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.
'The "air" that Pascal describes points to a fundamental openness, to a desire and willingness to engage in conversation. A certain air invites conversation as opposed to moral or physical violence: conversation with oneself and others. As Pascal suggested, someone who writes in this way comes across not as an "author" who takes pride in his book, but as a "man" with whom we can talk. The ultimate purpose of conversation is the reconciliation of differences (with oneself and with others), but this reconciliation is never a final product. It is always in the making. In the ancient tradition, the practice of philosophy usually takes place in a pedagogical or therapeutic relationship. In Montaigne, it is a conversation between equals in the welcoming setting of a private home. All the details Montaigne gives us about his physical characteristics, his inclinations, his tastes and distastes, are not aimed at fashioning a "self" in the sense that they would add up to a more or less coherent image or persona. More precisely, they point to a certain way of relating to oneself and others, a way that could be defined as open, trusting, and intimate. Writing about himself candidly and openly, presenting himself in a private setting, is Montaigne's way of drawing the reader into a conversation: "An open way of speaking opens up another man's speech and draws it out, as do wine and love."'
Winter listening diary, January 21:
Weekend Scandinavian-fest edition!
Tord Gustavsen Trio – Changing Places
Tord Gustavsen Trio – Being There
I thought this would be nice and meditative but I think these guys might be meditating too much. As a country or a geopolitical region. I read a lot about ol Tord having a church music thing going on but I haven't really noticed it yet. The quiet parts are a little too quiet and the non-quiet parts suddenly sound very exciting and interesting, which is good except then I wonder why they can't do that more often. Everything here is good, fine, but it has made me start wondering about the origins of the critical impulse to discriminate, to view things in terms of a contest to be the best, to conserve one's attention for only the most original and most pleasure-affording.
Bobo Stenson Trio – Contra la indecisión
Bobo Stenson Trio – Serenity
I get this suspicion that maybe too many ECM artists have gotten lost in their Bill Evans records but really I didn't even realize that I had picked multiple albums by two piano trios, maybe because I had thought somehow Bobo Stenson was a drummer (doesn't that sound like a name for a drummer?), and here and there the drummer really seems to have the full support of whomever is making all the decisions.
Trygve Seim – Rumi Songs
Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs
The personnel is not that much different here from the piano trios above, but I think maybe given the size, a saxophone is a more fruitful choice for exploring the ECM-style small group sound. Hearing so much Evans in the piano trios, I think what I miss is the tumbling, rolling quality of Scott LaFaro's bass from those famous Village Vanguard recordings. Something about it leaves the other players constantly on the move. I hear more of a Ron Carter thing from the bassists on the albums above—they're playing a lot of nuanced, complex stuff, but stuff where they are often hanging back and interjecting. The pianists are left with lots of space in which to lyricize and the drummers can express themselves in rhythmically subtle ways. What makes a horn better here is that all the natural possibilities for doubling and ambiguity can get fully exposed. In 'Helsinki Song' the melody on the tenor gets doubled by the piano, playing single-handed. Seim's tone is pretty vocal and he plays tastefully with putting a wavering edge on it, so that you can always be put in mind of connections and contrasts between horn play and song. On the album of Rumi songs, with texts sung in English by Tora Augestad, and with backing from an accordion and violoncello, that possibility is fully embraced. There are points where Seim and Augestad trade off or interlock, and seem to be saying the same things, or also not saying anything (in mere words), in the contrast. In the background, the spacious production and the solemn atmospheres and silence are enhanced by this playing. But on the piano trio records, where the piano only occasionally seems to meet the bass as an equal partner in tone-sounding, the music seems to be deriving unearned atmosphere from the production choices.
Rainer Brüninghaus – Continuum
It is customary for ECM to be given a certain amount of shit for their pristine production values and their staid programs and colorless album cover design, but what this record makes me think, especially, is that people don't cut them enough slack for having been a label of the 80s. Pretty much everything in the world of music sounded like shit back then and it was all weirdly glossy and thin and had bad spiritual values, so hey, at least Eicher was able to keep up an artistically respectable business producing jazz records for public consumption, through all that. Given the history they have to just be allowed another decade or so to shake off whatever set in throughout the 80s, right? This one is ALSO pianist-led but it's the flugelhorn that sounds front and center. Brüninghaus's thing seems to be flowing arpeggios and ostinatos and such, puts me in mind of Charlemange Palestine or the more fidgety minimalists.
Jan Garbarek – Sart
Jan Garbarek – Triptykon
Jan Garbarek – Dis
To me Triptykon has the 'right kind of sound' for what's going on, Sart (noisy fusion electric guitar and some electric piano from Bobo Stenson somewhere in there, added to an otherwise similar ensemble) does not, and Dis (high saxes and flute and Ralph Towner playing 12-string and classical guitar and wind harp, plus a little brass) is clearly onto something but maybe not necessarily something I want at length. For sure though, in the 70s, ECM was weirder and scratchier and I would be surprised to be told that they were commercially thriving. The rhythm section on Triptykon is knotty and cluttered with cymbals and what seems like it must be auxiliary percussion, and makes for a bed of sustained crackling for Garbarek to go off over. The pulse is of the agitated post-65 free type, as suits a marquee saxophone soloist. On Dis the playing is sparser, the echo turned way up, the accompaniment more left-field, the folksong and other extra-jazz references more prominent, but the basic creative impulse seems similar: find ways to let this guy blow a while.
Eberhard Weber – The Colours of Chloë
Sometimes this sounds like a post-rock record, I mean specifically UK-style post-rock, where the draw is supposed to be not that it's a standard-issue rock ensemble ripping off minimalist ideas or playing with a symphonic sweep, but an ensemble of weirdos who are mixing musical styles because they started out in rock but eventually had too much love for some other kind of music and could no longer be constrained or creatively satisfied. The only thing that's missing here is some proper electronic work, really—there are synthesizers and the band's modulated jazzy pulse is set at about the right pace and texture, but for the most part the sonic profile is naturalistic, and slightly too pretty. Fiddle with the production a little, drop something more motorik in the middle of the running time, and you've got yourself a fine 1993 classic.
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra – Happy Endlings
Big band as weird juggernaut. Something about the vocals makes me think about the music for Star Trek, which who knows, could even be intentional. I suppose it's hard not to relish the idea that if you are making music like this in the twenty-first century, it ought to be a little weird. But it's not too weird. I haven't listened much but so far my impression is not of individual pieces of music so much as of a great and unwieldy apparatus which heaves into operation so that some fitting space can be found within which the players can take their little turns, and expect that they will seem as strange and otherworldly as maybe the solos in Ellington's bands once seemed.
Winter listening diary, January 18:
Sunwatchers – II
Luomo – Convivial
Gorguts – Obscura
The Germs – MIA
Geto Boys – The Foundation
Napalm Death – Scum
V/A – Fire in My Bones: Raw Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944–2007)
Autechre – Move of Ten
2pac – All Eyez on Me
Massive Attack – Blue Lines
Guns n’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
I never realized when I was 12 or whatever just how messy Axl was.
Winter listening diary, January 16:
Soundgarden – Superunknown
The Rolling Stones – Some Girls
Another first day of class—at a school where I haven't taught for about 8 months, due to the vicissitudes of scheduling. I'm less stressed because I'm repeating, almost everything at the moment—from just this fall or from last spring—and because I can accomplish mundane practical tasks without as much thinking or worrying. On Monday I was teaching at a 'new' campus—I moved my philosophy/film course from the commuter-satellite dungeon to the main campus—but I've been over there three or four times and seen most of what needs to be seen. I luxuriated in the experience of forgetting my index cards and dry-erase markers at home, then standing in a first-week line at the bookstore with all the students buying textbooks, since I had time to spare. I found the local off-campus coffeeshop ahead of time and walked around the block until I knew where it was. The owner seemed to be the one working, because employees are never that friendly; and the coffee was fine. I had made a plan to print even without an office, and it pretty much worked (still had to tolerate the idiosyncrasies of the stupid web printing server again). Before class I ran into my 'boss', the chair, whom I hadn't seen since August, and enjoyed stopping to chat with him. I found my classroom and taught and did it up right. Still, though, like today, I was preoccupied for most of the time, my mind running. Today, same deal, I took a pretty new route to campus, stopped by the HTC (I was happy to see the cute barista still working the same time of day, I also last saw her in May), found a spot to plop on campus, ate my vegan cookie and drank my coffee, then went to the library to hit up tech support (new computer, no campus printers installed) and get my syllabi printed. I found my new classroom and taught my class and did it up right. Again, though, my mind running and preoccupied the whole time. Not just because of the first day and the need to teach, but because of the rush and the disquiet of commuting and arriving and having no place to call my own, no place to think, no time to spare for letting myself do it. I 'know' one way to teach that satisfies me, but it involves projecting my thoughts ahead during a reflective pause, planning and formulating and testing and imagining the students and mentally reviewing reading I've already done. I 'know' another way that satisfies me, too, about as reliable but always seemingly a bit riskier, of having done something like this preparation, in some form, yet not having an opportunity for the last crucial bit, the quiet reflection, and instead trusting to the spontaneity of the classroom. I'm getting pretty good at that, actually. In theory I could take the moment whenever, wherever, on the bus or train or walking down the street, but that doesn't really seem like how it has to work in practice. I have known teachers who would banish students from their office for some time before giving a class, to have that quiet preparatory moment. It was a quiet bus, a quiet train, sure, and sometimes I can even take the quiet moment on headphones. On this morning I was in a hurry out the door, wanting to catch the next bus a block or two down, and rather than deliberate at all about what I'd be hearing, I chose the Soundgarden record, one of the three of theirs I've played hundreds of times in recent years. An index: I would hardly say I heard it, but that I hardly thought anything in particular about my upcoming class, either. Once I got to my stop on the train, I switched to the Rolling Stones—again, something i've played the crap out of in recent years—and, again, heard or thought little. Just a soundtrack.
2pac – All Eyez on Me
After class, another change for the walk to the next train. Sometimes what I like best about this record is what a specific mixture his performance is, confident above all else yet paranoid and fatalistic, ecstatic and brooding, vulgar and grandiose.
Winter listening diary, January 15:
Pan American – Cloud Room, Glass Room
2013 release from the side project of the Labradford guitarist who I didn't realize had kept putting out so many albums after 1999, the first and last time I'd heard any of them. I wonder what this impulse was, among slowcore-adjacent Krankyish indie rock types, to make ambient music, but as / as if a band.
Eleh – Home Age
The real shit, straight up modular synthesis, WARM AND BORING.
Brian Eno – Discreet Music
One of the ambient albums I had never much auditioned back when. I'm surprised more by the second half (an LP side I suppose, which would cordon it off more safely?) with Bryars rearrangements of Pachelbel where everything is all out of whack. It seems intentionally confrontational—to undercut such deeply instilled, and empassioned, expectations as that piece arouses, again and again.
Jeff Mills – Purpose Maker Compilation
I.e. a comp of releases from his Purpose Maker sub-label. One thing I've been struck by recently is just how aggressively monotonous a lot of this techno is willing to be, compared to what I have been listening to by choice for the past ten years or so. The latter certainly would seem monotonous in many ways to lots of listeners, so I guess this is an index to how deep the monotony can really run in techno and how lightly a lot of producers will wear theirs, presumably in service of more palatable sounds. Monotony is sharp, like the strong taste of a cheese or whiskey, in the sense that you can have a palate for it and you can 'learn to like it', learn to like the other aspects of the experiences that it comes inseparably from, but it never permanently subsides with familiarity or comfort level.
Roscoe Mitchell – Sound
If there's an analogous test for the listener here, say in 'Sound 1', it's a test of patience, which interestingly enough is not at all what's tested by aggressive sonic monotony. I don't know how the title is intended but aside from the noun construal, the way the players play draws me to the verb, 'to sound', which seems to account for the way the horn players become fascinated by mouthpiece noises and near-airless vocalizations (at least, that's the word I reach for in describing the quieter ones, even though the players are still operating at the extreme limits of playing with the use of standard embouchures, mouthings, whatever, and not singing through their horns), and for the kind of undirected quality of the silences around them; it's not as if their noises cut the blank space naturally into an experience of time or sound that puts a lyrical aspect of the playing into relief. The sounds just sit there, being what they are, not necessarily with the 'right' kind of movement into the next one, or the next, or the next. Eventually there's more interaction and the appearance of something like a rhythm section, and with more agitation it seems like the players have moved on to something more purposive, but it does not seem like a something that cancels out the cumulative impression left by the playing as 'sound', that refuses or tries not to accept 'just' being musical. I'm reminded of Beckett writing in French, I guess. Thus of Derek Bailey looking to avoid idioms. So what would a listener who feels like they are having to be patient, be being patient for?
Art Ensemble of Chicago – A Jackson in Your House
It's funny, one reason I never really got with the Art Ensemble is that long ago I only had one record, which maybe was the most easily available one for lots of people at the time, the Urban Bushmen album on ECM, which I found way too stagey and arty (in a very specific sense that I can condone, as a term of critique!) to explore. Actually though, well before that they were already arty as fuck, so it must say something characteristic about them, because artiness is not really an association I make for a lot from the late-sixties-on free jazz era, even. I think it must stem from the same sensibility that leads them to do so much mock-raucous talking and yelling, as if generating an informal social context to complement the sound and semantics of their own group playing—like an improv troupe, of actors, not just musicians.
Joey Beltram – Places
My apartment is very small, in a small, close-quarters building, so I generally try to be mindful of playing music too loudly, especially when it has an obvious potential to be annoying (unless I want to strategically annoy someone, like the upstairs neighbor who has some kind of slide-out furniture and has a habit of sliding it back and forth both too late and too early for me). But the other day I let some techno play for a while at a satisfyingly reasonable volume. Beltram is more abrasive than these others recently, on average, but it's because the beats are more jacking, with more spread rhythmically and sonically between the parts, as I'm hearing them, so that they seem to saw repetitively back and forth, hop around, scratch and slide and wobble. So he seems less confining, as a sound designer; a lot of things are put in motion and they leave enough room for the listener to do as he wants inside them. Even if it's just lie in bed.
Winter listening diary, January 13:
Juan Atkins – The Berlin Sessions
One thing I've been reminded of jumping around between the discographies of different techno luminaries is just what all can go into the purity or hardness of the music, some of which I don't hear as often by choice because it can make it a lot more overbearing to listen to in my non-functional context. Generally the kicks here are rapid, but they're subordinated to lower-end bass synth figures, whose repetition on very short cycles tends to structure everything else about the music, even once Atkins adds a tumbling high-end figure that sounds (sounds—it's still cycling really quickly) like it's knitting a melodic line together across the bars and leavening the repetitiousness a bit. The musical idea here isn't far off from a Tresor dancefloor banger, with pummeling kicks: the effective cycle of the music becomes as short as possible, 4 bars or 2 bars or 1 bar, even 1-2-1-2 or 1-1-1-1 forever. That structural analogy must be part of what people respond to when they perceive certain techno as more or less dancefloor oriented, but also more or less enticing, popular, melodic. On Transport I hardly even think of the occurrence of cycles, because everything is layers and slight differences in timescales and the fundamental rhythmic feeling is more often a pulse than a repeating cell (but both are periodic, right?).
Juan Atkins – 20 Years Metroplex
I.e. a lot of Cybotron, Infiniti, and Model 500 stuff. I liked my idea from yesterday about distance and intimacy, so immediately (philosopher!!) my thought was about how it would not hold up on certain other techno. An idea that I've been poking at recently on my TV project has to do with what one might say about the role of artistic intention in cases of mass art that are especially fitted to the postwar era, where there are lots and lots of 'works' (episodes, tracks, songs, albums) possibly of corporate/non-auteurist authorship, produced or enhanced by technological assistance which alters or negates the simple operation of human intention as exhibited in speech or singing or the use of an instrument. I think I must have read some review anticipating Eno's remastering of his ambient albums that mentioned 'nonintentional music'. Which as I understood it would not just be to say, thinking of Cage or certain other aleatoric/process music, music made to happen with no presence of intention whatsoever; but music made to happen in such a way as to secure the withdrawal or bracketing of intention. (What could that mean? An association between ambient music and mood would be relevant.) The connection to postwar music more generally, I think, would be via the way in which it becomes more and more designed, and designed in such a way (this marks a difference from fully through-composed music) that there need be no point at which a design becomes realized by performers who must naturally or traditionally act as bearers of intentions in certain ways anticipating the music-maker's intentions. Anyway, if music is designed, I mean if music production occurs through methods and procedures of design rather than some kind of more traditional methods and procedures of composition and improvisation (the latter also somehow relevant in the new era, or a relative of it) in this way, then I think we would have one way of understanding the coordinates for the kind of private/public inversions I was talking about yesterday in the two projects of M.v.O., but especially the more normative (for techno) side where the whole production codes as deeply inner. One reservation I had in mind when I said that was that naturally, more dancefloor-oriented productions ought to appear predominantly outer in their musical profile. Because of the well-known ways in which electronic dance explores modes of unity and alienation I don't think that's a straightforward contrast to draw at all, but maybe one parameter in it is the ways in which a style or a production leverages its materials in a way that is more or less rhetorical. That's one way I understand the Atkins tracks here; although at times they are so rooted in electro and funk that it could just seem accidental that they are made using what I am thinking of as design-centric rather than intention-centric methods, they do use the former. But they do it via or with a massive overlay of the rhetoric of intention-centric methods (funk riffs, desperately futuristic sound profiles for the synths, industrial-style tempos and soundstages for the highly metallic percussion kit, the film score tropes of SYNTH DANGER looming over every moment, the subject matter of cars and robots and space). I suppose you could think of that as a way of casting the underlying reality of the musical materials into intelligible form, of making the music something to work or to live in. I say 'cast' because I don't want to suggest it has to conceal those musical materials; there's no hiding them on a track like 'Game One'.
Jeff Mills – The Other Day
When I think about this kind of thing I am often reminded of something Phil Salathe said a long time ago about the significance of the exact repetition in In a Silent Way that comes from not just reprising the earlier part of the music, but of Teo repeating the earlier stretch of tape. The same principle applies to anything where there can be a passage of time, a change, an increase or a decrease in volume or pitch or tempo, before we even get into the sources of the sounds. Like in 'Solarized' here—although it's placed at the start of this compilation, which does transpose it into a more intention-bearing structural location, the album experience being what it has been, it still can't help but play out its design, starting too quietly, rising too slowly, to be heard as just the same thing as an intro. Apparently it was originally half a B-side on a 33 1/3 rpm 12", and (in the middle?!) ended in a locked groove. The slow burble that runs for most of the track—in a different musical environment, it would be odd for that not to code as patient, as requiring from the performer or calling on the listener for patience. But here something of that intention is withdrawn from consideration. You have another order to contend with.
Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald – Transport
I said I've been 'poking' at this idea about intention because I don't really know what could be done to ground it and make it useful—especially on the other side, when one considers what to say about how a creation or a work that is after all some complex weave of design and intention is understood. I suppose that listeners can't help but treat techno tracks and albums as intentional objects, however modified the role of intention in making them. I just don't really know what to say about it (not that I know better how to say for a lot of other music I know better, like jazz). I suppose my reason for stressing the role of intimacy with this record is that it seems to get at the right sort of level at which the music, however it works, is designed to be intention-bearing, or intention-affording (in the Gibsonian sense); the place it makes for you from which to share in something specific.
The 7th Plain – Chronicles III
I remember the discourse around IDM in the mid to late 90s being stuck in oscillations between the virtues and vices of music being functional or functionless, and the likely spuriousness of 'intelligent' as a descriptor. It seems nobody talks that way now, even though there is still plenty of music being made in ways that seem to represent a capture of various audience segments by some of the values being contested in those older arguments. Maybe one thing that that represents is an arrival at some settlement concerning outer and inner in this music; concerning the different ways different styles distribute intention for the purposes of listener understanding and gratification with the help of their conventional design features.
Krallice – Wolf EP
They're experimenting again, or doing something; for most of this they don't even really sound like themselves, doomy tempos and little black metal tremolo, someone else on vocals or their usual vocalists trying on new voices. They like to cover for these off-cycle releases, so maybe some of these aren't theirs, I don't know.
Winter listening diary, January 12:
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Sounding Lines
Tony Allen & Jeff Mills – Tomorrow Comes the Harvest
The most recent Trio album, swapping out Sasu Ripatti (who is apparently on a sabbatical from the music industry and sounds kind of depressed even if he swears he likes living on an island and making music for no one) for Tony Allen, but also adding production by Villalobos, who intuitively does seem like an alternative to Ripatti's 'small instruments' (cf. Art Ensemble of Chicago) style percussion clutter, but since it's accomplished in his whole style, almost makes this seem like a different outfit entirely. I think Allen is captivating on everything I've heard of his recently, it's really just a matter of what other colleagues are doing around him. The Trio has to become a bit too bouncy to find a match for his constant snare-cymbal patter, though that's evened out somewhat with a full range of sound where you can hear the low end. On last year's EP with Jeff Mills the slower tempos seem more fitting for what Allen is doing but that seems to push the whole thing closer to downtempo/ambient arrangements in the synth colorings (not so much melodies, or their functional equivalent, I'd say because Allen dominates, his snare often given a very long envelope effect).
Moritz von Oswald Trio / Digital Mystikz – Restructure 2
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Vertical Ascent
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Fetch
The first busier and more rhythmic, the second more atmospheric and more overtly dubby, with a handful of outside guests floating through. Some point on the third is the first spot where I really thought about Basic Channel in relation to the sound (though there is another spot where one of Ripatti's characteristic sounds that I hadn't heard from them in a while suddenly stood out, too, which maybe says something about the cooperation there).
Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald – Transport
Maybe one thing this record—which is much more lushly produced and environing than any of the above, and seemingly far from being ‘experimental’—shows about the Trio is just what the names of the projects already indicate. A ‘trio’ made up of M.v.O., Ripatti, and the other guy already starts out being music made of interaction between musicians, i.e. happening as a process or event in an exterior space; and it does sound like an attempt to take their customary musical modes ‘into a room’. This Atkins/M.v.O. project, on the other hand, which is actually billed as them presenting ‘Borderland’, a name for the project taken from their first album, already takes a conventional step into abstraction and depersonalization (it’s not them, it’s them behind a persona-noun), and the music is what I would call deeply interior, in a familiar way. On that score I would see these different projects as different interpretations of intimacy and distance in electronic music. Transport has lots of track titles that denote/connote the latter (‘Transport’, ‘Lightyears’, ‘Odyssey’, ‘2600’ if you wanna include the distance of history and memory, and hey ‘Merkur’ is a German Ford brand from the 80s), while the submerged, abyss-resonating basslines and spacious production ground the feel of the music in the here-and-now of a subject, a moving and traveling and moody and remembering one. In this mode techno cymbal production codes as deeply intimate, so clean and hyper-focused on the presence of those little tick tick ticks. It’s a sound that takes you just enough out of yourself to register that you are in touch with the outside, it syncs you up a little bit, but it’s small enough that your center of gravity remains elsewhere, wherever else the music has placed it or taken it. This makes this album very satisfying to listen to, even if maybe the Trio albums ought to be more interesting to think about—and I have the sense from reading reviews and talk that long-time techno fans were a bit more enthusiastic about them for this reason—because they do constitute more of an effort to invert the scheme, which is why (despite a relatively modest amount of sound that codes as ‘improvisation’) the records even come across as jazz or jazz-adjacent to some listeners, because jazz (when ensembles are small enough and the playing is restrained enough) is a precedent for that kind of granular-time intersubjective intimacy in our music culture.
Sun Electric – Present
A 90s album from ‘the other guy’ in the Trio, Max Loderbauer plus others, with Thomas Fehlmann executive-producing. I guess it is or was slotted as IDM, but I never heard them when I listened to this kind of music back then. It’s tracky with nimble, fleet-footed beats that get jungly (it was 1996), and the usual complement of blurpy synths and ringing, resonant electric pianos and string pads. Lately I’ve been listening to the box of three Chronicles releases collecting off-album stuff from the same era by The 7th Plain, another act I never heard then (not as Luke Slater, either), and what strikes me about both is just how bright they are. In that they sound a bit more like very recent indie-electronic which I don’t always like very much (too fiddly and aimless), but unlike more big-name/in-style electronic, which tends to seem so grey and gloomy now. But everything here is so sharp that it feels like hearing music from the present, with only certain stylistic affinities to betray its historical origins.