Sunday, January 29, 2012

At the Mountains of Madness

Lovecraft clouds his stories. He puts them in the mouths of the disturbed, people who doubt their own memory and have little hope of being believed. He bloats them with wordy, technical language. And sometimes—as in At the Mountains of Madness—he floats them in an air of foreboding, of constant portentous dread: the story is one that, says the narrator, "I would not tell now but for the need of warning others off from nameless terrors", one about "that which may end the world we know" if not left alone.

At the Mountains of Madness is horror—it advertises itself as such. But all of that air of foreboding does something to disconnect the reader, and the tale isn’t particularly scary. There are weird monsters and huge revelations, but the narrator has warned about them from the very beginning. They’re too strange to be anything but surprising, but at the same time they aren’t quite shocking: the narrator’s breathless tone inoculates the reader. The sights and sounds have terrified the narrator, but they can’t do the same to the reader. They feel more intriguing than scary.

It’s that sense of intrigue that makes the story work. The story’s speaker has told you, again and again, about the terror of the events, the significance of the world revealed. In that respect there’s nothing left for the imagination. But because the speaker has already taken wonder and horror to their extremes, the reader can leave both these impulses aside. What’s left is only the thrill of discovery, the joy of a mysterious place being unveiled. Here Lovecraft isn’t scary—he’s only exciting.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Merzbow’s sounds are often called "harsh noise." Which is fair: his tracks have no melody, no harmony, and often nothing like rhythm. They don't have hooks to remember; they don't have recurring themes or sounds. Even when a texture persists for several minutes, it's only a matter of time until it stops and is replaced by unrelated others. The sounds are very dissonant and contain high frequencies which most people find grating. Merzbow's tracks sound more like factory machines or explosions than like conventional music.

Monday, January 9, 2012

After reading Infinite Jest

The book is light-blue: a cool color, peaceful. As if it's saying, "Don't panic." Because panic you very well might: it's over a thousand pages long, bigger than most textbooks, and a quick flip through reveals paragraphs that go on page after page, nary a chapter break in sight. And one-hundred pages of footnotes. In his introduction Eggers gives his best pep talk, claiming that when you finish Infinite Jest "you are a better person,” and the back cover is full of glowing blurbs; but it remains imposing.

And then in the first few pages you read about Hal Incandenza, a teenage prodigy who reads the dictionary for fun. That's got to be a challenge, a toss-down of the gauntlet. Surely Wallace is saying: "If he can read dictionaries, can't you at least read a measly thousand pages?" It's  not as if it's dry reading, after all; when it's not heartbreaking, it's damned funny.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Favorite tracks of 2011

The 60 tracks that as of January 4 2012 I liked best, in (nearly) arbitrary order:

60: Sepalcure - See Me Feel Me
59: Kowton  - Drunk on Sunday
58: Kode 9 & the Spaceape - Love Is the Drug
57: Wire - Two Minutes
56: Kahn - Illy
55: Morgan Zarate - Hookid
54: Breton - RDI (Girl Unit remix)
53: Isolee - Trop Pres de Toi (97 Interlude)
52: Gil-Scott  Heron and Jamie xx - Home
51: Peverelist - Dance Til the Police Come
50: Mosca - Bax
49: Dexter - Great Northern Diver

Basic Channel - BCD

I’m writing about albums this year, older albums (meaning: not released in the last year or so) that I’ve listened to over and over and thought about and want to talk about.  This is the first one: BCD by Basic Channel

This isn’t what they’re known for. Basic Channel made a name with their singles: 9 of them in 2 years (’93 and ’94), vinyl-only techno tracks that gave new meaning to the word “minimalism.” These were tunes that went on for as long as 20+ minutes, often with nothing but a few throbbing synthesizer lines and maybe (not always!) a backbeat. This being techno, you could say that they were meant for club use, for DJs who would only play out a few minutes of them—the “important parts”—or layer them with other tracks. And that’s just what Scion did in Arrange and Process Basic Channel Tracks, layering the singles into a dense, hypnotic DJ set.

But that’s only half of the story. Sure, tracks like Enforcement and Phylyps Trak cry out for club use, but how does something like Presence fit in? Sure, you can layer it with other tracks to add atmosphere, but is that really its purpose? 20 minutes of slow, beatless crescendo is overkill for any DJ. No, this is stuff you have to hear at home, on its own terms.