This weeks post is going to be simply a list of my favorite records released this year.

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Bonnie Prince Billy and Matt Sweeny - Superwolf
Deerhoof - Runners Four
LCD Soundsystem - Self-Titled
Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers
Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Antony and The Johnsons - I am a Bird Now
Julius Eastman - Unjust Malaise
Robert Ashley - Celestial Excursions
Architecture in Helsinky - In Case We Die
Artemis Quartet - Ligeti String Quartets 1 & 2
Animal Collective - Feels
Alvin Curran - Inner Cities
Oneida - The Wedding
Mu - Out of Breach (Manchester's Revenge)
Konono No. 1 - Congotronics
Pierre Laurent Aimard - Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit, Carter: Night Fantasies
Broadcast - Tender Buttons
Matthew Herbert - Plat Du Jour
Angel's of Light & Akron/Family - Self-Titled
Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice - XIAO
Buck 65 - Secret House Against the World
Why? - Elephant Eyelash
Edan - Beauty and the Beat

no real order, maybe the most sentimental value closer to the top.
more content next sunday,

A friend told me that my post last week was lame, which is cool because it means he read it, and also not cool because he was right. So I'm going to try this week to make this post not lame for my friend (who is normally, pretty lame), and try and write about something more important. Sleep. I am thinking about sleep because I am tired, but also because of a few instances recently that sparked some thought on sleep and music.
The first instance involved being mesmerized by a baby in my family being danced to sleep listening to various indie-pop albums of mine. The effect of watching this baby fall asleep was itself soporific, almost dreamy. I assume different babies fall asleep to different music, whether that's the baby's taste or the parents, and it was odd that this baby would find my upbeat Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record so sleepy. I was told that it's the repetitious rhythm that does it. Babies find solace in that numbing uniformity of a bounce, or a vibration. Ah, vibration. But this makes me wonder if the baby's ear responds better to the bass - low frequencies with a lot of resonance (because they actually make your body vibrate more) or maybe to the static mid range of a pop song (the warm keyboards, strummed patterns on guitar) or is it the human voice in a pop song, the memory of mom or dad talking (or singing) a child to sleep? This is a question for neurology/developmental psychologists, to be sure, but its also relevant to people making music. What sounds induce sleep?
On my birthday, I went to a spa and had a massage. As tradition goes, massages are accompanied by the most asinine new age jazz/pseudo-pan asian folk bullshit you could imagine. Some Zen dickhead in the 70's decided that the only way to relax was to fetishize asia, ruin jazz, and make all of Southern California believe that Buddhism was about spending too much money to get a rubdown. Regardless, I love massages, but I spend the whole time deconstructing this embarrassing music, or just laughing at it (on the inside). This music does not make me sleep, but it does relax a lot of other people. And maybe the dream of asia, or of a soprano saxophonist with long flowing hair who wears only fine silk and linen is a cultural dream more than a musical one. It's not about what the music really sounds like, its just a sign for the touristic need to get away from the rhythms and images of American waking life.
I think about the long-standing notion of music as trance-enducing as problematic. Good music invigorates, it makes me feel alive and aware, or hyper-aware. It certainly is an altered state, which is where the hypothetical relationship with dreams enters the scene. With dreams you have also the ability to imply night, death, insanity, obsession, sex etc. Orpheus is the perfect symbol of this; one of the possible roots of his name literally means darkness. And Eurydice is that symbol of the eternal dream. Her failed passage out of the underworld hints at our fear that the dream of music is so unreal, so invisible, that it must be seen to be believed; which was her downfall. Ironically, I think this disbelief is what unhinges music from its viscerally real presence and allows you to drift away down the sleep river, to snore in concerts, or whatever. Steve Reich is very specific about making sure that the word trance is used without reference to sleepiness or to lazy listening, he wants his music to be as vital as any. Some minimalist or post-minimalist composers push their luck though, they want attention, but its just so easy to feel like a sleepy baby letting the sounds wash over you, rather than pierce through you, which is how I like to listen and how I would like to be heard.
The problem I have though, is that I started believing deeply in Cageian aesthetics a while ago, and sometimes I have trouble falling asleep because I listen to ambient noises as if they were pieces of music. I don't think that's problem most people have, especially babies, but it's a weird reversal of the question. By in large, I think most people who are aurally sensitive while falling asleep use the same techniques that they always have done, mindless repetition. Repetition of the kind that those ambient noise machines create (the waves, babbling brooks, chirping birds etc) gives me the creeps. Its like disembodied nature, nature on loop, it makes me think of a manufactured future, life on repeat, the machination of sound along with everything else. I'd like to think that babies are more sophisticated than we give them credit for. That their ear is actually interested in the unfolding change of a piece of music, and not its stasis, and that sleep arrives as a result of enchantment not entrancement.
'till next sunday,
I went to the BSO performance on thursday of previously commissioned pieces by the BSO. This was a concert of music entirely from the latter half of the last century, and it ran just over two and a half hours. What? It is difficult to program modernist music for a major symphony at all let alone a long concert of four big (either in length or effect) pieces (Dutilleaux - Sympony no. 2, Stravinsky - Symphony of Psalms, Carter - Boston Concerto, and Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra). How does Levine get away with this? For those who know these pieces or these kind of pieces, this was a dreamy proposition, especially with how smoking good the BSO plays right now regardless of the fact that with this newer music you can tell they are only doing it because they believe in Levine and not because they believe in the pieces. But for those in the audience who come to the Symphony for a dressy, sophisticated 2nd date, or for 19th century nostalgia, or were being dragged by tourism (as was the case with a man behind me who clearly did not want to be there - I knew this because when the Dutilleax started he turned to his wife and said, in earnest, "I should have gotten drunk at the hotel before this"). But the weird thing to me, having gone to a few BSO performance this fall, was that there was a distinct buzz in the room, an almost nervous excitement, before and during the concert. While, previously I got the sense of BSO concerts as haughty, assured, intellectual, and wearing the sort of dressed-down arrogance that New England high culture substitutes for modesty. All of which I actually enjoy, despite being self-conscious of my own fake modesty, if only because it makes concert going seem normal, something you might do after work (or school) and not just on special occasions. But in this case, I sensed a slight bit of scandal, a little "well, this will be interesting...", and a hefty portion of failed attempts to explain just what the hell was going on in the music of Dutilleaux. But the overheard failed attempts with Dutilleaux were more interesting than the safe sentimental slobber that came with the Symphony of Psalms: "Oh I liked the Stravinsky, it was...ravishing, delicate, transcendant, charming etc." I think Levine actually managed to confuse people with the Dutilleaux that started the program. While on the one hand, it was the piece played with the least fervor, the least commitment (probably due to the fact that it's grossly underprogramed and Dutilleaux is so underappreciated in general), on the other it was the most provacative of choices, and in many ways the most radical, musically (and extra-musically) of the bunch. Carter's piece was extremely fresh; intricate pointillistic refrains ricocheting across the orchestra, interspersed with playful, lyrical, sometimes haunting excursions into various smaller 'solo' groupings, and above all exacted with Carter's effervescent lucidity, it all worked with that satisfaction derived from a beautiful machine, or architectural blueprints. But Carter has a long standing relationship with the BSO, and furthermore, he was there at the concert (all 96 years of him), and that always boosts hype. Who knew, or cared, previously that the BSO actually commissioned Dutilleaux's piece? A piece which is for me the most extraordinary exploration of the orchestra in two distinct units (one small and one big) I know of. In it, I think it is possible to find strucutral, compositional solutions to so many problems of composers today who are working on coloristic, timbre experiments. Especially for those who don't want to be like Boulez.
Despite the wonderful shock of Dutilleaux, or as shocking as it might be in jaded old Boston, the concert felt right, it felt contemporary. It felt like these were the pieces that Americans should be playing all the time, and growing to love. In the larger context, Levine's programming is hardly adventurous, especially compared to what goes on in London, but to get a city that is as paradoxically culturally conservative (as compared with its political leaning) to be excited and willing to take Levine's mission on, is a big step.
'till next sunday,


A fairly regular conversation regarding the use and function of the iPod occurred between family over the holiday. At the onset of the conversation, talk centered around the respective merits of types of iPods (video, mini, nano, regular etc.); a perfectly banal, bourgeois thing to talk about especially getting close to Christmas. Soon the question was whether to own an iPod at all, given certain people’s particular habits regarding listening to music. I remained largely silent for most of this, mostly because I was really thinking about why the format for music is of such a crucial importance right now, particularly with regards to portable and transferable digital music, but as well to the dubious vitality of live music, the amorphous identity of concert spaces and the ever broadening personal taste that the speed and ease of digital culture promotes. Why should we care what type of iPod to own, it’s just music, can’t we listen to it any way we want?

Of course, one could make the easy Marxist swipe by condemning each new version of the iPod as simply smart marketing (i.e. stupid buyers falling into a consumer trap). On the other hand, iPod’s are a very real cultural signpost for upper class success. They mean cool (if to be cool is to be rich, fashionable, tech-savvy, and into ‘good music’ which invariably means current pop in all its genres and forms). Furthermore, they allow for a type of listening which is demanded by a vast audience. This type of listening (headphones, the ability to change tracks on a dime, totally unencumbered storage, the ability to view relevant production information, and now to watch videos, store photos etc.) is increasingly the dominant form in America. Chalk it up to on-the-go lifestyle, a voracious appetite for new media, or a decline in interest in other performance norms (specifically that of the virtuoso), it is simply the case that listening to recordings on-the-go using the hippest of robots is what the kids want.

The other response, however, is, well, what if you’re not single, don’t walk or travel alone, don’t like headphones, or just don’t have the money? What if you have kids, or better, babies? So it’s really a sociological point: the fact that the iPod retains the cultural currency that it does is a result of the way people require music in this country (fast, alone, and in short spurts – thank god for the 3 minute song-form). Maybe more people are single, maybe more people have smaller attention spans, and bigger wallets, or listen to downloaded music because it gives you the feeling of control and freedom. The iPod is democratic, it says ‘you only need to listen to me as long as you want and furthermore you can accessorize me!’ What does this mean for music though? If Apple is dominating the format for music, do we, the music-makers, have to kow-tow to the robots? I think yes and no. Yes, if you want to influence middle to upper class youth/single/urban culture. No, if you have other intents (like, writing music longer than 3 minutes, or for the theater, or for space-specific pieces, or for people with babies). Is the CD obsolete? Yes. Does that mean we won’t still listen to CDs as we do LPs and Cassettes? No. Are we headed for personal robots that give us total control over media in all its forms? Totally. Does that say anything about music? Only sociologically, which means, hell no. Music lives in a different space. It operates in a web of influence defined by the infinitely complex relationship between human beings, and their relationship with the universe. If people with iPods want to listen to crappy music, that’s just a demographic actuality. But that crappy music, however brief its life may be, has a immutable uniqueness that transcends sociological determination. In the end, its important how we listen to music, but that represents only a small portion of the larger event called music. And it seems almost silly to have to say that what’s really special about that event is the music itself, not the apparatus.
'till next sunday,

I’m making a mad dash to finish a draft of a piece today so unfortunately (or fortunately) this week’s post will be considerably less long-winded than the last two and a mish-mash of a number of diddlies (footnote: Barnes Boffey).

1) For dorks only: the fundamental pitches of the chord that is sounded in my Chinese chiming/meditation balls are those of whole tone scale beginning on C# with A and D thrown in for fun. I’m not sure if this is standard but it’s a point for us atonalists who claim that dissonance and consonance are a received notion that is historically/culturally limited.

2) According to Ralph Ellison (of Invisible Man fame) the mockingbird is the most likely ‘songbird’ analogue to Charlie Parker (and I imagine to the lineage of altos that he birthed from Coltrane to Ornette to Braxton). Like the mockingbird “his [Parker’s] playing was characterized by velocity, by long-continued successions of notes and phrases, by swoops, bleats, echoes, rapidly repeated bebops – I mean rebopped bebops – by mocking mimicry of other jazzmen’s styles, and by interpolations of motifs from extraneous melodies, all of which added up to a dazzling display of wit, satire, burlesque and pathos. Further, he was as expert at issuing his improvisations from the dense brush as from the extreme treetops of the harmonic landscape.” This is such a great description, listen to some Charlie Parker and see what I mean.

3) In thinking about birds I came across a great quote from Morton Feldman talking about Messiaen (who was obsessed with bird calls and transcribed them and put them in his music etc.): he writes “Messiaen is not an orchestrator. That’s not orchestration you hear, I don’t know what the hell it is. It’s Disney, it’s Disneyland. It’s Technicolor, you know from the forties when it first came out, like a Doris Day movie, those crazy colors, you know how crazy people look in the old Technicolor, that’s Messiaen, just something is wrong someplace.” Tangentially, I think that the compositional interest in birds that bridges from Jazz and the Blues to the avant-garde (especially wind instrument and choral music) and back, stems from a reorientation towards the voice, both the human and broadly. Part of the break down of triadic tonality, is a liberating of individual voices from foreground and background hierarchy and rules of motion. The human or animal voice has an diversity of sound production so profoundly engaging, why cage a beautiful bird?

4) Here’s a question that came up at a concert last night: why don’t we ‘roast’ our composers as much as we do our comedians, celebrities, and political figures? Imagine a concert of music, written by friends of the composer, solely making fun of that composer’s music. The concert was great, but I was thinking how fun it would be to celebrate a composer by making bad exaggerated copies of their music. I’m talking about parody (but not direct like Weird Al, more like a distorted, debilitated, smart-ass send up).
Ashley Simpson is doing that for every good pop star in history...and Madonna’s doing it for herself!
‘till next Sunday,

I had it in mind to write a more literary story about this topic, and I might still, but for now I’ll keep to my semi-coherent rambling.
A few days ago I watched my white 1990 Jeep Cherokee get hauled off to be stripped and demolished. It overheated twice in the last few months, the most recent of which was indicative of an engine problem which was simply too expensive to fix on a 15 year old car. The Jeep went the way of many good, trusty cars (the same way, I suppose, of people); that is, all of a sudden, everything just started breaking. What was surprising was not that the car was falling apart, by all accounts it was a miracle it lasted as long as it did considering the kind of aggressively negligent relationship I had with it. The shock, rather, was how deeply emotional it was to say goodbye to it. Before they took it away, I rummaged through the conspicuously odorous heaps that stuffed, wormed, festooned, and perhaps populated the interior of the car. I realized that with every stray scrap, every cassette tape, every pair of 3 dollar sunglasses, even all the nickels and dimes, I was accessing a wide stream of memories, some significant, others delicately ordinarily. All this stuff, the lost and found of the last 4 years, got me thinking about how the car, raised to symbolic stature, commands a cultural identity so private, so personal, yet so endemic to American-ness, to masculinity, to the mode our cultural interaction, to our social psychology, our identity, and more relevantly to this post (which will now get to the point), to music.
As a performance space, cars are so beautifully well-suited to listening to music. Acoustically, they provide a happy medium between headphones and your living room or bedroom, or studio. Assuming your car produces about half the diversity of ambient sounds that mine did before it died, the car stereo provides a highly intimate field of aural perception. Of course, when you ride in cars that clank, shudder, squeak, whimper, buzz, and growl, as mine did, or even if you like driving with the windows down (a cliché, but still a wonderful cultural metaphor), you would know that more than any other musical venue, including clubs of any kind, the car encourages us to insert ambient sounds into the fabric of the music itself. Even in the theater, opera, or ballet, where the aural integrates with the visual, ambient sounds are to be correctly excluded from the art. There is so much music that sounds right at home with the whirring of a freeway, or the impatient buzz in a traffic jam. Moreover, when we watch the scenery of a road slip past, when we design abstract patterns in the tapestry of traffic, or invent histories of abandoned buildings, and anonymous people in familiar towns, or when we wait patiently for the right time to lean in for a kiss; the accompaniment of the right music (no matter what kind it is) is what makes that moment resonate, it's what makes life filmic, breathes emotion into deadened objects, and penetrates a vast pool of memory, hope, love, despair, regret, giddiness, nostalgia, or any depth of feeling so profound that it enters a separate plane of consciousness.
I think, although there are so many other reasons, that cars are able to make these experiences possible because despite having an obvious socially functional role (transportation), the physical experience of car travel is quite removed from the urban, suburban, rural, natural context. The car can be an imaginary space. It holds an a-historical air, like the concert hall, the movie theater, the gallery, the refrigerator. It is merely a moving container. But the fact that it moves, more importantly that it moves us, gives it the kind of openness to suggestion, the highly charged but ambiguous aura that primes a person for musicality. This, together with the fact that it forces us to sit in a way in which is fundamentally antisocial (illuminating, rich, and revelatory car conversations notwithstanding) creates a space rife with possibility, and yet comfortable enough not to force the point (as concert spaces often do to the uninitiated). In fact, what makes great conversations in the car so great may just be the fact that you don’t have to address another person head on, and if you’re driving it’s downright dangerous trying to look someone in the eye. It is precisely that midpoint between a performance-like space, and a space that is normalized as an everyday, functional exercise that gives a car the atmosphere that seems to say; “the pressure is off, we’re safe, let’s talk, let’s think, let’s listen.” To be true, cars and driving in general can also invoke the kind of deathly boredom, impatience, annoyance, and even anger that analogizes well into the kind of station-surfing ADD overload, that makes you feel like all music is terrifyingly homogenous, completely useless, and pathetically artificial. This is the point at which, we should turn off the music, pull over the car at the nearest gas station, buy a coke and eat a hamburger (unless you’re not American, don’t own a car, don’t drink caffeine, or don’t eat meat, or don’t like listening to music in cars at all, in which case, go driving with someone whose music taste you admire).
‘till next Sunday,
This is my first blog. I am jumping onto the blogwagon with the intent to write about music every sunday. This is as much an excercise for me as it is the desire to begin to share ideas about music in a public manner. But as projects go, who knows what this will turn into. It is my hope that some of this will be lucid, profound, engaging, and maybe read by someone sometime. If it is none of these things, then I am no worse off, and no one would have read it anyway. Here goes nothing:

Sunday is for sounds. I debated about whether to use the word 'sounds' in the title of the blog. I thought of 'sunday is for song' ; too cute, and I want to read broadly beyond the stylistic implications of the word 'song' here. Oddly, the word 'sounds' seems to have its own limitations. What do we mean when we say "I'm listening to the sound" of something - a piece, an object, a person, a painting, a memory? This is neither a blog about sound art in any of its permutations, nor is it about acoustic ecology or cultural anthropology, or anything else in particular. In all the vastness of implication that sound, or the notion of 'sound', can take part in, and that the potential emergence of what can be known as music can be based on (for music can never, ever, only be about sound, or what we try to conceptually partition as sound), any attempt to employ a single word to represent this enormity will necessarily lose value as it careens toward a particularity of sound - in better words, as it means certain things to certain people. I chose the word that seems (historically of course) most open ended (i.e. least judgemental) to the spectrum of musical/acoustical possibility. That said, why sunday?
Sunday is a good day for music. It is a day that bulges with suggestion. It can mean anything. In my cultural background, among many other things, sunday is for resting, for church, for movies, for making phone calls to family or friends you didn't call during the week. Sunday is for reading, for sleeping, for eating, for enjoying those things which are merely details during a weekday grind. For students, of which I am still one, sunday brings the harsh reality of deadlines, guilty consciences, and hangovers together with a bursting sense of nostalgia, loneliness, sentimentality, aesthetic contemplation, and general laziness. But beyond that and more broadly, sunday has been reserved in one way or another as a punctuation, a day unlike any another, sandwiched, elevated, and swept clean of much of the branded, grammatical ambition of a monday or wednesday. Sundays seem to lie just outside of language, somewhere between a concept and the complete absence of a concept. This place, the ambiguity, the suggestiveness, the unexplainable (disfunctional) but highly emotional importance put on its reservation from regularity is so akin to the experience of a profound musical event that it seemed a good day to spend on music. To waste a little time outside normal time, or thinking about time as it bends and twirls and dances during a piece of music, is just what a sunday is good for. So listen. Think about sound, about its familiarity, its complexity, about how it is part of something but not anything itself, about how it gets pieced together to make music, and about how music gets pieced together in your body. And then take a break and eat food.
'till next sunday,