As somebody who isn’t prone to substance abuse, it can be hard to self-medicate, and I’m a person who should almost definitely be medicated in some fashion. Instead of gobbling up pills or drinking so heavily that time no longer holds any meaning for me, I escape from myself by becoming obsessively interested in a variety of fields. Be it old country music records, comic books, regular books or Playstation games, all of these hobbies share the potentially crippling defect of costing money. How I wish I could get excited about hiking or fighting the causes of homelessness. No, my instapassions are consumer by nature and just as disposable. So when I caught the technology bug in a serious way over the past month, I had to stop and think very I going to spend hundreds of dollars on something that I’m just going to neglect by the time I deposit my next check?

Here’s what happened: I was doing some Windows Phone 7 research, and discovered that Windows had released a developer preview for Windows 8, an operating system platform the company hopes will transcend the confines of desktop/laptop and tablet computing. After discovering the release of this preview, I figured I just had to try it. I downloaded the iso and searched for the best way to use it without overhauling my current machine. The answer, seemingly, was the virtual machine. I was elated, then furious when it came to my realization that my pathetic processor is not capable of virtualization. What was I to do, you ask? Partitioning was the next best option. So I did this (for those who don’t know, the process basically means you wall off an unused part of your hard drive that now acts as a separate drive). I was now able to load the even more recently released Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Caught up in the frenzy of trying the latest and greatest technological product, there was almost an instant void once my goal had been achieved. Sure, Windows 8 was cool, but it lost its luster within ten minutes. The emptiness was crushing. Faced with the fear of having to examine myself again, I just had to do something. So I researched more. What else was on the horizon in the tech world? Well, that didn’t really matter that much because I couldn’t really take advantage of it with my current laptops. What could I do with my current machines that I had overlooked because I’d never had a need to go beyond my normal use? There were so many options.

After another week of toying around with filesharing, remote desktop access and creating a server on a machine running some version of Linux, I have come to the phase of my obsession where I am going to attempt to repurpose pretty much every outdated piece of hardware I can get my hands on. Either that or take them apart just so I can put them back together again. It’s better than forking over something like six hundred bucks to build a new machine myself...a project I am going to have nightmares about in the near future.


Listening Words

Inspired by folk music field recordings detailing some of the most important pieces of American culture, I had a thought that I might take to the road, record poetry or prose readings by young, unproven talents, and if really lucky, snag an interview or two in the process. Well, it sorta happened...once. Exactly once. I didn't have to put much effort in securing the interviewee. She is a former dear friend of mine, Rebecca Vertun. We were able to break away from the disgust of regular living, breathe in mountain air and enjoy Irish coffee. She was in the middle of working on a play that the following Spring was put on at San Francisco State University, where she was a student in the Creative Writing department.

In the interview, we talk about the meaning of Q, ugly MUNI riders and rainbows. It may not be the best inverview ever recorded nor conducted, but it was a wonderful exercise. Maybe I will try taking up this line of work again.




That inna day calla rose would smell as sweet

When I first misheard artist Sean Pauls’ “Get Busy”, I, like maybe every other English speaking person couldn’t help but wonder just what the hell this flood of sounds was. They were words, that much was clear. There was structure and consistency but the rules and vocabulary were only vaguely familiar. It was as if Sean Paul had come from a place in the future where all manners of business were conducted in quick-spitted rhymes set to dance club beats. I immediately wanted to go to that place. Some were not pleased with how foreign their own language sounded.

The idea that Sean Paul may be Shakespeare reincarnated came to me as I was driving through the Stanislaus County farmland. I had been avoiding reading Shakespeare’s sonnets because unlike perhaps the majority of English professors, I think Shakespeare was a total hack. For one, the most popular of his plays all have the same theme: everyone dies. His utterly ridiculous obsession with iambic pentameter caused him to strangle and mutilate the existing English language so that it would fit in both form and rhyme scheme. While he receives praise for his innovation and quality, I can’t help but harbor the suspicion that it was Shakespeare’s popularity (and vulgarity) rather than his craft that propelled him through the ages. He was a writer who gave the people what they wanted, and in turn, they soaked it up, Frankensteined phrases and all. Don’t get me wrong. I love inventing words and alchemizing (see?) phrases together to achieve the desired effect. All I’m saying is Shakespeare did the same shit. Big whoop.

I was listening to an episode of Radiolab where Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwhich interview James Shapiro, where he argues that Shakespeare was the inventor of a great many words, most of which begin with the prefix “un”. The argument is basically that by attaching the simple “un” prefix, Shakespeare was able to create a whole host of new words that were more or less the opposite of whatever words he attached the prefix to. An example given is “unnerved”. I can’t claim that Shakespeare is not the first person to use this term, although it seems just as likely to me that the word had been used previously, and Shakespeare is the first place we see it simply because his plays had been copied so many times, making them more likely to survive into the modern era where we could argue about such things. Overall, I was not all that impressed by Shapiro’s argument because it would mean actually reading something, and was actually a little annoyed. Shakespeare wasn’t really doing anything that remarkable. Anyone with command of the English language can apply the rules of prefixes and suffixes to existing words and then wait to see if those words become popular enough to be deemed worthy of the almighty Bible known as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Thus, I return to Sean Paul. Millions of songs have probably been written using the existing English rules, but like Shakespeare (allegedly) before him, Sean Paul said “Fuck dishit. Imma gwaan an make da perf re-cord” and began going crazy, experimenting with word combinations and deletions that really cause an admirer of language to marvel at the sheer brazenness of it. One can almost imagine him, all Dr. Tenma-esque trying to recreate his son in the form of a robot, only Sean Paul was trying to recreate song lyrics out of random phonemes. “Get Busy” is full of examples, my favorite being: “don't get agitate just gwaan rotate”. To truly understand Paul’s mastery, you have to hear it sung. The points of interest here are the use of “agitate” and “gwaan”. Both of these terms may have existed outside of and prior to Sean Paul’s songs, but Paul codified them by setting them to music and publishing them in that form.

In the context of the song, “agitate” should clearly be “agitated” as it is past tense. In order to fit it into the song, however incoherent the meaning becomes, Paul found it necessary to clip off the part that tells us when in time the agitation takes place. Interestingly enough, this clipping does not cause a loss of understanding by the listener, which brings up a lot of questions as to the practicality of using tenses via conjugation. I like to think of this type of inventiveness as a peak into the direction our language may be heading.

The use of “gwaan” is pretty straightforward. A compound word is created out of the words “go” and “on”. This new compound undergoes a phonetic combination so that a new word is created becomes both more and less than its parts . Shakespeare, likewise, was fond of the combination of words According to the list includes words like “chimney-top” and “watchdog” and “wry-necked”. While these are simpler compounds, it seems likely that their creation, if done by Shakespeare, were out of necessity rather than a desire to push the language forward.

It is hard to say what the lasting effects of both Shakespeare and Sean Paul will be. I suspect that Shakespeare will continue to be jerked off in academic circles, while Sean Paul will most likely fade into musical obscurity. I find that a little sad, mostly because while we can guess as to where the words Shakespeare used came from and how exactly they were used, we can’t actually know. We weren’t around to hear them and no recordings exist. What we do have is Sean Paul CD’s. Not only is this man a visionary in the same tradition as Shakespeare with his word creation, but the pronunciation of existing words in the interest of creating a danceable beat is nothing short of astounding. Basically, if you were to ask me who I have more respect for in terms of writing skill, I’d have to give it to Sean Paul. Besides, all his songs are about boning. Maybe if Shakespeare had focused more on the sex instead of the dying in Romeo & Juliet, I’d be singing that in my car instead of “Give It Up To Me”.

At the end, if anybody has any clue as to even one word of what he says I would greaty appreciate it.

The New Old Home Entertainment System

I can’t begin to explain to how happy I am that there is Mountain Man, and while I’d love to write an essay about why I think the music they make is the stuff of gods and how each of them is as talented as is probably allowed by law, I don’t want to get into a rut of doing that sort of thing. So I’ll try to be as objective as possible when I say that when I first heard “Dog Song”, like many, I was convinced I was hearing a recording through time, lost undiscovered for so long, scratched out on a wax cylinder deep in the heart of Appalachia. I was surprised (and maybe, too, disappointed) when I learned that none of the girls that make up the band are from that region of the country. But what does it say about their music that a listener with little to no knowledge of old time or traditional American musics can suddenly feel connected to it? Why is the image of the summer-dressed, barefoot girl by the creek the first one to come to mind upon hearing the recording?

It’s voices. People aren’t used to hearing them anymore, not the way Mountain Man presents them, at least. As the pop music machine has chugged along, making stars out of questionably talented singers since its inception, the masses so heavily marketed to slowly forgot how to listen to the human voice. Production processes became better, allowing for mistakes to be covered up or redone until performed correctly. More time could be spent as technology made the products cheaper to produce. In conjunction, the vocal part of music also became less important or focused on. Either the singer was pushed into the middle of the mix so as to be indiscernible from any other part of the composition, or the sound of the voice was changed in any number of ways to make it otherworldly, unquestionably inhuman. I think of John Lennon, David Bowie and the The Flaming Lips specifically, but there are an untold number of examples of a desire to see how strange and interesting the studio could make the sound of singing. It is interesting, and I don’t want to take away from what fiddling with effects can bring to the table of music, but in all that time when sonic trails were being laid out on tape and downloaded by the track, something very serious had gone missing.

Maybe Mountain Man consciously wanted to take on the mainstream music industry by going back into the American landscape and writing songs that evoke hard living and agrarian sentiment. That would be nice, but I think it has more to do with the fact that its members started off singing for one another as a form of entertainment and out of enjoyment. Perhaps it’s by accident that they’ve received so much attention for their pastime, however well deserved. While the idea that Mountain Man was designed as an answer to the over-produced superpop albums is enticing to the insecure music consumer, it just doesn’t seem to satisfy in the way it should. Instead, the reality of Mountain Man tells us something much more interesting about ourselves and about where music may end up in the future. While television shows like American Idol and The Voice may give audiences the illusion of witnessing singing at its best, back on the ground there is a thirst for the human sounding human voice that still needs slaking.

The recordings of Mountain Man may not be perfect. You may hear a slightly off pitch, you might hear the sound of creaking floors. And that might be a problem if Mountain Man were worried about that sort of thing. Instead, they’ve done what many recording artists have neglected: carefully crafted songs, perform live, and do a hell of a job at it. The perks of studio play are great, but at the core of musical creation is the idea of sharing through performance. Whether the performance is on a stage or in a living room is unimportant. The community feeling of music is on its way back in. The once gone culture of producing entertainment at home has awoken again. So brew some coffee or tea because while not everyone can sing like Mountain Man, after hearing them you’ll want to gather a couple of friends, hang out and try.

PS: If you want to hear the human voice explore it’s possibilities, try this (try to ignore the sudden crowd outbursts if you can):  



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