Friday, April 30, 2010

Limitless albums

In the previous post I confessed to preferring being able to listen to songs rather than full albums, and that got me thinking...

People lament the death of the album, but is that glorifying what the album was?

Music existed for millennia before it was recorded, and even after it reached the point of being set into the grooves of circular pieces of wax it remained a song-based artistic medium; the notion of an "album" as more than merely collecting the singles and being an artistic form unto itself, where there was some thematic unity from beginning to end, was something of a latecomer to the party.

Long Playing records could hold a certain amount of material per side, and so that imposed an artificial restriction on the art; one could not produce a track longer than would fit on a single LP side. (To have something longer required breaking it into a "part 1" and "part 2" scenario, but that's not a single track in my book.) Then cassettes had their limits, and then CDs that their limit (which grew as technology grew); the definition of an "album" as a collection of tracks packaged under a single title, marketed and toured in support of, has varied as the media on which they were manufactured changed. Now, with the tracks existing as digital files that are downloaded and then stored on a computer's hard drive or mp3 player's memory, the amount of time for the tracks on a single collection that is called an album is not really limited by the physical media; an artist could produce a single track that went on four literally hours, or a single "album" could contain thousands of tracks; the completely electronic medium would allow for that.

Obviously, the accompanying infrastructure may not be set for that; even with broadband internet speeds such a lengthy album could take a tremendous amount of time to complete, and then further it would take a lot of hard drive space (although that's becoming less of a concern). So, the limitation changes from the space on the physical media to the patience of the consumer; it's a matter of what we're willing to wait to finish downloading.

I doubt the three-minute pop song will ever disappear, because it holds a certain perfection for what a wide audience is interested in hearing (consciously or not), and with the proliferation of media that seek our attention it's less likely that immensely long pieces would catch on, regardless of how fast files can be transferred or how large the capacity of hard drives grow.

Wagner's Ring Cycle is technically longer than an audience could sit through, and in its entirety takes days to perform, and that didn't stop him from writing it. However, it's not as though that became the norm for symphonies or operas. (And if it had, one can only imagine how that would have progressed over the intervening century. When I get the program of events for the L.A. Philharmonic each year, it's not as though there's a single work that's so long that to perform it in its entirety takes an entire month. I'm not suggesting there's not such a work out there—I don't pretend to be an expert in experimental music, but I don't hear about that sort of thing as common.)

So, ultimately, the way we think about albums remains entrenched in the way that the delivery media has been over the past decades, but some day may merely be what serves as the cover art that's associated with a track when it's playing on our iPods (which, with advances in technology, may allow for holding tacks in a lossless format so there's no more lamenting how much better the music sounded on the LP).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Album-med out

I've noticed something about my music listening habits: I don't tend to be inclined to sit through an entire album except in rare cases. It's not necessarily that I don't like all the songs enough to listen to them; it's merely that I don't want to hear them one after the other after the other.

Now, it seems like the culprit here would be the download paradigm, and the method of the music playing the music being the mp3 player, but if I'm completely frank with myself I suspect it's more that technology has finally caught up with the way I preferred.

In days of yore (which for purposes of this entry is as recent as the early portion of the last decade) I got music by purchasing the album as a physical object, be that a vinyl LP, a cassette, or a compact disc; to hear the songs I put the record on the turntable, or placed the cassette in the tape deck, or inserted the CD in the disc player. The last of those allowed for more easily accessing a particular track than the previous two had, but still the format limited what I had available to merely the tracks on that disc.

What I wanted was to hear a variety of songs. I think the paradigm I grew up with—listening to the radio, with a song by one artist followed by a song by a different artist—was the one I always liked better, but for years (from the mid '80s when I started buying CDs until really only a few years ago) I was limited by the medium. The best the CD player could do was perhaps play the tracks in a random order, but that was still the same tracks.

It's not that I won't listen to complete albums, but that's the exception; I need to really be in the mood for that, and while technology allows for that, it doesn't force me to do so.

It is a grand and glorious time for music listening (that will be covered further in the next post).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's that song? (the challenge of instrumentals)

Rock instrumentals have lovely melodies and/or catchy hooks and/or something to make them interesting without there being any vocals, but that also makes it less likely that people will learn their titles without making a concerted effort.

Even songs where the title of the song is not in the lyrics, such as Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" or The Who's "Baba O'Riley," there's at least some words one can associate with a title; eventually one may be trying to find that "everybody must get stoned" song or the "teenage wasteland" track and discover that, although the refrain might seem like what the song would be called, that ain't the case. With the myriad websites devoted to song lyrics one can type the phrase one knows in to a search engine and get some results that should point one in the right direction.

With instrumentals the only hope one has is if the song gets used in a commercial or TV show or movie one could search on that aspect, but the internet doesn't yet allow for humming a bit of a melody and have some algorithm be able to match that up (although it is claimed that some cell phones can now identify music this way... but how well can they do so without lyrics is another story).

I suspect more people could identify, from listening only, the title to the theme from "Hawaii Five-0" because it's what played during the opening of that show, but other popular surf instrumentals like "Pipeline" or "Walk, Don't Run" might not get the same level of name recognition. Sure, people would recall having heard them, but not necessarily to the point of being able to say what they were called. Yes, aficionados would know the distinctions, but that's not the level of appreciation we're talking about here. Even amongst those in the know might have some pause if the situation were reversed and they were given the titles of some instrumental songs and asked to hum a bit of each.

Another old surf track that experienced a renewed popularity was the one used in the opening credits of Pulp Fiction. I'm sure you can probably recall it now, seeing the names against that black background as the song plays. However, could a significant number of people who've seen that film since 1994 identify the title of that track off the top of their heads? I can't say I'd put money on it. However, the Neil Diamond song covered by Urge Overkill later likely would be no problem for most people who saw the movie (even once). The reason: The latter opens with Nash Kato's husky vocal, "Girl, you'll be a woman soon…" and the former has merely a piercing guitar riff but a distinct absence of anyone in Dick Dale and the Del Tones singing out "Misirlou."

Of course, nowadays that song Quentin Tarantino chose for his opening credits may be better known as the sample used in the Black Eyed Peas' "Pump It"—a song, by the way, where mostly I recall the title because of its recurrence in the chorus.

Either way, the inclusion in the film or sample the BEP track provide some text-based method of asking about that song. Google may not accept humming but one can type "song in opening of pulp fiction" or "song sampled in black eyed peas pump it" and get quick results.

So the key to having people know what your instrumental is called may not be limited to getting it associated with the soundtrack for a film or TV show or even commercial. Having someone else put part of it in a song that has lyrics also can suffice.

Of course, there's no need to actually learn this stuff unless one is inclined to want to discuss it at some point. There's nothing wrong with simply hearing the melody (on the radio, in a movie, wherever), enjoying it, and leaving it at that.

In the past one had to make the effort to associate the audio portion of a song with its title in order to find it, but these days it's unrealistic to expect people to do that. This is not an era of people knowing; it's a time when the key skill is deftly looking things up on the world wide web.

And that's enough words about that.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Not a part of Tweet-ory

The Library of Congress is going to archive tweets (the posts on Twitter) for future generations.

I knew it was prudent that I never jumped on that bandwagon.


I can barely get people to pay attention to my blahg posts (judging from the site metering I do); I see no need to commence a Twitter feed and see explicitly how few followers I get.

Well, the bigger problem is that I don't tend to think in terms of 140-character chunks, so to participate in "tweeting" would require way more effort to be pithy than I imagine Twitter is supposed to be.


I'm avoiding contemplating what historians in the future will make of the combined content of thousands (millions?) of individuals who (I would guess) were not composing their missives with regard to posterity.

Of course, I'm not sure there will be historians in the future. The trend seems to be heading toward less reflection and more immediacy (as evidenced by the aforementioned Twitter) and what one is doing right that moment. University history departments will get few applicants and will cease to be funded. The only purpose the past will serve is for pop culture nostalgia specials on VH1. These archived tweets seem unlikely to become the subject of academic investigation.

If nothing else, given the millions and millions of tweets included, it would turn in to a full-time job to review and analyze them all (or even a significant portion thereof). Who's going to have that kind of time on their hands when everyone will be too busy tweeting about what they're doing?

Thank goodness this post won't be archived in a library.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Doubled over for the Double Down

I'm pretty sure the new Double Down from KFC is proof that we are squarely in a post-post-ironic era. Marketing the "sandwich" where two chicken breasts serve as the "bun" around cheese and bacon seems intentionally designed to elicit incredulity. That's its genius.
I'm hard-pressed to believe that those who came up with the idea for it were oblivious to the cultural environment in 21st century America; if anything, I suspect they expect the Double Down to play to that zeitgeist. In the era of glib reactions, of viral videos and Twitter and "reality stars," it takes some doing to really smash through the din of pop culture. I imagine this came up in a meeting as a silly idea and was deftly identified as something that was just crazy enough to work. The notion of it cannot help but elicit a certain level of I-can't-believe-they're-selling-that, is tailor-made to be lampooned on show like The Colbert Report (follow the link to see the video), but it still registers in the mind of an audience; it's not something easily dismissed like, say, the new whatever the heck Taco Bell is pushing nowadays. The mockery heaped upon it still operates on a certain level as free advertising. It's allowing the writers for the late night guys (like Jimmy Fallon) to compose easy jokes about the crap Americans will eat, but still it's getting the product mentioned. And let's not even get started about how obvious it is that the food blogs and online media would (figuratively) eat this up as a topic.

Now, that does no good if no one actually goes to KFC to buy it, but the flip side of the so-crazy-it-works coin is there's a group of people who (predictably) will transfer the ironic appreciation in to an interest in actually trying it. KFC is essentially throwing down the gauntlet, daring the fast food consumer to consume one. And apparently there were sufficient numbers of those intrepid eaters in the test markets for the Double Down that it was worth seeing how many there were nationwide. (Heck, perhaps the idea is not so much to make people like the Double Down but to get them thinking of having one, going to KFC, and then reconsidering the idea and ordering a more conventional bucket of Original Recipe. It could be a roundabout bait-and-switch ploy for all I know.)

In any case, it seems to demonstrate not only awareness of how society is, knowing that the glib dismissal about how Americans eat atrociously requires an ostensibly risible one-upmanship to have an impact on a jaded audience. And that seems far likelier to be insidiously clever than mere happenstance.

And the smartest aspect of it: The Double Down is a limited time event. Some day there'll be a nostalgic clamoring to bring it back.

That's good pop culture eatin' even if the sandwich tastes awful.


Oh, and I should also admit I don't think "post-post-ironic" really means anything; it merely seemed like the sort of term that would play well in this era.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Well, all right.

"Well, all right." 

When said in response to a request that means "yes," even though "well" is a deep hole dug to find water, "all" connotes the entirety of something, and "right" is the opposite of wrong (in this context… probably).  Thus, a strict deconstruction of the specific phrase reveals that a deep hole for water that is completely not wrong indicates one shall comply or acquiesce.

And people say English is difficult to learn.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another day at the races

When we got to Santa Anita Race Track in the late morning on recent Saturday and settled in at our seats, my father and step-mother (avid horse race followers) took out their racing forms and analyzed the day's offerings. This is common for when they go to the track; they're fairly serious about how they wager on the ponies. (They're not big time gamblers, but for the money they are putting down they try to be systematic about it.

My wife also looked at the racing form, glancing at the names of each horse in each race and the odds (the "morning line"). She prefers to bet on ones that have an interesting name and longer odds; if she's going to put down a couple bucks on a horse she wants to get a decent payout if it comes in. It's a system as well, but one based on different criteria.

(Me, I tend to wait until shortly before a specific race is getting close to starting, glance at the odds, and see if there's a moderate-odds one that gives me some sort of intuitive inkling. But that's not our topic here. You can read a tale of me and betting in this old post if you're really bored interested.)

As she surveyed the races she noticed in the 4th that one of the horses had in its name the name of one of her beloved relatives, and as such she decided she had to bet on that equine when the time came.

So when the 3rd race had come and gone and she was getting ready to make her bet for the 4th she intended to put down bets for all three positions (Win, Place, and Show) for the horse she'd picked earlier (#4, seen at left), but as that was a really long longshot she also wanted to place one other Place bet on another horse (#2).

However, when she got to the mutuel (the betting window) she got the numbers of the two horse mixed up and ended up placing the three bets on the other horse and the single bet on the horse she meant to do. She didn't realize exactly until she'd walked away from the window, and by that point she was too annoyed to want to bother. Back at our seats she sat with a bit of a foul look on her face.

Then the 4th race was run.

The horse for which she'd inadvertently bet (#2) ended up crossing the finish line first (see below). The horse she had intended to be the target of those bets (#4)... didn't cross the finish line at all.

With the odds her winning horse had, the payout for her investment turned a profit of nearly $30. Her mood turned around at that point.

Are there ever really accidents? I wouldn't bet on it.


Piqued your interest about Santa Anita? Photos from a visit from a few years ago can be seen in this post.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ducklings and Disney and Butterflies... oh my!

What's been going on over at the photo site since last I exhorted suggested you go have a look? Photos from some some recent outings have been readied and posted. (I know, I'm amazed it didn't take me six months to get around to it, myself.)

At the Magic Kingdom (in Anaheim--the original) we saw... baby ducks!

Oh, and of course there's the rest of Disneyland, but not necessarily the scenes you're used to seeing.

And then there's many shots of butterflies from the Butterfly Jungle exhibit at San Diego Wild Animal Park.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taxing the limits

That the post offices are open until midnight on April 15th so that last-minute tax returns may be submitted without missing the deadline is proof that procrastination is as American as baseball, apple pie, and getting out of jury duty.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sleeping on it

One recent morning as I rode the train in to downtown, in a window seat, a young man sat next to me. Tacit protocol on the train is that I don't look at the person directly next to me; turning my head that far is reserved only for circumstances where I must say something to that person, which is rare.

Within a few stops the young man's head drooped, and his body slumped toward my shoulder. When the train would stop he'd pop his head a bit, looking the other direction, and then he'd slump again in obvious sleep. His ability to resume his slumber was impressive, I must say; almost immediately he was out. And when he went out, he was leaning the weight of his entire upper body against me—which, after a while, got to be a bit much.

Did I accost the sleeping man? No. Stoically I tolerated having this total stranger pressed up against me (one gets over one's personal space issues quickly when one takes public transportation). However, I must admit that in my mind I found myself thinking, What the hell is this idiot's problem? He better have a damn tough situation to justify this crap.

At least, that's the nicer of the thoughts.

Then as we were on approach to the end of the line he'd been awoken by a hand that came from behind us. The seats on the row across from us opened up as the people who'd been there got up to stand by the door, and he popped out from next to me and sat on the other side of the aisle. This allowed me to get a better look out of my peripheral vision.

His face displayed obvious signs of having Down Syndrome.

So, uh… yeah.


When I got home and told my wife the story of the man who fell asleep, pressing against me (with a demonstration of the force his limp body had), how I'd thought him to be kind of a jerk, and then revealed that he had Down Syndrome, did she admonish me for having thought ill of him before I realized?

Her response was this: "Down Syndrome does not give one narcolepsy."

I love this woman!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Who cares?

Over the years of having a blahg I've only garnered a few people (whom I didn't already know) who continue to follow it. Of course, theirs are a few of the sites I follow myself, so that reciprocity is not entirely surprising. There was something to the tone and style they used that suggested we had some modicum of similarity in our outlook on the world.

While a diversity of personalities and beliefs ultimately is what makes life interesting, in those with whom we choose to surround ourselves (literally or figuratively) we do prefer some significant commonality. That's not any sort of revelation.

Of course, even amongst what appear to be similar people there are differences, and thus a big part of what allows the perception of similarity is being vague, at least regarding topics about which people will feel passionately. One might say that seems duplicitous; I say it's avoiding the unnecessary alienation of others.

Now, it's tricky for me to find others who are that similar, as generally the main topic about which I'm passionate is not being terribly passionate about topics. That, however, can be alienating to those who are passionate about topics, so it's a fine line to be walked (so to speak) when composing these meandering posts of mine.

I do think that the majority of people are fairly indifferent about a lot of things, and that the minority who are passionate are who get the attention, whether they represent that majority in any way or not.

However, I'm not passionately of that belief.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Something for the fine people who supported Prop. 8

Bumper sticker idea for those who voted in favor of Proposition 8 (or other similar initiatives in other states):

"I believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and because unconsciously I believe my irrational insecurities should be the basis for state laws I vote to prevent same sex marriage. I don't mind the implicit dissolution of the separation of church and state when I use religious dogma as justification because I delude myself with the perception that the founding fathers didn't really mean that part to be important. No one is trying to use some other religious doctrine to inhibit me doing whatever I want so thus I consider it perfectly acceptable to do that to others."

Well, that's probably a bit long for a bumper sticker. We may need to paint that across the back of your SUV--unless, of course, you'd be open to wearing it on a t-shirt, or having it tattooed across your forehead (sure, it would have to been in small letters to fit, but a talented tattoo artist should have no problem with that). Whatever works for you.