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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Hey Sarah Palin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th October 2008

And such a nice young couple, too. Sigh.

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taking a breather: rivers, tides, music, stars

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th March 2008

  • from Rivers and Tides, Andy Goldsworthy, movie by Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2001 (6:35)
  • Billie Holliday, Lester Young, “Fine And Mellow,” 1957 (9:04)
  • The Hubble Deep Field Image, movie by astronomers at SUNY, 1995 (4:30)

    assembled from 342 separate exposures taken with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) for ten consecutive days between December 18 and 28, 1995. […]

    Representing a narrow “keyhole” view stretching to the visible horizon of the universe, the HDF image covers a speck of the sky only about the width of a dime located 75 feet away. Though the field is a very small sample of the heavens, it is considered representative of the typical distribution of galaxies in space because the universe, statistically, looks largely the same in all directions. Gazing into this small field, Hubble uncovered a bewildering assortment of at least 1,500 galaxies at various stages of evolution.

  • Miles Davis, “So What,” 1958 (8:22)
  • from Rivers and Tides, Andy Goldsworthy/Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2001 (4:01)

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NOTES: Holliday video clip via Bernard Chazelle (“A Tiny Revolution”) where you can read more about it. The first “Rivers and Tides” link is to the IMdB movie database, the second is to the Powell’s Books entry. “Hubble Deep Field Image” link is to the hubblesite.org news release web page. Emphasis added; by my calculation, that means there are well over 25 million more distinct views like this one. A subsequent exposure, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image, is discussed here.

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Bob Dylan – Man Of Constant Sorrow

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd July 2007

One of my favorite tracks on one of my favorite albums — the 2005 compilation “No Direction Home,” accompanying the excellent Scorsese documentary of the same name.

I’m no long-time folkie, nor even a Dylan afficionado from way back. For some reason I was kind of standoffish about all of that back when I was a kid and later in college — all the civil rights stuff, “how many years,” Baez, Pete Seeger, and whatnot was kind of sanctified history and I quite unfairly filed it all under “boring.” So it was really this documentary and this album that made me a fan. It’s a fascinating and exhilarating story: a young Dylan starts with next to nothing but this drive to perform, ignites folk music into transcendence — and then ignores the catcalls of many of those fans as he forges forward into new electric territory.

As I recall it, this recording was made in the period immediately after Dylan had been to New York City’s folk scene of the early 60s, where he obviously became an accomplished performer. Someone* who’d known him from his Minneapolis days was astonished how much Dylan had grown musically in a relatively short time:

He was playing at some party or something and it was like a whole different guy. You hear those stories about the blues men who go out to the crossroads and sell their soul to the devil and come back all of a sudden able to do stuff …Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, that whole mythology… it was one of those kinds of deals almost.

When he left Minneapolis he was just average — there were five, six other guys doing the same thing. When he came back he was doing Woody and he was doing Van Ronk, he was fingerpicking, he was playing crossharp — and this is a matter of a couple of months. I mean, this is not like he was gone a year or anything.

I’m not a musician myself, just a listener. But I love this song, and this performance — you listen to it by itself, without the cheesy TV show staging, and suddenly it’s not Dylan, it’s the Colorado guy himself, an utterly believable voice from the past. Get the album, rent the DVD — they’re both superb.

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* The fellow wasn’t identified during the course of this quote; I’ll add it when I learn who he is.

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America is waiting for a message of some sort or another

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st July 2007

While I’m thinking about what and whether to write, here’s some cool stuff I’ve run across on the Internet and elsewhere lately:

The Civil War in Four Minutes — A video on YouTube showing how the area controlled by the Union and the Confederacy ebbed and flowed during the Civil War. It’s really quite satisfying when Sherman marches to the sea. Yay, Sherman! You go, boy.
UPDATE: Aw shoot, the guy had to pull it. Maybe the Abraham Lincoln Museum will put up a link sometime.

enoweb lyrics : My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. — By “cool stuff,” I mean of course “cool for me,” not necessarily “cool for you.” That said, I’m not alone in thinking this Brian Eno/David Byrne album is simply one of the best ever, period, full stop. The “lyrics” are actually snatches of recorded voices of radio talk show hosts, preachers, politicians, folk singers, and oh, yes, an exorcist.In the spirit of Jose Isaza’s annotations: we recently acquired a car with — gasp — a multi-CD player, with this album now ensconced in the #4 slot. So Maddie’s listened to it now to where she likes it even better than “Remain in Light” (#1) — and was observed declaiming “no will whatsoever… no WILL whatsoever… I mean what you gonna do?” to herself the other day.

Hunting around, I’ve discovered there’s now a “Bush of Ghosts” web site about a re-release of the album, with an essay by David Byrne about the making of the album, and even more intriguingly, a site where you can re-mix tracks from two of the… songs, recordings, whatever, “A Secret Life” and “Help me, somebody”:

In keeping with the spirit of the original album, Brian Eno and David Byrne are offering for download all of the multitracks on two of the songs. Through signing up to the user license, and in line with Creative Commons licenses, you are free to edit, remix, sample and mutilate these tracks however you like. Add them to your own song or create a new one. This is the first time complete and total access to original tracks with remix and sampling possibilities have been officially offfered on line. Visitors are welcome to post their mixes or songs that incorporate these audio files on the site for others to hear and rate.

“Once” — I confess I was reluctant to see this movie, but I found out last night I was wrong. Shot on a shoestring budget in Ireland, it features Glen Hansard (turns out he was also in “The Commitments” a while back) and an equally impressive 19! year old Czech musical prodigy Marketa Irglova. He’s a street performer pining for an old flame, she’s a young mom who wants little more from life than a chance to make music. What’s very cool about this movie is how good and heartfelt and believable the music they make is, and how well it fits the story that goes with it. Justly called a new kind of musical, it’s well worth your time.

Our favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, just got better: many of the book readings and the subsequent Q&A sessions there can now be viewed online at “Fora.tv”, among them Robert Dallek (“Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power”), Fritz Stern (“Five Germanies I Have Known”), and Christopher Hitchens (“God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”).

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann. The title might as well have added “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” You get a good sense of the book in an Atlantic Monthly article by Mann; I got interested after a glowing description by Teresa Nielsen Hayden (“Making Light”) last year, which you should read both for its own sake and for the comments by her anthropologist, sociologist, ecologist, and etceterologist readers.Mann says two main things in this book. First, there were many more people living in the Americas before Columbus than had been suspected. Second, they had civilizations that were much, much more advanced than had been suspected (by me, at least) — the largest cities on Earth, some of the healthiest people, civil engineering and scientific feats to rival the Old World’s. Check out particularly the stories about Tisquantum (a.k.a. Squanto of Thanksgiving memory), the stuff about khipu, a three (and, including color, four-)dimensional knot-language “like the coding systems used in modern-day computer language,” the story of maize (a prodigious feat of plant breeding), the possible real significance of the huge passenger pigeon flocks of the 1800s, and the bequest of the Haudenosaunee to the ideals America struggles to live up to.The archaeologists, linguists, and anthropologists Mann writes about — and Mann himself — are resurrecting the memory of a huge swath of mankind that was very nearly forgotten or at best given short shrift. This is quite simply the best book I’ve run across in the last couple of years — it’s that interesting, well written, and horizon expanding.

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Neil Young: Let’s Impeach the President

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th June 2007

Let’s impeach the president for lying
And misleading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door
He’s the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
And bend the facts to fit with their new stories<
Of why we have to send our men to war

Let’s impeach the president for spying
On citizens inside their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
By tapping our computers and telephones
What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government’s protection
Or was someone just not home that day?

Flip – Flop
Flip – Flop
Flip – Flop
Flip – Flop

Let’s impeach the president for hijacking
our religion
and using it to get elected
Dividing our country into colors
And still leaving black people neglected
Thank god he’s cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There’s lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean
Thank God

— Neil Young, 2006: “Let’s Impeach the President,” on the album “Living With War.”

Of course, Bush isn’t really “clean,” his fingerprints are on everything — they have to be — from claiming there were WMDs to ignoring FISA to torture. But even if they weren’t, it’s his administration, so Young’s on target. He’s also being generous to other artists: if you like to sample new music with a political edge, Young’s “Living With War” web site links to hundreds of other protest songs, as well as dozens of videos by him and others.

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LYRICS via Tennessee Guerilla Women; I hear “misleading”.

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Cool stuff: Department of Music

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th March 2007

  • Last.fm — This widget lets you sample music “similar” to artists or bands you name; click on “change station” to see that, or just click the “play” arrow to listen to random stuff.
  • “Similarity” is apparently guesstimated by tags users assign to music via the iPod or computer music listening behavior they share (or “scrobble,” if I understand correctly). Like anything else, sometimes you’ll agree, sometimes you won’t, but it’s a nice way to listen to new stuff.

    UPDATE, 3/9: Paul comments that he likes an alternative called Pandora. Try it, try ’em both, but whichever you try, try it soon, because WebProNews reports: “In a decision that could drive the nail in the coffin to Internet radio providers, the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board has endorsed a proposal by SoundExchange to enact royalty rates for webcasts and streaming music sites that will stay in effect from 2006 until 2010.” Thank RIAA — and ask them whether all those artist royalty checks are still “in the mail.” (I’m not sure, but last.fm may benefit, at least for a while, from being based in the UK. ) Save Net Radio gives their side of the story.
    UPDATE, 3/12: Also check out Grateful Dread Radio, Natalie Davis’ Live365 internet radio station.

  • Folk Songs for the Five Points* — mix five tracks worth of found sound, music, and interviews with people from the Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Spooky, melancholy, beautiful guitar work by Victor Gama provides some musical scaffolding; you move any of five points to new locations on a map of the neighborhood to change a given track from, say, steam from a manhole cover to a “Nuyorican” poetry recital or from pigeons cooing to sounds from underneath a highway bridge. Reading this may or may not make it sound like much, but as I wrote a while back, I think it’s kind of beautiful.
  • Actionist Respoke* — by Michael Janoschek and Rüdiger Schlömer, “Mouse on Mars.” From the introduction:

    …this work reflects the question if music has to please the listener and if an interface has to obey the user. A kind of »Sound-Biotop« [ecosystem, habitat — ed.], this interface is a stubborn, difficult to use system, which develops a chaotic/poetic dynamic of its own until it totally gets out of control.

    Ja! Ausgezeichnet! If that doesn’t tempt you, I don’t know what will. (Shockwave upgrade may be required.) Via Interactive Audio for the Web, via the Wikipedia “Interactive Music” entry, which observes “We are now at the stage where a musical score is able to adapt in real-time to what is happening in a game.” Somewhat along those lines, see…

  • Field Excursion* — Brazilian soundsmith Amon Tobin creates music to go with animations of extraterrestrial or alternate-world undersea creatures:

    There are five creatures to be found and sampled. Each one makes its own unique sounds. If you interact with them by sampling each individual noice, they will demonstrate how they use their sounds to get down.

    At least a couple of the names are adapted from those of protozoa. I liked the sticholonched, whose sounds “include a passing train, gated and processed with harmonics added to equalizer.” (Broadband connection advisable even for initial link. Via Julian Sanchez, “Notes from The Lounge,” where Tobin’s latest work is showcased.)

  • The Concert: A Classical Musical Podcast — Free classical music to listen to at your computer or download to your iPod, provided by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The music is performed by its chamber orchestra or guest artists, and is at least sometimes themed to illustrate a musical point. Thus Concert No. 14 is called “One degree of separation: Vivaldi and Brahms“:

    As Vivaldi became increasingly popular, though, people started to realize what an influence he’d had on Bach. It’s no secret that Bach, in turn, had a great influence on Brahms. In the second piece on this program, Brahms’ cello sonata in E minor, you’ll particularly hear the influence of Bach’s fugues in the final movement. And maybe you’ll even hear a trace of Vivaldi’s counterpoint.

  • Django* — The Modern Jazz Quartet, 1987, Freiburg, Germany

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* EDIT, 3/12: Where indicated, a broadband connection may be advisable even for the first link, which may attempt to stream music or Shockwave images.

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Project Playlist

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th February 2007

Noticed this at TBogg and — kind of like when the apes see the obelisk at the beginning of 2001 –I thought “ug! what that?” I’m not saying it’s going to change the course of human evolution, but about ten minutes later I knew it’s a *lot* of fun. Herewith the first several items I wanted on my playlist, in the order I found and added them….


Bless the various people who host these tracks on their sites. Naturally, I wish there was more, there are gaps I guess I expected — couldn’t find anything I wanted of John Hartford, say “Presbyterian Guitar,” a wonderfully simple, pure melody on “Aeroplane.” Had to hunt around for Mary McCaslin, “Pass me by” was one of my favorites (hey! and now I guess it is again) , but I couldn’t find her version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” from the same album. Zappa: nothing from “Roxy and Elsewhere”; Dylan: no “Hard Rain” track via the main search engine. Beatles: spotty.

But plenty of stuff all the same. It occurred to me, wow, maybe they’ll have “Save it for later” — I’d have to say it’s just about my single favorite bit of pop music — and they did…. and Allman Brothers! and Creedence! and…

I’m very happy about this; “therefore,” it won’t last. (I guess I’m assuming I’m not doing any harm by accessing files people have voluntarily put up on the net. And you can easily add any of the songs in this playlist to your iPod, so artists needn’t starve.) Meanwhile, it’s easy to set up one of these Project Playlists for yourself; if you do, let me know, OK?

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UPDATE, 6/1: Welcome! I’ve been getting a lot of traffic (by my standards) to this archive page for the last week or two — which is great. I’m guessing it’s because of this “Project Playlist” post, but maybe not. Anyway, if you’d like to let me know how and why you found this page, or if you have any suggestions about this post or this site, please leave a comment — I’m curious. Regardless, please have a look around the rest of the site, too, including the front page and selected posts. Thanks, and again: welcome.

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Good for a grin, plus music

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th December 2006

  • Harry Hutton , whose blog’s name “Chase me ladies, I’m in the cavalry” is good for a grin all by itself, on Bush 41’s weeping fit in Tallahassee — If you behaved like that in England, there would be a kind of frozen disgust, as people began inching towards the door. Whereas in Australia they’d let out a great roar at him –He’s a loony! Let’s get him!- and pelt the poor man with fruit.
  • Traditional bonus Milton Friedman post (title: ‘GREATEST LIVING ECONOMIST’ NOW 28th GREATEST DEAD ONE’) — Milton Friedman has been killed by a stingray, following a titanic underwater struggle.
  • Bad President! No Banana — and other bumperstickers observed in the wild by Teresa Nielsen Hayden (“Making Light”) and correspondents.
  • DEAR DISRESPECTED: I have no doubt that you sincerely hope your war turns out to be a success. But from your letter, I’m not sure that you’ve developed a clear understanding of what it is you hope to achieve during this war. For example, success isn’t really a goal; it’s something you’ve earned when you accomplish a goal.
  • “A series of unfortunate events — Maddie’s description of the Bush presidency. Sad to think it’s all she’s ever really known. (Fittingly, the first installment of the Lemony Snicket series is The Bad Beginning.)
  • (ADDENDUM, 12/13) Instapundit voted “Most Overrated” — by a jury of his peers at the Right Wing News 5th Annual Warblogger Awards. Maybe we can all get along. Oddly, the blog was also voted 4th best overall blog (LGF won). In other developments, Andrew Sullivan was voted Most Annoying Right-of-Center Blogger — but also placed second in voting for Most Annoying Left-of-Center Blogger. Clearly warbloggers either have trouble telling left from right, finding what’s in between, or both. No wonder they’re annoyed.
  • Good to listen to — (1) Strawberry Fields remix by George Martin, (2) Erik Mongrain, who gets kind of a dulcimer sound going with a guitar on his lap, and (3) Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis,” as performed by an Indiana University orchestra conducted by Christiaan Crans. If you aren’t sure why you recognize parts of it, it may be that you saw this.

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NOTES: “Dear Disrespected” by Travis G. (“Sadly, No!”). Strawberry Fields and Vaughan Williams via Patrick Nielsen Hayden (“Making Light”), Mongrain via TBogg. Instapundit “most overrated” via Blue Texan (“Instaputz”).

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folksongs for the fivepoints

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st March 2006

Kind of beautiful. From the How to use this site page:

Folk Songs for the Five Points is a digital arts project that allows you to create your own “folk songs” by remixing and overlaying a range of sounds taken from New York’s Lower East Side.

The SoundMap features a visual representation of the Lower East Side, overlaid with a series of dots. Each dot represents an audio sample recorded at that particular place. To select a sample, click and drag one of circles over the chosen dot. The sample will then automatically start playing.

Reminds me of Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, another slices-of-New-York web site. Via Roy Edroso. Enjoy.

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Rare musical comments

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th October 2003

Blues: I’m listening to the Martin Scorsese blues documentary on PBS as I type. What fun! Some earnest documentarianism, sure, although there were some good interviews. But mainly, there’s a lot of great music. There was a fabulous clip of Booker T. and the MGs … now it’s the Beatles… and now, I have to admit, a pretty good Tom Jones solo. It’ll be worth getting from the video store someday.

Gollum’s Song: Finally saw “The Two Towers” last weekend: wow. It’s been ages since I read the books, and quite a while since I saw the first movie, so I thought I might be blase about it. But no, I was moved all over again: by the “last stand” feeling, the resolve of the hobbits. And somehow by a particularly well done Gollum, a figure made (digital) flesh and blood quite convincingly indeed.

Buried among the credits at the end of the movie was a gem: “Gollum’s Song,” beautifully sung by Emiliana Torrini, lyrics by Fran Walsh, haunting music — the basis of much of the movie score — by Howard Shore. I’m no musician, but the minor key, unusual lyrics, and Torrini’s “wronged,” torch singer treatment makes it pretty remarkable, I think. There’s an opera I would go to in that song, and that story.

Julie Andrews: Happened to listen to parts of an interview with Julie Andrews on the Diane Rehm Show today; lots of sound clips of one of the most beautiful voices ever. She also seems to be a very nice person.

One nice moment was when a dad called in (about 40 minutes into the show) to say, “I have a three year old here who desperately wants to talk to Mary Poppins.” “Put her on the line!” Cuteness ensued, and there was nothing wrong with that.

As you might guess, our whole family will brook no argument on this: Mary Poppins is one of the most practically perfect movies ever made, in every way.

And now we return to the usual stuff I know nothing about.

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