June 28, 2011

Why Do You Think They Call It Noise?

For the sake of context, I will point you to various musical projects I have been involved in, past and present.  My band of 20 years has documentation here, my current band is represented here, and of course you can score some downloads at Bandcamp if you wish.  An overview of what I do is at my Soundcloud page, which just happens to have a very sweet version of "Amazing Grace".

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We called it noise when we started in the 80's; industrial noise, to be precise.  But even then, what was called industrial noise was becoming restricted, reduced, and reterritorialized*.  All these guys that were beating on metal together, I suppose it makes sense that, sooner or later, they grasped rhythm as the way to communicate.  Or normalize, I would say.  After a while it sounded like a hippie drum circle with tubes and sheet metal instead of hippie drums.

Punk rock came about when what was called "rock -n- roll" at the time became bloated and irrelevant.  The Ramones (most visibly) stripped it down to three chords and a cloud of dust.  But by the mid 80's, when we first showed up, punk rock had evolved (devolved?) into hardcore, there were rules to be followed, there was a club to join, there was a cannon to master.  Punk rock was becoming daddy, and even if daddy had tattoos, leathers, and a funny haircut, he still wasn't essentially different from polyester cocaine dancer daddy, or long hair groovy judgmental-in-a-different-way daddy, or Mad Men daddy.  Bands who wanted to be more creative, to move outside the strictures of punk rock, by and large moved back toward mainstream rock (creating "alternative" or "college rock"), which by that time began to look like a bastion of freedom compared to punk rock.  And then there were the freaks.

So, noise was our punk rock.  It was our way of breaking things down, similar to the way the Ramones broke things down . . . except instead of three chords and a cloud of dust, we just had the cloud of dust - no chords.  First called industrial noise, the "industrial" faded away when the inherent rhythmic stupidity started heading ever closer to disco, and when it became more about lifestyle (which always seemed to me like clubbing with an attitude) than about breaking down music.  "Noise" stripped of other connotations was much more elemental, much more primal.  Historically, noise could collect non-industrial types like Einsturzende Neubauten, the Butthole Surfers, and even experiments by more rockish avant-garde bands like Pere Ubu ("The Book is On the Table").  It could reach back to the no wave of Mars, DNA, Red Transistor, and Lydia Lunch; back to the sixties free improvisation groups like AMM, to the free jazz of Coltrane, Coleman, Ayler, et. al., and to the non-idiomatic free players like Derek Bailey and Evan Parker who bridged that gap.  It could reach back to Stockhausen, Xennakis, and Cage; it could reach back even to strictly regimented late 19th/early 20th Century composers who produced complex music that broke the rules of the time.

The elemental, primal aspect of noise also means it is irreducible.  Like "music", "noise" is a subset of sound.  These two subsets are generally thought to oppose each other, with music being a pleasing arrangement of sound, and noise being an anarchic and (to varying degrees) annoying occurrence of sound.  They are not, however, totally exclusive of each other: the differences between music and noise have a strong cultural bias, and what is normally considered noise is often included in the arrangements of sound that make up music.  But while music will stretch and change (which is, by the way, the beauty of music), noise remains outside, remains irreducible.  

This whole rant came about because, recently, I've posted my band several different places online, and I've been asked to classify the band each time.  I consider my band, Black Kaspar, a noise band.  Now, you will see "noise" as a qualifier quite often when it comes to current music; I often had the choice of "noise pop", "noise rock", the old standby "industrial noise", and so on.  I, for one, reject noise as a qualifier, because it's nothing more than an attempt to reterretorialize noise, to bring it back into the fold as a musical spice rather than the main course of sound.

Now, it's not the mainstream that is trying to reclaim noise, not by a longshot.  It's the outsiders that crave acceptance, that crave recognition on some level no matter how small, that crave to cleave back to the hierarchy.  It seems that an artist always wants to claim to be special, and there is nothing special about noise; one makes noise accidentally as soon as your feet hit the floor when you get out of bed in the morning.  The artist always seems to need to claim a space for himself that is his own, so for him, "noise" is just too pedestrian, too normal, too . . . unmusical.

And that is why I choose "noise" for my tag.  I certainly hold my music up against most of what gets made these days, but I don't claim any special expertise, I don't lay claim to any sort of cannon that needs mastery.  I make NOISE, simply and irreducibly, and you can like it or not, but you can't tell me I'm doing it wrong, because there is no right way.  I'll leave it to others to write clever songs; I'll continue to sculpt my sound.  And when you ask me what makes my noise special, interesting, or worth listening too, I'll not bore you with conjured complexities: I'll just point at what I've done and say "there it is - you tell me".  For me, the beauty of pure noise is that it is the anti-cult: join if you wish.
*  Through no fault of the first industrial noise band, Throbbing Gristle, who showed up just a year or two after the Ramones.  It was probably the Throbbing Gristle folk who coined the term "industrial noise".

June 20, 2011

2011 NBA Post Mortem

I wasn't going to write anything more about this year's NBA season, but it was so swell, I couldn't help it.  Plus, there seems to be an overload of dumbass narrative associated with the season, so it can't hurt to add some perspective outside of the 24 hour yak machine in Bristol.  And yes, I know it's really late, but that's what happens when you try to keep three blogs, two musical projects, and a 45-hour-a-week day (and night and weekend) job.

  • The Mavs didn't win the title, the Heat lost it.  Bullshit.  First of all, that's a silly cliche on the surface of it: the Mavs won the title, the Heat lost it.  BOTH THINGS HAPPENED.  But seriously, too many people are characterizing this as a series the Heat gave away, which is ridiculous.  In spite of the individual basketball awesomeness of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, the ingredients weren't there for a good basketball team, at least not immediately, and not without some real work and sacrifice on everybody's part.  This is a point that has been heavily discussed (both here and elsewhere), and yet so many still seem to be missing the point.  The Heat may have had the better individuals, but the Mavs had the better team.  That doesn't mean that the Heat will never be a good team - as a matter of fact, they made some pretty serious strides in the playoffs - it just means that the best players don't always make the best team, at least not right out of the box.
  • "Scoring the ball".  I just have an image of some guy in carpenter's overalls whipping out an old-school pocket knife and cutting the surface of the basketball.  Is there any way we could just lose this hideous phrase?  Didn't think so.
  • LeBron isn't clutch; LeBron needs to become a killer, like Kobe Bryant.  Let's deal with that last one first, because I have said that myself before: when the game's on the line, who would you rather have the ball, Kobe or LeBron?  To the NBA fan, the answer would seem obvious, but it's not.  Of all the players who took part in this year's playoffs, who would you hand the ball to?  Kobe?  Not so fast - according to stats compiled by True Hoop's Henry Abbott, the first guy you would give the ball to is Carmelo Anthony.  No surprise there, the guy is probably the most lethal scorer in basketball, and that includes Kobe.  So, okay, Kobe's next, right?  Nope . . . how about Chris Paul, Shawn Marion (?!), Brandon Roy (no surprise there), Hedo Turkoglu (okay, leave him out after the brain farts he let out this year), and Mike Bibby (??!!)?  If you say to me "Dirk Nowitzki", I say "no duh" after what he did this year, but this list was compiled before his coming out party.  Then, how about Tim Duncan, Eddie Jones, and Raymond Felton?  And next we have . . . LeBron James?  Yup, the much-maligned King James is ahead of Kobe on this list, as is Ray Allen and Gilbert "Hibachi" Arenas.  As a matter of fact, Kobe is only about 1.5 points better than the league average at clutch time, and just over 15 points short of Carmelo . . . so, don't believe everything you think you know.  While LeBron did have a pretty serious drop off during the playoffs this year, I think it has to do with a lot more that "not being clutch", some of which we'll get into below.
  • LeBron James needs to work with a sports psychologist to cure his crunch-time woes.  Jesus Christ.  LeBron doesn't need a sports psychologist, he needs a midrange and post up game.
  • LeBron James needs to work with a sports psychologist to cure his crunch-time woes.  The writer and editor in me wants to leave the pithy response above by itself, but this was seriously suggested by more than a few talking sports heads (the emptiest of all heads), so a longer response seems warranted.  First of all, I think we really need to see that LeBron is not really that bad in the clutch, as noted above.  And if he does tend to disappear, which he does sometimes, I think it has less to do with him than with his coaches.  When he was with Cleveland, there was no question he was the man, and I think he did a much better job as a closer.  But this year with Miami, having to share the court with another "legendary closer" (D. Wade), his role is much less clearly defined.  I think it's this indecisiveness that showed this year, not some sort of mental block, or "yips".  Better coaching will lead to more clearly defined roles which will lead to more decisive action in crunch time.
  • In spite of having a rough series, LeBron is still the best player in basketball.  This one's hotly debated. I think that LeBron is potentially the best player in basketball, but right now I don't see him in the top five.  Most of it, in my mind at least, has to do with the lack of a midrange and post-up game mentioned above.  Nobody in the world can shut down LBJ one-on-one, but basketball, being a team game, means you don't have to.  Right now, all you have to do is pack your defense down around the paint to keep Wade and James away from the basket, making sure most of all to always have someone in front of James, and you have a real chance at beating the Heat.  There are three-point shooters on the Heat (Miller, House, Jones, occasionally Chalmers), so that's not the problem . . . besides, you can steal a game or two with the three, but you won't win a series.  And James, for his part, is either driving in or tossing up a three; you stop him somewhere in the middle, and he's not scoring.  Look at Carmelo or Durant: is there anywhere on the floor where they don't score?  Or Dirk: not the most graceful or convincing drive in the league, but it doesn't have to be pretty to be effective; and right now, that fade-away jumper of his is among the most unstoppable scoring shots I've seen since Kareem's sky hook.  The thing about LeBron is this: you can tell he's never really had to work on his game that hard.  Unlike MJ, he wasn't cut by his freshman team.  Unlike Bird, he could get by on his lightning reflexes, so he doesn't have to anticipate, he doesn't have to play the game two steps ahead of everybody else.  Unlike any given little guy (say, Juan Jose Berea or, even better, Alan Iverson), he can count on his bulk and athleticism to get to the basket, so he didn't have to develop any kind of subterfuge to help him out.  LeBron, being almost superhuman, always had that to fall back on.  Problem is, once you get to the upper echelons of the game, there is always someone only slightly less superhuman than you ready to put out the extra effort to shut you down just when you need that basket the most.  This, to me, is James's problem, and also the reason why this year's playoffs could turn him into the best player in the game. I have no doubt about his willingness to work, and his humility shouldn't be a question after this year's comeuppance; but now he needs some guidance, and he needs to show that he can improve his game, both mentally and physically.
  • LeBron is not living up to expectations.  First of all, he's still relatively young.  Secondly, I think that his ceiling is higher than any ceiling we've ever seen in the league, and indeed, he is already a very good player, but there seems to be a lot about the game that he has yet to understand.  We see him as a physical specimen, not a basketball player, and when the elite physical specimen is considered as a not-always-elite basketball player, we are disappointed.  At a certain point, we just have to admit that LeBron is not quite that good . . . yet.
  • The Mavericks had a good run this year, but next year they still have to be considered longshots.  Really?  You're still going to bet against the Mavs?  I'll admit that, with the rise of the young teams in the West (the Thunder, and now the Grizzlies too), the whole playoff picture is getting murky.  And if someone can step in and fix the Heat's offense, they have to be considered favorites.  But, this win by the Mavs was not a fluke.  They will be back in the picture, and I would count on them as much as I counted on the Lakers last summer.  But of course, all bets are off until the new CBA gets inked, and that is turning into a very sticky problem.
Everyone, even the Heat's biggest critics, still have them winning a ring or three in the upcoming years, and I think that's about right, given the current state of the game.  We can't, however, count on the current state of the game.  Too many franchises are currently loosing money, and unless things are turned around, there will be a contraction in the league.  Plus, I don't really see the owners looking past the sort of free-agent team building exercises that the Heat indulged in this year . . . though, if they did, that would probably be the biggest threat to a Heat dynasty (if Chris Paul ends up in New York or LA, all bets are off).

Meanwhile, the small market teams are in danger.  Oklahoma City caught lightning in a bottle (or rather, Seattle did, then promptly lost the team), but they will only last as long as they can hold on to those young contracts.  Indiana, the one ABA franchise that made money, has been struggling since the Malice at the Palace, and even though they had a strong finish to this year and a bunch of money to spend next year, they still hold out little hope of getting the players that will make them a real threat for the title.  Even the Mavericks are losing money, though only as much as Mark Cuban is willing to lose.

The next CBA will determine the future of the sport.  Here's hoping that one of the best NBA seasons that I can remember will help get everybody on the same page and pulling in the same direction.  This isn't the same as football, where the players are on the short end of the stick and there is a ton of money to be spread around, if only nobody gets too greedy.  Basketball needs both the owners and the players to team up and decide how this game can be run without bankrupting many of the people who put their fortunes on the line for our entertainment, and yet still not holding down the people who actually make this money for the owners. It's going to be a tough fall.

June 18, 2011


one of the things you know
is wrong
guess which one
  laughing unmediated through
pages of old newspapers
pregnant with an ancient spirit guide
who does nothing but sit around
  and smoke cigarettes
while your dread grows younger
& the man of your dreams
counts off the days on stubby fingers
  (you don't know where the count
    begins - or ends
the thing that is for sure
is that nothing is for sure
dancing like a prophet
singing like that last thought
  that leaves your head
a dollar or two buys consolation
but your wallet is empty
and the sky closes around you
like a mistake

June 7, 2011

He Went All Parnell On Us

With the pathetic revelations about Anthony Weiner’s online hobbies, we have yet another political “hero” brought down by personal failings.  I am reminded of Joyce’s fixation with charismatic Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell, and how Parnell’s personal failings set back the cause of Irish independence.
  He was for Ireland and Parnell and so was his father: and so was Dante too for one night at the band on the esplanade she had hit a gentlemen on the head with her umbrella because he had taken his hat off when the band played God Save the Queen at the end.
  Mr. Dedalus gave a snort of contempt.
  — Ah, John, he said.  It is true for them.  We are an unfortunate priestridden race and always were and always will be till the end of the chapter
  Uncle Charles shook his head, saying:
  — A bad business!  A bad business!
  Mr. Dedalus repeated:
  — A priestridden, Godforsaken race!
  He pointed to a portrait of his grandfather on the wall to his right.
  — Do you see that old chap up there, John? he said.  He was a good Irishman when there was no money in the job.  He was condemned to death as a whiteboy. But he had a saying about our clerical friends, that he would never let one of them put his two feet under his mahogany.
  Dante broke in angrily:
  — If we are a priestridden race then we ought to be proud of it!  They are the apple of God’s eye.  Touch them not, says Christ, for they are the apple of my eye.
  — And can we not love our country then? asked Mr. Casey.  Are we not to follow the man who was born to lead us?
  — A traitor to his country! replied Dante.  A traitor, an adulterer!  The priests were right to abandon him.  The priests were always the true friends of Ireland.
  — Were they, faith? said Mr. Casey.
  He threw his fist on the table and, frowning angrily, protruded one finger after another.
  — Didn’t the bishops of Ireland betray us in the time of the union when bishop Lanigan presented an address of loyalty to the Marquess Cornwallis?  Didn’t the bishops and the priests sell the aspirations of their country in 1829 in return for catholic emancipation?  Didn’t they denounce the fenian movement from the pulpit and in the confessionbox?  And didn’t they dishonour the ashes of Terrence Bellew MacManus?
  His face was glowing with anger and Stephen felt the glow rise to his own cheek as the spoken words thrilled him.  Mr. Dedalus uttered a guffaw of coarse scorn.
  — O, by God, he cried, I forgot little old Paul Cullen!  Another apple of God’s eye!
  Dante bent across the table and cried to Mr. Casey:
  — Right!  Right!  They were always right!  God and morality and religion come first! 
James JoycePortrait of the Artist as a Young Man
And so our leaders are done in by failings that have little if anything to do with their actual purpose in life.  It’s a far stretch from Parnell to Weiner, but it’s the same at its core.
I remember thinking how foolish it was for Irish Catholics to abandon Parnell just because of his affair with Kitty O’Shea.  And so, as annoying and pathetic as Weiner may be, there’s little point in turning our back on him … except, of course, besides little fits of pithiness toward his conservative colleagues, he hasn’t done anything worthy of support.  It’s not like he’s Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders, after all … so it doesn’t really matter if we turn on him or not.
I am much more concerned with the “morally upright” politicians who destroy our nation (Mitch McConnell), and I reject demagogues for more than their “moral” failings (Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump).  In the end, I always considered John Edwards’s biggest failing not to be the fact that he fathered a child out of wedlock and lied about it; but rather, the fact that he concealed a secret that gave John McCain’s zombie ghost the chance to win an election that he would have no chance at winning otherwise.  Say it with me now: Sarah Palin, a heartbeat away!

[UPDATE:  This blog post (courtesy Suzy Bright's Facebook page) is hands down the best discussion of the Weiner scandal.  Please read it.]

June 3, 2011

Notes Toward Everything

I've just started a Tumblr blog called Notes Toward Everything.  It will be a sort of public notebook, as opposed to this blog, which will feature more finished pieces. I will use it to publish shorter pieces, random pictures, videos, songs, etc.  I'll probably move all the "In Rotation" posts there as well.

Never let it be said that I'm not contributing to information overload.

June 2, 2011

LeBron James as Unwilling Darth Vader, and Other Tales Ending in June; plus, In Rotation

Welcome to June, where here at the homestead, we are wondering if the Tigers can stay close enough to the Indians to benefit from the inevitable Cleveland jinx, and if the ascendancy of the Royals and the Indians actually means a new day in the AL Central.  Well, okay, we don't really spend much time thinking of that at all.  We just hope the Tigers can stabilize their bullpen before August.

It's been a lovely NBA season, truly one of the most satisfying sports seasons in recent memory.  We'll get to that in a minute; but first, a playlist:

In Rotation

Tyler the Creator: Goblin
Death Grips: Exmilitary
Dimitry Shostakovich: Symphony 14
Flipper: Generic and Gone Fishin'
The Germs: GI
The Fall: Dragnet
The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons
The Flesheaters:  Miss Muerta
Davie Allen and the Arrows: Bullseye
Glenn Gould: Brahms - Ballades, Rhapsodies, Intermezzi
Husker Du: Land Speed Record
Various: Hula Blues - Vintage Steel Guitar
Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts
Six Organs of Admittance: Asleep on the Floodplain
OWFGKTA: Radical
Big K.R.I.T.: Return of 4eva
Ornette Coleman: New York is Now
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (Live)
Autechre: Confield

and from the Indiana Musical Family Tree Archives: Sick City 4, DeAndre Film Student, Dr. Ray, Bateu Futur, Mine., and a few more.

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This sure has been an all-round fun NBA season.  The story lines were all over: the final demise of the Phil Jackson Lakers, followed by the unlikely announcement of the next-generation Lakers under ex-Cavs coach (and perceived, though perhaps unfairly so, LeBron victim) Mike Brown.  The Sixers and my Pacers show plenty of guts in losing causes in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.  The Pacers, in particular, impressed everybody as a pretty well made car that's just missing an engine (Charles Barkely: "You know, you take LeBron off those Cavaliers teams he was on, and put him on this team, and I think you see a different result in the finals.").

We also saw the re-invention (on the fly, I might add) of the Spurs, put to an untimely end by the rise of the Memphis Grizzlies.  The Hornets, after giving the Lakers fits in their series, wonder if there is any way they are going to be able to hold on to Chris Paul . . . who, by the way, returned to his old form in a way that many of us didn't think was likely, or even possible.  The perennially snake-bit Trailblazers, while pondering their own future, managed to give the Mavericks their only really competitive series before the finals.  The Celtics look too old, the Thunder still too young, and we still wonder if the Grizzlies were a mirage, or if they are for real.  And the only team that truly looked like chumps were the New York Knicks . . . so much for the dangerous Amare/Carmelo combo.

Derrick Rose was able to win one series almost singlehandedly, but not another.  Kobe looked more and more human, though still dangerous.  Garnett looked lost. Chris Paul looked around and saw young "pass first" PGs like Rajon Rondo and Mike Conley stepping up & decided he'd better do the same or risk becoming irrelevant.   Carlos Boozer emerged as the most over-rated player, Marc Gasol as the most under-rated.

And then, the finals.  Miami, who effectively transformed themselves from a likable blue-collar grind-it-out team to villains over the summer, got it together during the playoffs to actually become the team they are on paper.  There is the suggestion that "The Decision", far from being the mistake that everybody including LeBron thought it was, was actually part of Pat Riley's master plan to raise the stakes and form a crucible that would forge the Heat into the great team Riles thinks they are.  Dallas, on the other hand, played steadily and confidently throughout the season only to completely blow up in the first three rounds of the playoffs . . . to the degree that people are mentioning Larry Bird and Dirk Novitzky in the same sentence, and even Bird doesn't have a problem with it.

LeBron's marriage to the Heat has been great for basketball, even if it has been rough on his public image.  The NBA needs bad guys and, unlike the Knicks of the 90's, it needs bad guys with rings.  

So now here we are, with a real good guys v. bad guys final on our hands.  Great end to a great season.

And then, the lockout starts.