Thursday, April 19, 2007

Truly random nine (power failure edition)

I have two reasons for not posting recently: first, I've been wading through (and occasionally contributing to) a monumental thread at the Valve about Derrida and idealism, which was interesting but (surprise!) inconclusive. Secondly, thanks to the recent nor'easter, we had a) a flooded basement, which had to be dealt with, and b) a power failure. But from these lemons we (eventually) make the bloggy lemonade, yes?

One night after considerable basement-to-lawn water-relocation activity, I fired up the computer, only to be greeted soon after by the sudden onset of near-total darkness (thank you, PSE & G). I say near-total, because my laptop was still on, having switched to battery power. But my aged titanium PowerBook (which must be all of three or four years old) no longer charges very well, and only ever says it has a half-hour of power left (which actually means it's on the verge of shutting down). Besides, the modem went out too.

So I turned it off and instead of fumbling around for some lights, I went to bed. But I was wide awake, so I located my battery-powered discman and headphones, the plan being to listen to something to lull me to sleep. But of course there was no light, so I couldn't just pop in, say, Trances & Drones or anything by Alio Die. So I picked something at random from the many piles of discs within arm's reach. Here is the result of that search for your amusement. The first disc I selected turned out to be:

1. Kettel – Through Friendly Waters (Sending Orbs)

Kettel is a Dutch person/ensemble (I think person), and this is Sending Orbs 001, from a couple of years ago. I've only listened to it a couple of times, but after a few minutes I identified it correctly, which was harder than you might think, as quite a bit of contemporary ambient sounds somewhat like this. There was something about the sequencers though which sounded familiar. After a couple of tracks I found it too busy for my present purposes, so I moved on, to

2. Sogar – Basal (12k)

This too I recognized pretty quickly (although I did get a hint from the slimline case). Here also we have a common style (minimal/pointillist DSP stuff, like virtually everything else on that label), so it wasn't obvious. I like this disc, but I didn't want to hear it just then. Next:

3. Sandoz – Digital Lifeforms (Touch)

Some people swear by the amazingly prolific Richard H. Kirk (ex-Cabaret Voltaire, if you remember them), and I have a number of his discs under various monikers, but I don't. Swear by him, that is. This one is from 1993, and it has some good tracks on it, but like his other discs it's very beaty and not what I was looking for. I failed to identify it, by the way. I listened to most of track 1, not liking its plodding drumbeats at all and wondering what mistake I had made, that this disc takes up space in my collection (but as I said, some later tracks are good). I forget the exact order of the next few discs I chose. One of them was

4. Daniel Menche – Beautiful Blood (Alien8)

Menche is one of the premier American noise artists, and I have several of his discs. This one is billed as being a bit more ambient/listenable than the others, which I suppose it is, compared to, say, legions in the walls, but after several portentous low piano notes at the beginning of track 1, a tremendous burst of static reveals what sort of disc this is. Track two is indeed more drony, and might have worked, but I had not pegged this as either Menche or this particular disc, so I didn't try it.

5. Alp – at home with alp

This one begins with several minutes of rumbling, and I impatiently took it to be one of those avant-garde discs that sounds better on the page than in the ear; and indeed it turns out to have a semi-trendy conceptual-art-ish component, in that all the sounds are derived (as the disc's title suggests) from objects found in the home (track 1: disk drive, kettle, washing machine). I ejected it quickly; but like the Menche disc, if on a smaller scale, this is a fine semi-noisy effort. In fact I think I'll listen to it all later. This is the first Alp disc; his second, out and about with alp, uses found recordings from outside, and has some lovely ambient tracks.

6. Greg Davis – somnia (Kranky)

Here we have a promising title (but of course I couldn't see it). And in fact for heavily DSPed computer music it's very drifty and ambient (as we might expect given the label, home of Stars of the Lid and suchlike). On the other hand, for drifty ambient it has more of a harsh digital edge than one would really want if one is indeed hoping to drift off to sleep. Maybe I'll listen to this one too.

7. Shostakovich – String Quartets 3, 8, & 13 (Fitzwilliam String Quartet)

This was not what I wanted either. Of course I could have gotten a light and located something non-random (looking now, I see several candidates at or near the top of the various piles: not only Alio Die, but Jeff Greinke, Oöphoi, Thomas Köner, Synthetika, shuttle358, etc.). But I was determined to stick it out. Of course this is a great disc too. I recognized it immediately, although I knew it was #3 not because I know it that well, but because it's the only opening work on any single-disc Shostakovich quartet collection I own (I've got two cycles) -- oh wait, I might have a 7, 13, 14 somewhere. You might think #3 was an early work, but DSch didn't start writing quartets right away (good move), and #3 turns out to be a middle-period work from 1946, about the same time as the Ninth Symphony, and totally rocks. Which is not what I wanted to do.

8. Robert Wyatt – shleep (thirsty ear)

Okay, now I know someone's mocking me. The front painting (by Alfreda Benge, Robert's wife) even shows Robert asleep on the back of a gigantic bird. But the music, great as it is (all-star cast, including Evan Parker, Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, Paul Weller, and Philip Catherine), is not sleepy at all. The opening track, "Heaps of Sheeps," about trying to get to sleep, has been running through my head ever since. Here's a lyrical excerpt:
Still not sleeping,
I tried counting sheep.
One by one,
they leapt across the fence
constructed for them.
Right to left,
across the fence I had constructed.
Having jumped,
they refused further direction.

Each sheep, where it landed,
refusing to exit, remained.
(Creating a vast writhing heap
growing fast on the left).
Try as I might,
I could not stop them entering
once again.
Try as they might,
not one could leave the stage.
As it says on the back of the disc (tweaking Hamlet, no doubt): "fat chance to dream".

But then:

9. various artists – Infraction Sampler 1: Fall/Winter 2005-2006

A short but glorious bath of frayed string chords greets my ear. Here, finally, we have some seriously ambient material, from a fine microlabel dedicated to same. (Check website here.) I did have some trouble IDing this disc though. A CDR was generously included with one of my orders as compensation for having waited so long for a pre-order, and as I have most of the tracks on the discs themselves, I hadn't listened to this one that much. I should have gotten the Ultra Milkmaids/Aidan Baker track (track 3), but it just hadn't occurred to me that this disc might be an anthology, and I was still puzzled about track 2 (an unreleased track by Mifune), which was a very nice guitar/echo piece in a sort of muted Günter Schickert mode. At one point I did indeed start thinking Andrew Liles-y thoughts (track 5), but I knew the whole disc couldn't be him, and I still hadn't put two and two together. If I had stuck it out through track 10 (a track from a forthcoming reissue of Tetsu Inoue's classic World Receiver, which everyone should snap up immediately when it arrives), I would have understood; but I was indeed starting to fall asleep by track 7 or so, so I quit.

But I have learned my lesson: I have placed the Matthias Grassow/Klaus Wiese disc mercurius (Arya) where I can locate it even in the dark.

UPDATE: The World Receiver reissue, I see, has been out for some time. Go get it!


N. N. said...

Wow! That is a monumental thread. I just spent the last hour reading it. It was educational and entertaining. My knowledge of post-Husserlian 'Continental' philosophy is cursory, at best, so I wouldn't have been able to make even occasional contributions.

A thought that occurred to me while I was reading it is that there's so much to learn. It seems to me that it is impossible to really understand more than one or two primary thinkers (the guys whose names show up in history of philosophy texts), and that only after years and years of study. The problem is that such an understanding is required to evaluate their positions.

Duck said...

Isn't it though? Some threads there are less educational and more entertaining, since when tempers flare, the resulting name-calling is always very inventive. But this one was both. Maybe we will get a reprise when Holbo delivers the beetle in his box (his words).

Your second paragraph is quite right. And what happens too often is that people either abandon evaluation entirely (in favor of exegesis), or become (at best) imperfect clones of the master. The trick is to leave enough room to develop one's own views at the same time as one's conception of those other views. But doing this properly not only takes years and years of study, as you say, but they are years spent fighting against the countervailing pressures of professional specialization, which not everyone has the inclination to do.

But don't get me started on that.

colin said...

Hi Dave, you very kindly responded to some of my comments regarding the basis of Holbo's critique of Derrida on The Thread That (almost) Wouldn't End and I was wondering about your opinion (if you have one) regarding the current kerfuffle surrounding Continental Philosophy going on at the Leiter Report.

Being (currently) trained from the Continental perspective so many of the comments seem so deeply off base that the whole argument starts to sound increasingly ignorant. I find this all so surprising from people whose writings i respect.

Anyways, I know that you are analytically trained but you seem to have some continental sympathies and I would be very curious to here your opinion.

Duck said...

You call that a kerfuffle? That's nothing. The other day there was a thread-that-would-not-die over at Holbo's own place that made this look like a Quaker meeting (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Let me take another look at the Leiter thread (I saw it back before there were any comments), and maybe I'll post something (here).

For now let me simply plug World Receiver again. To wit: what a great disc!

Clark said...

Holbo has his own blog in addition to the Valve and Crooked Timber?

Duck said...

Yes, John and Belle Have a Blog (in the sidebar). It's mostly personal stuff – comics and kids and life in Singapore. Belle posts yummy-sounding recipes which are way too much work. That sort of thing. But sometimes there's philosophy too. I think the thread in question was a few months ago actually.

colin said...

When Holbo posts about Derrida or Zizek it seems (at least partially) all in good fun, however when Leiter attempts to define Continental Philosophy I feel that he is setting himself up as an ambassador from a "tradition" that he isn't apart of. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that since there are many (most?) philosophers who do Continental Philosophy who deny that Leiter is participating in the same conversation, it seems ironic (or at least bad scholarship) that he is so ready and willing to define what it is. In other words I would suggest that Leiter is offering a normative view of Continental Philosophy, not a descriptive view.

Sorry for the rant, but none of my comments have made it through his screening process, so I doubt that this will be heard there...

Duck said...

Heck, Colin, you can rant here all you want (it's safe; no-one can see us). I am working on my own comments for a separate post.

BTW, I hope not to have given the impression, in my last comment, that Belle (of John & Belle) contributes only homemaker-y stuff to the blogosphere; she is of course a trained philosopher herself and provides food for thought not only at J & B but also at Crooked Timber. (Y'all knew that already, right?)

H.A. Monk said...

I thought my audio collection was pretty esoteric, but reading what you have at your bedside threw me for a complete loop. Didn't recognize a single name you mentioned (exc of course Shostakovich), and I can't really tell if you are just into some one exotic musical form that I know little about or there are entire sonic worlds out there that are as unknown to me as a dead planet circling a black hole. So what is all this stuff? I do have some *minimal* familiarity with contemporary prog-metal (don't like much that I've heard of it) but none of the names you mentioned ring a bell. Love the "sheep" lyric! I'm always looking for new ways to fritter away the fortune I've made as an adjunct philosophy professor, so tell me more about this collection. My last blog post was on Puccini's Madame Butterly; it's time for something new!

Duck said...

Hi Parrot! I suppose I should have guessed that these would be unfamiliar names – and I know how annoying that can be (look at me, I'm so hip) – but I wanted to say exactly what happened the other day, and that's what happened. I should post more on music; but let me just answer briefly here. After twenty-five years of listening to (*cough*) non-mainstream music, I think that for every x (domain = persons), there are, as you nicely put it, "entire sonic worlds out there that are as unknown to [x] as a dead planet circling a black hole." Seriously, no one person could ever hope to keep up (and that's no way to appreciate music anyway, spreading oneself so thin). I'm not into metal at all, for example, but I understand that there are oceans of it, divided into dozens of categories.

I can say this though. A lot of my more recent acquisitions (last 10 years) are various kinds of ambient or minimal or techno or experimental or noise; and discs 1-6 and 9 of those listed here are fairly obscure even by those standards (i.e., whereby the likes of Robert Rich and Christian Fennesz are household names). My suggestion is to subscribe to the British music mag The Wire, which started out covering the Brit free improv scene (Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, etc.) some time ago, and has branched out to include virtually everything new/leftfield. I let my sub lapse when I couldn't bear to read about discs I can't afford to buy. There's a lot of stuff on the web too, including much creative-commons material (plus lots of mixes of varying levels of dubiousness re: legality). I'll make sure to post some links.

I am a bit surprised you don't know Robert Wyatt, who has been around forever. He was the drummer for Soft Machine, and appears on their first four records (1967-70). After the accident (he fell out a window and is now in a wheelchair) he made a solo record, Rock Bottom (1974), which is a classic of British prog rock and a fave disc of mine. Since then, in addition to several more records of his own, he has provided guest vocals and/or drumming for a wide variety of projects. Hmm, Wikipedia's offline at the moment, but see here for more, including a book.

aorto said...

Great article.

Long shot change of requesting that you have this CD up for sale?

Been trying to find a copy for a long time.

I know the back story and the site's feelings on the CD but would love to hear it.

I have a blog but will respect the wishes for this not to be mass distributed.

My ears only...


Duck said...

Hi aorto -

1) Which disc are you referring to?

2) How did you get here?

In any case, happy new year!