The Decemberists: Castaways and Cut-outs

Friday, 30 May 2003

Hell, I’m al­ways on the look­out for some good new mu­sic. Unfortunately my search of­ten re­sults in less than good new mu­sic. There are far too many bands out there with delu­sions of grandeur, weird gim­micks, and stranger sounds, all of which don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly agree with my con­sti­tu­tion.

Thankfully, The Decemberists al­bum Castaways and Cut-outs does not fit this bill.

[ini­tial­ize pom­pos­i­ty]

They are from some­where in the Pacific Northwest, Washington or Oregon, or some­place. Treehuggers. Their sound on the oth­er hand, seems to draw on in­flu­ences from the world over, merged in­to a very in­die feel. The vo­cals fo Colin Meloy gives the band a very Irish sound, he’s got an Irish name too, but he is from Missoula, Montana. Some of the song con­tent is al­so quite rem­i­nis­cent of rel­a­tive­ly cur­rent events in Ireland. “Leslie Ann Levine” in par­tic­u­lar would fit quite well as a med­i­ta­tion on the rife sub­ject of teenage preg­nan­cy, abor­tion and the Kerry ba­bies case.

The songs are quite seedy in con­tent, and cre­ate with­in me a sense that the en­tire al­bum is a pe­ri­od piece of wharves, docks, and sundry oth­er salty top­ics from a 19th cen­tu­ry sea sto­ry. Petticoats, camisoles, cast­aways, and men at war, all blend to­geth­er to cre­ate a sub­tle and sin­is­ter lyric-scape that is on­ly height­ened by the pep­py mu­sic. You en­joy lis­ten­ing to the songs but then when you think about the lyrics you’re, like, whoa!

“A Cautionary Song” is prob­a­bly the best ex­am­ple of this. Its a song about a moth­er who whores her­self out in or­der to feed the kids. It rol­licks along though, to a concertina/​accordion, in a sea-shan­ty sailor rhythm. You might find yoru­self tap­ping your feet as you hear about how she goes through an en­tire ship in a night.

and the next time she feeds you col­lard greens
re­mem­ber what she does when you’re asleep

A nice zinger to end the song, eh? So sor­ry kids.

Their mu­si­cal abil­i­ties are an amal­gam of coun­try, pop, stan­dard rock, and var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions of form [i.e. the shan­ty] through­out the al­bum. It might end on a note of hope, but it is a bit hard to tell, “California One/​Youth and Beauty Brigade” is the clos­est the Decemberists seem to get to tru­ly mod­ern cook­ie-cut­ter false unity/​alienation, yet the lyrics seem iron­ic, as if join­ing the Youth and Beauty Brigade might not be such a good thing. Perhaps this irony is meant to ex­pose the shal­low­ness of the “Youth of a Nation” vs. “Broken Home” di­choto­my that so much crap mu­sic to­day seems to feed off of.

The Decemberists’ Castaways and Cut-outs should def­i­nite­ly be added to any self-re­spect­ing audiophile’s li­brary.

an­oth­er link

[end pom­pos­i­ty]

3 teeth

Thursday, 29 May 2003

Yessiree, you heard it here first. I tru­ly am teething. Or, per­haps, tooth­ing, to be more pre­cise. A [sin­gu­lar] wis­dom tooth has deemed its time ripe to emerge from the evo­lu­tion­ary boon­docks that forms the back­plates of the mandible. My wis­dom tooth, in­stead of be­ing a mere nui­sance, and a rea­son for peo­ple to look like jaun­diced chip­munks up­on re­moval, serves a pur­pose.

I’m pret­ty sure that sen­tence has way too many claus­es.

I am miss­ing three teeth. One wis­dom tooth [low­er left], one per­ma­nent pre­mo­lar [low­er right], and the baby ver­sion of afore­men­tioned per­ma­nent pre­mo­lar. The AWOL wis­dom tooth is cool, it means when they are fi­nal­ly yanked, on­ly the up­per ones will come out, and the like­li­hood of dry sock­ets de­creas­es log­a­rith­mi­cal­ly.

I used to have the low­er right pre­mo­lar [the baby ver­sion] but when I got braces a few years ago, it need­ed to come out. The rea­son it had nev­er fal­l­en out was be­cause I had no per­ma­nent tooth un­der­neath to re­place it.

Getting that baby tooth re­moved wasn’t peach­es and cream, or even or­anges and cream, or even sour cream. It was just bad. I’ve got damn strong teeth, no cav­i­ties, no fill­ings, no prob­lems apart from be­ing a few teeth shy of a ra­tio­nal amount. This baby tooth did not want to go; it was huge, se­cure in its grip­ping pow­er on my gums, and not about to take any sass from a den­tist.

The roots were so in­tent on be­ing im­mov­able they were as close to be­ing barbed as they could get. The nerve was sur­round­ed in a per­fect­ly ex­e­cut­ed four pronged pin­cer.

So the den­tist cut it down the mid­dle with a saw and yanked out each half.

When I got my braces on, they put a bunch of torque on my lon­seome mo­lar, to bring it up next to the bi­cus­pid, to fill in the gap left by the pre­mo­lar, so my wis­dom tooth would al­so move for­ward, emerge and take the place of my last mo­lar.

Too many claus­es again.

Thus, what I on­ce thought of as an evo­lu­tion­ary throw­back to our more ro­bust skele­tal struc­tures, and more her­biv­o­rous or fru­giv­o­rous eat­ing be­hav­iors, ac­tu­al­ly serves a pur­pose for this gracile Homo sapi­ens sapi­ens[me].

I’m go­ing to suck on some ice now.

Computer Crapola

Tuesday, 27 May 2003

The past few days have been spent in a flur­ry of sundry com­put­er clean­ing pro­ce­dures. We’ve ghost­ed the sum­mer im­age on­to the busi­ness clus­ters, we’ve scraped the hand sal­sa off of in­nu­mer­able key­boards and mice, we’ve shined mon­i­tors and razed the clus­ter kiosks of any and all un­nec­es­sary para­pher­na­lia.

On the per­son­al side, I re­for­mat­ted my PC at home and in­stalled XP in or­der to squeeze an­oth­er year of use out of its ag­ing cir­cuits. I didn’t have any prob­lems at all run­ning Win2000Pro but XP takes up a bit less space with­out the un­nec­ces­sary NTserver scripts.

Signing up for hours looks like it is go­ing to be a chore this sum­mer, we are a bit over­staffed, so I’m go­ing to have to scrounge to get the full 40 I am alot­ted.

I man­aged to copy every­thing over to my friend’s ma­chine so I saved all of my mp3s, pa­pers, etc. Everything ex­cept my con­tact list/​address book with all of my email ad­dress­es, and all of the saved emails that I have. d’oh!

If you are read­ing this, know who I am, and would like to be re­in­stat­ed in­to my new con­tact list please email me with all of your per­ti­nent con­tact in­for­ma­tion [email, phone, etc.].

If you are read­ing this, don’t know me per­son­al­ly, but would still like to be put in­to my ad­dress book, please do the same.

The Matrix: Reloaded — Gothic Production Values

Sunday, 25 May 2003

The sec­ond en­try, and then I must needs say no more about ma­tri­ces till November.

As a film, The Matrix [orig­i­nal] was au­then­tic in its raw­ness of mise-en-scene, tight plot, char­ac­ter con­struc­tion and phi­los­o­phy. The Matrix: Reloaded, has the mangy paw of Hollywood over­pro­duc­tion and ov­erengi­neer­ing all over it.

Now that the goth look is main­streamed [hoo­dathunkit?] it is at the same time ex­tremed in the Matrix, Hollywood knows who its de­mo­graph­ics are and plays to them, even putting in vam­pires and ghosts. Every good guy is goth­ic while in the Matrix. Zion even has that re­tard­ed rave/​orgy/​infernal mass­es se­quence, where every­one porks to heavy bass beats. All of the guns from the last flik have been re­placed by a va­ri­ety of weapons [katana, longsword, tri­dent, sai, mace, etc.] that don’t do much good ex­cept look cool. Then, of course, you’ve got the goth­ic château in the moun­tains, the goth­ic retro tech­nol­o­gy [old TVs etc, still cool] and the rust­ed out ships of Zion.

Costuming

The cos­tumes in the orig­i­nal Matrix were in­deed quite cool, but their cool­ness was sec­ondary and the man­i­fes­ta­tions of the mind that wears them. In TM:R the clothes were cool be­cause Hollywood de­cid­ed it must be so, and they fail at it. Keanu in a cas­sock, is a bit pre­pos­ter­ous, Trinity main­tains skintight pleather, and the on­ly no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in the agents and Morpheus is that they’ve got spiffy new shoes. The Zionists can’t man­age to clothe them­selves de­cent­ly [ex­cept for the el­ders] de­spite their abil­i­ty to hew an ex­is­tence near the earth’s core. The bad­dies just wear white or black vari­a­tions in suit themes. Who re­al­ly cares.

Plot

Schizophrenically pol­y­se­mous. Dragged a bit, then had some über-cheesy part, fol­lowed by an über-philo­soph­i­cal part. Rinse, re­peat. This is where I found the con­flict be­tween a smart film, and a Hollywood film to be most preva­lent. The cheese parts [the n Smith fight, rave, the Seraph fight, sex scene, uber­car chase, the oth­er n Smith fight, the you saved me di­a­logue at the end] are Hollywood. The smart parts [Oracle, Merovingian, Architect, back doors, Keymaker] re­mind­ed me most of the orig­i­nal film, de­spite the fact that the Merovingian and the Architect still had some ob­vi­ous dis­trac­tions to them [yesterday’s post]. Although, the Keymaker, when de­scrib­ing how to get in­to the main­frame, re­mind­ed me much of the Old Man From Scene 24 in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is al­so the whole Keymaster of Gozer thing from Ghost Busters as well.

CG/​Special Effects

They were cut­ting edge last time, but main­stream this time. Bullet time/​slomo adn the spin­ning cam­era moves were the same stuff from the last movie. The CGs were pret­ty ob­vi­ous too, sup­port­ing my the­o­ry that dig­i­tal still has a long way to go be­fore it can ren­der as well as film stock can pick up the min­ute de­tails of a person’s face. Thus, some­times Neo and Smith look quite CG, be­cause the sub­tle shad­ows and fa­cial ex­pres­sions are not there. Rendering fab­rics is pret­ty damn hard as well. Thus, Neo’s id­i­otic cas­sock goes from be­ing nice and tex­tured to smooth as silk when he is CG. The wire-work le­git­i­mate­ly seemed ripped off from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Sound

Sound ef­fects and Foley work was im­pres­sive, though the mu­sic was most def­i­nite­ly cre­at­ed with the sound­track in mind, and of course con­tained tracks from the most goth­ic sell­out — Rob Zombie. Hell, it even had a track by Dave Mathews. [*pukes*] I did like what Juno Reactor did with many of the songs though — mix­ing stan­dard techno/​trance with the score in many in­stances.

Other

The shot se­lec­tion was al­so a bit schizoid. The OTS shots were so repet­i­tive i could pre­dict what was go­ing to hap­pen next [MS1a, MS2a, MS1b, MS2b, MCU1a, MCU2a, etc.]. At the same time, the dig­i­tal stuff with Morpheus fight on the trail­er, and the mo­tor­cy­cle shots — were pret­ty damn amaz­ing. The washed-out hot­ness of the whites, and the sub­tle lows of the blacks seemed ap­pro­pri­ate­ly goth­ic and al­so helped the CGs fit in­to the the film bet­ter, since so much data was lost by in­ten­tion­al over­ex­po­sure.

Morpheus says the prophe­cy should have come true if Neo reached the source, but Neo did not reach the souce, he went af­ter Trinity, some­thing that I on­ly re­al­ized post fac­to the movie. There is no men­tion of it in the flik it­self.

Wrap

I liked TM:R, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t like it as well as the first one. I give the 1st an 8 and this one a 6. Mostly be­cause, it is ob­vi­ous Hollywood tried too hard as usu­al, on­ly ap­prox­i­mat­ed what it feels is au­then­tic — rather than go­ing for the re­al thing. Ergo, all the peo­ple are goth­ical­ly se­ri­ous ex­cept for Link who is more a fam­i­ly man thug than any­thing else — and the won­der­ful Merovingian ass­hole. The bad guys are much more in­ter­est­ing than the good guys. It leaves no room for any type of those on­ce plugged in than the goth­ic. Someone should crack a joke or play a prank or per­haps wear com­fort­able clothes that are non­de­script. Right? I think it is too shal­low be­cause it is too pre­ten­tious.

Probably much like this re­view.

The Matrix: Reloaded — Fides et Ratio

Saturday, 24 May 2003

I’ve seen The Matrix: Reloaded twice now. Fittingly I will give it two en­tries, one on phi­los­o­phy and one on its cin­e­mat­ic qual­i­ties. This is the philo one. Most like­ly they will both con­tain spoil­ers.

To start out, those who say that this sec­ond film lacks [in sub­stance and thought pro­vok­ing ma­te­ri­al] are id­iots.

They must have ig­nored [slept through, dis­missed be­cause they did not un­der­stand] the Oracle, the Merovingian [who is ridicu­lous awe­some], and the Architect. Granted, much of the rest of the film is cot­ton can­dy [to be cov­ered in the next en­try], but the afore­men­tioned seg­ments are any­thing but.

Continuing the de­bate that was ex­humed in the orig­i­nal Matrix, this film deals time and again with the an­tag­o­nism be­tween choice/​free will and causality/​predetermination. Its pret­ty ho hum, and the screen­writ­ers are ei­ther ge­nius­es or stayed up all cram­ming and then re­gur­gi­tat­ed the an­swers. I lean to­ward the bile side my­self, be­cause the Oracle, the Merovingian, and the Architect all con­tra­dict them­selves in their so­lil­o­quys on choice v. causal­i­ty.

The Oracle

An ‘in­tu­itive’ com­put­er pro­gram that cre­at­ed a ver­sion of the Matrix that 99% of test sub­jects ac­cept­ed as long as they were of­fered a choice. Neo looks to her for guid­ance and ques­tions her re­gard­ing choice. If she knows the an­swer to the ques­tions she asks him, what does his choice mat­ter? She tells him that his choic­es have al­ready been made, Neo is now sup­posed to un­der­stand why he made/​making/​will make the­se choic­es.

But then, ‘we can’t see past the choic­es we don’t un­der­stand.’

All of this time, while dis­cussing choice, the dis­cus­sion has re­al­ly cen­tered on causal­i­ty, the Oracle seems to be hint­ing that choic­es do not mat­ter. At the same time, she tells Neo to makes choic­es.

For her it ap­pears that choice is mere­ly an il­lu­so­ry mech­a­nism of causal­i­ty. But not see­ing past the choic­es we do not un­der­stand gives her the lie, for un­less she un­der­stands all choic­es, how can she see the fu­ture. To me it ap­pears that for causal­i­ty to func­tion is must be con­cerned on­ly with hind­sight. It can on­ly prove its ve­rac­i­ty by show­ing com­plet­ed cause and ef­fect re­la­tions as some­thing in­evitable. It should on­ly be able to pos­tu­late the fu­ture, not pre­dict it.

The Merovingian

This guy is my fa­vorite char­ac­ter in the en­tire film. We’ll just get that out of the way.

This ex­quis­ite­ly con­temptible French pro­gram ap­par­ent­ly touts causal­i­ty as its cham­pi­on. He says choice is an il­lu­sion given by those with pow­er to those with­out it. Ostensibly, as a means of con­trol [see The Architect]. He states the hu­mans run on in­stinct, and proves this by en­chant­i­ng a hot chick with a pro­grammed piece of aphrodit­ic choco­late and mak­ing her all horny. Thus, dou­bly prov­ing his point [if you were even lis­ten­ing to his mono­logue] be­cause most like­ly the au­di­ence watch­ing the film was more in­ter­est­ed in the warm spot in hot chick’s crotch than what the Merovingian was say­ing.

He says that those with pow­er are those who ‘un­der­stand the why’ of things.

To me ‘why’ is a word that deals with choice. To know ‘why’ you do some­thing is to know the rea­sons you made the choice. To un­der­stand ‘what’ is to un­der­stand causal­i­ty. ‘What made you do some­thing’ — this rec­og­nizes that an out­side, pre­de­ter­mined, non-will­ful stim­u­la­tion re­sult­ed in an act. Why is sub­jec­tive, thus con­trol­lable, What is ob­jec­tive, and causal.

When Persephone screws him over, in a beau­ti­ful throw-away re­mark af­ter his re­cent homi­ly, he de­mands to know the rea­son she lets Neo have the Keymaker: she says some­thing about causal­i­ty and re­torts with — Cause? There is no cause for this!

The Architect

Like the Merovingian se­quence, The Architect us­es a shit­load of mon­i­tors show­ing dif­fer­ent things to dis­tract the view­er from the dis­cus­sion.

The Architect ex­plains about the means of con­trol with­in the Matrix, that Neo is an ex­pect­ed anom­aly re­sult­ing from the in­abil­i­ty of the cause/​effect na­ture of pro­gram­ming to ad­e­quate­ly cope with the de­mands of im­per­fect hu­man de­sires and choic­es. The hu­man mind is lesser or, per­haps, not bound by the de­mands of per­fec­tion. To deal with this the ma­chi­nes use life out­side the Matrix, and Zion, an ap­par­ent­ly oft de­stroyed and re­built city, as an­oth­er method of con­trol. Neo is al­so ap­par­ent­ly the six­th anom­aly, so Zion is in its 5th rein­car­na­tion.

Besides all that, The Architect points out the flaws be­tween causal­i­ty and choice. He of­fers Neo a Lady or Tiger choice, choose a door. This is where the philoso­phies get a bit shal­low for me. Cause and ef­fect seem to hang on Neo’s choice. Except, Neo seems to think he on­ly has two choic­es, one door or the oth­er. He has plen­ty of op­tions.

Other

Where is the re­li­gion? TM:R us­es the de­vices of re­li­gion [Morpheus as a prophet, men­tions of prov­i­dence, the need for faith, etc] but nev­er deigns to il­lus­trate the ef­fi­ca­cy of the­se de­mands, nor to ex­plain what it is peo­ple are to have faith in. Are we to as­sume that faith should be placed in Neo. Who should Neo have faith in then? Only him­self? Morpheus faith seems bound to his ideas about choice and prov­i­dence, but at odd points the­se eat each oth­er. He says every­thing hap­pens for a rea­son, his prov­i­dence, but he al­so says every­one has a choice. In the di­alec­tic set up with­in the Matrix, the­se are at cross-pur­pos­es.

They could how­ev­er, be ex­plained in re­gard to faith. Yet, they nev­er are.

Last BS

I think, though I am quite pre­pared to ad­mit that this could very well be wrong, that what the Architect spoke of, that 99% ac­cept the Matrix as long as they are of­fered a choice, hints at a pos­si­ble twist. Perhaps while Neo and Trinity, and Morpheus, et al. think they are out­side of the Matrix, they are ac­tu­al­ly still with­in it. Thus, The Matrix en­com­pass­es both the Zion-world and what we have come to know as the Matrix it­self.

This is ex­plained both through what the Architect says, as well as in Neo’s freaky light­ning abil­i­ties at the end. He can sense the sen­tinels in the ‘re­al world,’ and can EMP-bake them with his hand in the ‘re­al world.’ I think he re­al­ized he was in an­oth­er lev­el of the Matrix, and sent his con­scious­ness forth in­to a high­er state of mind. Yeah, it sounds a bit new-agey.

or, per­haps while he was in the main­frame, he gained a new abil­i­ty, to trans­port him­self di­rect­ly in­to the Matrix, with­out plugs.

Hell, like I know what I’m talk­ing about.

Summer Reading

Friday, 23 May 2003

The Summer Reading List cur­rent­ly con­tains:

  1. High Fidelity — Nick Hornby
  2. Ulysses — James Joyce
  3. The Hawkline Monster — Richard Brautigan
  4. The Wasp Factory — Iain Banks
  5. His Dark Materials Trilogy — Philip Pullman
  6. Gravity’s Rainbow — Thomas Pynchon
  7. The Corrections — Jonathan Franzen
  8. Something by Kafka

I’m al­ways tak­ing sug­ges­tions as well, es­pe­cial­ly po­et­ry.

Tomorrow I get my St. Joe County Library Card.

Confused Little Ant

Thursday, 22 May 2003

I had lunch with her to­day. She had been gone to Spain all last se­mes­ter, and had just got­ten back the pre­vi­ous week. She came up to South Bend to get her job at the Center for the Homeless set­tled, and to run a few oth­er er­rands. She cut her hair.

I re­al­ly like the new look, al­though her long hair was nice as well. Now she has this quite at­trac­tive flip to her hair, which height­ens her al­ready quite att­trac­tive­ness. It was a bit strange to be ac­tu­al­ly talk­ing to her af­ter so long an ab­sence. I left things un­said as usu­al [while talk­ing my lips off].

She spoke of Spain in glow­ing terms, she wants to go back. It sounds quite the nice place to be. She al­so spoke of her friend Javi [I hope not boyfriend]. She does not know if she wants to live in America, be­cause af­ter be­ing abroad she un­der­stands just how work-cen­tric the American cul­ture is. I’ve felt the same way my­self, but just on hearsay, that Europe sounds like my sort of p[l]ace.

Her fa­ther called while we ate at Macri’s Deli, and when he heard I was there with her, told her to tell me a joke: he loves bad jokes.

Q: Why were the lit­tle ants con­fused?

A: Because some­one told them that their un­cles were aunts.

That one was pret­ty bad, but for me the hu­mor de­rives from know­ing a per­son who rel­ish­es such bad jokes.

She and I are both quite pro­tec­tive of our in­ner thoughts, we speak them rarely, so it is most dif­fi­cult for one such as me to work up the con­fi­dence to broach cer­tain sub­jects with her. I hope I can do it the next chance I get.