December 19, 2012

The 52nd Revolution

Hello.  Still here.

November 5, 2012

Vote. Or Not.

I have gotten into this issue before, and I probably will again.  I don't necessarily stand by the old rant point-by-point, but it's close enough to where I am now.

There is an argument for not voting, and it's not a specious argument.  It is, however, naive and wrong.  "Whenever we choose to take part in a collective enterprise of any kind, we necessarily grant that enterprise legitimacy."  Well, bucko, vote or not, you are an accessory in Obama's drone murders.  If you pay rent, buy food, watch TV, buy a record, drive a car, go to the doctor, have a job, buy ANYTHING, you are complicit.  You don't get the luxury of sitting back and saying "not my fault . . . didn't vote for the guy" (though I do appreciate the fine distinction made here, that a vote for ANY candidate is an affirmation of a system which manufactures these atrocities).  You don't legitimize the system by voting; electoral voting is one of the least important functions of our capitalist system. You legitimize the system the first time a dollar bill passes from your hand to another hand.  You legitimize it by breathing American air.  You legitimize it by being here.  The only way you escape blame is by escaping America (and arguably not even then).  We are all complicit.  It's the new old model of accountability, by way of Martin Luther and original sin: we are all accountable.  Get over it.

Accountability is nothing more than a bourgeois buzzword, gummed tonelessly by mealy-mouthed middle managers.  Accountability is a scene in an Ayn Rand children's puppet show.  Accountability is monotheistic in its aspect, and reactive in its exercise. Automatically suspect anyone who starts babbling on about accountability, from any point of view.

Getting to the core of a system, understanding how a system works, and determining the good of a system has little to do with accountability.  Any real analysis will take an accounting of a system (making evaluations on who/what is responsible for various factors/effects/outcomes), but judgement is a secondary order of action, and a reactive one at that.

*          *          *          *          *

So, assuming you find change valuable, what do you do to change?

I'm not going to be a wealth of wisdom on that point, not tonight. Obviously, voting isn't going to change anything in any real sense, but neither is not voting, so you can throw that argument out the window.  I have no interest in busting chops on people who refuse to vote, since voting is such a small, small part in improving things.  I will tell you, however, why I will vote tomorrow.

I will vote Barack Obama for President of the United States.  I do so (as Charles Pierce said) "without enthusiasm, and without a sliver of doubt in my mind".  The primary reason: we need to get this conservative cultural bullshit off the table once and for all.  We need to stop fussing over public ideology so we can get to work on what is really creating suffering across the entire world: money, and those that hold it.

I've said before that the greatest triumph of the right wing in the US is how they have pulled the entire dialogue into their camp.  Not only have they managed to move the middle so far right that people actually consider a center-right pro-business Democrat a left-winger (yes, for those of you keeping score at home, that means Obama), but they also have managed to successfully engage the entire country in a game of Pin the Tail on the Ideology.  We are so busy talking about human rights in terms of access to marriage that we forget about human rights at a more basic level, or even (god forbid!) how our actions affect fundamental human rights outside our national borders.  We are so busy arguing over so many things that should be fait accompli by now that the real issues are obscured.

The real brain trust behind the right doesn't give a shit about abortion.  They don't give a damn about gay marriage, funding Planned Parenthood, the ten commandments in the schools, where mosques get built, or anything like that.  They don't care about the national debt, because when the time comes, that debt just means they'll be able to buy America for pennies on the worthless dollar.  They don't even care about welfare, because any real politician knows that a few crumbs off the tables of the rich keep the poor from congregating in the streets with rifles in their hands.  What the right really wants is for vast portions of the country to be arguing about these cultural issues and screaming about getting like-minded citizens into voting booths.  They want citizens to ignore the fact that their Republican culture warrior heroes will gut the very social institutions that they depend on, creating a dependence on the "private" sector that they find somehow tolerable because it isn't a "government handout".  They want millions of mindless "rebels" heading into the arms of so-called "Libertarians" babbling about no wars and open access to drugs, all the while smashing, in the name of FREEDOM, all the levees erected against corporate control.  They want helpless leftists scrambling to nominate "electable" Democrats who share the pro-corporate agenda of the right just so they aren't the "losers" in the culture wars.  I've got news for y'all: in the culture wars, like many more conventional wars, there are no real winners.

Most of all, after setting the table so that there is no real way to change the system by voting, they want you to believe (and feel proud!) that you've done what you can to change things when you walk out of the polls with a little red, white, and blue "I voted!" sticker.  If, indeed, you believe in the "bloodless revolution" of American democracy, if you believe that by voting you really are participating in change, then perhaps you do need to step away from the lever.

For the rest of us, voting is one small means to an end.  You need to get a school board that won't wipe Darwin from the textbooks.  You need to get state legislators who won't gut union rights, who won't approve hostile takeovers of elected municipal governments, who won't legislate the Christian version of sharia law.  We need to hammer anti-human public ideology into the same dark corners currently occupied by its brethren in the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi parties.  We need to do all this, and much more besides, just so we can file away our public silliness and start talking about the real core issues of repression.

I feel for those who say that voting isn't a real choice, because any choice we are given is a matter of degree, not a choice on the fundamental conduct of our lives.  I've got sympathy for the idea that voting validates a bad system, but again, we already do so much more to validate that system just by living here.  Ultimately,  I feel we need to keep voting so we can drag the national dialogue, kicking and screaming, back toward the center, one vote at a time.  And that may not be change, but at least it is starting to prepare the ground for change.







October 15, 2012

THEY HAVE FUCKING NAMES!


[UPDATE: This post has been edited for style (it was one hot mess when first posted).  The content remains essentially the same.  If you want to see the original version, it is up at notes toward everything, just so you know that the post still says the same thing, only it no longer runs in circles.]


The captions:

Leah-Lynn Plante

“Today is October 10th, 2012, and I am ready to go to prison,”announced 24-year-old Leah-Lynn Plante yesterday. By Thursday morning, the Portland activist was in custody and could remain incarcerated in a U.S. federal prison for 18 months, although she has not been charged with a crime.
Along with two others in the Pacific Northwest, Plante was remanded into federal custody for her refusal to provide a grand jury testimony regarding activists in the region. Matt Duran and Kteeo Olejnik were jailed in previous weeks for, like Plante, refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. All three are now being held in U.S. federal prison, not because they are being punished for crime, but, as the National Lawyers Guild’s executive director Heidi Boghosian told me earlier this year, “to coerce cooperation.”  -- Natasha Lennard, SALON
Pussy Riot
This is a member of Pussy Riot.  You already knew that because that's how western controlled media works.
Wake up.

Another bullshit meme.
  • This sets a false opposition between Leah-Lynn Plante and Pussy Riot (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich).  Defenders will point to this as a critique of mainstream media, and it is clearly intended as such; however, the two terms "Leah-Lynn Plante" and "Pussy Riot" are definitively placed in opposition to each other.  Whoever put this together establishes a false dialectic with "Plante" and "Pussy Riot" at the poles: why are these two terms opposed?  They are both symbols of oppression . . . more than mere symbols, they are both locations of oppression.  The explicit charge here is that the term "Plante" designates an authentic location of oppression, while the term "Pussy Riot" designates a false (media manufactured) location of oppression.  This is simply not true: both terms are very real locations of oppression; and as such, they have no business being opposed to each other.
  • So we already know all about Pussy Riot "because that's how the western controlled media works" . . . oh, really?  Then what are their names?  THEY HAVE FUCKING NAMES! Nadezhda Tolokonnikova!  Maria Alyokhina!  Yekaterina Samutsevich!  Use the names!  The person who put this meme together wants to critique "western controlled media" for creating a false symbol of oppression.  But in the process of "critiquing" the media this person makes the same mistake that he/she indicts the media for making: by dislocating the oppression of the term "Pussy Riot", a real location of oppression is converted into an empty and compromised symbol.  As this meme self-realizes (by becoming more popular on tumblr., facebook, etc.) it becomes part of the master narrative, thereby adding yet another reterratorialized symbol into the lexicon.
  • At a certain point, "critique" of "western controlled media" becomes a reterritorializing mechanism when it is deals in such empty symbols.  These symbols become slotted into master narrative, and get dealt with in ways that serve that narrative, such as dialectical/polar oppositions, the privileging of the ideological over the specific, the transcendent over the immanent, etc.  Critique is not useful when it reinforces the ideological imperatives of the controlling narrative; and, again, by opposing two locations of legitimate oppression, this meme not only trivializes genuine locations of oppression, but it supports a master narrative by dislocating true critique.
  • Any critique of specific media revolves around the unreliability of that media. An accusation of unreliability assumes that there is such a thing as reliable media.  "Reliability" in its turn assumes assumes the receiver or audience (or "consumer", in the truest sense of the word) of media is passive, and therefore dependent on the media to be reliable.  This is a false hope.  An accurate critique of media starts from the assumption that ALL media is unreliable; a true critique will mark an entry point into the media's ideology as well as how that ideology functions in the real world (such as it is).
  • The Leah-Lynn Plante caption is from SALON.  How the HELL is that not mainstream media?  This whole piece of shit collapses under its own contradiction even before we get to any of these other objections!
  • And anyway, exactly what is mainstream media anymore?  It's hard to focus on locations like network television, major western news outlets, etc., as mainstream when facebook is more popular and ubiquitous than any of them.  Media has become atomized to the point that "mainstream" has very little meaning in any general sense: one only has to look at Fox News's indictment of "lamestream media" to see that.
  • On top of everything else, it is ridiculous and petty to try to establish one level of suffering by opposing it to another . . . yet another case of internet infantilism.  
Western media did indeed create "Pussy Riot" in the sense it functions above.  It did violence to the real legacy, the real location of oppression that is Pussy Riot.  This meme does exactly the same thing.  It is naive, stupid, and ridiculous.

The western media has also, through its criminal silences, done violence to the ongoing legacy of Leah-Lynn Plante.  This meme also does violence to Plante by reducing her to a symbol in a base dialectic of authenticity, by turning her into "Plante" and paralleling the dislocated symbol "Plante" to the dislocated symbol "Pussy Riot".

In the process, both Leah-Lynn Plante and Pussy Riot (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich) are demoted from true locations of oppression to mere symbols of exchange.  In other words, BOTH are dehumanized.

October 11, 2012

Untitled

all those pretty little pictures
so . . . wrought
these little things
            portraits of
            nothing, insignificance

Be not a star that burns
  -- heat and corruption
sweat and dank
            the small things are not easy




October 5, 2012

Gubbey!



So, I'm old enough that 7"s were the way you bought your music, or at least if you were an AM radio kid that's how you did it.  Now, of course, 7"s are a little more esoteric.  This little nugget is the second edition of Gubbey Records' split series: the series places Gubbey chief Dave Rucinski's Furlong on Side A, with a special guest on Side B.  The first edition featured dark troubadour Anderson on Side B (with a solo version of Sean Garrison's "White Flag") along with Furlong's "Egg McMan" on Side A (also including a very nice cover of Leadbelly's "They Hung Him on the Cross" as a special bonus).  The latest edition takes an altogether different tack, pairing Furlong with Louisville improv/NRG jazz monsters Sick City Four.

Furlong rips into the proceedings with "Sex Bunker", a stoner metal sprint that plays a bit like a Saint Vitus LP on 45 rpm.  There's only one thing to ask from this, really . . . ROCK! . . . and, rock it does.  But that's not all . . . the more you listen to Furlong in general, the more you notice the little things, and not just the little production-type details that make a "professional" sounding record: sure, Furlong stacks up the guitar tracks, but they stack up the ideas, too.  So, you get the stoner metal lunge at the core of "Sex Bunker", but you also  get the punk velocity, nods to shit as diverse as Edgar Winter, Spinal Tap, Seattle sludge, the Stooges, and a whole bunch more sunk so deep into ideological mix as to be mere texture.  Perusal of the bonus track on the digital download, "Hoarder Fire", leads you down the same road by a different path: Zeppelin by way of Stone Temple Pilots, with the nervy guitar(s) tweaked into a psychotic benzedrine edge instead of STP's insipid junkie redolence.  Taking Zeppelin bombast and translating it into punk rock is no simple task, and Furlong nails it here.

This is, no question, a tricky path to walk down.  The only thing worse than pastiche is rock pastiche.  But Furlong never falls into that hole: everything here serves the purpose, and that purpose is . . . ROCK.  Having said that, Rucinski does manage a lot of mileage out of a deceptively simple surface.  Three songs is an extremely limited sample size; but is he (as Dan Willems has implied) transforming into a punk rock Brian Wilson?

Side B roars to life with the bellowing growl of Dan Willems's baritone sax (and that's a low B-flat baritone to you, bitches!), with the horns and guitar falling behind into a menacing cord, and Bart going apeshit on drums underneath.  Starting out very much like early 90's Ken Vandermark-era Flying Luttenbachers NRG jazz, "Burundi Punch Clock" establishes its head and quickly falls off the table as horns, drums and guitar slide all over each other briefly, only to tumble even further into a brilliantly abstract Chris Willems guitar break.  While the "solos" stack up in a way that roughly approximates jazz, this is less about musicians taking their turn, and more about each adding another piece to the jigsaw puzzle, for each part is inextricably linked . . . and, in spite of the amazing playing throughout, "Burundi Punch Clock" is about the links.

Essentially, the band forms four poles, and "Burundi Punch Clock" writhes in between.  Bart Galloway (drums) and Chris Willems (guitar) are the staccato jab, throwing accents and pulses all over the place (somewhat ironic, considering the traditional rhythmic role of both instruments in jazz).  While not specifically melodic (though very close), Bart's percussion lines alternate between small masterpieces of phrasing and spiky contrapuntal texture.  Falling into a dialogue with Bart's drums, Chris ups the ante by continually frustrating any expectations of melody and rhythm: you will always find Chris's guitar where you don't expect it, and when you're there with him, he hits you jaw dropping fragment and is gone again.

That leaves Dan Willems and Heather Floyd to define the other two poles.  Dan's baritone supplies the main riff of the head, as well as a lot of texture (not to mention a lot of the character of the song, given the singular sound of the baritone).  Dan's parts on this cut have a familiar "out" jazz sound to them (and he's as good on his horn as just about anybody you care to name), but his lines are pulled apart by the other polarities in play, making them more abstract and richer for their incompleteness/abstraction.  Heather, on the other hand, cuts across and through everything with her trumpet like a dry laser: the economy of her line organizes the chaos around her like metal shavings around a magnet.  Quite often, through the force of her playing, it is Heather who organizes/defines the Sick City Four.  Except, of course, when she chooses not to.

Antithetical to the ordered unfolding of jazz improv as well as to the fire-and-reload nature of most other free improv, "Burundi Punch Clock" is a small masterpiece of interlocked improvised parts that form a dramatic whole.  And the Sick City Four managed to squeeze all that onto a 7" record (!); usually their pieces are dramatically longer.  BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: buy this Furlong/Sick City Four single, and you get not only a slice of Furlong stoner punk heaven, not only a roiling Sick City Four miniature demon, not only a free download for a head-pounding Furlong bonus track, BUT ALSO SICK CITY FOUR'S "THE ANACREONTIC SONG" - AN INTERPRETATION OF THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER!  I'll leave that one to your imagination, at least until you buy the single.

NOW HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY?!

Furlong and the Sick City Four are joining Humongous for a double record release party at Astro Black/Quills Coffeehouse on Saturday, October 13th.  $3 gets you admission PLUS a free copy of the Furlong/Sick City Four 7"!

September 14, 2012

Beefheart Live on Television, 1980

video

A hard-to-find video of Captain Beefheart on a certain famous weekend comedy show that featured musical guests (no names, please, don't want to make it easy for the bots who seek and destroy this video every time it surfaces).  If they would just release it already, I wouldn't post it.

Or if it's out, someone let me know please.

Crappy video quality, riveting performance.

September 5, 2012

John Cage is 100






Today would have been John Cage's 100th birthday.  He is, to my mind, one of the two most important American composers of "serious" music (what we call "classical" music to differentiate it from pop music).  Only Charles Ives is his peer.

Unlike Ives, essentially a romantic who took orchestral music and completely blew it up, Cage threw the rules out the window.  Or rather, he wrote his own rules to subvert (the results of) the rules already on the books.  Cage and Ives are polar opposites; one listen to the Sonatas and Interludes followed by Ives's Fourth Symphony tells you all you need to know.

Cage studied in Los Angeles under Arnold Schoenberg, whom he adored.  Schoenberg and Cage, however, did not exactly see music the same way:

After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, "In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony." I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, "In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall."

And beat his head against the wall he did.

Zen Buddhism is at the core of Cage's life as well as his music, and Buddhism's defining tension - the reality that it takes great discipline and practice to achieve the nothingness at the center of Buddhism - was also the defining tension of his music.  Years back I wrote a piece about the destruction of the common in music, contrasting the explosiveness of John Coltrane's free jazz with the discipline of Cage's compositional games:

 In the quest for music which eaches beyond the mundane, the tension [between "free" playing and composition] gets accelerated into an existential problem: Coltrane sought to reach other worlds by obliterating the ego, and he chose to obliterate the ego by exploding it (in a sense, maximizing it until it became something beyond ego). Cage sought to reach other worlds by obliterating the ego, and the method he chose was simply to erase the ego. Both would say their methods involved maximum amounts of freedom: for Coltrane, there were no rules. For Cage, there were no decisions.

This was written in the context of 80s and 90s "noise" music, when the stated aim of "noise" artists was to break down the current musics so something new could be built in its place.  The common way to do that was to move as far away from anything resembling music as possible, which quite often meant taking musical instruments (primarily guitars, due to the flexibility of electric guitar setups) and actively making them sound non- or anti-musical.  Breaking down music also meant ignoring pop song structures, and quite often those breakdowns were improvised.  Following the lead of noise artists from Borbetomagus and Derek Bailey to Z'ev and No Wavers like Mars and DNA, those retreating from music leaned more and more on improvisations, leading to a free improv movement that closely parallels, but is not necessarily the same as, free jazz.

But here, again, the specter of John Cage stood as a cautionary tale to improvisers:

the “free” player is one who doesn’t allow her/himself to be limited by commonly accepted laws of harmony, rhythm, melody, etc. But, post-Ornette, post-Coltrane, post-Cage, it seems to mean both more and less than that … more, because the logic of the allowable has exploded beyond the furthest reaches of even Ayler. Less, because the element of the random seeks, a la Cage, to remove the humanity of music altogether (perhaps therein lies the ultimate freedom: the freedom from ordering sound, the freedom from making music). In fact, as Cage has insisted, the common conception of freedom leads to music of habit, or music of the known … music which, more often than not, turns into a banal Grateful Dead orgy. 

Cage demonstrated that composition is essential in breaking down the plaque of centuries of rules, norms, and ideas about what good music is supposed to be.  Along the way, he made music from the abrasive Cartridge Music to the completely over the top HPSCHD (early computer music, back when computers were run with punch cards), to the sensitivity and beauty of the Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano.  Not to mention, of course, 4' 33", the "silent piece" . . . one of the most infamous works of music ever written.  And yes, I do mean written: I have the score for 4' 33" sitting on the music stand of my broken down piano upstairs.

On top of all that, he was a pretty good poet, as well as one of the world's foremost authorities on wild mushrooms.  Mushroom hunters worldwide knew exactly who John Cage was, though most of them didn't find out he was a composer until they read his obituary.

In the end, I don't think he really did end up beating his head against Shoenberg's wall.  I think he turned that wall into nothing.


     John Cage 

     back in Kentucky, 3 am
     Cheap Imitation

     John Cage is the desert

     a sip of bourbon
     dim light by an open window
     cars up on 64 outside

     the notes flower
     as the desert, after a shower


August 29, 2012

Sailing Away on a Sinking Boat


Humongous - Miniature Pinschers
Adept Recordings/Black Velvet Fuckere/Chinstrap Productions/Consanguineous Records

Jess Myers - Voice, Cornet
Jamie Pickerill - Drums, Voice
Matt Pickerill - Guitar, Voice
Erin Reed - Keyboard, Voice

Recorded and Mixed by Dan Willems

listen to "Hook Up the Keyboard":



Ever driven the back roads at ridiculous speeds in a rickety-ass old heap?  You go grinding across gravel roads, like the ones that wind through backwoods everywhere, wheels on the ground but never quite locked up, rocks flying everywhere, always a degree or two off straight ahead, trailing a dust cloud as big as a storm front . . . there's that wingless & wide open feel you get driving on dirt, where precision is belied by response lag, where power and velocity are compressed into the great mean, and the edge is only visible in your rear view mirror . . .

Leave that Ferrari in the garage, Ruben.  Better light 'em up & kick down that Crown Vic, Clem, 'cause once I get off pavement that 4.6 Liter 8 in your Police Interceptor don't mean shit.  All y'all are gonna see out of me is a cloud of dust, & you'll know I'm gone when I stop bouncing gravel off your windshield . . . see, because on dirt & gravel, aerodynamics are worthless, traction is gone, horsepower is worthless: all you need is a stick shift and the nerve to push that rustbucket all the way to the edge and beyond.  A redneck in a rusted-out S-10 can outrun a city slicker in a Dodge Viper; the gal or guy with the most nerve wins.

Good rock -n- roll bands understand this.  Ever since Keith Richards plugged in his first Harmony, the good ones understood that playing rock -n- roll wasn't about precision.  Rock -n- roll is like driving on dirt: whatever boat you're piloting, the point is to get it going as fast and crazy as possible without losing it into the ravine.

*          *          *          *          *

Not that Humongous has exactly peeled off the fenders and uncapped the headers.  Their rockism isn't a stance, it's a compulsion, unlike the new macho rock ethos of the tattoo boys & girls.  Humongous has nothing to do with the narcissistic pose:  they only have one self-identifying raver, "Hook Up the Keyboard"; but it's all about nerd swagger, and it doesn't even show up until almost the end of the record, after which it is immediately smoothed out/undercut by the epic "Intervention".  No, they flail away like a bootlegger's Mercury because, as far as they know, that's the way it's done.

Humongous started as a bluegrass band (if you've ever listened to much real bluegrass, you know that the whole dirt driving thing has as much to do with bluegrass as rock), and there's a part of that which still sticks, in spite of the adrenalin-fueled twitch-rock they play now ("twitchcore", if you will).  The nervous energy, the speed ("always play just a little bit faster than you can actually play"), the keening vocals, the off-kilter feel of much of the music, all owe a debt to bluegrass . . . as does a lyrical viewpoint that tells the stories of the locale (though now, of course, the "locale" has been electronically expanded).

Miniature Pinschers starts out with some twitchcore jazz: a nice little cluster of barre chord, & then the guitar sprints off in a jerky scat, followed by the wheezing coronet.  The saga of  "Panty Boy" starts ragged and funky, hits a bridge, and then plunges into darkness and death (that, again, is a touchpoint with bluegrass), with oozing synth and repetitive guitar figure as Jess haltingly tells us precisely how Panty Boy fucked up . . . and so, the blueprint of the album: immediate songs with stereoptic images set to rock that is fast, crazy, and loose, with a ton of insane changes that are like prog rock without the math.  The musical vocabulary ranges far and wide; from almost obsessive lapses into funk, to the C & W of "If P had W" (one of the more charmingly direct statements of female lust you're ever likely to hear), from the straight rave-up of the aforementioned "Hook Up the Keyboard", to the almost Brechtian "Intervention".  There are songs about murder, incest, Czech girl illegals and healthcare, drinking, sex, the cops . . . all the biggies.  And through it all, Humongous sprints along at breathless pace, barely slowing down enough to land the punches.

For music that has the coherence and velocity of a sawed-off shotgun blast, it comes as a bit of a surprise just how unified the dramatic arc of the album is.  It doesn't sound exactly operatic, but you almost get the feel of Miniature Pinschers as a song cycle, where ideas pop up only to quickly disappear, then resurface again mutated & re-contextualized.  Images come in jabs and starts, stark photos with ragged tendons connecting them together . . . the mutant surf spank of guitar chords built from the ground up (how does he keep that low E in tune?) anchors the proceedings . . . the tootling of the coronet bounces between the guitar line and the vocal line . . . the keyboard's bass runs & sparkling chime makes the New Wave argument . . . the chugging splatter of the drums bring the funk  . . . the roiling vocal dialogues between Jess and Matt dislocate the center . . . Humongous manages to take simplicity, throw it on the floor, and smash it to bits; then they rearrange the fragments for maximum nervous overload.  More, they manage to make the schiziod chunks a broken mirror for our schizophrenic culture.

While never repetitive, the songs are all of a piece, with the exception of "Intervention", which is nothing if not operatic.  It's here that the schizo voice of the band shows to the full effect, with Matt and the rest of the band turning on Jess, demanding an intervention ("We've decided we know what's best for you" repetitively delivered in an impossibly hooky sing-song line), while Jess resists, eventually drifting off into nothing ("I'm sailing away, on a sinking boat, I'm getting away, to Miami FLA").  It's as if the twitchy immediacy of the album finally straightens out on "Hook Up the Keyboard", goes all big brother with the voice of "Intervention",  only to dissolve into a hazy abyss of Mai Tais with little umbrellas by the end.  It's Humongous's best song, even if it's the most atypical.  But here, as everywhere else, sparkling pop hooks and chugging punk/funk alike are chopped and twisted, to the same dislocating effect.  And yes, it does drift off in a way that no other Humongous song does, but only because there is nothing left to do.

*          *          *          *          *

Humongous does have a sonic connection to the infamous Louisville sound, but by way of the lesser-discussed Ethan Buckler/King Kong branch of the scene . . . indeed, Humongous sounds like you imagine King Kong would if you locked King Kong into a dark room, kept them alive with coffee, Captain Crunch, and benzedrine inhalers, then cut them loose on stage with a bank of strobe lights all going at different speeds . . . and as outsiders, they tend to circulate in crowds that run from experimental (Sapat, The Belgian Waffles!, Sick City Four) to outsider punk songwriters (Brian Barbee/Janitors of the Apocalypse, Furlong).  Ten years from now, Miniature Pinschers will be considered one of the local classics, and the scenesters will be writing a new history to incorporate Humongous.  Why not beat the rush?

Humongous's Miniature Pinschers will be released October 13th at an album release party somewhere or other (update when I get it) at Astro Black/Quills Coffeehouse.  Pick it up at Astro Black Records (in Louisville) and other discerning media dealers.



July 25, 2012

Guns Redux



At this point, I am neither a proponent nor opponent of gun control.  I generally think the federal government should stay away from gun control, but I don't have any problems with municipalities, counties, or even states limiting access to firearms.  Colorado, for example, should probably think about gun control.


Every time we are faced with mass murder, the whole discussion becomes soured.  Extreme events lead to extreme reactions, the visceral replaces the reasonable.  There are equivocations on both sides.


  • How are gun deaths qualitatively different than, say, stabbings?  Or, to point to a more recent trend, bombings?  A long time acquaintance of mine was recently beaten to death in a fight in Los Angeles: is his death somehow cataloged differently because he was beaten?  Why do we fixate on gun deaths as opposed to violent deaths in general?
  • Obviously guns make killing easier, but (especially in light of the above) is that really the metric we care about?  The numbers* show that the US sports over 88 guns per 100 people (not that 88% of Americans own guns, just to be clear).  Only Serbia gets within 30 of that number.  A quick look at homicide rates from 2000 puts the US at 4.55 per 100,000, 65% of which are committed with guns.  Countries that have a higher death rate but do not allow legal gun ownership: Zimbabwe (7.24 per 100,000, 66% by gun), Latvia (10.03, 13%), Estonia (10.45, 15%), Belarus (10.13, 33%), Barbados (7.49, 40%), Costa Rica (6.57, 51%).  Countries that allow gun ownership, with higher death rates, and lower gun death percentages: Lithuania (10.01, 22%), Ukraine (8.93, 4%), Moldovia (8.13, 6%), Poland (5.61, 8%), Uruguay (4.61, 55%).  Countries that make the US look like Mayberry: Columbia (62.74, 83%), Guatemala (25.47, 73%), Mexico (14.11, 25% . . . wait, 25%?!  Apparently, they hadn't fully made the changeover from machetes to AKs by 2000**), Paraguay (12.05, 61%).  What does all this tell us, other than the fact that those Baltics/Eastern Europeans WILL KILL YOU WITH THEIR BARE FUCKING HANDS?  It's not clear what all this means . . . and that, friends, is the point.  There are no easy answers.  I dare say that one of the ideas that starts to surface from all these numbers is the old saw that "guns don't kill people; people kill people".  Those wacky Former Soviet Republics sure don't need guns to kill people; do we believe the US would be radically different?
  • If guns disappeared tomorrow, we would see less bloodshed in the streets (turf wars wouldn't have the same body counts), but would other types of homicides be dramatically changed?  Would the jealous, enraged lover be hindered by the switch from gun to knife?  This especially holds true for mass murder, the very event that always triggers our national hand-wringing over gun laws: guns are ridiculously easy to get in the US right now, but if they were gone, do we think for a minute that James Holmes wouldn't have just walked in to that theater and tossed around some pipe bombs?  He did, after all, rig his apartment with explosives.  Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris used several pipe bombs, though most of them didn't go off (Holmes likely would not have made that mistake).  In the Arab and Persian states, bombs are now the weapon of choice, and there's really very little a government can legislate to keep people from building bombs.


On the other hand . . . 


  • That meme with the rock being the first weapon used by one human to kill another, so maybe we should have rock control?  Yeah, shut the fuck up.  Maybe 15% of the population could kill me with a rock, and that number goes down to 5% if I get my hands on a baseball bat or tire iron first (and to that five percent: PACK A FUCKING LUNCH).  On the other hand, any idiot with a gun can kill me.
  • Can we please (please please please please) finally be done with the redneck fantasy that an AK in the hands of a patriot keeps the government from taking over?  One word: DRONES.  They always have a bigger gun.  And, while we're on the topic, who do you think the government fears more: A) a 17-year-old computer geek with a MacBook Pro and bad intentions, or B) a thousand knuckleheads with automatics?  If you guessed "B", you are living in a fantasy world.  You know those drones I mentioned earlier?  They get plenty of al-Qaeda, and they can get you.  And you can't shoot them down.  But you know who can bring down drones?  Computer geeks, like the students from the University of Texas who spoofed the GPS signals for a drone and put it on a crash course before rescuing it themselves.  And what did they have?  Guns, no.  Computers, yes.  Now, are there any questions?  Maybe if you used your computers for more than porn and Neo-Nazi websites . . .
  • I don't even really buy the self-defense angle.  Guns are good against knives, ball bats, clubs, etc., but against other guns?  The thug is 1) gonna have the drop on you, and 2) has probably drawn on someone before, which means there isn't going to be any hesitation on that trigger.  Whereas you, unless you are military trained and battle tested, probably are going to have a split second of indecision before killing a man.  The thug, not so much - that is, after all, what makes them thugs.  And yeah, I know you say you're a badass and wouldn't hesitate, but I don't believe you.
The narrative always goes bad whenever we have an extreme event like the latest Colorado shootings.  Everyone misses the point . . . on purpose, it seems.
____________________


*  As always, I grabbed the first numbers at my disposal.  They are certainly not fresh numbers, and perhaps not even completely accurate.  And, as always, I welcome corrections from the statistical department.  I can't see that revised numbers would dramatically change my point.
**  Sure enough, 2010 numbers show Mexico up to 59% homicides by gun.

June 22, 2012

Aesthetics, Politics, and Hoop (2012 Finals Edition)

As I write this, the Heat are running the Thunder out of the gym late in the third quarter of game 5.  Doesn't look like the infamous & bizarre season of 2012 will be lasting much longer.  So, before I move on to the 2012 NBA postmortem, there is this:

The Heat got who they wanted for this series.  Going into the finals, it lined up like:  the Heat wanted the Thunder, because their big three was just a little bit badder than the Thunder's big three, and the Heat have been there before (experience at each level really does mean something in the NBA, whereas "playoff experience" in other sports is totally overrated).  The Heat didn't want the Spurs, because you know Popovich would have solved the Heat somehow (yeah, I know, he didn't solve the Thunder, but the match ups between the Heat and the Spurs would be much better for the Spurs . . . you'll have to take my word on that, else this post runs totally out of control).  Along the same lines, the Celtics would have preferred the Spurs over the Thunder, because those old tired bones couldn't keep up with the Heat, and the Thunder would have made it even worse.  After the semis, I plotted it pretty much like this: Celtics v. Spurs = Celtics (actually, that would be a pick 'em); Heat v. Spurs = Spurs; Celtics v. Thunder = Thunder; Heat v. Thunder = Heat (actually, I would have had that as a pick 'em as well, but obviously, I was wrong).  Point being: matchups really matter in the NBA.

But anyway, pretty much everyone I know wanted the Thunder to win this thing.  There's still a lot of ill will focused on the Heat for "The Decision", and rightfully so: it was a totally bullshit manufactured media event, and most of the participants deserve much of the ill will they have reaped . . . except, WHY HAS NOBODY EXCORIATED ESPN FOR THEIR ROLE IN AGITATING THAT WHOLE FIASCO?  EVERYONE WAS HATING THE HEAT FOR THIS MANUFACTURED MEDIA EVENT, BUT WHY IS NOBODY HATING ON THE MEDIA?  But anyway, here we are, LeBron and the Heat are a bunch of spoiled, privileged children, expecting a title ("not five, not six, not seven") practically as a right, and it just feels appropriate to hate on them.  And yeah, I feel that . . . I don't like the Heat.  No one really likes the elite kids when they get their way.  The Thunder, on the other hand, are a bunch of "good kids" who "do things the right way" and wear cute nerdy clothes and remain relatively (relatively!) humble in interviews . . . they are the good guys.


Is it really that simple?  Here comes the cognitive dissonance . . . 


In this era of the 1% v. the 99%, the Heat are (believe it or not) closer to the 99%.  It was the PLAYERS (a.k.a. the WORKERS) who dictated that team, not the owners (a.k.a. the FAT CATS).  Everyone bitches about LeBron and D (the typo) Wade and Bosh colluding to assemble this team; but when the workers get together and collude, it's called UNIONIZING.  Of course, the stakes are much different on the assembly lines and in the machine shops; but, at the core, it really is the same thing.  From the start, there was a part of me that said "I should be celebrating this . . . the workers are taking over."


On the other hand, everyone who follows the NBA is aware of the drama of Seattle.  For the uninitiated, there was once a team called the Seattle Supersonics, and, after holding the city of Seattle hostage (in the way many sports franchises do), the various big boys who owned the team moved it out of Seattle to Oklahoma City.  So, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the team of the callous 1% who don't give a shit what the riff raff (in this case, you, city of Seattle sports fan) think.


The workers v. the bosses.  A no brainer, in my house.  Or, maybe not: the wife screams profanities every time Bron is on the tube.  Score on for public relations: Bosses 1, Workers 0.


Then there's the idea that the Thunder "share" the ball more than the Heat; but seriously, I don't know where that came from . . . if Russell Westbrook wore saggy jeans, he would be vilified from coast to coast.  But, since he wears print shirts and nerd glasses . . .

. . . while I'm here, I should note that LeBron and D Wade did the nerd look before Durant and Westbrook, but it only became cute when the Thunder did it . . . but, I gotta say I don't have a problem with that, because the "gifted" kids only piss me off when they do nerd wear (terratorializing mother______s!), so we'll move on . . .

. . . anyway, there's this idea that the Thunder share the ball more than the Heat, are more into team ball, but that's not quite true.  The Thunder do share the ball more than the Heat, but that's only because they have more people to share with, since the Heat's payroll only has room for the BIG THREE, Juwan Howard, and the janitor from last year.  Seriously though, the Thunder don't share the ball any more than the Heat do: people just like who touches the ball for OKC better than they do the players who touch the ball for the Heat.  Mario Chalmers v. Thabo Sefolosha?  That's easy!

Back to the point (and yes, there was one), if you are a (left-leaning) political animal, then the Heat should appeal to you more than the Thunder, since it's essentially a series of the collective of the workers v. the nastiest owners in recent memory (and yes, I know that Miami's owners are nasty too; but really, what is the identity of the club?).  So, screw the haters, it should be POPULIST LOVE for the Heat over the Thunder, right?

Not so fast.  There is also an aesthetic level to the game, and it's here that my love for the Thunder really takes shape: Kevin Durant is simply on of the most beautiful players in the game.  He moves with fluid quickness and grace, and every shot displays not only his athleticism but also his creativity: this skinny guy isn't going to force his will on anyone . . . no, he has to CREATE for his shot.  Westbrook too is breathtaking in his quickness and unpredictability, if not as creative as his teammate.  LeBron James, on the other hand, has a tendency to hurl himself at the basket like a missile, all arms and torso and brute strength.  D Wade is missile-like as well.  For Wade and James, there is a certain brutal inevitability when they score; for Westbrook and (especially) Durant, scoring is a thing of beauty.  As impressive as raw displays of power tend to be, the beauty of the Thunder's scorers (including James Harden) can be breathtaking.


The Western Conference, on average, is a much more beautiful conference than the East.  Steve Nash is one of the most beautiful players of all time.  Ricky Rubio will be the one that steals the title from Nash, and he's feeding a pretty sweet player as well (Kevin Love).  For all the brutality of Z-bo and the younger Gasol underneath, there's a lot that's pretty about Memphis.  NO's Eric Gordon can be breathtaking in a kamakazie way.  Chris Paul can find a crack in any defense. Tony Parker as just another missile, but the Spurs's aesthetics revolve around the classicism of Tim Duncan and the avant garde of Manu Ginobili. And, of course, we have the ultimate puzzle master, Kobe Bryant.

And the East?  Well, Rajon Rondo is perhaps the most creative genius in basketball right now, but beyond that . . . the Bulls?  Ugly.  The Pacers?  Ugly.  The Sixers?  Super ugly.  Atlanta?  Who the hell knows, day to day?  The Bucks?  Scott Skiles coaches them, 'nuff said.  The Heat?  Only ever-so-slightly-less-ugly.


And here we are at the crux of the issue: the beautiful v. the just.  Who wins?  Pretty good contest, if you ask me.  At the end of the day, my choices are going to be a combination of that, along with other things: I have to be committed to a team, aesthetically or intellectually.  For the NBA and its fans, a little dissonance is a good thing.



June 15, 2012

Fat Friday

Guesting again at History Lesson Pt. 2, this time with a little thing on Genesis P. Orridge & Throbbing Gristle.

June 3, 2012

Untitled


one single thing
like a fist held aloft
like a shriek to a thick empty sky
            gray over a cold green field
like hunger
like a hand grasping air
one single thing

I can hold a single thought in my head
            amongst all the noise
one single thought of everything
before it even slouches onto the event horizon
nascent humanity, long under
fear’s dark hand,
roiling forth
into one single thing –

the thing that can’t be spoken
  or even considered
lest the walls of the castle crumble
and we are alone

April 18, 2012

Taking a Short Break

Will be back soon, most likely within the next month.

March 1, 2012

World Peace

Grantland has a great post by Jonathan Abrams about The Malice at the Palace … essentially a collection of thoughts by several of those who were there and (more or less) directly involved with the fracas.
One of the big takeaways is that the Malice was a fairly common NBA scenario that ran totally out of control because of the unusual volatility of one of the main participants (Ron Artest, a.k.a Metta World Peace) as well as the abdication of responsibility by those who are charged with keeping the order in such situations (first and foremost the game officials, who had let the game get totally out of hand even before Artest decided to deliver his “message” to Ben Wallace).  The fact is that crowd violence is never too far out of the equation in these situations - I remember that whenever I went to watch away basketball games in high school I always had my tire iron handy under the front seat of my car - and if even one level of security broke down, then you were right on the edge of something nasty.  Something nasty, like the Malice at the Palace.
At the end of the day, if the officials had started calling technicals and kicking people out as soon as the hard fouls started, none of this would have happened.  If Mike Brown would have gotten World Peace off the court right away, none of this would have happened.  If the Palace had a sufficiently large and competent security force, none of this would have happened.  And if the Pacers would have just headed into the locker room instead of responding to the taunts of the Pistons and the fans, none of this would have happened.  At the very root of the problem is the violence on the court which, if not contained, can ignite a flame that’s not so easy to extinguish.
So here we are, 7+ years later.  Ron Artest has won a championship, publicly apologized for imploding what was clearly a championship-caliber team, gone through years of therapy, become a poster boy for facing emotional issues, and changed his name to Metta World Peace.  Jermaine O’Neal, the leader of the Pacers at the time, not only had to see his most realistic shot at a ring disappear, but had to leave a team and a city that he genuinely loved.  And the Pacers have only this season struggled back to relevance behind a team that Larry Bird had to rebuild not only to win on the court, but to regain respect off court.
It is World Peace specifically that has undergone the biggest transformation: he has gone to being as impulsive and moody as an angry 13-year-old to a man who tries his best to be a good citizen in the world (hence the name change).  Along the way, it’s clear that he lost a lot of the edge that made him perhaps the best defender of his generation, and now his refusal to march to the same drumbeats as everybody has the narrative painting him as a laughable eccentric, whereas before he was a dangerous loose cannon.  But even if he has lost his edge on the court*, it’s not too hard to see that Metta World Peace has a better life off the court.
We continually praise athletes for their ruthlessness and single-minded purpose between the lines, and then criticize them for the very same characteristics off court.  Witness Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech: why was anybody surprised that he is a petty and vindictive little man?  These are exactly the kind of things we praised him for as an athlete.  Why are we surprised that so many athletes, from Kobe to Brett Favre to Ben Roethlisberger and on and on and on, don’t think the rules apply to them when we continually tell them that, indeed, the rules don’t apply?  And here we have Ron Artest, a man clearly on his way to self-destruction: his demons made him a very good, albeit dangerous, basketball player.  So he plays, day in and day out, with the fuse lit on his powder keg, and we expect people like Mike Brown, Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle, Chuck Person, etc., to tamp it out after the whistle blows.  We expect him to be a demon on the court, and with the flip of a switch, be completely normal off it.  When he did blow, we excoriate him, turn him into a pariah, say that he’s exactly what’s wrong with the game. 
So our devil, our scapegoat, begins to take his life seriously.  He wants to change, he wants to be a better person.  And, he is successful, to a very large degree: he becomes less violent on court, less malevolent off court.  He raffles off his hard won championship ring for the benefit of mental health issues.  He becomes a poster boy for dealing with mental health issues.  He changes his name to Metta World Peace.  He becomes a better person.
So how do we celebrate the transformed personhood of Metta World Peace?  By making him a laughingstock.  By pointing to him as an eccentric has-been.  By making him a joke.  Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot that’s funny about Mr. World Peace.  My wife and I continually post our favorite Ron Artest/Metta World Peace quotes on each other’s facebook walls.  But I laugh because I find him a genuinely funny and interesting guy, not because I consider him a joke**. 
The temple of sports punditry, on the other hand, has different ideas.  Ron Artest was a dangerous, out-of-control thug.  Metta World Peace is a soft-hearted, soft-headed goofball.  Artest/World Peace is not what he is, he is what he is not.
Which brings me all the way around to the source of this post, today’s Asshole of the Day***:
image
That’s right, Skip Bayless.  I try hard to avoid him, but every so often I get sucked in.  And I always have to pay.
So today, Bayless is discussing the need for the Lakers to retaliate against the Heat for the hard foul that D. Wade hammered Kobe with in the All Star game.  He actually said “Metta World Peace needs to change back to Metta World War” (??!!).
Yes, I know.  He was only trying to be clever (he really needs to stop trying, he never will be anything close to clever).  But essentially, he was saying that World Peace needs to revert back to his old violent self to help teach the Heat a lesson.
Let me restate that.  When Ron Artest was violent on the court back in 2004, he was a despicable human being who should have been kicked out of basketball for life.  He was everything that was wrong with the game, and people were suggesting in all seriousness that Artest and his ilk were bad people destroying sports and, by extension, our culture.  But, just this once, Skip Bayless sees a need for evil to return.  Skip Bayless is asking the very person who started the Malice at the Palace to repeat the specific action that precipitated the brawl to begin with.  And he does so with the implicit backing of the sports media as a whole … or indeed, of sports culture as a whole, since we have made very little effort to repudiate the narratives of assholes like Bayless.
And here is the secret of the Malice at the Palace, among other things: we are the problem. Not Ron Artest, not the Pistons or the Pacers or the crowd at Auburn Hills, not the officials or security or the “thug” culture of the NBA, not even Skip Bayless and the narrative of the Sports Media Empire.  No, we are the problem.
We are the problem because we participate in regressive narratives like the mainstream narratives of sport.  We are an even greater problem, because we allow these regressive narratives to stand in for our larger cultural narratives (i.e., Metta World Peace is a failure in life because his personality change makes him a less effective basketball player than he used to be).  We are the problem because these narratives that we foster poison our culture as a whole (one look at American politics tells you that).  This problem is bigger than just sports; it is a cultural problem.  And we are that problem.
We can change; we have to change.  And we can start by not succumbing to ridiculous narratives, even on things as ostensibly superficial as sports or pop culture.  Just say no to the idiots.
Break the narrative.
____________________
*  Until this year, I would not have conceded that: Phil Jackson’s role for World Peace took away much of what made him such a good player.  However, I would have guessed that reuniting with Mike Brown this year would have seen him return to old form, and it hasn’t.  It is starting to become clear that the demonic intensity of the old Ron Artest isn’t part of the new World Peace, and he is only a decent role player without that intensity.
**  If asked which professional athlete I would like to spend a day with, I wouldn’t have to think for a second: Metta World Peace is my man.  Only Rasheed Wallace - a man, incidentally, that faces some of the same public approbation as MWP - and Steve Nash even come close. 
***  Then again, I haven’t heard any Republican presidential candidates speechifyin’ today, so there’s still a chance that any one of a number of lunatics could steal this title.

February 22, 2012

Untitled

          a point
coded, dark purpose
the very air is dark purpose
          it’s death
we breathe our own demise
it’s the food we eat
it’s the liquid we drink
it’s the fucking air
the soup we swim through
          is coded
“a” for anything you care to enumerate
“b” for the bullshit
      that clogs our nostrils like wet sand
“c” for dark purpose hidden
      in plain sight
like the cop at the funeral
he’s always got the bosses in mind
         
      code
birthed in thin air, now studded
with barnacles, ghost ship
  slips, fading ever toward transparency
into another form, can we ever
scrape it clean
and wash it away
   

February 21, 2012

Untitled

a moment still
things as they are
a sudden stop, stillness
a certain sparkle, depth, clarity
warmth.  not frozen, but alive

a moment you stand, eyes connect
to great distance, you
see everything
& it is not separate from you
the thing as it is
the thing as it [idealized]

perfect
flawed
transient
immortal

it doesn’t permeate you
it expands & erases you

at the end of forever,
the next moment

January 30, 2012

Dre Beats Headphones and Transcendent Ideals in Sound

Beats by Dr. Dre are popular because they don't reproduce music as much as they transform it. They are the right headphones for the current era, because their design "customizes" the sound for the listener who wants bass. Music is never finished; we can chop and screw, add bass, slow it down 100x, mash it up with something else. And people will buy headphones that finish the music in the way they like.  -- Mark Richardson, from "Permission to Avalanche" on the Resonant Frequency blog at Pitchfork.

I'm posting this because I recently made a snide comment about Dre Beats headphones in a post (if you care, you can go back to a 1/26 post on my tumblr feed, but that's not really necessary).  I used to work at a place which sold them, and since I spend a lot of time listening to music on headphones, I was looking into buying a pair.  The Dre Beats display in the store had the phones in demo mode with hip hop tracks cued up, and of course, they sounded great.  One day I got bored & decided to test them by splicing in my personal mp3 player so I could check how other types of music sound on the Beats.  First I fired up some Death Grips, and then Shabazz Palaces, and they both sounded great (naturally), though I sometimes actually dial the bass back on hip hop to get more texture, and the Beats just overwhelmed everything with bass.  Oh, but what great bass it was!

Next, I went the opposite route and played some of the second movement of Ives's Fourth Symphony.  Predictably, it sounded totally like shit; but no big deal, I generally keep most of my classical music on its own dedicated mp3 player, so I could also keep an old pair of headphones exclusively for that player.  After that, I pulled up some Stooges demos and played them: shit!  The blistering edge was drowned in a river of sludge.  Skipping around to other songs, the Beats turned all my punk rock to mud.  Useless!

So anyway, to the point above: people will "buy headphones to finish the music the way they like"; but in this case, they are making a very binary choice, and they are choosing somebody else's finish on the music.  I understand (as pointed out in the article) that the ideal of "neutral" headphones or audio equipment is based on a snobby-if-not-elitist classical music prejudice, but the neutral equipment is also best suited to sculpt the music the way you want.  I remember back in the 70's and 80's how graphic EQs were the cool hi-fi accessory.  Of course, the audiophile knows that EQs are meant to tailor the output to each individual room to match the room acoustics to some ideal sound, but that's not how I used mine: I usually cranked my mid-highs to give my Stooges records an even more buzzsaw-like quality.  I had special EQ curves for my Zappa and Beefheart albums to emphasize the guitar.  And, just a little tweak in the low-mids really helped those Black Sabbath records sound even more evil!  Essentially, what I was doing was altering the "sacred" object (the original recording).  An audophile would have thought my EQs were an atrocity, but I really loved the sound.  In the same way, neutral headphones allow me to develop (as much as possible) my own sound for my listening using EQ controls on the devices. 

Right there is my ambivalence: Richardson's fundamental assumption is that transformation happens, and his assertion is that individualizing music (and it is individualizing music, not just the "listening experience", as some lifestyle salesmen will fashion it) is fundamentally worthwhile & even creative.  I believe that.  Even if I do posit that there is a phantasmic idea of "ideal sound", and even if this ghost is present when I listen to the reproduction of music, it is not something that I fixate on, or even acknowledge as a goal.  And I do like the idea that "music is never finished".  We have very specific cultural concepts of art as static, unchanging object.  Even experimental ideas of performance art, ephemeral art, disposable art, etc., somehow refer back to the idea of art as object, usually not critiquing the idea so much as using that concept as the point of difference.  The idea that recordings, usually conceived as static artifacts even when considered separate from the performance, can be altered and remade by the choice of playback equipment, is a very modernist (and recently a very pop culture) conceit.

However, as to the core of this particular discussion, Dre Beats headphones "finish" music in a fairly uninteresting and predictable way.  And, it is not your way, it is Dre's way.  It's disconcerting that Beats headphones actually add a kind of "factory preset" to your listening that you can't override.  Further, this "factory preset" once again moves the focus from the immanent back to the transcendent; only this time, the transcendent is not some ideal music out there, but rather some ideal mix as projected by a corporation whose face is Dr. Dre.  It is theoretically possible to use Dre Beats headphones in a way that re-contextualizes their purpose - and I think Richardson, with his avant-bass aesthetics, shows one way that can be done - but, more than any other equipment that I can think of, Beats resist such re-contextualization.  It is not that they are limited to what they can do so much as they are so supremely focused toward one specific purpose, and that purpose is dictated by the creators.

All equipment transforms music to some degree.  The idea of "neutral" reproduction equipment is a transcendent, Apollonian ideal that can never be achieved (and perhaps an ideal that it's not even desirable to attempt).  My beef with Beats headphones is less that they transform music, but rather that they only give you one limited option.  I am, by all means, in favor of alteration and transformation: just let it be yours, and not Dr. Dre's.

*          *          *          *          *

This post is only partially about equipment, but it does beg the question: what kind of headphones do I use that are so much superior to Dre Beats?

Well, here you go:
Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones.  They are $300 headphones, and lord knows I would not have ponied up that kind of money on my own.  I managed to win a pair as part of a work incentive, and I use them so much I am starting to develop callouses behind my ears.  You can, with a little help from the player, get plenty of smooth (not boomy) bass out of these headphones.  If I had to replace them & didn't feel like spending more than $100, I would probably go with these Sennheiser HD205 II headphones.  If I felt a little more flush, I would go with the Sennheiser HD 598, although by that point you are almost back to the price of the Bose.

Klipsch Image S4 earbuds.  Everything in this CNET review of these earbuds hold true, as far as I can tell.  I replaced a set of Bose earbuds, and these are clearly better.  They fit very well, with plenty of comfort, and once you get them seated in your ear (you'll have to adjust them not for comfort, but for best sound and stereo image), they stay there, unlike the Bose I always had to keep adjusting when I worked out.  Also, while not specifically noise cancelling, they actually shut out more outside sound than my Bose noise cancelling headphones.  And, they're under $80.  These should be the first headphones you buy for an mp3 player or iPhone.

As far as mp3 players go, I refuse to buy an iPod, and pretty much all the rest seem to be inferior.  I've got an Ibiza Rhapsody which has great features and a lot of capacity (30 gb), but the sound is mediocre and the thing crashes ALL THE FUCKING TIME.  My three cheap little Samsung mp3 players are good for what they are (i.e., cheap), and the sound is actually comparable to more expensive units.  But, the fact remains, they are fairly limited, inexpensive little devices.  

These days, all music player functionality is being shifted over to phones, and I really haven't spent a lot of time shopping them.  Once again, I refuse to buy an iPhone (for now, anyway), but I finally joined the smartphone generation by buying (actually, getting a $50 upgrade for re-upping my phone contract) a Blackberry Torch 9810.  I've spent a little time with the music player, and it seems pretty decent, but I haven't even bothered to get into the controls to see if there is a decent EQ adjustment.  One day, I'll go out & get a 32 gig micro SD card and spend some quality time with the music player on this.

Well, that's it for the consumer bullshit on this one.

January 16, 2012

Writing Through Zizek

from darkness past to light
as if a fuse had been lit
the explosive now a story told
                        a harvest culled
from a ladder that stretches back

it is not evolution
it’s realization –
something that’s been here
all along
the potentialities
the crushed dream of the future
encoded into history –

we are the materialized ghosts
of past generations
we bear the promise of a future
where our failures
are but seeds of victory
we live as future paradise
split with the pain of suffocation

“the present redeems the past itself
the new emerges
to resolve the unbearable tension of the old”