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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Broken In The Dust Again

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Terror is on every side, though the leaders are dismayed
Those who put their faith in fire, in fire their faith shall be repaid
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Shout a warning to the nations that the sword of god is raised
On Babylon that mighty city, rich in treasure, wide in fame
It shall cause thy tower to fall and make it be a pyre of flame
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again

Oh thou that dwell on many waters, rich in treasure, wide in fame
Bow unto a god of gold, thy pride of might shall be thy shame
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again

And only God can lead the people back into the earth again
Thy holy mountain be restored, thy mercy on thy people Lord

These are some lyrics from “Pride Of Man,” a favorite song of mine. Written by Hamilton Camp, about whom I know very little. Performed by Quicksilver Messenger Service in the late 1960s. I do know something about QMS. They were Northern CA guys who really liked cowboys, reverb, marijuana and quasi-modal-jazz jams with trembling guitar vibrato. Though their live shows were clearly in the service of jamming, QMS had a talent for selecting cover songs that seem to reflect their tastes, in lyrics and music alike. “Pride Of Man” suits their musical tastes, with its minor key and changes that suggest bad things on the horizon, a likely soundtrack for a silent movie conflict. Nearly as I can tell, it’s a straight-forward plea to give the biblical God of Wrath his due. “Don’t be cheeky, or he’s gonna get you,” more or less. Now, I can see how that warning might have appealed to vaguely counter-cultural types in the late ’60s. The Old Testament gets read as anti-humanist (which, I guess, it really is). The technocratic invocations of objective progress for human civilization that are often on the lips of corporate spokesmen, with the obvious subtext that this progress will break quite a few eggs along the way to its glorious omelette, etc. 1 + 1 = 2: ecocidal corporations and their lackeys had better watch out for that “flash of fire / ten times brighter than the day.”
Of course, developments since biblical times in the desert (a favorite setting for QMS anyway), make this inference problematic. Can we still believe that might makes right in this way? God destroys this or that– that makes nothing right or wrong, per se (nor does it make it right because he wanted us to do it). I wonder if there’s anything to the idea that late ’60s counter-culture in the U.S. shows an anti-humanist tinge that later counter-cultures had to deal with, even if they mostly rejected it. I say “that later counter-cultures had to deal with”, not “that political movements had to deal with,” because the vague anti-humanism I mean is pre-political, and the only social change that developed it into a political position was the conservationist or ecological protection movement– which couldn’t openly espouse anti-humanism and remain in the political mainstream. By anti-humanism I mean a claim at least as strong as, “what ultimately makes events good or bad is not just whether they make things better or worse for some humans,” whatever “better or worse for some humans” might be taken to mean. QMS, or Dino Valenti, their later lyricist, continued to write songs with this theme (ex: “What About Me?”, written from the P.O.V. of the earth!) An appreciation for the value of things other than us or our affairs, to the extent that it makes a person imagine our violent death with satisfaction, shows up in lots of counter-cultural popular music as at least a theme in the lyrics. Ex: heavy metal (lots of doom, death, and black metal; Sleepytime Gorilla Museum).
I guess I’m not the first to say that metal and certain offshoots of ’60s counter-culture entertains themes as anti-humanist as much of the U.S. Christian Right wing (but I don’t know what to cite on the matter). On one face of this observation, it looks like a case where U.S. cultural remains of left-wing consciousness, perhaps only partly acknowledged as such, attach themselves to the obvious analogy between that righteous “flash of fire” and the sensual intensity of the sounds that attract a lot of people to rock music in the first place. Searing guitar lines as purging fire from God, come from the sky to smite the people presumably responsible for industrial, global capitalism. On this side, it looks like an expression of pathology on the U.S. left. Better that God come back (from the dead?) and kill off the baddies (us?), than to let them continue to ruin the environment and wear suits. More or less? Looked at from another side, this theme in American music lately recognizes, dimly, the unbridgeable distance between art’s sensual and formal aspects, and its political significance. Sure, these SF hippies seem to enjoy playing the fuck out of a conservative, wrathful God song. But the point of doing that is the feel of the song, and playing the fuck out of it, not agreeing that God should burn us right now. But the feel of the song is attractive because that musical form means something to us, to Americans in a sense of the term not limited to citizens. And the logical link between the way that song makes us feel and what that musical form means to us, culturally, could be real complicated.
I’m thinking of some big, contradictory, satellite in imaginary American la-la-land made out of stage cowboy outfits, Fender spring reverb tanks, California beach sand mixed with Mojave desert sand, and the head of some kind of righteous, psychedelic American Indian out of white-guilt hippie dreams with the body of an angry Old Testament God, wrenching soul-fuzz out of a charred Stratocaster. I’m not enthusing about this.. uh, cultural artifact itself, but pointing out that when I listen to QMS, it seems to have a hand in making that experience quite awesome– in the ’80s slang senses. I don’t exactly feel personal guilt about this, but I do feel very confused about where I stand when I feel that way. Because the part of that awesomeness that involves some actual awe seems to indicate that part of me communicates with that cracked American satellite described. How much awesomeness-potential can you lay at the door of mere musical form and timbre?


Romantic feelings 2: on second thought

What is the use of conducting an enquiry if it cannot be told when the results of that enquiry have been acheived?

[Michael Dummet, “Can Analytical Philosophy Be Systematic, and Ought it to Be?”]
Agreed. And though I admire his work, Robert Brandom said something about philosophy being a form of creative writing– a form that suits his taste, or something. Well, that’s OK for him. But fuck that. If I wanted to do creative writing, I’d write poetry or short stories; something with a style that’s actually good. If I want to do philosophy, I essentially want to be doing science, in the broadest possible sense. A disciplined practice of research searching for the truth about something.
So how much of philosophy is really an enquiry that we can’t know when its over? If some of philosophy is not that, but is creative writing, OK. Cool. If it’s well written. (Deleuze, I’m looking at you!). If some other philosophy is essentially science (non-natural science, maybe, like math), then, great. Let’s make it into a legit branch of math, like the Montagovian realists wanted to do with linguistics. Not sure I have the chops or the inclination to do that for the rest of my life, but I admire those who do it. A lot.
But what is the rest of philosophy? If it’s not successful conceptual analysis (& it’s not; has a concept ever been successfully analyzed?), then is it theory building? Ruth Millikan says her philosophy is psychological theory building, for the most part. Cool. But then the philosopher has to be talking to the scientists doing the empirical research, or they’re not really qualified to be building any theories.
I think that role sounds more or less fascinating depending on the particular science you have in mind. I suspect that a lot of philosophy is none of these three things, though– at least not explicitly or self-consciously so. Is it an enquiry, then? I mean, does the person writing it think of it as an enquiry, and does everyone else (under any other name)? If so… when does it end?

Jags 2

So I did buy the sunburst Jag at Mr. Music. It sounds better (sparklier) through my Hartke bass amp w/ a Mullard 12AX7 in the preamp than it did through the Roland microcube at the store. The Hartke gives the guitar a sound that is 100% clean (too clean for my taste) but I think this amp&guitar combination would kill for playing jazz. Maybe I’ll get that $70 Pignose one of these days for a portable, less clean amp. I have a Pork Loin pedal that gets close to a “dirty clean” sound with this combo, but it still sounds pretty sterile through the Hartke’s bass speakers and tweeter. The Jag has so much high end with the tone pot all the way open that the tweeter ends up working pretty hard, and it doesn’t exactly make the loveliest sound imaginable. Want to be heard, clean, above ~anything~? Plug your guitar into a 350 watt bass amp 😉
First, the trem bar that wasn’t attached in the store works great. I’m teaching my muscles how to use it. I spent an hour at least playing Quicksilver Messenger Service the night I bought the guitar (“Pride of Man”!). That super fast vibrato sounds soooooo good on the Jaguar. I finally get why people think the “choke” switch on the Jag does nothing. They’re playing through small (or few) speakers. The choke switch on mine cuts plenty of low end, which is quite audible through 4 10″ speakers. The difference is like a Ric 330 (choke on) vs. a strat. You can always apply a highpass filter to the guitar’s channel in the mixer (or DAW), but it’s not the same effect, since the guitar goes into its amp with less low end, and the amp reacts differently before getting recorded. This would probly matter more if the amp were breaking up (clipping) while recording.
Now I totally get why Nels Cline was enthusing about Jaguars. It’s not just that the loved Tom Verlaine’s sound (which I really do, too). Isolated, the front pickup on the Jag sounds FANTASTIC for playing runs of notes with a full, smokey kind of sound (like that film of Joe Pass playing one in the mid 60s). The 24″ scale makes it easier (for me) to play fast, not harder. It doesn’t feel that different from a Gibson Byrdland, and I vastly prefer the much less $ Jaguar. I think the short scale and the particular build of the pickups makes the Jaguar sound the way it does– not the crappy old bridge or tailpiece. The short scale makes a rounder, punchier sound, and the pickups transduce an enormous amount of high harmonic information. The result is that you ~hear~ the harmonic weirdness of playing the low strings up high on the neck. I think that particular effect accounts for a lot of the tonal quality that Television and Sonic Youth got from their guitars. It’s not just altered tunings, but the quality of the upper harmonics as you play in different areas of the neck, too. You can hear that in the opening arpeggios of “Prove It” off of “Marquee Moon.” The low E string always sounds weird on short scale guitars played above, like, the 10th fret. I’ve got .012-.52 strings with a wound G on the Jag right now. The heavy strings make the short scale hold pitch better, and they make the the guitar put out more fundamental pitch on a given note. I can see how the high harmonics could get overwhelming with thinner strings.

I want to finish the last song on the digital EP I’m releasing soon (the song “Daughter of A Gun”). But once that’s done, I’d like to record some of my favorite songs (lately) on this guitar..

Song To The Siren / Tim Buckley (I’d like to see what would happen if I play the straight chord progression 1chord/1bar, with a little vibrato gliding, then overdub like, little fast gnarly figures, with the straight melody on top of it all.

Deluge / Wayne Shorter (I wanna see how far I can replicate what I’m hearing on the recording using only my guitar. Comping the changes with the rhythm circuit, then overdubbing the melody with the lead circuit 🙂 )

That should be enough to keep me busy.