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Archive for the ‘Ludwig Wittgenstein’ Category

dfwSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993).

Bts I am going to see Built to Spill this Friday.  I was supposed to see them back in 2001, but then some bad things happened in New York City and their show was cancelled (or I opted not to go–I see on Setlist that they did play that night).  Since then, I have enjoyed each new album more than the previous one, so I am really excited to see them.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit their earlier records.  In reading about the band I learned that Doug Martsch was in Treepeople (which I didn’t know and who I don’t really know at all).  I also learned that his plan for BtS was to have just him with a different line up for each album.  That didn’t quite work out, but there has been a bit of change over the years.

Their debut album is surprisingly cohesive and right in line with their newer material.  It’s not to say that they haven’t changed or grown, but there’s a few songs on here that with a little better production could easily appear on a newer album.  Martsch’s voice sounds more or less the same, and the catchiness is already present (even if it sometimes buried under all kinds of things).  And of course, Marstch’s guitar skill is apparent throughout.  The album (released on the tiny C/Z label) also plays around a lot with experimental sounds and multitracking.  When listening closely, it gives the album a kind of lurching quality, with backing vocals and guitars at different levels of volume throughout the disc.

But “The First Song” sounds like a fully formed BtS song–the voice and guitar and catchy chorus are all there..  The only real difference is the presence of the organ in the background.  “Three Years Ago Today” feels a bit more slackery–it sounds very 90s (like the irony of the cover), which isn’t a bad thing.  The song switches between slow and fast and a completely new section later in the song.  “Revolution” opens with acoustic guitars and then an occasional really heavy electric guitar riff that seems to come from nowhere.  The end of the song is experimental with weird sounds and doubled voices and even a cough used as a kind of percussion.

“Shameful Dread” is an 8 minute song.   There’s a slow section, a fast section, a big noisy section and a coda that features the guys singing “la la la la la”.  Of course the most fun is that the song ends and then Nelson from The Simpsons says “ha ha” and a distorted kind of acoustic outro completes the last two minutes.

“Nowhere Nuthin’ Fuckup” is one of my favorite songs on the record.  There’s a sound in the background that is probably guitar but sounds like harbor seals barking.  I recently learned that the lyrics are an interpretation of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin.”  They aren’t exactly the same but are very close for some verses.  The rest of the music is not VU at all.  In fact the chorus gets really loud and angular.  I love the way the guitars build and then stop dramatically.

“Get a Life” opens with a wild riff that reminds me of Modest Mouse (who cite BtS as an influence), but the song quickly settles down (with more multitracked voices).  I love how at around 4 minutes a big swath of noise takes over and it is resolved with a really catchy noisy end section.  “Built to Spill” starts out slow and quiet, and grows louder with a catchy chorus.  In the background there’s all kinds of noisy guitars and superfuzzed bass.

“Lie for a Lie” is pretty much a simple song with s constant riff running throughout.  The verses are catchy, but the middle section is just crazy–with snippets of guitars, out of tune piano, a cowbell and random guitar squawking and even shouts and screams throughout the “solo” section.  “Hazy” is a slow song with many a lot of soloing.  The disc ends with the nine minute “Built Too Long, Pts 1,2 and 3”  Part 1 is a slow rumbling take on a riff (with slide guitar and piano).  It last about 90 seconds before Part 2 comes in.  It has a big fuzzy bass (with a similar if not identical riff) and wailing guitar solos.  Over the course of its five or so minutes it get twisted and morphed in various bizarre ways.  With about 30 seconds left, Chuck D shouts “Bring that beat back” and the song returns, sort of, to the opening acoustic section.

While the album definitely has a lot of “immature” moments (and why shouldn’t the band have fun?) there’s a lot of really great stuff here.

btstix

[READ: September 26, 2015] Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

It’s unlikely that a non-academic would read a book of critical insights about an author.  Of course, if you really like an author you might be persuaded to read some dry academic prose about that author’s work.  But as it turns out, this book is not dry at all.  In fact, I found it really enjoyable (well, all but one or two articles).

One of the things that makes a book like this enjoyable (and perhaps questionable in terms of honest scholarship) is that everyone who writes essays for this collection is basically a fan of DFW’s work.  (Who wants to spend years thoroughly researching an author only to say means things about him or her anyway?).  So while there are certainly criticisms, it’s not going to be a book that bashes the author.  This is of course good for the fan of DFW and brings a pleasant tone to the book overall.

For the most part the authors of this collection were good writers who avoided a lot of jargon and made compelling arguments about either the book in question or about how it connected to something else.  I didn’t realize until after I looked at the biographies of the authors that nearly everyone writing in this book was from England or Ireland.  I don’t think that makes any difference to anything but it was unexpected to have such an Anglocentric collection about such an American writer (although one of the essays in this book is about how DFW writes globally).

Philip Coleman is the editor and he write three more or less introductory pieces.  Then there are two primary sections: Critical Insights and Critical Essays. (more…)

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contficSOUNDTRACKTHAO NGUYEN-Tiny Desk Concert #5 (September 4, 2008).

thaoI had never heard of Thao Ngyuen (who admits that her last name is a phonetic disaster–it’s pronounced When) before this concert and man is she a lot of fun.

  She plays a great acoustic guitar—very percussive on the strings (and even some percussive noises from her mouth before the first song starts).  Her voice is a strange mix of a few singers, reminding me a bit of Björk (but with a kind of Southern sounding accent) and maybe Beth Orton, if Beth was a bit more excited.   Thao plays her guitar very loosely—a kind of sloppiness that is really fun—but not in a “she can’t really play” way.  It’s an I’m having a lot of fun style.

NPR dude Mike Katzif heard her band Get Down Stay Down opening for another band.  And he loved her off-kilter melodies (which are ample).  “Bag of Hammers” is played on the high strings and it has an almost Caribbean feel—boppy and fun and totally made for dancing. Her guitar playing is very fast strumming, especially on “Beat (Health, Life and Fire),” I love watching the chords she is playing up and down the neck of the guitar.

I really enjoyed the conceit of “Big Kid Table” and the Hawaiian vibe she gets from her guitar.  “Feet Asleep” brings out a bit more of a country vibe from her singing (she is from Virginia).  I love the diversity of her music and I’m looking forward to checking out both her band and her solo work. In addition to being a great singer and songwriter, she is also quite funny—the story about her grandma and her calves is very funny indeed.

This continues the greatness of the Tiny Desk concerts.

[READ: November 14, 2013]  “The Empty Plenum”

The reason I got involved with Wittgenstein’s Halloween was because David Foster Wallace had said Wittgenstein’s Mistress was one of the best books of the 1990s.

The whole list is on Salon, but here’s the quote about WM:

“Wittgenstein’s Mistress” by David Markson (1988)
“W’s M” is a dramatic rendering of what it would be like to live in the sort of universe described by logical atomism. A monologue, formally very odd, mostly one-sentence ¶s. Tied with “Omensetter’s Luck” for the all-time best U.S. book about human loneliness. These wouldnt constitute ringing endorsements if they didnt happen all to be simultaneously true — i.e., that a novel this abstract and erudite and avant-garde that could also be so moving makes “Wittgenstein’s Mistress” pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.

I had also read his review of the book before [I copy everything I said then below].  I admit I didn’t get that much out of it before because it was mostly about Wittgenstein and a book I hadn’t read.  Well, now that I’ve read the Markson book, it seemed like a good time to revisit the review.

Two things strike me immediately–this was written after Wallace had written Broom of the System and some other fiction and yet he speaks of himself as a “would-be writer,” not a writer.  And two, this review really belongs in a philosophy journal rather than a literary journal–DFW was making the jump from philosophy to literature, but his knowledge of philosophy is very strong, so he is focusing on that aspect of the story. (more…)

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witmisSOUNDTRACK: NEIL HALSTED-“Wittgenstein’s Arm” (2012).

neil-halstead-palindrome-hunches-450Halsted was a founder of the band Slowdive, who I knew somewhat.  I don’t know anything of his solo work, although his name rang a little familiar.

This is a very pretty, slow acoustic ballad.  Halsted’s voice is whispery and with proper folk inflections. The chorus has a very catchy melody.  And yet the lyrics are really dark and sad.

And while there is a mention of an arm in the song, there’s no mention of Wittgenstein.

You can check out the video here:

[READ: November 3, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 181-end

This peculiar book draws to a close in much the same way that it started. There are a few interesting revelations or, if not revelations, then perhaps ponderables as to the nature of just what our narrator (who is apparently named Helen) is doing.

As this last section opens, she is revisiting some more of the things that have been on her mind for the book—the waterlogged atlas that lies flat on the shelf and that blasted arthritic should/ankle  .

I have been wondering about her constant references to her period.  In addition to simply being something that happens to her which she is recording, I have to wonder if it is a nod to her fertility and the fact that since she is the last person alive she will never bear children.  On a slightly related note, I also have to wonder if her focus on rape means she was once raped.  It’s not necessarily the case of course, but there is a lot of it in the book, like this next mention: (more…)

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witmis4SOUNDTRACK: PANIC-Requiem for Martin Heidegger (1978).

13+LP+Hoes++VoorkantPanic was a Dutch punk band.  Their album 13 came out in 1978 and “Requiem for Martin Heidegger” was the final track.  I love the album cover (and no I had never heard of this band either).

The lyrics are wonderfully simple (and no you won’t learn a thing about the man) with the completely singable chorus of “Hi-Degger, Hi-Degger, Hi-Degger, Hi-Degger, Hi!”

There are some other lyrics (including ein, zwei, drei, vier) and “Is he in heaven, is he in hell, where has he gone?  no one can tell.”

There’s some introductory chatter which I think is in German, but may be in Dutch.  But that’s all irrelevant, because this is three minutes of classic 70s punk.  And the video is a hoot too.

[READ: October 30, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 120-180

Although I read the first half of this book rather quickly, I took some time off before reading this section.  The good news is that this book does not require constant attention.  The bad news is that because there are so many details in the book (whether “relevant” or not) it’s easy to forget if she has talked about the different pieces before.  And that is kind of the point from her a well, since she constantly questions whether she has talked about something or not.

I’m breaking from my normal summary for a minute because I wanted to bring up something that struck me as I was reading this.  Several times throughout the book I found myself searching the web for ideas and facts that she mentions.  And it struck me that, while yes, in her world, the internet wouldn’t be working anyhow—there’s no electricity even—but she would not even have the concept of being able answer her questions with a few clicks.  This book wasn’t written that long ago, but when it was, the internet as we know it didn’t exist.  So our narrator does not know that she could have answered all of her questions in just seconds.  If this book was written now, it might even be seen as a “point” that the world no longer has such easy access to information.  But that is not an issue in this book.  Rather, our narrator simply knows that unless she is willing to dig through boxes or really wrack her brain to be able to remember where she found the information (and we know that’s not going to be successful), she simply won’t “know” what she knows.  And it’s interesting to imagine what it was like to read this book back in the 1980s without being able to quickly confirm  that indeed Wittgenstein said this or Heidegger said that or even that any of the artists she mentions really did what she says.   And I find that really fascinating.

Vaguely connected to this idea is her wondering about some details of the Savona soccer jerseys and then saying “One is scarcely about to return to Savona to check on this, however.” (122). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROKEN BELLS-Broken Bells (2010).

When I first played this disc I was really disappointed by it.  I’ve grown to expect crazy magic from Danger Mouse, and I assumed that this collaboration with James Mercer of The Shins would be crazy awesome.  But it seemed very mellow to me.  Mellow in a way that just kind of sat there.  So I put it aside for a while.

Then I listened to it again a little later and I found that I really liked it this time.  In fact, it rapidly grew into one of my favorite releases of 2010.

The disc is a wonderfully paced mixture of acoustic guitars, interesting keyboard sounds and, often, downright bizarre electronic choices (subtle, yet bizarre).  The weird sounds that open the disc, a kind of backwards keyboard, are disorienting but also very catchy.  And the song itself is instantly familiar.  It’s followed by “Vaporize” a simple acoustic number that bursts out with some great organ and (very) distorted drums.  It also features a fascinating horn solo!

“Your Head is on Fire” settles things down a bit with a mellow track which, after some cool introduction, sounds like a  pretty typical sounding Shins track (ie, very nice indeed–and more on this in a moment).

“The Ghost Inside” feels like a ubiquitous single.  I’m not sure if it is or if it’s just so catchy (with dancey bits and hand claps and a great falsetto) that it should be everywhere.  “Sailing to Nowhere” reminds me, I think, of Air.  And the great weird drums/cymbals that punctuate each verse are weird and cool.

One of the best songs is “Mongrel Heart” it opens with a western-inspired sound, but quickly shifts to a quiet verse.  The bridge picks up the electronics to add a sinister air (and all of this is accompanied by nice backing vocals, too).  But it’s the mid section of the song that’s really a surprise: it suddenly breaks into a Western movie soundtrack (ala Morricone) with a lone trumpet playing a melancholy solo.  And this surprise is, paradoxically, somewhat typical of the disc: lots of songs have quirky surprises in them, which is pretty cool.

Having said all this, there are a few tracks where it feels like the two aren’t so much collaborating as just playing with each other.  And that may have been my initial disappointment.  I was expecting a great work from a combined powerhouse, and I think what we get is two artists writing great stuff while seemingly respecting each other too much to step on each others toes.

There is another Broken Bells disc in the works.  And I have to assume that they’ll feel more comfortable with each other and simply knock our socks off next time.  But in the meantime we have this really wonderful disc to enjoy.

[READ: October 21, 2010] The Broom of the System

It dawned on me sometime last summer that I had never read DFW’s first novel.  I bought it not long after reading Infinite Jest and then for some reason, never read it.  And by around this time I had a not very convincing reason for not reading it.  DFW seemed to dismiss his “earlier work” as not very good.  I now assume that he’s referring to his pre-Broom writings, but I was a little nervous that maybe this book was just not very good.

Well I need not have worried.

It’s hard not to talk about this book in the context of his other books, but I’m going to try.  Broom is set in the (then) future of 1990.  But the past of the book is not the same past that we inhabited.  While the world that we know is not radically different, there is one huge difference in the United States: the Great Ohio Desert.  The scene in which the desert comes about (in 1972) is one of the many outstanding set pieces of the book, so I’ll refrain from revealing the details of it.  Suffice it to say that the desert is important for many reasons in the book, and its origin is fascinating and rather funny. (more…)

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