Four Years in the Pit

Ah, work, work, work. Groan, expire, reanimate, groan again. The life of a property owner. Pools of blood to be drained and refilled, iron maidens to scour of clotted flesh, eternal fires to stoke and bellow, darkbulbs to change, visitors to mulch, dung to fling. The man-eating hogs have to be slopped, the man-eating cows milked, the coop of the man-eating chickens swept and aired, the seeds of the man-eating plants sown. The vile trees, each and all ceremoniously hugged.

And in the midst of all this spring cleaning, re-no-va-tion!

You’ve probably noticed the rotten plank I’ve laid across the mouth of my pit. Don’t worry—no gag this plank, the pit still sings. But about your fall: it may be inevitable, yes; but once the renovations are complete, my hope is that you will have a choice as to the barbed spikes on which you land. You may, that is, hurtle into one of two nether regions: the Realm of Noise, which contains all materials categorized under “What I’m Listening To”; or the Realm of Silence, which, inaugurated last month, will contain everything associated with The Payphone Project.

Needless to say, the work is dangerous, passers-by hardly protected, “accidents” common.

But how else to fill the pools?

I know what you’re thinking: “You complain about all the work you’ve been doing, but thus far in 2014 you’ve abandoned the pit. You eked out a March post by one day, and on an entirely new theme. What gives? Why have you forsaken us?” Aye, reader. Guilty as charged. I have been pulled hither and yon by one thing or another. A long project, pit-worthy, even pit-relevant, was sent screaming into the world in early March, though I had intended for it to be done by the beginning of the spring semester. Then there was the matter of promotion materials to prepare—what can I say, I’m tired of the first circle, I find the virtuous pagans dull guests and abysmal hosts, all they talk about is living-in-desire-without-hope. Blah, blah, blah. I think I’ve accomplished enough to get bumped down to the fourth, possibly fifth circle—I’d love to work with the wrathful and sullen, knocking them on the heads with a bean-pole while they gargle and stew. I’ve heard tell that a white whale lives in this circle, swimming round and round its Stygian perimeter, and of a man named Ahab (Ay-hab) staked screaming to it; and of one Ethan Brand, who wanders in a vast ellipse, returning as regularly as a comet, where the road to Dis is cobbled with the kiln-cooked hearts of unpardonable sin …

Meantime, my virtuous pagans can muster nothing better than an unpardonable belch. Then they laugh like donkeys. They pick their teeth, too.

And then there is the matter of my hearing, or not hearing (e.g., “Reflections of Orrin,” 10.6.13). This will become a post in itself, eventually, as there is much to be said about it—not to wallow, of course, lest I be hit with my own bean-pole. This doesn’t mean the Realm of Noise will go quiet, though the last few months might suggest as much; but the content will shift somewhat, as it had already started shifting last summer. Concert and set reviews will become more rare, and will probably focus on musical epiphenomena when they do appear. There will be more commentary on readings about music than about music itself. But that’s for the future future; there are at least a dozen posts at various stages of completion to finish and get up, including that ever-belated magnum opus on Domenico Scarlatti, which, with a little diligent work, may finally see the dark of pit this summer.

I can hear enough old music in my head to keep writing until the end of time.

So, as for the desert of the last few months, take heart: the pit is coming a-dead again. As anyone who has kept a blog knows, this blogging thing is not for the sprinter. I was a miler in college—that’s water, not land—so I get pacing, timing, splitting to within a few tenths of a second. And if I ever start to flag, I scroll through some recent posts on Tony’s Thoughts, admire the vastness of his archives, and put my shoulder to the wheel again. (I don’t know what the man eats, but it clearly has fiber, and vitamins to boot.)

As I have contributed less in the last several months, so I’ve surfed the Commons less as well—much to my regret, as the Commons continues to grow, and its musical offerings have expanded. Doing my year-end review provides an excuse to catch up (and spring break gives me a smidge of time to do so). The GC Music Program Community Portal is a go-to site—and when you do go-to, make sure to have a calendar handy, as you will find lectures and conferences and concerts, oh my, more than enough to addle the brain and sully the ear of the most committed CUNY musicophile. Maybe even more exciting is the nascent spinoff Open Music History Project, now in its prodigious infancy, and seeking contributors. Helldriver, whose corpse putrefies before the collective knowledge of CUNY’s music scholars, can never aspire to be more than a reader. But readers have their demands. Let him down, dear scholars, and it will be your flesh he scours from the iron maiden next spring.

Have you seen Dean Reynolds’s series of posts about winter Jazz Fest? A hearty kudos to Dean for busting his hump to finish out those posts with the semester full-on—trust me, I know how hard it is to juggle—and for the insightful comments about the music, musicians, crowds, and venues. I look forward to catching more as he catches more live music in NYC. Besides Reynolds, there are two other ethnomusicology grad-student bloggers, one a writing fellow at Baruch and a horn-player for the Rude Mechanical Orchestra—yes, the groove that has kept your spirit and mine up at any number of protests—the other interrogating the “ethno” in ethnomusicology, among other things, at the wonderful Mu-sing-ing blog (love the story behind the name). A fourth grad student, in theory (not the student; the subject), has posted a series of papers that fly swallow-high over my head. Rounding it all out is the Sonic Cinema course blog, where enrollees post their pre-presentation thoughts on noise and information. Attali’s Noise beckon from my bookshelf. All in all, music writing of all stripes is flourishing on the Commons, making this reader feel at once warm, fuzzy, humbled, and well-fed.

Ach, Helldriver. The least you could do is provide url’s for the above. You could turn them into links, so that people can click on them and be taken to the blogs you mention, and so really do your bit for the Commons community. Your text is a stony, linkless soil. True, vile reader, true. But then I have an argument about hypertext, a perfectly self-serving, self-justifying argument. It goes like this: I am reading on the internet. The paragraph I am reading contains several underlined words or phrases to signify they will link me to another page by clicking on them. They are like whirlpools; my eye is drawn to them, sucked down into them; my finger automatically wanders to the mouse or link, clicks. What becomes of the surrounding text? A channel, a funnel to draw me toward the hypertext, and no more; when I click again, I will no doubt find more hypertext, and so on, and so on. Results: Death of the materiality of the sign. Destruction of the living texture of language. Conditioning to not see the signifier, to move past it rather than examine it, listen to it, celebrate its materiality. We might not call it reading at all: an eye that glides and pokes without ever really looking, a mind that wanders without ever really thinking. Hence my cri de coeur: no hypertext, never, not in the pit, no.*

Well, okay. Here you are: helldriver. Go ahead, click on it. It didn’t work, did it? Frustrated? Try again. Click harder, like you’re speaking to a foreigner as though he were deaf. C’mon, push your finger into the screen—beat that mouse! Working? No? Ha! Ha! Take that, internet! Take that, virtual world!


* And then the specious argument—which I think is passé at this point, since hypertext fiction died the ignoble death it deserved—that such texts allowed the reader to exercise creative authority. Please. It was never anything more than a more sophisticated form of manipulation. Sophisticated is maybe the wrong word; in hindsight, it appears quite crass and mechanical. My understanding is that these texts died in part because of the rise of actually collaborative, evolving texts, such as on Wikipedia and social media sites. This seems logical, and begs a bit more discussion. In The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes writes about the way a reader’s eye and mind dip in and out of a text, skipping here and there, though never the same bits twice (hence the pleasure of re-reading). Does hypertext create a particular “grain,” to (mis)appropriate Barthes’s term, in internet reading? Or is it rather a break, one that yanks the reader entirely out of the text? It depends, I guess, on how we define and limit the text: by author, or by reader. In a sense, the reader’s text is a newly-collaborative text created via the circuitous routes of his or her desire. This is marginally more creative than the hypertext fantasies of the ‘90s, since, although the reader doesn’t really contribute, his or her maze is still collectively assembled, and the reader-writer line is culturally more fungible. Anyway. When Helldriver feels snubbed, he writes things like the above.

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