Friday, January 30, 2015

Quick, Before It's Not January Anymore!

I think this was a pretty solid month of blogging. I think Jack could have contributed more, especially with the snow days and all, but, as a pace-of-posting for a still relatively recently un-dead blog, really not too shabby. I remember talking to a member of our let's call it "inner circle" of brotherly acquaintances, in a conversation during which I was being my usual self-deprecating self, but she was, like, "you know, you guys are actually pretty funny," and I was like, "well, maybe..." And then I proceeded to post mostly intermittent posts about obscure sub-genres of music that mostly involves strumming electric guitars really fast and drumming as fast as you can and screaming. Riproariously funnny. Fuck yeah! I've got this weird innate competitiveness about me, which probably comes from being in a family that generally downplayed all non-word-game competitiveness. It leads, most often, to caring about things that really aren't--at least intellectually--worth caring about. So I am a rather predisposed, not only to analogy making, but also to ranking things. Which is me slowly beating around the bush in order to say: I think Nate is the funniest of the four of us. And he hasn't, like, posted at all since I breathed life back into this stumbling e-golem of a blog. WTF, Nate?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Black Metal Du Jour

I've never really cared about liking music that other people like, or would even want to like (that's not entirely true; I definitely had a last-gasping phase of trying to fit in with the other kids in senior high school, and owned, if never truly managing to like listening to, albums by Dave Matthews Band and Rusted Root (and let's never, ever, talk about Billy Joel)), and in fact often get accused of liking some music precisely (precisely) because it is hard to listen to and objectionable to most people.

That last sentiment (the one of the accusers above) is stupid. Meanwhile, I was reflecting to myself that once I (finally) got the blogging about them out of my system, both Liturgy and Deafheaven have kind of fallen off of my week-to-week playlist. They've been replaced, as it turns out, by more metal. More bands that I'm going to post videos of here, even though I can barely pretend that any of the scant readership that this blog has regained wants to hear it at all. Let's hear it for...


and Winterfylleth!

It helps to have a sense of humor about blast beat drumming. It really kinds of cracks me up, in a very I-am-entertained kind of way. Also, and I realize this doesn't help my (self-stoked) perception as a person who likes music that other people don't like, but it's pretty awesome to notice that the "views" counts for these bands is smaller than the previous posts' acts by at least an order of magnitude.

If you're wondering where the loss of audience comes from, I propose that it's the shift from the "post-black-metal" of Liturgy and Deafheaven to the "progressive black metal" of Cormorant and Winterfylleth. Remember that aging fat dude in sweatpants snatching up all the Jethro Tull coming in to the used record store every week? It's like that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fuck You Bees, Have a Bad Day

Speaking of number numbness, and obliquely recognizing the stuff that I [redacted] these days, and even admitting that in my old age I occasionally listen to (non-Car Talk) NPR (please don't tell anyone), you should listen to this.

Maybe you already have. Also speaking of how it's really kind of consternating to be anything of a "leftist," or God forbid a "Marxist," these days [redacted] what with aesthetic value being just as contingent as use value [redacted]

[redacted] neoliberal [redacted]

Well, let's keep things oblique and say that I'd be curious to hear what you think about the above-linked story.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Saturday Gamelan in Queens

My friend Stu and I were planning to meet up this week, and we ended up going to a gamelan workshop on Saturday afternoon. See, at Queens College, about 40 minutes east of me by public transit, there is a gamelan—an Indonesian percussion ensemble consisting of about 15 metallophones and gongs—and a community ensemble uses the instruments. (Most of the ensemble members are Brooklyn thirtysomethings.) One of my B&H ex-coworkers is in this ensemble, and she'd posted something about the workshop on Facebook.

So this is how I'm using social media this week: I signed up for a gamelan workshop because of Facebook, and now I'm blogging about it!

To play in a gamelan, you sit cross-legged on a cushion in front of a metallophone with a little wooden hammer in your hand. The music isn't notated, and it moves in cycles: you learn a particular note pattern, which interlocks into the musical texture, and you play it over and over again.

The hard part is that you have to damp every key after you strike it with the hammer, or else it rings for a long time. To damp the key, you just pinch the end of it with your non-hammer hand. So, imagine that on each beat you strike a metallophone key with your little wooden hammer, and then on the following beat you damp that same key with your other hand, while at the same time you're striking another key with the hammer. Basically, your non-hammer hand follows your hammer hand around the metallophone, always one beat behind. The gamelan's director said that, after a few hours, this becomes so natural you don't have to think about it. In the 90 minutes we had, I experienced a couple of fleeting minutes of this, but usually I was pretty hapless about it.

Aside from that kinesthetic caveat, it's a fun, absorbing thing to do, and I recommend it if you ever have a chance. Gamelans are remarkable, and there's not much else in the world that sounds like them.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

No One Said This Would Be on the Test

I have mixed feelings about the comment-screening tool Blogger uses in its comments now. Maybe some people feel that the statements "Please prove you're not a robot" and "I'm not a robot" are cute. I think it's just a little too uncanny. I mean, yeah, right now they're accepting your answer as long as you can visually identify some house numbers, but it only gets harder from here, people.

Also, my internal monologue goes something like "please prove you're not a robot" in enough of my social interactions that the query hits a little too close to home.

Other acceptable responses include:
--"I am emotionally invested in arbitrary sporting event outcomes"
--"I enjoy organic food inputs"
--"I experience fear"

Further First-Week-Back-at-Work Reading

I will continue in the spirit of back-to-work-ishness that Henry just cited, and recommend a short article by the leftist sociologist Peter Frase. A few paragraphs in, he starts a very sharp dissection of wage labor and the work ethic, which seems to be a frequent topic of his, based on his website.

I don't typically go in for Marxist critiques, but I think it's thought-provoking. Food for thought! Haven't really gotten my arms around it yet. Anyway, yayyy, wage labor.

Partially, I think my brain may be reacting to 30 months of exposure to the same Econ 101 textbook at work by rejecting the market economy as an intellectual concept.

In another facet of back-to-work-ishness, I am curious to read this book that Nate recommended to me today, which is about non-Rubik's cubes. Bonus tip: one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Freakonomics of Decades-Old 3D Puzzles

I don't know if this is the case for many of you out there, but this is my first day back at work after having a couple of weeks off for the winter seasonal holidays.

In honor of that, I share with you this and this and this .

"Seldom has a puzzle so fired the imagination of so many people[!]"

Thursday, January 01, 2015

That Other Band I Was Going to Write About

The obvious problem with re-starting is a blog is that you have to, like, keep blogging. Which, as usual, one always intends to do, but then time passes (as it will do). Before it's too late, then, let me get to Deafheaven, the Abbot to Liturgy's post-black-metal Costello. As a refresher: black metal is really noisy music that not very many people like.

I think these two bands group easily because they're both trying to find something not uninteresting to do with the sonic textures of a generally goofy sub-genre of metal. Where Liturgy's interestifying (do not confuse with interesterifying) moves are horizontal (rhythmic), Deafheaven's are vertical (harmonic). Let's have a listen:

The key to liking music (or other cultural products) that you don't necessarily like (I'm talking to the "you" out in the world here, not "you" as myself; I actually really like this kind of music) is to find a way to make it into something that you do like. This can be a bit of a trap, because you wind up doing a lot of work on behalf of works that aren't really worth the effort, and you might occasionally mistake things that are bad for things that are good. The best example that I can think of at the moment is when I went to see the movie Push in theaters, and the friend that I went with and I spent most of the conversation afterward talking about how the ways that it could have been a good movie, even though it was actually pretty bad (and not so bad it's good). But if you do this, it becomes a thing that you want to talk about, hopefully with other people, and than it becomes a focal point for the community that forms around that conversation.

I mention the above because it becomes pretty apparent, pretty quickly, that even though this whole post-black metal genre isn't my favorite (I listen to deafheaven way more than Liturgy, though), it is one that points out things that I think are interesting and worth talking about and sharing. To get to a, if not the, point: if Liturgy's horizontal intentions mark them as being most interested in cathexis, than Deafheaven's search for vertical space comes out of the desire for catharsis. Which also marks them as more distant from the roots of black metal than Liturgy, since one of the defining characteristics of black metal in the first place is the all-climax (or, more accurately, no-climax) structure. We've already discussed that Liturgy's attempt to make the genre's music more complicated is ultimately limited in actual complexity, so we should apply the same test to Deafheaven's attempt.

Actually, if I want to be even more accurate about it, I think that the roots of Deafheaven lie more in what I think would be called "shoegazer" music than black metal, and that they're usage of black metal sonic textures is more an artifact of either a) them being metal kids that started to seek out catharsis, or b) as shoegazers who were interested in the sonic possibilities of black metal without ever being committed to making metal music as such. There are a lot of other bands to compare Deafheaven to (since I'm really to old for all of this shit, let's pick one of my favorite examples from back in the early 2000s, Majority Rule (trust me that there are a bunch more). They're coming from a background that's more hardcore-based, but I think they were looking for pretty much the same thing that Deafheaven is now:

), so in a way I think they are less unique than Liturgy at the same time that they are more successful.

But look at how it comes out in performance as well. Could this look any more different than Liturgy?

Why so opposite? Where Liturgy needs to prove to its audience that they aren't even trying, even though what they are doing is very technically difficult, the lead singer of Deafheaven, who has a very easy job--his screaming is very monotextural--he needs to bring his audience into a community of believers, in order to lead them to the catharsis that Deafheaven has designed for them to reach (e.g. the release of all the tension built up in all that black metalling when the texture finally breaks).

So is Deafheaven better than Liturgy? Is it even possible to make that comparison? I hate it when things come down to taste, which is way more often than I like to admit, even though I'm better at admitting it now than I was in, say, 2003. Is Deafheaven theatrical and Liturgy anti-theatrical? Or are they both still operating in the same sphere? Liturgy wants us to believe that they are the outsider artists to Deafheaven's high modernists, but I don't know if that's the case. I think both bands are trying to obliterate chronos (narrative time) through opposite means. But where Deafheaven are essentially Orthodox is their desire to bring their masses into the Kairos through essentially narrative means, Liturgy wants to not only deny Kairos but obliterate the potential for meaningful moments from their music entirely. Both are interesting, right?

I suppose my parting thought is that the cultural industry seems to driving further and further down a cathexis-driven path, and that just seems immature to me. Device-driven cathexis overtaking the communal catharsis available in focal activities. Of course, at the same time, since Deafheaven's vertically-expanded music is more like the music that I've liked for a long time, it really could just be this model of taste -- and liking something that I would have liked just as much 10 years ago makes me feel really immature, so maybe I've got it backwards anyway.

Which brings me to my usual parting thought of expressing my concerns about how pretentious and misguided I might be in trying to talk about any of this. I guess I could have just said "read Artistotle's Poetics" and left it at that. But why re-start a blog just to do that?