Wednesday, December 30, 2009

WHY the most important record in my life is the creepiest

Read the previous entry, if not already.

After some preliminary research, the 2003 CD version of The Harmony Of The World seems a different beast than the vinyl counterpart discussed in the link above, based on noting differing track listings. So without further ado, here is a temporary zip file link to a direct vinyl rip of the original The Harmony Of The World LP:

(This link will be yanked immediately should either the CD turn out to be the same as the record, or the current authors make contact and request it be taken down.)


Fear of music is for those of little faith. Many have protested and/or boycotted certain musicians for decades, mainly as a vehicle with which to project their beliefs onto others -- in a way to compensate for their lack of faith. While many fear certain musicians because these listeners are sensitive human beings, either unsure or unaware of their own faith.

The use of fear, shock, grotesqueness, and macabre in music has a history as long as music itself. It's silly to argue that music made by Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Geto Boys, or Throbbing Gristle is a product of death -- the state which humans naturally fear the most. Anything that can growl, walk around, and make sounds is certainly alive. For more imaginative listeners or viewers, these artists may be considered "undead." But it's impossible that this music is the direct byproduct of death itself.

No matter how comfortable or disturbing one's music is, there is discernible humanity in the output. Humanity exists even in songs with highly disturbing subject matter and delivery -- such as Throbbing Gristle's "Hamburger Lady", as one example.

The Harmony Of The World is no exception. The 1979 record's liner notes clearly give credit to professors Willie Ruff, John Rodgers, and sound consultant Mark Rosenberg. Human presences are clearly established.

However, the album is a unique example of structural generative music -- as in music that is generated by a non-human system dictated by analytic theories. In this case, the data was collected from the final chapter of a 1619 book called Harmonices Mundi by Johannes Kepler. Ruff and Rodgers used the data collected by Kepler in combination with modern techniques (by 1979 standards) to synthesize the looping sounds of each of the planets in our Solar System.

So why argue that The Harmony Of The World is the creepiest record ever?

Because the composers of this record knew exactly what they were doing.

They didn't seek out to trigger any specific emotions in the listener, at least as stated on record. They didn't inject any human aesthetics into this recording, other than the use of data collected by one human being, Johannes Kepler -- who had long been dead -- and the instruction of the sound engineer, whose role was to be a robot in practice. Most importantly, Ruff and Rodgers made this record an analogy of a complex, conflated harmony that no human could muster.

There is nothing good or evil in The Harmony Of The World. There are no major dynamic shifts in the long-form tracks on this record. The Harmony Of The World exhibits, in rawest form, the mundane reality that no matter how much joy or pain or living or dying one goes through, our planets will continue to revolve around our sun producing this harmony for millions of years to come.

It's highly ironic that the human impulse to communicate with music that has no traits of humanity at base brings out fear -- arguably the most human impulse of all.

One could imagine if this record was his or her first generative music discovery, he or she could experience an existential nightmare, should he or she try to project a traditional author or performer or composer to music like this.

Going further, imagine if he or she had elaborate and preconceived ideas of the afterlife. How horrifying this record would sound.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

The most important record in my life

The Harmony Of The World was the first record I ever bought. I was only 8 years old, and the 25 cents my grandfather gave me to buy this record from a neighborhood garage sale in Pacific Palisades, CA circa 1980 wasn't technically "my" money. However, I had a choice of records, and my pick was made. And I was holding the money to acquire it. The only other hobby that interested me more than music and computers at that age was astronomy. At that moment, there was nothing cooler in life than space and astronomy.

I had zero interest in Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back (having just been released that year.) Those were just movies. Neither was about real space. Having read several books mainly concentrating on the nine planets and all their discovered satellites at the time, and having my interest in music grow and grow each year, a record about astrononomy was a major score.

I wasted no time putting on this record the moment I got home. I didn't know what to expect... and what I heard was nothing I would expect.

An 8-year-old doesn't care how accessible or difficult a song or album is. It's either cool or it is not cool. Since this was an astronomy record, it was automatically cool. This meant that if I didn't "get" what I was listening, I was going to force myself to understand why this record was cool, no matter how long it took.

I had no clue what to make of The Harmony Of The World. There's no singing. There are no voices at all. There are no melodies, and there are no rhythms (to an 8-year-old, that is.) There was a lot of scary humming sounds that went on for a long time. The only fun I could get out of the record was to play around with the speed of playback.

The giant 70's wooden monstrosity that was my grandparents' stereo system had a built-in turntable with four record speeds: 16, 33, 45, and 78. I would often just play around with these four speeds whenever I gave The Harmony Of The World my daily listen.

It wasn't until too long that my mother and grandparents asked me to use headphones whenever I played "that" record. They bought me a pair of headphones just for the purpose of saving their sanity from my super cool astronomy record. "Why don't you listen to other records? You played that one enough already." They never realized how much they were daring me to play this record longer and longer every time they asked that. How dare they tell me to put away something they knew I loved. I was always overly obsequious to my elders. I never was when it came to The Harmony Of The World.

Two months later, I was giving up. I was growing tired of trying to figure out why The Harmony Of The World existed. Nonetheless, I refused to toss this record aside. Even though I had moved on to more conventional records by Lipps Inc., The Gap Band, Devo, and XTC, I knew I had something special, and always kept it in a special place since.


Several years later, thanks to two adventurous 80s radio stations in Los Angeles: commercial station KROQ and college radio station KXLU, my tastes in music had expanded beyond mainstream pop and dance circa 1985. I had no friends from grade 7 to 12, so the radio, the record store, and the cooler magazines at the nearby supermarkets were my only source of music discovery. My family always encouraged me to indulge in music, as it certainly was keeping me out of trouble, so I went record shopping every weekend.

The last summer before I headed out to college at UC Irvine in 1989, I came home and played my Happy Flowers record Oof. I put the needle on the track "I Said I Wanna Watch Cartoons." Happy Flowers were a Charlottesville, VA duo known for making nauseous sounding noise rock with affected baby screaming and elementary bullying as their vocal delivery.

My grandparents and my mother ran into the living room and thought I was choking or dying! They found out it was just the record I was playing. "HOW CAN YOU CALL THIS 'MUSIC'? YOU SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY ON RECORDS, AND THIS IS WHAT YOU BUY? THAT'S DISGUSTING!"

Somewhere in the middle of my whole family yelling at me, I turned my head. And for the first time in almost 10 years, my eyes landed on the corner of "that" record poking out from the little pocket inside my grandparents' still functioning 70's wooden stereo monolith.

I've kept and protected The Harmony Of The World ever since. It changed my life. During those two months of stubbornly listening to the record in all possible manners, this process rendered me immune to being turned away by how weird or odd or experimental any music could be. I also realized I wasn't constrained to how I wanted to hear my records, thanks to playing around with the speeds on my grandparents' turntable.

The biggest irony, however, is that I finally understood The Harmony Of The World when I played it for the first time in nearly 10 years -- and I became extremely disturbed. I quickly calmed down once I realized the benefits I got from this record. Yet, The Harmony Of The World became and has remained the creepiest record I've ever heard.

The full title of the record is: The Harmony Of The World: A Realization for the Ear of JOHANNES KEPLER'S Astronomical Data from Harmonices Mundi 1619. It was made by two Yale professors in 1979: Willie Ruff and John Rodgers.

I was just about to post a link to my vinyl rip of this record, as I had yet to see another copy of this record in existence. However -- according to Amazon -- this record is currently in print on CD. So I will hold back from my original plan in light of this discovery. I just purchased the CD, and will report back if this CD's contents differ from the album's.

Just take this as a recommendation, in case you're looking for bowel churning drones -- and also to get a small slice of what has changed the course of my music tastes and hence my life.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best album of 2009: Talbot Tagora - Lessons in the Woods or a City

Seattle trio Talbot Tagora are a young and mighty rock band whose approach to their work follows in the mold of older bands like Sonic Youth, Polvo, Trumans Water, and -- most notably -- Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. As dizzying and strange Lessons in the Woods or a City, (the band's first album on Sub Pop's Hardly Art subsidiary) initially sounds, its catchiness, energy, and aura unhatch after a couple of full listens.

One of the most notable qualities of Talbot Tagora is ironically the one in which they seem the most shy: the vocals. The band sings in a reverb-drenched droney fashion occasionally hitting abnormally high registers at times, sounding more atmospheric than any of the layers of guitars or drums they play. (Yes, moreso than My Bloody Valentine.) Another plus is the drumming of Ani Ricci, whose highly danceable rhythms carry the momentum of these densely layered bursts. Most importantly, Lessons is the rare type of album that's weird enough to excite the easily bored, but inviting enough to inspire listeners to pick up an instrument and want to be in the band.

The awkward tragedies in pop and the music biz in 2009 have unfortunately muted a lot of great music released this past year. Nothing has come as close as both an escape from and a joyous workout to 2009 as Lessons in the Woods or a City.

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HAIKU2K halted by Supreme Court

The army of HAIKU2K song candidate nominations for the remainder of the 2000s decade on route to Tallahassee, Florida was halted by order of the U.S. Supreme Court in late 2009. No explanation for the halt has been made. However, the driver of the vehicle transporting the nominations of HAIKU2K was quoted as saying "Look, I just didn't want to add to the din of calculators, man. Just leave me alone, I'm just the driver, OKAY? GET THE HELL OUTTA MY F---ING FACE!" Subsequently, the driver was arrested.

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