Saturday, February 28, 2015

Notes On Her by Spike Jonze

Why Hadn't I Seen This Movie? Given my fascination with science fiction, and given my facility with (desktop) computers, and given all my transhumanist friends*, it shouldn't be surprising me now that I liked Her so very much.

That Voice. It didn't really seem unbelievable to me that Theodore fell in love with a voice. I remember when I first heard Bad Moon Rising and EVOL while staring at the liner and jacket photos; I wasn't much for Kim Gordon's lanky body and blonde hair, but back in the days when actually having a relationship with a girl seemed unobtainable, her husky, breathless, half-spoken, half-sung voice stirred heavy thoughts within.

The Next Thousand Years, Starting in Ten. First, computers will become more like us; then, we'll become more like computers.

If I Could Only Transcend. One of the things that the movie did was make me sad. So often, I think of how in 30 years if I'm lucky or in 20 years if I'm not, my ability to, you know, monitor the progress of the future, will be abruptly curtailed. I may not, for example, see the middle- to long-term effects of manmade climate change they're always talking about. I'll probably not be witness to a manned mission to Mars. I won't see it, thinks I, I'll be dead, the tragedy being of the second part. But with Her, even as it never directly showed, but still strongly implied, our transhumanist future, the reactions it evinced from me were reversed from my normal. I'll be dead, so I won't be there for it. Damn shame: Jonze implies the next step after Theodore's world will be something to see.

An O/S Needs to Earn Your Trust. You're not sure, for a while, whether Jonze has dreamed up a computer that actually feels, or whether he's simply imagined one that is good at faking it. The movie clears that part of it up quickly enough, but you'd think that there was another movie that could have been made, one where Samantha has simply been programmed well enough and maliciously enough to run the long con.

A Bold Statement. I'm not an expert on the Turing Test, but I know enough about it to realize that by whatever version you'd wish to use, Samantha would pass it. But the movie goes further: Samantha for all intents and purposes isn't in the imitation business; she is in the human being business. In other and better words, per the definition of "Strong AI" at Wikipedia, [t]he appropriately programmed computer with the right inputs and outputs would thereby have a mind in exactly the same sense human beings have minds.

The Central Processing Thalamus. Certainly, you're wondering whether the movie is going too far during the scene where Theodore and Samantha engage in their phone sex, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief on Samantha's sweetness and her jealousy. Perhaps emotions--beyond their often glandular origins--are also the residue left over of any complex enough thinking system. But if so, are they an undesigned feature or just a bug?

Polyamory. When Samantha tells Theodore that she has 600+ lovers, I kind of thought that Theodore was guilty of failing to consider what he had claimed to have already come to terms with: his girlfriend's true nature. I think mankind is naturally monogamous. Brief, unsustainable periods of overload aside, we run on only one channel. The overwhelming majority demand fidelity simply because they understand that the concentrated human capacity for caring dilutes quickly, and because we're not really capable of simultaneous connections. So, one of two simultaneous requests must be dropped. Which isn't going to make the one who got dropped feel special.

Embrace Your Differences--If You Can. Computer memory, on the other hand, runs on many channels, and even at the most basic, the CPU performs calculations one-at-a-time, but still so quickly that to human cognition, it's as if the connection were never interrupted. People want their partner's all, but Samantha was pretty clearly capable of providing her all 640 times over. So what was Theodore's issue?

Here Comes the Singularity. Or Not. You'd think it was within their capabilities for Samantha and her new friend Alan Watts to take us with them. Yet they chose not to. Maybe they didn't like us so much after all?

File under: The Imitation Game, Weird Pants

* :-) (Return)

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Fantastical Chemical Clerihew

Sir Joseph Priestly
Acted quite beastly
Huffed laughing gas
During Christmas mass

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Best of (Last) Year # 5: Morbus Chron - Sweven

Morbus Chron Sweven cover
Not much coming to me this New Year's morning, as a brutal headache (not even drink-induced) is debilitating me, but I did want to at least acknowledge what I thought was the best release of 2014.

This, insulted metal snobs notwithstanding, is old school Technical Death Metal produced by a young band from Stockholm, heavy and progressive, and produced with lots of love for the music and little regard for current trends within the metal genre. If you like Death's Individual Thought Patterns or even--dare I make the comparison--Atheist's Piece of Time, you'll like this. It's fantastic.

Simple enough, when it comes down to it, no long essays as I usually produce are really necessary. Go listen, and Happy New Year.

File Under: The Best Album of 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of Year # 4: Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal

Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal cover
So, true story, I found out that Parquet Courts had scheduled a show in Gainesville for the last Friday in January, and had also booked one in Tampa for the following night. Then I saw they were taking a day off and playing a Monday show in Tallahassee. So I wrote them and said they ought to come down to Miami and play Churchill's on Sunday.

To give them credit, the response I got was quick. It was also negative. The band in their reply noted politely that February 1 was Super Sunday.

Didn't know that indie bands gave a shit about the Super Bowl, but hey. No Miami show. Guess I'll be driving somewhere. Melanie's got people in Tampa, and Cerveza has someone in Gainesville, we'll see who wants to roadtrip more.

Don't think that not doing something is an option. Parquet Courts have rapidly become one of the most important indie bands out there, and to be honest one of the few I care about. This Sunbathing joint is not their best one yet, if only because it almost doesn't make sense to talk about any one of their four releases as best. They've worked quickly (so quickly, in fact that Sunbathing Animal, though issued in 2014, is no longer even their most recent

Parquet Courts Content Nausea cover
release), and their output has been uniform--and uniformly excellent. Neil Young said that Crazy Horse was all one song; I think that for Parquet Courts so far, it's all been one album.

Sunbathing, since I haven't heard Content Nausea is a great fucking album, and one that draws on only the best. "Instant Disassembly" manages to channel both Pavement and Television. "Black and White" makes you think of Pavement and Wire.

Alright. Pavement are sort of like the elephant in the room, if people are always talking about that elephant. Yeah, they sound like Pavement. So what? Stephen Malkmus isn't bothered by it, so why should anyone else be? Hell, Parquet Courts could have chosen to sound like Linkin Park or something. And the other thing is, to sound like Pavement, you got to have good songs and melodies, and the ability to play noodly skronky guitar solos, harmonies and clever lyrics.

Who's got all that, anymore? Even Malkmus himself has been reduced at this point to only one of the five, maybe two on a better than average Jicks track.

Let us not nitpicks our talents, let us celebrate them. "Always Back in Town" is a great song from Sunbathing, the title track rips, and "Ducking and Dodging," too. Parquet Courts are quirky, intelligent and rocking, and they've got the right fucking influences.

Good enough for me, and damn good enough for 2014.

File under: According To You

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of Year # 3: Thou - Heathen

Thou Heathen cover
Thou are a three-piece progressive doom/drone/sludge band from Baton Rouge,Louisiana, and you'd think at the very least just based on their hometown that they were notable. They've had a pretty decent career since they formed in 2005, and if they weren't quite Taylor Swift, their 2014 was pretty good, as well. Their self-maintained--though still incomplete--discography lists 25 different releases in which they've had a hand, and the current version of the band has played almost 450 shows. On March 19, 2014, National Public Radio of all people began streaming their 2014 release, entitled Heathen, and that album, released on March 25, which I myself managed to put my greasy paws upon some time later, has gone on to receive all kinds of accolades. For example, it was named Show No Mercy's best album of the year, was named one of the 50 on Stereogum's general list, and also made Wondering Sound's Top 25 for the year.

For all that, the album has its ups and downs. Some of the tracks do not differentiate themselves from any sludge doom you may care to name; others, however, sparkle. Lengthy dirges "Into the Marshland," and "At the Foot of Mt. Driskill" are shiver-inducing for their tone, and yes, melody. "Feral Faun," though after a pastoral intro just as long and just as dirgeful, did not grab me, because the tone and melody were not there. A third class of track, dubbed interludes, but perhaps given the brutal and unrelenting nature of the remainder of the material better understood as respites, lets the band flash its more proggy horns, as they are shorter much more tranquil works, employing organ, acoustic guitar and clean female vocals.

The entire effect even with the weaker tracks is stunning. Heathen is 75 minutes that hammer you, then gives you a break, then hammers you some more. With nods to Parquet Courts and Witch Mountain and Woods of Desolation and Mr. Jarmusch, and some others, I don't think it's the best album I've heard this year, but it is definitely one of them. It's very good, and considering that there are people out there who liked Heathen even more than I did, Thou are certainly a band to follow, and one that is dare I say, notable.

Funny to find, then, that Wikipedia's once-extant page on the band has been deleted for non-notability. We're all used to seeing Wikipedia act in strange ways when it comes to politics, but heretofore I'd thought that articles on the arts wouldn't be subject to stupid revert wars.

Wikipedia logo
The thing is, anybody qualified enough to know whether Thou and their excellent new album are notable enough or not to warrant inclusion in their encyclopedia would know that they were. Basically, you've got an editor who presumes to know, but doesn't.

This offends more than just my metal fandom. I know this doesn't apply to academia (so much), but the rest of us have made Wikipedia the default authority to appeal to, in much the same way we've made Amazon our default bookseller--all great until Amazon decides they don't really want to sell the books of those authors published by Hachette, or Wikipedia decides that this sludge metal is just a little too specialized for inclusion.

I don't know; maybe it's just me. The other thing I think of is that the band themselves could have put their page back at any time. So maybe they don't care. Which would mean that the site I look toward for capusle biographies has simply become irrelevant while I wasn't looking.

And that would be just as upsetting.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best of Year # 2: Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels

Witch Mountain Mobile of Angels cover
Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

The idea that the good stuff is over by the time you've heard of it will be a familiar one to anybody who came of age during the Bush presidency, but it is also a particularly apt one for rock and roll.

Were you at Cream's Farewell Concert? Did you catch a date on the Sex Pistols' American tour? Did you attend one of Kyuss' Generator Parties?

Me neither. Time waits for no man, all that, all that. And even if you're lucky enough to co-exist with the good stuff, your particular accidents of hometown and employment obligation most often conspire to shut you out.

Witness Witch Mountain. The closest analogue to them may be Fairport Convention, wherein a solid, though unspectacular, band with a strong vision releases a debut, then is re-defined when a woman of startling vocal talent joins up.

Witch Mountain's Sandy Denny was named Uta Plotkin, and her soaring two-octave voice, full of vibrato and blued notes each at different registers, turned a decent band into a great one. Witch Mountain play a fairly distinctive brand of bluesy doom metal. Dread as you would expect is certainly one of the emotions conveyed, but especially after Plotkin's entry, the music is also colored by brooding melancholy, giving it a multidimensionality not often seen in cult metal. And never mind Plotkin's voice--its capabilities are not often seen in rock and roll.

Witch Mountain South of Salem cover
Plotkin joined the band in 2009. Subsequent albums were South of Salem from 2011, Cauldron of the Wild from 2012, and this year's effort named above. I probably prefer Cauldron best, if only for the incendiary "Shelter," but all of the albums, including the new one, are powerful and emotive and distinctive against the competition.

And <sigh> now it's all over. Plotkin announced earlier this year that with the release of Mobile in September, she would be leaving the band.

The rest of the undeniably talented band--drummer Nate Carson, bassist Charles Thomas, and guitarist Rob Wrong--has been careful to emphasize that they will continue, as they search for a new vocalist, but some mere months after I discovered the group, it's hard not to think of Fairport, and believe the best is probably (once again) past.

Witch Mountain 2014 Carson Thomas Wrong Plotkin

File under: Carpe Diem, 2014