The Freelance Mentalists.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
 
Jennifer Lopez 'get right'

i hello again hope you're still reading: what with january being a quiet month, elvis coming back from the grave for real this time, what with ashanti and Ciara pulling out the guitars.

ii and then you look around for other stuff...digging deeper and, with not too many avant-noise boy bands to plug this month, the wire gave Braxton a cover. It IS that time of year.

iii so I'll tell you what how about it if I turn up the drama: time for my dad to do the listening for a bit:
theoretical girl: listens to 'for alto' and its penultimate track's sax squealing
[Dad hears leakage of squealing through the door]
Dad (opens door): Is that a donkey?
theoretical girl: haha! ....


iv the first time I heard 'get right' I didn't even notice the sax. the second time it was just so obv, so there, and now as I type its the only bit I can even remember. It has a tone to it and I bet anything that he'll bop along to this.
v the thing about january is: it could be worse...


 
Saturday, January 22, 2005
 
Raw Like Youth

I always go against the grain. If a woman is not supposed to watch pornography, I will watch it just to prove you wrong. I am Pavlov's bitch: tell me no and I'll do it anyway. I remember as a 12-year-old watching the static on tv and enjoying it. My friend was looking at me like I was mental. I probably was. But it just made me continue listening a few minutes more. Static is the great void: I loved losing myself in it, not knowing if I will be able to get out again. I'm not entirely sure if I love Noise purely because I like the randomness of the sound - the genre itself - or because of people's reaction when I profess my love for Prick Decay, Harry Pussy or... Whatever, the point is that I like to go against the flow. This is why I like(d) Neneh Cherry. It wasn't merely the music - although that was of course a factor - but her attitude. I'd watch her kick the crowd and loved her even more. Was she trying to make the public hate her? Maybe. She wasn't girly like Kylie Minogue or too aloof like Grace Jones. She hovered somewhere inbetween. Neneh wore a mini-skirt with doc martens, which meant, to me anyway, that she liked to gender bend. It was about acknowledging labels and then breaking the rules. Neneh Cherry's music encapsulated every genre I loved at the time and would later discover. She was my female cohort who introduced me to Portishead and the Slits - something Ice T couldn't quite live up to even though he did have 99 Problems, the poor guy, or even Madonna who was too far away (figuratively/literally speaking) to care enough about me. Raw Like Sushi and Homebrew were guides who would push me into other genres. If only she hadn't collaborated with Youssou and Eagle-Eye. Maybe she wanted to go against the grain as well.
 
Friday, January 14, 2005
 
notes on cage and Hiller's HPSCHD:

i its a work for amplified harpischords (divided into 7 solos) and 52 "amplified machines" to be combined in any way chosen -- the music is to be broadcast into 2-59 channels. the loud-speakers surround the audience. The first performance took place in 1969 and wz broadcast in conjuction with 40 films, onto 11 silk screens and using 64 slide projectors and 6,400 slides (5,000 from NASA) -- a 'happening'.
ii Xenakis' 'Persepolis' (1971) is a work for 8-channel tape of electroacoustic music, and is played over 100 loud-speakers sread throughout the ruins of Shiraz, Iran, where the first performance took place. Laser-beams, fireworks, projectors are used and groups of children bear torches around the mountain.
iii lou reed's 'metal machine music' (1975) wz released on dbl-vinyl as a 'contract breaker' (lou has denied it; some ppl don't believe anything that comes out of his mouth) and no performances took place till recently

iv HPSCHD stands in between these two works -- the surface structure is similar to MMM -- i.e. 'look ma no hands' soloing (same with Lou) w/sinewave tones, fixed length 'tracks' (MMM had 4*16 min tracks, except a locked groove at the end of MMM and a 5 min track at the end of HPSCHD) -- a minimalist maximalism. Xenakis varies the internal structure so much I can't even begin to see the nuts and bolts -- all make tracks for tapes but xenakis' is a more beguiling blend. Cage made a stastical analysis of the melodic nature of Mozart's music, introducing chance through a 'musical dicegame' at certain points ('measures') where each solo has diff measures taken from the solo piano music of beethoven, gorecki, chopin etc. Lou reed, in an interview round the time the record was released, claims to quote beethoven et al throughout the work -- listening to either doesn't leave me any wiser as to any of that even if one was prob bullshitting and the other wz not. Cage and Xenakis made the music as part of something else, so you're gonna miss that something on the CD.

v Xenakis and Cage take classical music out of the concert hall -- a response to a (western) world that wasn't JUST going to concert halls for enjoyment anymore. Lou finally performed this work by going into the concert hall, with a proper classical ensemble and to a world that got wiser.

vi The packaging of HPSCHD is wonderful, a rarity among anything releasing under the 'contemporary classical' (ugh!) banner -- get amongst the 0s and 1s of the music and its been mostly great k thanx, but the notes usually don't seem to reflect the music. Its as black and white as the composer's pic. HPSCHD is a diff story tho' -- 16 cards, one side are notes on the work, turn it around and its a puzzle. Join 'em together on yr bed and you get the orig, psychedelic-looking, poster for the very first performance. Cage's face is a simpsons yellow! The notes are good too: Bill brooks tells us to rip it onto mp3 and mash it up! That if all you do is just listen to the CD then the meaning is 'lost'.

I'll get round to it when I feel creative. I haven't even had coffee this morning.

Lou Reed's said, in the liner notes, that you won't get through listening MMM. That his week beats your year. Probably true 'cause he's Lou Reed...

vii Xenakis composed 'persepolis' with purely electronic sound, Lou reed altered the sound of a contemporary instrument and Cage used tech to give an antique instrument a diff meaning and make it stand out in a world that could be receptive to it.

viii
is this what robin meant by a post-human harpischord? is this what radio free narnia meant by what robin meant?
 
Sunday, January 09, 2005
 
Anybody else think that 2004 was an exceptionally good year for tearjerking singles? Maybe it was just me, but I found myself masochistically enduring lots of sappy numbers despite the memories and emotions they drudged up. Sometimes the experience is worth the hangover (plus a flip o' the dial usually winds up on a pick-me-up song soon enough).

"My Immortal" was a real slow burner, with childish fears, wishes that you'd just leave, faces that haunt and things that time cannot erase building in weight until (after a false nu-climax) Amy Lee collapsed on the fourth-to-last word, with the last three reaffirming that she's still alive, still not necessarily free of anguish. The video was hindered by that guy who co-wrote the songs and made sure everybody knew he was important too. He's gone now. Good.

"Everytime" sounds like its trying to build to a similar climax, with realizations of need, delusion, failure and possible worthlessness peaking with a voice-cracking declaration of guilt and regret. Thing is, Britney's voice is nowhere as strong as Amy's, so the shudder lacks an 8th of the drama. The power here comes from the piano line that follows the vocal crescendo, which has the kind of sweet fragility that would inspire most video directors to cut to home movie footage of an 8-year-old girl doing ballet. David LaChapelle went for some bizarre mix of "Lightning Crashes" and A Star Is Born instead, reducing an unusual moment of mature vulnerability into diva drama.

Another video that deflates the emo is "Dry Your Eyes," where a cute dog keeps us from feeling Skinner's loss. Frankly I would have preferred footage of him and his ex at happier times. The goodbye-Anthony's-composure moment of the track is when he mentions "the softness she's blessed with." It's a total aside, but hints at the gradual realization that he's losing something he needs, and a video that juxtaposed the shock and grief with idealized companionship would sock the gut a lot harder. Plus, he's telling US the story in the video, reaffirming he's not alone. This might be a more rational, comforting way to promote the song, but I like my pain hardcore.

The only video I saw that added a wince to an already devasting track was "Burn." Dude's just driving (he has so many other things he's gotta do), letting it burn and suddenly he remembers what it was like to try to keep his eye on the road when she'd be there, staring at him with affection, distracting him, making him want to just pull the damn car over and shove his tongue down that throat ASAP. For a second its like she's there and SNAP! He hears her whisper his name and she's actually standing in front of the car. He slams on the brakes in disbelief. Then she's gone! He gets out of the ride, sees he's alone, spins around, wails and makes the trees explode. I would too.
 
 
hope you all have recovered from yer new year's hangover 'cause I'm about to hit you all with HARDCORE SCIENCE! we aren't called 'mentalists' for nothing you know:

try this music and the brain article

courtesy of proven by science -- many of the conclusions come across as things that you and me could've been aware of but its a starter on the topic, and quite a different take on the 'why music matters us' question.

But it also may, in turn, tell us more about how our brains have been rewired over the course of the 20th century. One in which we've discovered new ways with (among other things) timbre . Most of the research up to now has, understably, centred on melody.


 
Saturday, January 01, 2005
 
A Simple Desultory Philippic for Internet Music Criticism, Rather Pretentiously Based on a Remark by Theodore Roethke

Donald Hall, in On Writing Well, quotes a notebook scribble from Theodore Roethke:

Get down where your obsessions are. For Christ's sake, shake it loose. Make it like a dream, but not a dreamy poem. The past is asking. You can't go dibble dabble in your tears. The fungi will come running; the mould will begin all over the noble lineaments of the soul. Remember: a fake compassion covers up many a sore....

What this really means, I have no idea. All is quiet this New Year's Day and I'm hung over, it could mean anything really, that's part of Hall's point. But I'm-a take it and run with it because I think it means something for all of us who write about music on the Internet.

It used to be that pop criticism of all kinds was a rare bird indeed. Books and movies were much more important to the American media, and popular music and culture trend-spotting were more blips on the horizon than the horizon itself. What few music writers there were wrote for specific print-based audiences: magazine readers of a certain demographic, newspaper readers in a particular locale, fanziners and broadsheeters and pamphleteers. Some few writers attained a kind of stardom through their position or placement or sheer reach, and the hundreds or so comprising everyone else more or less trailed in their wake, stylistically and philosophically.

Now, of course, everyone can be a music critic. In fact, this is awesome like an opossum. Pop music is supposed to bypass the serious discussion part of consciousness and strike directly at the more mammalian and reptilian parts of the brain. A great song on the radio stretches its fingers out to find the emotional and physical and spiritual switches in us, just waiting to be flipped. Music is a heart thing.

We've intellectualized it, as is our job and responsibility as humans. We've found ways to quantify the music we love, to categorize it and demarcate it, latitudes and longitudes, identifying tattoos that help us keep track of what we like and why we think we like it. "Popular" music used to be manufactured in buildings in New York and shipped out to the rest of the country via a shifting set of delivery systems called "groups." Things changed, then changed back, then mutated in many different ways, which is the glory of American music. It got to the point where "pop" was a dirty word -- but that point was about ten seconds after it started, and we simultaneously and alternately reject and embrace success. When we get fed up with this shaky construct called pop, we invent another genre that takes as its fulcrum point the rejection of pop, then that genre reveals itself as pop to its very core; because what use is a new genre if there is no subgroup in which it is popular? Most of what is popular on the radio now used to be called race music, or rhythm and blues, or colored music or black music or whatever; now Usher and Destiny's Child and Alicia Keys are all "pop." But Norah Jones is also pop, and Good Charlotte and Britney Spears are also pop, Evanescence is pop, N.O.R.E. featuring Daddy Yankee and Nina Sky and Gem Star and Big Mato is pop, if it's on the radio it must be pop. So what does pop mean anymore? Are we, finally, back to "popular"?

This Dewey Decimalization extends to all genres, and has become subcultural code. Country music has used black music as one of its bases for eighty years now, but it's still "revolutionary" for Big and Rich to have Cowboy Troy on the mic. People have died trying to prove how punk they are, how alternative they are; Kurt Cobain's desperate search for street cred ended ten years ago but his disciples live on. 50 Cent became a genre hero by getting shot 7,546 times and beefing with Ja Rule over who snitched out who, Eminem (who makes a career out of targeting people or puppets who cannot fight back) does a song about how it's really all about him but how he's not going to fight back, it gets played on the radio right alongside Snoop's song about how he keeps his blue rag hanging out his pocket on the Crip side, these are both rap or hip-hop on the basis of their significations but they couldn't be further away from each other in sound, in feel, in their heart. What is hip-hop? What is emo? What is laptop, what is rock en espanol, what is the difference between jungle and drum'n'bass and grime and garage? Is this track microhouse or regular house that only incorporates elements of microhouse? Was Chuck Berry a country songwriter?

We love fracture, discord, dischords -- it makes our jobs (often unpaid) easier. We are all too happy to spend our time figuring out what the music we listen to is, how to write about it so our readers know the appropriate tags, how to identify the flags hanging out the pockets of our music. But I think we're not digging deep enough. We don't communicate the love enough. We stay skimming the surface, relying on all of these labels, in lieu of getting down where our obsessions are. For Christ's sake, shake it loose!

Hip-hop writing on the Internet is increasingly all about judging each individual verse by each individual guest rapper, measuring it with some kind of fake stick to see if it stacks up in the reviewer's mind to other verses by the same rapper or different rappers on the same song or different songs, and comparing it all like it's a scorecard. How is this criticism? Not to be an ass, but this is just nibble, ticky-tack, quibble; it has nothing to do with FEEL, with LOVE, with CRAFT. Great rap is not a game of numbers, it's a game of how to put words together with sounds to create an impression on a listener. A lot of hip-hop writers, who got into the scene because of great love for this style of music, have turned into bean-counters, abacus-men, nerds to the x-treme. If they'd allow themselves to FEEL and to LOVE again, they'd maybe stop ripping everything apart like some schoolmarm with a red pencil. And the readers and listeners would actually benefit.

And I've done this too and I'm sorry.

People who write about indie rock are even worse. Everything is compared to everything else, there is no original thought: "XXXX is like YYYY mixed with ZZZZ, except back when YYYY were good because they were unsigned" is pandering rockism at its boldest and most ugliest. I have had to stop reading about dance music, because boring-ass disquisitions about what genre a track REALLY belongs to pretty much represent my idea of hell. And don't get me started about death metal lovers nerding out about what sub-sub-section of craft a record belongs to, or jazzbo hipsters freaking out about whether a particular saxophonist is more influenced by Charles Lloyd or Albert Ayler. It's enough to make a guy question whether or not the Internet's increased freedom of expression is a good thing after all, whether we might have been better off when fewer people were allowed an opinion.

But I don't actually agree with this idea. And I have done this too and I am sorry.

So what is this all about? It's about the idea that our criticism needs to step up a level. We should be focusing less on the flow charts in our minds and more on how music sounds. The important questions are not where something fits in, but how it sticks out, how it makes us feel and why, does it kick ass and why or why not, what part of the heart or head or ass or genitalia it hits, or misses, and why.

I propose that our music criticism become deeper, wider, more meaningful. Is that too much to ask? Probably. Do I expect this to have any impression at all? No. But I can change how I approach music, for myself and my own writing: I'm going to shake it loose, I'm going to make it like a dream, but not a dreamy poem. And I'm not going to be afraid to dibble dabble in my tears, if it should come to that -- I ain't afraid of no fungi.
 

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