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Johnny Cash in Peterborough (a poem)

I was on the train from Kings Cross to Berwick, up the East coast of England passing through Cambridge, York and Newcastle.  

It must have been around nine the morning when I'd arrived at St. Pancras from Paris after a great weekend speaking at UNESCO .  I had a hangover  behind and a five hour train ride ahead of me.  My American debit card didn't work in  an  English point of sale machine at the liquor store so   I left the bottle behind and wandered around the station until I found a Tesco express.  Tesco Express sells booze, and they also handled my card just fine so I bought  a bottle of Famous Grouse, a liter of Perrier and some digestive biscuits.   

If the cost of Bourbon is astonishing in London, it  is prohibitive in Paris - I put 23 euros on the UNESCO charge for each of several glasses of Jim Beam on the rocks.  There's no alternative anywhere though, except an occasional Jack Daniels.  No Wild Turkey (my first choice).  No Makers Mark, no nothing.  No Bulleit.  No Bookers.  No Basil Haydn, Woodford Reserve  or Pappy Van Winkle.  Old Crow? No. Old Grand Dad? Nope.   No Blanton's , Buffalo Trace nor Eagle Rare. 

No Rye, neither, but that's not much to miss for.  I'm OK with Jim Beam, but I chose Grouse and I'm glad I did.

So I sat myself down at  the corner of a platform with a scalding cup of tea and a hip pocket full of whiskey.  Nobody likes a dirty old drunk, mid-morning.   I still don't know what the open container laws are in London, but people do tend to see what they want to see.  They want to see a quiet poet, waiting for the train, sipping from his cup and filling up with Famous Grouse.   If only I'd known, I'd have worn a beret.

The line goes north through Peterborough, where I was halfway through the pint.  I had some music on my laptop, but something about the morning caught me on a repeat loop  and I listened to Johnny Cash sing 22 times,   "He Stopped Loving Her Today".   A song like that, a song listened like that, the lines start to merge.  The first line of the first stanza and the first line of the second stanza create a standing wave with the first lines of stanzas three and four.  Same  with the second, third and fourth lines of each stanza.  The song becomes one verse,  outside of a sequential performance.  The music stands isolated, shining against the lush flatness of the Fens. 

Words are like the breaking point of a wave, the moment where all possible meanings collapse in to one.  Scansion  interacts between lines  like waves, adding  to the peaks, deepening  the troughs,  cancelling out.  What remains are the offbeat  single exhalations, the momentary gaps, or the catch in the voice.  The song becomes a hieroglyph, the moment it was recorded etched in to the moment that I heard it.  

Leaving Peterborough, I wrote a poem, and here is that poem:

there’s an instant when you know that you will die
there’s an instant when you know there you will die
there’s an instant when you know when you will die
there’s an instant that you know when you will die
there’s an instant that you know there you will die
there’s an instant that you know that you will die
there’s an instant there you know there you will die
there’s an instant there you know when you will die
there’s an instant there you know that you will die
that an instant that you know there you will die
that an instant that you know when you will die
that an instant there you know when you will die
that an instant there you know that you will die
that an instant there you know there you will die
that an instant that you know that you will die
that an instant when you know there you will die
that an instant when you know that you will die
that an instant when you know when you will die
when an instant that you know there you will die
when an instant that you know when you will die
when an instant that you know that you will die
when an instant there you know that you will die
when an instant there you know when you will die
when an instant there you know there you will die
when an instant when you know when you will die
when an instant when you know there you will die
when an instant when you know that you will die






Tattoos and the collapsing aesthetic field

Not all tattoos have to have a story, but all tattoos do have a story.

On the spectrum of tattooed-ness, I'm probably lower-middle.  Currently working on a left arm sleeve, with designs from the Lindisfarne gospels.  Three mid-size pieces lined up my spine (Tara, Odin and the bee-headed mushroom shaman).  A decent chunk of my left calf with a dragon.  Plus a few smaller, older bits here and there.

First question:  yes, it hurts.  Sometimes it's hard to say what 'hurt' is, though.

Second question: depends on what you mean by meaning.

I mean, what is meaning, and does a tattoo have to mean something?

A probability field collapses under observation.  Before observation, a probability field contains all possible paths between two actions, two states, two conditions or locations.  Under observation, the field collapses into the one outcome that is recognizable as this particular moment.

The collapse of probability instantiates this essential moment.  The collapse of aesthetics precipitates poetics:  first as memory, with the psychogeographic valence of quiddity.  The aesthetic field collapses under the vector of mortality, what elsewhere I describe as the vectors of scale.

Most mornings before work, I go to the gym.  Some of those mornings, I will exercise.  others, I will sit in the steam room and sweat out the dual ill humours of melancholy and gluttony.  The smallest movements impress sensation on my skin, like I'm immersed in this hot alchemical retort.  My arms shape  whorls, define swirling patterns  cascading in the steam.

This I think is what it's like moving through the collapsing aesthetic field, the poetic aura.  Getting tattoos is structurally resonant with  the collapse of the aesthetic field, which is probably why it hurts so good.


Working with a computer, writing music, playing piano.

Moon Ikon
I'm using a computer to assist in the composition of Raw Moon , a set of preludes for Piano.  I wrote a bit about the process earlier.  I take an image of the lunar surface, a photograph stored online in the NASA archives.  Then I use a library of tools in the Open Music software platform published by IRCAM to transpose the pixels of that image into points on a spectrogram.  A spectrogram is a visual representation of frequency change over time, so there's a natural correspondence between an image and a spectrogram. 

I play back the sound created by that spectrogram, and I upload the sound into another IRCAM tool, one called ASAnotation.  This tool lets me set various parameters and thresholds to capture pitch based on the spectrogram analysis.  What I'm doing there is reducing the pitch complexity so that I can represent the image in standard western notation, which I can play at the piano.

ASAnotation produces a Sound Data Interchange Format (SDIF) file, which is a markup language that easily translates to MIDI.  I import the MIDI file to Sibelius, which produces a score. 

I said standard western notation, but the result is very abstract rhythmically, and is filled with dense chord clusters.   It's the kind of thing that makes sense to represent graphically, like a Varese score.   I've used the material in a couple of different electronic pieces (Moon Ikon) where the capacity of  a player is not a constraint.  For  Raw Moon, I want to extract what I consider musically meaningful artifacts from the original (the raw) material.  That's the phase I'm in now, and it probably looks the most like 'composition' in that I have pencil and paper.

I'ved used a computer before, of course, without thinking of  computer assisted composer.  All of my published scores were created in Sibelius, and all of my extant electronic music was recorded on a laptop or more recently an iPad. 

I like to categorize, so let's think about a few different categories of composition that uses a computer.  

Computer music is music that requires a computer for the performance.  Maybe a sequencer or sampler , some kind of controller that is manging synthesizers. 

Computer generated music I think of where the structure of the music is determined by algorithms that have been worked out in a machine.  The ready availability of sequencers and software like Iannix make it a lot easier to realize 6 hour pieces structured on your favorite equstion.  

Then what I think I'm doing with the piano preludes is Computer assisted.  The computer does something that I'm not able to do, because I am a human with  limitations of time, skill or sensory perception.  

It's like having Merlin or Moriarty as an assistant.  Someone capable of transforming objects, or perceiving  other worlds clearly, understanding complex mathematics, and with a staunchly virtuosic approach to performance.



Shaving, memory (Nabokov) and quiddity

Nabokov-timeI have a beard, so I don't shave all that much.  I do shave often, because I do keep a line on my cheeks and neck.  It takes a few minutes each morning to clean up.   I do sometimes use a shaving cartridge, like the Mach 3 Gillette or it's equivalent.  But most of the time I use a safety razor, with double edged blade. 

A cartridge removes balance from the shave.  With a safety razor, my wrist and fingers control the angle of the blade.  If I get out of balance, the blade will nick my skin, and I will bleed.  The gillette cartridges move on the head of the razor so that the blade stays in contact with the skin at the correct degree no matter my attitude or approach.

 I've heard it said that the triple blade shaving cartridge is a noble advancement.  My choice is to invest in a single blade straight edge.  Starting with a Parker razor that takes disposable blades, I've been practicing for a few months now.  And it is practice, it is a skill.  The exercising of a skill first thing in the morning is a good way to start the day, in the same way that I practice saying a mantra with the first  step out of bed.  It  is an instance of concentration, a kind of a vow for the day.

But it also feels really good.  There's a rush of anxiety when the blade first goes against my neck.  I mean jeebus, I could cut myself open, bleed out on the counter top right here, listening to Glenn Gould. 

I drink tea while I'm shaving.  There  is a proper way to make tea, and making a proper pot of tea precipitates the lineage of proper tea drinkers.  That's why we do things a certain way, sometimes (Orwell || Hitchens || Adams) .

Such is it with shaving.  I learned about shaving from Van Veen, the narrative voice in (most of) Nabokov's Ada.  When I started to look for the  quote I wanted, I was pretty sure that it came from a lecture Van gave to students  played from  a pocket cassette recorder while he stood at the front of the hall, silent.  Turns out, it's from the essay  Texture of Time, written by Veen and included in the final section of Ada.  

Our pereception of the Past is not marked by the link of succession to as strong as degree as is the perception of the Present and of the instants immediately preceding its point of reality.  I usually shave every morning and am accustomed to change the blade in my safety razor after every second shave; now and then I happen to skip a day, have to scrape off  the next a tremendous growth of bristle, whose obstinate presence my fingers check now and againbetween strokes, and in such cases I use a blade only once.  Now, when I visualize a recent series of shaves, I ignore the element of succession:  all I want to know is whether the blade left in my silver plough has sone its work once or twice; if it was once, the order of the two bristle-growing days in my mind has no importance - in fact, I tend to hear and feel the second, grittier, morning first, and then to throw in the shaveless day, in consequence of which my beard grows in reverse, so to speak.

Shaving is an act that accumulates it's "having-been-done"-ness outside of chronological time.  The shave is the same for the blade whether there are two 'shaves' in two days' or one 'shave' two days later.  Van Veen says earlier in his essay that

I shall now proceed to consider the Past as an accumulation of sensa, not as the dissolution of Time implied by immemorial metaphors picturing transtion.  

The razor blade is accumulating Quiddity, a term I've commandered as a unit of psychogeographical valence.  I write this, and Spotify radio has opted to play Taylor Swift "Love Song".   I am transported to a much earlier time, where I  sit in a car listening to what we called back then Light Rock.  Let's speculate that Nabokov would enjoy listening to Taylor Swift.  I have an awareness now of each of twenty years sensa that were still to accumulate back then on a warm afternoon in College Park, Maryland.   It's an intoxicating sensation, here's Veen again:

[The past] is now a generous chaos out of which the genius of total recall, summoned on this summer morning in 1922, can pick anything he pleases:  diamonds scattered all over the parquet in 1888;  a russet black-hatted beauty at a Parisian bar in 1901;a humid red rose among artificial ones in 1883; the pensive half-smile of a young English governess, in 1880, neatly reclosing her charge's prepuce after the bedtime treat; a little girl, in 1884, licking the breakfast honey off the badly bitten nails of her spread fingers; the same, at thirty-three, confessing, rather late in the day, that she did not like flowers in vases; the awful pain striking him in the side while two children with a basket of mushrooms looked on in the merrily burning pine forest; and the startled squonk of a Belgian car, which he had overtaken and passed yesterday on a blind bend of the alpine highway.

I know I rarely read long quote blocks on a blog page, but I'd encourage you to go back and read that one.  Do it for a masterclass in the use of a semi-colon, if for nothing else.  But do it after you've read Ada.  

McLuhan media Tetrad, extension of (extract from Works in Progress)

Marshall McLuhan describes a tetrad of transformations that can be applied to culture as the technology of media changes.  He summarizes the four conditions as

  1. Enhance
  2. render obsolete
  3. retrieve from obsolecence
  4. flip under extremes

The pressures of technology that McLuhan identifies is the shift from sequential to simultaneous.  Linear to Aural.  Print to Electronic.  Bear in mind that 'electronic' media at the time meant television and the telephone...but the principle holds true.

What if we take this same model, maintain the structure, but shift the terms a bit.  If we replace culture with the human body, then the tetrad of transformation becomes the impact on the individual of changes in technology.  What if we also replace technology with aesthetics?  The tetrad of transformation in response to aestheticc pressure.  And if we continue to define a specific force of aesthetic pressure, that of a confrontation with the vectors of scale.  

What happens to the  medium||body when it is  pushed to extremes by the aesthetic forces of the vectors of scale?  The response is a flip through mortality to the medium of imagination.


Aesthetics of Adumbration, excerpt from Work In Progress

The adumbrated aesthetic helps to capture the experience of the unperceivable, which extends the media beyond a human scale, and so flips the media from hot to cold.  (McLuhan)

Something can be unperceivable because of the vectors of scale: things like  size, age, density, decibels.  Something can be so small that only with highly sophisticated instruments can we capture hints of it's existence.  Or so large that the structure exceed concepts of infinity.  What about something so loud that the skin feels like an eardrum?  Or so quiet that it is absolutely unhearable?

Unhearable is different from unheard.  Unperceivable is different from unperceived.    Something can be unperceivable because of the medium in which it resides:  we do not have ears that register radio waves, neither eyes that see ultraviolet.

I like to use the word Adumbration to refer to gestures that exist beyond the range of human senses.  We know that there is a structure, because it can be referenced, perhaps etched in a mathematics equation.  But if we also know that this gesture is beautiful or otherwise compelling, then we are torn from the minimizing filters of the nervous system, jettisoned towards a frontal engagement with the binding state of mortality. 

This is a specific and desirable experience.  It is  an immediate response to the being-ness of an aesthetic gesture.  Perhaps a better way to say it is that this is a specific and desirable response that indicates the presence of an aesthetic gesture.  


Moon Dance (video)

Last month, choreographer  James Caton and dancers from the CMU School of Drama performed Moon Dance.  The music came from my  larger piece, Moon Ikon.  The dancers are hypnotic.  Where the music is derived from characteristic relationships on the lunar surface, the physical gestures capture the sensual, mystical, ecstatic relationship between the earth, terrestrial inhabitants,  and the moon.