Friday, February 24

Music technology

Before the advent of recorded music, the only way to hear any was in the presence of a musician playing an instrument. Experiencing music was not simply a treat for the ears, as it is today when music is primarily consumed through radios, records, and cd players, but involved the other senses as well: a music lover had to travel to a concert hall, sit or dance for the duration, and of course they could see and feel the presence of the musicians, their instruments, and the other members of the audience. Music was an immersive experience. Furthermore, what that music lover heard at that concert would never again be heard in the same way; before Edison recorded his voice in 1877, music was only ever heard once. Today, anyone can listen to a song or performance literally thousands of times. They can pore over it, focus on a few bars, adjust the sound levels, isolate a single instrument, anything, and as technology develops, a single piece will be manipulated more and more. The listener has the capability to leech every drop of "music" possible from a recorded piece.

How did this transition affect the composer of music? The astute composer of the turn of the last century had to realize that enormous changes were taking place in the way music was consumed. How did a composer change their style in order to satisfy the new listener? I can only speculate. Since a recording could be listened to more than once, although not as many times as today since the methods being used were still rudimentary, did a composer try to make his music more complicated, so the listener could get something new out of each listen? What about the detachment from the instrument and the musician? The listener was no longer forced to associate music with the musician and the instrument; it was possible to hear an instrument many times without ever seeing it. Did these composers begin to focus more on the "sound" that was being created rather than the actual music? Were instruments being used in original ways in order to create new sounds for the stay at home listener? When did the progression toward soundscapes and sonic textures begin?

I know a lot about some music, but not all. I'm next-to-ignorant about composers in and around the development of the first recording technology. Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, what the hell were they up to??

Thursday, February 23

International Immaturity

The news coming from Washington is getting more and more surreal as the days go by. Just in the last couple of weeks, the American government sold the biggest American ports to the United Arab Emirates, a country with clear ties to Al-Qaeda, with the added possibility that Bush didn't even know about the deal; vice-president Dick Cheney, who possibly was drunk at the time, shot a 78-year-old man in the face while hunting; and Bush has allowed different oil companies to avoid making $7B in royalty payments over the next few years. Meanwhile, Iraq is on the verge of a civil war, and people around the world are burning buildings because of a handful of political cartoons. I feel like I'm living in a world populated only by children. International events are dominated by very immature people.

Wednesday, February 22

Actual Quote from "Only a Game"

What you're talking about, Sam, is the basis of a player metric system used for pattern adaptation control, which combined with a robust AI model and recombinatory content, would allow for a game that tailors itself direclty to the user based on early-game cues.

Oh really? Well I'll be jiggered. Wonders will never cease. I've never heard of the terms "player metric system", "pattern adaptation control", or "recombinatory content", but I guess I was talking about them nonetheless. Who woulda thunkit?

Thursday, February 16

You are the man, Jorge Luis

I couldn't resist. Here's a passage from "The Library of Babel", to answer Brooks' questions. Our narrator is in the process of identifying some of the fundamental axioms of this infinite library:

Second: There are twenty-five orthographic symbols. That discovery enabled mankind, three hundred years ago, to formulate a general theory of the Library and thereby satisfactorily solve the riddle that no conjecture had been able to divine—the formless and chaotic nature of virtually all books. One book, which my father once saw in a hexagon in circuit 15-94, consisted of the letters M C V perversely repeated from the first line to the last. Another (much consulted in this zone) is a mere labyrinth of letters whose penultimate page contains the phrase O Time thy pyramids. This much is known: For every rational line or forthright statement there are leagues of senseless cacophony, verbal nonsense, and incoherency. (I know of one semibarbarous zone whose librarians repudiate the "vain and superstitious habit" of trying to find sense in books, equating such a quest with attempting to find meaning in dreams or in the chaotic lines of the palm of one's hand.... They will acknowledge that the inventors of writing imitated the twenty-five natural symbols, but contend that that adoption was fortuitous, coincidental, and that books in themselves have no meaning. That argument, as we shall see, is not entirely fallacious.)

Borges: You da man!

I was going to quote a passage from "The Library of Babel", but I found this one, which is even better and more appropriate to the previous thread, in "The Writing of the God":

I reflected that even in the languages of humans there is no proposition that does not imply the entire universe; to say "the jaguar" is to say all the jaguars that engendered it, the deer and the turtles it has devoured, the grass that fed the deer, the earth that was mother to the grass, the sky that gave light to the earth. I reflected that in the language of a god every word would speak that infinite concatenation of events, and not implicitly but explicitly, and not linearly but instantaneously. In time, the idea of a divine utterance came to strike me as peurile, or as blasphemous. A god, I reflected, must speak but a single word, and in that word there must be absolute plenitude. No word uttered by a god could be less than the universe, or briefer than the sum of time. The ambitions and poverty of human wordsall, world, universeare but shadows or simulacra of that Word which is the equivalent of a language and all that can be comprehended within a language.

A Second Question of Quantity

Is the difference between 12 and zero greater than the difference between 16 and zero when you can gloat about it?

Saturday, February 11


By belonging to Sophie, I began to feel as though I belonged to everyone else as well. My true place in the world, it turned out, was somewhere beyond myself, and if that place was inside me, it was also unlocatable. This was the tiny hole between self and not-self, and for the first time in my life I saw this nowhere as the exact center of the world.

The Fall of Language?

Here's another interesting quote, this time from Paul Auster's book of novellas, "The New York Trilogy":

Adam's one task in the Garden had been to invent language, to give each creature and thing its name. In that state of innocence, his tongue had gone straight to the quick of the world. His words had not been merely appended to the things he saw, they revealed their essences, had literally brought them to life. A thing and its name were interchangeable. After the fall, this was no longer true. Names became detached from things; words devolved into a collection of arbitrary signs; language had been severed from God. The story of the Garden, therefore, records not only the fall of man, but the fall of language.

Tuesday, February 7

A Question of Quantity

Is the difference between zero and one larger than the difference between one and two?

Saturday, February 4

Ignorance vs. Interest

What's the relationship between Ignorance and Interest? Is it possible to be interested in something you know everything about? Is it possible to know a subject so completely that it is not possible to know anything more about it? Or can new things always be discovered about any subject? What is more interesting: the things you know about a subject or things you don't know very much about? It seems to me that the things I don't know much about are more interesting, since the stuff I already thoroughly know is now just practical knowledge, or perhaps it's even forgotten.

When I pursue music, for example, what I'm most interested in are those records I've haven't heard enough times to completely understand or get everything out of. In other words, records that I am still somewhat ignorant of. Even when it comes to one album, once I've listened to it enough to have absorbed it completely, memorized it, it loses interest. Conversely, the albums that I can't quiet get my head around are the ones that hold the most interest for me and I will likely be listening to for a long time to come.

I think the same thing applies generally. I believe that a certain amount of ignorance is required to create interest. As if there is a buffer zone between a body of knowledge and the realm of ignorance around it that pulls you from one to the other. I think it is also possible to nurture and care for that buffer, by continually pursuing related items, i.e. those items that we are neither completely knowledgable of nor completely ignorant of, so that our interest is always maintained.

Wednesday, February 1

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