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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1 Jan '14 08:42:21 PM

'We live in America. Is there a better way?'

1 Jan '14 02:06:46 AM

'Possibly girls?'

31 Dec '13 05:40:02 PM


30 Dec '13 07:44:49 PM


Carcass - Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury Nashville)
Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap (self-released)
Laura Marling - Once I Was an Eagle (Virgin)
VHÖL - VHÖL (Profound Lore)
Magic Circle - Magic Circle (Armageddon Shop)
Daniel Avery - Drone Logic (Phantasy Sound)
Ulcerate - Vermis (Relapse)
Aeternus - … And the Seventh His Soul Detesteth (Dark Essence)
Paysage d'Hiver - Das Tor (Kunsthall Produktionen)

Alasdair Roberts & Friends - Fusion of Horizons (Drag City)
Bill Orcutt - Zip A Dee Doo Dah (Editions Mego)
Darkthrone - Leave No Cross Unturned (Peaceville)
Deafheaven - Sunbather (Deathwish)
DJ Rashad - Show U How (feat. Spinn) (Hyperdub)
Eva-Maria Houben - Seascape (Diafani)
José James - Come To My Door (Blue Note)
Kacey Musgraves - Follow Your Arrow (Mercury Nashville)
Kurt Vile - Wakin On a Pretty Day (Matador)
Run The Jewels - DDFH (Fool's Gold)


Daniel Avery, 'Naive Response', from Drone Logic (Phantasy Sound)
Why these sounds, here, and now? I always hope to ask that question, to have the patience to think it through while listening closely, whenever anything really catches my ear. But usually I don't. Usually I just need the music, for whatever purpose. Often I suppose I feel I cannot pay the cost; it can be rewarding to really listen, to find out more how and why I hear and feel as I do, but it can just as often be frustrating, can bring disappointment at not having been able to put things into words. So maybe out of some aversion, out of too much fear of those little failures of experience and thought, I opt instead to listen less; to just have the music there, around. I guess I've been that way since I was a kid: maintained a kind of zone of significance around myself, in which I could move and dwell, connected in different ways at different times to the world around me, to the lives of others, but always fundamentally in some way a personal zone, centered on me, and accordingly often left reassuringly implicit, unvoiced, unthought. More and more that worries me, but I need what I need, and in the past several years I certainly haven't needed it any less.

Even though I hardly treat music with words as if it always spoke clearly, more loudly, to me, I suppose I've always kept a distinct place in my habits for wordless music, or music where the words could only with real effort be made to matter. I won't try to say why; all the usual reasons, I think. Once, it was mostly jazz. More techno, for a while. Since Decorah it's been metal, re-placing me at hours and days spent at the Hard Times, giving me a connection to something whose mattering to others needn't matter to me, giving form to the dark days of joblessness and the ventless moods of alienation and dissociation from colleagues, friends, everyone. Or more simply, giving me new fields in which to listen, to hear what is possible; what people can do when they care to, when it's their caring that suffices.

I began the year jobless, lumbering down the block every day to the coffeeshop to scrawl notes for new projects in my notebook (and, frankly, just to have an excuse to leave my room), hoping desperately for someone to help me and fearing even more that I would just have to give up. I lived for months in my headphones. More than ever, I needed that zone to make, be, a wall of noise, to shut things out, for fear of what I should hear if I heard anything else at all.

Mid-summer I picked up a job that rapidly dwindled, come fall, to just barely enough, as my kind of job does. I did it anyway and did OK. But it was alienating. The work was fine, the students were good. But it felt pretty clear to me that I was disposable.

Any temporary instructor's courses could be transferred, as mine were, to those full-time faculty guaranteed work. A brute fact about the system. I was set up in a spare office in the nursing department, where—you would not think this matters, but it turns out it does, so much—not once did a new colleague seek me out, though in the first week or two my presence was often challenged by the nursing faculty, worried about student interlopers on their floor. I would say what this all said to me, but even saying that it was said to me feels wrong: I have rarely felt less directly addressed, less spoken to, by those around me.

Somewhat naturally, I thought, I withdrew, did my job and kept to myself. I came early and stayed late; I gave extra time to my students; I worked on my new course; I tried to adapt and improve my old one for my new institution.

A few days before the end of the semester some fill-in dean cancelled all (two) of my spring courses—a numbers thing, a budget line, low man—leaving me jobless again.

A bit full of the thought of this on the last day of class, I ran into a nursing instructor I had spoken to once or twice in the hallway and told her about it. She asked if I wanted a hug; though I declined, later that day when we passed each other in the hall she simply reached out, across the hall, to touch my arm.

Why these sounds, here, and now? Daniel Avery says he wanted to make a record that could only have been made in 2013. So why the classic, slightly acidic sound? What I hear most are the tones that recur through the first few tracks, like a call to order, or a public announcement: it's time.

There is no one now who does not know tones like that to call them away, to call them to check in, to divert their attention momentarily so as to feel in touch, to keep up. It's beyond knowing; it's how we connect now. We live here and there, we live then now, and never just live now. Tones like these overlay our lives, order them.

Avery knows this, I think, knows that this is now, as well as we all do; which means that when he so unpointedly uses tones like these, like the softened chimes and bleeps and intonations that environ us and set us running, it's in order to repurpose them, to restore them to their proper use, which is not just to incessantly notify or update but to assemble, to gather together and join in movement.

Avery calls it 'music for dark rooms', probably thinking of the dance floor. But the lone, somnolent figure smeared across the sleeve art suggests the other room, the room which would be the darkest if it weren't lit by a screen, the room which would be the most solitary if not for the continual tethering to the wider world—not necessarily, or hardly, a world of others, but certainly one that crowds our solitudes—we accede to, need from, maintain with, our devices, screens.

If there is a psychedelic tinge to the sound of being brought together, or something dreamlike about the thought of making contact with others, it's not only a tinge, an aspect: it is one we can see or hear coloring the movements we already make, the motions we go through. If Avery's palette is traditional, nearly classical, yet an audible modification of sounds that have become natural to us (Diogenes: 'habit is second nature'), that says only how little separates us from techno's old utopianism, how small the difference is, or need be, between our moving together and our dream of contact.

I don't know how to really say the 'we' I've been using here. I don't really know how to relate my thoughts to what really troubles me, to work. But occasionally I hear the one in the other.

Bill Orcutt, A History of Every One (Editions Mego)
If they can't hear singing anymore you have to make them hear you sing. Make them hear you make it sing, ring out. You have to stop it, start it. Set it singing. You never thought you could not just hear that, but you can't. It needs to be more quiet, just a little, then you can hear us make a racket. Hear why we make one.

Kurt Vile, 'Wakin on a Pretty Day' (Matador)
I never know if it's waking or walking, strolling along drowsily as he does, singing in a gentle mumbly drone, thinking about his day, thinking about other people, not with them but thinking of them, accompanying himself with a refrain of agreeable yeahs that you can imagine continuing or trailing off or returning at his pleasure, like this nine-and-a-half minute amble, which I can't help but think of as a work song, since when else would you wake and walk and be preoccupied by thoughts about your day and yet do what you can to have something of your own, drag it out a little longer, keep being yourself.

José James, 'Come To My Door' (Blue Note)
Equanimity toward the one who left.

Kacey Musgraves, 'Merry Go Round' (Mercury Nashville)
It don't matter if you don't believe, is what they tell her. They, her and they, think the first time's good enough. She wants to believe that some experience, any experience, of something else is possible, but no matter where she is, which always ends up being here, anodyne transgressions are the rule, and experience is the first experience, repeated whether it's enough or not because that's all there is, like it or not; she doesn't, but there she is.

Alasdair Roberts, 'Fusion of Horizons' (Drag City)
'With misery lurking just below the surface, how can a man or woman flourish?'

94 East, 'If You See Me', from Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound (Numero Group)
A rewrite of 'Walk On By' that replaces anguish with advice: 'don't say nothin', he warns her, sing-song, lightly, as if to demonstrate how going on goes.

Bob Dylan, 'New Morning (With Horn Section Overdubs)', from Another Self Portrait (1969–1971): The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 (Columbia)
When I'm glum about there being nothing more in common between us, there's more Dylan. This is a re-do of one of his happiest songs, from his re-do of his most notorious attempt to somehow (I don't know) be who he was with, or maybe through, or because of, that common property, that trust, the fund of song from the past, and (as appalled his listeners, I guess), with sounds declared too common to count. His 'House Carpenter' confirmed me more, after I had been stunned by Sub Rosa's version a few years ago without realizing just how traditional it was. And the day, someday, in 'Masterpiece' when everything's gonna be different, is my sad and daily wish. But I'm buoyed by horns and New Morning is a private favorite (a domestic Dylan and simple songs after Nashville Skyline reminding me of months with K., the soundtrack familiarity of 'Man in Me' reintegrating my college years with present life, the gratuitous cheer of the whole album a boon to me upon its 2009 reissue, one more piece to stumble upon, a little bit of the world still new to me).

Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap (self-released)
'During the days it's pretty dark a lot.' Some records just humble you with their assuredness, the scope of their humanity. They take in, take up, so much that you marvel at the ease with which they make it theirs.

Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle (Virgin)
I'm not always so patient with the private mythologies of the folk singers I've had more and more time for in the last several years, and it seems like Marling has been forming and shedding myths and metaphors faster than I can follow since her precocious debut, but it's gotten to the point where she can sing words like 'I' and 'know' and 'you' and mean them, re-mean them, like a ninth-Elegy 'house' or 'tree' or like Creeley's little columns of pronouns or like Cavell's Emersonian attempts at the retrieval of each and every word in the language. Really, that much? I don't know, but when someone still so young can do it, and you can hear her doing it—here, through a dramatization of self and of the singer as songwriter, practically a living cycle of experience into music and words and back again, taking romances and conquests and Dylan legends and her own past glooms and treating them all as something to be used, to keep going with—it makes you hear again the point of saying, singing, making, of putting yourself at stake in what you do.

Magic Circle, 'Winter Light' (Armageddon Shop)
Since Heraclitus and since Thoreau I've become more aware of the sun. I can't always make out what Brendan Ratigan sings but every 'fiery circle in the sky' I catch convinces me of something, intensifies experiences dim and bright of my own in which things bled together, in which moods weighed so heavily upon me that days, weeks, went by.

Eva-Maria Houben, Seascape (Diafani)
Houben's imprint supplies the description: 'Recorded ocean sounds, a walk through different soundscapes on the seashore. One hour fifteen minutes'. It seems right to refrain from conspicuous theorizing or communication of elaborate statements of intent or reports of the recording process. Field recording artists seem prone to those, perhaps dazzled by models from the studio arts, where no form of conceptual or even minimalist work can go without its little white card, and afraid to let seemingly inarticulate recordings just speak for themselves, be what they are. The description here is something like, 'six improvisations for solo alto saxophone', or 'string quartet in D major', where the kinds of sounds (ocean sounds) and the sort of process used to obtain them (field recording, thus identified by a place, the seashore) are given a kind of form: 'a walk'. A literal walk, as in, the record of a walk? Well, not necessarily. So, not a walk—this is some kind of evocative metaphor, suggestive of the shape of the work? Again, not necessarily, if you think that perhaps we don't know already what it sounds like to record 'a walk', to make a record which contains, is, instead of songs or tracks or jams or outtakes or recorded performances or studio-crafted realizations of compositions, just—a walk. Here, appropriately (since a record has been made of them), it is a walk 'through different soundscapes'. Aren't all walks? Well. Are they different? Is there any difference to register, or is any difference registered? Do you hear a difference? When, and where, while walking? The logic of familiarity and attention, and inattention and surprised renewal of attention, is in the background here. It's in the background—ah, like soundscapes! Like the world of sound that surrounds us! —say field recording enthusiasts. But Houben's walk doesn't sound like that kind of (recording of) soundscape(s). Its intent does not sound like: 'hear just how much goes on all about you, constantly, down to the smallest sound, motion, silence, how much is contained in how little, and thus how much more in all' (a kind of sublimed earnestness about the ordinary). The plural in Houben's walk, soundscapes, is one of the work's most audible features. For some duration, the ocean's noise is at, or reaches, a certain intensity. Then another. Then another. Some of these stretches are thick, full, good old whiteish noise. (I can hear the ocean here, but I've never lived by one, barely spent any time near one, so there is little to no evocation for me, which I kind of prefer: I can hear the sounds, and I understand their connection to water, but I hear them as an abstraction. Are they not already an abstraction?) Other stretches are hushed, some near silent. (Maybe silent, or as quiet as a seashore can be. I haven't 'studied' the recording, haven't listened carefully. What would the need be? Why and when would we find ourselves needing to know, 'is this silent or not?'?) Passages of sound and silence sound juxtaposed on this walk, sometimes seem to announce themselves abruptly. Is that not what it's like to walk through soundscapes, 'through different soundscapes'? Should I expect more continuous transitions? Did Houben arrange for suddenness of transition, or make it, or find it? On one level these seem like dumb questions to me. Better just to observe that they seem naturally prompted by the form: by the fact that this is 'a walk through different soundscapes', and by its being this walk, this record. There is where the sorts of questions to ask about this kind of work, and thus presumably about the field recording enthusiast's environing sound-world, i.e., our lives, my life, are. My most noticeable experience, at these points of transition in Houben's recording, is of wanting—wanting the departed sounds back, wanting more of a suddenly arrived sound, wanting to savor the contrast without being able to hold it, especially since it depends so much on duration, satiation, the fullness of a noise or a hush that extends long enough that you pay little mind to how long it has gone on, instead simply accepting it as the condition of things, somewhat not even as 'sounds', just as an alteration in the audible world become permanent.

29 Dec '13 12:37:17 AM

'Well, anyway, second of all, you've got to respect other people's right to also have a message themselves. Myself, what I'm going to do is rent Town Hall and put about 30 Western Union boys on the bill. I mean, then there'll really be some messages. People will be able to come and hear more messages than they've ever heard before in their life.'

22 Dec '13 05:38:42 AM

'… he has no choice but to enter some kind of race right away or die on the vine.'

22 Dec '13 01:41:47 AM

'daily life becomes precarious'

22 Dec '13 01:38:54 AM

'a more cheerful narrative predicated on wilful acceptance'

21 Dec '13 10:16:41 PM

—That thing of Wittgenstein's about a book of philosophy 'composed entirely of jokes'? I picked up Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics for the first time in forever. I haven't laughed so much all year.