Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday semi-random ten

As you probably know, a lot of bloggers post a list of 10 songs chosen at random from their iPods (by that device's random playlist function). And they do this on Fridays; thus, many posts, naturally enough, are called "Friday random ten." This provides a snapshot of the blogger's taste (or at least her music collection). Some of it will be what's in "current rotation," so to speak, but some will be dredged up from who knows where, forgotten and for some reason not yet deleted. The results can force some red-faced exculpations (or indignant pre-emptive defenses) as guilty pleasures are revealed to all in the harsh light of day; or, on the other hand, one's coolness can be proven beyond doubt in the same manner. Thus the appeal of this practice – what will we learn about ourselves, and in public yet?

Unfortunately, for various reasons, what's on my iPod, or even my computer, is entirely uncharacteristic both of my music collection (which is mostly in somewhat less virtual form, i.e. as encoded on various physical objects, disk-shaped or otherwise), and of my listening habits. This makes it hard for me to play along. So you'll have to trust me (that is, my own "randomization" by hand).

Here's what I'll do: I'll choose things semi-randomly from the immediate vicinity (most vinyl is in the basement, and I'm not going down there just to do this). This means the item will probably be an album rather than a track. Some things I will indeed have been listening to lately, but I'll try not to hide or even downplay the lamer or, well, random items (most of the lameness has been purged; but of course you may disagree!), or for that matter things I haven't really listened to at all yet. And I don't really care what day it is.

So here we go (reaching to my right), starting with what I'm listening to right now:

1. David Toop – black chamber (Sub Rosa)

2. Bowery Electric – Lushlife (Beggar's Banquet)

3. Sickness – i have become the disease that made me (Ground Fault)

4. Robert Rich – open window (soundscape productions)

5. Steve Hillage – For To Next/And Not Or (Virgin)

6. Cul de Sac – Death of the Sun (Strange Attractors Audio House)

7. Jgrzinich – insular regions (sirr)

8. [something with only Chinese writing on it]

9. Boards of Canada – geogaddi (Warp)

10. Comae – s/t (Rhiz)

Phew, that was hard! I can see why it works better if you can just press a button and let the iPod do it. (Trust me, that really wouldn't work in my case.)

Now a few comments (this is allowed, I take it). I have some earlier Bowery Electric that I like; I don't remember if I've even listened to this one (dated 1999). Sickness is noise (great name). The Robert Rich disc is atypical – acoustic piano improvs. The Chinese thing is something Rabbit got me when he went to China (duh). I haven't listened to it so I don't have the slightest idea what it is. BoC's earlier disc Music has the Right to Children is a classic. Comae is Robert Hampson (Main) and Janek Schaefer, and sounds like it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ornithologists rejoice!

Tulse Luper! Ipson and Pulat Fallari! Catarese B! The Madras lemonade-glass! The Boulder Orchard! The theory of the responsibility of birds!!

Yes, according to the latest issue of Film Comment, Peter Greenaway's first (I think) feature film, The Falls (1980), has, at long last, come out on DVD! (There's already a region 2 release, The Early Films of Peter Greenaway 2, but this is the first region 1 disc.) As you may surmise, this is one of my favorite films. Greenaway is a grade-A nutcase, and when his perversity overwhelms his artistry (as in the vile 8 1/2 Women), the results aren't pretty. But The Falls is a classic exemplar of a certain arch yet curiously intense and deeply humane British aesthetic sensibility running from Tristram Shandy (of which there is a new movie "adaptation," believe it or not) through Monty Python, Tom Phillips (with whom Greenaway collaborated on A TV Dante), and Brian Eno's "idiot energy" phase (and there is a snippet or two of Eno in the soundtrack to this film, most of which is made up of perfectly apposite post-minimal ensemble workouts by Michael Nyman). The Falls concerns a post-apocalyptic (or, rather, post-VUE ("Violent Unknown Event")) world, in which there are a whole welter of spontaneous new languages, and "female woman" is not a redundancy, and ... oh, forget it. (And birds keep coming up for some reason.)

I first saw this film in 1984 or so, when Greenaway was a relative unknown (The Draughtsman's Contract, which I like a lot less, was his first film to get much distribution in the U.S., and I think I saw that one later on), so I was completely unprepared. I remember sitting there in amazement during the last half-hour as it messed with my head big time (the effect is cumulative, as the various motifs start interacting with each other more and more). Maybe it will have less impact on someone who has already seen, say, Drowning By Numbers, or Prospero's Books, which are bigger-budget and consequently better-looking features (this is important, as Greenaway started out as a painter, and his films are very visual – lord knows they're not dramatic!); and of course by now the faux-documentary form has passed beyond played-out cliche and into respectable subgenre. I guess Drowning, Prospero's Books and The Pillow Book are my favorite of his non-Falls films, so try those too (if the copious and gratuitous male nudity in the latter two doesn't creep you out). Less successful are, in order of ascending weirdness, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (which does look great, I admit), The Belly of an Architect, The Baby of Macon, and A Zed and Two Naughts. They're still watchable, though (yes, even ZOO), unlike 8 1/2 Women, which I hated intensely.

The Falls page at imdb includes a link to an official-looking Falls page with a lot of further info, some of it quite odd. They're all over the DVD release, but for a while there the page featured the cover of a non-actual Criterion Collection DVD release (which had me going for a minute, but a visit to the Criterion webpage set me straight).

This new release is actually available from Zeitgeist Video (you get 25% off for ordering online). It's called Greenaway: The Early Films, and includes another disc of shorts (or you can get either of the two discs separately). The shorts include H is for House and A Walk Through H, both of which are good, and some other stuff I haven't seen (or don't remember); I think it's the same as the UK disc The Early Films of Peter Greenaway 1. Also included on the Falls disc (as it is on the British version, so I guess what we have here is a straight reissue, although it looks like there's some new bonus material on ours) is Vertical Features Remake, which has some excellent Falls-related material (Tulse Luper, Gang Lion, etc.), as well as some prime Eno ("Inland Sea," if I'm not mistaken).

Hmm, it won't actually be available until April 11. Until then, how about a rousing chorus of the Bird List Song! All together now: Capercaillie, lammergeyer, cassowary...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Up from barbarism

As I believe I have mentioned, I have recently joined the ranks of the civilized in the following respect: I now have broadband internet access (cue "Freiheit" chorus from Fidelio).

One important advance is this. With dial-up, it's pointless to download music (let alone video). A single song, even in low-fi formats, can take an hour or more. Forget it! But now it's a snap. (One exception: entire albums, downloaded from inefficient servers, can still take a while.)

Of course, what they would like us to do with this glorious new technology is to go to iTunes and pay $.99 per song for whatever malodorous load of pop ephemera is hot this week (or to replace those dusty Culture Club or Pat Benatar LP's in the garage). But even with a lot of the illegal peer-to-peer activity (e.g. Napster) shut down or at least reduced – and you wouldn't want to break the law anyway, now would you? At least not to snag the latest Shakira ditty (*shudder*) – there is an amazing amount of entirely free music available out there, a good deal of it, believe it or not, worth hearing. (Cue "Freiheit" chorus again.)

The key development is that of the "netlabel." Of course virtually every record label has a website, but that's not what we're talking about. A netlabel is a label whose sole purpose is to distibute free music on the net. Why? Well, for several reasons: 1) get exposure for the artists, who may also have material-media releases out elsewhere; 2) for the love of music, dammit; 3) and sometimes there is a virtual tip jar, which it would be nice to use if you hear something you like. I sort of knew this; but I did not know just how fracking many of them there are. (and yes, you should indeed expect BSG posting in this space).

Not only that, there are plenty of places where people post mixes that they've made. Now of course some of these are of somewhat iffy legality, but many are not, some of them even telling you when all tracks are taken from netlabels (and/or other public or original material). But of course with good DJ mixes (as opposed to iPod dumps) this is – or would be in a sane society – a non-issue.

Anyway, we have neglected the tunes (sounds, noise, whatever) here at DR for far too long. Netlabels need support! So if you like a place I send you to make sure to spread the word. And follow the links!

Let me start with the first thing I ever downloaded (snif!). Loscil is the project name of one Scott Morgan, who releases real CD's on the Kranky label (home of Labradford, Windy & Carl, and Stars of the Lid). His first two releases for them were a bit flat but showed promise. But then First Narrows was a gem. I'm terrible at describing music – I tend just to point to similar-sounding artists, which is often enough – but here I can say that on this record it is the many subtly different arrangements of a recurring gentle ambient-electronic shuffle, some using "real" instruments, that make this disc stand out.

But that's not what I got. (I already have his other stuff – go here and get it!) He has also made available a gorgeous set of what seem to have started out as backing tracks or studies, but work just fine by themselves as drifty soundscapes. It's called stases (drones 2001 - 2005) and can be found at the netlabel One, here. And we are to expect a new Kranky release soon as well (but we'll have to pay for that one).

By the way, the bio on the Kranky site tells us that the name Loscil comes from the computer program Csound and is a compound of "loop" and "oscillate." So maybe it rhymes with "jostle." But I"ve never heard it pronounced, so I don't know.

Friday, March 17, 2006


At Leiter Reports, Jessica Wilson tells of a study showing that politics affects your brain (which explains the empty partisan rhetoric from both sides). But
she demurs
So far as I can tell, the only thing that prevents progressives from rationally responding to contradictions uttered by the evil mignons of the right are the sheer numbers of them.
"Evil mignons of the right" – I like that. According to my dictionary, "mignon" is an adjective, which is fine (even in English you can use adjectives as nouns), but it means "small, delicately formed, and pretty: dainty." So who could we be talking about here? Not Ann Coulter, that's for sure. Ralph Reed maybe?

Interestingly, "minion," which is the word I think Jessica was looking for, comes from the same French word ("mignon," as in filet). Here are the definitions given [Webster's New Universal Unabridged, 2nd edition]:
1. a favorite, especially one who is a servile follower: term of contempt.
2. a mistress; a paramour. [Obs.]
3. in printing, a type, in size between brevier and nonpareil, about seven-point.
4. a small cannon used in the seventeenth century. [Obs.]
Maybe that last one is really the one we want here.

Spring has sprung

... or so it seemed for a few days there (it's cold again now). But that hasn't stopped the philosophers from celebrating another Carnival!

Again we have the usual mixed bag (i.e. something for everyone). Most to my taste was an entry from Jerry Monaco at Shandean Postscripts (a new one for me). I don't know much about Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics but it comes as no suprise to hear that (as elsewhere) he was no fan of platonism. Unfortunately, in rejecting platonism in this context it's really easy to say things like this:
"There is no religious denomination in which the misuse of metaphysical expressions has been responsible for so much sin as it has in mathematics."
"I shall try again and again to show that what is called a mathematical discovery had much better be called a mathematical invention."
(Jerry doesn't give the references for these quotes but I suppose RFM would be a good place to look.) Like a lot of what Richard Rorty says (i.e. about everything), this makes it sound like we are straightforwardly rejecting realism in favor of antirealism: (the objects in question are) not found but made. But of course when we wrack our brains for a valid proof of this or that mathematical claim we don't want to think of ourselves as simply making stuff up. This sends us back to anti-anti-realism; but in math, as I say (i.e. more so even than in the case of, say, physical objects, where it's hard enough), there doesn't seem to be anywhere to go but back to platonism. I say seem, because as far as I can see, Wittgenstein's view was that neither realism nor anti-realism was satisfactory. That said, it does seem that platonism (or realism, in this sense – although of course there is another sense in which, as in the title of Diamond's book, it was a "realistic spirit" which Wittgenstein aimed to capture) is mainly what set Wittgenstein off.

So what exactly is it that set him off here? Jerry's post relates how Cantor's, well, "discovery" of the various levels of infinity caused great excitement among mathematicians, some of whom apparently thought that this solved whatever philosophical difficulties remained concerning not only the status of the infinite but the very foundations of mathematics. As Jerry explains it,
The common logic since Aristotle had been that the infinite was not actual but only potential. But against common logic Cantor showed that there are sets larger than the infinite sets of natural numbers. He showed specifically that no infinite set could have as many elements as all possible subsets of that infinite set. This led to a revolution in how we conceived of set theory and of the infinite. The infinite could no longer be considered an anomaly.
If I understand this (an even proposition), that the infinite was "not actual but only potential" was Aristotle's solution to Zeno's paradoxes of motion: a metaphysical matter. As a result,
When a mathematician comes to such conclusions philosophers sneeze. Why? Because to decide that the infinite set of irrational numbers is larger than the infinite set of natural numbers is to indirectly decide questions posed at the origins of Aristotle's metaphysics, i.e. the metaphysical status of the infinite.
While some people simply rejected the mathematics (i.e. Cantor was just wrong about infinity), Jerry says:
I take Wittgenstein to mean that he would not argue with the mathematics but would just proclaim it all irrelevant to any philosophical or logical view.
This is certainly the view that we would like to (be able to) take, as it would explain the remark that nondenumerable infinities were "a cancerous growth on the body of mathematics" (which Jerry takes to refer to Russell's discussion rather than the math itself) while still allowing their utility in purely mathematical terms. But we still have those remarks about mathematics being an "invention," which is hard to take. This may be why Jerry says that ultimately he rejects Wittgenstein's view of mathematics.

So again, what Jerry has Wittgenstein reject (in addition to certain ideas about the connection of math to formal logic, e.g. Russell's project in Principia Mathematica, which I will not discuss) is "the idea that mathematics somehow gave answers to what Wittgenstein believed were metaphysical questions." Okay, but I think we can say a bit more.

As I see it, the issue here is not simply one of mathematicians failing to mark the boundary between mathematics and philosophy (similar to the way in which some misguided souls think that all by itself, without what it sees as "metaphysics" (by which it really means philosophy) science can solve the free will problem, or determine when life begins, or whatever). This is indeed part of it; but Wittgenstein has the same attitude toward philosophical "discoveries." This is the notoriously poorly understood sense of the famous remark at PI §133: "The real discovery is the one [...] that gives philosophy peace." In other words: If you really haven't understood what I've said up to now (in §§1-132, or maybe §§89-132), and insist on making a philosophical "discovery," then what you need to "discover" is whatever, upon "learning" which, we will be able to shake our obsession with ... making discoveries (i.e. in philosophy).

Our problem in philosophy is that we insist on looking outside ourselves for the answer to our problems (including this one), when instead Wittgenstein sees philosophical problems as concerning ourselves and our (bad) habits, and philosophical work as work on oneself. The point is not simply to switch from outer to inner (as some phenomenologists and/or existentialists would have it, responding to much the same Cartesian conception of philosophy, if then thereby reinstating it). Instead, it concerns the relation between "outer" and "inner" – not as objects (which makes the issue again one of knowledge, and we're back where we started, caught in the Cartesian snare), but (for lack of a better term – and this one at least makes a connection to part II of PI) as aspects of our experience. When we "learn to see the world aright," what we have managed to do is not finally to load the truth into our "belief box," but instead to find our way around – to see not, or not simply, how things are, but (metaphorically speaking) where we are.

This is not to say that knowledge (or "discoveries") cannot be part of our road to understanding, just that they cannot substitute for it – or worse, constitute it. It's this latter absurdity which I think is causing Wittgenstein's understandably frustrated dogmatism on this point, as well as the related one Jerry discusses.

But that tells us more about Wittgenstein than about the mathematics he seems to have spurned. For an excellent look at the mathematics (and the philosophy of same), I recommend Shaughan Lavine's Understanding the Infinite.

Now, go check out the Carnival yourself!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Foolish libraries

Clark has a post about getting used books through Amazon, and he tells us that a book he just got that way came from a library. This is indeed a sad phenomenon, this getting rid of philosophy books (replacing them with nonsense and ephemera, I'll be bound).

I have run into this myself. My copy of Jonathan Barnes's The Presocratic Philosophers (the one-volume edition, 700+ pp) came from the Virginia Beach Public Library. I wanted to send it back to them, saying "no, you keep it! What if some Virginia Beacher needs to know about Heraclitus right away??" But I didn't. Their loss.

On the other hand, they get points for having it in the first place. Our local library's "philosophy section" has an ancient (relatively speaking, that is) edition of Plato's dialogues, The Essential Nietzsche, The Will to Power, Being and Nothingness, an intro to philosophy by Jaspers, of all people (an existentialist trend here?), a dusty secondary book on Dewey I'd never heard of, a coffee table book, and ... I can't remember anything else (I'll go check). But we're a small borough – nearby libraries are bigger, and one got recent Oxford general-audience releases by Searle and Blackburn. So that's something.

I keep wanting to go to them and say: look, your philosophy section is terrible, you need these books here (presenting list). They might indeed order them. But I don't think anyone would take them out.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Okay, this is just weird

The Calls of Cthulhu. Hat tip: 3 Quarks Daily. Actually, I better link there, where there is a picture, in case you can't remember (or never knew) what our boy looks like.