Wrong Notes collects posts on music, art, culture and fun stuff. Also included: news about the Ear Reverends.
I'd started writing something I thought might become a novel. But, something else seems to be in the works that's, er, something else. Enjoy!
"Dick was the hardest!" Ron got it out in his exhale, so it had a gasp, a cough-hack-hickup-burp and the first hiss of his own laughter substituting for some or all of the words (depending on whether you were there or watching the video), which came out louder, one-by-one, as they expanded through the room with the smoke. The others in the room allowed the words to quickly curl through their ears and ollie straight into their brains. They always regretted when they missed Ron's jokes, so they all momentarily stared into the haze to picture his words, made of giant neon letters—and blinking, brighter and brighter.
Like the split second before the explosion, the void, a flash and then roar—they were now a room of animated insects bouncing off walls and each other with laughter and periodic bodily flailing:
Sam was hitting a pillow against his head, yelling: Dude! Dude! Dude!
Chris had grabbed his side as his laughter progressed from the ha-ha-has to something more like Alvin and the Chipmunks (all of them at once)—and his nose started running fulltime. And, then he quickly slid off his chair—almost completing a backflip, while reaching for his sweatshirt (or, as he often refers to it: his reusable organic hemp napkin dispenser).
Diana and Lisa were alternating rolling into each others laps and standing up and falling to the floor. Then they started flipping their long hairs over their faces (their own and each others). Diana started trying to pull her hair back to wipe away tears, when Lisa grabbed her hands and made them clap and started them both bouncing on their bench.
And the others, each in their own way, shouted their excitement in between laughing and finding ways to combine their bodies, extra clothes, furniture and the lefover bit of food into a big tie dye of jubilation.
Thomas gained enough composure to announce: "Ron, your's was waaay the best! No one can top that one!" And the game, that had emerged just a few minutes before, and lasted only a couple turns, was both officially and ceremoniously over.
Espin started doing his "tsha, tsha" thing, sounding like a bird call if used as a lullaby, though there was a kind-of Bushman's click in there as well—when he did it long enough, it ran like a broken record. But, he was just en route to the corner, where he had his didge. And, he was now fully devoted to getting into its sonic pocket.
Thomas grabbed his didge and joined in. And, Diane packed another bowl on the bong, and handed it to Ron.
They all knew the countdown had started, but their passengers were finally all on-board (as they called it, in their code-worded plans), and even as they could imagine all of the people who would be looking for them—and what might happen when they were caught, they were all about the trip—and all about it being their trip.
· · · good things come to those who click · · ·
This is it and I'm happy to (just now!) realize that it's available online.
From the world that once (and still!) could be sometimes, brought to you by Andy Kaufman (video):
This is a weird time to live in, if you love listening to recorded music, and want to have anything like that holy thing we used to call a "record collection."
What I gots is what I got
Of course, if you have LPs, you do still have a record collection. But, then you probably also have CDs, which is like another record collection.
Maybe, if you just have LPs and CDs (and the few odd cassettes), you can think of it all as your "record collection," and that's all nice and good.
But, you're probably like me, where you've also got iTunes filled with lots of music files. They call it a "music library," but having been a librarian for a collection of recorded music, I can tell you that that's pretty much like calling the boxes of books you moved 12 times after college, but only unpacked when it was time to repack them for another move, and then finally took them all to Goodwill in the middle of the night (still packed in boxes), a "book library."
So, there's a general lack of cohesion to our music collections divided between the antediluvian physical formats and the invisible boxes of invisible files on our opaque computers.
Then, there's that other digital music. Can we stake a viable claim of "ours" to any of the music we have, that lives in the "cloud" of web services? If you know you can click this little link to hear my "Break in the jam," how do you translate that knowledge into something like "I have this song in my record collection?"
Where I gonna get it, if I gonna wants it
When I was a kid and first began buying cassettes and LPs, there was a pretty direct line from the cash I earned doing yard work to the expansion of my music collection. That line went: a couple bucks in my pocket, bus fare, Rhino Records in Westwood, bus fare to get back home with a stack of beautiful, slightly used, vinyl. And, then on the turntable they went round and round as I stared at LP covers, read liner notes, and began traveling to South Saturn with Jimi Hendrix.
And, it wasn't like I had to choose between different versions / remasters / reissues / formats of Marquee Moon: I could only get it as an LP, so that's what I wanted, and that's was the only interface I had when I wanted to play that album over 100 times a day. If the record ended and I was on the bed, I had to get up and realize that I now too seemed to remember how the darkness doubled, and recall how lightning struck itself. I had been listening to the record, but I was hearing something else.
I was thinking about Betty Davis and found out that Light in the Attic has released her other two albums (I already have the first two). eMusic has 3 out of 4 Betty Davis albums, so I just bought one from eMusic. But, ugh, I forgot: you get no liner notes with your eMusic purchase. These Light in the Attic releases have great liner notes with the CD.
So, now what? Maybe I'll buy the CD? Maybe I'll try to forget about Betty Davis . . . yeah, like that's ever going to happen.
Who's dat man? I dunno
Then there's that "me" that seems to make an appearance in every scene of this story. I can't afford to buy all the music I want, but I can afford a lot more of it than when I was 13 years old. Plus, some of what I got when I was 13, I still have. And, when I was 14, and 22, and 33 1/3 and last week. Next week, maybe more: I know there's stuff calling my name at Sonic Boom.
And, there's that impostor music library I can monitor on my computer, that has 45 days of music waiting for me, of which I seem to listen to an inordinate amount of Al Green—who gets my lizard brain (PUSH PLAY! HEAR MUSIC! LOVE IT! NOW!) at "Let's Stay Together" before I can scroll even to Albert Ayler—my apologies then are so many, from Ali Akbar Khan all the way to Zubi Zuva, all of whom I keep wanting to, but have not quite been getting around to, listen to, as much as I'd like.
So, am I a victim or somehow a co-creator of this weird paradox between the potentials of listening to so much music and the difficulty in finding again that gorgeous thing in my life that, when I was 15, I thought would just always be there for me: my record collection?
Did I make it go away with my casual embrace of digital music and the iPods and computers and Airfoil and all those websites, night after night, a different one almost every time—god, so many, I can't remember their names, but just that cheap thrill of a new partner who offers to fulfill my lust, but, next thing I know, it's like there's nothing to listen to, like I've woke up and found myself inside a tunnel out on the highway, with only an AM radio, and nothing but static interrupted by the occasional tantalization—a half of phrase lick right into my ear from The Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love," and I so know what that feels like, again.
In the moment, I always dream I can go home and find my record collection. And, I've got a record of hits from 1957—I think it was my Dad's—has a red cover. And I know that a "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On" is going to make me love music so much, and I'll go buy more records with my allowance next week, because I think I've saved enough for Los Angeles, and "The Unheard Music" is ahead of me.
February is the month that always ends with me wondering why I always need a couple more days to get things done this month.
Oooh, here's a video of a cat playing a theremin!
(via Laughing Squid)
Mostly, music and words each come into being as vessels of emotion. We can think about the meaning of each in an abstract sense, but that's secondary.
In my previous post on music appreciation, I expressed some concerns about my writing about music—about using words to express why I love specific pieces of music. I'd rather create more music to express that love for other music.
But, as I mentioned, I seem to have some things to say. And, with the specific pieces of music I want to write about in future posts, I realize that the lyrics—the words are such an important part of that music.
So, I wanted to say a bit about words as music. And, first, to take a step back, I should say that I think almost all words, spoken or written, are "backed" by the same source as non-verbal musical expression: emotion.
This is actually a similar concept to body language. What I am saying is that the human voice—even translated into words typed on a computer, start out as non-verbal communications—and that source carries through to some extent in the final medium. When we read written / typed words, this is part of what we might be able to "read between the lines" on some occasions.
So, imagine that before someone speaks a word to you, what's starting inside them is much more like singing. Then, through social conventions, self-conciousness, verbosity, etc., that would-be song comes out as only a speaking voice saying words.
(Of course, in some cultures / languages, the natural speaking voice is more unabashedly musical! However, some of us just walk around speaking like unenthusiastic robotic honkies.)
In moments when one's guard is down, or moments of unbridled joy, or of terrible pain, or of drunkenness, or of passion, we sometimes let loose and say things that sound more like singing. And, what's so wonderfully musical about good lyrics is how they use words (e.g., syntactically / semantically) to free the voice to sing rather than speak.
Lyrics use rhythm, rhyme, cadence, phrasing and more to enable melody and singing. And the meaning of the words can push the shape of the music. (And word meanings and word sounds are themselves intertwined in a way that I think only musicality may unravel.)
And, likewise, melody and singing enable lyrics to mean what words really say, but don't (always) express when spoken or written.
How I listen to lyrics
I have a favorite way to get into the lyrics of the music I enjoy. First, I don't read the lyrics right away. I just listen to the music and listen for what's being sung as my ear is drawn to it.
At some point, I start to hear what's being said. (Let's assume this is a great song I love—needless to say, in other cases, hearing that what's being said is something lame is an awful disappointment.)
Then I start to really hear the whole of the lyrics. And really feel what's being said in each phrase. I might sing along or say the words—I hear the words as if I am singing them (e.g., about myself, about someone I know, etc.).
At this point, there may some lines I am not sure about. And, this is where I love to finally read the lyrics. I usally read them first, separate from listening to the song. Then I listen to the song again without reading along. And, finally, I may listen and read along at the same time.
Sometimes, if I don't have access to the printed lyrics, I'll listen to the song bit by bit and try to write the words down myself.
Finally, hearing what the words really say often means experiencing something that changes with each listen. The meaning is profound—whatever puzzle you may have solved getting to the point of really hearing the words, you now hear into a more unlimited mystery of experience and possibility being expressed.
To get into the words even more, I might play the song on guitar or keyboard, and sing along. And, even more, I'll start to change the musical arrangement, etc., to hear what the words say in different voicing / voices.
Even the stuff
We talk about a lot of stuff in our world, and a lot of that talk is supposed to be objective or informational or useful. At present, we spend a lot of time seeing people talking on TV or on the web, and, the way our visual sense can dominate our focus, we're drawn into how the speakers / words look (people talking on a screen, words written on a page).
But, if we listen, we can get into what's going on, deeper than what it all looks like. We can hear what's really being said. And, what's really being said is a kind of music. Sadly, much of it is like the song of desperation—how else to describe the thing that can drive us to such maniacal verbiage?
But, people can be beautiful music. And, even some of the most potentially dry and boring stuff, through the voice of someone filled with a joy and energy for life, can express great musicality.
As a closing example, I thought the subject of particle physics might be a good test case. Science is a subject we've all heard delivered in a dead and deadening way, and so I though this clip of Richard Feynman talking about rubber bands would be a good example of how enjoyment (to the point of almost singing) can be infused into a topic not known for sing-a-longs!
If you love music, you play music.
The more you love music, the more you want to actively make it heard—heard by yourself and by potentially others and everyone.
A quick aside: let us briefly note that this is the essence of any "music business"—give people a way to participate in making music they love, that is so great / convenient / novel / special / sharable / fun / etc., that they will pay for the opportunity. . .
So, we push the play button or hire a musician to play a party or are musicians ourselves. Even most passively (we enter a room where someone else has put on music, or we walk past a musician on the street, etc.), when we notice and respond to the sound, we become co-creators of the music. If we like it, our ears perk up, and we may clap along, nod our heads to the rhythm, dance, sing our favorite phrase, or get others to hear it as well—we are playing a part in the music too.
As a musician, when I hear music I love, I not only want to play it on the stereo or join with it in concert, but I also want to play music on musical instruments. Sometimes that means playing the same music I've heard—for example, hearing a song and then learning to play it on guitar. But, more typically, I want to create new music, influenced by what I've heard.
So, given all of this, I always have a question about how much to talk or write about the music I love. I always want other people to know that music too, but talking and writing about music, in words, feels so inadequate compared with what I want to say in music. I generally find it pretty frustrating to talk or write about music.
But, I think I am going to write about the music I love a bit more here on Wrong Notes, because I see a need to get the word out. I wish I were productive musically in a way that I could quickly and fully say what I want about other's music through my own music. My ideal would be to be like Jimi Hendrix performing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" on June 4th, 1967—only three days after the Beatles' album came out.
(Here's a video of Hendrix playing the song a bit later that year, in December '67:)
Some more thoughts on writing about music
What I hope to write will not be music criticism, but will be music appreciation.
I sometimes enjoy music criticism, but I basically find its goals to be, very frequently, largely un-musical! In the larger scheme of things, that's OK in that music criticism can be great writing and one can enjoy it as such. But, at its musical-worst, music criticism is writing that convinces you to not play music. At its worst, it suggests that thinking and talking and writing about music are more important and/or better than playing music.
And, I don't have any interest in producing music criticism in that sense.
As an example of writing about music I find encouraging, I can point to Tom Moon's 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. You can enjoy his writing as writing, but Tom's writing constantly makes me want to stop reading and start playing!
So, as I write more about music, I'll point back to here as my footnote about why I'm not reviewing or critiquing the music I am writing about. For me, the goal of the writing is music appreciation—play music now!
Ever notice how many ways people communicate with each other through voice recordings? For example, phone greetings, voicemail, etc.?
Beyond all of the voice greetings and messages recorded by actual human people, I also hear a lot of messages recorded by robots / voice synthesizers.
I am generally interested in all of these as part of the sound of our time. Something we hear a lot. And, I can't help but wonder how much of it, if any, will be captured in art that future peoples might use to better understand us.
I also can't help myself, when I have to recorded something like a phone greeting, from wanting to use it as a creative opening—if not something strictly musical, at least something akin to a musical performance—or maybe something like performance art.
And, a bit of a tangent: oh, I so much wish I had a copy of this one voice greeting I recorded in the mid-1990s . . .
I recorded a message for my at-the-time office phone. It was an early digital phone / PBX system (Rolm, I recall) that allowed you to re-record just the tail end of your message. In other words, you didn't have to re-record the whole thing—I think the idea was that people would flub their phone numbers or sign-offs at the end, and this feature helped you correct just that bit. Maybe it was so you could have a changing ending that was easy to change?
That feature allowed me to essentially cut and paste together a message out of fragments of my speech, such that my somewhat normally spoken sentences became reset with unusual timing / transitions between words. Many aspect of the rhythm and cadence of the speech were altered, and the final "piece," by the time it was done, left you with an eerie / haunting feeling—even though what I said would look perfectly normal and acceptable were it just written out on paper .
Argh. It's almost pointless to describe it like this (I can't believe I even tried)—you had to hear it.
At the time, I had to delete and change my message, or I was going to get fired. It was like "delete it NOW, or else." So many people at the office—even people I hardly ever talked to, went out of their way to tell me how pissed off they were about that message—so I relented and changed the message. Of course, many of my friends—even people I hardly ever talked to, went out of their way to tell me how much they had loved it.
Had I thought about it more at the time, I would have at least saved a copy for myself, for later (like, now!). But, anyway, that's a whole other story. And, maybe it's even better as a legend than something we could re-examine now.
Now, back to today's (shorter!) story—with sound!:
Today, I got a robot to record a new greeting for my mobile phone. And, I thought it'd be fun to post it here (since so few people call my mobile anyway), so at least a few more people might hear it.
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