Month: March 2013

Dear Pharmakon

Every once in a while, a Pharmakon, or a Knife, or a Death Grips comes along that makes you nod to the sentiment that music is the most reactionary artform that our organism has to offer. (And perhaps most reactionary=best.) Or more simply, makes you want to fuck up some shit.

I have no idea who Margaret Chadiet is. But her “Rising” interview with Pitchfork does the admirable charity of crystallizing some of my inklings and intimations into concrete words.

For sure, I’ll file this into the back of my head, along with Death Grips’ interview with the same publication, as a source of personal clarity and inspiration.

The unbridled, uncompromising, vulnerable, and hence, frightening root of the manifestos and music of Pharmakon and Death Grips will likely confine them to relative obscurity in the public eye. But their earnest-as-fuck approach will earn them a following. Zach Hill, Stefan Burnett, and Margaret Chadiet, others, seem to fall into the vein of shier, more introspective people that want to avoid the glare of lowest common denominator popularity (then again, who am I to guess?), but in the pursuit of expressing their own music and voices, they offer messages, rallying banners, for anti-neoliberalist Millennials to coalesce around.

They may yet be unwitting, reluctant prophets. It will be up to us to share and spread their Good Word.


When I read these interviews, in a sense, I almost feel like I’m violating these people because I’m getting such an intimate look into their private minds. Standard Protestant and Calvinist-inspired WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) social etiquette demands that you keep a polite facade that prioritizes the maintenance of inoffensiveness and professionalism at the cost of honesty. (Shut up and save your time and energy for making money.) The possibility of what people can cloak away in their minds beneath their suits of armor, is a wonder.


Superstitious gut sense indicates that people who have gotten so good at expressing themselves through music should have the trade-off of being less capable of articulating eloquent prose. Yet, time and time again, when I expect these artists to be somewhat oafish verbally, they demonstrate that, yes, they are just more polymathic and multi-faceted than I am.

Or maybe, it’s just that Pitchfork has some pretty good editors.


The Limited Societal Demand for Human Variation

Allen Roth of New York, NY writes in this recent comment in the New York Times:

…After over sixty years of life, and reflecting on the diffuse values, meanings, facts that make up our universe and the ideas that inhabit us, I think that the human community is composed of such varying and different types for a reason. Some use their intellect to solve problems in biophysics; some tackle problems in carpentry to build homes for others; some need to soar to heights of musical composition; others run for office in an attempt to better conditions in society, and some train, endlessly, in a swimming pool or on the heights in the snow.

One reason that value lies in all these endeavors is that inspiration from any provides fuel for all. I was a long-distance runner 40 years ago. No great shakes; just a good college and law-school athlete. I was a historian, a pianist, a real estate developer. And this article, about a sport I hadn’t heard of, inspires me. It made me admire what a human being can do, what he can conceive of. The way to work to prevent genocide is not only to volunteer for Elie Wiesel, or Amnesty International. Every person who engages life in a profitable, constructive, humane way contributes to the sum of good will that fuels human progress. Every person finds his talent, his calling, in his own way. His own personal way. For so long as he does no harm to the community writ large, he serves us all.

To excel in anything is one of the most wondrous things a person can attain.

Quite the encouraging and comforting read, right?

Indeed, I’ve seen quite a few comments on my Internet lifetime that celebrate human diversity (see all of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings) with the implied argument that every sort of person has something to offer the world, that in the end, patience and persistence will enable an instrument of human existence to find you and exploit you for special (here used as the adjective for species) progress.

The line of thinking is empowering — perhaps even a necessary lie one must tell him or herself in order to weather the daily hail of insults, mishaps, and provocations that comprise existential attrition. The World needs me. Therefore I will keep on working. Or therefore I will keep on looking for a job, going to school, writing.

But in the celebration of human diversity, one fact is left out: we, society, do need every archetype of person for progress. But we don’t need everyBody. Even if some vehicles of calling and craft can fill more passengers than others, these positions are ultimately limited.

The world clearly has need for one Gucci Mane. But one million Gucci Mane’s? Would every one of them be able to contribute something to the world, find their individual, separate niches after one has already occupied the seat of rapper?

How many people can we take aboard the “Got Brain Damage and Then Survived So He Could Show The World The Importance of the Prefrontal Cortex in Intro Psychology Textbook” train? Seemingly, just Phineas Gage.

There’s simply too many people. And we hyenae will fight for the scraps in the name of living long enough to find a place in the pack.


Nonsensically enough, noting cases like those of Phineas and Henri Rousseau, sometimes we find our canon roles posthumously.

Opera Vocal Synths

Hate that noise in music. Almost as much as I hate the twinkling chimes that plague Asian pop and pop R&B.

Probably one of the reasons why I’m not entirely impressed by my first couple of listens of Mike Patton’s Place Beyond the Pines OST.

Synths have their place, especially for the creation of those pushing, driving ticks, buzzes, and blips that make Scandipop and cyberpunk soundtracks so addicting to my ear.

But when I hear electronic noises mimicking the sounds of analog instruments, particularly the rich, fleshy ones, choral voices, violins, trumpets, an urge to laugh rises. The unmistakeable feeling of cheesiness and associative embarrassment is noted in my mind.

Nobuo Uematsu’s scoring of the Aria di Mezzo Carattere (aka Final Fantasy VI Opera Scene) is the one exception that comes to mind.


From track number 11, “The Snow Angel,” which appeared in the first Place Beyond the Pines trailer, I had expected a soundtrack filled with airy, reverberating piano — soft and deliberate, but punchy, in the way that the relationships between Fathers and Sons are stereotyped in popular fiction as a sporadic exchange of wordless acknowledgement and callused hands on shoulders.

These fallen hopes parallel my increasingly dashed expectations about the film itself — critical reception has so far been very mixed, and that same word has brought the unwelcome news that Ryan Gosling is seemingly only in one third of the film. I was led from the trailers (misleading trailers, how could this be?!?) to believe that the conflict between Gosling and Cooper would build to a spiritual, tearjerking embrace between the two men.

Still worth a watch? I await the word of Roger Ebert.


I’m ashamed to admit it, but I used to be a hardcore anime and manga fan.

Through my high school and college years, it cost me a fair share of social interaction and cred, prevented me from spending more time on perfecting skills that matter more by our societal standards, athletics, math, and the like. For that, I will eternally harbor a twinge of regret, even if I know that regret is a rather pointless emotion in excess, and that I should not judge myself too harshly for not orienting myself to society’s haphazard and puerile preferences. Beauty pageants, fancy cars, dog shows, hunting — I will never bring myself to respect those, while they likely rank above anime in the grand cultural totem pole.

I can wish that I never discovered the medium, the production style, whatever you want to call it (just don’t call it genre). I would have saved my personal universe a lot of time and (shelf) space, been able to stockpile, as opposed to shell out, my cash munitions for future hobbies to be waged.

Nonetheless, were I to be transported back in time with that wish granted, I would have never discovered Ghost in the ShellChildren of the Sea, Serial Experiments LainFLCL some things I’d rather have experienced than not.

Every hobby has its bad apples, its barrels of bad apples. Some have more (Juggalo culture), some have fewer (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). For anime, I had to wade through a toxic sludge of moe crap, exhibitionist shit originally made for Japan’s lost. Interaction with the self-righteous and masturbatory fan base was a source of wasted frustration that consumed thousands of forum posts.

Was the slog worth it for those gems? Was it worth it to meet the handful of people that I did — make those bodiless associations influential enough to steer me towards film as my choice of undergraduate major?

Upon retrospect, I waver in opinion. At the time though, it had been an unequivocal Yes.

As our brains change, we leave our old selves behind, fail to understand them any longer. What else do we have to go by, besides satisfaction of the present? Even the rationalizing of the past is meant to fit our present.

Rationalize, I shall.