I've never seen an analysis of ballet classes as rite de passage for females of certain age range and class (or the not-unrelated horse-craziness either), but something of the sort cries out to be written. I'm forever grateful that my own daughter was completely uninterested in either ballet or horses when she was in those perilous ages.
It's the most delicious pleasure to linger over bits of prose like this, where every word and clause is artfully placed to inform the reader:
Since those moments on the terrace, Harold had daily become more of the solicitous and indirectly beseeching lover; and Esther, from the very fact that she was weighed on by thoughts that were painfully bewildering to her --by thoughts which, in their newness to her young mind, seemed to shake her belief that life could be anything else than a compromise with things repugnant to the moral taste-- had become more passive to his attentions at the very time that she had begun to feel more profoundly that in accepting Harold Transome she left the high mountain air, the passionate serenity of perfect love for ever behind her, and must adjust her wishes to a life of middling delights, overhung with the langourous haziness of motiveless ease, where poetry was only literature, and the fine ideas had to be taken down from the shelves of the library when her husband's back was turned.
(George Eliot, Felix Holt: The Radical pg 426)
I've been a student of things Chinese for many years, via heaps of basically-Orientalist books and articles following decades of modernization efforts and historical context. That used to be a leisurely pursuit, with plenty to read and meditate upon, and things seemed not to be happening all that rapidly until the last five years or so. But now the global importance of the juggernaut of China's development is a whole new ball game, with daily updates across the spectrum of concerns, and pretty much every product that one buys these days is (or anyhow has components that are) Made in China. America's addiction to consumables is the basic fuel of that juggernaut, and few pieces that I've read are more eloquent expositors of that point than Jonathan Franzen's "The Way of the Puffin" in the New Yorker of 21 April. The full text of the piece isn't available online, but there's a detailed abstract and a very worthwhile audio interview (13 minutes, downloadable).
Franzen's writing is a pleasure for its illustrative digressions. Here's the second paragraph, a pretty unique mise en scène for an article about China, and even more so for an article about bird watching in China:
My difficulty with golf is that, although I play it once or twice a year to be sociable, I dislike almost everything about it. The point of the game seems to be the methodical euthanizing of workday-sized chunks of time by well-off white men. Golf eats land, drinks water, displaces wildlife, fosters sprawl. I dislike the self-congratulations of its etiquette, the self-important hush of its television analysts... (pg. 90)Franzen drops other charming bits of description:
Xu's teeth were beautiful. He had the fashionably angular eyeglasses and ingratiating eagerness of an untenured literature professor... (pg. 92)
(of Shanghai) ...on the ground, the brutally new skyscrapers and the pedestrian-hostile streets and the artificial dusk of the smoke-filled winter sky: it was all thrilling. It was as if the gods of world history had asked, "Does somebody want to get into some unprecedentedly deep shit?" and this place has raised its hand and said, "Yeah!" (pg. 92)
...southeast Asia: a region well on its way to being clear-cut and strip-mined into one vast muddy pit, since China itself is hopelessly short on natural resources to supply the factories that supply us. The Chinese people may bear the brunt of Chinese pollution, but the trauma to biodiversity is being reëxported around the world. (pg. 105)
Kevin Kelly links to this nice bit of video, from the film Mystic Ball:
The Mystic Ball site notes that the Burmese Chinlone is
...related to similar games in Southeast Asia known as takraw in Thailand, sepak raga in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, sipa in the Philippines, kator in Laos and da cau in Vietnam. A competitive variation of the game played over a net, called sepak takraw was developed in Malaysia in the 1940’s.There are quite a few videos of (highly competitive) Sepak Takraw on YouTube. One to start with:
The whole thing is a wonderful demo of overtone singing, but NB at the end, 3:10 to 3:16, he builds a sonic stupa:
See lots more on his YouTube page. Those wishing to play with sonography might try Raven Lite, a free app from Cornell's Ornithology Lab that "lets users record, save, and visualize sounds as spectrograms and waveforms."
During my years of wandering the Groves of Academe I read many thousands of pages of books and papers, and (I can see now) shuttled from one enthusiasm to the next, driven and drawn, blown and tumbled through a vast array of subjects and quite a few academic disciplines. The file cabinets in the barn hold a lot of the remains of the odyssey, and promise/demand many hours of rainy-day sorting --but perhaps (some would say) might as well go straight to recycling. Anyway, my pantheon of much-admired writers includes Charles Tilly. Today's Crooked Timber tells me that Tilly has won the Social Science Research Council's Hirschman Prize, and there's a link to a pdf of his (1982) essay Warmaking and Statemaking as Organized Crime. I grabbed it and started reading... and was projected back to the Maxell Moment mindspace
that I have so often enjoyed as a reader of fine academic prose. Listen:
Apologists for particular governments and for government in general commonly argue, precisely, that they offer protection from local and external violence. They claim that the prices they charge barely cover the costs of protection. They call people who complain about the price of protection 'anarchists', 'subversives', or both at once. But consider the definition of a racketeer as someone who creates a threat, then charges for its reduction. Governments' provision of protection, by this standard, often qualifies as racketeering. To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary, or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket.Hmmmm. 1982. I'm just saying...
Maybe you hadda been conscious in the 1950s to appreciate the ...erm... poignancy of this, which arrived via the usually sober-sided Crooked Timber, but the whole awful savor of the 1950s is available, in color, for your delectation:
...and this one is, as they say, just soooo wrong:
Gluttons for punishment (i.e., those who did watch daytime TV in the 1950s) might check out cartoondump on YouTube. Frinstance, I'm sure that some of you will click to see Moodsy the Clinically Depressed Owl sing Dry Heaves.
Amanda Palmer herself, on herself:
This from 1963, and they don't make 'em like that anymore:
To persuade you that McDaid's Keyboard Practice belongs in your life, I offer these:
These tools are all written by programmers driven by frightful agendas: lobbying memos from marketing, quarterly marching orders from managers, apologetic memos from engineering VPs describing overblown promises made to analysts by desperate CEOs, pet peeves, side bets on Easter eggs, crank theories, smoldering resentment over midyear reviews, bad habits from college programming courses, and the numb, looming horror of fixed ship dates. It's a wonder any of this stuff works. Ever.
Of the sorting of the ambitious young:
They all dream of becoming the Elect - until they spend long enough in the City to realize that dreams don't come true. The culture protects itself from an excess of artists by throwing up filters: editors, critics, teachers, device logging, all the machineries of meritocratic Selektion. Someone needs to determine where the culture will invest its reproductive capital. ("Money's own genitals!" yelped Rilke, but we never learned who he was transcribing.)
The downside, as always, is time lags, slippage, human error, and an inevitable overgating. Are a few false negatives too high a price to pay?
Of the limitations of the ambitious young:
But their understanding of the world has been shaped by the presuppositionless "now this"-ness of the Net. Everything to them is sequence; flipping through the world by remote control, reality is just one damned thing after another. Their narrated digital space is not a medium that promotes reflection or deductive logic. And their induction never pushes past vague first-order syntheses; they've been taught to distrust master narratives, and schemas, res ipsa loquitur, are always tools of oppression.
No wonder they can't play Bach.
I still find myself gnawing on the old bones of what it is to Teach, and to Learn. Now and again a ray of clarity breaks through the fug, and today's case in point is Daniel Holz' Ave atque Vale in honor of John Archibald Wheeler, the link for which was forwarded to me by Nick. I've known a couple of Teachers of that too-rare sort, and it's worth considering why there aren't more of them... what it is about the institutions that (occasionally) contain such wonders that doesn't nourish their development, and reward their enterprise.
Lotte Lenya 1930 (just the audio):Hildegard Knef:Anne Kerry Ford:Nina Simone Montreal 1992 (lyrics):...and oh hell Dresden Dolls with the not-unrelated Coin-Operated Boy:
I was wandering in the depths of my collection of mp3 files, looking for something to accompany a long walk, and stumbled upon John D. McDaid's "Keyboard Practice", which I'd found via a January 2006 Cory Doctorow posting on BoingBoing. It's still available (read by McDaid himself) for download, and its two hours of running time is really, I mean really worth your attention. An excerpt from John Joseph Adams' SciFiWire interview suggests a bit of the why, in terms of theme and antecedents:
"Keyboard Practice," which originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, tells the story of a near-future piano competition. "[It's] conducted in the harsh style of American Idol, set in a world of ubiquitous podcasting and intelligent pianos, and narrated by a disaffected sound technician," McDaid said. "Drawing on the structure of Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations, the story is told through a series of short scenes—variations—at the climax of which the spirit of a former winner seems to appear."
McDaid added: "On one level, I was trying to write a hard-SF ghost story, using musical scores, DNA, A.I. and physicist David Bohm's notion of the 'implicate order' as points of entry. I was fascinated as a college student by [Douglas R.] Hofstadter's [book] Gödel, Escher, Bach. My friend Michael Joyce, a mainstream novelist, turned me on to the Goldberg Variations and suggested it had literary possibilities. That fit very nicely with the ideas I was playing with."
McDaid recently read and recorded an MP3 version of the story and has made it available as a free download on his Web site. "Podcasting is central to the story; it would be really obtuse of me not to use the [audio] medium," he said.
(Manny the AI piano on equal temperament)
"Equal temperament is a typical meat-assed solution," said Manny. This was one of the Manster's leitmotifs, and once he fired this subroutine, you had little choice but to take the ride. I was testing his solenoids, two hours until the second round started, so I just grunted noncommittally.
"A key's true intervals are based on harmonics, the vibrations of fractional lengths of its fundamental string. But that means an F relative to a C isn't the same as an F relative to a D. That's okay for one-key instruments, but in us keyboards, where the scale is modular and repeatable, my ancestors' Northern European artisans ran into tuning problems immediately."
I knew what was coming, with the same numbing certainty you have watching the first act of a tragedy. In case we humans missed it, here was our hamaitia, from Manny's unbiased perspective.
"So they resorted to a purely arbitrary mathematical solution. Equal temperament."
"And why," I said with mock curiosity, "is that such a bad thing?"
"In their pornographic haste to cram every key into one box, they bashed each one until it fit. Instead of fractions of the fundamental, the ratio of each successive semitone's frequency increases by the twelfth root of two. Does that sound like a solution designed by nature? It makes all keys suboptimal. But prior to digital instruments, it was imposed by your Western scale and the physical realities of keyboard hardware."
(describing the contestants)
There is, about the contestants, a common sense of anticipation and emptiness; despite well-honed performance personae, in some sense, they all have heads like blank media. Every year they come here, and I realize all over again that they are just kids, really; most teenagers, the rest still developmentally adolescent. Social misfits, chained to keyboards, with acne problems, arrested sexuality, feature length backlists of old comedy routines burned into long-term memory, obsolete tattoos, bedrooms plastered with fatally idiosyncratic icons, circles of friends who tolerate their clinging presence because it occasionally deters the wrath of vice-principals, fantasies of broad-spectrum competence...
Bill Kirchen, Philly Folk Festival 2004, also via WFMU:
(lots of nice mp3s at the above link)
Two more via Daniel, the first a duet between master ZOUMANA DEMBELE from Burkina Faso on djembé and tambourine wizard CARLO RIZZO:
and in this one your attention is particularly called to the musician at 2:20 and 3:50... and of course to the boots at 0:55 and 3:00. Do I hear "lobsta lobsta" in the refrain?
...and if you wander into the YouTube comments, you'll get a whole edjakashun in ethnocalumny...
Pretty good job of filming his playing:
(this one thanks to Daniel, again)
...we could do worse...
It's little short of criminal that there seems to be no North American source for Baraná. Kate sent me this one:
...and that led me to this:
Perhaps only Daniel and I are fans of excesses like this, by the Baraná Trio:
and just as wiggy: