Pittsburgh Bound

For the next five or six days, it’s going to be “An American in Montreal in Pittsburgh.” My hosts, Carol and Mrak, should have wireless internet access up and running in their household, so I should be capable of remote blogging. Yes, another example of how I’m not yet fully assimilated (like that would even be possible after 4 months) — I’m taking off for American thanksgiving. And Pittsburgh for thanksgiving is actually a tradition in OUR household that predates my employment there.

I’ve even got a prospectus defense for old times’ sake. Actually, I’d planned on about four different defenses the week after thanksgiving, but they mostly fell through for one reason or another. It will be a busy spring.

I really need this vacation, even though I’m bringing work along.

Football Update

A certain McGill professor to whom I shall heretofore refer as “Anonymous Football Fan” asked why I hadn’t blogged more about the NFL. I guess I haven’t had that much clever to say. First, let me make it clear that:

a) Listening to Chris Berman call out the highlights is one of the supreme pleasures of sports spectatorship.
b) I totally agreed with Carrie, and
c) I caught crap for it today from my colleague Darin Barney, though he acknowledged that sports fandom might be the last rather than the first frontier of my assimilation to Canada.

Fantasy football update: after winning like 5 games in a row, our fantasy team, Delirium Tremens, has lost two and is poised to squeak out a close one this week against one of the weaker teams in the league. That’s what we get for having an injured Priest Holmes. We were in second place and now we’re like in 6th place in the league. Still more wins than losses, though, and if all goes well this week we’ll be at 7-4. Otherwise, it’s a scary 6-5. And to think I *almost* picked up Nick Goings earlier this week. Ah well. I’ve got him now, in case he posts another good game.

NFL thoughts: the Vikings are once again in a midseason slide. They won this week, but I have to wonder if there isn’t a Dolphins parallel where the team starts out in front and then slips back as the season goes on. sounds like a conditioning thing to me. But as of yet, I’m still thinking that Dennis Green was a better coach than Mike Tice. You think Tice would have the Cardinals at 4-6, with all their WR injuries and an unstable QB situation? I think not.

Final thought: it’s a good thing the Chiefs have a charismatic coach, otherwise, we’d have to listen to the announcers go on about what a genius Bill Belichick is. I’m so sick of that.

Extra final thought: Steven Rubio’s gotten me interested in this whole “new paradigm” of statistical analysis in baseball. I wonder if there’s something analogous in football.

Where to Put the Canadian Politics?

It is no doubt a privilege of world domination that I can come to Canada as an American citizen and actually enjoy Canadian antiAmericanism in those odd instances when it pops up. Probably because I hate most of the same things that Canadians do, starting with the right wing politics and the religious sanctimony. Plus, there’s the fact that I don’t feel in any way threatened by it (hence the privilege of world domination). I don’t know if there is such a thing as anti-Canadianism, but I’d be interested to know how it felt to Canadians if it did indeed exist. Anyway, I’ve become a fan of Carolyn Parrish and was sorry to see her booted from the liberals on Thursday. I wrote a bit about it at Bad Subjects (I’m still trying to figure out what goes there and what goes here). But mostly I’ll be sorry to see her in the news less, as she seems to simply state the truth. Yes, Virginia, people who support missile defense as a viable military option are idiots.

Scattered Thoughts on Sound Art

Last night, with our friends Jenny and Josef (sorry if I misspelled that) we ventured out to dinner at L’Etranger and then to “Noises From the Dark IV”, an event put on by Studio 303, where we met David and Bronwen. Bronwen, it turns out, had my friend Greg Dimitriadis as an external examiner for her thesis. It is indeed a small world.

The event was indeed held in a pitched-black room . I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The show was a series of short pieces over an hour. Several interesting things happened:

1. I was surprised at how spatial the show was. Most of the pieces used stereo and/or moved around the space depending on whether they were electronic or “live” or both. Without sight, the spatiality of the sound was even more enhanced. this made me get all Rudolf Arnheim with myself (he argues that radio’s aesthetic power comes from the subtraction of sight from sensory experience).

2. The best piece was the last one, which involved a cello and a very weird choir (they get extra points for singing those low chords I’d only ever heard sung by Tibetan monks). It had dynamics, style, playfulness and subtlety. A few of the others were clever, interesting or striking — one sounded like the narrative of a stomach’s desire, another used doors slamming to create a sort of industrial vibe.

3. But there was a surprising amount of stuff that sounded like a neurotic tuning a radio or just sort of random noises. Despite the fact that the room was stone dark and the audience was extremely quiet, many of the electronic pieces were quite loud. Their use of dynamics was extremely limited. and I’m always shocked that given the capabilities of digital audio technologies, artists do so little with them. I know what the technology can do, and I know what the principles are. I am continually surprised by how un-creative electroacoustic sound art is. Most of it is not nearly as conceptual as it thinks it is (as one of my students put it last week “is it still experimental if you’ve been trying the same experiment for 50 years?”) and it’s gear-headed to boot. While claiming to challenge the audience these kinds of pieces offer no significant challenge; they also avoid any kind of emotional dimension. this kind of sound art is, in a word, anaesthetic instead of aesthetic.

4. This didn’t affect my enjoyment as much as it sounds like, since I accept that in performance art situations, you get spectacular successes and spectacular failures and not much inbetween. Which is better, in my opinion, than dressing up and hitting the opera or a polished play, where you’ll get “good” to “great” but less often fantastic or terrible. Plus, we had a wonderfully social dinner before and drink after (though we had to try several bars before we could find one with an available table and where we could all hear one another).

5. I cannot overstate how cool it was to sit in the dark and listen. I would like to do that more often. Though if the room wasn’t quite as hot that would be okay.

I was discussing the third point with my sound studies class on Weds, and learned a few things, including that there’s an important essay on the conceptual in art that I need to go read to better understand the culture of sound artists. I need to think about it more. But it seems like there is really something missing in the academic and art-critical accounts of sound art — what it is and what it’s supposed to do.

Natural History of Royalty + Audio Geekdom

Okay, not really. Two separate topics.

Since I’ve moved to Canada, I’ve become much more aware of royalty and how stupid it is. Joe Lockard forwarded the badeditors this Guardian cartoon, which contains actual words, in context, from Prince Charles. The upsetting thing is that it was front page news in yesterday’s Globe and Mail.

In other news, last ight was my second History and Philosophy of Science lecture, this time it was Allan Bewell on the roots of Darwin’s evolutionary thought in colonial movements of people, plants and animals. My favorite quote, which I cannot accurately reproduce, involves regular house cats “growing unusually large and fierce and roaming the rocky hillsides.” I have been trying to get my cats to grow fierce and roam rocky hillsides all morning but all they want is love and food.

As is the custom, the talk was followed by drinks and dinner, where I learned yet another interesting food fact (the last such dinner was the vegetarian haggis experience). Although Bewell is one of a growing number of people who argue contra Foucault that Natural History is the beginning of modern science, and not a radical break with it, it differs in at least one important way. Natural Historians were known to often eat the animals they studied, which means that you’d get these elaborate descriptions of the animal and its habitat and then what it tastes like (cooked, presumably). Obviously, this paradigm cannot be imported into the history of technology, but it does raise questions about the epistemology of taste. And whether it would be possible to concoct and serve a tofu-marsupial.

In other news, two nights ago I scored a good deal on a used UAD-1 card, which recording people know comes with some wonderful sounding plugins that are based on very sophisticated models of the behaviors of analog devices. I am intellectually interested in this whole modelling thing, but of course the first thing I did was throw a bunch of the plugs on different tracks. I have not yet had much time to play with it, but on a quick listen to some of the plugs (especially the Pultec EQ), I can tell you that it will be all over the lo-boy album that I will commence mixing upon the semester’s end. It’s some of the best sounding digital processing I’ve heard.

Is the sound scholar who listens to the object of his study and takes pleasure in it analogous to the naturalist who eats the animals he discovers? Tune in at 11 to find out.