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Monthly Archives: October 2016

@ A Coffee Shop, Barista playing songs through speakers using Spotify (?)


As the music played, there were some moments when a song began and it was soon skipped for the next one. Intervals of time for each skip were different; as if some songs took more consideration than others.

Skipping is a seemingly simple yet complicated activity. In considering an unfamiliar piece, one makes a judgement of the past, present, and future.

Take the barista for instance.

She took what she was listening to (present), compared and contrasted what she heard from her own gathered tastes (past), and gauged whether it would be worth listening to in its entirety (future).

This all happens so quickly that each step melds into one action.

—–

A song plays that I am not aware of. Taking out my phone, I retrieve the song and artist within a couple seconds.

Whether an app tells us the song or a search engine identifies one through a sliver of lyrics, knowledge is always within our grasp. We can never not know.

Why, it would have to be a deliberate choice not to find out what was playing.

I heard an unfamiliar tune at the shop that I enjoyed. Decided not to discover what it was. Even if I were to discard the song later, there was a fear of not knowing, of letting it drift into the ether.

I let it drift. As I type this I have no recollection of the song. Any regret of not figuring it out faded out of mind.

Would have knowing the song been worth it?

—–

As I took out phone to figure a song out, static fluttered in the speaker next to me. Song still played yet it was wading in a buzz. In moving my phone I noticed that the intensity of the static directly corresponded to how I manipulated the device.

Concerned by my own noisemaking, I retired my phone at a distance from the speaker. How odd that in using the phone to find a song I would in turn distort the song and through the noise still identify it.

Though is that not what these apps are made to especially do?

Winchester, VA to Middleburg, VA

This is a collection of observations made from listening to music in the car on the way to work.


In Frank Ocean’s latest album there is a section of one song, “Night”(3:28 to the end), that is my favorite part of the entire record.

Find myself rewinding the song to 3:28 again and again. Probably have done so seven or eight times consecutively in the car.

I sometimes put in Blonde, go directly to “Night”, and repeat above process until I have had my share. Then I take the album out and put in another CD.

—–

This strange routine is part of the tradition of encores in a way.

Today we think of encores as an excuse to get the musician(s) to come back on stage and play more material they have not played yet. What was common a while ago, however, was for the audience to request the repetition of a movement or two from what they already heard.

There is an entertaining anecdote of Beethoven learning that the audience only wanted the middle two movements of his Op. 130 String Quartet encored. Nobody wanted to hear again the much labored and now immortal final movement: the Grosse Fugue.

Beethoven’s response? “And why didn’t they encore the fugue? That alone should have been repeated. Cattle! Asses!”

—–

With modern technology, an encore in the aforementioned way can be broken down even further.

Repeat a movement? How about the 27th to 50th measure of the second movement. How about from 3:28 to the end? With a recording like Frank Ocean’s Blonde and a disc player in my car, I can do that.

An encore of seconds. Is that not the spirit of sampling?

——

Only recording of Frank Ocean’s “Night” in its entirety is a sped up and higher pitched version (here). In a style dubbed ‘nightcore’.

Wikipedia’s definition:

“A ‘nightcore’ edit is a remix track that speeds up and increases the pitch. Formed in 2002, the name for the internet-based genre was originally defined as sped-up and pitch-shifted versions of trance and eurodance songs, but its definition expanded into non-dance territory by the time the remix style became popular in the 2010s”.

Draws a blurred line between a stylistic decision and a way to keep parts of Frank Ocean’s new album up without any fuss from the label.

Love it.

—–

The other recording of “Night” on Youtube?

Not the complete song but all 1:41 of my favorite and relentlessly encored part of Blonde (here).

@ Hopscotch Coffee, Winchester, VA

This is a collection of observations made whilst at a coffee shop.


Listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass which is blaring through shop.

I was intrigued to learn from the store owner that he was playing the “deluxe version”.

Merriam-Webster defines ‘deluxe’ as “notably luxurious or elegant”. With multiple outtakes and extra songs sprinkled in, the listening was far from  streamlined elegance. It is already a long album so it caught me off guard.

Multiple times I wondered if we were listening to the same record or another one entirely. Outtakes made me double take, recalling the same song played a while ago.

Enjoyable? Yes. Disorienting? Yes.

The ‘deluxe’ of a deluxe album is more akin to Baroque elegance. Etymologically,  ‘baroque’ stems from ‘barrueco’, meaning a rough or imperfect pearl in Spanish.  Deluxe albums work like Baroque architecture or music: dramatically ornamented to borderline excess.

Maybe that is what deluxe means in such a context.

—–

Talked with the shop owner about the outtakes one would find in such deluxe versions. He made a case for how outtakes created a bigger picture of a particular music’s evolution. Used two Phish tunes to highlight this idea (cannot remember them).

First tune: he heard an improvisatory intro to one live ‘outtake’ version of a tune; an idea that Trey Anastasio was noodling with backstage. This idea from the improvisatory is developed and used as the foundation of another tune FIVE YEARS LATER.

Second tune: in various outtakes an instrumental is altered with the addition of lyrics. It becomes another tune entirely, name and all.

Shop owner made a convincing case. Outtakes are a part of the full creative process. How odd to think that the finished album we listen to is just as fragmentary as the outtakes. A deluxe version gives us a wider scope of that process.

Not a complete picture though. Can we ever really?

—–

The act of listening to music playing at a coffee shop.

I was listening to something that my taste did not lead me to, subjecting my taste to the coffee shop owner. His taste is subjected to the taste of George Harrison whose taste is subjected to other people’s taste (producers, musicians, etc).

An organic network of tastes is at work here.

If the owner were just listening to the George Harrison station on Pandora that would unleash even more tastes at work. This especially includes the algorithms at work in selection.

Granting algorithms taste is peculiar. Algorithms might be a fitting analogy to how our taste work  though (the work of Daniel Dennett would be useful in articulating this further). Lest we forget that there are contingencies which glitch these algorithms and make taste anything less than straightforward.

“Surveys of routes”, according to French Scholar Michel de Certeau in “Walking in the City”, “miss what was: the act itself of passing by”.

Putting it another way, de Certeau writes that “[t]he trace left behind is substituted for the practice”. 

When we only focus on music, we focus on the trace left behind. Navigation between listening to music is subordinate to the listening. And yet think of the myriad of ways we access music today, especially online. It is the downloading, mixing, burning, torrenting, file sharing, and converting that allow us to listen in the first place.

Discussion of this is odd at first glance; all because it appears to upend music’s own significance. On the contrary, music is left alone and still important.

The practice, however, is just as important and begs for inquiry.

Gilles Deleuze’s essay on Walt Whitman compares Whitman’s unique American project of fragmentation with that of European sensibility that thrived off of unity:

“…we should recall the difference Hölderlin discovered between the Greeks and the Europeans: what is natal or innate in the first must be acquired or conquered by the second, and vice-versa. In a different manner, this is how things stand with the Europeans and the Americans. Europeans have an innate sense of organic totality, or composition, but they have to acquire the sense of the fragment, and can only do so through a tragic reflection or an experience of disaster”.

-“Walt Whitman”

Think of the organic totality of European music. A European composer is working within a vast and deep rooted history. There is an innate sense of tradition.

Now take a composer like Claude Debussy whose music pushes away from this. He is attempting to grasp the fragmentary. In Deleuze’s words, he is piecing musics together “not by virtue of the totality of a situation but as a function of particular traits, emotional circumstances, and the ‘interiority’ of the relevant fragments”.

Though what is strange is that there is a characteristic Debussy sound and style. Many music people adopted his style around his time and were thought of as ‘Debussyistes’. A totality is formed from fragmentation.

On the other end we have a music like jazz. It is rooted on the fragmentary: using European instruments, pulling from American idioms like blues, and adopting an improvisatory emphasis.

There is a turn of phrase whose origin escapes me but it goes like this: “Jazz is America’s classical music”. Whether it is valid or not, the phrase has implications. Some jazz musicians and critics have tried to put jazz within an organic totality; that there is a grounding tradition and style to this seemingly fragmented music.

And yet there is free jazz and Miles Davis going electric, things which many in the aforementioned camp decried as not what they considered to be jazz. Are these examples not a part of jazz’s fragmentary nature? Is jazz’s totality not made of fragments?

Debussy and jazz highlight something perplexing. Can there ever be a transition from totality to fragmentation and vice versa?

Or, and this might be more convincing, does music exist in a wash of fragments making totalities and totalities being made of fragments?

“The categorization of knowledge into arts and sciences is reproduced in the faculty system which houses different disciplines in different buildings, and most colleges maintain the traditional divisions by devoting a separate floor to each subject. Moreover, the hierarchical relationship between teacher and taught is inscribed in the very lay-out of the lecture theatre where the seating arrangements – benches rising in tiers before a raised lectern – dictate the flow of information and serve to ‘naturalize’ professorial authority.

Thus, a whole range of decisions about what is and what is not possible within education have been made, however unconsciously, before content of individual courses is even decided”.

-Dick Hebdige, “Culture to Hegemony”

Think of the whole range of decisions about what is and what is not possible within a concert hall. These have already been decided before we even to decide to perform or listen there.

Naturalizing the performance space mean normalizing it to such an extent that one cannot imagine the structure any different. The seats become like the trees they were made of: natural and more or less a given.

It is tough to think about ridding ourselves of naturalization. It can be useful. In naturalizing something we push it to the background. That creates room for other matters to come to the front.  We can put all our time preparing for our concert rather than the nature of the space. The problem of how to sell the concert tickets will not be burdened by whether or not a concert is a hierarchical power struggle.

Anyone can flip this script though. Even the process of critiquing the naturalization of performance spaces includes naturalization. Multitudes of givens are working on a subconscious level in order to spend more time taking note of the politics of performance spaces.

If one cannot avoid naturalization it would do well to know how it works for us. What is in the foreground and what is pushed to the background of assumed knowledge? How does the relationship between the two work?