Wednesday, June 18, 2014

metal mania

Last Summer, Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago hosted one of the best concerts of the year, the experimental-metal collective Wrekmeister Harmonies' nocturnal open-air performance of the piece, "You've always meant so much to me", later selected as one of Spin Magazine top twenty metal albums of the 2013. Performed in its entirety, accompanied by video of Detroit's urban decay and the desolate landscapes of the Joshua Tree National Forest, it was a powerful reminder of the transitory nature of civilization.  Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Last week, Wrekmeister Harmonies returned to the the same venue, with an even more ambitious programme.

First, for the unfamiliar, some background on the evolution of the indie metal world over the last few years.  Locked in their basements, studying scales, practicing their craft, windows covered with aluminum foil, metal performers have gotten very good at playing their instruments. Further, the sheer excesses of the metal lifestyle have brought many major metal figures face to face with death, and those who survived the excesses are grateful to be alive. Finally, indie metal was always about thwarting expectations, now that the expectations are negative,  the goal of thwarting expectations has become thwarting negative expectations.  In short, the misanthropy at the heart of metal has led to isolation, which has led to skill, authenticity and wisdom.

How does this relate to last week's performance? The piece itself was an investigation of Gesualdo da Venosa, the bug-eyed murdering aristocrat, as famous for stabbing his wife twenty six times as he was for composing music whose harmonic constructs anticipated modernism. Again, for the unfamiliar, the music of Gesualdo is a historical puzzle. His compositions slide around chromatically, clearly not beholden to any specific key. Aldous Huxley listened to Gesualdo after taking hallucinogens, and wrote:


Mozart's C-Minor Piano Concerto was interrupted after the first movement, and a recording of some madrigals by Gesualdo took its place.
'These voices' I said appreciatively, 'these voices – they're a kind of bridge back to the human world.'
And a bridge they remained even while singing the most startlingly chromatic of the mad prince's compositions. Through the uneven phrases of the madrigals, the music pursued its course, never sticking to the same key for two bars together. In Gesualdo, that fantastic character out of a Webster melodrama, psychological disintegration had exaggerated, had pushed to the extreme limit, a tendency inherent in modal as opposed to fully tonal music. The resulting works sounded as though they might have been written by the later Schoenberg.
'And yet,' I felt myself constrained to say, as I listened to these strange products of a Counter-reformation psychosis working upon a late medieval art form, 'and yet it does not matter that he's all in bits. The whole is disorganized. But each individual fragment is in order, is a representative of a Higher Order. The Highest Order prevails even in the disintegration. The totality is present even in the broken pieces. More clearly present, perhaps, than in a completely coherent work. At least you aren't lulled into a sense of false security by some merely human, merely fabricated order. You have to rely on your immediate perception of the ultimate order. So in a certain sense disintegration may have its advantages. But of course it's dangerous, horribly dangerous. Suppose you couldn't get back, out of the chaos...'
This is complex music, and the Wrekmeister Harmonies performance asked some very complicated questions. How does music, which unites a tribe and binds people into a social organism, also serve to loosen the bonds of culture -- to the point where a person becomes a murderer? Did the same license that allowed Gesualdo to violate the rules of composition also permit him to kill his wife?

The piece started with doom rock, repeating Gesualdo's chromatics, reminding the audience that the chord progressions that defined their own tribal sense of identity were the same chord progressions of the murderous Gesualdo. Sophisticated members of the audience worried: Was Wrekmeister's rehashing of Gesualdo just a high-brow version of Danzig's integration of Hitlerian audio?

In the center of the piece, a professionally conducted choir assumed the stage and performed one of Gesualdo's madrigals on Death.

Werner Herzog's fictive documentary, Death in Five Voices, portrays Gesualdo as a deranged aristocrat -- a Satanic alchemist whose ghost haunts those become obsessed with Gesualdo's music. Was Wrekmeister Harmonies, having established that Gesualdo condoned murder, summoning an alchemical adept, performing the ceremony inches away from the interred bodies of once happily married couples?

The resolution of the piece, returning to Gesualdo's chromatics, answered this question. In the closing section, Wrekmeister showed that Gesualdo's musical vocabulary, while it may have given permission to murder, also expressed the enormity of his isolation and regret. So the piece ended with Gesualdo's harmonics, but this time the emotional register changed, and Gesualdo's wailing grief -- far from glorifying a murder -- reminded the audience of the preciousness of human life.

On facebook, an attendee wrote after the concert:

What a great show! The music, the cemetery...so, so good.
To the witless turds with your funky, chunky blue frames and red frames, you left your fucking beer cans and Frito bags (Fritos? Seriously? Did your mom pack those for you?) on the grass. Pick up after yourselves. Don't worry your skinny, little pants, though. We picked it up because...litter.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sartor Retardus

with a completely boring, navy-blue, polyester-wool blend black-buttoned blazer, an extremely boring nearly monochromatic tie, a tedious pair of pants, a nondescript belt and an utterly unimaginative shirt -- preferably cotton/polyster blend -- a pocket-square has a faint chance to work. If the blazer has brass buttons, the tie has any character at all, the pants are pleated or made from nice fabric, even if the shirt has shell buttons, it is already too much. The message has to be "everything about my wardrobe says that I am a beaten man, but -- look! -- I have some nice silk in pocket! maybe there is hope!"


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When people ask for a seat at the table, they are not asking a new menu

In an unjust world, it is considered an injustice to be blocked from participating in the general injustice. The meek are blessed for a reason.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why selfish people think more efficiently

Consideration imposes a cognitive tax, so it is the difference between a multi-threaded and a single-threaded application.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Overheard on the El

Why would I pay a restaurant to cook "Fusion" food? If I want "fusion" food, all I gotta do is not go grocery shopping for a week, and then mix together whatever condiments are left over in my pantry and refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Being interesting is the easiest way to get people interested

Chicago is filled with great composers -- so why did the Riccardo Muti choose "composers in residence" who are not already residents? Believing that local talent deserves to be on a global stage is a symptom of parochialism -- but choosing an overblown, anodyne marketing genius like Mason Bates over people who would genuinely stretch the orchestra and audience is a missed opportunity.

benign inversion

In most times and places, being "in the know" was a proxy for wealth, power or social fluency. In our internet-connected world,  isolated, impoverished people are often the most up-to-date on the newest trends and cultural developments -- consequently, being "cool" ain't what it used to be.

Master Chef Junior recap

The structural contrasts in "Master Chef Junior" were marvelous: West Coast Asian versus New York Jewish parenting; the pampered percenter versus the neglected prodigy; the triumph of confidence over genius. The judges chose a winner whose cooking would easily fit into their mediocre restaurants -- selecting the real winner would have challenged their entire business model.

A world of shits, dicks and schmucks, with too few mensches.

A shit takes pleasure or profit from other people's problems.

A dick takes his own problems and makes them other people's problems.

A mensch takes other people's problems and makes them his own problems.

A schmuck willingly accepts a dick's problems, and then asks a mensch to help.


The "Citizen's United" ruling removes the false dichotomy between the economic and the political. Now we only need to extend the Equal Time Rule to counteract the influence of money on politics.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

ut aiunt

People say: "I may be critical of you, but I am twice as critical of myself."

This is like a masturbator saying it is totally fine to rape people.