Sunday, May 27, 2018

Crossing the streams

Some things should never be mixed.  Different sets of refrigerator poetry magnets, for instance.  We have two on our fridge—or, more accurately, the remanants of two, since the majority of both sets have been scattered to the winds.  One is Dr. Seuss themed.  The other is from ThinkGeek.  You probably see where I’m going with this already.

You know, the interesting thing about having little leftover sets of poetry magnets is that having extremely limited word choice makes you come up with constructions and combinations that are ... shall we say, unusual.  Here’s one.

Rain and eggs,
   I would conjure within.
      Like you, am
yellow, and random automagically.

And here’s another:

Would you thank Sam with ham?
Do I conjure, like rain and eggs?
Say! random yellow mouse: blow in with microsoft sand ...

I had to cheat a bit on that last one by combining a stray “s” (which is really there to help make plurals) with a leftover “and” to make the “sand.”  But I’m okay with that.  We’ll call it poetic license.

None of these actually mean anything, of course.  And yet, I feel like a properly motivated English major could easily wring a thesis or two out of ’em.  Note the curious repetition of the phrase “rain and eggs” in both works.  And why is the mouse yellow, do you suppose?  Perhaps the artist was trying to make a statement about cowardice.

Or perhaps the artist was just running low on adjectives.  Hard to say.

Next week, a longer post.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Something to Say (But No Time to Say It)

This is technically a “Nothing to Say” post, except that I don’t have nothing to say, so it’s also not really.  But, then, the “Nothing to Say” posts have always been among the most paradoxical posts in a huge sea of paradox, so no huge surprise there.  You could start with the last post in the series and work backwards from the internal links, or you could just go check out the series listing for ”the informals” and get links to them all.

The main point of the posts in this series is to do a bit of a retrospective on the Blog So Far—how many posts, how many words, that sort of thing.  Typically I do them whenever I can’t think of any other good topics, not when I just ran out of time.  However, this time I really did just run out of time: I’m attending another YAPC this year (yes, yes, technically they’ve changed the name to “The Perl Conference,” but it’ll always be “YAPC” to me), and, for the second time ever, I’m presenting a talk.  So I’m mildly stressed about it, because I radically overprepare for these sorts of things (which is amusing, as I’m terribly disorganized in nearly every other aspect of my life).  Preparation is the way I overcome stagefright: when people ask me if I’m nervous when presenting a talk, the answer always depends on how much I’ve prepared for it.  With little to no prep, I’m nervous as hell.  But my typical procedure is to write an outline, and then create slides or somesuch, and then write speaker’s notes, and then practice it over and over again (often in the shower), until I know it all cold.  And then I’m not nervous at all.  So I’m right in the midst of doing all that, and feeling like I’m running a bit behind (the talk is only about a month away, and I haven’t finished all my notes yet), and, while I do have a couple of topics worked out that I’d love to present, I just don’t have the time this weekend.  So I’m cheating a bit in calling this a “Nothing to Say” post. But it’s definitely a “Blog So Far” post, because I can do that fairly quickly and it’ll still be somewhat informative, without taking up a ton of my time.

How I usually start one of these posts is by checking the control panel of my blog.  Today it tells me that I have 423 total posts, from the first post (March 28th, 2010) through last week (May 13th, 2018), which is 425 weeks (if you count both endpoints, which you have to, because there’s a blog post at either end).  Assuming my date math is right, of course ... which, considering my upcoming talk is all about date math, it damned well better be.

(For those who are familiar with my Perl work and know of my Date::Easy module, this is the code to get that answer:
perl -MDate::Easy -le 'print( (date("5/13/2018")->epoch - date("3/28/2010")->epoch) / 86_400 / 7 + 1 )'

Which is really not as easy as it should be.  I’d like to add subtracting two dates—properly!—to the module before YAPC next month, but we’ll see how my time holds out.)

So, how many of those posts should count as actual posts is always up for debate.  The first thing we should subtract this time around are the “series listing” posts, which are categorized as “crosslinks.”  They super don’t count as weekly posts, because I did them all at once, not one per week.  So that leaves 415 posts in 425 weeks, which means I’ve missed 10 weeks in a little over 8 years.  Not awesome perhaps, but not particularly tragic either.

Then we have 55 posts on my Other Blog, but they totally count.  There are 38 interstitial posts, and they really shouldn’t count.  And there are 77 partial posts, which I last time tried to count as ⅓ of a post each (on the grounds that my normal posts average about 1,500 words and my partial posts are closer to 500).  Which is mildly odd math, but, if we roll with it, that puts us at just under 334 posts across 425 weeks, which is roughly a whole post every 9 days, so that’s still respectable, I’d say.

When it comes to words, I don’t do rough word counts any more.  I wrote a script a long time ago that I keep revising: it sucks in the whole blog post file, splits the text on three things—whitespace, pipe symbols (which I use to format links), and double-hyphens, which my posting script turns into proper em-dashes—filters out anything that doesn’t have any letters in it, throws out any formatting symbols I use that do have letters in them (e.g. “h1.” or ”{img}” or ”~~CENTER~~”), then counts the results.  And then I start removing things and recounting, so that I effectively subtract out certain kinds of words that I feel shouldn’t count towards my final word count.  The things I throw out are:

  • “type” lines: These are lines at the very top of my post that tell my formatting script which blog they’re destined for, possibly the name of the post, etc.
  • block quotes: If I’m quoting a long passage of text from someone else, that should hardly count towards my word count, right?
  • links: Meaning the actual URLs themselves, not the words you click on (those still count).
  • footnotes: This one is a bit more debatable, but I figure you can choose to skip over the footnotes if you like, and, assuming you do, then I shouldn’t count them in my total words.
  • code blocks: Sure, I wrote them (usually), but code is not words in the traditional sense, and it often artifically inflates word count (e.g. ”$d” shouldn’t really count as a “word”).
  • fine print: By which I mean those disclaimer-y things at the tops of my posts, like “this is part of a series” and “don’t count on the next part of the series being next week” and so on.  A lot of that is reused boilerplate, and, while I did have to write it once, I don’t feel like it’s fair to count it for every post.

So, according to this script, if I suck in every post in the “published” directory and every post in the “novel” directory, I come up with this:
total words          551189
- in links           3645
- in blockquotes     64602
- in footnotes       19457
- in code blocks     6128
- in fine print      5568
net words            451789

That’s around half a million words, even discounting as much as I do.  (I suspect there’s a few more posts somewhere that I’m not including, but I seriously doubt it could be more than 50 thousand words’ worth.)  About 20 thousand words just in footnotes (I thought it’d be higher, actually), and over 60 thousand that I’m quoting of other people’s words (of course, some of that is quoting myself, and some of it may be just for formatting purposes, like poetry or whatnot).  Still, a perfectly reasonable total, I think.  I have no complaints.

This post itself is a bit light, but not so much that I’ll mark it as “partial,” I don’t think.  I’m already over 1,100 words (final count, after editing, and adding this not-quite-a-footnote: 1,330).  And that’s good, because, despite the lack of time this weekend, I really don’t want to fail to deliver on my new blog schedule.  I already feel a bit lame for dropping back to half as many posts as I was making.  If I can’t even maintain that level, I really will feel a failure.  So this week I’m cheating a bit by doing a topic I can pound out very quickly, but I think it still qualifies as a full post ... even if mildly short on really interesting topics.  But celebrating half a million words spewed forth into the void of the Internet is not nothing, even though it may not particualrly impress you, dear reader.  But, as always, I can but point out that you really shouldn’t be reading this blog anyway.

See you next week.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Wise Men Build Bridges

We’re in the midst of watching Black Panther at the moment.  I gotta be honest with you: I really didn’t think there was any way for this film to live up to the hype—I mean, it’s so much hype.  Like, a lotta hype.  A whole lot.  And yet, somehow it kinda does.  Best superhero movie ever?  I think it’s a disinct possibility.

And, I won’t give any real spoilers, but I just gotta say one thing.  If you demand a pristine viewing experience, just jump to the next paragraph.  Because, c’mon y’all ... vibranium? armored? rhinoceroses?!?  I am positively squeeing over here!!

Anyway, that’s all we have time for this week.  Longer post next week, as usual.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Shadowfall Equinox V

"Keep the Dark Inside"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

When I put tracks into my mix file, there’s a complex set of symbols I use to tell me where I need to pull the track from, whether it’s in the right position, whether it has any vocals or not, and whether it belongs in this mix at all.  That last one is what I call the “suitability” column, and a question mark there means I’m just not sure this song belongs on this mix ... or maybe even anywhere.  Now, there are various reasons for this.  Maybe a song is perfect for the mix, but it’s just not that great a song.  More likely, it’s a good song, but I’m not quite sure it fits on the mix.  Sometimes a song like that gets bumped altogether—moved to a different mix, or just dropped from the mixfile.  But sometimes I just think that the song could go on the mix ... somewhere ... but not in the current volume.  And then maybe that happens again on the next volume, and again, and somehow the song just keeps getting bumped, never quite fitting in, but never quite sticking out badly enough to get permanently cut.

See, while a mix has a very consistent throughline, every volume is still a little different.  Each one focuses on a slightly different aspect of the mix.  For instance, Shadowfall Equinox I was perhaps the perfect balance of dark, and expansive, and lonely, and dreamy.  But there’s no doubt that Shadowfall Equinox II, with its rain and echoey underwater motifs, leaned firmly towards lonely.  And Shadowfall Equinox III, featuring Morpheus and not one, but two, selections from dark ambient masters Nox Arcana, was pretty dark.  Then along comes Shadowfall Equinox IV, bringing us Australis and Rapoon and Carmen Rizzo, all electro- and ethno-ambient, and, in retrospect, it’s certainly the most expansive volume to date.  So I guess it makes sense that this most recent volume is going to focus on the dreamy.

Dreampop is an amazingly useful genre that, perhaps surprisingly, shows up on a lot of different mixes.  Taking the Cocteau Twins as an example—and they are the godparents of dreampop, in many ways—we’ve seen them most on Numeric Driftwood, but they’ve also shown up on Smokelit Flashback, Darkling Embrace, and even Penumbral Phosphorescence.  Which tells us that dreampop can be soothing, trippy, darkly pretty, or just plain dark.  But of course it can also be dreamy, and that’s what we’re looking for here.  On this volume of Shadowfall Equinox, we’ll see the Cocteaus, 4AD labelmates (and the other quintessential dreampop band) Dead Can Dance, 4AD supergroup (consisting of members of both the Cocteaus and DCD) This Mortal Coil, and Norweigan dream-ambient duo Bel Canto, but it all starts with the occasionally new age, occasionally Celtic, occasionally world, but always fundamentally Canadian dreampop, Loreena McKennit.

“Prologue” is the opener to McKennit’s amazing (and amazingly diverse) album The Book of Secrets, and it’s got a little bit of worldmusic-crossed-with-RennFaire vibe that makes it tough to slot into anywhere.  Primarily because anything else that sounds even remotely like it is not as mellow and contemplative as this track, which has always screamed “Shadowfall Equinox” at me at the same time that I couldn’t imagine slotting it up against Jeff Greinke or Kevin Keller.  So it dragged its question mark in the “suitability” column around with it through 4 other volumes, until suddenly I found some compatriots that seemed to share its spirit.

So I made it the opener here, and promptly followed it up with “Yulunga (Spirit Dance)” by Dead Can Dance.  DCD are of course no strangers to worldmusic themselves, so the transition here is pretty nice: from Italo-Renaissance into droning Middle Eastern chanting.  “Yulunga” is itself the opener of DCD’s Into the Labyrinth, the follow-up to my all-time favorite Aion.  It’s no “Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” to be sure, but it has a somber and relentless quality that makes it perfect for this mix.  Lisa Gerrard not only does the vocals here, but also on the This Mortal Coil track, “Waves Become Wings,” which is TMC’s third appearance on this mix.1  Like many of the tracks from Ivo Watts’ 4AD collective, this one is pretty minimalist, mainly just Gerrard’s ethereal, almost indecipherable vocals (reminiscent of the Cocteaus’ Elizabeth Fraser, actually), and some keyboard work which is no doubt supplied by Watts himself.2  Somewhere in there you can almost make out Gerrard saying the volume title, but I’ll be honest: if the Internet hadn’t provided me the lyrics, I probably would have never picked it out.

From the Twins, we have “Sea, Swallow Me,” which is off the Cocteaus’ collaboration with Harold Budd.  Now, the majority of the songs on this album are too much Harold Budd and not enough Cocteau Twins, which I don’t care for.  But this one ... well, to be fair, it probably swings back too far in the other direction.  But then I’m starting to come to the conclusion that not enough Harold Budd is just the right amount of Harold Budd.  So I really dig this one tune.  It starts out somewhat typically for a Budd tune, then the Cocteaus really kick in, and it becomes a very layered, complex tune fully worthy of this mix.  And we’d be remiss to do a dreampop-focussed volume without returning to Twin Peaks and Angelo Badalamenti.  This time I went with the Fire Walk with Me soundtrack, which is slightly jazzier than the original Twin Peaks soundtrack.  Again, it might not have worked on another volume, but here it slots in just fine.

And we’ll round out the dreampop with Bel Canto, who are what you might imagine the Cocteau Twins would sound like if they were crossed with Enigma.  “Buthania” is a simple tune, mostly powered by some variety of flute, and it has an almost Native American vibe to it.  And, speaking of Enigma, Jens Gad was a producer for them, and I only recently discovered his excellent album Le Spa Sonique.  I would say it’s more downtempo than new age, but well worth checking out, and “Orbiting Suns” is the absolute best track on it.  Plus it makes a beautiful transition off the end of “Sea, Swallow Me” to form an excellent centerpiece for the volume.

And since we’re now speaking of downtempo, Naomi are here as well, with “The Book,” another track that has been dragged around with a question mark through several volumes of this mix.  Finally it seems to fit here, where it didn’t work on the other volumes.  Is it the added dreaminess of this volume that makes it finally work?  Yes, I think it probably is.

And you don’t have to stray very far from dreampop before you run smack dab into darkwave, which is really after all just dreampop crossed with goth.3  Our darkwave this time out comes from the usual suspects: Black Tape for a Blue Girl, who give us “We Watch Our Sad-Eyed Angel Fall,” a practically operatic, string-heavy instrumental piece, and Falling You, who share “march thirty-one,” the centerpiece of their masterpiece Touch.  It’s another haunting track with vocals from Aimee Page, and it makes a perfect closer.

Of course, we still need to pay homage to the original inspiration for Shadowfall Equinox: Hearts in Space’s “Shadowfall II.”4  First and foremost, of course, is a return to Jeff Greinke’s Wide View, after a brief break from that album last volume.5  The title track appeared as the second song in “Shadowfall II”; here I’m using it to introduce the center stretch of the mix.  Kevin Keller is also back, this time with a darkly perfect track from his Nocturnes album called “November.”  And I call back to Ruben Garcia with the title track from I Can Feel the Heat Closing In, which is a great ambient piece set to the backdrop of a thunderstorm.

And that leads directly into perhaps the strangest choice here: “Within a Grey-Day Mood.”  Long ago, when my eldest child was still an infant, The Mother bought a cheesy lullaby CD from a Wal-Mart or a Starbucks or something.  It was called Lifescapes: Lullabies, and, despite being nothing special in many ways, we played it to death as music for the kids to sleep by.  We lost the CD in some move or other, and then we had to track it down years afterward and pay probably four or five times as much as the first time around, just because it was such an ingrained part of our life.  So, fast-forward to a few months ago, and the family is wandering around a local Goodwill store, trying to find something worth buying.  I’m in the used CD section, which used to be one of my favorite places to check out, but nowadays you have to really want some music to commit to owning an actual CD, and pretty much everything I want that bad I already own.  But hope springs eternal, ya know?  And I happened to spot that familiar Lifescapes label ...

This one is called Summer Thunder, and it’s not nearly as good as the lullabies one.  But it still has a few moments.  It mainly seems to consist of an extended audio cut of a very long thunderstorm, which has been overlaid with someone (identified in the liner notes only as “Steven C”) noodling around on the piano.  As you could imagine, mostly this doesn’t work.  But occasionally it does, and the opener (the aforementioned “Within a Grey-Day Mood”) is easily the best track.  Plus, the thunderstorm motif makes it really flow beautifully after Garcia’s (much better) similarly-themed piece.

Shadowfall Equinox V
[ Keep the Dark Inside ]

“Prologue” by Loreena McKennitt, off The Book of Secrets
“Yulunga (Spirit Dance)” by Dead Can Dance, off Into the Labyrinth
“Reincarnation (Saisei)” by Kitaro, off Silk Road II
“Buthania” by Bel Canto, off Shimmering, Warm & Bright
“No Stone Unturned” by Jade Leary, off The Lost Art of Human Kindness
“Wide View” by Jeff Greinke, off Wide View
“I Can Feel the Heat Closing In” by Ruben Garcia, off I Can Feel the Heat Closing In
“Within a Grey-Day Mood” by Steven C., off Lifescapes: Summer Thunder 6
“Theme from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” by Angelo Badalamenti, off Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [Soundtrack]
“The Book” by Naomi, off Pappelallee
“Sea, Swallow Me” by Cocteau Twins / Harold Budd, off The Moon and the Melodies [Collaboration]
“The Orbiting Suns” by Jens Gad, off Le Spa Sonique
“November” by Kevin Keller, off Nocturnes
“Waves Become Wings” by This Mortal Coil, off It'll End in Tears
“We Watch Our Sad-Eyed Angel Fall” by Black Tape for a Blue Girl, off A Chaos of Desire
“march thirty-one” by Falling You, off Touch
Total:  16 tracks,  77:24

And that really only leaves us with two tracks.  “Reincarnation (Saisei)” is from the second volume of Kitaro’s music for the Japanese documentary series Silk Road, which is how he first came to prominence.  Now, Kitaro is pretty solidly new age, and generally I save new age for mellower mixes than this,7 but I knew that sooner or later I could find a Kitaro piece that would work here.  I really thought Astral Voyage would end up holding the key, but Silk Road turned out to be a better bet.  Especially on this particular volume, where the first section already has a strong worldmusic vibe, “Reincarnation” fits perfectly between “Yulunga” and “Buthania.”

Finally, the bridge between the worldy first section and the more ambient center section is a short instrumental piece from Montreal artist Jade Leary.  Another Magnatune find,8 Leary has a dark sensibility that I find appealing.  Much of his stuff has a harder edge that make him more suitable for other mixes,9 but “No Stone Unturned” is a quieter, more contemplative piece ... and that’s exactly what this mix showcases.

Next time, we’ll slink back around to some more sinuous fare.


1 They previously appeared on Shadowfall Equinox I and Shadowfall Equinox II.
2 The liner notes swear Gerrard is also playing accordian on this track, but I damn sure can’t hear it.
3 And of course we mustn’t forget my theory that dreampop derives from goth, which I mentioned briefly back on Penumbral Phosphorescence.
4 Which I discussed way back on Shadowfall Equinox I, you may recall.
5 But not from Greinke, of course.  We just switched it up and went with a selection off Timbral Planes instead.
6 This album is very difficult to get hold of nowadays—heck it probably wasn’t that easy to find even when it was new.  So, while I don’t typically like to link to free downloads where the original artist gets no royalties, this one’s a bit of an exception.
7 Primarily Numeric Driftwood.
8 I first told the story of how I discovered Magnatune in Rose-Coloured Brainpan.
9 That we shall come to in the fullness of time.