February 3, 2010

Research in the Streaming Age

Here's a question: how to characterize the Beatles interview habits?

A characterization demands sufficient evidence (biographical information, printed interviews, and so on)--here's one piece. In this interview clip from August 1964, John is certainly a great comedian, but it's George who takes the prize. They're being interviewed for Swedish television and John recognizes straight away that he could pull the disconnected interviewer's leg, and convert the interview into mockery. Lennon made voices and stared into the camera, knowing his eyes were glaring into living rooms across Sweden. At one point, the interviewer asks John to read some poetry from a book.

Prompted by Lennon's rough treatment of the book and poem, Harrison seizes his opportunity and enters with great wit. His sudden appearance pressured John to share the spotlight, demanded camera operators zoom out, and reminded his interviewer of his bandmates Paul and Ringo. George disrupted the interview with ease and, compared with John, is the more economical comedian in this excerpt.

However, this clip represents only one interview. To fully address the question of the Beatles' interview habits, it must be compared with additional evidence. Short excerpts like this one continually remind us of their limited capacity to display characteristic traits rather than fleeting moments, and that they can only be understood in relation with other impressions. There probably is sufficient evidence for me to suggest that this clip fairly portrays Beatle interview habits, that John was a ham and George a witty sidekick. Fortunately, streaming video is useful for addressing exactly this kind of problem.

Researchers can quickly extend their understanding of their object beyond the clip at hand. Type "beatles interview" into a site like YouTube and watch the responses pour in. How many is sufficient depends entirely upon the question being asked. I am interested in the larger question of interviews, and of the Beatles' habits in particular, because I would like to know more about the interviews in which they discuss crowd noise. In one instance, Paul suggests in an interview with Dusty Springfield that the quartet did not wholly approve of all that shouting. So interviews are what I plan to investigate next, and I'll begin with YouTube. If I find enough interviews in which they discuss crowd noise, I might be able to make a case for why they withdrew from public performance in 1966, different from the impression that is currently in circulation.

- MjE

Posted by ethe0008 at 3:01 PMAssorted Nothings

March 28, 2009


MSNBC's Rachel Maddow delivered her best line in weeks today. She reported on the Czech PM Mirek Topolanek who is soon to host POTUS and who boldly called Obama's stimulus plan a "road to hell", a slander reportedly learned while attending an AC/DC concert. While the Prime Minister's remark refers to the eponymous hit single from AC/DC's sixth album 1979, "Highway to Hell", Maddow tops him by extending the popular music cultural reference to AC/DC's subsequent and more highly regarded album* (Back in Black, 1980). Her ace rejoinder conjures an early misogynist line in Back in Black's "You Shook Me All Night Long":

"She had the/sightless eyes, telling/me no lies/Knocking me out with those A/merican thighs".

Maddow's response at once retorted the unapologetic Prime Minister and neutered the male gaze behind the lyrics:

"And now you'll know the back story if you read that at that meeting the Czech Prime Minister got himself knocked out with some American thighs."**

(Snap!) Topolanek is clearly attempting to provoke President Obama into a quarrel he can't win; Maddow's got him there. She also reminds us ("if you read . . .") that although we can't presage the President's actions, Obama has the obvious upper hand at that meeting. The PM, by channeling AC/DC, has been rhetorically assaulted by Maddow's clever retort, which subverts or places out of context the rude tone of "You Shook Me". At the same time Maddow invites subjects of the male gaze, wherever it may exist, to turn the tables and "take the power back." (Whether it's read that way is another matter entirely.) A two-fer!

This piece is superb, but one mistake unfortunately mars Maddow's otherwise great episode. In an earlier piece, she strangely gave "permission" to her audience to disengage with articles that likened Obama's Afghanistan plan to Iraq-style insurgence. But why not read on, and learn what else the paper is misreporting or getting right?

- MjE

* - The latter album hit #1 in the UK and in the band's native Australia, hit #4 on the Billboard Pop Album chart (Highway showed at #14), and placed 73rd on Rolling Stone magazine's top 500 Albums in 2003. (Highwaywas at the 60th percentile at #199.) The two pertinent singles had divergent fates: "You Shook Me" had less sway with Billboard, sneaking in at #35 on the Billboard Pop Album chart while "Highway to Hell" was well toward the top (#17).

** - Microphones captured some of Maddow's staff laughing in real time to her delivery. She's excellent!

Posted by ethe0008 at 12:50 AMRaves

February 28, 2009

Letters and Birthdays: Ideas Worth Spreading

One of my happiest internet discoveries is TED, running under the byline, “Ideas Worth Spreading”. TED is an acronym for Technology, Education, and Design, and is a lively site run by conference organizers in California. Presenters at the TED conference hail from wide-ranging fields (mycology to literature, neuroanatomy to origami) and perform their best ideas before an audience of talent. I want to add this brief tale to those presentations I have shared before because it is a meaningful lesson that we could all revisit: the power of handwritten notes. Why should email eradicate this mode of communication, the speaker asks rhetorically, can't they coexist?

Years back, I ran into a high school friend who told me she wrote several letters by hand per week; Annie's the only one I know in that habit. She understands that the pen reveals what digital writing conceals: the humanity behind relaying simple congratulations or grave Dear John letters. Digital fonts can't show the hand backtracking to correct or quivering with nervousness, motions that give character to handwritten notes and bring their message to life. Some email programs even provide an “auto-suggestion” function, allowing the writer typist to complete a word without depressing all the necessary keys.

I wrote the note below to my grandmother for her eightieth birthday, following the lead of the TED presentation and my friend's epistolary habit. I am in Montreal, far from where Gramma lives, so I funneled the energy I would have given at her surprise party into a dedication paragraph. A simple 'happy birthday' was out of the question, since reaching octogenarian status is indeed remarkable. What I eventually sent exceeds the occasion, perhaps, but she may have expected something like this from her professional student of a grandson. I present it for you to consider your own letter-writing habits, not that I'm anything like my friend Annie.

Happy un-birthday to all of you (as in Carroll's Through the Looking Glass), unless of course it is your birthday. Then, well, “Happy Birthday!” And many more.

- - - - -
Dear Gramma,

Herbert Hoover took office on March 4, 1929, becoming the last of twenty-four Presidents inaugurated on that date. The end of one American tradition, that date represents the beginning of another more personal tradition: celebrating your birthday. Eighty years later, you have the perspective of a woman who has lived through thirteen administrations, seen two stars added to the flag, and sent loved ones off to war. You possess the wisdom and hard-won strength that comes with being the caretaker and pillar of such a large and unpredictable family. Above all, you demonstrate the compassion of a teacher who strives only to see her students live by the Golden Rule. I love you, and I wish everyone could have a grandmother like you.

Happy birthday,
- Michael

Posted by ethe0008 at 4:18 PMShort Stories

February 12, 2009

Having Genius

I have been haunted for over a year by a musicologist’s heart-wrenching blog entry. The author wrote the piece at the tail end of an extended discussion of how to stay afloat in academia. His blog entry impressed me with one particularly durable image, low-hanging bitter fruit. I my own despair, I have tugged at that fruit and bent its branch near to my position in academia. Thankfully, I never pulled hard enough and tonight I learned how to let the bitter fruit go altogether . . .

Elizabeth Gilbert untied my stomach knots with her passionate and humorous history lesson. In just twenty minutes, she helped me regain a sense of self by acknowledging the distance between the working ‘me’ and the inspired ‘me’. This was more than a personal history lesson, however, as Gilbert offered a crucial lesson for all creative people of our time: have genius (ancient Roman trope) instead of being one (19th-century). She restored my confidence in the power of history and my joy in beauty of today.

I encourage you to visit both links.

- MjE

Posted by ethe0008 at 1:34 AM

January 19, 2009

On the Construction of Social Space (1 of 3)

Happy New Year! I don’t “do? resolutions, but I intend to blog more frequently this year and reacquaint myself with the keyboard home row. It is said that writers enjoy having written rather than writing, so I am pushing myself to finish more.

Specifically, I will blog ‘through’ issues I encounter in my dissertation literature. Call it a labor of familiarization— I hope to sleep soundly knowing I have assimilated a text well enough to convey a sense of it here. Doubtless, many stray books and articles will find there way here, but I hope most will relate directly to the project. (Insightful readers may piece to project together before it’s hatched.)

I had thought to write about a personal issue deeply affecting my grad school experience: the dissertation proposal. The year’s first entry would have probed the game of inventing genres, as I take to be the case with the proposal. I use “inventing? to mark a difference between the proposal genre and musical genres. After learning the rules of a musical genre, for example, by visually and aurally ingesting years of music, one can produce an utterance of that kind—a string quartet, say. And there is an easy parallel here with the field of language. But dissertation proposal rules are such that one virtually never sets eyes on a model text before attempting to write one.

But enough of that. Instead, a note on ‘social space’ might catch the attention of a broader audience. I have in mind a blog in three parts, all summarizing some component of David Harvey’s contribution to the academic’s toolbox. To begin, his first approximation of the creation of social space originates with three mutually dependent conceptions of the world around us: absolute, relative, and relational space. These terms appear congruent to (1) a single, objective vantage point, (2) a duality (at least) of vantage points, and (3) a multiplicity of individuated vantage points.

First, absolute space originates in the geometric features of our natural world and the accretions of material layers humans have placed in it. The steppes of central Asia constitute one absolute space. The Empire State Building is another. Second, relational space conveys a sense of transfer, motion, and flow. The relative space of the Mississippi River is neither its source (Minnesota’s Lake Itasca) nor its destination (New Orleans, Gulf of Mexico), but is at once everywhere along that path. And a corner gas station can be defined by its daily traffic. Finally, relational space is dependent upon mental associations each person brings to it. Veteran visitors of Niagara Falls and those who view it for the first time help define its relational space. Likewise with the second largest shopping carnival, the West Edmonton Mall.

As I mentioned, this is the first of three summaries of Harvey’s work. By expanding a conventional interpretation of ‘space’ to include more than mere geographic terms, it has laid the groundwork for the next step: an analysis of social space experience and representation.

Posted by ethe0008 at 9:38 PM

December 17, 2008

. . . to be starting any musicology blogs

I originally wrote this post in the form of a comment on a site I read called "Dial M for Musicology."

“But then no-one seems to be starting any musicology blogs, so oh well.?

Ok, I’ll bite. What does a musicology blog read like? And who writes for it?

Prof. Ford’s barb represents one of the most significant internet-related challenge to those of us who identify as a musicologist, and the point is well taken. (Where da blogs at?) In response to the cited AMS isolation problem, let’s imagine two possible salutary worlds representing the extremes of readership and bloggers, in numeric terms.

The first, on the low side of things, might involve the creation of an official AMS blog, where one member in good standing—the one who chooses chicken or steak—is appointed sole writer of the operation. Happy AMS-ers would digest the online news, like taking medicine, and then—back in the real world—arrive late for some department meeting. It’s a sad place, like Orwell’s Manor Farm, where the last remaining commandment reads, “All bloggers are equal but some bloggers are more equal than others.?

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a world where every AMS-er is the proprietor of an interesting blog. Each tries assiduously to gain readership not only within the community, but across campus (and town) as well, where some of their colleagues are in hot pursuit of dead languages. Some blog more than once each day, while others are more careful, less ambitious, or both. Copious blogging of an AMS extraction obtains, but no one, sadly, has any time to read what much of the community is writing.

Chicken or steak? There is always, as geographer Edward Soja asserts, a third space. A vegetarian option, if you will. Third spaces are the workshop of solutions, where Blog fail and COURAGE inspire, and where Edisonian axioms (“1% inspiration . . .?) echo. Let’s try these:

- Veteran interdisciplinarians: consider sharing what you’ve experienced, and what you have planned
- Dial M: consider inviting twelve (or fifty-two) guest-bloggers per year to take the helm
- University of [blank]: please, where’s your blog? Or is what occurs in your city of no interest to us?

It’s the old Bourdieu stand-by of elders and cultural capital, and some have enough to go around. Or, it’s the old Pink Floyd stand-by, “I’m alright, Jack. Keep your hands off of my stack.? I reckon we decide this one.

If anyone is still reading, I’ll finish with an observation. Prof. Ford placed his feigned throw-away comment in its own third space: squarely between the exciting Victorian hypothetical and Prof. Paglia’s paean to “universal? training. I simply meant to explore the invitation.

Disclosure: I blog quite infrequently, and when I do, I don’t think to announce it or ask for a plug. Lately it’s been enough to practice writing a paragraph or two.

Posted by ethe0008 at 11:14 PM

December 15, 2008

Now what?

Late October, I felt like the John McCain that suspended his presidential campaign and rushed to the nation's capitol to rescue the economy. Instead of a 'presidential campaign', substitute 'doctorate in musicology'; instead of 'the nation's capitol ', substitute Cleveland, OH. And instead of 'rescue the economy' substitute 'volunteer for Obama.'

Yep. I passed on AMS, left Montreal and the work I had to do for a week, so that I could help elect Senator Obama. It was excellent, and rewarding, and all the positive stuff you might expect. I have a few souvenir posters in my apartment now to show for it, too. But there's a bit of a nagging thought, "Now what?"

See, the main reason I went is that I saw myself clicking around the internets looking for the latest campaign story and realized that none of it was actually going to put Obama in the White House. My mind had been made up, and had cast my absentee ballot; I had done my part, right? I think not.

My 'part' happens all around me every day; I'm either plugged into it or not. The Obama election presents me, at least, with the realization that I'm doing as little now politically as before I left. It's not a once-every-four-years engagement I'm after. I think that leads to "as long as there's a dem in the white house, we're good" attitudes. It smells like tribalism and a license to check out.

I can't get behind that.

I'd be interested to hear what you plan to do now that Obama's been elected. Are you more interested in politics than before? Are you looking ahead to the '10 elections? Or are you thankful you won't have to deal with any of it for four years?

Posted by ethe0008 at 10:09 AM

August 7, 2008


Ok, I can't stay long. I've got another essay to write.

The province of Quebec is sponsoring a writing competition (QWC), and the grand prize is a $1000 for 1200 words. That almost eighty-four cents per word! Awesome. You have to be a resident of QC, though, which I have been for three years now.

The main thing is not the QWC. It's the idea of rewarding the act of writing, which still seems unreal to me. It's summertime, and folks are dining out, walking around, going to festivals . . . all that stuff. So what could you do with your summer play-time? Sit back and write, of course.

Montrealers are big on down time, and they pay! Not a bad place to be. Does your city sponsor such events?

- MjE

Posted by ethe0008 at 9:56 AM

August 2, 2008

Struggling Arena Rocker

Jon Pousette-Dart was an active member of the American popular music machine in the 1970s until his group disbanded in the shadow of MTV's arrival.

His music, though successful in some markets, never met with sustained, widespread popularity. Pousette-Dart (JPD) would later describe his songs as having landed "just inside" the Top 40 format for his "almost national" following to appreciate. Riding the cusp of national stardom he and his band would remain, working with more durable pop acts as Bonnie Raitt, the Byrds, J. Geils Band, and on.

The function of opening acts is multi-dimensional. On the one hand, they must prepare the audience for the headliners, and in so doing the offer their wares for the audience's approval. On another hand, they strengthen ties between musicians, audiences, and record companies by making explicit the label with which they are signed. I think it's quite an event for bands when they do get signed, so it's understandable that Pousette-Dart would announce during the concert that his band had signed with Capitol.

In the sense that JPD scored more than once on FM radio he is unlike most of us, but in the sense that he did not attain cover-story status he is much more like the more innumerable practicing musicians striving at the time. Herein lies his importance to the story of arena rock: beneath the glossy surface of magazines, radio and television are the invisible members of the musical community, too idiosyncratic for executives to promote to the big stage, too successful to discard. They are the 90% beneath the tip of the iceberg.

In order to move beyond the story of his station, and to animate interest in his music, I will offer an analysis of a concert capturing the peak of the Pousette-Dart band's success. They opened for Orleans in 1977 at, among other locations, Fairleigh Dickinson University (NJ), and it's from this concert that I will draw my musical evidence.

Posted by ethe0008 at 10:18 AM

August 1, 2008

Breaking Radio Silence

When naval vessels go dark, i.e., cease radio communications, the intent is electromagnetic disappearance, and communication moves to non EM-transmitters. Semaphore, flashing light, signal flags . . . all these and more are used in place of standard bridge radios which can easily give away a ship's location.

So, imagine that I've been waving my arms, clicking Morse code on my flashlight, and raising colorful signs over the past year, trying to have a conversation with you.

But I failed the assignment, really. We're both supposed to know when to go dark, so that no one is left waiting for a radio message that would not arrive. And so, in not announcing my departure from blogging I 'left you hanging' . . . right?

I kid. Surely no one is waiting for me to break radio silence. And surely no one missed reading my spotty blog in the first place. But it raises the issue of comm. etiquette. When are bloggers supposed to announce a departure? I know some academics who announces that they'd be, in effect, headed to the beach for the summer.

Is this the way of the 'net?

Are bloggers tied to time-tested routines, as well, such as school calendars or blockbuster movie releases? Does the medium change how frequently we communicate? Sure it does; folks are updating their blog all the time, and I suspect that their readership follows. But look, I'm pretty much a n00b, but I don't see how writing the next greatest blog is really going to change much--most people will only get glued further to their chairs.

It's the people. I know some technocrats here at [college or university] who think that computers are the way. It's like Jesus, really. No one's seen the "original" yet folks pay lots of attenetion and drop loads of money on some sort of salvation in perfect pitch studies or the next Mozart Effect. But it's the people.

Go out, have a look around, imagine what other folks are thinking about, empathize when the lady two people ahead of you in line is demeaned by the curt store clerk, smile with kids, and laugh. Laugh lots. It's a great way to break the silence.

G'day, mate.
- MjE

Posted by ethe0008 at 12:36 PMA Penny for Your Thoughts