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Understanding Donald Trump: how technological mediation leads to actual surreality


Neil Postman is, in my estimation, one of the most important writers whose work needs to be more actively read, studied, and taught than it is currently. While his work is not obscure, and has had some influence, I open this short essay by asserting its significance because Postman has articulated and explained the fundamental necessity of deconstructing, understanding, and moderating the influence and effects of our media on ourselves (and by extension our culture, our collective behavior and decisions) better and more accessibly than any other writer I've found.

Also, for me, through much of his work as a whole Postman implicitly draws out the evolution of a primary thesis of communication studies--the medium is the message--into our growth and experience of hyperreality (which is vastly accelerated by the internet). I think that this process has continued, and that--because our experience of hyperreality is so pervasive and so convincing--we are now actively trying to make reality match our own subjective notions of what it should be, and the phenomenon of Donald Trump as PEOTUS is as clear an example of this large-scale reification of hyperreality as I've seen.

Look: I know that those previous two sentences are maybe not the clearest I've ever written, and that this can seem dense and obscure and not really worth thinking about too much. But, and I urge you to find me persuasive on this, it really is important and actually not too complicated, if you can stay in a conceptual space for a bit. I think it's urgent that we see and understand this set of phenomena we're currently experiencing, to help explain a world where "President Trump" is not a joke in a Simpsons episode from 2000, and to inform how we react and act going forward.

Continue reading "Understanding Donald Trump: how technological mediation leads to actual surreality" »

Four enjoyable things for when you need some relief from right now

This post doesn't really have a coherent theme, other than "here is some cool stuff I've had bookmarked to share for a bit, and am finally getting around to sharing." I'm hoping it will be a nice tonic to, well, you know, current reality.

Four things for your enjoyment:

  • from, the video Rapping Deconstructed: the Best Rhymers of All Time. Based on the work of Martin Connor (whose website Rap Analysis is well worth close reading), this short video encapsulates how the technique of rap and rappers grew from its origin to its most gifted and skilled practitioners, and really clearly illustrates how they do what they do. It's a great medley of many of rap's best artists for those who may already know; and a fun primer for those unfamiliar with this musical style and practice:

  • Of the many things I will miss about President Obama is his intuitive understanding and celebration of the importance of creative, cultural work as absolutely essential (one of the many, many displays of his emotional and spiritual intelligence). He and the First Lady held events and participated in creative culture often, and one of my personal favorite ways they did so was by personally curating and sharing playlists. Through Spotify, the President released several summer playlists over the past couple of years, which are really superb (free to listen, but Spotify login required):

Michelle Obama's playlist for International Day of the Girl is here (track list here), and you can listen to holiday playlists from the Obamas here and the Bidens here.

Continue reading "Four enjoyable things for when you need some relief from right now" »

Keaton & Adams: Two American masters finally combined

Buster Keaton footage cleverly edited with the brilliant and satisfying Fearful Symmetries, by John Adams--it works so well:


Video is by Jérôme Bosc (parts 2 & 3 after the jump). If you're curious at all about my calling Buster Keaton an American Master, you must watch Tony Zhou's episode "Buster Keaton - The Art of the Gag" from his amazing Every Frame a Painting series.

Continue reading "Keaton & Adams: Two American masters finally combined" »

Putting dots on paper isn't the only option

I'm becoming more and more fascinated by graphical, software-based music composition tools. A well-known, simple example is ToneMatrix, a pentatonic step sequencer (if you've never played with this before, you're welcome).

If you find that one interesting, give these a try (flash plug-in required, sorry):

  • Online Sequencer: straight-forward, most resembles traditional organization of musical ideas.
  • Drumbot: a bunch of cool tools: several drum sequencers, chord charts for discovery and composition, practice tools, and more.
  • Otomata: a generative musical sequencer.
  • Seaquence: my personal favorite, Seaquence adopts a biological metaphor, allowing you to create and combine musical 'lifeforms' that will then interact, resulting in unpredictably evolving compositions.


How TV Can Solve the Music Crisis

From Ted Gioia at the Daily Beast is a great article detailing what the continually faltering and failing music industry can learn from what TV, as an industry, is doing right. His framing makes a powerful point: not only is TV thriving by selling content via a profitable subscription model, as an industry it is taking a product that was long given away free and convincing people to pay for it.

Read it here: Five Lessons the Faltering Music Industry Could Learn From TV. (Gioia's writing about music is always interesting, btw.)

Pick of the Week: Portugal. The Man.

Happy Monday everyone! I'm back again for my Pick of the Week!

This week I'm highlighting "AKA M80 the Wolf" by Portugal. The Man. This track is a throwback for a group that has gained most of its popularity fairly recently (recording since the early 2000's, the band released an album produced by Danger Mouse in 2012, which has understandably brought them much more attention).  I first encountered their music before they were all big and famous (FIRST!), back in the days when they only had one album - Waiter: You Vultures!They specialize in a what I like to call 'trippy-rock', music that sounds both familiar and foreign at the same time.


While their new music is definitely cool, it all just made me want to come back and listen to their early stuff, which brings me to "AKA M80 the Wolf". One of the main tracks from their first album, this is, simply put, a fantastic rock song. It evokes the sounds of bands like The Mars Volta, and features a steady groove with light, haunting, tenor male vocals, sweet keyboard parts, and a psychedelic guitar line. Their sound varies a lot from song to song, and they can get really crazy (see "Chicago"), but I enjoy how this song seems to age so well and how I find myself regularly drawn back to it. I also appreciate the odd yet beary entertaining music video.  Enjoy!

Composers are people too!

The tumblr Composers Doing Normal Shit features photographs of exactly what you'd expect. I love things like this because, hey, amusement, but also because it's an important and interesting exercise to humanize those whose accomplishments we really admire, who seem much larger than life. It reminds us that they are just people, too, and that their lives were filled with mundanity, just like ours, and that those accomplishments were mostly because of diligent, focused and consistent work, not magical art-making powers.

My favorite at the moment is probably Dmitri Shostakovich playing cards with his kids:


Most popular songs, 1900-2009, in 11 minutes

The video below is a fun, fast-motion tour of the most popular songs in the United States each year, from 1900 to 2009. It's only eleven minutes, so obviously you only hear a snippet of each song, but it's really interesting to hear our national taste evolve (note that the list is most popular, not most important or influential--the methodology for arriving at each choice is quite detailed, though any choices prior to 1950 are at best educated guesses).

The list of top songs for each year is here if you'd like to follow along as you listen. It includes links for each entry, leading to further information about each artist's recording history and lists of the top 100 songs for each year. It's quite a trip: 


Hanging out with John and Morty

Cage and Feldman, that is (sorry if the title misdirected any of you). The recording below is over four hours of conversation--open, familiar, unguarded--between friends John Cage and Morton Feldman. For the rest of us, it is a very rare opportunity to listen in on extended conversations between two of the 20th century's most important and incisive musical minds. Recorded between July 1966 and January 1967, they talk about ideas, art, music, people, philosophy, and so much more. If you like real, thoughtful, informed conversation, then this will be a delight. 

People are experts at the most random things (thanks, internet)

I am continually fascinated by the lush and nearly endless variety of styles and idioms in popular music, which attract devoted, attentive listeners to greater and lesser degrees. While I stand by my assertion that "genre" is mostly a fiction invented by those seeking to better commodify music and identify and target demographic groups (as amply demonstrated, I think, in this podcast episode--short version, it's mostly a continuum and spectrum within broad stylistic practices), there are common aesthetic or other features to be found within even the most nit-picky sub-sub-sub-genre distinctions.

A really great user post on reddit recently hipped me to the sub-genre and culture of Shoegaze (sub- to alternative rock, so technically a sub-sub-genre of rock, I guess). It's hard to write about music well, and the author of this post vividly describes what traits make up the sound world of this kind of music, and provides an in-depth timeline of its evolution with listening examples, lists sub-sub-(sub-)genre practices with specific albums/artists that typify them, and for good measure adds links for further reading.

It's a great post and a wonderful demonstration of one of the things that I most love about the internet, and one of its most disruptive aspects: people sharing their passions and knowledge freely, simply so others may also enjoy what they have found valuable and rewarding.

Seriously, check it out.

Colbert Has Really Good Taste in Rappers

Stephen Colbert has the best band of any late night talk show. But on top of the excellent work of Jon Batiste, Colbert has also been consistently bringing in some of the most interesting musicians around, and when it comes to rappers he's 3 for 3.

For his 2nd show he brought on official best rapper alive Kendrick Lamar, and the results were pretty spectacular. After that Run the Jewels dropped by and brought TV on the Radio as their backing band.

Chance the Rapper used his guest spot to debut a new song and pay tribute to his home town, Chicago, with DLow, the reigning king of Chicago's current dance style "Bop." The song contains references to fellow Chicago rappers Kanye, "I ain’t going to hell or to Hillman" and Chief Keef, "I just might share my next one with Keef/Got the industry in disbelief, they be asking for beef."

The performance is kinetic and shows Chance's abilities as a musician, dancer, and overall entertainer. I was obsessed with his debut mixtape Acid Rap, and his latest album with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment is one of the most musically rich rap albums of the year.

The Genius of Synecdoche, New York

The always incisive Your Movie Sucks is posting an in-depth look at Charlie Kaufman's movie Synecdoche, New York. This film, for me, packed more emotional wallop than any I've seen, and does it just beautifully and symbolically and allegorically and subtly and confusingly and.....well, you get my point.

I think it a sublime and very meaningful film, as did the inimitable Roger Ebert:

This is a film with the richness of great fiction [...] it's not that you have to return to understand it. It's that you have to return to realize how fine it really is. The surface may daunt you. The depths enfold you. The whole reveals itself, and then you may return to it like a talisman.

He continues:

Here is how it happens. We find something we want to do, if we are lucky, or something we need to do, if we are like most people. We use it as a way to obtain food, shelter, clothing, mates, comfort, a first folio of Shakespeare, model airplanes, American Girl dolls, a handful of rice, sex, solitude, a trip to Venice, Nikes, drinking water, plastic surgery, child care, dogs, medicine, education, cars, spiritual solace -- whatever we think we need. To do this, we enact the role we call "me," trying to brand ourselves as a person who can and should obtain these things.

In the process, we place the people in our lives into compartments and define how they should behave to our advantage. Because we cannot force them to follow our desires, we deal with projections of them created in our minds. But they will be contrary and have wills of their own. Eventually new projections of us are dealing with new projections of them. Sometimes versions of ourselves disagree.

Continue reading "The Genius of Synecdoche, New York" »

Some context for today: you're going to die

Not to be morbid, but I watch this video at least once per year, if not more often. It reminds me of the unavoidable, inevitable context of my life: that it is temporary, that I am a phenomenon and not a thing, and that one day I will experience the end of myself. 

I find the poem, and the gravelly, matter-of-fact delivery of the narrator, to be immensely comforting. It helps me to spend my time and energy wisely, and to remember what truly matters in life.

The poem is by Timothy Furstnau, the film directed by Dennis Palazzolo and narrated by Vito Acconci:

If you prefer your unflinching life perspective with a little more Shatner, try this.

The anatomy of the internet

For something that pervades our lives like the internet does, I find that I'm not really aware of how it works, in a literal sense, and how it developed. Vox offers 40 maps that explain the internet, and I found it very enlightening and informative.

As issues about the internet become more politically prominent and important (e.g., net neutrality, privacy), understanding what the internet is, how it came to be, and how it works in a basic sense is increasingly essential knowledge for any informed citizen.

In Praise of Idleness

Jordan Bates, over at his consistently interesting site Refine the Mind, takes a close look at one of the great thinker Bertrand Russell's more provocative essays: In Praise of Idleness: Bertrand Russell on the virtues of leisure.

As Russell asserts in his essay, leisure time is often tremendously productive, because our work is toward our own ends and interests. Unfortunately, we are convinced to work for others primarily by the construct of duty:

The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own.

Bates summarizes Russell's thinking nicely, and asserts that his message is more timely than ever--especially considering the post-scarcity world we rapidly find ourselves moving into.

I find these kinds of arguments particularly compelling because I'm a musician, and making music is arguably one of the least useful and most important activities of human culture.

Continue reading "In Praise of Idleness" »

Cultural history and preservation by recording

As is much discussed on this site, one of the most interesting aspects of music and musical culture is that it is temporal and incorporeal; it is one of music's greatest and worst qualities. So much can be lost when sounds are passed from generation to generation, and only in the tiniest recent sliver of human history have we been able to capture those sounds and preserve them, in direct and (if desired) unmediated ways through sound recording.

Early in the history of recording technology, a few pioneers realized the technology's importance for documenting and preserving musical and aural culture. Foremost among these early musicologists is Alan Lomax (also a field collector, folklorist, archivist, filmmaker, scholar, etc.), who recognized not just the immense value of folk music but of recording it, and began traveling to do so in the early 1930s. His contributions to our cultural history and preservation are enormous.

Amazingly, his entire archive is available online, free of charge. It is huge and amazing, and features recordings of concerts, social gatherings, worship services, street criers, interviews, and more. I had a hard time choosing even just a few samples to incite your curiosity.

This NPR piece is a great place to begin acquainting yourself with this veritable trove of music and people and the many delightful ways we use sound expressively.

Alan Watts: the guru you didn't know you needed

No, seriously: reading and listening to Alan Watts might just change your life. Well...not your life, per se, but it could definitely change you in some important and fundamental ways, and that would lead to changes in your life.

I could proselytize about this remarkable and wise thinker at length, but instead I'll let him speak for himself and just share a few short samples of his thinking (animated by Trey Parker & Matt Stone; reading recommendations below).

Life and Music:


I (the illusion of ego):


Continue reading "Alan Watts: the guru you didn't know you needed" »

More posts coming your way....

As our regular visitors know, this site has two main areas of content: the podcast and the blog. The podcast is, of course, episodic audio content, and since the beginning of this year, most of my energy has been focused on rebooting the podcast and getting a weekly (or near-weekly) production schedule up and running.

We're getting closer with that (seriously, check out the great new episodes), but while that work has been happening, I've neglected the blog side of the site. That part of the site is just posts like this, found either on the home page or in the site archives. The posts vary widely in content: often they're just links to interesting, thought-provoking, funny, or otherwise notable content I've found online and want to share with you; sometimes, these posts are essays, listening comparisons, and other original commentary and content by me or one of my very thoughtful and talented collaborators. Mostly they're about music, but not always.

So if you're new or if you've fallen out of the habit of checking the site regularly, please check back more often and you'll be rewarded. You can subscribe to the blog here and to the podcast via iTunes or Soundcloud. Thanks for your continued support!

The Loose Filter 10-Year (!) Rejuvenation

Surprisingly, the Loose Filter Project will soon have been online for TEN YEARS, which is, like, 147 in internet years. To celebrate our tenth anniversary, we've given the site an overdue redesign and the content new focus:

    • Monthly, look for a longer podcast on topics based around a set of creative works or ideas--for instance, the upcoming episodes on recontextualization, or the importance of perception of form. Don't worry: though the content will remain substantial, the tone will always be accessible and irreverent.
    • In between those, we will post shorter, 'intermezzo' episodes. These will feature discussion of a specific artist or work or performance, or a ramble about a particular idea.
    • Archives of all audio programs are available on our Soundcloud page
  • Along with the site's new look, content has been modified a bit (you may notice the shorter category list in the sidebar, for instance).  This is mainly to help us, so that we can stay better focused with the content we both create and curate for you.
  • As always, comments, questions, or thoughts you'd like to share are most welcome, and should be sent here.

"These Hopeful Machines" - a compelling look at the evolution of electronic music

From Radio New Zealand is These Hopeful Machines: "a six-part series in which James Gardner traces a personal path through the evolving world of electronic music – and meets some of the people who made it happen."

There is some great stuff in each episode, with lots and lots of music:

  • 2: Raindrops In The Sun - New musics rise from the secret projects and surplus junk of World War II.
  • 3: Fag ends and lollipops - Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, Italian Radio (Cary, Zinovieff, and Moog), and the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
  • 4: I was Born to Synthesize - Early development of analogue synthesizers and their rapid spread through experimental composition, popular music, sound effects and advertising, and more.
  • 6: A Dance To The Music of Time - Synthesizer bands of the 70s via hip hop and electronic dance music; laptops and the democratization of music production; what's next?

Don't miss the links, bibliography, and playlists toward the bottom of each episode's page. Really great, comprehensive resources.

The Sound Design of Star Wars

To say the original Star Wars (that is, Episode IV: A New Hope) is iconic is to say that the sky is blue.  But as a kid swept up by its bold newness, two things always really captivated me most: the stellar (ha!) soundtrack by John Williams and the vivid sound world created by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt.

FilmSound, a site "dedicated the art of film sound design and film sound theory," features this great page on Burtt's work in the original film. Check it out.

(Seriously, have you never wondered how, exactly, that great blaster sound was made in 1977? Or that TIE Fighter screech?)

Visualizing music: animations can help us hear better

I love the current trend of music animations.  We posted the superlative Rite of Spring animation below, but this simple one I especially love, because it not only helps the aural patterns make more sense (we are visually dominant in our perceptions, after all), but reveals a little bit of the actual compositional process, too.

Anyone who has studied tonal counterpoint knows that the all-time undisputed master craftsman is J. S. Bach, and The Musical Offering (BWV 1079) is a pretty clear example why.  Here its most essential idea is presented in way that helps one hear and understand the nature of a so-called 'crab canon':

Now here is the music in context--try and notice if the little animation above helped you better hear the process Bach is putting the thematic material through:

Canon 1 a2 (Canon Cancricans)

(played by the superb Ensemble Sonnerie)

Pretty neat, right?  A few more interesting animations below the break:


Continue reading "Visualizing music: animations can help us hear better" »

So the LA Phil 2013-14 season is pretty awesome..., refreshingly great and focused on modern and contemporary music.  You must check out the full season here.  Just a quick tally of the highlights:

  • 13 commissioned works
  • 11 world premieres
  • 4 U.S. premieres
  • 4 West Coast premieres
  • Revival of the Minimalist Jukebox Festival (including a new Death of Klinghoffer)
  • Salonen conducting Zappa

A little bit of commentary on this delightfully present- and forward-looking programming here, here, and here.  It almost makes me wish I lived in Los Angeles.

13 commissioned works, 11 world premieres, four U.S. premieres and four West Coast premieres during the season. Among the world premieres will be Frank Zappa's "200 Motels," a multidisciplinary work featuring 15 soloists, dancers, a rock band and symphony orchestra, and never performed in its entirety. Conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead the performance on the 10th anniversary date, Oct. 23. - See more at:

Gone fishing

Hey folks, creating mind-blowing new paradigms is hard work so we're taking some time off from posting to recharge. In the meantime you can search the archives, catagories, and Best of LFP for some summertime stimulation.


Summer Hiatus / Best of the LFP

Stuart and I have been blogging on this site for over 5 years now, and I think we've produced some pretty good stuff. With five years of content, though, it's easy for older posts to get buried in the archives. We recently installed a search function on the front page (right under Recent Posts) to make it a bit easier to sift through older entries, and you can read posts by catagory as well, but even then some of our best work might remain unfamiliar to our newer readers.

With that in mind we've decided that instead of simply going dark for the next few weeks as we take a break to travel, hike, lay about, and prepare for the fall, we will repost some of our favorite entries. Think of it as The Loose Filter Project's greatest hits. Enjoy!

Mt. Diablo seen from Las Trampas Peak

West Coast Reading

Until recently most of my regular music reading tended to skew towards the East Coast. Many of my favorite bloggers, journalists, and musicians are based in New York, and it is, of course, the epicenter for innovative new music happenings, so it is completely understandable that happenings in other parts of the country aren't on their radar. With that in mind, I'm sharing some great sources for West Coast arts news.

My favorite is the Los Angeles Times' fantastic arts blog Culture Monster. It covers everything from architecture and graffiti to the LA Phil and the Hollywood Bowl. Recent posts included an interview with David Lang and a profile of Eric Whitacre.

For Bay Area music news there's the San Francisco Classical Voice. It's a great source of concert listings for smaller ensembles and one-off shows as well as profiles and interviews of local musicians. I blogged previously about this interview with Michael Morgan. If you were in town last weekend you could have caught this concert featuring cellist Zoe Keating and the Magik*Magik Orchestra.

As far as music critics go, there's none better than Joshua Kosman. He opines about the Philadelphia Orchestra and City Opera debacles here.

Learning about music from Einstein

Suddenly our hostess confronted us. “I’m so sorry, Dr. Einstein,” she said with an icy glare at me, “that you missed so much of the performance.”

Einstein and I came hastily to our feet. “I am sorry, too,” he said. “My young friend here and I, however, were engaged in the greatest activity of which man is capable.”

She looked puzzled. “Really?” she said. “And what is that?”

Einstein smiled and put his arm across my shoulders. And he uttered ten words that - for at least one person who is in his endless debt - are his epitaph:

“Opening up yet another fragment of the frontier of beauty.”

A great story from Jerome Weidman about how Albert Einstein taught him to hear Bach.

What's wrong with classical music, part 8 billion and oh hell I lost count....

The perenniel topic of "what's WRONG with classical music??" surfaces again in a thoughtful blog post over at 3QuarksDaily.  I agree and disagree with much of what Colin Eatock mentions in that piece (and am frustrated by some of the common misperceptions perpetuated in it), but it's excellent discussion fodder and it generated a  fairly interesting conversation in this thread over on Metafilter.  Food for thought.

If you haven't heard, Alex Ross has another fabulous new book out

Alex Ross hits another one out of the park (at least that's my opinion about 1/3 of the way through, and I don't see things falling off) with his new book Listen To This.  What's really fantastic about the book, aside from all of the great specifics, is the general philosophical approach to musical art that Ross takes in his commentary, explanation, discovery, etc.--he simply loves music, all of it, and makes no a priori distinctions about what can or can't be good.

Excellent overview from the New Yorker here.

There is even a FREE online audio guide on his website.

Read this, soon.

"Albeit with a few new ones, such as sirens, thrown in"

A few days ago my good friend Sebastian Vera, who is an outstanding trombonist and member of the Guidonian Hand, emailed me recounting his experiences at the NYPhil's recent all-Varèse concert.  In particular, he was struck by conductor Alan Gilbert's program note, and felt it played a big role in the concert's success.  Here's a quote from the email.

I love it because he does such a wonderful and succinct job of describing to this audience, who a good number of them most likely had never heard Varèse, let alone enjoyed him, how to appreciate this music.  I feel like in these short paragraphs he really disarmed the reader quite well to have an open mind without offending them or speaking from the ivory tower or even overloading them with too much information.  The best part of the whole night for me was the fact that after the final piece Ameriques was played(which they played incredibly), it was honestly one of the most enthusiastic audience responses I have ever seen at the Phil.  

Continue reading ""Albeit with a few new ones, such as sirens, thrown in"" »