Saturday, May 31, 2008

My hero

Robert Wexler kicked major ass today in Florida.

Here, at about 7.5 minutes in, Harold Ickes gets his comeuppance:

Here, at about 1.5 minutes in, Alice Huffman gets her comeuppance.

It. Is. Time. To. Move. On.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Muxtape no. 5

This one.

1. Chicago Pro Musica: Paul Bowles, "Music for a Farce" (1)

Classical, farcical trumpet: what's not to like? From the author of The Sheltering Sky. I wonder what kind of blogger he would've been.

2. Tadd Dameron: "Fontainbleau"

For a while, this was a template for me.

3. Todd Rundgren: "Love in Action"

If you can sit through the verses, it's a great tune.

4. Acme Rocket Quartet: "Sleep Waltz"

Pleasantly eerie: like Davis, CA (the band's hometown). And the best band name ever. (And that's the last time I'll ever use that grammatical construction.)

5. Johnny Kidd and the Pirates: "Doctor Feelgood"

This ain't Arethra's "Doctor Feelgood" (same title, different tune), but it's still pretty good.

6. Baby Gramps: "Bahama Mama"

I've never heard a voice that so perfectly matches its beard.

7. André Canniere Group: "Accelerated Decrepitude"

See how spoiled I am? AC is another one of the many uber-talented folks who have played with the IJG. Thanks, André!

8. Bruce Springsteen: "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street"

A bootleg recording from Springsteen's eccentric wacko (i.e., "good") phase.

9. Katell Keineg: "One Hell of a Life"

For Harvey Korman, and also because my daughter has started asking me to explain the concept of death. (Oh shit, how am I gonna do that?)

10. John Lee Hooker: "Onions"

Onions from John Lee Hooker are better than ice cream from Jack Johnson.

11. Erkin Koray: "Hele Yar"

Some call him the Turkish Jimi Hendrix. Huh?

12. The Edsels: "Who Put the Bop in the Bop Shoo Bop Shoo Bop."

Okay, I'll admit it. It was me. I put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop. Can we just drop it now?

And here's last week's.

Now to sleep.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

RIP Harvey Korman

My earliest distinct televisual memories are not of Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers or even Warner Brothers cartoons, but the Carol Burnett Show. Yes, I am old enough to have seen the last few seasons when they originally aired. And some thirty years later, I have to say that most of that stuff just doesn't get old.

Given my proclivity for colorful language, and my concern for maintaining a certain level of "cool" cred on this blog, perhaps the foregoing assertion comes as a bit of a surprise to you. After all, Carol Burnett and the troupe did "family entertainment" (yuck!) -- and thus, compared to, say, Lenny Bruce (another hero of mine), they were in fairly tame territory. Certainly they didn't get too far into the "satire as a weapon of social critique" thing that I love so much.

But the way I see it, Burnett was "family entertainment" in a vaudevillian sense. Hers was, essentially, a comedy show for grownups that also happened to appeal to kids. Most "family entertainment" today takes the opposite approach: it is, essentially, kids' entertainment that throws an occasional (usually pathetic) bone to grown-ups. (Dreamworks, I'm looking at you.) Burnett could count on drawing the kids because she never really got into anything terribly controversial (or topical) -- instead, sketch after sketch was about social interaction in a more abstracted and (dare I say it?) "timeless" sense. Sort of like the Marx Brothers. Or Shakespeare.

Harvey Korman was, of course, an essential ingredient in Burnett's comic stew. He was the show's John Cleese -- no one in the cast was better at lampooning bombastic authority. Actually, perhaps the best evidence of Korman's talent in this regard came via a different context, when he played the sputtering bureaucrat Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles (another one of my many favorite films).

But there were other things about Korman's role in TCBS that would make a big impression on me. My favorite (inevitable) moment on any given episode was when the actors or the material would become so silly that the dramatic illusion (they're actors: they're on stage and they can't laugh at what they're doing) could not withstand the pressure. Korman was usually the first to crack (by cracking up), and while perhaps most acting coaches would frown upon such a thing as "unprofessional," to me that was always the high point (and maybe the point) of the show. It meant that the humor had become so important that Korman could no longer control himself -- and what could be funnier and more honest than that? (Needless to say, I would later be drawn to the sort of music that allowed for precisely the same possibility that things could bubble over at any moment.)

Anyway, what you have in the clip above is classic Korman -- physical comedy par excellence, an exquisite portrayal of pomposity (somehow simultaneously suggesting the humility of the actor himself), a hint of Korman's talent for ensemble work, and, toward the end, a brilliant example of the man's skill as an improviser: taking a "mistake" and turning it into an unanticipated moment of hilarity.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The bawdy

Maybe I'm just a little, uh, behind, but I have only recently discovered the This is YourAss Online "network" (or whatever it is).

Now I know that

Emails from YourAss are like a breath of fresh air to your friends and loved ones.

I suppose the possibilities here are, uh, endless.

(Can I really be posting this? Yeah, I guess I can.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Ezra Klein cites a portion of Obama's Wesleyan commencement address (which I here re-cite for those of you who don't read Ezra Klein):

Each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come. And I say “chance” because you won’t have to take it. There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should by. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s.

But I hope you don’t. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, though you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get here, though you do have that debt.

It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.


You know, Ted Kennedy often tells a story about the fifth anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps. He was there, and he asked one of the young Americans why he had chosen to volunteer. And the man replied, “Because it was the first time someone asked me to do something for my country.”

I don’t know how many of you have been asked that question, but after today, you have no excuses. I am asking you.

When was the last time a politician asked you to grow up and give a damn?

Do you think John McCain wants you to grow up and give a damn?

Friday, May 23, 2008


There is dirty politics, and there is scumbag politics.

I've been laying off the politically argumentative posts, but I feel a rant coming on...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Friday Muxtape, no. 4

How I wish I had the time to fully annotate this week's muxtape. (Or any of them so far, actually.)

Ah well. Here's the best I can do:

1. Oliver Nelson: "The Artist's Rightful Place" (from The Kennedy Dream). The concept here -- audio clips of JFK layered over Oliver Nelson compositions for big band -- seems "quintessentially Sixties," in the worst sense. But then you have to remember that Oliver Nelson really had to go out of his way to make a bad record. Featuring Phil Woods, Hank Jones, George Duvivier, Grady Tate, and others. (Is the current relevance of the Kennedy reference too obvious? So sue me -- I'm a sucker for historical moments.)

2. Frank Zappa: "The Big Squeeze." Released posthumously on The Lost Episodes, this is Zappa's music for a Luden's Cough Drop Commercial (recorded, incidentally, in the same year as the Nelson record just referenced -- 1967). It features the "snorking" of Dick Barber.

(Wait -- Zappa wrote a jingle?!)

3. Alice Coltrane: "Sri Rama Ohnedaruth." So we've gone from strictly commercial to sweeping and spiritual -- it's that juxtaposition thing again. (The album: Lord of Lords.)

4. Ensemble Ambrosius: "The Idiot Bastard Son" (from The Zappa Album). FZ cover, done with baroque instruments by a group of Finns -- giving an oddly monkish, medieval flavor to one of the maestro's more, uh, hopeless tunes.

5. Mike Richardson (as 100% Polyester): "FAILURE." You've heard me talk about Mike before. He plays trombone in the Industrial Jazz Group, among many other bands. But he also does a bevy of solo projects, and this is one of them. Interesting tidbit: we share the same birthday -- which may or may not explain why I consider him a kindred spirit.

6. Joe Jackson: "Invisible Man." Though I found his foray into swing nearly insufferable, I really like Joe Jackson. His Heaven and Hell, in fact, is a favorite of mine. This is from his latest, Rain.

7. Joanna Newsom: "The Book of Right-On." Talk about niche-casting. I don't think I can listen to any of Newsom's albums from start to finish -- but I think she's awesome nonetheless.

8. MUS: "La Vida." From Spain, they are.

9. Raymond Scott: "IBM MT/St: The Paperwork Explosion." You know Raymond Scott, even if you think you don't -- he's the guy who wrote the "Powerhouse" theme that was used to great effect in many Warner Brothers cartoons. Scott was also a great musical inventor... and maker of commercial music. This is a thing he did for IBM, as compiled on Manhattan Research, Inc.. (Just be glad I didn't include his jingle for Sprite.)

(Wait -- Raymond Scott wrote a jingle?!)

10. Don Byron: "The Penguin." The other side of Raymond Scott -- this actually happens to be one of my favorite tunes (note the parallel between "The Penguin" and "The Frog"). A version by the great Don Byron, from the under-rated Bug Music.

11. Veda Hille: "Lucklucky." Veda and I share the same natal year (1968) -- which may or may not explain why I consider her a kindred spirit.

12. American Standards: "My Bathroom is a Private Kind of Place." From a supremely odd album called "Product Music," featuring nothing but this sort of post-WWII commercial pablum... which is hilarious as all get-out lo these many years later, though I'm sure it wasn't too funny at the time. (Just be glad I didn't include "The Frito Twist.")

Holy cow -- I just googled the Product Music album, and discovered the existence of a thing called the industrial musical: "a musical performed internally for the employees or shareholders of a business, to create a feeling of being part of a team, and/or to educate and motivate the management and salespeople to improve sales and profit. It can be used to train staff in regards to public relations, advertising, marketing or corporate image."


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Art & Commerce

Here's a fascinating piece in Rolling Stone about how, in the face of a music economy that is clearly in flux, many artists have been turning to licensing to pick up the slack created by declining CD sales.

And here's the bit that is sticking with me: the piece (by Fred Goodman) cites a slew of bands who have successfully positioned their music for use in commercials (with the implication that there are many more that have gone uncited). Thus we get Spoon shilling for Jaguar, Allison Krauss / Robert Plant for JC Penny, Wilco for Volkswagen, They Might Be Giants for Dunkin' Donuts, The Shins for McDonald's, and so on.

What's surprising about this is not that it happens, but that the idea of getting up in arms about it, from an ethical perspective, seems, at this historical moment, almost passé. (This is perhaps especially remarkable in the context of a genre that can be as -- forgive me -- precious as indie rock sometimes is.)

Obviously, the absence of outrage here is in direct contrast to the kind of "music for music's sake" ethic articulated by Mr. Young in the above video -- for a tune that was, as I recall, a somewhat big deal when it came out in the late eighties. At that point, there was a sense of shame about rockers who "went commercial" (and it was probably related to what I would call the "Milli Vanilli backlash" -- the hand-wringing that accompanied the suspicion that any given musical performance was not entirely "authentic").

In contrast, here's the one fleeting moment of soul-searching in the Goodman piece:

Of Montreal have appeared in a commercial for T-Mobile, composed music for Subway and licensed their tunes for Outback Steakhouse and Nasdaq ads. "When I first started Of Montreal, I probably would have been hesitant to do a commercial for Outback," says the band's songwriter, Kevin Barnes. "In the indie world, there's a holdover from the punk movement that any commercial endeavor will taint your art. But if you care about the band, you won't begrudge us a living."

Of course not. It's a good point. I can no more begrudge a songwriter who makes a quick buck selling a tune to T-Mobile than I can get annoyed at one of my own players when he or she has to take a single gig with Christina Aguilera because it pays much more than a tour with the IJG. That's the nature of the beast.

So I'm not so naive as to throw my hands up in shock at this sort of thing. I know full well the economic pressures involved in day-to-day survival for anyone making a living from music. And I know that, as long as there has been an economically-driven power structure in western society, musicians have had to negotiate with and (often) kowtow to it, in weird and sometimes humiliating ways.

But I also think it's important (artistically and psychically) to nurture the impulse to fight back against these realities. I spent ten years of my life in Los Angeles, and while there I watched talented friends make their way into the commercial music scene, which, dare I say, can impose a few pressures of its own. Those who had the wrong sensibility (even the slightest insecurity, perhaps) found the experience withering. So I'll be curious to see, ten years from now, how many of the above bands come out the other side in one piece, with a consistent handle on their own artistic vision.

I guess what I'm saying is that, when it comes down to it, I'm not exactly sure this "turn your oeuvre into jingles" thing is my favorite aspect of the emerging post-big-label music industry.

(What's that, you ask? Have I ever considering licensing IJG stuff for commercials? You bet your sweet ass I have.)

More karma

Got another review for ya -- this time from Doug Ramsey, of the very well-known jazz blog, Rifftides.

In a way, the highest praise may be when someone gives you a clearly favorable review in spite of certain things he or she might not dig about your work.

So I think this is a great writeup, and I'm honored by it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The gloss is more entertaining

If, like me, you are simultaneously sick of / addicted to the nonsense that passes for primary coverage at this late stage in the game (Pat Buchanan, will you please go away), you might find a bit of respite over at Wonkette, home to the most irreverent, spontaneous, and hilarious primary liveblogging (is that a genre?) I have ever read.

Did I mention that it's irreverent? Do not indulge if you are a delicate flower.


Looks like my cello-playing got a little out of control.

Thankfully no one was hurt.

(Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make this stupid joke.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yes, we did

I'm not generally a "rally" guy, even when it comes to a phenomenal candidate like Obama. But when our adopted campaign worker got us some "VIP" tickets to today's Portland extravaganza (with opening act, the Decemberists), something compelled us to go check it out.

("VIP," we later learned, merely refers to the difference between being sorta far away from the candidate and being extremely far away from the candidate.)

Turns out this was the biggest rally the campaign has had -- 75,000 people is the estimate -- and there was more than a little of what I could only call "historical electricity" in the air. Here's how the Washington Post described the scene:

The sea of heads stretches for half a mile along the grassy embankment, while others watch from kayaks and power boats bobbing on the Willamette River. More hug the rails of the steel bridge that stretches across the water and crowds are even watching from jetties on the opposite shore.

The weather cooperated with the underlying theme of "change" -- shifting in recent days from a dismal cool cloudiness to full-on summer heat.

Daphne and I tried to snap pics from every phase of the three or so hours that we spent on the waterfront. They follow below, in chronological order, and are pretty much self-explanatory. (Click any pic to enlarge.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Everything old is new again (part 2) / Friday Muxtape no. 3

When I'm not composing or touring or bandleading, I love watching technology obsolesce and re-emerge. Our gadgets rarely disappear entirely: through processes of fascination and fetishization, the trappings of dead or dying technologies are usually rescued and put to new (albeit sometimes entirely superficial and / or merely psychologically satisfying) uses.

Kevin Kelly is right: we love our machines.

Exhibit A:

Get a rotary dial on your iPhone.

I actually don't understand the appeal of this -- I used to get my fingers stuck in rotary dials all the time, and I always thought they were a royal pain in the ass... though I kind of liked the way they sounded during the dialing process.

Exhibit B:

The "Grungelizer" plug-in for Cubase.

It makes things sound... old.

(I'm not even going to say anything about the digital simulacra of fully functioning "dials," because that is pretty much standard with any audio recording software or plug-in.)

Exhibit C:

"Below the fold." Check it out: strictly speaking, there is no "fold" on a computer screen. This is a term from another dying technology: printing.

Exhibit D:


I have tons and tons of cassette tapes stowed away in boxes in the basement. Why don't I just chuck 'em? I don't know.

Here's what I do understand: when riffing on the cultural idea of "the mix," it's only natural that Muxtape would define itself visually by referring back to the first commercially-available medium for the practice of making mixes.

* * * * *

It's interesting when a new technology cuts down on the work involved in making art. In the face of this sort of thing, there's a risk that the stuff that already exists, which was created without the benefit of that technology, may come to seem more "obsolete" or "quaint" than it actually is. Someone outside the history of a given practice -- audio editing, say -- can mistakenly focus on how "easy" it is, now.

What is an artist born at the wrong time to do? Sometimes it's just a matter of figuring out ways to put new technologies to even newer uses -- uses other than the ones which they were specifically designed for. Note that the phonograph itself was originally conceived (by Edison, anyway) as a dictation machine, not as a device for disseminating recorded music (how's that for ironic: what became one of the greatest emblems of leisure was originally intended for use in a fucking office).

So what about computers: the context for most creativity in the twenty-first century (so far)? Sometimes I think that the light-show you can get from an iTunes or Windows Media Player "visualizer", for instance, would be seen as "art" if it weren't so easily available. Maybe that's what makes the following video, by Dennis Liu, so damned fascinating: it takes the mundane processes of the personal computer -- processes which would have been amazing twenty years ago, but which now seem hackneyed (to me, anyway) -- and uses them to entirely different (and new) aesthetic purposes (and very effectively, I might add):


* * * * *

And now today's mix:

1. Masaro Sato: "The Plan to Incinerate the H-Man." From a movie I've never seen but would like to.

2.. Lavender Diamond: "Rise in the Springtime." The excessive sweetness of this band (what else would you expect, with a lead singer named "Becky"?) is much more endearing live. Anyway, it was a hot day today, so I thought of this tune.

3. Deep Zen Pill With Brother Bam Shock: "Power." John Oswald. Plunderphonics. A double-album of mashups par excellence -- done without the aid of digital technology, as I recall. This one poaches from Zeppelin and a preacher.

4. Colin Stetson: "Groundswell." A lot with a little.

5. Them: "Friday's Child." Van Morrison was in a band called Them -- before he was the Van Morrison.

6. Chico Hamilton: "In a Mellotone." You east coasters will hate this, I know.

7. Barbara Lynn: "Heartbreaking Years." Old school that never really got its due. Tight horns, eh?

8. Carla Bley and Paul Haines: "Why." Linda Ronstadt on vocals. Remember when pop singers actually wanted to expand their horizons?

9. Harry Nilsson: "Turn On Your Radio." The opening guitar bit gets me every time.

10. The Sylvers: "Love Over Mind." My wife laughs at me for liking this band. You can too. Circa the disco era, or something.

11. Tinhorn Justice: "White Crow (Mike Rowe)." One of the many nice things about leading a band as big as the IJG is that you get to meet a lot of great players. I'm gonna be featuring the projects of IJG members in this and future muxtapes (instead of always just featuring IJG tracks) -- just so you get a sense of the sort of talent I'm fortunate enough to be able to share the stage with whenever we go out on tour. This week: trombonist Ian Carroll's [not "Carr" -- that's what I get for writing this post in the wee hours of the morning - ed.] band Tin Horn Justice, with Cory Beers on drums and percussion, Tony Digennaro on guitar, James Berry on electric accordion, and Ian on electric trombone. Recorded live at CalArts, recently.

12. Kenyon Hopkins / Creed Taylor: "No Smoking." There's so much going on in this little play -- a satire of the sexual norms of the mid-twentieth century, a commentary on scientific hubris, a quirky example of easy listening music. It's that perfect combination of weird and mainstream that actually used to be possible -- the sort of thing that would never slip through the cracks at a serious label today. From an album called Panic: Son of Shock.

I guess it's karma

Just learned of the latest LEEF review, by Brad Glanden (published yesterday in AAJ). Not gonna quote the whole thing here, but there are some bits that are turning my face various shades of I'm-not-worthy-red. Among them:

It's difficult to fathom a universe where someone would not enjoy listening to LEEF.

Durkin could be writing great pop-rock if only he had a narrower instrumental imagination.

”The Job Song” will offer laughs to anyone who has pursued an artistic career against the financial advice of parents, teachers, and -- Satan? The moral is that doing what one loves yields rewards far greater than monetary ones; the song proves its own thesis beautifully [...]

Durkin is the Conan O'Brien of jazz, joking about the band's alleged lack of appeal when so much evidence exists to the contrary [...]

So this seems a fitting rebuttal to my ornery and totally uncalled for outburst about a single bad review (from a guy who was probably just trying to do his best, and who probably had no idea his quickly-dashed-off words were going to be responded to with such precious hand-wringing).

What's to complain about when clearly there are some folks who are into what we're doing?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Another 2.0 note

So, yeah, I recently joined Twitter. As if my life isn't already cluttered with too much web-stuff.

Here's my Twitter page.

I'm not totally sold on the value of this site yet, but I will say it's entertaining. Who knows, perhaps Twitter will bring back the aphorism? (It's a dying art form, you know.)

In grad school, I used to ask my students to avoid using fancy language to say something that could be said simply. You know -- don't say "in my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that" when you can just say "I think."

So in some ways I get Twitter, and I appreciate the challenge it offers (say something useful in 140 characters or less) -- even if only as an exercise. Nuanced discussions are impossible (or at least inconvenient) in this context, but that's okay, because I suspect they can start there. (And I think Twitter's often-cited proclivity for generating gibberish could also be useful -- perhaps as a way of publicly clearing out the "brain roof chatter" and trying to get to something more pithy.)

According to some, Twitter could become the go-to site for fast news (assuming you're following relevant sources, of course). Here's how that facet of it played out with yesterday's earthquake in China.

Yup yup

It's true, it's all true.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Everything old is new again

Do you remember browsing through the back pages of your comic books and finding ads for a whole host of weird and wacky items, most of which seemed to be too good to be true?

Do you remember ordering some of these items, only to discover that, indeed, they were too good to be true?

I sure do. In my callow youth I was suckered into purchasing an "exploding matchbook" that was so awkwardly-constructed that the gag usually gave itself away before I could "fool" anyone with it. I think that was the beginning of my lifelong distrust of advertising.

Anyway, most of these doo-dads are now available here. All of the hilariously cheesy artwork seems to have been preserved. (The only thing that seems to be missing are the Sea Monkeys.)

Via Mostly Ghostly.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Muxtape, no. 2

Before I get into the music: a moment of silence for Eddy Arnold -- the kick-off artist on last week's muxtape (which you can still get here -- I'll be switching off on my two muxtape sites every other week). Arnold was one of (if not the) best-selling country artist of all time, and he passed away yesterday, just shy of 90 years old. RIP.

Anyway, here's some of what's been tickling my ears this week:

1. Prokofiev: "Romeo and Juliet."

2. Roger Daltrey & the LSO: "I'm Free." (This one is for Alex, by the way. Back when I was in school, "I'm Free" was the tune I always sang to myself the minute I had finished with my last final of the semester.)

3. The Challengers: "Lanky Bones." (Did I ever tell you that I love surf rock? No?! Well, let me tell you now: I love surf rock.)

4. Willie Brown: "Future Blues."

5. Charles Wright and the 103rd Watts Street Rhythm Band: "65 Bars and a Taste of Soul."

6. Industrial Jazz Group: "Skeeter Goes Legit." (The obligatory shameless self-promo track. This one is from our first album, Hardcore.)

7. Charming Hostess: "Two Boys."

8. Manhattan Brothers: "Marie."

9. LEMUR GuitarBot: "Emergencybot." (That's right. It's a guitar-playing robot -- from the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots, of course.)

10. John Vanderslice: "White Dove." (Here's where the mix starts getting all rocky and poppy and stuff. Sorry.)

11. CPeX: "Vindegij Mijn Gat." (CPeX: not the "Center for Planning Excellence," but "The Clement Peerens Explosition.") According to Sven at And the Ass Saw the Angel, "The Clement Peerens Explosition started as a joke by the men who made a hilarious radio comedy show, Het leugenpaleis, on Studio Brussel." Sounds like my kind of project.)

12. Badfinger: "Baby Blue." (These days I seem to enjoy the bands that ripped off the Beatles more than I enjoy the Beatles themselves. How's that for irony?)

And there you go.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What William Blake wrought

More thoughts on my petulant outburst later (and thanks to everyone who weighed in).

In the meantime, I hope what follows here will be accepted (by the Clinton campaign) in the spirit in which it is offered (a spirit of gentle ribbing and healing levity, I swear):

It's over, folks. Let's kiss and make up, and set our sights on November.

(BTW, we've had an Obama campaign worker living with us for a few weeks now, gearing up for the Oregon primary -- which, it turns out, may become the "official" finish line for this thing. Man, I thought I worked hard -- this lady hardly sleeps. It's quite impressive, and it backs up the refrain that has been coming up in Obama speeches of late -- that this campaign is not about him, but a movement of people who are truly committed to taking the country in a new direction. Halle-fucking-lujah.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Say it ain't so

(Photo: "Art Shock" by eliazar.)

Well, I've got good news and I've got bad news.

The good news:

The IJG tune "PDX LIX LAX" made it to the second round of judging at the fan-driven site That's farther than any of our tunes have gotten on GB previously -- and with any luck, "PDX" is not finished yet. Cool!

The bad news:

Today we got the following review from a Garageband user (who shall remain nameless).

This is a bad joke -- right?

This is great for circus clowns or grade 'B' comedians. Can you play all of these notes again in the same sequence? Pretty good musicians but very poor composing on this piece. The discordant sections do not belong. The rest might due [sic] for a Disney soundtrack.

This fella also had the good sense to give "PDX" a "Stupidest Song I've Ever Heard" award.

Hot diggity!

I'm not going for a petulant frenzy here, I swear. Mostly I think the review is funny.

Okay, maybe it did piss me off just a wee little bit at first (I'm only human). But, honestly... mostly I think it's funny. What other response can I have?

One of the many interesting conversations I had with Evan Francis on the way down to LA from Oakland last March (pre-tour) was on the subject of the surprise we both feel when we come across people who are shocked by musical "noise" or "atonality" or "dissonance" (not that those are all strictly identical). It's easy for fools like us, who dabble in such things all the time, to forget that our choice to do so can actually still be "radical" or "offensive" to some people.

And maybe that's not as big a deal as it initially seems. I mean, it's all well and good for me to roll my eyes every time I hear the sort of smooth-jazz-and-funk-derived stuff that is kicking our ass on Garageband right now. But honestly, where would I (or folks like me) be without that consonant norm to buck up against? Of course, that works both ways. How else can insistently sweet stuff make "sense" (even to its most avid fans) except in the context of a sound-world that is constantly threatening to descend into harmonic strangeness?

So maybe I owe this reviewer a big thank you, because he got me thinking about one of my dear old favorite issues: perception.

For me, art is an expectations game. There's plenty of music I enjoy (and / or love) because it more or less fulfills a certain expectation -- it's like satisfying a craving for hummus. I've eaten hummus before, I know what it tastes like, and sometimes I just want to replicate that taste experience. There are subtle variations in the formula -- different brands, different flavors. But once you know what hummus tastes like, the pleasure of eating it doesn't come from surprise, per se.

Two other things. First: I only want so much hummus. And second: I can remember how much I enjoyed the first hummus I ever tasted.

In other words (dropping the food metaphor now), what really drives my listening, what keeps me constantly hunting down new bands and artists and composers, is not necessarily a desire to find more variations of the stuff I already know I like (that's more of a nice fringe benefit), but to re-experience the kind of astonishment I felt the first time I heard, say, "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." Astonishment, for me, is a weird combination of surprise, disorientation, and potential-for-growth, and it accompanies the discovery of something I don't immediately recognize, and something I don't immediately understand (I try not to confuse not understanding something with not liking it). It's easy to forget that astonishment is psychically important (the human nervous system ceases to perceive phenomena that do not change), and that love and astonishment are not the same thing.

Maybe true astonishment happens less and less as you get older, and maybe the quest for it is an idealistic pipe-dream. But for me, it's still the aesthetic bottom line. It's the thing to shoot for as an artist.

And, for what it's worth, your chances of being astonishing are probably inversely related to how reliably you can play "all of these notes again in the same sequence."

(Whoops! I said I wasn't going to be petulant, didn't I? Sorry.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Muxtape, no. 1

Gonna try and start a regular thing here...

This weekend's Muxtape.

Or, a short compendium of some of the things I've been listening to this week.

(There's no accounting for taste, right?)

Anyway, the tracks, for better or worse, and in no particular order:

1. Eddy Arnold: "Cattle Call"

2. Regina Music Box: "Ein Madchen oder Weibchen"

3. Deerhoof: "Apple Bomb"

4. Do Make Say Think: "Auberge Le Moutin Noir"

5. April Stevens: "Teach Me Tiger"

6. Industrial Jazz Group: "Should I Play in the Industrial Jazz Group or in Christina Aguilera's Band?"

7. The Beau Brummels: "Turn Around"

8. Erik Satie: "Sonatine Bureaucratique"

9. Syd Barrett: "Octopus"

10. Ruth White: "Lover's Wine"

11. Malignon Music Box: "Una voce poco fa"

12. Al Jolson / Cab Calloway: "I Love to Sing-a"

Ca va?

Maybe for the next one I'll manage to add commentary... or some actual jazz!