You’ve just left a book store that was stacked ceiling high with books.  It smelled of rotting paper, wood, and a slight bit like a wet dog.  The book that you hold in your hand is missing the first couple pages.  Yet you are able to look at the book with admiration, you can’t wait to get into the story that it holds, and you are even more excited by the way it looks.  Why is this?  Why is this half-ruined book worthy of your time?  Here are my three best reasons:

  1. The book has a personality.  When you open the cover of the book the previous owner’s person escapes.  The book that you are about to read has been through some of the most intimate times of another’s life.  It’s been in the subway on the way to work, it’s been in the park on an autumn day, it’s been in the bathroom; the book essentially holds two stories, one that comes from the text, and one from the original reader’s life.
  2. Books are meant to look yellow and tattered.  Stiff, white books are so dead feeling.  I’d much rather hold a book that smells of an old library and that has its price lightly penciled onto the inside cover.  Why pry open a brand new novel from Barnes and Noble when one can experience a REAL book.
  3. They are more fun to find.  Used book stores are a world of their own, the tall towers of books would make the average reader run in fear and the categorization would most likely make a librarian weep, but every good book found is a victory.  There is nothing more satisfying than finding that one special book sitting in the dusty corner of the store, you know, that one that hasn’t been reprinted since the 1960’s.

So there you have it, now go support your local used book store (or library, they’re good too).  If you live in or around Philly then check out Brickbat or The Book Trader

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Mount Eerie: Cold and Misty

October 13, 2008

Music has a special ability to bring back old memories. Sometimes songs get tied like a knot to parts of our minds, and when they are played again they release the sights, smells, and most importantly, feelings of a certain place in time. This is what I assume to be a perfectly natural occurrence as music seems to have a special ability to connect to us. The alignment of rhythms and sounds are able to evoke some sort of sensible feelings out of us.

Then there is the music of Mount Eerie, a project of Phil Elverum (formally of The Microphones). Mount Eerie takes the listener away to a place where he or she has never been. Instead of evoking memories, it creates ones that have never even existed. While listening to Mount Eerie I can often feel fog surround me, and I can see forests of ancient trees covered in moss. Mount Eerie’s music is not just music, it’s an entire experience. Instead of defining a story, it defines a setting, and allows the listener to explore.

This setting usually is characterized by the Pacific Northwest, the place where Phil Elverum lives and where Mount Eerie thrives. Like a sponge, Phil Elverum sucks in the environment that he lives in, the wet moss, the foggy morning, and spits it out in sonic form. I can’t help but think back to a time when I was on the beach on a cold night. I dipped my feet in the water and felt it rush up my legs and I was immediately struck by fond memory, but it was a memory that never happened. I instantly felt the emotions, images, and sounds that emanate from Mount Eerie’s music; I was transported to the Pacific Northwest as seen through Phil Elverum’s eyes. This was an incredibly powerful experience that I’ve never felt from any other music; it was an extremely beautiful moment.

Recently, Mount Eerie has expanded into other media forms. So far, a photo book and a movie (see: “Fog Movies Live”) have been released, and a journal (see: “Dawn”) of drawings and notes is set to arrive in November. These things serve as a perfect complement to Mount Eerie’s music, another indication that Phil Elverum really knows how to relate music to his environment. His photo book, which contains a record featuring “Mount Eerie Pts. 6 & 7” (a continuation of The Microphones’ final album “Mount Eerie”), matches the music perfectly with its blurred pictures of foggy landscapes, dimly lit homes, and ghost like double exposures. These things add to the aura of Mount Eerie, they create a definite idea of what is seen, felt, and heard.

On the album “No Flashlight” Phil Elverum mumbles, “What does Mount Eerie mean?” This seems to be a question that is best answered by the entire catalog of Mount Eerie / The Microphones material. This is because the answer to that question can only be expressed by feelings which words are not powerful enough to describe.

Electric Tragedy

September 8, 2008

Over the summer I watched a countless number of films, most of them were tragic, all of them were entertaining. One film, Electroma, struck me as particularly interesting. Written and directed by the masterminds of one of the most popular electronic music acts to date, Daft Punk, Electroma is an experimental, and completely dialogue free, film about robots trying to become human. Throughout the movie I was captivated by the eerie sense of humanity that these robot beings emanated. As the two robot main characters walked through town other robots were seen living seemingly human lives in the surrounding environment. At the end of the movie, after a failed attempt at applying wax replica faces to their robot heads, one of the main characters commits the purely human act of suicide, completing this eerie feeling with a heavy dose of sadness.

After watching Electroma I realized that it had an even more important role in the contemporary arts than that of just another creative movie. The way it depicts robots as humans it allows us to delve deep into the question; why do we enjoy tragedy? When we see a tragic film we view the actors as fake characters, or robots if you will. The reason we don’t fall into a deep depression when we see a sad film is that there is a disconnect between the characters and the moviegoers, they are not real to us. With this knowledge we are able to feel their real life emotions without fully feeling their pain, and this is why we are entertained. It is like the thrill of experiencing life without the agony of tragedy. When the film reel shuts off and we make our first steps toward the door we are able to breathe deeply and allow the real world rush over our bodies again. We have experienced sorrow without the sorrow.

Ringtones Revisited

August 5, 2008

Ring tones seemed forever doomed to be that annoying cheesy tune coming from that guy’s phone in the subway; until now.  Luckily, Max Richter, a composer currently on the Fat Cat label, has come to the rescue.

In a news release by Fat Cat Richter shares his opinions on ring tones stating that they are, “very immediate, personal and democratic” that they have a special ability to “express our thoughts and feelings, tell stories, and connect people”.  With this he has created 24 Postcards in Full Color, a collection of ring tones composed on piano, strings, and electronics that will, he hopes, be able to connect to people in a unique way.

He stresses that these “songs” are not to be listened to as an album (even though they will be released as one), but as series of interconnected pieces that will connect no matter how they are played.

Richter’s live performance of 24 Postcards will require select audience members to download certain pieces to their phones that will be triggered by text message by Richter himself.  When these ring tones are triggered he hopes to create a sense of anticipation of news from another place, the idea behind the title 24 Postcards.

The album will be released 8/25/08 in the UK and 9/23 in the US and Canada.

We’ve been recording sounds since the late 1800’s.  In the time between the 1880’s and the 1970’s quality was improved and methods were made more simple; though everything remained analog.  During the early 80’s the recording industry was turned on its head with the introduction of digital recording methods and CDs; recording would never be the same.

Since that point recording methods have gotten simpler and simpler, and quality became as clear as can be.  What could be better?  A recording that sounds great and is simple to create sounds like the holy grail of recording.  But there’s one thing missing from these digital recordings: personality.

When a record is recorded digitally and pressed to a CD there is definitely something lacking.  Although the sound is “perfect” it is also dry and bland.  Part of what makes music great is its personality; what kind of mood seeps out of the stereo when you press play?  There is nothing I like better than putting an actual vinyl record on my record player; not only because I love music but because I love the sound.  Sure, those crackles and the overly warm sound may not be the true sound, but I’d rather have a record that has a life of its own that one that is just a document of a song.

Many artists, from underground to mainstream, have taken this analog feel and run with it.  The White Stripes‘ sound relies greatly on their analog recording techniques, and while bands in the mainstream like The White Stripes are holding steady on the analog side the greatest analog population resides in the underground.  Bands like Racoo-oo-oon are determined to keep the analog trend going and resort to a half-dead media, casette tapes, to do live recording and even some home recordings.

With that said digital shouldn’t be completely ruled out.  It is incredibly useful in the creation of sounds, and without it we wouldn’t have half the genres we have today.  Personally, almost all of my instruments are digital; I think that they do a great job creating unique sounds and I love them for that.  But as for recording and media, I’ll stick to analog.

This is the first post, a mark in so called “history”.

But what is history?  Why is the past not the present if we can just conjure it up in our minds at a moments notice?  When we say something was just done, was it just done?  Or is it happening as those words are coming out of our mouths in the other “dimension” of our minds?