For various reasons, the last couple of weeks have felt pretty long, and, well, let’s just say this is not going to be my most productive Friday ever. But my lack of focus is actually good for putting together random lists of things I am enjoying, so there you go.
Quite a lot to read this time around, so if you prefer you can get the week’s articles as a readlist here (and remember that there is a readlist of everything from the year so far here as well).
Article: “The Elvis Impersonator, the Karate Instructor, a Fridge Full of Severed Heads, and the Plot 2 Kill the President” by Wells Tower
This is the story of how elivs imperosnator/proponent of an organ-harvesting conspiracy theory Kevin Curtis came to be wrongly suspected of sending envelopes full of ricin to Barack Obama, a Mississippi judge, and others. There is no way to do justice to the weirdness of this without retelling the whole story, but if this is not one of the oddest chains of events you have ever heard then you are leading a truly unusal life. Wells Tower makes the ins and outs of a tale that could be pretty confusing perfectly clear, and presents it with just the right balance of serious engagement and amused bafflement. Longish, but more than worth the time.
Article: “Squiggles Are the New Quarter Notes: Why Music Looks Different Now” by Karen Loew
I can clearly remember being entranced when I saw George Crumb’s score for “Black Angels” for the first time:
Here, clearly, was something different— a new visual language to depict a new musical one. Loew shows how and why such methods of notation have become a standard (though no standardized) practice for contemporary composers. I wish there were more images, because often these scores are really beautiful, even to someone like me who has no idea how to read them, but the story is a good one anyway.
Article: “The Migration of the Hipster” by Aimee Levitt
The word “hipster” has become a kind of universal pejorative, applied so widely as to be effectively useless; no two people, it seems, are using the word in exactly the same way. With such built-in ambiguity, it’s no wonder that much of the writing on the phenomenon of the contemporary hipster is a bit insubstantial. Most articles purporting to explain hipsterdom (looking at you, NYT Style section) essentially amount to lists of “hipster” signifiers (PBR, tight pants, mustaches, craft/artisan anything), reeled off with the same kind of knowing, ironic smirk that is far and away the most annoying thing about actual hipsters.
Levitt does something much better than that; this piece is a genuine historical geography, describing the cultural rise and fall of various “hip” neighborhoods in Chicago over the course of a century. It’s pretty Chicago-specific, but I think it will be interesting to people outside Chicago as well, if only because it gives you a good sense of how the semantic values of the words “hip” and “hipster” have shifted over time. It seems clear to me that Nelson Algren was would have punched you in the face for using the word “artisanal.”
Article: “A Day at Genius Camp: Getting Dumb in Einstein’s Paradise” by Katie Drummond.
I’ve been fascinated by Princeton’s Institutte for Advanced Study since it featured in the novel The Rule of Four a few years ago— a piece of context which probably indicates with a fair degree of certainty that I will never be counted among its faculty. But still, there is something about this idea: a place in which people are invited to work because they are smart, where they will be given significant resources to pursue any research that interests them, no matter how esoteric or theoretical, with no real responsibility to account for how they ahve spent their time— no needto publish, teach, or attend conferences. Obviously, that arrangement could turn into the most stereotypical ivory tower sinecure, but it could—and at least occasionally does— also produce remarkable and important work, of the kind that short-term, application-driven thinking will never get to. Katie Drummond spends some time at the Institute, feels totally inadequate, and explores the question of whether such a thing can, or should, continue to survive and thrive.
Article: “Deadly lake Turns Animals into Statues” by New Scientist magazine
I know that a lot of people have talked about and shared this article already over the past couple of weeks, but, seriously: holy crap. If you haven’t read it, or looked at the images, you should do so. It is very nearly literally unbelievable.
Song: “Find My Way” (Oneohtrix Point Never Remix) by Nine Inch Nails
Working with a song from Nine Inch Nails’ recent album Hesitation Marks, Oneohtirx Point Never ends up with a really interesting deconstruction that completely shifts the tone of the original song but still seems entirely organic and coherent. The quieter music perhaps places more weight on Trent Reznor’s lyrics, which is not usually the best idea, but it also shows how strong the vocal part can actually is, being able to serve as the backbone of such vastly different musical constructions.
Finally, two related music recommendations:
Mix: Resident Advisor Podcast by Samuel Kerridge
A recent episode of the Guardian’s Music Weekly podcast brought Samuel Kerridge’s name to my attention. His own work is, mostly a kind of very heavy, industrially-influenced techno, and this playlist includes that kind of thing as well as some slower-but-not-at-all-quieter, more ambient kinds of things. It’s not something that you’re likely to be in the mood for all of the time (at least, you probably shouldn’t be), but it’s quite perfect in its place.
Album Stream: Life Cycle of a Massive Star by Roly Porter
Among the less beat-driven tracks on that Samuel Kerridge mix is one called “Arrakis,” by Roly Porter. His name was also new to me, but since hearing him there I have both purchased his first solo album, Aftertime (which is excellent), and discovered that he has a new one out now, a concept album about the formation, life, and destruction of a star. The stream is exclusive to FACT magazine, so I cannot embed it and I don’t know how long it will be there, but it’s very good, loud and eerie and beautiful all at once, somewhat in the vein of Tim Hecker (whose new record is also out next week).