"It was like leaving a corpse; you don't leave corpses. And that's a little bit of the feeling that I had. Here was a carcass, of a house, of lives, and that nobody cared to pick it up and give it a proper burial - I thought that it was important that somebody should care...it really didn't matter that it was an eleven year old boy, that cared. Objects have lives, they are witness to things."
-This American Life, "The House on Loon Lake"
My alarm clock is broken. The arm of a digital number was lost after a tumble during the Gulf War years, the wobbly volume knob threatens to break if touched, and the mangled antenna escapes further abuse by hiding in a crowded neighborhood beneath the bed. Things really started to go awry for the poor thing during my high school years, most likely at the juncture where I started the affair with my snooze button. But, it appears that it reached the end of it's life sometime in the early hours of the morning. Today I picked up the tired old box and examined it.
A family heirloom, really, the clock traveled with my father across the United States in the 1960s. Sitting on the dashboard of an old Chevy van, it saw the Pacific Ocean, Las Vegas, Kansas and, Virginia. It was there for my father's first marriage, and the divorce. It probably knows my half-brother and half-sister better than I do, maybe even woke them for school.
It beat the scream of my cell phone in the morning, without a doubt. At first I was going to set it into a box and stick it into a dark household closet; keeping it would surely be a satisfactory testament to my appreciation of it's years of service. After all, in this day and age trash isn't merely buried, but crushed, ripped apart, burned, and in some cases recycled by strange and foreign means.
It now sits on a desk in my room, an explosion of pieces. The digital arm is gone forever...but if I'm lucky it may sing again.
So, I have been fascinated by a few examples of some unusual sounds. In the mid 20th century, classical musicians were creating "tape music", music created with electronic instrumentation and manipulated analog recording techniques.
One early example is "Poem Electronique" by Edgard Varese. It's a combination of clicks, bizarre found noise examples and synthesized sounds from early electronic instruments such as the theremin. Also, keep in mind that when the piece was debuted in 1958 for an exposition in Brussells, the sound mixed for and played on 400 speakers positioned throughout the pavilion where the exposition took place.
WARNING : Moderately to heavily bizarre, ridiculous, and cool.
Another later work that utilizes electronic tones in classical music is Paul Lansky's "Mild Und Leise" from 1973. The sounds from this piece were among the first to be created on a computer, an early IBM 360 mainframe. Here is an mp3 file of the 18 minute soundscape -
If you listen closely, at about 45 seconds you will hear a very, very familiar sample. It's the basic chord progression sampled for Radiohead's "Idioteque" obtained when the band asked to use the excerpt in the track from the Kid A album, a work about which Lansky himself speaks of quite favorably.
Speaking of Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood is one of the few modern musicians to make use of the Ondes Martenot, a near relative of the theremin and an amazingly cool instrument in its own right. Here is a demonstration from a master thereminist preparing for what seems to be an orchestral piece utilizing the instrument. The sounds range from bass notes with a reedy, sawing resonance to beautiful, ethereal high tones -
One of the latest works by Dai Sugano of the San Jose Mercury News. It follows the lives of a few people displaced from their homes in Sunnyvale, California. Aside from capturing some intense stories, the photography/cinematography was sweet.
Some of the photography is fairly powerful, a few of the pictures started to really stress me out...I guess when thinking about Silicon Valley, I can already hear the humming of electricity.
Sidenote: to learn more about the idea of the pitch of the machines around us making us happy or sad, check out this episode of This American Life. You'll want to speed ahead to Act III, which is about thirteen minutes into the program (or just listen to the whole thing because it's an excellent episode).
Their interactive map is interesting, the stories interesting, and the photography is pretty impressive (after cycling around the city a bit this past summer, it's cool being able to recognize a lot of places). Altogether, the Detroit Free Press pulled together a cool package here.
"The trip was decided just like that , and it never erred from the basic principle laid down in that moment: improvisation."
For five hours today I found myself behind the wheel of a car. My father passed along fatherly advice on various aspects of the road, my brother complained in the back seat, and I took as much of it in as possible.
I was alone during the ride home. Passing through the land I witnessed a sunset shrouded in clouds and a hawk sitting on an electrical wire. It's still fairly warm in Kentucky and my windows ached to be lowered. Sometimes the best type of thinking takes place while driving, this is the case for me, anyway, I've found. Today was no exception. The cogs of my imagination are still spinning, as I try and piece together what may become one of the more important experiences of my lifetime.
I listened to NPR for a bit today. Talk of the Nation had an interesting topic on journalism. They discussed 'what would happen if the media stopped identifying murderers — particularly those who kill with the primary goal of becoming famous.'
Nothing in the conversation surprised me, but it still might be of interest. I enjoyed it. Check it out here. Listen to the show broadcast on 26 December 2007.
This is the first Christmas where I didn't have a written list as long as Bruce Willis' hair in Die Hard (which, compared to the rest of his career, is pretty fuckin long).
Anyway, the only thing I asked for was a bigger external hard drive (not for techno-geek things, but for music-geek things...which may not be any better).
So I got that. 500 GB. Shit fire, as my dad would say.
But I did get some unsolicited gifts which I think I enjoy more than if I had actually asked for specifics:
+ Guitar Hero III (which brothers and I have spent the entire day in anticipation of getting to unlock the Slayer song). + Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century. Essentially this website in book form. I've been hutning for this book for ages, and it's long out of print now. But Santa delivered. But it's probably the best baseball book ever written. + Gift cards, including Apple, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble. + Various clothes, which are a given from aunts and uncles.
The greater point here is this: I asked for very little and seemingly got a lot. Is this a sign of maturity or the sign that I'm just too lazy at this point to care?
Coming soon: some old-ish records I've really been digging lately, and why. But to satiate until then, one of my all-time favorite videos ever, which happens to come from one of these said records, which I happened to find on CD for 5 bucks the other day (I already had it on vinyl):
The Black and White Album records the most danceable Hives to date. Still self-aggrandizing and keyed in on brainless idiots, puppets, and droolers, the Hives add schlock synth to their fuzz, hooks, and hiccups.
That's right, I'll drop some Chaucer references on our fuckin blog. You a-holes can nerd out about fonts and I'll do so about really liking to read the C-Tales in their original Middle English.
I'd like to throw my dissenting hat in the ring, most because I disagree with the title "unworthy" for this years' release schedule. All of these listed "noteworthy" albums fall short of "worthy" because, well, most of 'em aren't even in the top ten.
+ Battles – Mirrored + Black Lips – Good, Bad, Not Evil + LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver + Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta! + Justice – Cross + Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover + !!! - Myth Takes + Daft Punk – Alive 07
James Murphy has released 2 albums in the past 18 months. One was a single track (45:33 minutes long) of beats, blips, and bombast. It's a workout mix, but it is also sweet. The other one was Sound of Silver.
Gogol Bordello is authentic Eastern European stomp/ punk/ dub reggae/ a drunken night on the town with some Ukranian sailors (as opposed to Beirut, who just sounds like Stephen Merritt anyway).
Sunset Rubdown IS BETTER THAN WOLF PARADE. Which might not be a legitimate criticism, but considering how much all of our friends love it, begs the question WHY HAVEN'T ANY OF THEM BESIDES ME HEARD IT?
!!! debases rock'n'roll to sexual urges and impulses. Yes, this has been done before (see: Chuck Berry, Elvis) but !!! do it in such a way that you feel like fucking, dancing, taking mushrooms AND playing air guitar. Eat your motherfucking heart out, Jimi.
And Daft Punk takes all of their already awesome songs and combines them. Like, not just one after another. But into one another
But wait. That's only 8. What's left?
+ Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? + Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Self-parody, maybe. Cell phones and Outback steakhouse, yes. But the most fun I have ever had listening to an album on repeat without getting old? Yes. 12 minute dance epics about depression? Yes.
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is not Kill the Moonlight. No. Of course not. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a different record than Kill the Moonlight. That's the point. KIll the Moonlight was sexy, immediate, sparse. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is romantic, a gradual incinerator - full. Did you hear those horns?If you listen close, you can hear him talking and them humming the guitar line before the guitar line starts.
I mean we've got Chase being all humbly melodramatic in front a bridge emerging from some surely nearby metropolitan location, Tony is being obviously studious - as is Econ, though in a more frazzled and bearded way - Oatess is then framed by a car's rear window and appearing closer than he most likely is to the side mirror, and we've got myself looking like I am about to vomit on the edge of a sailboat with a bottle of lame beer and a cigarette.
An album came out this year, "Some Loud Thunder." Sound unfamiliar? That's because it was the new release by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and for some reason, nobody listened to it, my friends and myself included. We enjoyed their self-titled debut, but this year, we just didn't get around to the new release.
So come December, my Top 10 List would be, in short, an incomplete sham.
But professional critics get bins of music and still manage to enshrine mediocrity. Largheartedboy has the comprehensive list of this year's lists (which at least reveals the parity of listing). The listener-generated NPR Top 10 is here (and it's got a tinge of indie!).
Note to varying degrees of praise, the presence of the following albums, annotated here with my opinion:
+ Modest Mouse, "We Were Dead..." (pale) + Radiohead, "In Rainbows" (drowsy) + The White Stripes, "Icky Thump" (confusing, tasteless; icky) + Beirut, "Flying Club Cup" (stompless) + Of Montreal, "Hissing Fauna..." (self-parody; fallen) + Wilco, "Sky Blue Sky" (underachieving)
In a year of unworthy releases, even efforts from Jens Lekman, Andrew Bird, and Deerhoof produced "not their best album, but it's still pretty good," to quote Beta Band. Spoon too, but that's not an insult.
Perhaps Feist made progress, but she really should consider wielding her guitar in a video instead of dancing in that awkward and honest way of hers.
Thirteen years ago this kid listened to books on tape. After dozens of books, he laid the cassette player into a box, carried it into a field, used a shovel, and buried the box. At the time he figured he'd be back for it.
The landscape changed. Trees were planted, siblings were born, and new things caught his attention.
I thought about that box today. Walking around the field, I kicked some dirt and grass with my shoe. Chances are slim that I'll ever find it. The realization now is that I probably should have made a treasure map. Damn.
"If you're small and on a search / I've got a feeder for you to perch on" - eels
It's like a videotaped explosion played in reverse. That precision beyond practice, that elegance, that one-by-one landing - that's birds come to branches.
But the only birds in Illinois tonight are those with dysfunctional magnetic field sensors, those who have been consulting these faulty Texas and New York maps, or those that were fooled by the unseasonal warmth only to be slammed against suburban house siding in tonight's wind. It's so windy it sounds like wind out there. Go on, birds, get!
And because 1) I've edited it, and 2) It's no longer posted anywhere else, I go on about birds:
They stood conspicuosly, although it's odd to describe birds as standing, in a plowed fall farm field (not in trees). Their ilicit gathering found out by our passing car, yet not aggressively threatened, the blackbirds acted their cue to the air and funneled upward with organized teamwork like that captured in 1950s synchronized swimming motion pictures.
They did not flee the field or fly very high as their ranks expanded. As if an M.C. Escher sketch, the tornado of birds whirled larger upon itself while the lead birds covertly returned to the ground. The swoop grew with blackbirds unseen a moment before. Neither a beginning nor an end visible.
We passed. They settled. The second car of our caravan came next and they performed again like so many amusement park rides. Perhaps more importantly, we read about birds high school, junior year:
Virginia Woolf The Death of the Moth
The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamour and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a tremendously exciting experience.
John James Audubon Ornithological Biographies
...I observed the pigeons flying from north-east to south-west, in greater numbers than I thought I had ever seen them before, and feeling an inclination to count the flocks that might pass within the reach of my eye in one hour, I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes...The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse...
...I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions, when a Hawk chanced to press upon the rear of a flock. At once, like a torrent, and with a noise like thunder, they rushed into a compact mass, pressing upon each other towards the centre. In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulating and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and, when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continued lines, which then resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent.
Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was starlings going to roost...They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein...Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparrent random, for no kown reason except that that's how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced...Over my head I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind...
...I stood with difficulty, bashed by the unexpectedness of this beauty...Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet?
I wish the West Texas highway was a mobius strip, I could ride it out forever.
Hail Satan, Hail Satan tonight, Hail Satan, HAIL HAIL!
I'm walking along Wesheimer the other night, it’s past 2 and everything’s still open, plus it’s December and it’s still 60 degrees. Earlier in the day I saw a blackout of birds swoop in and land, one-by-one in a herky-jerky elegance usually reserved for men working with jackhammers, on telephone lines, almost as if they’d practiced it, but it was too precise even for practice and then I remembered the migration patterns and instincts and remembered I was in the South (even worse-the Deep South), probably where all those birds I had seen up North a month ago finally stop for good. Unless they went further South to Mexico and Panama and beyond. I don't have a very vast knowledge of Latin American geography, or of bird migration patterns, or of the distribution of birds that exist in Texas, or of my own place in this huge-assed state.
I'm not exactly sure how far Houston is from Louisville, but I know that it's in the Deep South and the only large city in between is Memphis (going in a fairly straight line, that is). I could, theoretically, chart such a trip. Looking at it helps imagine the surroundings-possibly.
I arrived in Houston on a plane and have only been to Galveston and back. I'm not sure that I want to see more of Texas (Austin may be nice) but I know that to get to anywhere, really, on either side, requires about a three hour drive. I can tell because the distance to San Anton (I'm a Texan now, I can abbreviate such things) or Dallas or New Orleans - hell, even to Shreveport - is about the same distance on the map as Detroit is to Chicago.
Even the mid-sized cities from Houston to Louisville have "Hey Reb" sounding names - Tyler. Pine Bluff. Clarksville. These aren't the same old Ann Arbors or Kalamazoos or Garys I'm used to on that other trip. This is Astro Country. Or, even worse, a walking stereotype.
But looking at the map allows my to imagine such trips that I will probably never take. I don't know anything about the rest of Texas but isn't it all as arid and repugnant as El Paso in July at high noon, rolling steppes dotted with bush and one-lane highways going off into the horizon as far as the eye can see?