30 October 2006

Fandalism: YouTube for Musicians

Phil set up this new site for uploading and sharing your tunes, Fandalism. Cool! With luck, Google will buy it from him for $1.666 billion. Phil is mainly a drummer, but if you dig you can find tunes of him singing and playing guitar, too. It's true, his milkshake is better than yours. He could teach you, but he'd have to charge.

29 October 2006

Worse is Better; Getting it Out There

While Brian was in the throes of a compose-o-rama, I mentioned to him the concept of "Worse is Better". Here's a little musing on what the idea, borrowed from Software Town, might mean to the gentle peoples of Musicville.

I am a software hacker (in the original, unperverted sense) and a musician, and I find there are some similarities between the two disciplines. The most important similarity is the necessity of integrating taste and intuition with rigor in order to produce something beautiful -- and usable.

Usability, by normal people, is crucial. Milton Babbit's argument to the contrary is interesting and even tempting, but just plain wrong; for music and software are primarily means of communication and tools of culture.

Availability is the first necessary condition for usability (you can't use it if you can't get it!), and this belated realization is known in the software world as "worse is better" (also at hacker and music lover Jamie Zawinksi's site). Richard Gabriel described two schools of thought in software development:

  • "The Right Thing", which called for completeness and correctness; and

  • "Worse is Better", which called for simplicity above all, even at the cost of completeness and correctness.

It might seem that The Right Thing is obviously the right thing, but unfortunately -- and inevitably -- it entailed (a) extreme difficulty in implementation, (b) unusably poor performance, (c) inflexibility, and (d) great expense. By contrast, the Worse is Better school compromised on completeness and correctness, but produced fast, usable, tweakable, cheap software that ran well on cheap computers.

The core text of Lisp, the preferred programming language of the Right Thing crowd, is Common Lisp: The Language by Guy L. Steele Jr. It is 1029 pages, including all indices. The core text of C, the preferred language of the Worse is Better crew, is The C Programming Language by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie: 272 pages all told. The former is a comedy of committee design and obsessive-compulsive disorder, while the latter is a model of simplicity and concision both in English usage and software design.

Gabriel's article was part of a lament and a lesson on understanding why the Right Thing had failed commercially. Lisp Machines were beautiful in concept: the hardware was purpose-built for the Lisp programming language, and they ran all Lisp code, from the operating system to the applications and the user interface. They were expensive and slow, of necessity. Nobody wanted them; Unix machines (the product of the Worse is Better school) were cheap, fast, and flexible -- and ideologically supple, supporting a polyglot user who just wanted to get some work done. You could take any old piece of crap hardware, no matter its architecture, and get Unix working on it pretty quickly.

Like Babbitt, the Right Thing school produced some very beautiful work. One of the finest examples of this is a program called TeX, a text processing system by computing science giant Donald Knuth. Knuth invented TeX in a ten-year (!) side-project (!) while trying to figure out a good way to correctly and beautifully typeset all the mathematical formulae in his magnum opus, The Art of Computer Programming (which itself started as an interdepartmental memo but which grew to a five-volume set which Knuth will probably not finish before he dies). (Volume 4 is on the way! Yay!)

TeX is the beautiful product of a powerful mind. It goes to extreme efforts to typeset text with amazing precision and grace. It is also slow and difficult to use, which is why it is not the language of the Web, although it would have made a superior choice. Instead, the grossly substandard text-description language HTML is used because it is easier to learn and use, and because it can be processed relatively much more quickly. Even a very fast computer like an Intel Core Duo can handle a volume of HTML probably hundreds of times faster than it can an equal volume of TeX -- and the disparity was much worse when the Web was born, in the era of computers than ran at speeds of only tens of megahertz.

It's very sad that The Right Thing is impractical. But the song you can listen to and understand is better than the impenetrable and/or nonexistent song that is perfect. The idea is simply to get something out there. Once you've put something in front of the public, you may even find out that you were mistaken about what perfection is!

Of course, accepting that Worse is Better does not mean that we accept that Total Insanity is Totally Awesome. Knowing the difference requires taste, intuition, and rigor.

Currently listening to: "Terraplane Blues" by Robert Johnson, "Gut Pageant" by Kristin Hersh, and "Pharaoh's Dance" by Miles Davis.


What does "hemiola" really mean? Apparently it once referred to a perfect fifth interval in just intonation, as well as meaning a particular rhythmic pattern -- and not the one you might have thought it did. :)

In modern musical parlance, a hemiola is a metrical pattern in which two bars in triple time (3/2 or 3/4 for example) are articulated as if they were three bars in duple time (2/2 or 2/4).

The word hemiola derives from the Greek hemiolios, meaning "one and a half". (The term hemiola or "one and a half" was also used by the Greeks to refer to a galley powered by one and a half banks of oars). It was originally used in music to refer to the frequency ratio 3:2; that is, the interval of a justly tuned perfect fifth.

Later, from around the 15th century, the word came to mean the use of three breves in a bar when the prevailing metrical scheme had two dotted breves in each bar. This usage was later extended to its modern sense of two bars in triple time articulated or phrased as if they were three bars in duple time.

Currently listening to: "Bloodletting upon the Cloven Hoof" by Goatwhore (surely a contender for the most autofarcical song name EVAR)


Sweet, I just found another Dragonforce solo video, this one with Herman Li in the studio control room. When Phil and Al and I saw them live, he accidentally pulled the whammy bar right out of the bridge, shrugged, and kept wanking. It was rad.

Metal by Numbers

"Honey, you're an idiot; why don't you do it?" It's true, the only thing worse than emo is screamo. (Well, that and Blogger's WYSIWYG editing widget.) Is that Scott Ian on guitar? Plus check out the Dragonforce solo parody, with the close-ups on the guitarists' hands.

Look out for the white trash guy!

23 October 2006

Blevin Blectum and Blectum From Blechdom in Paris, Lisbon, and the San Francisco Bay Area

Blevin Blectum (she and the fine folks of Sagan also have a page on SkankySpace) will be playing all around the planet in October and December, but most importantly to me, in San Francisco and Oakland! Yay. She's at the Hemlock Tavern on Halloween and at the 21 Grand Art Space in Oakland on 10 December (for Women Take Back the Noise).

Many moons ago I interviewed Sagan for other magazine, and they were as nice as their music is exquisite.

"Trans-conceptual clownbeat"

Dig this random genre naming program! "Random biblestep" sounds really dubious though.

22 October 2006

I Am a Bad Person and Must Be Spanked

Instead of going to see Susana Baca tonight, I am going to practice with my band. And all because I didn't read Brian's email in time. That's the second time I've missed her in the space of like two months! What the frak is wrong with me? I think it's these damn pants.

Susana Baca's voice and especially her language are beautiful. I don't have EspĂ­ritu Vivo yet, but I have her first album and Eco de Sombras. Listen to them and you will be happy, but not without difficulty.

But that's normal.

Your CDs Sound Like Shittles

What is "the loudness war"? Record executive idiocy, probably. (Why are those guys still around?)

Ivo Papasov and His Wedding Band

I don't know what weddings (at first I typed "weedings") are like in Bulgaria, but yow. Brian, who first introduced me to Ivo (not to be confused with the Steve Vai guitar of the same name, although perhaps not surprisingly, Vai is a Papasov fan), also sent me this link to an Ivo Papasov video. Prepare to have your noodles amazed!

Gleefully note that the guitarist appears to be playing an Ibanez Roadstar, which was a fantastic yet weirdly affordable guitar. Real Guitars in San Francisco had three nice ones in stock when I was there last weekend. (Typically useless Harmony Central review; see also the Ibanez Register)

Remember Arcwelder? They played Roadstars sometimes. Pretty, grimy winter dirges. The snow gets filthy in Minneapolis, after one day of niceness.

21 October 2006

Hear the New Squarepusher Record!

Squarepusher, a.k.a. Tom Jenkinson, is a deeply confused young man:
The old preconceptions of machines (ie: drum machines, samplers, software) as inhibitive to "genuine" creativity/ "soulless" etc. are now quickly evaporating. The machine facilitates creativity, yes, but a specific kind of creativity that has undermined the idea of a composer
who is master of and indifferent to his tools - the machine has begun to participate. Any die-hard instumentalists that still struggle to retain their notion of human sovereignty are exemplifying a peculiarly (western) human stupidity - resistance to the inevitable. What is also clear, though certainly undesirable by any retaining an anthropocentric view of composition is that this process proceeds regardless of any ideal point of human-machine collaboration (ie one where the human retains any degree of importance.) One might say that music is imploding in preparation for a time when there is no longer any need for it.
Fortunately for us, his music is also wonderful! He's one of the most inventive and weird musicians around. And I say that even while listening to Ronald Shannon Jackson.

The new album is called Hello Everything, and you can hear it using the cyberweb.

Hello to All Music People

Greetings, sonorous Earthlings. This blog is my way to publicly keep notes about music stuff: performances, instruments, musicians, compositional and performance techniques, audio gear, and probably some assorted hooting. Stay tuned (literally) -- I've got some goodies tucked away for posting.