December 19th, 2010 § § permalink
[tl;dr: I don’t get Aphex Twin]
This weekend I have been mostly listening guiltily to electronic music. Guiltily, because after 4 years around Berlin I surely ought to either love or hate it. Instead my reaction is puzzlement. Occasional moments of ecstatic comprehension as I find encounter something that moves me. Boredom listening to most of the rest, especially the stompy repetition that seems too dull even to dance along with. And a dull ear which can’t distinguish the two, can’t figure out which genres or properties make for music I like.
Currently listening to Aphex Twin’s drukqs. It communicates largely in a register I don’t understand, mostly avoiding danceable segments or buildup/breakdown.
Still, there’s The track Mt. St Michel is one of the easier to tune into — high-paced tpaping on the beat, and then a bunch of calmer stuff going on in the background.
But it seems nobody else likes/understands this album either, even amidst Aphex Twin fans. Popmatters:
The tunes oscillate between exciting hyperactive beat-happening compositions and tedious exercises in piano practice or can-banging. There seems to be no real content to the album, and the tracks follow no theme or pattern.
[also, I wish I had enough of a technical musical vocabulary to figure out what I’m listening to, and why. Feel horribly handicapped whenever I try to discuss music. Really want a few very old-fashined lessons in musicology]
May 15th, 2010 § § permalink
Douglas Coupland, Generation X. An often uncomfortable book to read, because it’s a good one. Simultaneous identification with, loathing for and jealousy of the characters doesn’t make for a pleasant reading experience.
Like all his books, it’s set in an all-too-real world. The cast are young Americans, raised on marketing and branded aspiration, with every possible gestrue of rejection, independence or individuality already anticipated and commodified by the marketing industry. The plot developments are incidental; the action is in the stories and fantasies of the Generation Xers, mostly of where they find love and beauty within small moments of their lives:
“inspired by my meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous organization, I instigated a policy of storytelling in my own life, a policy of “bedtime stories,” which Dag, Claire and I share among ourselves. It’s simple: we come up with stories and we tell them to each other. The only rule is that we’re not allowed to interrupt, just like in AA, and at the end we’re not allowed to criticize. This noncritical atmosphere works for us because the three of us are so tight assed about revealing our emotions. A clause like this was the only way we could feel secure with each other.”
Coupland’s happy-ever-after endpoint, here as elsewhere, is for this circle of friends to find a shared language, a common aesthetic in their savviness and semi-rejection of the world, and so an ability to share their perfect moments. The problem is that they aren’t really “tight assed about revealing [their] emotions”. Once the storytelling device clicks into place, they’re all able to talk in the style that is Coupland’s trademark, cannily picking apart the brands and marketed aspirations from which they’ve built their inner lives. The emotional fluency isn’t developed over the book; it’s present from the start, as plot device.
Not only is the endpoint present from the start, it’s also deeply unsatisfying in itself. We can’t leave any mark on the world, he seems to be saying, so should content ourselves with occasional brief moments of beauty and communication. This is both accurate, and sufficient reason to fling yourself off the nearest cliff.
December 25th, 2009 § § permalink
The Arabs: A history, by Eugene Rogan, has just been published in hardback. The various reviews present it as an important work, perhaps even as a successor to Hourani’s History of the Arab Peoples — respected, but now somewhat long in the tooth. Hourani was Rogan’s “mentor”, whatever that means, but the younger historian has concentrated mainly on media and historical circumstances, in contrast to Hourani’s excursions into “demography, trading patterns and literature“.
Sadly, the reviews in the Guardian and Telegraph concentrate on the Arabs’ contact and conflict with the West. I’m hoping this is just an artefact of the British newspaper industry, not of a narrow focus in the book itself.