Cross Product 5

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Artificial Music Machine’s “Cross Product 5” happened last night down at Elysium.

The battery in my truck broke (it didn’t just die — it broke) about a week ago and I haven’t bothered to have it repaired or replaced yet. See, I bought this nice new bike a couple of months ago thinking: “With this bike, I’ll save a bit of money on gas and repairs for the truck since I’ll be able to bike most places I need to go.” And then I kept using the truck, the bike mostly keeping me entertained on weekend rides down to the river or whatever. Now I have no motor wheels, so if I want to go somewhere I have to plan to hop on the bike and pedal to my destination. Which is great. I get some exercise and parking a bike is much less of a hassle than parking a truck downtown. And this past week I’ve learned that I can get what I need to get done done without the truck. With just the bike.

Anyway. So I biked across town to Casita Jorges for dinner and drinks with Harold, Kazuki, Jen Potter, Jen’s brother, and (later) John Smith. Knowing I would be at Cross Product later in the evening, I just had a veggieburger and water — no beer or margaritas. And then I had to bike back. Exhausting.

So I cooled off at the house for a while before taking off for the big show. I left at about 11:15 and showed up late, missing the first set and coming in towards the beginning of the Dillitex set.

I don’t like talking about music. For the most part. It’s something I do sometimes because I feel like I have to — complimenting an artist for a good set usually involves coming up with a few concrete reasons why the set rocked — and it’s also something I just do out of social nervousness. But it’s frustrating because I can never (or very rarely) accurately verbalize my thoughts on music. A famous (oft-quoted) John Cage maxim: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” fits here well.

In an odd way DJing makes for better musical conversation. By including a track at a specific point in a set, a DJ not only indicates that they really like the track, but they also comment on what they like about it by which tracks they surround it with and when they play it. Maybe that’s a stretch. I guess I’ll restrain myself from just deleting it. I don’t DJ so I can’t really write about why a DJ does what they do or what they might be “saying” by doing it.

To distract you, now, I’m going to write a funny-sounding word:


So now let’s talk about Dillitex. He (Dylan, by birth) pulled out a very nice set of sort of electro beats laced with nice melodic elements — sometimes sampled (like a violin or orchestra riff during what I recall being his final track of the night), sometimes pure synthesizeriness. He layers well. He provided interesting grooves and melodies, but rarely did a single element stand out sharply. It flowed.

He came over afterwards and talk with Eric and I for a moment. Told us he’d been using Wavelab with some plug-ins over pre-recorded patterns, adjusting the VSTs as he went along.

So he did two things which I do and tend to feel self-conscious about: He had song breaks (instead of smoothly segueing from one track to the next with no silence), and the amount of live control he had amounted to the ability to tweak and only subtly modify prearranged sounds (as I understood from talking to him about it). And Stars as Eyes, when they hit the stage after Dylan, seemed to do the same things: They had song breaks and I assume most of the sounds were completely predone because they didn’t really appear to be doing much on stage (though maybe they had more control than I could see).

Either way, Stars as Eyes also did a good set. Very noisy. Noisier than the last couple of times I’ve seen them play live. And I like noisy. It’s good when it locks into the rest of the sound — but I don’t care so much for extended walls of noise, which they lapsed into a couple times briefly towards the end of tracks. But in a few places they did that thing I love, where the kind of “accidental-sounding” feedback noises (kind of the equivalent of guitar fret noise or microphone squeal) interlaced with the other rhythms, giving that cool controlled-error effect. These guys definitely do not produce glitch, but glitch as a genre often works in the same way: some of the excitement (“drama,” if you will) comes from the artist making sounds that sound like they should be errors — digital fuck-ups or software problems — but controlling them in such a way as to make music. I seem to recall Todd Simmons floating the idea that glitch pulls the audience in because most users of things like CD players and stereos have a sort of jump-reaction to sounds such as skipping or bit-decay that normally indicate that something is going wrong. So some musicians play on that jump-reaction. Sounds good to me. I’m not sure that idea totally applies to the Stars as Eyes set. But it’s an interesting idea. Anyway, they did a good job (if a rather short one — clocking in at what seemed like about 35 or 40 minutes).

What else to say?

Oh, yeah. DJ Navi_Cat (aka Adrienne Russell of “Thomas and Adrienne” fame) inserted one of my tracks into her mix — the first time I’ve heard that done in an actual club, with actually people dancing (though by that point only about five people remained on the floor — but they had energy). My reaction was weird. I recognized the track when it came on, but it took me about thirty seconds to realize what it was. Anyway. Very cool. I remember in high school saying to Sean that I wanted to be able to be at a club and say, “That’s my music they’re playing!” to whomever I was with.

My high school brain had this weird idea that you go to clubs with girls you find interesting, that you dance, and that having a song by you come up would be a big selling point. My mid-20s brain says you bike to clubs and hang out with a bunch of people talking. Eric Day said something yesterday evening along the lines of, “Electronic music in Austin is a total social scene — everyone comes and talks and the music is sort of over there, in the background.” Yeah, well my theory is that many Austinites are a bit over-sexed as far as live music goes. Like male pornstars who can only get it halfway up for ever the sexiest women. I’m out sometimes twice a week hearing people play. Every now and then more than twice a week. While this is great intellectual stimulation for someone who wants to play a more active role in the music scene, it reduces the sort of natural excitement coming to a big club with a couple hundred people should bring on. I do, though, remember acutely how I felt going to clubs in high school (sophisticated spots like Paradox and Spirits — the latter now closed because people kept getting shot there — though I also went to the quite stylin’ Red Room a couple of times), and memories of those more pure reactions do still play a role in the music I create for live performances at these sorts of places.

So I didn’t get to brag to my cute date about the inclusion of my material in the DJ set, but it made me happy nonetheless.

Anyway. It’s time to wrap this up. So…



Grumbly Weeks

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Since making my own journalling scripts, I don’t visit Blogger all too often any more. They’ve changed it. Now instead of having a Mac OS 9 feel it has a bubbly, blue Windows XP feel (I assume, since I don’t use that OS very often). Except for the buttons. Those have the characteristic Mac “just dribbled water on the white countertop” look. And I’m using the Camino web browser, which I am so far quite pleased with. As of now, it seems to be the best of the lot. Good text rendering. No major stylesheet flubs. Quick like a fox.

Anyway. I have a theory about people who write too much about their personal experiences with computer software in their otherwise personal journal-logs: They’re dorks.

So I’m not sure what’s going on here. Though most of my educational years I got about four or five hours of sleep. If I had school the next day. My niteowl nature ran head-on into the requirement that I get up promptly to get my ass to class. (My dad’s been talking about a book — the title of which I forget — in which each human has a spirit animal that sits on their shoulder or follows them around. Maybe my spirit animal would be an owl.) Now, though, I’ve slid into this routine of sleeeping literally ten hours a night. Or day, if you consider that going to bed at four in the morning leaves me sleeping through more daylight hours than night. And my waking life seems fogged out by dispassion. Like I can’t fire myself up over things I used to fire myself up over. A bit frustrating.

Things get done that need to get done (mostly), but without a while lot of energy. They get done.


Before getting into this, I want to clarify what I now consider this part of my website to be: Personal talk. Just Josh rambling on about the days of his own life. The main page can be devoted to comments about some silly-ass site I found through Metafilter or (what I consider to be) witty remarks about our government. And personal attacks on Arley. I like the idea of having a piece of the site that’s a bit more hidden.

Current web design practices and the concept of “usability” tend to make online writers want to package their words in fluffy, colorful containers — with well-placed links to any past post and key words in bold so the reader has no more problem scanning and absorbing the three sentences written about the latest trends in SARS-mask fashion.

I want this part of my site to feel the opposite. Dense. Like words in a book. Not like words in a magazine.

Anyway. Now I’m just going off on other tangents.

A lack of energy.

I suppose I’ve always gone back and forth between feeling rather normal towards the world and feeling rather bleak. Part of growing up seems to simply be learning to understand why these feelings occur and figuring out ways to correct the problems. Emotions reflect the desires of the core id, desires built from my experiences placed within the mental framework given to me by my genes. Each person exists as a kind of machine, programmed at a deep level to desire things such as food and reproduction. Emotions create the bridge between that machinery and the more logical, free-will part of the brain that (ideally) reasons its way through problems and puzzles to get to what will sate the deeper urges.

So when I get to feeling off-center like this I figure the best thing to do is to try and temporarily drop all my conscious values and desires and relax and let that simpler voice speak from the back of my brain to the front. I haven’t studied much about meditation — I don’t exactly know what the different methods and explicit goals of different varieties of meditation are — but this process I have seems to be what meditation should be all about: Letting it go. Reconnecting with that emotional channel. And then building thoughts back up, hopefully with some adjustments in what I consider valuable and worth my efforts.

One thing that the back of my mind almost always communicates to the front of my mind in these situations is: “Get more exercise.” And it’s true, exerting myself physically for a day or two has a similar effect. Maybe for similar reasons. I have visions that making the body work, flexing it in different ways, squeezes out toxins that build up and reinvigorates blood flows to parts of the body that may complains because, seriously enough, they don’t have all the right nutrients they need to operate smoothly. I stretch often because after a good stretching session I feel the blood’s pumping evenly again and I’m just more capable of doing the things I enjoy, which makes me happier.


Enough of this hokey mumbo-jumbo. These ideas are just how I think I work. They represent me writing my own user’s guide (Josh in a Nutshell) for successful operation. I get bugged sometimes by people who pour out overly-complex verbiage when trying to make points that just don’t warrant it.

One more broad thought before writing a few paragraphs about funny things I’ve done in my sleep during the past week:

Art. Start trying to define “art” at the wrong party and you’ll end up listening to some Warhol-wannabe play mind-games with you by figuring out some way to make anything concrete you say about the matter wrong. “Who are you to say that smearing shit all over a chihuahua isn’t meaningful art?” You’ll know the situation when you get into it.

(The appropriate response is, by the way: “Yeah. Sure. Sounds good. Why not? Oh, Bob! Hey, how’s it going? The beer’s out back. I’ll come with you for a refill…”)

Here’s what art is, at it’s most meaningful and unique: You sit in front of that blank page, white canvas, or silent speakers. You sit in front of nothingness. The only values that remain are those channelling through from the back of your brain. After removing all sensory information, the back of the brain rebuilds the sensory experience, adjusted to reflect the refined values that such a deconstruction-reconstruction allows. This is why music or a painting that totally breaks every rule you thought you had about what makes a piece of art valuable can be the most beautiful thing you’ve experienced. Especially if you’re the one who made it.

And, you know, I implied that covering a pooch with poop is so absurd as to not even warrant discussion. Someday I fully expect to be gripped by the most amazing piece of crap+dog sculpture — and to fall in love with a woman dressed in tight black who does nothing but tell me my grand ideas about art are all wrong because I still don’t think that her question about whether kicking kittens in the park is meaningful performance art is even worth thinking about.

Anyway. It’s late. Maybe I’ll follow this up in a couple months.

Before signing off, a couple things I did in my sleep this past week:

1) Had a dream that I was living with David Bowie in his big, one-room, gothic-ornate home on the side of a mountain overlooking a big city view. I have no freaking idea where this came from, considering how little I think about David Bowie. Strange.

2) Stranger: A few nights ago I set by alarm clock (an old-fashioned one with a clacker that strikes two steel bells on top when it goes off) and placed it on the shelf above my little boombox. When it rang at about 9AM I was so totally confused that I seriously had no idea what was going on. I didn’t recognize the boombox at all, just that I thought it was making the noise. So I pulled it completely apart. Popped off the battery cover. Unplugged it. Pulled out the speaker wires. Pulled the main component off the shelf and onto the floor rather violently. Again: No idea what had been going through my head. The hard drive part of my brain kicked in shortly thereafter — the part of my brain that stores information such as “this is what you room looks like” and “pulling the speakers apart from your boombox won’t cause the alarm clock to turn off.”

Maybe next time the alarm clock goes off I’ll go find the cat and put her in the refridgerator. That would be a great confused reaction.


KVRX Day of Noise

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

From the KVRX website:

“On Tuesday, June 3rd, tune in to 91.7 for the first ever KVRX DAY OF NOISE. From 7 to 11 PM, the day of noise will be an experimental improvised music event with no restrictions or boundaries. Expect the unpredictable. Predict the unexpected. Will Graham Reynolds, Peter Stopschinski, Stars as Eyes, and Dropframe duel it out improv style? Um… I’ll tell you on wednesday morning.”

I’ll also be participating in this experiment — along with a bunch of other people. If you’re in the mood for some strange listening, then, tomorrow, check it out. You can also go to their site and stream the broadcast (if you’re outta town or can’t pick it up conventionally).

Anyway. I can’t guaruntee that everyone who likes me as a person will check out my sonic work, so all I can rally do is just provide the information. And here it is.



Lightning Storm

Monday, June 2, 2003

Fat, complex bolts of lightning have been arcing across the sky for the past few minutes, their brightness lightly visible against the gray daytime clouds behind them.

Jared had asked this weekend about synthesizing thunder claps, about what makes a thunder clap sound that way. The best we could come up with was that thunder was a series of sharp impulses caused by the electricity zipping through the air with a bunch of long, muffled echo delays added — simulating the buildings, hills, earth, etc that reflects sound back causing rummmmble.

And now iTunes, a piece of software that sometimes seems oddly aware of the mood of the room, has randomly selected Brian Eno’s “Always Returning” track from “Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtracks.” Which is a perfect atmosphere and soundtrack for that period between five and six in the evening if a storm seems impending. When the world radiates hushed anticipation.

I think people are friendlier before a storm. Maybe the added ions add tingle to life. Maybe that a storm can either bring life or violent destruction causes the lizard brain to perk up and pay more attention to its surroundings. Maybe the thicker air makes sounds feel closer and more intimate.



Dismemberment Plan

Monday, June 2, 2003

It’s a tough call to make without thinking about it more, but I think the Dismemberment Plan show I just got home from may have been my favorite rock show so far this year. For the past year or so I’ve listened to quite a bit of DPlan (as they say) — I just really get into the lyrics and songwriting more than I do nearly any other (rock) band out there.

Anyway, apparently this is their farewell tour, so if you live in Austin, um, sorry. They will be out on the west coast in a few weeks and I highly recommend giving them a try. And I think Brenna will find the lead singer quite cute.

What else? Oh, Octopus Project opened and did a solid OP job with their loopy rock-out noise jams. And Zykos performed a passable rock set, but nothing to get out of your seat for.

Oh, and the front man for DPlan had the quote of the night with:

“I really love coming to Austin, but y’know if I stayed I’d be afraid I’d wake up one morning hung over and 39.”


If you want to get into Dismemberment Plan, give “Emergency & I” a listen. I only know a couple of their albums, but many of the good songs they played tonight came from “Emergency & I” — including “8 1/2 Minutes,” “Memory Machine,” and my favorite blissful “You Are Invited.”

The best way to describe their sound would be to say that they assemble fast, catchy rock numbers with awesome lyrics that are complex enough to be very engaging and original without being complex for complexity’s-sake alone. And their performance style is completely tight and locked down rock fun — without feeling overworked or stuffy.


In the Hat

Friday, May 30, 2003


If you plan on writing down the name of each person involved and putting that slip of paper into a hat, would you say:

a) “Everyone who is playing’s names will go in the hat.”


b) “Everyone’s who is playing name will go in the hat.”

or maybe…

c) “Everyone’s name who is playing will go in the hat.”


d) “We’re putting all the gawdam names in the hat, so shut the hell up.”



Four Tet, “Rounds”

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Four Tet’s new “Rounds” album makes for great gloomy Tuesday morning listening. Pitchfork has a review. Anyway…


Movie Reviews

Monday, May 26, 2003

“Led by Professor Xavier Cugat (played by Gene Luck Picard), once a polyrhythmic bandleader and now a superfreak who can play drums with his mind, a band of good mutants works to protect the fate of all mutants and to have them accepted as equals all over the world. Cugat runs a school for band class with its own jet, and has assembled a squadron of crimefighters like: Wolfman Guy (Hugh Jackman) has the withering looks of a man coming from a Flock of Seagulls lookalike contest for werewolves; Sprinkles the Weather Girl (Halle Berry) wears a lame-ass white wig necessary for being able to create tornadoes and hurricanes with her breath; Mr. Sunglasses (James Marsden) who has really expensive Oakleys that can shoot fire; Dr. Dorian Gray (Famke Jannsen) can read people’s minds and control matter too, but the picture of her she keeps in the attic cannot; Bandit (Anna Paquin) is a prematurely graying teen who can suck your soul out with a French kiss (and really, this isn’t so impressive. My mother is able to crush souls with her words). There are dozens of others, including Nitro, Pyro, Chilly Willy, Dick Face, Juan Valdes, and the new addition Earthworm (Alan Cumming) who does a delicious Cabaret rendition throughout the entire movie without once wondering whether it’s really fucking annoying. You go for it, Earthworm!”

Mr. Filthy…