This past January was particularly difficult. It is strange to look back and see that I did quite a lot compared to some previous months.

What I read

  • A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki.

    • Some of the depictions of deep shame, grief, and depression resonated quite a lot with me. Difficult to read but stirring and beautiful. Also, very funny. And Brilliant. I loved this. I find myself now thinking so much about how particularly well suited a good novel is to doing meaningful philosophical work. This novel is able to perform the kinds of temporal ambiguities described in the work of, e.g., Maurice Merleau-Ponty without it feeling like a silly and overwrought thought experiment. I will not stop thinking about how this novel scrambles conventional understandings of the temporal directionality of causality. In this novel, some things in the “future” have their effects in the “past”. As Jiko says, “When up looks up, up is down”. Elsewhere: “Up, down, same thing”. Consequent, antecedent, same thing.
  • John Crowley’s Little, Big.

    • Exceptional and frustrating. I was frustrated that this novel, which takes place in the northeastern USA, relies on an implicit (and false) idea of North America as being empty (of people, of mythology, of magic) before the arrival of European settler-colonizers. There is also a Magical Negro character whose dialogue is written in what strikes me as a 1970’s white guy’s idea of how a jazz musician might speak. This character, along with the two NYC-dwelling Puerto Rican characters, are the only ones with dialogue written in any strong “dialect”. All the other (white) characters speak more or less with the same voice, a voice shared by the narration itself, a voice which my younger self would not have noticed to be a voice, and which I would have thought to be “normal” and “neutral” and which I now can see is in fact not neutral at all. In my reading about this novel before I read it, I never came across any hints of this.

    • What makes this so frustrating is that there are other ways in which this novel is really, truly excellent. The writing is gorgeous. Things are weird as hell. The imagination at work is awe-inspiring, except when it comes to imagining People of Colour. At times while reading I thought to myself “This is incredible. This is the best thing I’ve ever read”. The ending is simply beautiful, life-affirming stuff. There is a magnificent love story here, and a deep and remarkably rich family drama, and a fucking weird ass plot about Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor himself, waking from his slumber and conquering America. Someone’s great-grandpa is a trout. This novel is exceptionally good at what it sets out to do, and it was written by, I presume, a naïve and well-intentioned man who unthinkingly imported some racist tropes into his ambitious novel about time and history and love and family and creation and death. Not abnormal in the late 70’s, or early 80s, or even in 2024 for that matter, but still frustrating.

    • John Crowley’s bio on the back of my copy of this book, and elsewhere (from what I’ve seen online), always begins by mentioning that he was born in my home state of Maine. I have to admit this was an early part of my attraction to reading him. I was disappointed to discover that he was born on the Air Force base in Presque Isle, but then soon left and grew up in Vermont, Kentucky, and Indiana. Why mention being born in Maine at all, I wonder.

  • Koike and Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub, omnibus vol. 4. I’m savouring this series. The art and historical details remain as rich as ever, but the best thing still is seeing this little guy grow up:

    A photo of a panel from Lone Wolf and Cub. The little boy Daigoro is reaching up in the air, trying to catch a dragonfly.

    Figure 1: Daigoro being wicked cute.

  • I read an excellent, as-of-yet unpublished poetry manuscript. I don’t know if the author would describe it this way, but to me it has all the exuberance and craft and integrity and radical love for the world and revolutionary imagination that the best punk rock can have. Like if Fugazi were a poem and socialized feminine.

What I watched

  • The new Miyazaki, 君たちはどう生きるか (How do you live?), aka The Boy and the Heron. This movie is beautiful, moving, and so so strange. For a few weeks afterward I found myself spontaneously crying whenever my thoughts returned to it. (Same thing happened to me after 風立ちぬ (The Wind Rises) come to think of it.)

What I listened to

  • This excellent work by Vincent Grimaldi on a label, Scum Yr Earth, that is new to me. A really compelling blend of field recordings and I think some serge synthesizer.

  • New Sparklehorse, Bird Machine, is just beautiful.

    • Mark Linkous is one of my favourite songwriters, and I had just assumed there were no other unpublished recordings of his since his death long ago. Apparently he recorded this album shortly before his death, and his family and friends finished it. It’s really, really good.
    • Listen on bandcamp
  • I revisted the second Deltron 3030 album, Event 2.

    • It is better than I remembered, but still not quite as perfect as the first. This revisit was prompted by me stumbling across this incredible live performance on KEXP. This is magnificent stuff:
    • Watch Deltron 3030 Live on KEXP (YouTube Link)
  • Bilal, Love for Sale.

    • This is one of those famous “lost albums” that gets made and then, for complex and non-artistic reasons, is “shelved” and not released. Eventually it was leaked and so you can listen to it on places like YouTube but, still, it is technically unreleased and not officially published. Such a shame.
    • There was a time when I was especially interested in the “Soulquarians”, obsessed with Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def), and Talib Kweli. For no particular reason I did not go and listen to Bilal’s solo work at that time, instead just enjoying his features on other people’s tracks. Mistake. This album is remarkable.
    • Listen on YouTube
  • John Fahey & Cul de Sac, The Epiphany of Glenn Jones, is a weird ass 90’s era collaboration album from my favourite guitarist that I never got around to listening to until now. I think my younger self was not interested in Fahey unless it were solo guitar music, and I remember I used to struggle with his tape music experiments and the much more abstract recordings he made later in life. So I avoided this one. It turns out it is brilliant. Hearing Fahey in the context of a band has given me a wholly new perspective on him as a guitarist and inspired me.

New releases this past month

  • Mary Halvorson’s Cloudward is fantastic.
    • I keep waiting for another CODE GIRL album, because I think Halvorson is really good at writing “songs”, but she is also, of course, exceptionally good at leading a band through some very excellent pieces.
    • Listen on bandcamp
  • From Recollection GRM, La nef des fous by Robert Cahen.
    • I think better known as a video artist, these recordings were made at the GRM in the early/mid 70s. Fascinating and formally inventive tape music pieces, here. Plurielles is especially striking to me, with its incredible and complex overdriven feedback swells at the start. Following that are these beautiful episodes of sometimes quite complex, but never dense, arrangements of sound. Really surprising, event-ful music.
    • Listen on bandcamp
  • Another from Recollection GRM, ‘Schall’ / ‘Rechant’ by Horacio Vaggione is wonderful.
    • I’m thinking of this passage from John Dewey’s Art as Experience:

      In art, as in nature and in life, relations are modes of interaction. They are pushes and pulls; they are contractions and expansions; they determine lightness and weight, rising and falling, harmony and discord. The relationships of friendship, of [spouses], of parents and child, of citizen and nation, like those of body to body in gravitation and chemical action, may be symbolized by terms or conceptions and then be stated in propositions. But they exist as actions and reactions in which things are modified. Art expresses, it does not state; it is concerned with existences in their perceived qualities, not with conceptions symbolized in terms.

    • Listen on bandcamp

What I did

  • I was a guest on a podcast, chatting about some music with some friends. It was a great excuse to listen to “Train Running Low on Soul Coal” (YouTube Link) by XTC many many times in a row. XTC is possibly my favourite band?

  • With some old Maine friends, people I grew up with, I ran a few sessions of a TTRPG game over video chat. We played Cairn, a free and very lightweight game. We are about 2/3 finished with the adventure I’m running, and we’re due to finish it all up in one final session come February. It’s good to do things with friends.

What I made

  • I continue to make field recordings accompanied by mini-essays and photos at a rate of ~1 per week. I am especially happy with this one, which is a lengthy sound walk in the vicinity of Patrick’s Cathedral while its bells were ringing changes on a Sunday morning. While I can usually find something interesting and perhaps even beautiful in a field recording, I could not help but feel as if the neighbourhood collaborated to make a compelling piece of music that I was lucky enough to be in.