Monday, May 13, 2013


Here I am again on my blog

Why so few posts? Who knows... Usually I have a post around my birthday, which was just over a month ago, but this time I didn't... I figured since I usually do sorta list-spam posts for that and my previous post was also just list-spam sorta stuff it felt pretty redundant.

You are 22 years old now!

Yes I am, hooray!

How do you feel about that?


Seems like stuff like 2012 list posts aren't really likely at this point...

Yeah, likely not. Man, if there's one thing I hate - and this really seems to be the thing I hate, it's the overwhelming omnipresent feeling of failure that comes with doing about 1% of the things I want to do.

Maybe you have a poorly understood idea of what you "want" to do?

Maybe. But usually it seems like these things I want to do I actually feel very happy after doing, and my doing them may even allow me to solve other problems and avoid other things I dread, i.e. getting a crappy job for money or whatever.

Is this going to be another well-meaning but useless "commitment to a new lifestyle" post?

Maybe. My attitude towards actually becoming more productive is like Ned Flanders' parents, though: I've tried nothing and it isn't working. Basically I always assume I can just "will" myself into being more productive, ignoring distractions, sacrificing short-term rewards for long term ones, etc. But that probably isn't how it works.

Okay so what works?

Actually doing things I suppose? And strategies of like... taking timewasting sites out of my speeddial, agreeing to only do easy fun things after doing hard things, generally improving mental stability through regular sleep, healthy meals, exercise, etc...

How boring!

Yeah, yeah... worth a try though? A try to try at least. I dunno. I've been reading both Tao Lin's Richard Yates and Godel, Escher, Bach lately which I think are on the extreme ends of my literary interests and I'm enjoying both of them more than I thought I would and right at this exact moment I'm not really sure what I think about much.

Oh but one thing:

In the last few months I've been really busy and when I haven't been busy I'm gonna go as far as saying I've been "depressed" in that all I really do is lie around and not do things and feel bad about not doing them. Ugh. I know it gets really bad when I can't even keep up on that most stalwart staple of this blog, listening to music and making comments about it. If even not live reviews, at least to say "I heard this, it was good, this was bad, etc", I'm not even doing that. I'm not even listening to a lot of new music. This is slipping like never before.

Sometimes I worry that I'm losing interest in music entirely!

Say it ain't so! But yeah really: I've kept up (albeit blog-mutely) with anime and manga and sitcoms and crap like that, but not music!

Hope is given in the form of a previously overlooked Scaruficore Krautrock band

Scarufi is this rock critic guy who I've always liked. He's big on historical perspectives but he's also eager to find new stuff that excites him and be excited by it. I don't always agree with him 100% but I always want to understand his opinions and as such I've found a ton of cool stuff through him.

A long time ago I went through and downloaded a bunch of his favorite albums. Some I had heard before - your Beefheart, Velvet Underground, etc. Some I took to instantly - Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom, for example, I fell in love with the second I heard "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road". Others I found very intimidating and many I have still yet to touch.

Popol Vuh's Hosianna Mantra is "holy shit" good, especially at this one part!

Alright so I don't remember exactly why... I think I was watching a clip of Herzog's masterpiece-tier Aguirre, the Wrath of God and I was wondering who soundtracked it. Yeah, that was it. Anyways I got listening to Popol Vuh, who soundtracked it, the album I had of them via Scarufi's favorites list, Hosianna Mantra. I listened to it through and I was like okay that was pretty cool. I want to check out more of this. A lot of Krautrock I find initially very disorientating, there's just so much going on and it's hard to figure out connections on any sort of macro level, even sometimes just actually discerning the actual form of a melody or whatever is difficult.

But then other times there's sections that are very self-contained, and, although they also connect to greater elements in the work, they can be appreciated on a very surface level the first time you hear them. Think of like... some of the stuff in those mammoth tracks on Faust I. It may take decades - at least longer than I've been listening to them, it seems - to actually start to understand the overall structure of something like "Meadow Meal", but there's some really killer riffs in it that even the very first time you hear them you'll find yourself humming after.

So let me go through my experience of listening to Hosianna Mantra's first two tracks

First comes "Ah!".

(please actually download this in high quality - or better yet, buy it! - if it at all interests you. oh and listen to it with good headphones or speakers please)


This is a largely piano-driven piece, and at the very start you already get something like I was talking about where there's this nice little glittering sound at the way upper range that is sorta puzzle-like in its connections to a few other things. All the things are individually very pretty and in this case their immediate connections are also pretty easily figured out and yes they are very pretty too. But then around the 1:30 mark it begins to "lose me", so to speak. It's as if the puzzle pieces suggest their connections less, and there's more of them, and the picture on the box is gone, and all the edge pieces are in some sort of minor key?

Around 2:10 there's this motif of the piano just running up and down a pretty lengthy range and I think this is such a definitive polarizing moment of Krautrock: there's actually a lot of intricacy and genius in the "scale" they're playing, but the "idea" of this just long bombastic scale is so simple (seeming?) that a lot of people will be eager to feel they have just "got it". The polarizing thing isn't feeling that vs. feeling confused as to why they'd hammer on the keyboard like that, though, it's feeling that and getting dismissive vs. feeling that and being excited to finally grasp on to one idea that the whole piece can maybe begin to be understood through.

Does any of this make sense? Basically what I'm saying is that Krautrock has a structure wherein every element has a lot of subtle and explicit connections to other elements, and also has a lot of subtle and explicit qualities. And that this piano-scaley thing has one big huge explicit quality... it's like if you had a puzzle, and all of the pieces both have the little jigsaw holes and bulges - these being the connections - and they also have a fragment of the picture - this being the qualities. So a piece that has a very weird bulge or hole is like an "explicit connection", it is very interesting on the surface level and you feel like you "want" to do something with it. Likewise a piece with a very interesting and unique sort of image has that same effect on your understanding of what the whole puzzle will actually show.

Of course, when you finish the puzzle, you usually find that the interesting parts aren't just the areas where there's something very unique in the picture... the beauty is usually more in the nice gradient of the sky or sea or whatever, areas that are actually initially very hard or boring to solve. And it certainly isn't beautiful just where there are weird pieces that connect, in fact, you probably wouldn't even think to look with those in a completed puzzle. And now it strikes me that this analogy might actually be fundamentally busted, despite how much I liked it just a paragraph or so ago. Dang. Because certainly even in an album or whatever you have "solved" you're still going to look for interesting connections, especially subtle ones, which really has no analogy in looking at a completed puzzle, unless people go through a puzzle they've solved reminiscing about "wow that section was tough", maybe they do, I have no idea, I don't actually do puzzles.

In the next section I'm actually going to abandon all this puzzle-like thinking anyways because this is about music that transcends the solved-unsolved dichotomy. So I was just trying to present the "typical" mindset and how track 2 totally annihilates it but it turns out the "typical" mindset was actually rather difficult to express and etc etc.


My point is that when I heard this first song I was feeling sort of curious. I was listening to the album for the second time while I read G.E.B. It was right around the real crux of the book, his proof of fundamental incompleteness via Godel Theorems in any formal system. Really amazing stuff. I mention this because it is likely that a lot of just how much I like this one part might have to do a lot with the context I heard it in... who knows. But I'm gonna focus on the music.

(same request goes double here)

(choice youtube comment: "hm, I've read the maya book "Popol Vuh" and added it to my favourite books on facebook, but facebook didn't knew that book, it just knew a band with that name.. so I landed here and instantly liked this band, their name really matches their style, it's mystical, spiritual and impressive." - hamisch)

So yeah, the band name Popol Vuh comes from a sacred text of the Mayan people. Hosianna Mantra are Western and Eastern respectively sacred words often used in prayer. "Kyrie" is the first part of "Kyrie, eleison", Greek for "Lord, have mercy", which often opens sacred texts. Clearly we are dealing with some of the most spiritual stuff you can imagine here - part of the reason, I think, why I found this album so intimidating initially.

The first track doesn't really give me that sense. Not until there's that very Oriential sort of buzzing sound - sheesh, at one point, I knew the name of the thing that did that - at the beginning of this track alongside some very methodical and yet wild piano and guitar that I started getting that feeling, that this could be something "sacred" or something.

But geez I don't know half of how these Krautrock acts treated the stuff they evoked, if there was a level of resentment or irony in their usage of these terms while making music in pretty shitty times... Why was Faust called Faust anyways? Nevertheless, they treat them with respect.

So anyways these lovely female vocals come in sing the Kyrie and it's all very nice. And at 1:10 there's this final little cinematic flourish, and then... Well, listen to the rest of the song for yourself first, I guess, hopefully you already have. Hopefully you have and you heard the spot I'm going to talk about and you thought "wow, that MUST be the spot, that's HELLA beautiful". I did this once before with my roommate and he just said "Yeah, that's good I guess, that's pretty", which is a sort of underwhelming reaction, but it was like 4am, and we were both tired, and it was just on my crappy computer speakers...

The part I'm so excited about:

But anyways, at 1:20 we move into this other theme which I won't even really try to describe in terms of instrumentation or anything. The first time I heard this I honestly don't remember what I thought but the second time I remember really being moved. I stopped reading and probably made some sort of face, some sort of bewildered jaw-drop sorta thing that you somehow still make when you're really surprised even though it's so cliche. That time I listened to the rest of the album but that was my favorite part. I just love, well, everything about it. The way it shifts around, the way it always feels like it is "on the edge" of something and also like it is "a big release"... I could go on but I feel like I'd just make less and less sense.

Anyways later I relistened to the album and I found that I could remember this part, but not well, just that I had liked it a whole lot and what it very roughly sounded like. I couldn't remember what track it occurred in or when. When I listened to it that time I found myself anticipating it, wondering when it would happen, worrying that it already had and I hadn't recognized it or liked it half as much this time, dreading that I would recognize it but find it underwhelming...

But no. Not even close. And form that point on I found when I listened to the album I would experience my second favorite feeling in music: this anticipation where you partially worry that this will be the time when the part doesn't hit you as hard as it did before, but also this joy in knowing, deep down, that it will, and looking forward to it, and, of course, hearing it. And it really still hasn't "worn off", not even now, when I'm just replaying the track over and over while writing this.

So I thought about this and I started to articulate what my actual number one favorite thing in music is, and it's the process by which the entire album will eventually be as moving to me as this.

Discovery (not the Daft Punk album)

I sing in choirs a lot. Typically we do a term's worth of practice - four months, 3 hours a week - and then one or two big concerts near the end and then next term we strike off again with a new set of pieces. And usually they turn out quite well and by the concert we've really settled in with the music, but just as often, at the start of the term, the whole thing feels like it's doomed to trainwreck. Especially with the music itself. Most of the time I start of really hating the music, really dreading sections of it. But what I do is I look for parts I do like. Usually there's a part or two that will hit me a lot like this section of "Kyrie", give me that same anticipation, which is unsurprising because our choir typically sings like, only absolute Godtier music.

Anyways I look for that first and I used to think along the lines of "well, even though this thing is a slog, at least this part is fun". But lately I've been getting into another mindset. I've learned, finally, to have faith that eventually I'll enjoy the entire piece, just as much, if not more, than that one section. So when I find that section, when I find that disparity between it and the rest, I actually get really excited, because I know even more than the satisfaction of having the whole piece understood and enjoyed, the process of reaching it will be truly unforgettable, truly the best experience of the piece in many ways.

This same process of discovery happens a lot too when I listen to albums that I know are good but I have a hard time breaking into and oh wow it is so exciting when I realize what's going on. It is so so exciting for me to feel like eventually I will understand all of Hosianna Mantra as well as I understand and love that one section. It's the feeling that that section is too good to be a fluke, that the whole album really actually is at that quality, and that some day I will realize that. And oh wow what an amazing album this must actually be. The feeling of getting a glimpse at just how great the whole must be through the revelation of a part... it's like, you have a puzzle piece that, in its own isolated right, is a masterpiece. Not in its connections, or the fraction of the image, but the piece itself, as piece, is really wonderful and beautiful and moving. It must be somewhat like seeing the antechambers of the throne. Okay that is maybe a bit far.

So I probably really love music afterall

Or more importantly, I love this feeling, which I also get in a lot of good books and movies and such. And I think that if there's one thing that rots me away, it's neglecting this feeling in favor of easier, more accessible stuff. There's room for those too, of course, but when I find myself exclusively on this "candy" diet because real stuff is "too intimidating", then I have a problem.

That's really all this post was about. It seems uh really obvious in retrospect.

Hopefully soon I will complete a project where I look at some other songs I really like through this sort of mindset. If you enjoyed this maybe look forward to that? But hopefully there will also be some fun irreverent stuff on the blog too.

I guess that is all for now. "Everyone should listen to Hosianna Mantra" I suppose is another takeaway.

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