I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
– Leo Tolstoy, excerpt from “What Is Art?”
As to the course which I seem to you to be urging on you now and then, my object in shutting myself up and locking the door is to be able to help a greater number. I never spend a day in idleness; I appropriate even a part of the night for study. I do not allow time for sleep but yield to it when I must, and when my eyes are wearied with waking and ready to fall shut, I keep them at their task.
I have withdrawn not only from men, but from affairs, especially from my own affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some ideas that may be of assistance to them. There are certain wholesome counsels, which may be compared to prescriptions of useful drugs; these I am putting into writing; for I have found them helpful in ministering to my own sores, which, if not wholly cured, have at any rate ceased to spread.
– excerpt, Letters from a Stoic – Letter VIII: “On the Philosopher’s Seclusion”
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist
Here’s an excellent little behind-the-scenes documentary (23 min.) on three great UK drum and bass artists: Squarepusher, Photek, and Source Direct. It’s especially exciting for me (and I imagine other computer musicians like me) to see how producers back in the 90s were making music at home. Hardware samplers, sequencers, and mixers were an essential part of it, whereas now a single laptop can do everything.
Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, is the most impressive of the bunch here – very humble, and even this early on he’s clearly making the most complex, intricate music of the bunch. If you’ve heard his records before, this comes as no surprise. He talks about how he’s obsessed with listening to all kinds of rhythm-based music from every period past and present – jazz, funk, drum and bass, etc. He wants to be exposed to it all. This philosophy is also unsurprising given the maximalist complexity of his compositions, which are clearly his restless experiments to synthesize and expand upon all the rhythms he’s encountered. Seeing how bare bones his studio is is also quite inspiring. He’s able to do so much with so little because of the unique processing abilities of his most complex computer – his brain!
The guys in Source Direct also get points for being so honest and raw. I like how matter-of-factly they state that living in the middle of nowhere means their lives basically consist of making beats, driving fast cars, doing drugs, drinking, and girls. Since they only put out two albums, most recently in 1999, it’s clear this philosophy didn’t exactly have longevity built into it, but again, it’s honest. It’s completely understandable that guys growing up in such an isolated location, one so antithetical to the music they create, would have such a straightforward, reductionist outlook, especially when they felt alienated from school and the mainstream youth culture of most of their peers.
Thread Catalog for the week ending May 31st, 2013.
Movies in Color [film, design] – “A blog featuring stills from films and their corresponding color palettes. A tool to promote learning and inspiration. Updated daily.” Above is a great example from the site, deconstructing a classic shot from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Chicago’s last film processing company shuts down [film, technology] – “After 45 years of processing major films, from ‘The Blues Brothers’ to ‘The Dark Knight’, Chicago’s Astro Labs has shut down.” Sad news, but understandable. Analog formats just don’t make sense anymore in terms of price and workflow. High definition video offers the path of least resistance with great results, and eventually it will truly be able to replicate film’s aesthetic qualities, which is the main reason people like Christopher Nolan care about it (that and nostalgia). (Btw, the only people who should really be upset about the medium are avant-garde filmmakers like Ernie Gehr or Peter Kubelka, who actually required discrete, physical frames to properly do their work; but even people like Gehr and Ken Jacobs have happily taken up digital video.)
Vatican corrects Pope: Atheists are still going to hell [religion, atheism] – Amusing. Related to the story I featured in last week’s TC.
Popcorn Noises [music, criticism] – Cool music blog I found recently that features the author’s very personalized listening journal. I like his writing because it often incorporates his perception of the band, which I think is a more realistic representation of the way we experience music. It might be ideal to meet each song on its own terms, as if we had never heard of the band before, but more often than not part of why we like or don’t like a band’s new record is based heavily on what they’ve done before, and what we are aware they can or cannot do well.
Studio Science: Four Tet On His Live Set [music, music technology, video] – Red Bull Music Academy kills it again with this video of the amiable Kieran Hebden discussing the ins and outs of his live set.
quincunx [language, geometry, design] – “a geometric pattern consisting of five points, four in a square with one more in the middle of the square.” From Latin, literally ‘five twelfths,’ from quinque ‘five’ + uncia ‘twelfth.’ Had honestly never heard that term before, but I’m a big fan of simple words that describe very specific things. Nice vocab addition.
Curators Code [internet, writing] – A method for attributing content using special unicode symbols. ᔥ is used to mean via, thereby attributing a direct discovery. ↬ is used as a symbol for hat tip, indicating “a link of indirect discovery, story lead, or inspiration.”
Australia ranked ‘happiest’ developed nation again [sociology, psychology] – “Australia has been ranked the world’s happiest nation among developed economies for the third year running.”
Facebook bows to campaign groups over ‘hate speech’ [internet, ethics] – I had no idea about this, but apparently Facebook has faced criticism after not removing a graphic video depicting the decapitation of a woman in Mexico.
India’s ancient university returns to life [education, history] – “Nalanda University in northern India drew scholars from all over Asia, surviving for hundreds of years before being destroyed by invaders in 1193. The idea of Nalanda as an international centre of learning is being revived by a group of statesmen and scholars led by the Nobel prize winning economist, Amartya Sen.”
California Obamacare Insurance Exchange Announces Premium Rates, Lower Than Expected [healthcare, economics] – “I was indeed shocked by the proposed premium rates—but not in the way you might expect. I was experiencing the shock of rates far lower than what I expected — even at the lowest end of the age scale.”
Vintage Synth Explorer [music technology] – “Since 1996, the Vintage Synth Explorer has been providing a fast and easy way to learn about vintage synthesizers. We have grown to include modern digital synthesizers, analog emulators, soft-synths, plug-ins, and other forms of electronic musical instruments.” An amazing resource that I’ve come to many times for isolated reasons, but you could definitely get lost in here.
Synthmania [music technology] – Another amazing synth resource. Has tons of mp3 samples of many synths’ presets. Very useful, especially if you’re on the lookout for picking up some new hardware.
And for good measure, I’ll include one more Movies in Color image. From the Coen Brothers’ excellent film A Serious Man, we have a true visual representation of threads of involuntary thought:
Thread Catalog for the week ending May 24th, 2013.
• Idiagram – The Art of Systems Thinking [systems science, complex systems, art, information science, processes] – Very interesting site that attempts to diagram the structure of various processes. Most interesting is the interactive diagram for The Art of Complex Problem Solving (pictured above).
• Atheist State Lawmaker Quotes Carl Sagan Instead of Doing Prayer Before House Session [atheism, secular humanism, religion, politics] – An exciting and pretty revolutionary story about secular humanist/atheist representative Juan Mendez taking a calm and well-spoken stand to promote his beliefs. Hearing his words almost seems like the future, or a scene from a science fiction film where people no longer believe in religion, and are simply at one with the Universe and our existence in it. There needs to be so much more of this these days, rather than the infantile, religious zealots at one end, and the alienating, barking, proselytizing Atheists-with-a-capital-A at the other.
• CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Asks Atheist Oklahoma Tornado Survivor If She ‘Thanked The Lord’ [atheism, religion, news] – Oh, well, there we go. Another civil, quiet, good-natured atheist making her stance known with no apology for herself and no derision for others.
• Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics [religion, atheism] – Whoa. What is this, Atheism Awareness Week? Or did Catholics finally realize Jesus would have been more like the Buddha and less like a self-righteous douche?
• 24-Year-Old Receives Sage Counsel From Venerable 27-Year-Old [humor, The Onion] Fun fact: the guy on the left in the photo is Gabe Klinger, the director of the James Benning/Richard Linklater documentary I featured in last week’s Thread Catalog. A funny piece from The Onion, though I do in some sense take issue with it. Being young and thinking you’re in some sense perfect is certainly silly, but people who are comparatively young can often be wiser not just than people who are are younger than they are, but even those much older. Living through difficult circumstances or having a mind that can learn relatively quickly from mistakes can teach people at a young age how to deal with things more productively and maturely than people much older. The next link is a case in point.
• Documentary on Zach Sobiech [human interest, miscellaneous, music] – An inspirational story of an 18-year-old who died from a rare form of cancer, but used music to touch others and show them what it means to be human. While many people might only see his fate as unlucky, I would disagree. He was actually quite lucky in the sense that he acquired much wisdom in his short life, and was able to come to peace with his situation and remain happy while also understanding his mortality. This is something many people decades older than him (and most people in general) are never able to do.
• The Daily Routines of Famous Writers [writing, creativity, productivity] – “Kurt Vonnegut’s recently published daily routine made we wonder how other beloved writers organized their days. So I pored through various old diaries and interviews — many from the fantastic Paris Review archives — and culled a handful of writing routines from some of my favorite authors. Enjoy.”
• Lost Lands Found by Scientists [science, exploration] – “A lost continent off the coast of Brazil may have been found, scientists announced last week.”
• Still Charting Memory’s Depths A Conversation with Neuropsychologist Brenda Milner [science, neuroscience, psychology, neuropsychology, interview] – “In many ways, the Obama administration’s new plan to map the human brain has its origins in the work of Brenda Milner, the neuropsychologist whose detailed observations of an amnesia patient in the 1950s showed how memory is rooted in specific regions of the brain.”
• ‘Dynamic Range’ & The Loudness War [music, technology] – “We all know music is getting louder. But is it less dynamic? Our ground-breaking research proves beyond any doubt that the answer is no — and that popular beliefs about the ‘loudness war’ need a radical rethink.”
• What do we mean when we call music pretentious? [music, criticism, art] – “‘Pretentious’ gets thrown around a lot when discussing music. It’s a word that comes with connotations of stuffiness, condescension, willful obscurity, and needless intellectual complexity.”
• I Want to Believe [conspiracy theories, history, sociology, politics, skepticism] – An interesting analysis of the Illuminati and the function of conspiracy theories in our society. “The appeal of conspiracy theories is simple. Whether its Lizard People, Ancient Aliens, Freemasons, Occupy’s “1%,” or the poor maligned Rothschilds, the conspiratorial mind clings to the comforting notion of a world controlled by a rational agent capable of exerting its will to guide human events. Somebody is driving this thing … anybody. To the conspiratorial mind we are not alone with ourselves, left to our own devices, which can be the most terrifying prospect of all.”
• Wilmette twins break Guinness record with 24 sets in 5th grade class [human interest, sociology, miscellaneous] – “Twenty-four sets of twins at Highcrest Middle School in Wilmette are thrilled they have broken the Guinness world record for having the most sets of twins in one grade.”