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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9 Mar '16 07:36:16 PM

I must have played the 1998 Nonesuch recording of Music for 18 Musicians hundreds of times, but in all the years since it first captured my attention, I never did bother finding a copy of the original 1978 ECM recording. —I'd heard it was different, livelier, jazzier, swinging more, but somehow I felt right sticking with what I had, as if given its completeness, repleteness, there could be no point to doing it differently—or, say, remaining steadfast, showing constancy, out of some kind of fidelity to the spirit of the music, always the same, but always a change, a constant transition out of, every sameness: not constant change, but changes, plural, individuated, everywhere, this and this and that changing, in this way and that way, all these ways. With all that, what need for anything else, or the same, but different?

The odd thing is, though you can hardly forget for more than a moment that someone is playing something, singing something, playing his or her part in sustaining the process of the piece, it does sound like the music plays itself—that aspects of what we'd think of as 'performance' have a tendency to recede into the background, and with them, I'd say, a steady sense of sounds as performed, and a sense of their performers, for instance, phrasing phrases or expressing feelings or saying things, enacting anything. Performance has a grammar closely aligned with that of rhetoric, and with that of statement. Here and there at surprising points, a swung figure on the piano, an insistent intrusion of the bass clarinet part, it can suddenly strike you that this, this little bit of music right here, is being performed, and it seems to possess an exuberance that has been miraculously purified. But purified, I'd say, of the rhetorical, the meaningful, in some received sense of what those can be in music: which the governing repetitions immediately begin to remind you of as they seem to empty any protruding moment of clarified performativity of its residual associations with our musical language, with our affinities for naturally hearing certain sounds certain ways.

All of which is to say that when there are differences in performance, as there must be (it's still performed music, that's the kind of thing it is), as there are on the ECM recording, they do not simply code as 'differences in performance'—they can't, given the work's way of organizing the actual acts of performance out of which it is made, effected (hit this piece of metal, step on that pedal, strike these keys, honk this, sing 'aaay-ooo' here). A 'difference in performance' would be, say, one that coheres around phrasings, or a difference in emphases, such as to make it sound (mean) rhetorically, as a statement or an expression, something different. And while, yes, all that is different here—the bass clarinets lower, the sound less lush, some of the more incidental passages from the pianos or mallets more insistent, the tempo overall quicker, individual parts standing out more from the ensemble, the mood a bit more jittery—it seems never to be allowed (given the work's overall form) to settle in any local, isolated passage, as a difference in performance that makes a difference in meaning, and thus the work as a whole doesn't seem to be rightly said to 'be a different performance', to read (sound, mean) that way.

It does, though. Sound different. You can hardly forget it, settle in—it sounds different all the time. But within the given structure, this specified procedure for making this music within these parameters, every small, local, passing, momentary difference is made to read as global, total. The music—especially on the Nonesuch recording—environs, establishes parameters for audition, for the coloring and brightness of ambient light, for stepping and wiggling and dancing and breathing and flowing rhythms, for the passage and transfixion of time. So total changes mean everything changes, the space changes, the passage of experience in it. Not, though, like a familiar space defamiliarized, like a private room in which someone's moved everything around slightly, displaced it. The music has, as every listener knows, an annoying quality: not the one first-time listeners can be overwhelmed by, but an uncanny capacity for quiet provocation that has a natural, compensating way of coaxing you back, of accepting the sounds as they come rather than resisting them irritably. Listening to the unfamiliar 1978 recording, different but not, overall different but undeniably that same thing, again, still, my feeling is more that the environment itself is tinged with that always inherent potential for annoyance, as if it had been dyed, and at least for the time the work plays, there were no readjusting, no nudging any displaced things back to where they belong, because the change is irrevocable, fixed.

8 Mar '16 09:25:19 PM


4 Mar '16 11:23:44 PM

In my bag, there's a folder containing my CV, my resume, and the handouts that came with the folder, handed to me by the facilitator for the re-employment training session that the state mandated I should receive—receive again, the second of two, or third of three if you count the nearly identical one from Iowa—as a condition of enjoying unemployment insurance payments for too long a time without finding work.

It's been there for several years now though I have no use for it. Just lugging it along. I've had at least, say, six jobs since it was handed to me, none permanent, none all that good.

It seems I'm waiting on a change before I get rid of the folder—before I stop feeling 'unemployed'.

4 Mar '16 11:06:15 PM

A test case for rationality and irrationality, belief and certainty: I put deodorant on, one side; then the other (or?); then, absentminded, staring in the mirror, I think, 'did I do the other?': unsure, I do it again (?); then, in case that was twice, I do the first side again so that 'at least it's even' (if).

4 Mar '16 10:46:06 PM

Against the sublimated view of philosophical argumentation as lockstep, line-to-line clarity, the experience of reading any actual argumentative text: specifically, of realizing one has entered a passage either murkier or harder to understand clearly than preceding ones, and gliding on ahead until one reaches material sufficient to frame or anchor a reading which could return more profitably to the passage.

2 Mar '16 04:31:20 PM

Dylan's secret archive! I like 'group of institutions', it makes them sound more shadowy and machinating.

29 Feb '16 11:53:02 PM

'… what time will there remain for doing anything else?'

28 Feb '16 03:37:04 PM

Work-talk from the word-hole

27 Feb '16 05:10:40 AM

Lucretius' reasoning, in De rerum natura, re not fearing unvanquished legendary monsters: they're over there, but we don't have to go over there.