Saturday, December 09, 2023
Friday, December 08, 2023
If not for free speech, how are we ever going to talk about things and reach any sort of mutual understanding, even of an "agree-to-disagree" sort?
If you're a climate-change denier and want to say that you think global warning is a big hoax, fine, that's your right. But don't expect me to agree with you and don't expect your unscientific views to be accepted as equally valid as those of a researcher who's studied the matter. You may feel that you've "done your own research," i.e., scrolled social media until you found a tweet that reinforced your predisposed opinions, but it's not the same.
I read that a recent YouGov.com poll found that a quarter of Americans under 30 believe the holocaust is "a myth." It wasn't a myth and actually happened based on an abundance of documented historical evidence, but you have a right to express your ignorance and to suffer the indignation and disgust your comments will cause. I'm not saying you can't express your opinion - I'm saying don't expect to not suffer the consequences.
"You have the right to free speech," The Clash sang, "as long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it."
But if we deny people the right to express their opinions, as wrong as they may be, we drive that speech underground where it can't be discussed or critiqued or corrected, and it fosters and metastasizes into "urban myth," and then "alternative facts," and finally, to some, as just plain facts.
How can we ever find a lasting solution to peace in the Middle East if we can't discuss the mistreatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government without that discussion being branded "anti-Semitic?" Without demands that a person expressing sympathy for the plight of oppressed Gazans leave the conversation immediately? I have sympathy for the Israeli victims of violence and terrorism, not just on October 6 but for decades now, and that sympathy is not "Islamophobic." Why is sympathy for oppressed Palestinians considered "anti-Semitic?"
If our reaction to the deplorable events of October 6 is to ignore the plight and the suffering of those non-Hamas Palestinians who were in no way responsible for the events, and who have been suffering under both the tyranny of Hamas rule and Israeli oppression for years now, then we're denying their humanity just as much as the terrorists denied the humanity of their Israeli victims.
If our reaction to Israel's current actions in Gaza requires us to ignore the plight and the suffering of the innocent Israeli victims, and the quite understandable instinct of a country to eliminate the source of the violent aggression against them, then we're denying their humanity just as much as the terrorists did.
I understand that some 1,200 innocent Israelis died in the October 6 attacks. The last I heard, some 15,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza, including 10,000 women and children, in Israel's counteroffensive. The numbers on both sides are heartbreaking.
Should I be silenced and not allowed to speak if I express sympathy for the Israelis killed on that awful day? Should I be banned from the conversation if I'm concerned about the Palestinians killed in the counter-offensive, and the probability that the cycle of violence shows no sign of abating?
We need free speech and we need to be able to talk about these things.
I bring all this up because this week the presidents of several elite universities have gotten into trouble over Congressional testimony in which they weren't able to strongly denounce calls for anti-Semitic violence and even genocide, saying their reaction would be "context specific" and other legalistic mumbo-jumbo. There are some saying those presidents should either resign or be fired for not agreeing with the prevailing public sentiment, and the universities are losing donor funding as a result of the testimony.
Of course (of course!) any calls for genocide of any persons - Jews, Palestinians, Armenians, indigenous peoples, etc. - are reprehensible. But sadly, some people hold these views, some out of deep-seated hatred and racism, and some in reaction (or over-reaction) to recent events, like the October 6 attacks and the Israeli reaction.
If we're really going to tolerate free speech, we have to acknowledge that some people might harbor some deep-seated animosity for other groups of people, and even think violence towards those others is justifiable under certain conditions. The Israeli government seems to feel that way right now toward the people of Gaza, and there are people sympathetic to the Gazans who apparently feel that way about Israelis.
To express that anger, even the feeling that violence is justifiable, is free speech but one better be prepared for some intense blowback if that opinion is expressed. What can't be tolerated under any circumstance, what isn't free speech, is to incite violence, to say "those people must be killed" or "let's go kill those people." That's violence, that's criminal, and that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
I'm sorry if I'm not on board with Congress' position that those university presidents should be condemned and punished. Politicians, especially Republicans, have long been hostile and suspicious of education and institutions of higher learning, and I suspect that the hearings and the specific questions were all calculated to further alienate those "egg-head, know-it-alls" from public support and popular opinion. The Republicans have long been accusing colleges of "indoctrination" and "grooming," and turning out "woke" (whatever that means to them) neo-liberals who will vote Democratic. The hearings were only more of the same, just more effective that the previous complaints about "drag-queen story hours."
But those are merely my opinions. I'm stating what I believe. It's my right of free speech. You may disagree. That's your right. I don't expect everyone, or even anyone, to agree, and I fully expect many won't even understand due to fixed opinions already in their heads. But you can all go express your own views to whoever you like in any manner of your own choosing. That's free speech.
Thursday, December 07, 2023
Now the Gaming Desk wants you to know that it's finished playing Phantom Liberty, the Cyberpunk 2077 DLC, and has moved on to The Evil Within 2.
We've never played Evil Within 1, but stumbled across 2 as a free download on Epic, so why not? I have to admit, it's pretty confusing. Don't really understand who my character is supposed to be or what exactly this alternate dimension I've become trapped in is all about. But the game's not that complex and it doesn't really matter - there are scary monsters that want to kill me, and until I can upgrade to better weapons, I need to hide from them or snipe at them from safe positions.
Evil Within 2 is classified as a "horror survival game" and I won't question that, but I find the mood and tone of the game somewhat monotonous. It's unrelentingly tense and one is almost never not in imminent danger. After you've passed through some maze-like portal full of unexpected monsters and hidden dangers, you immediately come across a person or a note or something that requires you to go back in and run the gauntlet again. And again.
After I play for a little while, I notice that the old familiar tendency to keep playing "just one more mission" or get "one more kill" eventually sets in, but when I'm not playing, I have very little motivation to start the game up. I almost have to drag myself into it.
I expect I'll eventually finish it. Last month, I bought a ton of new games on a Steam sale and I'm looking forward to getting to them, so that's the carrot I'm dangling in front of me to grind my way through The Evil Within. It's not the highest praise for a game to think, "Can't wait until it's over."
Wednesday, December 06, 2023
For various reasons, this morning I've been listening to the music of saxophonist Eddie Harris, and in the process learned something new about The Beatles that I never knew before.
Up above's a video of Harris in 1969 playing his composition Cold Duck Time with Les McCann (piano) and Benny Bailey (trumpet). It's great that this video even exists, and that we can see the musicians' interactions with one other, like Bailey's at 2:10 when Harris nails his line. Also, check out the expressions on Harris and McCann's faces at around 4:10 after Bailey just absolutely tore up a killer trumpet solo. You also get to watch Ella Fitzgerald finding a seat in the audience.
Listening to Eddie Harris requires some discretion. He was an exciting and innovative performer, probably most famous as the composer of Freedom Jazz Dance, now a standard that's been recorded by many musicians, most notably Miles Davis. Harris.was also one of the first, if not the first, jazz musicians to electrify the saxophone. Titles of albums from the late 1960s, like Plug Me In and High Voltage, reflected his embrace of electronics. But sometime in the 1970s, be began incorporating large elements of funk and jazz fusion into his music, often with unfortunate results that today sound very dated and trendy. Worse, he also started incorporating comedy into his songs, both in the titles and in lyrics, and even released an album of just spoken-word, stand-up comedy.
A man's got to make a living, and in their time those funk and comedy records sold fairly well (for jazz albums, if you can call them that), but I find little enjoyment in listening to them today. But when successfully avoided, they take nothing away from his far better jazz, soul-jazz, and R&B records.
Harris' first album, Exodus to Jazz, was released in 1961 on the Vee Jay label, and he went on to record a half-dozen albums in total for Vee Jay between 1961 and 1964. But Spotify is streaming a compilation album titled Presenting Eddie Harris, dated 1961 but containing later songs (like the performance of Cold Duck Time shown up above) and other songs recorded as late as 1976, long after he left Vee Jay for Atlantic Records.
My initial clue that the album wasn't from 1961 was that it includes a song titled 1974 Blues, which seems unlikely to have been recorded in 1961 or earlier. But as it turns out, I was only partially correct - the song is not from '61, but actually was recorded in 1968.
I tried to find some information online about Presenting Eddie Harris but didn't come up with much. Neither Wikipedia, All Music, Discogs, nor Rate Your Music list the album in Harris' discography. MusicBrainz.com does list the album and has detailed notes on personnel and recording dates for most tracks (which is how I found out that 1974 Blues was recorded in 1968), yet still claims the album was released on March 11, 1961.
But I also saw on MusicBrainz that the compilation was released on the Universal Digital Enterprises label. Which in itself is another give-away - I sincerely doubt any music label was calling itself "digital" anything in 1961, much less the 1970s. Also, I see on the Qobuz streaming site that Universal Digital has released hundreds of albums, many with the "Presenting. . ." title and with dates purportedly as early as the 1930s.
My guess is that Universal Digital's business model is releasing digital versions of earlier, out-of-print albums for streaming services, which got me to wondering if Presenting Eddie Harris wasn't a repackaging of some earlier compilation. But I can find nothing earlier in Harris' discography of nearly the length of Presenting (42 tracks). Plus listening to the compilation is a slightly schizophrenic effort - the track listing jumps back and forward in time, lurching wildly between styles. One track might be a very traditional jazz set from the early '60s, followed by a wah-wah soaked session from the mid-'70s with crooning background singers and disco percussion, and then a soul-jazz track from a time in-between the other two. Who came up with this track order?
I may never know. Vee Jay Records, Harris' early label, has been liquidated and went through several reorganizations. Some, like VJ International, operated mainly just to lease the Vee-Jay masters to other companies. In 1990, Chameleon Music Group began reissuing Vee-Jay material on CD until Chameleon became inactive in 1995. An agreement was cut in 1998 with Rhino Records for North American licensing of the Vee Jay catalog, which is currently owned by the Concord Music Group, which also owns Fantasy Records.
I may never know the providence of Presenting Eddie Harris and can live with that ambiguity in my life. But I promised you something about The Beatles, and in my research I learned that Vee Jay Records was founded in 1953 in Gary, Indiana by Vivian Carter and James C. Bracken (who used their first initials for the label’s name). The first song they ever recorded (Baby It's You by Gary's own The Spaniels) made it to the top ten of the U.S. R&B charts, and within a short time, Vee Jay was the most successful black-owned record company in the USA. In addition to doo-wop bands like The Spaniels and jazz artists like Eddie Harris, Vee Jay also released records by blues artists (John Lee Hooker) and rock bands like The Four Seasons.
Vee Jay was also the first American company to sign The Beatles. They released Please Please Me, backed with Tell Me Why, in 1963. In one month alone in early 1964, Vee Jay sold 2.6 million Beatles singles. Vee Jay also released the first Beatles album (Introducing . . . The Beatles) in early 1964, ten days before Capitol Records released Meet the Beatles. Capitol filed lawsuits against Vee Jay and cease-and-desist orders to stop the releases, as they felt that their subsequent deal with Beatles' management gave them exclusive rights. The cost of defending the lawsuits, in addition to poor financial management, wiped out Vee Jay’s money and credit, and put the company out of business.
So I realized that this has nothing to do with Eddie Harris, but today I learned that the Beatles, once the most successful band in the world (prior to Michael Jackson, prior to Taylor Swift), originally had their music released by a black-owned record label from Gary, Indiana. Cool.
Tuesday, December 05, 2023
Monday, December 04, 2023
Sunday, December 03, 2023
Saturday, December 02, 2023
Yesterday, I threw the I Ching and got Hexagram 61, Chung Fu. Wind above, lake below. My moving line, line three, read, "True companions share their fate. One beats the drum, one grows silent. One weeps, one sings."
This oracle is interpreted to mean that one's everyday fulfillment and passing joy can come to depend on someone or something else. If things go well between the two, the one is ecstatic; if things go badly, they are miserable. Outside of this relationship, they can find neither satisfaction nor disappointment. Without other elements in life to modify their feelings, they are continually buffeted between extremes of joy and sorrow.
Lately, that other in my life has been the Georgia Bulldogs college football team. When they win, I am happy and when they lose, I am sad. Fortunately for me, I've been happy for two solid years now, as they haven't lost a game since December 4, 2021. The SEC championship game. To Alabama.
But now I am sad because today - fittingly, Day of the Waste Arena, according to the Universal Solar Calendar - the Georgia Bulldogs lost. The SEC championship game. To Alabama.
And that makes me sad.
Friday, December 01, 2023
I've finished reading As Serious As Your Life, a mid-1970s book about the free-jazz movement of the '60s and '70s. The book had its moments but overall, I didn't find it particularly enlightening and thought it suffered from some outdated attitudes on gender equality and race, although it sincerely endeavored to be progressive on both fronts. The book was written by a British journalist who was obviously very familiar with the music, but seemed at times distant from the creative process and the thinking of the musicians she was covering.
I've moved on to A Power Greater Than Itself, a 2008 book on the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and experimental music in general written by musician George E. Lewis, himself a member of the AACM. I'm enjoying it much more.
Early chapters of the book discuss the life and work of the late musician Muhal Richard Abrams, one of the founders of the AACM, which got me to listening to some of his music again, bringing back fond memories of late-night college radio in the 1970s.
Abrams' very first recording was 1967's Levels and Degrees of Light on the Delmark label. It was not only Abrams' first album but was also the recording debut of Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins, so right there it's an historically significant album. The title track opens the album with ethereal, wordless vocalization and shimmering, otherworldly vibes before segueing into some piercing, almost bluesy clarinet by Abrams, reminiscent of some of the more pastoral passages of Sun Ra. My Thoughts Are My Future - Now and Forever, features several great solos, including a fast-paced, dizzying piano solo by Abrams and some bracing sax work by Braxton. The Bird Song, a nearly 23-minute composition, filled the entire second side of the original vinyl LP, although it was moved to the second track for the CD reissue. The track begins with a poetry recitation by David Moore and then a long, atmospheric section of bowed strings before progressing to a free-jazz maelstrom of percussion, violin, and saxophone. The bass and violin produce the bird-whistle effects by bowing on the highest strings of the instrument, although later in the piece I can't tell if the sounds are taped recordings of actual bird songs spliced into the track or if they're produced by the musicians - no one is credited on the liner notes with whistles or any exotic instruments.
According to Lewis in As Serious As Your Life, the session was recorded on four-track 1/2" tape, an upgrade from previous albums on the Delmark label. The session also made extensive use of electronic processing, "with each track awash in dense studio reverberation." Some of the tracks, notably My Thoughts Are My Future, sound like they may be spliced together from different sessions, and then there's the question of the origin of the bird sounds - instrumental or musique concrète?
The use of electronics proved controversial at the time and was widely misunderstood in a jazz world where acoustic instrumentation was conflated with musical authenticity. It was felt that electronic studio effects were the province of rock music and not to be employed in true jazz.
Many reviews of Levels and Degrees of Light assumed the reverb was a quality deficit in the recording itself, a slap to the face of the studio engineer. While a 1969 Ebony article called Dvid Moore's spoken-word passage was "totally empathetic" with Abrams, it sniffed that "the engineer's sensitivity was not." A British reviewer, complaining that Moore's words could not be readily understood, felt that the reverb obscured a wide range of textural development, perhaps not noticing that the effects were, in fact, part of the texture itself.
Delmark owner Robert Koester thought that the reverb was "a little bit corny." Down Beat's review at the time found it "unpleasant and distorting." Even as late as 1985, the Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide said the album "falls apart in the poorly recorded wall of sound that covers side two."
Listening to the album today, I can't tell if the sound is clearer now in the digital version of the CD reissue than it was in the original vinyl format, but it sounds fine to my ears. I can hear the reverb, especially among the high-end sounds in the middle section of The Bird Song, but it's not at all unpleasant or off-setting. As for the tape splicing and possible musique concrète effects, it sounds far less radical now than things George Martin and the Beatles were doing at the same time, or for that matter, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
As a point of reference, it was around this time (1967) that Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band recorded their second album, Strictly Personal. In accordance with the popular psychedelic rock trends of the day, the producers added heavy use of phasing and reverb during mixing, although allegedly without Beefheart's knowledge or approval. The album is almost unlistenable today, and some tracks were later re-released in subsequent albums without the effects. I don't find those unlistenable qualities in Levels and Degrees of Light.
The problem, Lewis notes in A Power Greater Than Itself, is that studio manipulation and electronic treatment were considered by the jazz community to be the province not only of rock music, but more specifically of white musicians. Even mainstream black jazz musicians and critics discouraged black musicians from studio and electronic experimentation. Poet and critic Ron Welburn wrote that white rock musicians "were in a technological lineage extending through John Cage, Stockhausen, Edgard Varese, all the way back to Marconi and the wireless." White rock, he concluded, is a technology, not "a real music."
Miles Davis was about to turn that way of thinking on its head in two years with 1969's Bitches Brew.
Muhal Richard Abrams' Levels and Degrees of Light is streaming on Spotify. Go listen for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Thursday, November 30, 2023
It's no exaggeration to say that half the artists I want to see are playing on Thursday. Given that it's the first day of the festival, the performances don't start until 6:00 or 7:00 pm. It's hard to see more than three sets on Thursday - four if you're both ambitious and lucky - so I sincerely hope that most of these artists perform second or even third sets during the following days. I know that Henry Threadgill and Fred Frith are. I understand that Secret Chiefs 3 will be performing again as Ishraqiyun. a sort of alternate line-up side project. Don't know about the rest.
Post-punk mavericks Unwound are currently touring North America and passing through Knoxville in March. I doubt their busy touring schedule will allow them the time to linger extra days at the festival.
If I have to limit myself to only three sets on Thursday, it would probably be Unwound, Angelic Brothers (John Medeski and Kirk Knuffke's Sun Ra tribute project), and, as scheduling allows, either Secret Chiefs 3 or Henry Threadgill, whose Very Very Circus ensemble - which includes two tubas and two electric guitars in the lineup - is perfoming.
I'm not talking about the Celtics' 27-point win over the Chicago Bulls last night, although that was certainly a part of it. For the Celtics to win East Group C of the NBA Cup In-Season Tournament, they not only had to win that game, but needed to win in a very specific way, and the miracle was that it all came together exactly as needed.
Going into last night's game, both the Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets trailed the Orlando Magic by one game in Group C. Because Orlando had beaten the Celtics on Friday, the Magic owned the head-to-head tiebreaker. The only way the Celts could advance to the next stage was through a three-way tie, where the total point differential is the tiebreaker.
Orlando was idle last night, so to create a three-way tie, the Celtics needed to beat the Bulls and they needed the Nets to win their scheduled game against the Toronto Raptors. But to boost their point differential, Boston needed to win by more than 22 points and they needed the Nets to win their game but by no more than 8 points less than whatever was Boston's margin of victory.
Boston beat the Bulls by 27 points, covering the 22 points they needed. But the Nets had to beat the Toronto Raptors by no more than 19 points (Boston's 27 points less eight). The Nets won, 115-103, a 12-point differential, and as a result Boston won Group C and will play in the bracket stage for the NBA Cup.
What needed to happen, happened, and it happened in exactly the way Boston needed it to. It's a miracle.
Game 1 of the Quarterfinals will be Monday night, Dec. 4, against the 9-7 Indiana Pacers. Brooklyn, which beat Orlando earlier this month, will play Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Whether or not what we experienced last night was an According-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that we felt the touch of God, and God is apparently a leprechaun.
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
For the third straight week, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee ranked the undefeated, 12-0, repeat National Champion Georgia Bulldogs at No. 1. Georgia was followed in the rankings by Mishigas (2), Washington (3), and Florida State (4), just like the AP Poll.
If the playoffs were to begin today, Georgia would play the FSU Semen Holes, and then the winner of the Washington-Mishigas game. Whoever wins the Washington-Mishigas game would bring the belts, the Magnificent Seven Championship Belts and the Holy Moly Guacamole One True Belt (blessed be its name), to the CFP Championship Game. Were Georgia to win that game, they would unify those belts with their own Three-Peat Championship Belts (2021, 2022, and 2023) to create the ultimate Bitchin' Boombastic Bad-Boy Bulldog Belt.
The regular season may be over, but we still have the not-trivial matter of the SEC title game against Alabama this Saturday. The Bulldogs are favored by 5.5 points, but history and tradition are on Alabama's side. The Bulldogs have not beaten the Crimson Tide in an SEC title game, ever, and Alabama has not lost in a title game against any opponent since 2008.
The last time the Bulldogs lost any game at all, it was against Alabama, 41-24, in the 2021 SEC title game (we subsequently beat them in the CFP Championship Game that year).
But the past is history and no indicator of future results. It's a must-win game for Georgia's three-peat ambitions and the most Alabama can realistically hope for is to be a spoiler. I'm a fan and obviously biased, but I believe the Bulldogs will pull out a victory on Saturday.
For various reasons, I've long wanted to hate Starbucks Coffee, more specifically the retail chain and not their coffee itself, but have...
A couple weeks ago, I had some plumbers over to my house to fix a leak apparently coming from beneath my refrigerator. It turned out that, ...