Monday, November 17, 2014

Belly Buttons N'at

Lest any of us lose perspective, and since it's also late over here on the Better of the Two Coasts, we should also recall that musicians have been getting bored and trying to make things more complicated for years and years. Here's how things used to get weird in the '70s (high five to Pa Mild Interest for having the Cap'n in his record collection):


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Kind of Blogger That Jack Could Have Been

See, part of the problem with restarting a blog is that I'm not used to checking it frequently, so then Henry posts something eleven days ago that I didn't notice till now. Anyway, I think I successfully changed my Blogger settings so it'll email me when there's a new post. Never too late to figure out how to optimize your Blogger settings! Next I'll learn how to program my TiVo to record 30 Rock.

I'll reserve commentary about my parallel-universe musicianship, or what I once might have been being when I would have grown up. Partly since it's nighttime and I don't have the energy for introspection, and partly since I never liked navel-gazing on the Internet, blog or no blog.

Instead, apropos of nothing, here's the most interesting thing I read in the Sunday paper this morning, a column by a writer named Meghan Daum about a near-death experience and her sense that no real meaning came out of it. That description makes it sound bleaker than it is. Strikes me as very honest, and in an appealingly humble, agnostic tone.

The Sunday paper is the only one we get delivered. Makes for a nice Sunday morning routine. Maddie and I drink our coffee and read the Social Q's out loud to each other, and I'll skim over the book review while she browses the wedding announcements.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Glaze of Cathexis

Part of re-starting the blog--beyond the fact that I, like, have missed it--is to assert that there is time in the day for blogging to happen. For me, this probably comes from a growing awareness that I am, for the first time, pursuing a professional thing that might actually be a career (as opposed to working jobs, going to school, volunteering, traveling, etc.). As much as that is a good thing (I try to follow Pynchon's example from Bleeding Edge and feel myself to be buying in, rather than selling out), it's also fairly daunting, because suddenly one finds oneself spending most of one's time and energy on this thing that you're doing, and your ability to truly excel at it seems to hinge on whether you are being satisfactorily remunerated for your work. It's a far cry from the grand aesthetic visions of one's innocent 20s. And tiring, and sometimes crushingly arbitrary, even if you enjoy it a lot of the time.

My undergraduate counterpoint teacher (at the time and in reflection now, as well) struck me as the kind of musician that Jack could have been (Jack was still in college too, at that point, so it was reasonable to consider what he might be when he grows up). In short, he was a minor-league professional woodwind player, did some conducting here and there for small ensembles, was really really excited about music (and counterpoint ("Let's do some organum!")), and generally a nice guy. Also he had glasses, similar hair, and wore the kinds of short-sleeve dress shirts and ties that I'm pretty sure Jack has rocked out, and perhaps still rocks out. (Minor league pro musician is not a dig -- if anything it's more of a temperament or personality thing; to be an orchestral musician outside of the string sections, there's got to be a healthy amount of self-importance backing your talents and ambitions and desire for expression; minor league does not mean bush league or b-list or anything like that.)

I bring him up because he's a guy that found a career for himself. He play, composed, conducted, and taught music, and did it a lot. He seemed to actually like teaching music, and seemed genuinely fulfilled by the fact that occasionally his woodwind quintet would play works of his own composition. High five, counterpoint teacher. Which is mostly to get back to the subject at hand: black metal. Or, at least, post-black metal.

I think I would have been a hell of a music theorist, had I not been so self-destructively worried about making certain sounds on a certain coil of tubular metal (not a musicologist, and certainly not an ethnofuckingmusicologist). I would have written a baller dissertation on fractal modulation in the late works of Elliot Carter. Which I have been thinking about for the last 24 hours or so because of Jack's comparison of Giraffes? Giraffes! and Liturgy. (I'll get to deafheaven, too, one of these days.) If I may be an armchair ethnofuckingmusicologist for a moment, I find that one of Western music's understandings of world music, or human music, pan-culturally, is that one of the major categories of music that gets made is of a variety that builds and releases tension. Mostly because most Western music in the age of common-practice harmony and post-common-practice harmony (the age of harmony, generally) is built around the building and release of tension. That's how you get things like apotheosis and catharsis.

My guess for a band like Liturgy -- and most black metal acts -- is that they have sublimated that exchange, so that the performance is all release, but the received sound is all tension (turn that noise off, get off my lawn, etc.). Especially when you have ratcheted up the technical requirements to such a great degree (which still falls way short of the complexities available in other less degenerative modes and genres of music), you have to cling to this idea that your non-stop noise is a constant release of rage, and that your rage constantly makes the people who here it more and more tense. It's misanthropic. One of the problems is, is that it's hard. So the few live video recordings of the band I can find look strangely dispassionate (with that dispassion often masked by pretension). Examples:




Another suspicion that I have about the dispassion is further linked to misanthropy: that is is more reward in performing music like this if you make it look easy. Because your audience is even more like, what the fuck? They imagine you closing your eyes while you're playing and it looking something like this:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Arithmetic of Darkness

Back from the dead, and just in time for Halloween! How about that? Having recently--well, 7 months ago--renewed my CPR certification, I think of Jack and I as having mightily swapped the twinned duties of compressions and breaths. And duly resuscitated, we must now keep this re-animated corpse from merely sulking in the dusky shadows of the light-web of the Google-owned internet. Zombie-like, perhaps, in the spirit of the current holiday, for now, duly spirited. Delivering Mallo Cups and Necco wafers to all our neighbors' childrens.

Then, turkeys and Santa Clauses, of course, since I seem to have already lost track of the analogy I was just spinning. Gobble gobble? (Gobble gobble, motherfuckers?)

In my world, black metal is the kind of genre that college kids go through phases in. It's particular brand of hatred and misanthropy genuinely appeals to some miserable kids out there in the world, but it's also easily plumbed for amusement from afar (see (really, see it, it's very funny): Metalocalypse)  It's been plenty written about and wondered over by various parties. If you've got the time, the Wikipedia articles (as usual), are plenty up to the task of laying out the genre's sordid history (Norwegian black metal is particularly special).

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the leader and mastermind of Liturgy, in an interview, talks about the Norwegian black metal band Emperor as being the first band that really spoke to him. To paraphrase, his attitude was something like "this music was awesome to me because it was all climax." (To be fair, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has said/written some ridiculous shit.) Which, to any of the classically-trained musicians in the house, probably sounds pretty silly, since if everything is climax, then, clearly, nothing is climax because there is no differentiation.

So why do I (when the mood is right) like Liturgy? Or find them worth talking about? Well, I am a sucker for certain brands of pretentious jibber jabber. And like to produce some of it myself, now and then. But I also like another sub-genre of fringe rock, called "math rock." Because of it's weird time signatures.  Rock that isn't math rock can sometimes be called "mathy," when it's doing things that invoke math, mostly using odd time signatures. Here is an example:



And, to be brashly reductive: black metal + math rock = Liturgy. Black math? If you read any of the above-parenthetically-linked ridiculous shit, you'll learn that Liturgy has taken black metal's "blast beat"--the all-climax-all-the-time, and turned it into the "burst beat," which just means that it's still pretty much constant noise, but that it has a pulse, and the pulse is often happening in an odd time signature. Which is actually pretty interesting, for the over-educated set. 

It also requires a high level of virtuosity, which is even more interesting to me. But I think I'll save that for next time, since I don't want any one of my of mild 2.0 entries to ramble too much.

Oh, and speaking of being virtuosic and over-educated, Terrance Hayes won a MacArthur "Genius" award this year. Which means that I've studied with two MacArthur geniuses. What's up, rich kids?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not Eclipse

There was a partial solar eclipse in North America today, but we didn't see it in New York because it's been raining for two days, and also the sun was setting by the time it started. I know Nate and Kyle saw it, because I texted him to find out. They're in beautiful Bryce Canyon today, and the visitor's center was selling eclipse glasses branded for the 2012 transit of Venus. Nate texted me a picture Kyle took from her phone, which was a view through the eyepiece of a ranger's filtered telescope.

The next solar eclipse in North America is a big one, a total eclipse on the afternoon of August 21, 2017, that will be visible along a band that stretches across the whole United States. According to eclipse weather statistics expert Jay Anderson, one of the most promising places to view it may be the Willamette Valley in Oregon. August 21, 2017, is a Monday. Word to the wise: plan to take it off work, and get ready to fly somewhere over the weekend that's expecting clear weather. As Anderson puts it:
The United States has a sophisticated private forecast industry and a great resource in the National Weather Service. Reliable weather forecasts will be available for a week or more before the eclipse, and with a little mobility, no one who wants to travel to see this event should be disappointed.
Then there's going to be another total eclipse on April 8, 2024, going up through Mexico, the Midwest, and then northwest NY State and Canada. So take a long weekend then too. It's a while after that until there's another one that appears over a large portion of the United States, like 2045.

One of the great things about eclipses is that they know precisely when they're all going to be.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Boy Named Araby

I know you've rushed back here for my already eagerly anticipated post about post-black-metal, but that's something, let's admit it, that I'm still working up to--that I need the time to get ready to write it as much as you need the time to get ready to read it. Since it's been months, and I mean months, since I've much flexed my cultural-critical muscles.

Preamble strikes me as of utmost importance to my ability to link sentences into things like paragraphs, emails, blog posts, screeds, overly long bathroom stall graffiti, etc. I've been known to write entire letters about the fact that I am writing a letter. There are a lot of details to cover. Is it stalling? I don't think so... certainly, in some contexts, that must be what's afoot -- like here, where I've resuscitated a left-for-dead textuo-collaborative effort and am, like, scared to actually write the first post that I wanted to get to in the first place.

Or! fear is a primary motivator for my language-using self (let alone my not-language-using-person-complex. ("Fear is [my] only God, nah, fuck it, turn it off again[?]")) So that this and many other non-utilitarian writings are an attempt to capitalize--or at least to eek some good out of--my generally fucked up mess of a fight-or-flight reflex (more accurately, my flight-or-more-flight reflex)? Which, were it a deep insight I've just shared of myself, I'd be, like, "Hey, man, that's, like, totally not blog-worthy!" but instead I'm, like, "Hey, internet (or, as of this writing, 'Hey, mom,'), check out my awesome preamble? Isn't it rad? Fucking Araby at the fair, am I right?

I don't want to be a scaredy-pants, especially in such a public forum. So maybe I should get over myself, as enjoyable as this is and/or might or might not be...

Two bands, neither exactly topical, except that they've been on tour together this year: Liturgy and deafheaven. Just in case you haven't been believing me so far about their listenablility, please review the following, and I'll follow up, like, really soon, to get to the point about both of them that I've been meaning to get to for a couple of weeks now:




Thursday, October 16, 2014

No One Likes a Dead Blog Anyway

There's still a month and half left before it would have been a full year without a post on here, but I realized that that was the case today and panicked. That overstates it; I didn't panic. But I thought to myself... well, I thought to myself, but I'm not exactly sure what I thought. If you put the right kind of pressure on the correct spot of your brain stem, maybe, you activate the language centers up in the not-fish-brain part of yourself? Fuckin'... limbic system... parasympathetic nervous system, you know?

My friend Nick's blog--where I'd been podcasting for the call-it-8 months prior--shut down earlier this year (he's got a new comic coming out, by the way). So for the past 6 months, I've been, like, barely on the internet at all. Or not contributing to it, or not much, at any rate. So... internet, I've missed you? Or, pretend-internet-that-is-maybe-my-brothers-maybe-my-dad-and-maybe-nick, I've missed you?

Or, I haven't? But the thing that I've actually had on my mind to blog about is a couple of variant strains of post-black-metal, and it seems like I should say "hi," first, before I expect our little corner of the internet to find that even--let's say it--mildly interesting. Or, you'll probably find it interesting, because, if nothing else, it'll be some kind of insightful, but you maybe probably won't find it all that listenable.

So... yup, Blog's Not Dead (and heaven is, like, totally real).