Notes on Composing

  1. If I go to sleep thinking “what a load of shit, what a wasted evening,” I can usually count on waking up the next morning loving last night’s work. (The opposite is also true).
  2. If I’m doing it as a work-for-hire, and thereby giving up the copyright, there’s a good chance it’ll be my finest work ever. (The opposite is also true).
  3. If I’m writing symphonies over breakfast and conducting them with my spoon–there’s a good chance that I’m cluelessly stealing from something I heard too many times as a reference track two years ago. (i.e., that time I stole an entire guitar solo from Duran Duran and didn’t know it until years later).
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Why music?

The last two evenings I’ve spent trying to come up with something, anything, that moved me on the piano. Nothing. I keep running into the same difficulties I’ve faced for years–everything sounds sterile and false. I don’t believe it myself.

I wrote a bunch of tunes about girls back in 2007. It was a four month period during which I was extremely prolific. I’m trying to examine what made that possible.

First, the period began directly as I rose from my little deathbed. I like to say that my brilliance came about organically, spontaneously. It didn’t. I needed money to pay off my rising debt for medication, so I signed up to one of these awful websites that creatives use as prostitution grounds, Guru.com — and agreed to write a song in the style of Elvis for god knows what, some businessman in Florida who needed it for a presentation. I did it for $100, which, after fees meant I received about $80. It was the first money I’d ever received for writing music. The next thing I composed was a piano solo–improv, as I’d done when I was younger. I recorded an elaboration of a theme from the piano solo, with lyrics about my first (and only) girlfriend. It was that piece that Nathalie loved, and she encouraged me to make another one. I did…and that was where the energy began.

That seems so simple. I wasn’t creative, and then after the strenuous process of writing three songs I was a genius. It felt like more than that. And what could I have written about this one girl I’d dated, who was pretty awful no matter how you look at it. It was perhaps firstly the desperation I felt, that my life was over and there was nothing else but the past from which to draw inspiration. Unexpectedly, I healed.

Now, I hadn’t been reading during this time. Sometimes I’d put in a few minutes here or there of some art history or a few lines of Henry Miller. I would mostly listen to CS Lewis on tape, watch a cartoon or two every night, and watch films in fifteen minute increments. I just didn’t have the ability to concentrate on things, as it was too physically painful…so most of my time was spent staring out the window from my bed. That’s not inspiring. What it leads back to is self-reflection.

But another thing, I should note, is that I also had amnesia from the medication. So it’s not like I spent all my time in deep thought over my past. The truth is that I began this blog during this period for that very reason–I was trying to do anything I could to grasp thoughts. So…I’m brought back to the only answer I’ve had. It was brought on by desperation.

And then, as soon as I healed, I did what anyone in my situation would do–chase girls and booze. And heartbreak by heartbreak I wrote songs. The music I listened to wasn’t particularly inspiring…it was mostly cute stuff. I drew out the most twisted elements of it for inspiration.

So…while I sat down convinced that perhaps the reason I’m no longer creative is because I’m uncultured, it would seem that at my most creative I mostly spent my time with cartoons, [ends here]

sing softly to me: why crooning is a revolution

I want to describe to you a revolution you’ve never cared about.

Lucy turned me on to ∆ (Alt-J). At first I was only listening because she’d given it to me, but by the fourth time through I’d actually come to find it fascinating. I won’t go into details about the music itself, but on the way home from Target, just having bought my first batch of krill oil pills, and completely terrified of taking one, one of their songs ended up playing, and I began thinking about the singer’s voice. And this is where it led me:

I don’t see how a review can skip over the singer’s voice. Period. But unless you’re hanging out on sites like gearslutz.com, which I usually am, people who write about music tend to stick to a few nondescript adjectives, as if they’re reviewing wine. It’s next to impossible to find mentions about the Beach Boys harmonies, for instance, as if they just happened  naturally. People like words like “urgent” or “introspective” or “weak” to describe vocals in their entirety. I won’t even try. Alt-J’s singer has a weird voice–but it’s intentional, because while it generally bears comparison to Jethro Tull

he at times moves into more of a Peabo Bryson–and all within a single line. I can’t understand a single word he says. It’s like everything I’ve ever been criticized for all in one award-winning album. Maybe I just need to listen to other people less?

But here’s what I find most exhilarating about it: I connect to the singer. Why? I think it’s his voice. The voice is nearly inhuman, but it’s not robotic, it’s not demented, it’s possible to identify with the voice without attaching it to a face, without attaching it to a person. The lyrics are quite the same. Somehow the whole package defies individuality, and thus becomes universal to me. George Michael’s music will always be George Michael the person, the Police is always Sting, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is always Karen O. But this? This might be the whole universe singing to you.

But we take this for granted.

Many of the earliest popular music recordings were of, of course, not just popular songs, but of popular singers of the day. For the past year or so I’ve been listening to a lot of pop music from the 1920s, and a little bit from before then. The earliest that I’ve come across falls into two categories: first, songs made for groups to sing; second, song made for vaudeville stars. What both have in common is that the amplification is human. A group can sing loud, so in recordings of drinking songs, everyone can sing along. 

As for vaudeville stars, think Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson, they had to be heard, so they had to sing loud. Belting, it what it’s called.

Live amplification wasn’t possible yet, so “belting” out songs made complete sense. And here’s the revolutionary bit, because as always, technology dictates art: one day somebody realized that the audience at a performance is completely different than the audience that is a microphone. You can sing quietly, up close, to a microphone, and your voice can reproduced much louder. This is obvious to us now–but at the time it was completely new. And that’s why Bing Crosby falls into the category of “crooner”–because he wasn’t a belter. Here’s how Rudy Vallee dealt with a quiet voice and loud performances: with a self-made megaphone.

And this is where you begin to find the personality in vocals. That may even be why Rudy Vallee was the first of the teen-pop idols that girls would scream and faint over. Here, finally, was the voice of someone you might here beside you in bed, not from ten blocks away. “Whispering” Jack Smith fell into this category. And not entirely by choice: he couldn’t sing very loud because of the lingering effects of poison gas from World War I.

Think about that. You go into WWI with soldiers marching and singing “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” …and you emerge from WWI with Whispering Jack Smith, in desperate need of a microphone, often not even singing his words.

And that is, in music, from what I can tell, the birth of a vocal personality, the movement from “song” to “singer.” No longer is it just the piece of sheet music you buy and play after dinner with your family, it’s now the sound of Rudy Vallee singing to you alone. The sound of someone’s voice intimately. When Ke$ha wants to be sexy, she doesn’t belt, she croons.  Seriously, listen to what she does with her voice that just can’t be pulled off loud.

or, how Helen Merrill moves seamlessly between soft and loud, and the effect being the difference between any ol’ chorus girl, and the way you feel about Doris Day when you’re on ecstasy:

The truth is, nearly everyone sings beautifully when singing softly. There’s something so natural about it, so intimate, so sweet.

The point is, without a microphones, where would we be? We wouldn’t have Alt-J because we couldn’t capture vocals in a way that they creep into you, and you must listen.

Kenny Loggins: “Heart to Heart” (1982)

“Halfway” is relative ’round here. If you broke in right now, you’d note, firstly, that I must have run out of the house halfway through doing my laundry. I did. And this and that are halfway from one place to another, but I don’t want to leave them in my car overnight, or just forgot them, and so I’m sitting beside a Casio keyboard from around 1992. I know this is true because I used it in 5th grade during show and tell to teach the class how simple it was to play Ace of Base. Pre-programmed drum beat. Pre-recorded backing track controlled by left hand. Melody on the right. Everything but the history as a neo-nazi.

But it was just a toy. It wasn’t at all like my piano. Until 1996, which, while only four years later, is about a million years when you’re that age. What happened was I decided to start my first band, based on John Lennon’s comment that the Beatles “were just four guys who decided to start a band.” What he didn’t mention was that they also knew how to play instruments. No matter. I got the neighborhood kids together and Doug wrote the first song, “Playing With My Puppy” — entirely literal — about how all the time he spends with his girlfriend is taking him away from time with his dog. There’s a lot of wisdom in that concept.

I was talking with my girl. Drinking coffee with my girl. But the only thing I was not doing was playing with my puppy. I see her sad eyes every day. I want to be with her night and day. I don’t have a choice between my job and my girl, I want to live in a dream world. Playing with my puppy.

There’s more lyrics than that, but those are all I can remember offhand. It should be noted that Doug was 9 years old when he wrote these. But since his parents let him watch R movies he had a better grasp on reality than the rest of us. Anyway, we recorded it and it completely sucked. I spent some days reconsidering the whole plan…we didn’t sound anything like the Beatles! And then I brought the group together again for a second try, and had a revelation. This time I produced the track myself, changing the structure, adding multiple vocal parts, drums, guitar…it was brilliant. Mostly it was brilliant because without knowing anything about songwriting I knew to add the middle eight. And even if the song sucks, anyone would listen to it and recognize that it’s structurally perfect.

Anyway, the drums were played on this keyboard. And a year later, much more mature, I’d taught Brian how to play drums, we were now a duo, I’d accidentally scratched the paint off Doug’s guitar when he let me borrow it one night, so I quickly sold it on eBay for twice the amount he’d paid for it and “bought” it off him, pocketing the difference. Business! But no guitarist anymore. Those were, in retrospect, perhaps the happiest days of my life. Because everything was simple, and everything felt possible, and all life was ahead of us, all our dreams might still come true.

Fast forward a few years and you know that your next relationship is probably the one during which you need to pop a few kids out because you’re already slated to be the oldest father in the kindergarten class.

But, back then we didn’t even know we could catch flying tits on the scrambled porn channels.

I was at a bar mitzvah party and won some contest, the prize being the single “Character Zero” by the band Phish. I remember sitting at one of the long tables, feeling very grown up, clutching my prize, wondering what in the world it might sound like…CD’s were very hard to come by…well, money was hard to come by. I’d selected it because Emily Eaton, my first real crush on a woman, a 12 year old woman whose passions included the film Clueless, “going out” with boys, and the Beatles, had told me about drugs and Phish. I wanted to impress her. So, Phish.

The song begins with some acoustic bit, and then a bum-bum-bum-bum bum-bum-bum-bum leading into the main song. My mind was blown. I’d never heard anything like this intro before. It doesn’t take much.

Zipping across the bridge on the way to the studio, this Kenny Loggins song began to play. I knew I owned a copy of his hits, but I hadn’t listened to much of them except the ones I’d known in the first place. But it blew my mind. Here’s what goes through my mind:

That initial bass/piano run. What the fuck is that? How can the drums be so sparse and hi-hat do so much since bossa nova? The pre-chorus, still sparse, what’s the pad under his vocals? The chorus…what the fuck! the bass doesn’t even play anything but accents! And is that Michael what’s-his-face singing harmony? No. Way. Kenny can sing soulful like this? Oh shit! In the pre-chorus listen to how he’s using the divisions between vocal registers artfully! I’ve gotta hear that again. Brilliant. And what’s that chord progression of the last four chords before the chorus? A 2-5-1’s dropped in there, hot damn! First note of sax solo–is Kenny growling underneath it? The sax is too smooth to make that sound. “For-ev-er” phrasing while moving down the melody is really tough! 

And then I hit repeat. About ten times.

At the studio for the first time in ages to actually work on music. Not to be creative. But to force myself there for my new schedule. Just to be there. As far as creativity goes, Nathalie asked me to write an English “story” to go along with her new photograph. I wrote it over the course of an hour and…surprised myself. I’ve still got my style. I can still hold command over my language. She may or may not use it, translating it to the French may prove impossible, though I learned how to use commas from Proust. But I never explained what I was getting at. She takes a photograph of a woman and all I can focus on is the wallpaper. An hour practicing something I’d seen a drummer doing–keeping the rhythm of the high-hat with his foot the moment his hand isn’t there anymore. And then monkeying with strange chords on a Wurli, chords that are mostly great for color, a la Kenny Loggins, but useless to put a melody over. Hours developing some tracks that lead me to believe I’ve gotten better with time, tracks that will inevitably sound muddy next time I sit down there, and fall apart when I try to make them better. But, Kenny Loggins drove me home, everyone is standing at the Chinatown bus station, just like they did before all the Chinatown bus accidents, and I bought some new milk.

Weezer; Henry Miller: Sexus (1950)

Chapter 1:

Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.

There’s a few entries I’ve hidden for this or that reason, so there will be some inconsistencies here and there. I’m beginning to get my habits together again. I had the bookshelves organized by color–but I couldn’t handle it. They needed to return to organization by genre, time period, subject. I can find what I’m looking for again. Michael says I have a bachelor’s fridge now. The two peaches on the countertop are growing soft. I eat them over the sink, I wash them first, and then rip them in half to see what they look like, am careful to chew off and spit out ugly parts. I bought some new soap, some new razors. I bought a new shirt. I ironed my clothes for the week.

Friday night Michael and I got completely trashed at the old hit-or-miss Mint, thanks to that old bartender who seems incapable of making it beyond the first ingredient in any recipe. Sidecar? A glass of brandy. Manhattan? A glass of whiskey. We stumbled home late, I made him up a bed on the floor and we passed out, the thunderstorm knocked out the power a few hours later and I woke up nauseated and unhappy, wondering how in the world I’d manage to be up at 730. But, I sprang out of bed like a puppy, Michael bolted while I showered, and after a quick stop at the drug store for some immodium and ginger ale, Charlie and I were on the road by 830, heading to DC for the concert of the century: Weezer. Free. Sponsored by Microsoft to celebrate the opening of their new store. We listened to Bill Hicks’s Arizona Bay, and all the spoken-word bits of The Who’s Life With The Moons on the way up.

And then the Weezer show. At which Microsoft gave us water and yo-yo’s while we stood in line. Food once we got into the theater. A seat in the fourth row center. Two hours of a DJ and prizes (we didn’t win). And a Weezer concert. I only know their hits…so they played every song I’ve ever heard by them. A great show. I was inspired to become a guitarist.

Ke$ha – Frenzy

If you weren’t aware, I’ve put myself on a strict no-reading diet for nearly half a year now, and you can imagine that such a thing is terribly painful to me as I derive so much pleasure from sitting around discussing Bataille in coffee shops and trying to be the coolest person in the room. I’m not sure how kidding I am! But for certain, within these past six months is when I’ve finally started really growing to find students and professors fairly disgusting things–probably because I have a job. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been writing about reading, and although I’ve continued to watch films, doing so has been entirely for the purpose of entertaining me during meals, and my strict no-reading diet is also a no-writing diet except for matters of business. So that’s been that. I have, however, been making quite an effort to listen to as much music as possible, and those songs that strike me I note, and have begun posting them on a different blog, which I’ve decided to move over here.

And I think I’ve finally torn down most of the walls I’d put up around music–I mean, yeah, pretty much everyone likes Britney’s “Toxic”–because while it’s a great pop song, it’s also a brilliant arrangement, so everyone is happy. But even people who say they like pop seem to choke at the mention of Justin Bieber. So I listened to his album. And “U Smile” is kinda one of my favorite songs now–I think it’s catchy and clever and pretty. But you want to know what’s pretty much my favorite song of all right now? This one. Words cannot describe how entirely perfect it is. Why it’s only a bonus track, who fucking knows, because I think it’s more solid than any other track on the album, even “Tik Tok”–seriously. Can you imagine if we took her cue moving forward, stripping arrangements down and forcing us to really focus on vocals like this? A lot of the past five years has been about really piling on the lushness, which I must admit I love, the lushness that’s difficult to tear apart because so much of it is built on delays and reverbs, infinite rooms–and what if you simply cut away just enough to leave an intriguing arrangement? I really can’t get enough of this song and I hope I never do.

George Michael vs. Beyonce

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a little bit in love with George Michael right now. I began voice lessons this week–what’s difficult about it all is the difference between ‘proper’ and what really works for me. For example, I’m learning to breathe through my nose. But I love the sound of in inhalations through one’s mouth–it’s a sexy sort of thing and I think ties in with the sounds of the mechanical aspects of the piano, of the fingers sliding against the guitar strings when changing positions, even the buzz of bass strings, I love things that remind us of the humanity behind the music, I mean, I often love mistakes, I love the way Miles Davis does something like ghost-notes in his mis-hitting notes that in anyone else would probably be a mistake, but with him and his classical background, we have to assume is intentional, or else we’re doubting his genius. Charlie Parker against the early Coltrane, both have their explosions, Coltrane even borrows suspiciously from Parker’s patterns, yet Coltrane seems somehow so precise, Parker seems almost racing himself with his head turned to see if he’s still in the lead, and when he stumbles, he really fucking stumbles (listen to Chi-Chi take 3, when they play the head at the end this is most apparent); I don’t know how I feel about Parker fucking up, the careless sound of it, is what I mean. I like dirt, but I like it to be dirty precisely where one is expecting it to be dirty, like that post-sex-day-in-bed sort of feeling, you’re simply covered in everything you’d expect to be covered in, regardless of how the performance went, and it’s delightful, and it’s that which makes Brandenberg Concerto no. 2 difficult to listen to while naked, and James Gang’s ‘Funk #49’ something that makes it difficult, at the very least, to keep one’s shirt on. I love these noises. But now I’m being asked to stop making them. Listen to Head Automatica’s ‘Beating Hearts Baby’ and you’ll hear they even dub these inhalations in to make them better. But…I want to sing like George Michael. I’m officially a high tenor. James Taylor is a tenor. I already knew I could sing anything James Taylor could, that at all times I can hit every note on a full three octaves, and on occassion, more than that. I love you, George Michael, I love you. But…there’s this one thing about you that bothers me:

On ‘Wake Me Up’ he jumps the word ‘up’ fairly consistently, sometimes worse than others. I don’t know if it’s intentional. Being ‘in the pocket’ is somehow very important in music, which means being a little behind the beat, perhaps it indicates a self-assurance, like crossing the street without looking, but George Michael is so far out of the pocket that it hurts my ears. In comparison, there’s Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’ which at first I believed had a chorus in which she was simply off beat, or that someone had lined it up wrong. I don’t know if I can contribute the serious in-the-pocketness to her own vocal chops or if it’s just somebody moving everything over a little to the right on the computer. But I don’t care. One of them has something that screams out sex to me, even if it’s some dumb lyrics about being in love; the other one is about…well, being sad about not going dancing, and this is the guy who more or less brought rap to England, or made rap British, or something like that. I just don’t know if I can deal with it much longer without rationalizing it, and I’m trying really fucking hard.

And I finished something by Moliere today so I haven’t only been dicking around, I’ve also been reading a little bit. So fuck off.

Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

Some days are easier than others, this past week has been the easiest so far.

Michael and I are in hell trying to to find something in the music world that we can really obsess over for more than a few weeks. I spent nearly three months all about the Strokes, replaced them with Nerina Pallot, then Sia, and lately have been listening to the same two tracks by Mylene Farmer and Lorie (I know, I know, I know) and otherwise have been memorizing Paul Desmond solos. And then I finally got my hands on this one. The first time I heard Lily Allen I nearly died, back in 2006 on MySpace, I couldn’t believe anything could be so wonderful. I got over it, I can’t even remember her first singles anymore…but I know they got tiresome, predictable, a little empty. Not this.

First, I’m a big fan of Bird and the Bee, but Lily Allen has something honest about her that is generally unheard of, because her idea of romance is about as real as it gets. Love isn’t really much more than television, boring conversations, traffic jams, shitty food, napping alone… but it’s kinda wonderful. Half the songs on this album don’t do it for me, the lyrics are the same as on the first album, the tunes don’t seem to have much love put into them. The other half are some of the most brilliant, optimistic, beautiful things I’ve ever known. And her voice, her voice has matured, it has such nuance, even in a single line she evokes so much of what I believe in. She helps me to believe in love.

And today I need it.

Dijon pt 4: my theories concerning possessive contractions, marriage, feminism, racism, the relevance of hexameter, sex and music, and why jazz could have only come from America.

chouetteI think when I first began speaking French with C, I was trying to suppress how silly I felt by being a bit dramatic about it all, so that when I’d say oui (mostly they don’t say oui, but instead say what I think is spelled ouais) I’d shake one finger in the air and say “ah, oui!” while nodding with an expression of knowing a secret. And because she and S found this funny they would do it too, or repeat it after me, to the point that it’s now habit for me, and I’ve been told a few times that people like when I do it and appreciate it. ‘Appreciate’ may be a word that’s confused in translation. But it’s sometimes difficult to remember that while I take a word and translate it into English before comprehending it (generally—although I’ve been finding that I speak many words without translating now), they do not. This is their language, it’s what their thoughts comprise, it’s their feelings and their dreams, it’s how they cry out in pain and pleasure, and I think that’s something one should not forget or mistake the value of, that ‘oui’ to them is not ‘yes’ to us, it’s not the same word in a different language, it’s a different word with a similar meaning.

And I don’t know if I mean all words are like this, but I think it may be significant that ‘Stephen’s chair’ (which may once have been ‘Stephen his chair’—and if French is any indication of how different rules of grammar may be [from what I can figure, in French the gender of the object determines the gender of the article or pronoun used before it, so that ‘this is Jane and this is her father’ would be translated to French and then literally to English is ‘this is Jane and this is his father.’] it’s been argued that using << ‘s >> to show possession could not have resulted from a contraction with the word ‘his’ because why do we say ‘Jane’s book’ and not ‘Jane’r book’? Perhaps I’d be correct in guessing that in English, where we still, despite the small battles being won by feminists on this front, persist in assuming anything whose gender is unknown is masculine [for instance, when using ‘one’ as the subject, unless otherwise obvious, the correct pronouns to use are all masculine] at one point assumed, grammatically, that the gender of any and all objects, regardless of whether it has an additional gender in reality, was masculine.

Feminists say ‘ah, look at this patriarchal society, men get paid more and don’t have stereotypes against them and even the word ‘woman’ has the word ‘man’ in it, as if we’re a modified man’ and then begin making all sorts of alterations to language, such as changing fireman and firewoman into firepersons while deciding that ‘actress’ and ‘Jewess’ should be done away with entirely in favor of their masculine counterparts. Sometimes they even spell women with letters to eliminate the ‘man’ portion, thus women becomes wimyn or something to that effect. Yet, these feminists still use the masculine contractions—I won’t be convinced of anyone’s convictions, no matter how many balls are crushed along the way, until every object in the English language is given a gender and contractions are dealt out accordingly. There you go, feminists, if you want to show someone you’re serious and want to do it without merely adopting the most repugnant habits of the worst sorts of men, go reinvent the fucking dictionary. And to everyone convinced that marriage is something between a man and a woman, I suggest you go research the origins of the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ and conclude by retracting women’s right to vote, okay, okay, I mean retracting all women’s natural and basic rights, returning them to the status of property, because from what I can tell, if you’re playing by the dictionary, then you’re dealing with terms and concepts from dead languages and societies that understood magic better than you understand how to spell your own name.

Let me spell this out as I understand it: Man meant man. Wife meant woman. Husband meant a married man in relation to his wife, that is, his woman, coming from the words ‘house’ and ‘bóndi’ (‘occupier and tiller of soil’ according to the OED—and on its suggestions I’m also guessing that the word ‘bind’ probably originates in the proto-indo-european language) and unless I’m terribly mistaken I think it’s therefore obvious that the word husband is a word produced by an agrarian society, that without the creation of the concept of property, there is no marriage, and marriage is not so much the binding of two things together as the binding of one beneath another. So, there you go, fuck off, conservatives! Say what you mean, and don’t try to qualify it with casuistries you heard from O’Reilly; you can all go to hell with the liberals! No, actually, you can all go to hell, just leave me the chefs and the prostitutes. And to show how little you mean to me, I’m not even going to close whatever parentheses and brackets I may or may not have left open, because you’re not even worth my going back to figure it out! As I once heard, if you were on fire, you would not be worth my piss.

Oh, and by the way, jazz and its emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beats is, it seems to me, is a reflection of the iambs that are what make up our English speech patterns. Translations of ancient Greek epic poetry are difficult because we don’t have a language that adapts to its patterns of dactyls. If they’d taught us that in school we’d have less trouble understanding why we have to learn these fucking terms in the first place. Who cares where the stress is? Why does it matter? The music of Hildegard von Bingen I’ve heard, being from the 12th century, was written without regard to time-signature, which may actually mean that there was only one time-signature used in church music, and leads me to believe that the music was passed down in 4/4 with the emphasis on 1 and a lesser emphasis on 3. I don’t find this difficult to relate to hexameter of Greek and Latin verse since it deals with lines of dactyls, which translate naturally—I don’t have any books or internet with me, so I don’t know what the rhyme schemes are, so much of this is based on assumptions and rhyme might change everything—into 6/8 time, being two sets of 3 beats with the emphasis on the 1 and 4; except on occasional circumstances, 6/8 is conducted as 4/4, if not a bit more fluidly, since 6/8 feels as if it has no sharp edges.

My point is that Latin and Greek verse in hexameter, which may reflect speech patterns of their times just as iambic does for us, translates easily into 4/4 time with emphases on the first and third beats which is the heart of all ‘white’ music. But English is not a Romance language, and it plays by different rules. Looking at slave dialects from the American South, it’s obvious that the peculiarities are formed by considering language from sound alone, and never the written word. People in Africa, it is said, had a long tradition of complex rhythms—even in India today this is still normal—so decoding English was probably done by rhythm, which perhaps instilled in their sense of language a sensitivity to iambs that perhaps would have been lost with an initial literacy. I’d say it also has something to do with sexual and social norms—how sexual can one be while dancing according to one’s society? Why is a samba or tango so far removed from swing given what we know of life in Argentina, Brazil, or Spain, in terms of how people act, how they speak, and the emphases on beats in the music? None of these things can be removed from each other, because they’re all tied in so closely with a culture. One can express sexuality while dancing to jazz, but has to do so while barely touching one’s partner. What is it about the way French is designed so that every word connects to the next without awkwardness, so that if one ends with a vowel sound the next begins with a consonant sound and vice versa, and how does it tie into their ways of life? Allow me to make one more mention of 6/8 time and the fact that it is proof that life is not all binaries merely by 6/8’s making 4/4 more round and more fluid—yes, add one more beat, a third option to yes or no, and things suddenly become a little more circular, which leads us even to sexual positions and the way that our grandiose wedding marches and My Country Tis of Thee’s are the perfect soundtrack to the puritanical missionary position and its binary allowances. This is why science movies about amoebas reproducing are set to John Cage rather than the second Brandenburg Concerto; this may also be the reason porn makes me so uncomfortable, because I can’t get over the fact that they actors never thrust in time with the music—music that, I must add, is particularly suited for fucking. Tango is more violent and sporadic, moving between 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2 and simple 4/4, which suggests periods (which, by the way, do not disgust or bother me, although this parenthetical remark is to confirm that I meant periods of time, not blood) and movement and the need for catching one’s breath at intervals and maybe even most of all the need for violence and pain. Or the aching, clutching, breathless, pathetic and desperate and not unlike the last spurts of energy before one succumbs to death and the way it seems counterintuitive to be so thirsty when sweating oceans, ‘deep song’ and the mysterious rumors I’ve heard of the way Spanish men do not thrust at all but move circularly…

Anyway, I got my chicken sandwich, which was a foot long baguette, a few pieces of lettuce and some mayonnaise, and tasted delicious. So there. Public transportation is a blessing, it runs like clockwork, nobody checks your tickets and everyone seems to follow the rules, buying their passes without a stick being held over their heads. Television advertisements are few. They find American television exasperating because of the number of ads. When there is a movie, it plays through without, if not wholly, then with only one brief interruption by, advertisements. Television shows are much the same—advertisements are memorable if only because there are so few. And in the meantime, people are protesting right now that the government should ban all advertisements on stations for which one doesn’t have to pay.  As it’s nearly 3am now, I begin writing next about going to a bar with many people after leaving this modern apartment, and then about Strasbourg.

album: Bill Evans: Explorations (1961)

Bill Evans had terrible posture: this much is true. His early days, his limp cigarette and his suit; his late days, his plaid, his beard, his booze belly–Leonard Bernstein describes the modern jazz musician of the 1950s, the Ivy League sweater and the horn-rimmed glasses, and Bill Evans comes to mind: boring. How does jazz turn into background music? What is it about the structure of his chords and how big they seem, how they move up and down the keys like wet bricks and are yet so much more boring than Nat King Cole’s? There’s something so serious about Bill Evans, something so academic and maybe even sterile, that in this whole album I find nothing worth holding onto.