For You: Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind

February 25th, 2017

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Dear Aleks,

The day of its release, Apple Music inputs the track Starwood Choker into my “New Music” playlist, and so I listen to it on my bike ride near Payne’s Prairie, just a little past LaChua trail and just a little before the forest on the way Hawthorne. In fact, that track is so great I listen to it all over again right when it ends. And then I like that track even more so I press the shuffle button twice to just repeat the track over and over and over.

It wasn’t until after that weekend that I go out of my way to listen to the rest of the album, but there it is in all it’s operatic and droning beauties. A “modern classical” album, my friend describes it, and I agree: the repetition of Glass or Reich are strong influences, but a grand piano is boundless with the right electronic instruments. The low rumbles of horns harken to the darkest soundtrack of “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” when African slaves are forced into a burning music machine. The transcending nature of that scene, from its sadness to its optimism that we have gone so much further is explored for almost an hour in this album.

This is an album to augment the daily drudgery into activities worth the effort. Like last year’s discovery of Andy Stott’s Too Many Voices, Bing & Ruth have rocketed themselves into first place for such a beautiful album that will add to another beautiful year. Check it yo.

Love,
Aleks.

Track List: No Home of the Mind (2017, 4AD Records, Apple Music)

  • Starwood Choker ****
  • As Much As Possible ***
  • Scrapes ***
  • Chonchos **
  • The How of it Sped ****
  • Is Drop ***
  • Form Takes ****
  • To All It ***
  • Flat Line / Peak Color ***
  • What Ash it Flow Up ***

For You: Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage

For You: Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage

Visible Cloaks - Reassemblage Album Cover via Bandcamp

Dear Anthony,

New Age tended to seek the natural within an age of urbanization and industrialization. The digital age was burgeoning, only a factor in the pressing of CDs and possibly an AOL homepage. The sounds were familiar: rain, pipes, hollow percussions. They depicted the ancient, or at least traditional, as a purveyor of simplicity against the collapse of home life in favor of work. That’s probably why it was so kitschy as it was capturing capitalism at its best: selling the snake oil of brief escapism.

Motion Graphics and Visible Cloaks may have aped some of New Age’s instruments, but it does not seek to exploit our fear of the new, but rather augment the phenomenon of digitalization into something as natural. Perhaps parallels are the key to integration, understanding the natural of the digital sound and subsequently adapting it to the larger repertoire of “accepted music”. It will only be so long when the next “progressive” pop artist will find ways to transform these sounds into more accessible beats and melodies.

I connected the middle of the album with the original Minecraft electronic music producer, C418, who had developed some of the most appropriate and awe-inspiring tracks in the last few years, simply for its achievement in capturing the aesthetic of Minecraft. Similarly, Minecraft has digitized the natural world but produced so much dynamism between its digital and natural components that it becomes natural for its digitality. For being so far removed from physical instruments, Visible Cloaks nonetheless discovers a similar organic-ness.

The bonus tracks give up just about all of the familiar sensibilities established by Motion Graphics last year. Relying on quiet interludes of digital vocals and stringed instruments — Imprint, Moon —, we don’t see New Age or Digital Age (whatever you want to call it), simply quite beautiful ambient tracks harkening to Philip Glass or Steve Reich. So you already recommended this album to me, but here is the lens with which I’m listening.

Love,
Aleks.

For You: Soft Hair – Soft Hair

For You: Soft Hair – Soft Hair

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Dear Garrett,

Sarah recommended this one to me a few weeks ago (though I have been listening to it for at least a couple months already). It didn’t get a great score on Pitchfork (a 6.8), but I think it connects to a great song I shared with you late last summer, LA Priest’s “Oino”. The other LA Priest songs surprisingly don’t sound so much like the above track, but this album seems to encapsulate the energy and what the music publication describes as “cutesy”.

There is a fun sexuality to Soft Hair, like a drag show skirting around its premise. This teasing produces a type of nuance to its music. “Jealous Lies” and “I.V.” most embody this argument: the psyched out plucks of the guitar turn a rather standard 4/4 beat into something with drive. Then the synths, wavering and off-pitch produce a unique melancholy. Grandiose sadness maybe.

I do wonder if album covers affect their scores. They most certainly affect one’s appreciation of the music. From the “Alternative” genre tag to the “Parental Advisory” emblem on the bottom-right, the word “commercial” popped in my head before my initial press of the play button. My cynicism rampant, perhaps I am overstating my like of this album due to its surprising catchiness.

Love,
Aleks.

For You: Andy Stott – We Stay Together EP

For You: Andy Stott – We Stay Together EP

Dear Aleks,

I feel as if I’ve always mixed up complexity for maturity. If something, like an event or person, is hard to understand, they must have matured in some way, right? I tend to extend this assumption to music: if there is a near-incomprehensible drum pattern and crazy noises panning left to right and the left again, it must mean that there is some complexity and maturity to it. As if the simple dance producer is a 16 year-old who has yet to grow into the more nuanced sonics of a 40 year-old DJ.

But we’re coming up to the days that once-popular DJs are 40 year-olds, and they have not changed a lick of their sound. In the wake of complex electronic arrangements, we will always have that 4/4 beat and looped vocal, and most likely a drop.

So my mix up reveals something about myself: am I just moralizing the music I listen to? If the straight-up dance fan comes across my music, do they feel morally superior to myself? If not, then I am either doing something terribly wrong with my approach to music, or something terribly right. While music may be subjective and there truly is “something for everyone”, I was so sure that there was a tier of inaccessibility that required maturity to access. But instead the egalitarian worldview comes back, and I realize that there may be something mature or perfect in the most basic of pop structures. That it requires experiences rather than maturity.

We Stay Together is not complex, nor is it simple, nor is it perfect. But there is a reference for dance music, exhibited by a muffled out speaker and a stern glare. The sweat and tears in producing music can be found even in a 4/4 beat, and the exhaustion that follows a good track is tangible in this EP. Andy Stott, like Burial and other experimental dance producers, reminds one that it’s the passion rather than maturity that makes good dance music. And I need that reminder just about every day.

Love, Aleks

For You: Jaala – Hard Hold

For You: Jaala – Hard Hold

Jaala - Hard Hold Album Cover

Dear Sarah,

I think twice I sent you “Double Dutch” in the monthly playlists I would construct. Actually, I think it was “Junior Spirit”, which actually came out as a single the year after Hard Hold came out. But the core of each track is the same: this tension and release dance of jerking motions and smooth relaxations. The single was mixed to focus on Jaala’s vocals, but the album tends to be more egalitarian in representing the qualities of the band itself.

The percussion, neo-soul or whatever, makes each track as unpredictable as the last. And yeah, I don’t think you actually ever liked Hiatus Kaiyote after all the times I played it in Seattle, but I think Jaala strikes at the same experimental-popism, but in a much more raw form. (I’ll have to recommend to you Xenia Rubinos soon enough. I probably already added that to a playlist of yours sometime.)

But listening to this album, do you feel the “nimbleness”, the flexibility where the song is an amalgamation of these small little tempo changes and flourishes that would just make that dancing body scramble to adapt to whatever changes are deemed welcome or necessary by the band? It’s a controlled chaos that never seems to take a misstep. It’s just really cool.

Also, Jaala’s voice: this weird mix of baby talk and Australianisms that stand on a tight wire between punk and 50s crooning. Her (zey?) voice gives 80% of the personality to the tracks, but I’d say the technicalities without the voice would already make the album a winner. There is a proud creepiness to Jaala, and I hope that uncomfortability settles into you just as it did me.

Love,
Aleks.

On Apple Music

On Video Essays

On Video Essays

With recorded video and audio, the written word has diminished in responsibility and power. In a movie, a text can be read aloud or focused on by the camera for the audiences to glance over. In video games, text is part of ammunition counts, loading screens, and instructional content. But writers have resigned themselves in subservience to audio and visual delights, and we can see this within YouTube video essays.

The two most important aspects of text are accessibility and portability. Accessibility: unlike 100 years ago, it is a given that just about everyone in the United States is able to read and write text. Unlike 150 years ago, it is rather affordable to purchase the tools to write text. And unlike 200 years ago, it is trivial to print and disseminate that text for others to read. I will compare this with the video format later in the essay, whose timeline is much more recent and compressed. Portability: a contributing factor to the ease of disseminating text is that the format is highly portable. It can be transferred from the palm of the hand to a sheet of paper to a stone tablet. Now digitized, text is the medium upon which people, machines, and software programs run; portability means compatibility.

These two aspects of text contribute to one overarching idea: that the normal person is able to easily write their ideas and disseminate them among people. They have the ability and they have the means of production. This idea was realized in the late-90s through mid-2000s with online discussion boards and blogs. There didn’t seem like any reason for a person with internet to not write and share their ideas with others in textual form.

But we have seen in the last 2000 years that illiteracy brought a different form of idea-sharing and creativity: theatre was the visual-auditory alternative to text-driven entertainment and literature. In the last 150 years, printed photos and projected videos eclipsed the importance of theatre. In the last 100 years, recorded video and audio eclipsed live projection. In the last 20 years, digital video has now challenged the textual form as a primary means of idea-sharing. And evaluating each of these periods, the accessibility and portability of video leads to one question: why should anyone with internet not record and share their ideas in video form?

The question of this essay is whether or not the fall of the written word is coincidental or integral to the rise of inhabiting others’ copyrighted works — to relay criticism/exploration of themes or technicalities of that given work.

With YouTube, it was trivial to upload copyrighted materials, either audio or visual; for years YouTube was an asylum for free, copyrighted entertainment. At the same time, it was also trivial to record, edit and upload homemade videos, and this is where YouTube built its legacy: entertainment by the masses, for the masses, a role that was initially immortalized by text and its accessibility and portability.

But then something happened: the text-based critique of a movie, taken for granted by newspaper publications for a century, began to transport itself into the movies it critiqued. It was a match made in heaven: why would one not show the film’s weaknesses and strengths in order to make a more salient point? Here, in the intersection of homemade media and copyrighted, institutional entertainment media lies the video or film essay.

The video essay explains its concepts through visual and audio forms, infrequently interspersed with textual elements. With over a century of copyrighted but available visual and audio content, editors have found that expressing their ideas and themes through familiar images would increase the essay’s impact on the reader; instead of relying on the audience’s prior understanding of a given work, the essayist could display the excerpt in its entirety.

The excerpt is displayed without the context of the original intent: the essayist recontextualizes prefabricated content to fit their worldview or argument. To compare with text, the essayist must describe the idea of the excerpt and then recontextualize. The reader would have to access their own memories and ideas about that excerpt and then apply the essayists’ own interpretations on top. This may muddle the intended message of the original creator and the essayist, but it also encouraged an active “connecting the dots” within the reader’s mind. Thus, the reader provides the third context to a given work.

Issue Number One: The audiovisual medium is a medium that encourages passive consumption rather than active consumption.

In other words, the audience, or consumer, is incentivized to take in the content and its message rather than to synthesize it with their own values. As a result, a video essay can easily become more of a monolog, or a one-sided lecture rather than a dialogue of ideas. In moralistic terms, an unthinking audience is also one that will not dynamically absorb the essence of the film essay but rather simply its contents. The unthinking audience may as well have had a forgettable dream in the timespan of a video clip.

This is not to say that text does not have its own authoritarian pitfall: the finality of the textual statement appears as if it were fact, and would require aesthetic “waffling” words in order to reduce the perceived conviction of each sentence. The essayist assumes authority by way of simply having the reader’s attention, even if the writer shouldn’t deserve it.

Issue Number Two: The video essayist has given up the rights to their ideas by displaying the legally protected content of others.

Perhaps in the future, publishers will relinquish their right to harshly protect copyrighted content, but at the moment, sites like Vimeo and YouTube must actively work in accordance with the law and take down any videos that incorporate copyrighted material for monetary gain. This means that video essayists have given up their ideas and potential direct revenues in order to insert their ideas in the works of others. If the essay may go too far, if the law is slightly changed, or if the essayist receives money, the publisher can move to take the video essay down.

We arrive at a harsh reality: by relinquishing our ideas to the will of others, we also give up the right to protect these ideas, their accessibility, and their portability. To express oneself in the works of others is work within a system that seeks only to take and sell, rather than give and pay. The transience of YouTube as a website and the legislation of copyrights, paired with the proprietary nature of .MP4 versus .AVI or .MOV makes videos into a highly risky territory of sharing ideas.

In one sense, the audiovisual format inherently works against the preservation of creativity and thought-provocation. Another interpretation finds that video is a highly portable and accessible medium that zooms through the internet at the speed of light, and perhaps that makes it worth the ephemerality. But caution should be in the wind as one puts their blood, sweat, and tears into making video essays; our works should be thoroughly our own, and text continues to be key to such a reality.

Retrospective on January 2017

Retrospective on January 2017

Some things I’m working on:

  • Enlisted by a doctorate student to proofread and format her dissertation connecting the Arabic Language and Senegalese Visual culture.
  • Aiding the executive director of a D.C. tenant advocacy group with software and technical support, as well as any website update projects.
  • Working with a friend to start up a small Amazon business selling his father’s old hygiene products.
  • Learning Indonesian in order to get another foothold into Southeast Asia culture and politics.
  • Started producing more electronic ambient music, posting to SoundCloud. Will be posting to Bandcamp.
  • Restarted practicing calligraphy; quite rusty at the moment, but hopefully I’ll get nearly back to where I was last year.
  • Going back on the Soylent diet, though I feel as if I’m getting much more farty than usual.
  • Culling down productivity items in order to stay on top of my tasks and work, which has gradually improved over the past month.