2.27.2011

Random Excellence Celebrated

I'm probably a bit late to the party in realizing this, but I guess Youtube videos could be considered an actual format in the same way as vinyl or CD, if only because they at times provide access to music that is unavailable in other contexts.

Below is a video for Madonna's performance of her song "Bad Girl" on Saturday Night Live. According to Wikipedia, it is the only time she has performed the song outside of the confines of the studio. The song itself is excellent. Lyrically, it is a rumination on a person's inability to stop the self-destructive behavior that prevents them from claiming the life they truly want. The line "I'm not happy when I act this way" could speak both to the character's disappointment in herself and also an acknowledgment that her behavior is due to a depression she can't master. I don't know what to say about the music other than that I find the instrumental break towards the middle wondrously emotive, the simple three note pattern played by synthesized strings especially so.

Although David Fincher's video for the song, which depicts a dreamlike vision of Manhattan of melancholy light, chrome, wood and smoke, every surface and illumination seemingly pregnant with poetry, a place that does exist but only rarely, is superb, I tend to turn to the SNL performance instead.

I want from live music something I can't get from the studio version of the same song, and this desire has rarely been met in all of the shows I have gone to. But there is something decidedly real about the performance below. It starts, I think, at a slower tempo than the studio version of the song, and with a bit of hesitation. Gradually, imperceptibly, it begins to cohere, and, as the confidence Madonna's singing increases, the band, especially the amazing team of Victor Bailey on bass and Omar Hakim on drums, begins to push, like a great jazz rhythm section, Madonna to even further levels of intensity. By the time Hakim plays that last huge fill around his kit culminating in the forceful strike of the crash cymbal on his left by the stick in his right hand just as the lights illuminating the band go down again, you can tell by the expression on his face that we have reached the emotional plateau, one higher than that of the studio recording, that nobody was quite sure would be arrived at as the song began.

2.25.2011

Perspectives on Work

As for me, I was so bored today that I took care of the last bit of time-is-NOT-of-the-essence filing that I have been saving for a rainy day, also known as a day where I could theoretically spend all of the nine hours I am here fucking off on the Internet. So now, with that reserve of work done, well, I am going to go get some paper towels and clean my desk off. And then, I guess, more Internet.

I hate fucking off on the Internet. Putting aside politics and my feelings towards my company, my boss, and our clients, it sucks doing nothing all day. When I was 22 or so I thought it was funny. But this sucks. Anybody who wishes, for whatever reason, that they had nothing to do, seriously undervalues life. And this is not some protestant work ethic bullshit either. Even laying in a field looking at the clouds is a lot more of something than what I have done today.

I don't know if anyone else has made this argument. Probably. But I will, just in case. Fucking off on the Internet, though it may cost a company some productivity, may also increase worker discipline. It almost does with me. Why? When I fuck off on the Internet, I am inevitable lead to reading about and researching stuff. New synthesizers. New records. New pots and pans to replace the ones my roommates have scorched. And when I want something, I start thinking about how much it will cost to get it. I think about this in terms of paychecks, in terms of weeks. I budget, and I budget based on the amount of money I currently earn and I come to the edge of losing my sense of urgency about leaving this place, if only to ensure that I can have that thing that I want. Of course I catch myself. At least in terms of the connection between the need for stuff and the fact that I don't need to stay at this particular job in order to feed that need. As for the need itself...

I used to think, right around the time when I first ran into Marx, that there was some power that could be brought to bear via consumerism against capital. That buying smart was some kind of subversion of the wastefulness of consumer society. That buying smart on a grand scale would slowly but surely weed out the companies that poison us, the companies that compensate their workers unfairly, etc. Perhaps I could ascribe that view to the fact that, as an eighteen year old who had just moved to New York (I was back in DC six months later), I was having a hard time reconciling my politics with the vast and, honestly, exciting expanse of New York's commercial landscape. I was supporting myself for the first time and suddenly there was all of this stuff to buy, some of it necessary, even. But I lost those illusions quickly.

The ideal of the educated consumer is not an ideal subversive to capitalism, but rather its apotheosis. To be an educated consumer is to ascribe even higher value to the act of purchasing. It demands increased participation in the marketplace. While one may think that they are placing a higher burden on companies to produce products of better quality, in reality, it is the consumer that takes on the higher burden. Each purchase becomes almost an existential question. And as more people are compelled to think more about the purchases they make, those thoughts (with a little assistance from marketing and the politics of lifestyle) lead them to divergent places, allowing a more diverse marketplace of products to be supported, and therefore demanding even more research on the part of the consumer.

And yet, here I am, on the Internet, looking at saucepans.

It's obvious that the only solution is to run in the other direction on the treadmill, for that is the only way off.

Not Yet Over

2.22.2011

Good Film News

(1) - Amidst the inspiring actions in the Middle Easy and my own solipsistic solitude, I missed a bit of minor news - apparently, Criterion has partnered with Hulu and eventually a huge portion, if not all, of the Criterion collection will be available for streaming. This might be enough to get me to actually get a TV and one of the many BluRay players that streams Hulu. Selling out? Yes, but with a caveat: Antonioni.

(2) - Criterion just released Senso, a Visconti film that is supposed to be spectacular. I am by no means a film expert; most of my love of Italian cinema, the best national cinema (sorry Godard fans), comes from two sources, Robert Philip Kolker's book The Altering Eye and Martin Scorsese's film My Voyage to Italy. Both of these sources have had me waiting for years, maybe even a decade, for this important piece of the puzzle to finally be available. A teaser from Scorsese's film:

2.20.2011

Vinyl and Anal Do Rhyme

I buy vinyl. But, seemingly unlike a lot of people around my age or younger who do, I don't do it because vinyl is old, or more authentic, or more cool or any of that other shit. I like how it sounds. Or rather, I like how properly cared-for vinyl sounds on a good sound system. Half of the articles I have read on the "vinyl resurgence" have featured some quote from some dude with a beard, a flannel shirt and horn-rimmed glasses speaking positively of the snap, crackle and pop that emanates from the stereo when a ruined record is being played. Idiots, all. Even with that BA from Haveford or Colby or Oberlin. These are the same people who have now moved on to cassettes, which, unless you are willing to spend $700 on twenty year old used Nakamichi Dragon or something like that (it has a single well, dude - no copying!), sound like crap. I guess the argument for cassette is some sort of nostalgia for a time when discovering, purchasing and listening to music wasn't a process wholly mediated by the Internet. Of course, how do these people discover and purchase and distribute and discuss new music on cassette? WWW, LOL.

I have to admit though, even after buying vinyl sporadically through my teens and much more frequently through my twenties, that I did not take care of my records as well as I should have. I was uninformed more than lazy. And at least I had a basic brush. But there are better options.

For those of you who have money and/or need to clean records in serious bulk, a vacuum-based machine is a good investment. The best bang-for-the-buck out of the machines I have used is the VPI HW-17. At $1,300, though, well, it's $1,300. If you can afford, good for you. In use, it is much more convenient than the VPI HW-16.5, and much less noisy. I have yet to try the Okki Nokki, which, like the 16.5, costs $550 (you want the dustcover!). Just remember that overusing the vacuum will transfer a static charge back on to your records and will therefore make them magnets for even more dust. Also, remember to clean the "wrong" side of single-sided records. When you play them, any dust that is on the other side will stay on the mat just waiting for the next record to attach itself to.

As for the rest of us, the best option I have found is the Spin Clean. I finally got a chance to use mine for the first time today and I am satisfied with the results. I used distilled water. The cleaning process definitely got a lot of gunk off of the records and there was more detail in the music and less background noise. Not as little as I would have hoped, but my system is certainly not perfect. And that noise was really only annoying at the very beginning of the records I listened to; some noise on that section of the record, before the music even starts, is inevitable though.

In terms of time, it took me about two and a half hours to clean 32 records. Probably next time will be a little bit faster, but not much. The nice thing is, like most people, I keep my records in the same room as my turntable. So that two and a half hours also saw me listening to music while cleaning. I only listened to the cleaned records, of course. The only real concern I had with this machine besides how well it would clean my records is whether the labels would get wet. The answer: sorta. The drying agent in the formula keeps the liquid held into the grooves fairly well, so as the record is rotated, the water stays in the "pressed" part of the record. However, I did wash a 12" that had only around five minutes of music per side, which meant that the "pressed" portion of the record extended only halfway from the outer rim. The grooveless section of the record did not hold the water that got onto it, so some did run towards the label. Additionally, some of the records I washed were single-sided, so on the side with no grooves, water did move about in an uncontrolled fashion. The labels, however, were never soaked. A little diligence in these special situations is needed, but, ultimately, no damage will be done.

Here's where the real "anal" part comes in.

If you are going to start to clean your records, all that they come into contact with should be clean as well. Start with the needle. Get something to clean it. It's cheap. Next, worry about your slip mats. Are they dusty? Shake that shit off. Lastly, there is no point in putting clean records back in dirty inner sleeves. I got 100 of these for $40. They arrived in two days. Unlike most of the "audiophile" sleeves I have dealt with, these were perfectly sized and rigid enough to slide into outer sleeves quite easily. Whatever your cynicism towards anything labeled or branded "audiophile", it still remains true that vinyl records and dirt do not mix. It is also true that regular paper sleeves scuff records, and that most plastic sleeves are a real hassle to put back into outer sleeves, so, to me, the combination of plastic's relative softness compared to paper with paper's rigidity makes perfect sense. Make sure to recycle the replaced sleeves.

The last and perhaps most annoying aspect of this process is that I will not and you should not play any record that has not been through this process. But there is always a silver lining. Anyone who has enough records to be dissuaded by this last statement probably needs to cull their collection a little bit. What better way than to have most of your collection be off-limits to you? It will be easy to decide which are the records you want to get rid of; they are the ones you don't want to expend the effort to clean.

The real reward of finally having all my shit together, both in terms of functionality and care is that I was finally, and I can't believe I actually did it, able to allow myself to open my sealed Canadian first press copy of The Dark Side of the Moon and take a listen. It sounded amazing.

EDIT: Implicit in the above sentence but I should make it explicit... sealed records that you have just opened should be cleaned before playing as well.

Specialization and Politics and Principle

This article at the NYRB is a decent and perhaps typical opinion pieces about the current budget proposals. Something bugs me though. I think that the continuous need to place things within the political narrative is ultimately debilitating. Read the following:
There is some unreservedly good news, however. Obama is proposing substantial public investment. He would increase transportation infrastructure by 60 percent in the next six years, promising that four out of five Americans will have access to rail transport by 2035. (Though such plans continue to face stiff opposition from spend-nothing Republicans, as Florida governor Rick Scott showed in his stunt-like decision this week to return billions of dollars of federal financing that would have paid for high-speed rail in his state.)
Ok. Makes sense doesn't it? Public investment to spur the economy is a good idea. After all, there is plenty of surplus capital being held in private hands that will not be spent until the brains attached to those hands are confident that there will be demand for whatever products and services that capital will create. Of course, with high unemployment and the low availability of credit, there is no reason to be confident that that demand exists. By consuming more and by creating more jobs, public investment can raise demand and get capital flowing again. But while public investment is good, it operates, ultimately, on the same economic principles that private investment does. And, in the same way that unhealthy focus on quarterly reports and stock prices can mask structural problems within a private company, the focus on the immediate growth that comes with large public purchases of raw materials and the hiring of large construction crews can and will occlude thinking about the actual efficacy of the project being undertaken in the first place. While any public investment can create jobs and spur economic growth, the economic sustainability of the project is just as important as the near-term benefits.

It just so happens that my parents now live in Florida after having spent 30 years each working in urban planning. My father worked in the public sector in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and his work focused on standard local land use issues and transportation planning. My mother worked in the private sector, and worked at a firm who was routinely called in to provide feasibility studies assessing the viability of large-scale public expenditures around the country. Her writings on this matter stretch to the thousands of pages, if not more. Both also hold the views typical of liberals in their professions: they are in favor of density, sustainability, public transportation and the reduction of this nation's dependence on the car as a primary means of transportation. Both are also against the high-speed rail project that was proposed for Florida.

Public transportation gains its economic viability via volume. This is especially true of rail. Trains are expensive, maintenance is expensive, and land is expensive. A lot of people have to ride, and have to ride regularly, to ensure a system is breaking even, or at least coming close enough so that few politicians will see continued public investment in the line as wasteful. Public transportation is therefore best built in situations where potential riders are already making a trip, where the market for rail service already exists.

One of the more important lessons of Jane Jacobs' seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities is the need for neighborhoods to have uses that appeal to different people at different points of the day. The dreaded monoculture of suburbia, where uses are highly segregated, can be replicated in cities and that monoculture has the same deadening effect that it does outside of them. The neighborhood around Wall Street was Jacobs' example of a place that had way too much of one type of use (office) at the expense of other types (residential, commercial). It is a bit beyond my scope here to list all the reasons why this diversity is necessary, though a quick drive out into the suburbs of post-crash America should give you some idea. Against that world of now-abandoned strip malls, Jacobs posited tightly-interwoven mixed-use development. Neighborhoods that, through a variety of uses, are able to engage their citizens at all times create better communities, reduce crime, and spread wealth.

Transportation works in the same way. A good transportation system appeals to a lot of different people doing different things at different times. The New York subway system counts among its riders commuters in the morning, tourists and people making business trips during the day, commuters again in the early evening and then people going out for personal reasons (dinner, bad indie music in Brooklyn, heroin, whatever). Although it is an expensive system, one that might not be able to survive financed solely by the fares it collects, nobody could possible doubt the economic benefits it creates. Take away the subways system, and the money gained by not having to fund it would be more than offset by the economic catastrophe that would ensue.

Although the New York City subway system serves local needs and the proposed Florida rail system serves regional ones, the principle is the same: not only must it be used for lots of different types of trips, and at different times, but also on a regular basis. My parents and I do not believe that this will be the case with the Florida project. It may serve some people who have found a cheap flight to Tampa with Orlando as their ultimate destination, and it may serve the occasional person who has friends in one place but lives in the other, but, ultimately, there are not enough trips being made between the two places to justify the expenditure, especially at the expense of other regions in the country, or even in Florida, that may benefit from that money.

While federal spending can be a means of rebuilding the economy by creating demand that can be fulfilled with previously-idle capital, once construction of a project is complete, and the immediate economic benefits have passed, the actual nature of the project, and its long-term viability becomes paramount. If the Florida system were to be built, it seems that there would not be the ridership, and therefore revenue, to maintain the system without that maintenance cost becoming a burden on local budgets. And what a gift that would be to those that reject all public intervention a priori.

2.17.2011

New On The Rolls

Added a few weeks ago, a music blog: Devil Can You Hear Me?
Added today, the new blog from American Stranger: Disaster Notes

N-Joi

2.16.2011

Not Thinking Too Differently

The spiffier the device, the greater the alienation. Via here.

iPads depress me. Most of the people buying them have computers at work. Most of the people buying them have computers at home. Isn't the time in between their only freedom in the day? Obviously, they don't deserve it if they have decided that that time should be occupied with another computer.

2.14.2011

Temporarily...

... and for whatever reason, I don't give a shit about politics right now. It's all getting to be a bit repetitive. Though, obviously, there is a little more to it once you read the actual editorial, the lead-in sentence under the link to this article on the front page of today's New York Times is exhausting: "why do the Obama administration's lawyers continue to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court?".

Among my many weaknesses as a writer and "political commentator" is that I have already come to a conclusion: that Obama is a center-right technocrat, who, while smart, seems to lack intellectual curiosity and a critical perspective that might lead him to solutions to problems outside of the ideologies of official Washington, the most pernicious of which is that "centrism" is a compromise between two extremes, instead of being another "radical" ideology itself, one that presumes that creating any long-lasting solution to any problem that afflicts this nation besides, of course, capitalist accumulation, would be undemocratic (of course, there is no long-term solution for the problems of accumulation, but at least they are trying). That he is slightly less radical than George W. Bush (though now that the budget has been published, this tiny bit of credit is much harder to grant) on domestic issues is cold comfort given his extension of Bush's foreign policy and his continuous attacks on civil liberties. Like Bill Clinton, Obama won his election on a combination of personality and a willingness to claim pragmatic, Republican policy as his own. And like Clinton, Obama's victory will be his alone; little good has and will come to the Democratic party, as, willingly or unwillingly, the gap between them and Republicans will continue to narrow and it will become harder for them to distinguish themselves, except, of course, when they are running against Tea Party candidates, who, even in defeat, will gain the victory of having compelled their Democratic opponents to move further to the right. This problem is compounded by the fact that Obama's administration is absolutely incompetent at apprising the American people of the few decent things that they have done.

It is a bleak conclusion but one which fails and will fail to give any credit for any positive accomplishments, and fails and will fail to draw the subtle distinctions between crappy and almost decent policy that, on a grand scale, seem meaningless, but, on a smaller scale, may matter to the lives of some individuals. But if that is my problem, the problem that the sentence quoted above reveals is even worse: a weird blindness to the general borne of an overindulgence of the particulars. Even if the Times' question is rhetorical, two years into Obama's administration, it is a silly question. But the answer isn't. Simply put, Obama doesn't want to do do what you want him to do, and, more importantly, what you think he wants to do.

If politics were a game, at this point, it would be (American) football, only without the possibility of touchdowns, field goals or punts. In the continuous discussion of what play to call, and how those plays are executed, the impossibility of scoring, of victory, of resolution of any sort, is unaccounted for. If victory is impossible, if neither team will win, then the game is just a distraction and the two teams, regardless of their animus, become de facto conspirators, boasting about the inches they have gained here and there as a way of distracting you from realizing that those inches are insignificant if there is no desitnation towards which they have brought us closer. To argue about Obama's decisions as quaterback of the team with the ball is to be commiserate with said distraction. Why does a football player play football?

It should be obvious to us, who can look back on the struggles for civil liberties that were waged in this country in the twentieth century, that anything good that was ever done was done outside of the political party system. Laws were signed once a significant portion of the populace supported them, and that support came from work not done by Democrats or Republicans, but by people. Legislation tracks changing beliefs; it does not change them.

Even though I will eventually be enticed, probably by the spectacle of the upcoming presidential race, if nothing interesting happens sooner, of going back to my boring link-plus-commentary ways (actually, even this fits that mold), I will be a bit sad about it. Having come to this feeling about politics, and the relationship between the political system and social change, I want to find something outside of it to contribute to. SNCC? CORE? BPP? What are the modern analogues? After living in DC and having worked with a few non-profits, I have no answer, as those groups seemed just as interested in playing cheerleader to the game as anybody else.

2.12.2011

Relationship Optional

My favorite haters are having another party tonight. Come on out and shake your shit in celebration of a holiday always overrated for its typical meaning but underrated for another. I'm not getting or giving any fucking chocolates this year. Maybe you too. I sure as hell didn't last year, maybe you too. But I know ( and knew, quite literally given the dramatic increase in revenues collected when I was bartending professionally) that, with Valentine's day, spring is fucking coming. It is. Until then, come out, shake that shit, lose some weight and gain it back by drinking too much. It's all good.
Tonight:

Soon (sorry it's the wrong mix - am at the mercy of Youtube)!

I Still Think About Music

Though there always seems to be less to write about.

Simon is right to liken the current house music revival to the hip-house era (though I think "The Power" by Snap will probably outlive almost everything created over the last couple of years!). I wish I could just find it inane, but when I really think about it, like everything else I really think about, it become a bit depressing. I can't help but feel like there is some sort of lost opportunity. Wouldn't it have been interesting if a whole slew of Timbaland-like vanguardists suddenly came to terms with the entire history of underground electronic dance music, whether directly or through osmosis (better - history kills)? Their outsider status would ensure that whatever they came up with would not hew to the boundaries that so many of us take for granted. Instead, I get the sense that all of the producers making this music are just arriviste professionals, with no actual connection to any, well, culture, including, say, popular R&B music. They turn out an endless succession of "hits" that have all the plasticity of something modern (though electro has been "new" for the mainstream for a long time now!) without any of the actual capacity to form narrative that the word modern entails. It may seem ludicrous, but I want to get excited by this stuff. I want a reason not to complete my collection of Strictly records, a reason not to save up for another expensive Prescription 12". If Night Slugs is the best answer the underground can come up with (five decent tracks on SIXTEEN 12" releases is not a good ratio for what a few sites called the best label of the last year), well... oh well.

2.10.2011

Time Is Slipping Away

Only ten hours left until the latest, very important and ultra-scientific poll closes. Mystified? Google Lukacs.

Alternately:

Only; ten hours left, until the latest. Very important and. Ultra{scientific} poll: closes? Mys-ti-fied! "Google" (Lukacs?)...

2.03.2011

Cheesy Fuck

Mozzarella.

Anyways, I moved to Brooklyn in the middle of 2008. I had a pair of turntables, a mixer and a pair of speakers. After lots of trials and tribulations, including having to sell the speakers, breaking a tonearm, having a power supply crap out on me, and numerous other issues, half of which involved me carrying my precious turntables onto a bus to ride half an hour only to walk half a mile to the repair shop, finally, today, everything works. I have two working 'tables, a working mixer, speakers, clean needles, a place to put all my records, and a surface on which to place them. It's been a struggle.

Anyways (again with that word!), after all the years of buying records, all the listening, all the ordering, all the traveling, the developed tastes, etc., and, after all hardships of getting things back up and running, what, dear reader(s), did I put on to test the system with and listen to all the way through? What was the first after all that tension? Here it is. I told you. Cheesy fuck I am. And proud of it.

EDIT: Holy fuck I don't even know any of my records. No DJ gigs for another few months.

I know a place...

Feeble Brain Is No Work

This is either the most sarcastic or the most earnest thing I have read from Simon. Regardless, I laughed.

I hope he has a special announcement soon about something regarding words, paper, binding, a new round of answering the same questions over and over again in lots of different cities, etc.

Rosa Luxemburg says...

...no doy.

Still more direct evidence is better than less.

It is good to think before reacting

I bet the first intuition is: fuck Vodafone. But, really, do we want private corporations breaking even more laws in the name of their vision of freedom? Do we need to depend on private corporations to be the arbiters of morality? I say corporations should follow laws. Government should enforce laws. If laws suck, government should change. If government won't change or enforce, fuck government.