28 February 2007

LibraryThing: Social Networking and Classical Music

Personal Libraries, Catalogued and Shared

T he web is disappearing as it matures. Publishing people may discuss where the publishing industry is heading, but nobody asks ‘Where are books heading?’ There may be a Web 3.0 conference, but there will not be a Web 9.0 conference. I don’t think our grandchildren will consider it a ‘thing.’ We will not be cool. Cool will then have become something else.”
  —  Tim Spalding, creator of LibraryThing

DSM: LibraryThing is all about building community around reading. Readers can catalog their books on LibraryThing’s website and tag each book using terms and phrases that relate to its content and the themes and concepts that the book evokes for them. You can catalog the books in your own collection—or ones that you’ve read or know something about, regardless of whether you own a copy or not. You can create personal LibraryThing entries of anything that you read. By cataloguing your reading in LibraryThing, you selectively but inevitably display your interests thoughts and feelings. It’s a great opportunity to for you to express yourself simply through single words and short phrases, even if you would not have any inclination to say or write anything more extensive.

CMT: Cataloging content is only one of the wonderful aspects of LibraryThing. Anyone who visits LibraryThing.com can learn about titles in a particular genre, with a particular theme, with a certain type of character, and so on. It’s a great tool to use when creating “show me more items like this” lists and to connect with other readers and musicians with similar interests. I’ve discovered other people around the world who have similar interests in the interrelationships between music performance and music theory, between the sociology and anthropology of music and classical music marketing and audience development. We can exchange interesting titles through the LibraryThing catalog, and, like other social networking software, we can strike up deeper correspondence if (and only if – ) we mutually want to do that.

DSM: The tagclouds on LibraryThing provide interesting visuals of authors and themes that have some traction within the LibraryThing userbase. Like on Digg, ReddIt, Technorati, del.icio.us and other sites, the LibraryThing tagclouds enable you to access things that have been tagged with a particular keyword or theme. The fontsize of each tag in a tagcloud is proportional to the number of entries associated with that tag—it’s popularity, more or less. It’s similar to “bubble charts” (see IBM alphaWorks ManyEyes visualization tools, and Ed Tufte’s work). You can personally have an impact on the tagclouds by adding more and more of your favorite titles by authors you like or on themes you especially like. Chamber music fans and chamber music groups could work together on adding titles and challenge each other to expand and change the LibraryThing tagclouds.

CMT: I’m currently a member of LibraryThing groups on classical music, performance, music history, music theory, and boston.

DSM: One thing that I especially appreciate is that LibraryThing shows lists weighted by ‘book-obscurity and library-size’ as well as unweighted (raw) lists. Those two options help tremendously—to enable you to find things that are the most relevant to your interest if your interest is somewhat exotic, and also to enable to find things that are the most relevant if your interest is more widely-shared or topical in the context of recent news or social developments.

CMT: LibraryThing also has what are called ‘watchlists’. Watchlists are not ‘friend lists,’ so there are none of the security issues that MySpace and other social networking environments have recently had. The watchlists are ‘push’-type agents that enable me to automatically keep track of changes that interest me, instead of having to do it manually.

DSM: Music historians and musicologists tend to have large collections of books, for both personal and professional reasons. LibraryThing.com makes management of your large personal library much easier. Much better than the shelf-management features of Flickr.com and Amazon.com. Books can be added by title, author, or ISBN, and LibraryThing will track down the appropriate information from the Library of Congress, Amazon, or 60+ other libraries around the world. One’s personal library can be viewed as a list, or as a “virtual bookshelf” featuring cover art, if that’s available. Personal libraries can be sorted by title, author, publication date, publisher, Library of Congress call number, ISBN, your rating of the book, the averaged ratings that others have posted for it, the date it was entered in to the library, or by any tags the user specifies (such as “baroque” or “fortepiano”).

LibraryThing Logo
CMT: Once users create their libraries, they can share them with other users, create groups of users based on similar reading interests, write book reviews, link their library to their blog, and get suggestions for additional readings based on what users with similar libraries have read (much like Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought” feature).

DSM: If you choose a free LibraryThing account you can add up to 200 books to your library. If you choose an enhanced LibraryThing account you can add unlimited books for $10 annually. Or you can pay a $25 fee for a lifetime enhanced LibraryThing account. That’s what I did. Launched in August 2005, LibraryThing now has over 130,000 users and more than 8 million books on file.

CMT: Book clubs notwithstanding, reading tends to be a predominantly solitary pastime. And very few people have ever considered listing and tagging the contents of our personal libraries either for our own or anybody else’s entertainment. But, truly, this is both useful, highly social, and really entertaining!

DSM: To add your books, you have the option of submitting a book’s ISBN, or entering likely keyword search terms (part of the title, author name, etc.). At this point, the LibraryThing server searches thorough more than 60 libraries (including Amazon.com and the U.S. Library of Congress) to display probable candidate books, from which you select the correct choice with a click of a button. As books are added, icons to the right of each entry allow you to either delete an incorrect selection or add such information as personal Ratings and Reviews, Miscellaneous Comments, and Tags.

CMT: So that’s why you said it’s similar to services like Flickr, which people are already familiar with. LibraryThing’s Tags allow users to create specific terms to categorize their own titles – ‘Wishlist,’ ‘Haven’t read yet,’ ‘Why did I waste my money on this?’—and share interests with other LibraryThing users.

DSM: The LibraryThing app provides you with links to all the other users who have similar books, and you can browse around in their libraries on LibraryThing. There’s the ‘Suggest’ applet that generates recommendations on the basis of the other books in your collection, based on contents of other users’ similar libraries’ contents and based on the attributes of the books in your library. The Suggest function works amazingly well!

CMT: More than this, there’s a fabulous ‘UnSuggest’ applet that gives highly accurate and sometimes hilarious advice on which specific books you would not like, based on the inverse pattern-matching. Both the Suggest and the UnSuggest functions are way more accurate than what Amazon is currently doing.

DSM: But, of course, Amazon’s business purposes incentivize Amazon to be noisy in their recommendations. It’s not like the Amazon datamining and app development people don’t know how to do an algorithm as pure and accurate as what LibraryThing has fielded . . .

CMT: There’s a “preferences” link to change these header settings in your user account—you can choose from more fields like ISBN, summary, subject—and these can be aligned left to right in any order. Very flexible for personal preferences, handedness, and so on!

DSM: LibraryThing is built in CommonLisp and in Ruby on Rails, with a PHP wrapper and MySQL stack. Despite those implementation/design choices and despite the fact that there are database-tuning and other improvements that the LibraryThing staff could do to improve it, the runtime performance of it is actually pretty fast!

Library Corinthian Columns
CMT: Having gathered your collection online, you can now view it as either a ‘Graphical Shelf’ (using cover photos gleaned from sources like Amazon) or through a ‘List Format’—which presents smaller images of the book covers alongside such information as Author, Title, Publication Date, and personal Review ratings. The latter option is very flexible—allowing you to re-sort your listings by any of the visible categories, exchange those categories for ones more appropriate to your needs, and even print out the complete catalog for offline reference or backup.

DSM: Still, do most people really need a full inventory of their book collection? Probably not. And while, personally speaking, I think I have a pretty good grasp on which books I do and don’t own, the specific locations of specific titles are frequently a more nebulous subject. I also have a habit of lending books and forgetting into whose care I’ve placed them. So, for one example of a practical application, as someone with a sometimes shaky grasp of whereabouts and other title-specific trivia, the Comments entry for each book could be used to hold some very useful information. But I’ve only put a small subset of my books into LibraryThing so far. Just the couple hundred of titles that define the ‘scope’ of themes and titles in music theory and music history that are pertinent to the people I’d like to meet and communicate with, and whose libraries I bet I’d like to learn from.

CMT: But we’ve hardly touched on the social aspects yet. But before we do, it’s important to note that anyone who prefers to retain their privacy at LibraryThing can easily do that. You don’t need to enter any personal information in order to create an account, and your Personal Profile page can be left blank—so so long as your username is obfuscative, the only thing that other members will know about you is your taste in books. If that’s not enough, you can edit your Personal Profile to make your account private, so that not even your book list will be visible to other members. It’s your choice!

Library of Congress
DSM: LibraryThing follows in the now familiar social networking footsteps of such operations as Flickr and del.icio.us, by allowing subscribers to share profiles, collections, and opinions, and discover people with similar tastes through Tags and Titles. The autonomous ‘Connections’ feature, links to members that share titles with your collection are automatically added to your Profile page. For more specific matches, clicking on the Graphical Shelf cover photo of any book in any user's catalog reveals links with the ability to instantly add that title to your own collection, as well as access to such ‘Social Info’ as Tags, other Users who have the selected title, User Reviews, and Recommendations of other books based on shared libraries.

CMT: Activities on LibraryThing can include friendly debate—through the exchange of reviews and Profile Page comments, or mutual agreements to take up the conversation elsewhere. But is this really likely to give rise to social networking at LibraryThing? I think so! You can tell a book reader by his or her covers! That’s highly predictive of compatibility, for corresponding and other kinds of sharing. Of course, as always you should be aware that potential matches can pad their virtual shelves as easily as they can pad their résumés—trolling based on the demographics.

Library of Congress
DSM: There are other features available at the site—such as direct links to various online book retailers, and the LibraryThing blog to keep members up-to-date on the latest developments. Finally, a Zeitgeist page shows, among other things, the most prolific collectors and reviewers, the best books as ranked by user ratings, most contentious books (those with the largest ratings spread).

CMT: There is a definite skew in the reading habits of the members that have signed up to date. Don’t you still have an awful lot of Harry Potter and Pokemon readers in LibraryThing?

DSM: Well, yes. But the ‘8 million books and growing’ basically gets you past that. When I joined LibraryThing, I was amazed to see that many of the exotic musicology monographs and music history books and post-modern literary theory books that I have were already in LibraryThing and each of them were associated with 1 to several hundred LibraryThing users’ personal libraries. Instantly, I found connections to a variety of people who I’d never have met in any other way, despite the fact that many of my interests are really arcane. A bunch of these people are academics, yes. But a lot of them are not. They’re musicians or devoted amateurs. Or they’re people who had to find a way to make a living in some area other than in music, but they’ve maintained a life-long serious interest in the literature surrounding their real passion—music. And LibraryThing’s searches of Amazon.com use the Amazon E-Commerce Service. And library searches use the ANSI-standard Z39.50 protocol. These libraries include the Library of Congress, Canadian National Catalogue, Yale University, and 60+ other large university libraries. So don’t worry about the Harry Potters diluting things.

Library of Congress
CMT: In September 2006, LibraryThing added integration with several book-swapping web sites. On each book page at LibraryThing a ‘swap this book’ text appears, displaying how many copies of this book are available at book-swapping sites, followed by the number of people who desire a copy of this book. Clicking on this link displays a page of logos for the various book-swapping sites LibraryThing supports with the site giving the most copies of that book displayed at the top.

DSM: LibraryThing has a javascript widget that lets you put put your books directly in your blog sidebar if you want to do that, too!

Library Corinthian Columns

27 February 2007

Stapedius Spasms: Mixed Boon / Bane


I   dreamt of instruments obedient to my thought—ones which, with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm.”

  —  Edgard Varese
CMT: Temporary tinnitus and hearing loss elicited by contraction of facial mimetic muscles are often observed in patients recovering from facial nerve paralysis. But they’re sometimes experienced by otherwise healthy people, too. This type of clicking and tinnitus and/or hearing loss is due to nonacoustic contraction of the stapedius muscle, synchronous with contraction of the facial mimetic muscles. Not much has been published on this, but Yamamoto in Kyoto has studied a number of people.

DSM: We tend to think only of the problem of people perceiving clicks or ringing or “sounds that are not there”—acoustic perceptions associated with nonacoustic stimuli. But Yamamoto and others have actually encountered persons whose ears emit sounds, typically sounds that the person himself/herself cannot hear but which people near to them can hear. Yamamoto published a paper in 1987 reporting otolaryngological findings regarding a 25-year-old man who emitted a continuous, high-pitched, pure tone (6.1 kHz, 37-dB sound pressure level) from his right ear. The tone was not audible to the patient but was clearly audible to his family members. He had sensorineural deafness over a 1 kHz range with a dip of 45 dB at 6 kHz. The tone was emitted through his right eardrum from the inner ear. Such things are given the fancy name “spontaneous otoacoustic emission”.

Ear Anatomy
CMT: Mathis and colleagues in Lucerne reported a case, too, about 15 years ago. They describe a kid who emitted a continuous audible sound from his left ear. The spontaneous otoacoustic emission was measured at the frequency of 5.6 kHz with an amplitude of 55 dB sound pressure level. The kid had high-frequency hearing loss in both ears, worse in the squeal-emitting ear. These spontaneous emissions are probably related to some kind of defect in the cochlea, but it’s not clear what sort of abnormality that might be. The structures are too tiny for MRI or CT to be of any use. And the cases are rare, so—no surgeries, no autopsies—no knowledge.

DSM: My own stapedial spasms—the nonacoustic clicking noises—are mostly a problem at night. I almost never have the clicking noise in the morning. It seems mostly to occur when I’m very tired. It’s entirely absent, though, when I’m stressed or angry. Never happens when I’m in the cold, or sailing, or sea kayaking, or running. It generally only happens when I’m very relaxed and warm and happy. More pronounced when I’ve had some alcohol or am dehydrated. Or when I’ve run a half-marathon or 10K and have perspired a lot and have replenished with a lot of regular water and have low blood sodium. Or when I have a low blood potassium level. It’s more pronounced when I’m sitting or lying horizontally, and less often when I’m standing upright. The clicking doesn’t really synchronize with any music that I may be playing or listening to. The clicks don’t occur on the beats of the music. But the rhythm and dynamics of the music do tend to cause the clicking to speed up or slow down or go in bursts that correlate with the pulse of the music. Slow tempos make the clicking worse. Presto, Vivace, Allegro—the clicking goes entirely away. Adagio, andante, moderato, allegretto—clicking is usually there but not always. Largo, grave, lentissimo—clicking is always present. The clicking is irregularly irregular. It goes in bursts or clusters. The fastest would be a burst of clicks at about 6 clicks per second. The slowest would be one click every 5 to 10 seconds or so. The quality of the clicks varies—sometimes quite crisp, somewhat like a snare drum; at other times more like a dull thump or thud, like a damped kick drum. It has always been with me, since I was a child. Seems not to have changed over more than 50 years. Sorry to go on and on about this. I’ve had a lifetime to observe the natural history of this oddity. I should be a specimen in a museum!

Ear Anatomy
CMT: And then there are Colleen LePrell, Keith Duncan, Richard Altschuler, David Dolan, and others at the Kresge Hearing Research Institute at the University of Michigan and their work on the acoustic sensation termed “electromotile hearing”. When sinusoidal electric stimulation is applied to the intact cochlea, a frequency-specific acoustic emission can be recorded in the ear canal. Acoustic emissions are produced by basilar membrane motion in the inner ear. Electromotile hearing has been specifically attributed to electric stimulation of outer hair cells in the intact organ of Corti. Colleen’s work involves a rodent model and external electrical stimulation, but the idea is to mimic the electromotile effects that may occur spontaneously in humans (and other animals) in connection with neural impulses within the ear.

DSM: You know, over the years I’ve gotten used to the clicking. The ringing has not changed since I was in my teens, and I’ve gotten used to that as well. The fractal, irregularly irregular aspect of the stapedial spasms and clicking in fact lends a certain charm to them. They have the subtle quality of, say, averted gaze—the things that you subliminally apprehend in your peripheral vision. There is a beauty in the body’s involuntary reactions to stimuli—the surprises that a lover brings. The clicking, the little bursts of clicks and how they are lazily evoked by the music—I have come to appreciate the beauty of them. If I am listening to or playing a piece that is very familiar to me and I am approaching a very emotion-filled passage, then the stapedial spasms and clicking gets more intense. The fractal variability increases; the standard deviation of the intervals between clicks increases. My stapedius is a trusty sentinel for what’s coming. And then the passage arrives and the stapedius goes wild. In a way, the stapedial spasms augment the emotionality of the musical experience for me. There’s a purity to them, insofar as the onset is spasmodic—little paroxysms that are alien, not-me. I am not voluntarily causing them. They simply happen, and this automatism is pure and honest. I witness my body simply being a body. A bit like being aware of your thumping heart and its involuntary responses to stimuli. That’s the source of their beauty! Beautiful convening of accident and will, self and non-self!

Ear Anatomy
A   characteristic element in Bacon’s use of chance in his painting is a white blotch, as found, for example, in Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1967, Study of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968 and Study for bullfight No.2, 1969. In these pictures Bacon throws thick white paint at the canvas: at the face of the figure, at the bull, at the centre of the painting. The resulting white blotch looks as though the undiluted paint had been accidentally added to the painting by hand. In Bacon’s explanation of the meaning of the white spots and slashes that he added to the canvas so abruptly and almost thoughtlessly, he speaks of ‘pure accident,’ of ‘instinct,’ and that the picture almost paints itself. He says that the subconscious is finding expression in his his work.”

  —  Barbara Steffen, Chance and the Tradition of Art in Francis Bacon’s Work, Francis Bacon & the Tradition of Art, Skira, 2003.

Inner Ear Kinocilia
A ccident, as Bacon understands it, is not manifested in the sort of beauty that Lautréamont described as the ‘fortuitous encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table,’ Such anticipation of the the Surrealists’ collages shows Bacon’s lack of interest in uniting two apparently irreconcilable realities on a plane where they seem not to belong, in the manner of Max Ernst. Accident’s territory is essentially in the palpable signs of the artist’s work process; it manifests itself in the traces and marks of the paint-saturated brush on the canvas. According to Gilles Deleuze, these marks are, these traits, are irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, random. They are nonrepresentative, nonillustrative, nonnarrative. They are no longer either significant or signifiers: They are a-signifying traits. [...] These almost blind manual marks attest to the intrusion of another world into the visual world of figuration. [...] They mark out possibilities of fact, but do not yet constitute a fact (the pictorial fact).”

  —  Armin Zweite, ‘Accident, Instinct and Inspiration, Affect and the Unconscious’ in The Violence of the Real, Thames & Hudson, 2006.

Inner Ear Kinocilia
DSM: So Accident, as something taken out of the artist’s hands, may be imagined to be incompatible with the idea of the ‘act of free creation.’ But, if so, this contradiction raises the question of how art is possible at all. It’s an enigmatic quality. Following Paul Valéry and Theodor W. Adorno, the meaninglessness that Accident (or, in this case, the stapedial spasms) brings into any work can be said to replicate in a certain way the meaninglessness of the era. It’s in protest against this that Accident achieves its artistic function. In any event, Bacon endeavors to take Accident as a departure point, to accept what has arisen spontaneously as the initiation, yet then to modify, to transform, to control it and finally to ascribe some function and hence some of the apparently meaningless, be it a sense of the resistant, the unassimilable, the disconcerting or the grotesque. The element of chance that Bacon invokes obviously has nothing to do with automatism or spontaneity; in his terminology the accidental is bound to the force of instinct, which plays a central role in his thinking.

T he Geschick of being: a child that plays, shifting the pawns. The Geschick of being, a child that plays... Why does it play, the great child of the world-play Heraclitus brought into view in the aiôn? It plays, because it plays. The ‘because’ withers away in the play. The play is without ‘why.’ It plays since it plays. It simply remains play: the most elevated and the most profound sort of play. But this ‘simply’ is everything, the one, the only. The question remains whether and how we, hearing the movements of this play, play along and accommodate ourselves to the play.”

  —  Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Reason: 1955-1956, Indiana University Press, 1991.

P aul Cézanne’s painting suspends the habits of thought and reveals the base of inhuman nature upon which man has installed himself.”

  —  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Cézanne's Doubt: Sense and Non-Sense, Northwestern University Press, 1964.

W  hat I call Accident suddenly appears out of the blue. In the end, painting is the result of the interaction of those accidents and the will of the artist, if you prefer, the interaction of the unconscious and the conscious. But that’s not at all what it’s like when you’re at the canvas. There you don't know where you are or where you’re going or, above all, what’s going to happen.”

  —  Francis Bacon, In conversation with Michel Archimbaud, Phaidon, 1993.

CMT: Brent Michael Davids ‘Tinnitus Quartet’ explicitly addresses some of these experiences. Davids gives an idea of how the ringing in the ears feels. The sustained A is passed among the players. In turn, the other quartet members explore the varied emotions that accompany the experience: anger, struggle and hope. Toward the end, Davids evokes the cricket sounds that help him cope with the condition. Davids’ piece is being performed by Miró Quartet in a Chamber Music Cincinnati program on March 6th.

DSM: And Anne Lebaron’s ‘Concerto for Active Frogs’ uses some similar tonal and rhythmic compositional techniques. Not unlike Donna Haraway’s concept of “situated knowledges” with inter-species and cyborg interactions. Haraway, writing as a feminist and philosopher about the practices of science, articulated the now well-known concept of how knowledge, always situated by the various historical and cultural positions of a knowing person, must be understood as both partial and plural—a postmodern vision of knowledge as malleable, perspectival, and always provisional. These situations range across the various strands of history, ethnicity, gender, politics and technology that, when woven together, are manifested in LeBaron’s creative persona and compositions.

CMT: György Ligeti’s ‘Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes’ is somewhat in the same vein, same surreal automatism vein.


Since its world premiere in the Netherlands in 1963, Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes has been only rarely performed in public. The complicated scenographic staging, the detailed preparation by hand, the need for around ten technicians to activate more or less simultaneously the 100 metronomes—all of these make the demand for performances limited. In 1995, the sculptor and installation artist Gilles Lacombe created a machine able to perform the piece automatically—shown in this video. Ever since, Poème Symphonique can be performed accurately, at any time, and in public. The magic of Poème Symphonique is that patterns do emerge—sometimes a few metronomes, or lots of metronomes, do beat in near-synchrony for awhile. Hearing those patterns emerge and decay, or morph into other rhythms, is fascinating. Sad to think that Ligeti is no longer among us . . .

Ligeti in Sea of Metronomes
DSM: The random/stochastic aspect is there, yes, in Poème Symphonique. And the aleatoric/antiphonal aspect is there. But it doesn’t have the burstiness or the rubato that my nice stapedius has. The Lebaron frogs are good comparison, though. They have that fractal irregular irregularity to them. Theirs is an idiosyncratic rhythm that is organic and warm, not mechanical and cold. There is also the aspect of a flock or herd—the collective animal “sixth sense” that governs their choral vocalises and that, conversely, governs the periods when they are quiet together.

CMT: Cage’s ‘4'33"’, or Varése’s and Le Corbusie’s 1958 ‘Poême électronique’? Stockhausen? Babbitt? Lotus Wire’s ‘Little Chill’?

DSM: No, not organic enough. Stick with the frogs. Or dogs, or walruses, or elephants. Possibly cats on pianos.

  1. Malleus ;
  2. Malleus ligament ;
  3. Incus ;
  4. Incus ligament;
  5. Stapedius muscle;
  6. Stapes footplate;
  7. Tympanic membrane (eardrum);
  8. Eustachian tube;
  9. Malleus muscle (tensor tympani);
  10. Nerve (chorda tympani).

Ear Anatomy
Here! See! The stapedius muscle lies in the posterior wall of the middle ear. The muscle fibers converge into a round tendon which passes anteriorly to emerge from the pyramidal eminence. The tendon inserts into the posterior part of the stapes head, the posterior crus and in some cases, the capsule of the incudostapedial joint.

CMT: Inspired by Duchamp’s ‘Three Standard Stoppages’ (1913-14) and other art work that used chance, William Anastasi made “unsighted” work - the Blind drawings (in the early 60s) and Pocket drawings (late 60s). These led to the Subway Drawings of 1968 and the late 70s (and onwards):

William Anastasi, Subway Drawing
In the late 70's he reinvestigated the Subway Drawings riding to and from daily chess games with John Cage. Sitting with a pencil in each hand and a drawing board on his lap, his elbows at an angle of 90 degrees, his shoulders away from the back rest, Anastasi was operating as a seismograph, allowing the rhythm of the moving train - its starts, stops and turns, accelerations and decelerations, to be transformed into lines on paper. This signifies the internalization of chance in his work. Like your stapedius spasms, it’s an art object that expresses the physicality of its making.

DSM: Anastasi obsessed about “not seeing” as contributing to his art. And, in a 1990 interview about Anastasi’s modus operandi vis a vis Surrealism’s Automatism, John Cage made a clear distinction: “It’s not psychological! It’s physical!” Anastasi actively seeks to add a random process to his creative process, allowing deeper or more intricate figures to surface. The results are mysterious and subtle, revealing another order, a noncausal scenario of universal conditions.

CMT: The explicit importance of physicality and chance, the implied importance of physiology, and the denial of psychological as a goal makes Anastasi much closer to the random artists, process/documentation artists (like Spoerri), and plotter artists (like Verostko), than to Surrealist automatic drawing/writing. Where the Surrealist strategy attempted to remove the brain/intention from eye-brain-hand activity in order to short-circuit a more direct link to the unconscious, Anastasi, the demented archivist, removes eye (and brain) from the loop to gain distance, to allow a more indirect link—the body as seismographic machine, the artwork as record—attempting its own documentation (and yet ‘noncausal’, an involuntary alienation from onesself?).

S ince the middle of the century, the music has become very irregular in rhythm. In particular, what is most important to me is the transformation of a sound by slowing it down, sometimes extremely, so that the inner sound becomes a conceivable rhythm. The other process that is important is that I compress longer sections of composed music, either found or made by myself, to such an extent that the rhythm becomes a timbre, and formal subdivisions become rhythm.”

  —  Karlheinz Stockhausen

DSM: I’ve recently been re-reading Joyce’s “The Dead”. There’s plenty of alienation from the self in that! In “The Dead,” Gabriel Conroy is a teacher and writer who, though he lives and works in Dublin, feels that his own cultural allegiances lie in Europe. With his wife Gretta, Gabriel attends a Christmas party organized by his aunts, and after the meal delivers a little oration extolling the traditional Irish virtues. Before leaving the house, he catches sight of his wife listening to an old Irish lament being sung by another of the guests, and is struck by her attitude of entranced attention. As they leave and go to their hotel, Gabriel reminiscences about his life with Gretta, and is seized by overwhelming physical desire for her. When he makes tentative efforts to cuddle her later, however, he discovers that she is thinking not of him but of someone else who is associated in her mind with the music she was listening to at the party. This is a someone named Michael Furey, with whom Gretta was in love when she was a young girl in Galway, and who died of pneumonia after venturing out on a cold, rainy night in order to see her one final time before her departure for Dublin. The story concludes with the transformation of Gabriel’s feelings from jealousy and humiliation to pity.

Gabriel’s situation is one of alienation, of estrangement from his wife, his race and himself. A symptom of Gabriel’s compulsion to distance himself from what in fact lies in his own nature is his addiction to language, and this constitutes one pole in the most fully-developed antithesis in “The Dead”, that between speech and music. Gabriel is intensely verbal, and this sets him apart, in a house that is devoted to music rather than speech. All the women of the household engage in musical pursuits of one sort or another, and the entertainment offered at the party too revolves around music and dancing. Gabriel has inherited his mother’s intellectualism and her bookishness. The alienating effect of the verbal orientation he acquired from his mother betrays itself when he cites the need to “keep in touch with the languages” as one of the principal reasons for his preference for European over Irish vacations.

During the party, Gabriel’s lack of participation in the musical life of the house figures his essential detachment. This detachment appears in subtly rendered descriptive details, such as that of Gabriel waiting “outside the drawing-room door until the waltz should finish”. Shortly afterwards “Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece ... He liked music, but the piece she was playing had no melody for him”. Gabriel does not contribute to the dinner table conversation concerning opera singers of past and present. He continually attempts to convert musical experiences into verbal ones—he mentally assigns the artificial title ‘Distant Music’ to the observation of his wife listening to music, and he is totally oblivious to the meaning that the music holds for her. Gretta by contrast “seemed unaware of the talk about her” while she is under the spell of the song, her genuine susceptibility to music thus tending to separate her from the verbal world in which he husband moves. The Air she hears D’Arcy sing is associated in her mind with her past, with her home in the west, and in particular with Michael Furey, who “had a very good voice” and used to sing that song. Because of these associations, the song is also linked with death, as the air that Gabriel’s aunt sings — “Arrayed for the Bridal” — comes to be as well. If language tends to create and enforce distinctions, and is therefore estranging by its very nature, then the effect of music is to unite, although the things it unites include life and death.

So Gabriel experiences moments in which he feels drawn to the outer world beyond the window, so is he sometimes seized by spasms of doubt as to the authenticity of this mode of existence which is so intimately bound up with language.

As in the case of the other polarities we’re talking about, the implied antithesis between speech and music begins to be undermined in the course of the party, and this process continues in its aftermath. As they are walking towards their hotel Gabriel remembers a letter he wrote to Gretta many years before in which he asked: “Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?” On this occasion in the past words were used to express their own inadequacy before an emotional truth, and their poetic sincerity presents a striking contrast to the routine formula with which Gabriel deprecates his power to express his sentiments during his after-dinner speech. The mood in which Gabriel recalls this letter is conveyed in a simile which possesses telling reflexive significance: “Like distant music these words that he had written years before were borne towards him from the past”. In this case words have become music, have become in fact genuinely “distant music” in ironic contrast with the artificial and characteristically literary title which Gabriel would have assigned to the portrait of his wife listening to D’Arcy’s singing. So here is a breakdown of the polarity between speech and music. For if speech erects a temporary bulwark against death, music undermines this and implies and contains death, so that the convergence of speech and music entails the convergence of death and life as well. The imagery of “The Dead” comprises these pairs of symbolic poles or opposites:
  • living/dead
  • east/west
  • inside/outside
  • light/darkness
  • warmth/cold
  • present/past
  • speech/music
  • self/other

The symbolic meanings of these depend on their relation to other symbols belonging to the same side of the slash. The speech/music polarity is special—since it’s speech that makes possible the distinctions that these various pairs embody, whereas music tends to overcome them. The east is of course associated metonymically with the morning sunrise, and metaphorically with birth and life. Conversely, the west is traditionally associated with sunset, with the extinction of light, and with death. In this particular story the idea of the west is also coupled with that of the past, and with the memory of a specific person whose death was provoked by a vigil kept in the cold and darkness of a garden. That person is in his turn recalled in connection with music, and music is linked with the past and with death throughout the story.

CMT: These conceptual polarizations might at first seem coherent and plausible enough, but it’s undermined by irony almost from the beginning of the story. Thoughts in the present dwell obsessively upon the past. The dead refuse to remain quietly buried, but return to haunt the conversations of the living. The relation between these formal oppositions becomes in the end confused to the degree that they become fungible. The supposedly living are spiritually dead, the bland automatism of their continuance in a vegetal routine of existence attesting to a fear of living. If the past seems at first to have vanished beyond recall, Gabriel makes the disconcerting discovery that Gretta’s spiritual being is anchored in the past, which has more meaning for her than the present she shares with her husband. Also, yet another fragment of the past that emerges from memory to exert an influence upon the arid present takes the form of a reversal of the inside/outside, warmth/cold polarities, and Gabriel recalls standing with Gretta in the cold, looking in through a window at a man making bottles in a roaring furnace. All uncontrollable, all unmasterable. Brilliant automatisms! Fractal spasms!

C omplexity in itself will not provide rhythmic thrust. Harmonic rhythm has to operate in conjunction with actual rhythm in order to effect a sense of propulsion.”

  —  George Crumb

DSM: The gestalt of the stapedial spasms reminds me of the intuitive sense of the pulse set forth by a great, innovative jazz drummer. All on its own, the little stapedius muscle invents advanced fills; creates strong grooves; comes forth with all sorts of mixed stickings, flams and accents. And the bass drum technique has impressive flexibility . . . It’s a little like having a Buddy Rich in there who won’t go away. Once you accept that the spasms aren’t going away, you begin to appreciate that aesthetics of what they add . . .

CMT: And the first thing students need to understand is how drummers interpret the passage of time. Drumming is about pulse, which is an idea that often gets lost while students busy themselves learning technique. You can get flashy if you want, and you can play triple-flamacues up the yin-yang, but you’d better have a very clear idea in your head at all times about where the pulse is. You have to be able to feel the flow of the music or you’re useless to everyone, unless you are just drumming to amuse yourself. Good time and a solid sense of the pulse is, for a lot of people, a talent, but it is one that can be learned. The way to learn it is to listen very hard to people who are better drummers than you are, and to try to understand how it is that they communicate the pulse of the music to the listener, and more importantly, to the rest of the band. Also, working with a metronome can help.

DSM: One of the hardest concepts for beginning players to understand is the idea of “placement.” When people use the phrases “ahead of the beat”, “behind the beat”, and “on the beat”, placement is what they’re talking about. Every musical situation has a “beat”, made up of a series of precise times when each quarter note (or sixteenth note, or triplet, or whatever) occurs. The band instinctively knows when the beat is happening, and everyone ends up agreeing on when that precise moment is, in a kind of subconscious way. Remember that these moments are coming every few milliseconds - this is what makes the flow, or the pulse. Every member of the band gets to make a decision as to when they will play their part, in relation to that precise moment. Some people like to play their parts behind the beat. This does not mean that the player is playing slower than the rest of the band. The player is playing in perfect time, and his pulse matches the pulse of the rest of the band precisely. It is just that this player’s “pulse clock” got started a millisecond or two after the first note of “the beat,” and every note that this player plays is a little bit late, technically. But it can sound awesome - this is sometimes referred to as someone with a “fat” groove, or a “lazy” groove. The drummer from Little Feat is the king of this style, and it ends up being a very relaxed, comfortable feeling that he gets across. Notice, however, that he never “drags” - that would mean that he was slowing down, which he is not. People often assume that the “beat” is something dictated by the drummer, that the drummer is by definition playing “on the beat”, and that if they play ahead of the drummer they are automatically playing ahead of the beat. In most situations, this is true - the drums set the rhythmic foundation, and the other musicians adjust to it—but it’s not true of every situation. My stapedial spasms are stylistically a lot like the drummer from Little Feat.

CMT: Some other guys like to play ahead of the beat. Not to belabor the point, but this would mean someone who is thinking of “the beat” as happening a millisecond or two before it actually does. This gives a very “driving” feeling to that player’s part, and it can sound excellent. When guys talk about “pushing” the music, this is exactly what they mean. Jazz drummers tend to play ahead of the beat. Does your stapedius muscle tend to do that?

DSM: No. It’s more like drummers who play just a shade behind the beat.

I   listen to classical music a lot. Conversely, there’s a lot of jazz that I don’t enjoy listening to. I always felt, as a horn player, playing wasn’t satisfying enough for me. I should have been a drummer, actually. In some ways, Lester Young is the most complex rhythmically of any musician.”

  —  Lee Konitz

Ligeti at Work
R hythm and sounds are born with syllables.”

  — Jean Philippe Rameau

Anamorphosis: Carmignola’s Lacanian Violin Playing

W  hen a string is plucked, the ones which are an octave or a fifth higher vibrate and sound audibly of their own accord. Music thus tightens its ties with sympathy.”
  — Descartes, Compendium Musicae, 1618

DSM: Giuliano Carmignola’s playing was positively cinematic!

CMT: His attacks were fierce! Ferocious! The improvisatorial license he exercised was not only with the phrasing and baroque ornamentation, but also with the tempi and dynamics! Vivaldi can so often be merely innuring. But this! This! Carmignola gave us theater! Did you see his suffering? Did you see his ‘argument’ with the Venice Baroque first violins? The alternate bowings, the detaché notes, the arpeggios on each of the strings, the double stops, the dervish figurations in the upper register!

DSM: He put himself entirely into the music! He really made these pieces stand up, made them 3-dimensional—made them living, breathing things! It was ‘anamorphic Vivaldi’!

CMT: Anamorphic rendering—this means a distortion in the spatial dimensions of a work, correct? In anamorphic graphical art, there are two or more images of the same object in the field of view that simultaneously compete for the viewer’s perception and belief. You have a trompe l’oeil perspective that compels you to work to understand what’s being represented and resolve the conflicts or contradictions in it. This is what you are saying when you use this fancy word ‘anamorphic’?

DSM: Yes. István Orosz and Julian Beever and Kurt Wenner and others are artists who recently having been working in this idiom. The tradition dates back at least to the early Renaissance.

Beever, Make Poverty History, Edinburgh
But ‘anamorphic’ also is a term in cinematography—optical lens transformation developed in the 1950s in connection with widescreen formats, to fully utilize the 35mm film surface. If shooting in widescreen picture format, without an anamorphic lens, the available film area is not used completely; some of the film surface is wasted (top and bottom).

Orthomorphic frame, No stretching
But if you shoot with an anamorphic lens, the picture is optically stretched in the vertical dimension to cover the entire film frame, and the inverse projection of this has a much better picture quality. When projecting the film, the projector must use an inverse lens to stretch the image horizontally back to its widescreen 2.40 aspect-ratio.

Anamorphic frame, With stretching
When I said that Carmignola’s playing seemed ‘anamorphic’ to me, what I mean is that he is compressing the timbral range of the Vivaldi and Tartini. He is also dramatically stretching the rhythmic space of the music, accelerating or retarding tempi as he animates the character. His ferocity and passion arouse in us an identification with his character—a strong sympathy that is really quite unique for an account of Vivaldi. That is what I mean by ‘anamorphic’.

CMT: Žižek describes Lacan’s view of the Subject—that the Subject is signaled by whatever “perturbs the smooth engine of symbolization and throws it off balance, an anamorphic entity that gains its consistency only in retrospect, viewed from within the symbolic horizon.” This is precisely how Carmignola comes across in live performance. He achieves his authenticity exactly because he throws Vivaldi’s smooth engine of symbolization off-balance. And Carmignola capitalizes on the fact that our mass-culture exposure to flatter Vivaldi has innured us! The slow movements for me were romantically milked too much by Carmignola and were nowhere close to an historically ‘proper’ reading. Some of the double-stopping by Carmignola was out of tune. And, just when I’m about to worry about those things, here comes Carmignola with another cinematic revelation, an entirely authentic and passionate utterance from his violin that makes me forgive and rethink all of my ridiculous quibbles. The point about the consistency that is evident only in hind-sight—the retrospective reflection of my forgiving, forgetting, and understanding anew—is basically this rethinking. A hind-sighted coherence. I think you are right—Carmignola is doing an anamorphic rendering of Vivaldi. In fact, Vivaldi is a perfect vehicle for Carmignola’s character. By the way, you know of course that your use of the 50-cent word ‘anamorphic’ is not at all novel. The literary theorists have been using it for years!

DSM: Well, fine. The term just seemed apt to me, that’s all. I don’t care whether the notion is new or not, or whether others in poetics and literary theory have appropriated it before. Musically, these pieces Carmignola performed in Kansas City are unique among Vivaldi’s output. The Vivaldi echoes Tartini and later Italian composers. Several of the pieces offer the soloist notes higher on the staff than we usually hear from Vivaldi. As for the romantic-sounding slow movements, I don’t think that Carmignola’s treatment of them was necessarily ‘romantic’ per se. They certainly were emotional, as they should be. Nobody knows exactly how these were performed in Vivaldi’s time, but I think that Carmignola presents viable and excellent interpretations. His playing is certainly consistent with the dictum that musicians should on one hand try to come as close as possible to the composer’s intentions, but on the other hand should live with the music they play and put their own personality into it. Carmignola has more than a fair share of personality!

CMT: Throughout the allegros were lively, vivacious and clean. But the temptation to take too swift a tempo was carefully avoided. Carmignola’s superbly virtuosic playing extended to the adagio/largo movements. The Venice Baroque ensemble performed with considerable control, I thought, offering calmness and serenity—a dramatic foil for the mercurial Carmignola. I loved the way the expressive playing from Carmignola provides an air of mystery.

DSM: I especially liked hearing Carmignola in the warm ambience of the small Folly Theater. It added nicely to the coloristic palette of the period instruments and was especially congenial to Carmignola’s dynamics. Nothing clinical or astringent about it!

CMT: But what about Carmignola’s character? What about the voice of the subject that Carmignola breathes life into. You know, Plutarch once told the story of a man who plucked a nightingale and finding but little to eat exclaimed: ‘You are just a voice and nothing more.’ Deconstructing the layers of meaning that cover the voice and concentrating on ‘the voice and nothing more’ is something that philosopher Mladen Dolar does.

DSM: Ah, up again pops our other mutual interest! In ‘A Voice and Nothing More’ Dolar goes beyond Derrida’s idea of ‘phonocentrism’ and revives and develops Lacan’s claim that the voice is one of the fundamental embodiments of the self, of the psychoanalytic object. Dolar says that, apart from the two commonly understood uses of the voice as a vehicle for meaning and as a source of aesthetic value, there is a third level of understanding: the voice as an object that can be seen as a ‘lever’ of thought. The voice is a ‘prime mover’. Carmignola is the epitome of a prime mover!

CMT: It takes a certain intrepid curiosity to pick up a book like the ones that Dolar or Žižek write. But the payoff can be huge: a new meaning, a new resonance accruing to something we previously paid barely any attention to—this inquiry into the nature of voice and its role as a bridge between nature and culture, Subject and Object, Self and Other, Body and Mind/Language, the personal and the political, the liminal and the pelagic.

DSM: Ruth HaCohen, a musicologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written about this, too. And Foucault and Deleuze. And Adorno. And Derrida in his brilliant essay ‘Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins’. And Schopenauer long before that. Sympathy, in the sense of the ability to suffer with or for the other, entered English usage toward the end of the sixteenth century. This artistic sensibility nourished by the Aristotelian notion of poetic compassion has everything to do with ‘voice’. Max Scheler distinguished sympathy from emotional fusion—empathic states or experiences of total identification with another subject. He insisted instead on the exclusivity of sympathy as a moral and aesthetic principle stemming from the unequivocal recognition of the separateness of another human existence.

CMT: ‘Another existence’ in the sense of ‘other’? Other human beings, or other perspective on one’s self?

DSM: I see what you’re getting at. The normal sense would be in terms of subjectivity of other selves. But there is an aspect of Carmignola’s playing—the character he inhabits in his performance—that is self-referential. I suppose it’s possible to have sympathy with yourself, to identify with oneself as a subject, including one’s former self. Carmignola’s minor-key passages’ reflectiveness makes me think of this.

CMT: And Aristotle can be read as viewing real pity and theatrical pity as partially antithetical to each other—the first as encouraging moral action while precluding over-involvement, the second as related only indirectly to moral action while demanding emotional participation. Bifurcated between life and art, the Aristotelian eleos became a challenge for literary theorists—they tried to overcome it without relegating pity to an imaginary or lower moral sphere. The outpouring that Carmignola delivers is clearly real, convincing, morally binding! We listeners were pulled from our seats, down to the stage, and grabbed by the collars!

DSM: Peter Greenaway achieved an effect quite like this in his 1982 movie, The Draughtsman’s Contract, set in the England of the Restoration, when tensions between artistic representation and social norms precipitated new appraisal of artist-beholder relations.

CMT: Okay, anamorphic. Have you got any other exotic neologisms in you today? More over-loose associations you wish to share?

DSM: Well, there are Carmignola’s fierce ‘Lombardic’ rhythms. And Carmignola’s ‘terraced’ dynamics. What about the ‘vocal’ tradition of ‘Venetian’ sound? Could we not say that Carmignola makes ‘bravura’ instrumental works out of works that were not written in a bravura manner? How about virtuoso ornaments as ‘insinuations’? The minor keys in Carmignola’s hands seemed to me to be ‘confessions à l’amore’—chromatic ‘incursions’ or ‘irruptions’ into lyric drama. There you are! Satisfied? Enough theoretical neologisms to suit you?

Orosz, Crossroads