant initial doubts about its ability to maintain my interest. Despite being, happily, shown to be wrong. Anyway, this track doesn't do quite what I wanted, maybe because I didn't turn my stereo up loud enough today to check. On headphones I always play Another Green World as loud as I can (it's mastered too low), to make things like the guitars here (sort of hovering and swooping in, surging, constantly) sound as resonant as possible.

Clipse - "When the Last Time"
When I am listening around other people, Pharrell's opening ("niggas and bitches! you are now listening to the sound..." etc.) gives me a start. It doesn't when I'm by myself.

Tricky - "Christiansands"
Every time I go to Cheapo, I resent Tricky slightly, along with all the other acts that have been chosen by the market as the representatives of "electronica" (the divider in the store says "club" but I just know that's what people think when they go by Tricky's bin, unless they think "trip-hop", whatever), for filling up my precious store space with records I don't want. Then again, he made this.

Jimi Hendrix - "Manic Depression"
In general I make tapes the way I did my radio shows, which is to think a little bit first, gather some records together, then choose songs to play as they come to me, and record them as they come, all in one sitting. On radio shows, partly to combat my careening eclecticism (for the sake of my listeners), partly just to make for nice transitions (for the sake of my listeners, and because it made me happy), I tended to choose songs that made for nice sonic juxtapositions. This made for runs of songs in a similar genre, or similar mood, or just with a common thread (not a very thick one) running through them. But in contrast, for tapes I feel more of a compulsion to avoid runs like that. Longer than two songs and I start worrying. One thing I do, unreflectively, is start thinking that some kind of theme (usually title-based or lyric-based, but never on very close readings of the lyrics) might get me out of my dilemma. But I never really think about these themes for more than a song or three, and I never consider them in detail, so I make confused choises like the one to juxtapose "Manic Depression" with a Tricky song. I like this song, but it feels out of place here because one of my other compulsions is to make tapes that feel like honest representations of what I've been listening to lately, and I never ever listen to Hendrix any more. I didn't even remember that there was a guitar solo in the song - in my head I just hear the back and forth between the main guitar part, the drums, and part of the lyrics ("manic depression has captured my soul") which I don't even know if I remember correctly. And the guitar solo doesn't sound that good.

The Velvet Underground - "Candy Says"
This is too long.

The Beatles - "Revolution 1"
As with this tape, I found after taking this tape to my office that there was some kind of tape speed deal. That matters more for this song than the preceding ones, I think, because part of its charm for me is the precise pace at which it proceeds. It makes that much more ambiguous the question of just how much of a pessimistic sneer the song is. Slowed down on my tape, there's a lot less doubt.

The Notorious B.I.G. - "Ready to Die"
My roommate thought that when he heard "die motherfuckers die motherfuckers die", he was hearing the Geto Boys song from Office Space. So we discussed the possibility of one phrase being copied from the other, or maybe from elsewhere. But, as I suggested, the idea of wanting motherfuckers to die is not all that original. (I suppose someone wil tell me it's actually from a movie like Scarface or something. Actually, I would appreciate knowing.)

B.B. Seaton & Ken Boothe - "Whole World's Down on Me"
Another one motivated by my desire for some kind of thematic connections, but I also just wanted to put something on from the Trojan singles box set and liked this one.

Herbert - "The Audience"
I don't always hear what I wrote about here now, but that's usually for a lack of concentration. An example, for me, of a song that I can derive more effect from by thinking about what I once thought about it while listening, regardless (?) of what I still think of the song.

Green Day - "Paper Lanterns"
I notice that, like the selection in the link above, I've followed Herbert by a Green Day song about girls. Oh well.

Kraftwerk - "Trans-Europe Express"
On disc this runs right into the next track, and my pause-button solution to this problem is inelegant, to put it mildly. It's not quite a derailment, though. This opens the second side. Around this time I had been thinking of a tape that had "TEE", an MRI track, and Monk's "Kojo No Tsuki" all next to each other, but I feel bad putting three tracks of such length together, or even on the same tape really. Especially when they all have this character - on and on and on.

Decomposed Subsonic - "Discopatterntester"
Squealy meta-disco on Force Tracks' Digital Disco comp.

The Sea and Cake - "Sound & Vision"
A glittering, crystalline structure that makes Bowie's song sound like it actually came from the 80s rather than the 70s. It also makes me deeply confused about why the band would put the cover at the end of One Bedroom, the rest of which seems to be shown up by this beautiful, wonderful, perfect piece of music. In my more sympathetic moods I suspect that the juxtaposition of this with the band's own songs is supposed to reveal something about why the originals are actually good. But to be sympathetic I generally have to avoid listening to this one, lest it bias me.

Pixies, "U-Mass"
Like lots of things you've heard about.

Jawbox - "Savory (live)"
At Little Tijuana last month Geoff and I heard a cover of this, I think, so it made me nostalgic (if I can be said to be nostalgic for a song I played a bunch two years ago). Today I was reminded that just the one little spot where they sing "see you feign surprise" in harmony (it has nothing to do with the words, I think) makes me well up, automatically. I have no good idea why, beyond just that that sound makes me do that. I think that should be enough.

The Magnetic Fields - "Meaningless"
Another thematic "choice". See how totally awful this tape would be, as a themed tape, if it was really supposed to be? Next to everything else here Merritt sounds especially mid-90s "ironic". But not glib (the curse of our generation, he says, with some sense, if by generation you mean the people our age smart enough to be able to forego forethought but too delighted that they could direct their intelligence to suddenly-cool scorched-earth irony, sarcasm, and disaffectation).

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five - "Hotter Than That"
Someday, I hope to wrap my head around this. It all passes me by, though with some pleasure.

The Maytals - "54-46 That's My Number"
Another from the Trojan singles box. The short scat part ("da da da dee dee dee" etc.) makes my heart leap a little, and the gloriously redlined sound makes me wonder why latter-day analog purists never seem to make records with this particular sound, where the equipment is older and analog and the instruments are all "real", yes, but where everything is all mashed together and blaring and wonderful. Or maybe there are indie rock records that do ("lo-fi", ugh), but the things they're mashing together don't sound so great.

Yo La Tengo - "Blue Line Swinger"
This is where I was stuck for more than a week, after thinking that I didn't have that much fun making the tape (which was what I set out to do, a little project to relax myself), and being unsure if I wanted to finish it or ditch it. But this song struck me in my office one day, as it tends to do, so I finished the tape there instead of at home. So the speed differential got me the other way, too, since I tested out my tape at home this afternoon. Again, it could be more to do with my memories of the song, but it sounded a bit sluggish, and my heart balooned and rose a little less. The "proper" CD version manages feedback and distortion very carefully, and I suspect the differences in tone introduced by the tape speed pushed some of that distortion from the blissful-sounding region into the uneasy-sounding one. But overall, I still felt happy in the end.

Mogwai - "Helicon 2"
As I heard this today I imagined (I have never seen them) Mogwai playing this at First Avenue. I reckoned that the crowd would ruin it.

Pan Sonic - "Aktiivi"
kkkxshhhhxhkxkxshhhhh beep

4 Mar '03 06:59:35 AM

For super deep contemplative considered listening etc tonight I tracked back Vocalcity to the one with all the vocals, whatever it's called. It's one of the main tricks of the whole album, but I noticed it especially here: how Luomo maintains interest in what might seem like an especially uninteresting track by subtly transforming what a basic part is doing, like the bassline. "What it's doing": what it sounds like, whether this note or that note is squelched, or a bit longer, or sounds like it starts backwards. That sort of thing. This is not a novel idea, I just really felt aware of it tonight.

This coincides with a preoccupation with the idea of "interest" that I've had lately, as in, the thing that a composer looks to keep, usually despite a repetitive component to the music, or something potentially boring. For some reason I recall often seeing the word in discussions of composition in the western art music sense, but it's obviously relevant to dance music. (I wonder if I might say that in many relatively conventionalized or natural-seeming musical forms, people don't have a problem with seeing some part as potentially boring so they never have to confront finding a part which holds their interest. But this is probably more of a problem relative to a given set of tastes - someone who listens to Beethoven trying out rock music, or someone who listens to rock music trying out Mobb Deep - than it is a problem in some absolute, most-naturalized sense.)

I seem to have a hard time going anywhere with the idea, though. Probably because I'm just not thinking through it enough. But often when I start doing so I find myself thinking psychologically, and then I'm in a strange country - I don't know what to say, or what I can or can't say sensibly.

At the end of a Herbert remix today - "What's Your Fantasy?" probably, because that was the repeated chorus - I noticed that even though the hi-hat pattern that remained near the end of the song seemed pretty dead fucking boring to me, that didn't matter because I wasn't even really listening to it. Or at least, just listening to it: I was using it as a way of passing time, marking time, because I expected another cutoff "fantasy" vocal sample - it had already been made clear, I think (even if I hadn't heard the song so many times), that there was another one coming.

I suspect this is connected somehow with the problem I had long ago with listening to dance music, house in particular, of only being able to hear the kickdrum, or the hi-hat.

4 Mar '03 06:47:56 AM

Read a bit from Gravity's Rainbow on my way home, from my old copy - I still can't get into the newer one the same way. From the section where Gustav and Saure are arguing about music - "All you feel like listening to Beethoven is going out and invading Poland." I must've read it dozens of times by now. This time through I could particularly feel myself concentrating on each word, on thinking through it, picturing it, all that good reading stuff. I couldn't help but think of the last thing I listened to the other night while drunk, before going to sleep - Kind of Blue on the headphones. Even though I know that record much better than the Pynchon, somehow it's harder for me to concentrate on it in the same way. I expect every note - almost every note - yet there are always little bits here or there that I miss (often passing notes during a phrase, short ones that maybe I have trouble remembering because I can't whistle or sing that fast?), and in part that makes me feel like I'm always catching up, pursuing the music; the fact that it happens in time takes part of it out of my control, or rather my ability to consider it at my leisure.

3 Mar '03 04:03:58 PM

I can't believe they're actually playing this 50 Cent "remix" of "Cry Me a River" on the radio! The very definition of "half-assed".