In Praise of: Joel McNeely’s ‘Shadows of the Empire’

Through Spotify, I have recently re-discovered an album that I have had different degrees of familiarity with. That album being Joel McNeely’s ‘Shadows of the Empire’. How can I explain what this album is? In the mid 90s there was a revival of interest in Star Wars in the lead up to the period of time that led to the prequel trilogies. There was a project based on multiple media around a brand new story explaining the events between Episode V and VI of the Star Wars saga (saga as it is now called). This story was a novel by Steve Perry, which was then made into a money making machine – there was a Nintendo 64 game based on the novel; later on some comics; action figures; trading cards and was even referred to in later Star Wars franchise type things.

 

I used to have a big thing about Star Wars and back when Shadows came out it was a big deal for me. I came to know the soundtrack through the game, which played it at a really low volume compared to the rest of the audio tracks. I then discovered it years later in the Napster age. When I recently rediscovered it I had a whole new layer of appreciation for it.

 

I’ve written in the past about a reading of Adorno’s Wagner. In a way this soundtrack is a similar culmination of all those ideas about Wagner’s music. The leitmotif applied to indicate characters Xizor, the motifs that reflect certain kinds of plot moods in a sound world already created by John William’s soundtrack, and let’s not of course forget the interesting scoring and instrumental part writing of the composer.

 

The beauty of this soundtrack is manifold. I thought I might make a list:

 

  • The soundtrack works as something independent from the Star Wars films if you want it to be so, and can also be seen in continuum with it (although more as a fork in the road).
  • McNeely’s piece is said to be an interpretation of a series of events, that sense of interpretation allows for a different kind of emotional narrative different to the medium of the story through the video game and the novel.
  • McNeely’s soundtrack is evocative of the programme music composers and intentionally so. This is the ultimate modern programme score as it is not a soundtrack to a film but a sonic narrative.
  • The motifs applied repeat through the piece and give a sense of internal unity to both the narrative of the novel and the music as a piece of music. Such as the repetition of the ‘Xizor’ motif, the established ‘Imperial March’ (Vader’s theme) invented by John Williams, and the unique Shadows’ motif. There are points where the motifs fight for dominance in a similar way to the three-parties of the Rebels, Imperials and the Black Sun are fighting against each other.

 

I am such a fan of this work. What makes it particularly interesting for me is how the album works in the commercial and modern confines of soundtracks, film franchises and other money making machinery, yet works successfully as a piece of music. I would hardly consider it anodyne either. There are subtle dissonant and modernist cues to the soundtrack. I later found out that McNeely was involved with re-recording scores from Bernard Herrmann films (a composer with deeply modernist idioms). Perhaps it is my personal favouring bias that sees this work in a positive light. Or it could be that the message of modernism was historically situated to a degree that using modernist techniques today do not communicate its political significance. Either way, I am greatly taken by the soundtrack as a musical medium, as well as the ways that it allows different aesthetic standards to it that ‘absolute music’ might.

‘New media’ is now old hat

I remember when I was still in university there was a lot of talk about ‘new media’ as some emerging thing, or even of web 2.0 discussed with some sense of open hope and anticipation towards pastures new. I thought about this when I was at a planning meeting for the community garden that I’m involved with, when we were talking about outreach.

 

Somebody said that twitter and facebook are a bit old hat in terms of social media (the preferred term of today). We all understood what was meant, in the sense that we would hit at an audience who already know about the garden and using such media mostly retains our base of interested persons and who are already informed of most of the community garden’s activities.

 

Getting involved with a community garden is as grassroots as things can get. I mostly got involved because somebody said they didn’t like lifting things. Now we are talking about having a co-ordinated strategy for tweetdeck posts, preparing copy for upcoming mail-outs (we use mailchimp). One of the great liberating features of the social media is that it has enabled such a broad form of expression. Taking the perspective of the community garden, I can live-tweet about garden events or things going on; garner attention and new interest from tweeting about and being seen tweeting and take part in a wider discussion. The community garden twitter account has a follow from our local MP, various councillors in local government, and even a transition town group in Latin America. The fact that others in the garden share the tweeting means I can get on with what I particularly enjoy at the garden: lifting stuff and playing my clarinet in an open space.

 

Although perhaps not part of the ‘new media’ but more of the late 1990s and early 2000s zeitgeist, I’ve found blogging (both writing and reading) and podcasts as a big staple of my life these days. I have come from seeing podcasts as an obscure infant medium to an established form. I recently listened to a radio programme on the podcast recently, which made me reflect on how the evolution of the medium has aged as I have aged. I suspect however that the podcast will outlive me and morph into more fandangled and interesting things than I ever can.

 

Podcasts used to be something really scarce. Back in 2005 I would re-listen to episodes of Philosophy Talk and go through the whole archive of ‘In Our Time’. I would eagerly follow Marc Maron’s WTF in mid-late 2009 as Maron’s life was in dire straits and wondered what the next episode would tell. Nearly 5 years on, Maron’s podcast has a TV series based on it and he’s gone from strength to strength, even to the point of broadcasting an episode with Josh Radnor on the day that How I Met Your Mother had its finale. I would dare say that after WTF, Maron’s podcast format has had many imitators.

 

I wonder if the ‘wild west’ or Californian gold rush of podcasting is over at least in terms of the solidification and establishment as podcasting as a medium. But with it another gold rush might emerge, perhaps a less figurative commercialisation and profit-making set of models. I love the podcast for the same reasons as the radio. I can feel connected to the world despite distantly listening in without taking part in the things that are discussed. I am also starting to find there are a few too many podcasts to listen to in the world! I can’t listen to them all as attentively as I used to listen to every episode of Melvyn Bragg and I can’t give all the philosophy podcasts as much attention as they deserve or that would require a good amount of learning from.

 

And here comes the other ‘old hat’ of blogging. I have said to myself that when I get a smartphone I will be able to read blogs quicker with the (now defunct) Google Reader App. Then I said to myself that I could get a lot of reading done on Feedly with my new Tablet, although both of these are true, it is also the case that these new devices allow me to reach a much much wider pool of information so plentiful that I end up not reading the stuff that I planned to.

 

Blog reading is a big part of my life, it’s become both a leisurely pursuit and in some cases for friends, necessary for their work. Because of the ubiquity of ways we can access the internet the stream of blogs and RSS feeds is soaking human experience, perhaps for some, too much so. Lately I’ve set time limits for myself for blog reading and catching up on articles. I’ve found that I use my time more efficiently that way.

 

Perhaps its time to be more deliberate about blog reading and podcast listening. Time to be more mature about facebook profiles and twitter accounts. As the medium has grown up so have I and I see so many pitfalls with these media (or rather put – more ways people can be silly with them). Perhaps like the 19th century after the wild rush comes an age of more deliberate and considered usage and perhaps regulation. It almost looks like an historical narrative repeating all over again.

In Praise of: Captain America

I’m a bit behind in what I want to write about lately. Evidence of this is the fact that Antisophie was discussing about the ‘fatigue’ of super-hero films after Thor 2: the Dark World which may lead to suggest that the emerging genre is tired and has little to offer except more of the same.

 

Then I saw Captain America: the Winter Soldier, twice. I saw it with two different groups of people. One with a nerd friend, who got all of the easter eggs and got all of my jokes about defeating Magneto with a wooden gun. The other group I saw it with were the last people to take any interest in super hero films that involved the supernatural, but oddly enough they don’t mind science fiction if it fitted in with their worldview (i.e. technologies that were conceivable). On both counts we found the film to be quite moving, despite all the explosions.

 

Mark Kermode had a review of the film which said something to the effect of: the plot had a thread which was very contemporary which could have been developed more, but was tempered with the inevitable action set pieces that are a requirement with a big budget film such as this. One of the reasons I am a big fan of the Marvel stories is that the stories can be genuinely engaging and are a reaction to much of the things going on today.

 

On a personal note, I think that Captain America’s real super power is his commitment to his sense of personal and political value. Steve Rogers has an uncompromising commitment towards a conception of the good and on many occasions he is challenged to not always uphold this ideal. I was recently reading the 2013 issues of Captain America, where the character is kept in a dimension created by Armin Zola. Rogers spends over a decade in this dimension and his aging is visible. One also notices that he develops a relationship with a child who is Zola’s son and is challenge on a great many fronts. In the recent 2010-2012 Avengers EMH animated series, Captain America’s character faces a public backlash after his Skrull doppelganger destroys the public reputation that Rogers had. The EMH Captain America carried on despite the public hatred about him and was unwavering.

 

The idea of a Captain America has to be different in a world where the idea of the United States has vastly changed due to geopolitical and economic factors. But I’m quite impressed at how Marvel still successfully makes him relevant.

The Badminton mind (, or the sui generis-ness of discourses)

I’ve often used the phrase, in my blogging and in my personal conversations, that one has to have a musical mind or must think musically in order to understand some piece or other, or as an instrumentalist to approach performance. I remember studying aesthetics at university and finding the topic different (but learnable). The thing that I found particularly difficult about aesthetics was thinking aesthetically. Often in theoretical philosophy we’d think of examples in physics or mathematics, thought experiments that would never happen and so forth, that would apply in thinking about metaphysics, philosophy of language or epistemology; but not so well at aesthetics. To think aesthetically (I would contend) can involve one’s inner aesthete having a contribution to one’s way of thinking. As far as branches of philosophy go, aesthetics seemed to involve an independent kind of form of querying (perhaps this is just a phenomenological thing to me).

 

Some discourses seem to have an autonomous way of thinking about them which do not merit cognates, analogues or comparisons very easily or if they do, they are clunky. In recent years I have taken up badminton and I have found that in spite of all the drills, techniques I have learned and court hours I’ve racked up, I’m starting to discover a voice of expression within badminton. I discovered this when I was playing with a new partner in a doubles match against two people I know pretty well. I knew that their playing standard was definitely above mine but this new partner was an unknown quantity to all of us.

 

I started to take winning seriously and I began to think things that never had any kind of cognate in the rest of my life. I thought about things such as what the best starting positions would be; where their weaknesses are; how to rally 2-3 shots ahead of the current shot and how to break the opposing team’s sense of resolve.

 

Perhaps it is because I’m unfamiliar with other racket games like say Tennis or Squash. One of my friends chooses not to play Tennis because in his view the technique and approach: gets in the way of his Badminton play. I suppose the point I am making is that it is a nonsense in the same way someone might say that the Organ is 3 piano keyboards on top of each other and therefore a good pianist must be a good organist (or could read organ music transferable); likewise, Badminton strategy has a sui generis quality about it, in the same way.

 

I came to learn the Clarinet after playing the Piano and one of the pitfalls that I had was acknowledging the uniqueness of the Clarinet. Reading the Treble Clef on its own for example didn’t seem to be an issue for me because I have experience of reading 2 clefs as standard (3 if I’m accompanying, 3-4 if playing 20th century music). However reading clarinet music requires thought about phrasing and breathing, especially if breath marks are not included! Thinking about the unity of a phrase in terms of the breath put into it, or the unity of a melody line as a unit of the piece. Then there are the aspects of my poor breath technique that I am constantly working on (that requires a lot of work). I’m pretty bad at badminton, and so too with the Clarinet!

 

Of course, noticing that thinking as a Badminton player, or say, a Judoka (as opposed to another form of fighter like say thai boxer) can have transferrable traits to some other discourse. Perhaps the most obvious one in badminton is deception. Deception is a beautiful tactic whereby you give a tell of what your next move is going to be (and where it will go), but that tell is entirely contrived to throw off the opponent. The beautiful thing about deception in my playing experience is choosing when to do it. Doing it all the time itself is a form of a tell to the other player. Deception in this way sounds like the kind of general skill that one might have in social life, or other game-playing such as Poker. The autonomy of a discourse should have as its defining conditions, continuities (such as deception can apply to other games or social interactions) and discontinuities (shuttlecock aerodynamics).

Crystalisation entails death

I have recently read an essay ‘Aesthetic Transcendence’ by Trine Paulsen and Kim Solve, part of Trine + Kim Design Studio. They are (among other things) involved a lot in the graphic design aspects of many Black Metal acts. In their discussion of black metal aesthetics, Solve points out how the iconography and messages have developed a distinct form of currency, but in the process it cannot be said that Black Metal exists as an underground movement or a form of rebellion.

 

Solve makes the point that Black Metal is a visible subculture with imagery in children’s programming, entries in Eurovision and talked about by academics. These are hallmarks of something that can hardly be addressed as revolutionary.

 

This gives me pause to think. I could try and resist this conclusion and address metal subcultures where there is a genuine underground such as Africa, depressive-suicidal black metal, non-European and non-North American metal or even specific genres like NSBM being inherently underground due to the political beliefs associated with it. In fact I would try to resist this conclusion and say there are many different concentric circles of BM in the world and the Nordic type may be the hegemony but it is not the only type.

 

What if we accepted the conclusion that BM had lost its revolutionary edge? Perhaps this is inevitable. Could we say that Schoenberg is still radical? It is true that Black Metal probably wouldn’t have a mainstream AOR radio station presence, but it could have enough of an audience to fill out say, a 300-capacity venue and work within the engine of the indie label toilet circuit tour, for instance.

 

If it were the case that BM can be part of the cultural industries, even to the extent of being talked about by academics and having mail-order t shirts. What does that say of the potential of the revolutionary fervour in general? Is everything reducible to a t-shirt slogan? Well I suppose my only answer to that is: sapere aude (have the courage to use your own understanding).

 

P.S. 7 years ago to this day the blog was born. Belated happy birthday.

 

Thinking about Lent

This week a lot of conversations from various circles of friends and in other places (such as at work and of all places my gym classes) have oriented around the start of Lent. Invariably I have been led to think about this issue. I looked to the origin of where the whole thing about temptation and the role of abstinence came from in Lent which led me to Matthew 4:1-11. What I found interesting about the story is how something about temptation is made to be a personal issue for various Christians and non-Christians around the world; yet for seemingly different reasons to why Jesus was tested. Lent seems to be meaningful to people insofar as they find some personal significance to denying some thing that they are giving up. Perhaps that is smoking or chocolate, alcohol or some other behaviour.

 

Without entering into the language of sin, temptation seems to be about agency. Our agency has dispositions. We have tendencies to like things or dislike things. All too often some of our tendencies are for things not necessarily good for us. I have been thinking about choosing to give something up as I was brought up in the traditions of lent and trying to find some meaning to resisting temptation.

 

I have some dispositions for things that I might consider beneficial. I like walking to places that are short distances and avoiding using other forms of transport. I also like walking to new places to have an experience of the local geography in a different way. There are other things in which I abstain from that I would normally be moderate with and I am rarely immoderate with. I am quite a fan of tea and coffee for example. I choose however to avoid tea and coffee most of the time for something simpler. I know that coffee can make it difficult to sleep but even if that were not the case I would still choose to avoid it. Sometimes the reason to do so is just because I can say no.

 

I am reminded of a story from Melvyn Bragg who once said that there periods of time where he goes completely without alcohol just to prove that he can. Bragg also says that there have been times where he had had a lot of alcohol. There is a certain value to moderation. I make a point of not having alcohol very much and when I do it generally is barely more than around 2 pints. Following the Mitchell and Webb sketch that says ‘around 2 pints’ is the optimal amount of being drunk.

 

Asceticism is something I was brought up to value highly. Asceticism is something that prima facie, the current Pope Francis I values a great deal more than his predecessors. Asceticism can mean different things. In my view the enduring value of lent comes in the ways that people find value in abstinence. I have been thinking about what I might abstain from and instead of anything specific I thought about the issue of food waste and waste in general. I have this week made a decision to try and minimise food waste and non-recyclable waste.

 

One way I’ve been trying to do this is reducing what I am getting in food shopping in general and not only trying to be minimal, but also being less wasteful and using more of what is already at home. Thinking this way is forcing me to be a bit more inventive about how I cook things. Not doing a daily food shop as I usually do has led me to think more about using what I already have at home and not constantly looking for things to buy. Doing this has tempted me to buy a lot of unusual things, they are just minor temptations but they are temptations that I would normally succumb to. I have a thing about getting lots of tinned soups and frozen food and I seem to buy more frozen food and tins than I actually consume. What I am trying to do is less of consuming things that are immediately available, but thinking more about what I already have and avoiding a wasteful attitude about it.

 

P.S. On an unrelated note I‘d like to thank the readers from the Russian Federation who had given me a spike in this website’s visits yesterday (saturday 8th March). I’m not sure what that was about but I always like when more people glance at the blog. Thank you for reading.

Received Opinions

Received opinions are the enemy of any informed democracy, and are the enemy of good taste. Whether a received opinion is wrong or right is immaterial. What is material is having enough familiarity with an issue to merit an opinion, or having a reasoned response to some issue.

 

It may be that we know too little about an issue to have an opinion. It may be that we have no view about an issue and yet many around us advance theirs. Having a perspective is overrated. There is such a thing as withholding judgment or simply having no view on an issue.

 

I’ve been thinking about the idea of a received opinion as there are many things in modern European history (by this I mean from the Baroque period to roughly the 20th Century). From my recent Spotify subscription I have decided to make really big musical playlists of composers or musical acts that I would like to be more familiar with. I like things like the BBC Sound of 2014 as I have been following those critical lists for a couple of years. I also have a mini tradition (as of about 2009/2010) of going to a 2-3 day festival called the Camden Crawl where almost all of the acts I see are completely unfamiliar to me, and then I have found that a few months later or a year later, some of them end up being on the radio and I can say that hipster thing of ‘I saw them before they were famous’.

 

Since about 2010 I have made music listening playlists for large collections such as ‘the complete work of Mozart’ or ‘the complete recorded corpus of Glenn Gould’ (part of what inspires me going on ad nauseam about one of my favourite pianist-artists). I have decided to listen to ‘complete works’ lists of other people as well. Last year I listened to Kate Bush, which was interesting – I must admit of my own male biases coming into play in my musical preferences and that I rarely acknowledge the female experience in music both as performers and lyricists. I listened to the complete work of Frank Zappa which required a lot of effort but was very rewarding at points. There was also a significant amount of leitmotif in his work too which would make me chuckle in that pretentious Glenn Gould way (not to say that I think Gould was pretentious – but he parodied it self-consciously).

 

Two composers have struck me in attempting to listen to their ‘complete work’. One is the composer CPE Bach, who is quite difficult to find big lists for on Spotify. The other was a composer that most people seem to forget these days: Paul Hindemith. CPE Bach I read in an article described as ‘proto-Romantic’ (wikipedia’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ piece), which I find an entirely eccentric claim. I also find it odd how standard intro textbooks refer to Locke and Berkeley as empiricists unequivocally. The problems with overview or received opinions are that they oversimplify and simultaneously under-explain. A received opinion may be a good point of view, but when presented as a received opinion tends to be less rigorous and argued for the more times it is copied by other people.

 

I have emphasised to people the importance of coming across primary source material on your own terms and reading it yourself. Instead of reading what other people think of them. It takes much more effort to read a Descartes commentary than it does to read Descartes’ meditations. That is more a testament to Descartes’ readability of the Meditations. When I hear opinions about Kant I can  sometimes guess where they are parrotting their opinions from. (pre-Manfried Kuehn or post-Kuehn’s biography). The beauty of the information age is that the resources for having an informed opinions are out there. With the exception of paid journals and unpublished papers, there’s a wealth of information from which we can contextualise and recontextualise our history.

 

Received opinions are subject to contestation. Some received views seem to linger no matter what, like a bad fart. Like the view that Nietzsche was a Proto-Nazi (which someone like Kaufmann in the 1950s’ successfully contested). Received opinions can obscure more interesting contexts. Listening to Paul Hindemith recently was reminiscent of Bernard Herrman film scores or les six composers such as Milhaud. I was reading a bit about Hindemith and he seems to have a strange set of contradictions: influential to the neo-classical movement of the 20th Century, yet in his post 1910s work shows influence from Schoenberg (as far away from neo-classical as you can get). The work of Hindemith seemed to have its own internal logic, its own sense of narrative and it didn’t quite fit with my received views of the 20th century. By one metric he is a musical conservative, and by another he was part of the avant-garde. I would be willing to consider Hindemith as both.

 

Another example of a received opinion that I’ve also mentioned countless times: when I read ‘Sorrows of Young Werther’ I had no sympathy for the character’s suicide. It was not Romantic and it was not noble. It was not tragic, it was stupid. The story boils down to constituent elements: ‘boy likes girl, girl says ‘we should stop hanging out’, boy has breakdown as a result’. I am not saying that this is uninteresting and it is a life predicament that many people live through. However it is my view that there is nothing didactic about his response except perhaps (and this may be a bit oversight on my part), we accept that his actions are rash and aim to orient our behaviour away from what he does as a form of literary moral instruction. I find it dangerous to place such a high aesthetic value on this work and the way in which it seems to be commonly received suggests that we are more willing to follow the views of others than take our own view. Kant’s motto of the enlightenment is as relevant to musical history as it would be to current political situations: Sapere Aude: have the courage to use your own understanding.

 

‘Musical’ as an adjective

I remember when I did the ABRSM exams, and when reading an assessment of an old school friend (who is now a professional Clarinettist), one word that described a performance seemed exceptionally odd. That word is: musical. Sometimes musical performances are said to be ‘musical’. When I was younger that confused me. I would think to myself: surely all performances are musical, isn’t that a trivial description?

 

In more recent times I am starting to get an understanding of it, is a term of distinction. I’m reminded of people like WH Dray or RG Collingwood, who had the view that having an historical understanding meant really immersing yourself in the period of something. Perhaps people love period dramas because of the way that a certain zeitgeist or je ne sais quoi (literally ‘I don’t know what’), captures a period of history or culture. I laugh for example when I hear ragtime music being played in cowboy movies. Ragtime came about 15-30 years later from the old west periods that are usually the mid-late 19th Century. It’s like playing dubstep in a period drama set in the Thatcher Years.

 

A musical performance can have an appreciation of its period. Although not necessarily. My late piano teacher used to teach me that a piece of music should be treated as an internal unity, with its own spirit. You look at a piece of music and you see it as a living being, what you express is how you perceive that living being, and naturally people will have their own interpretations. I would often conflict with him about this, saying that period sensitivity and context were the crucial factor to interpretation, and not some inward-looking insight. What is the answer to this? Well that’s constantly an ongoing question when it comes to interpreting certain pieces of music.

 

Glenn Gould is often said to be an exemplar of one and both of these views to musical interpretation. Gould often spake of the importance of period and is said to be a fine interpreter of Baroque period pieces and the selected 20th century composers such as the Second Viennese camp, Paul Hindemith or Richard Strauss. On the other hand, many of his choices when performing pieces are not of the musical text. I have a bad habit of stealing a few of Glenn Gould’s quirks when sight reading the Well-Tempered Clavier, slightly adjusting speeds. In a recording of Mozart’s C-Minor Piano Sonata (No. 14 k. 467), Gould’s playing is notoriously off piste (perhaps the best way of describing bad performing for a pianist who is vastly superior to me), and perhaps an unhelpful guide for learning that piece. There are little quirks of Gould’s from the second movement that I sometimes adopt.

 

Sometimes reading a piece of music away from its literal text can be insightful. Sometimes I use sight-reading and going ‘off the tracks’ as a form of improvisation. I often among friends create a form of humour out of music this way. ‘Insert a Chopin reference here’ (C minor cadenza) my friend might request, or ‘how would Mozart have interpreted this?’ (alberti bass), or ‘give this a classical ending’ (V-I-I-I-I-I….I cadence). Communicating humour is one way of expressing musical sensitivity. I would think that a composer like Haydn would hate his music seen as ‘serious’. On the other hand, I think Joplin might consider the his rags played a Steinway as great respect to his music in an era where he did not get the respect he deserved.

 

A musical performance is one that has conviction. Some people I know that will remain nameless are sometimes a little bit more technical in their playing than I am capable of yet cannot carry conviction. This can be due to many reasons: playing-music-by-numbers; not having an appreciation of the musical text; failing to understand the construction of the music; following conventions of playing set by others.

 

To call a performance musical is the highest esteem. A musician takes the performance not as a text, but an organic unity. A musician takes the musical performance as an artist: this can mean a reaction to a piece of music in its context of performance, its cultural-historic location or some other factor which makes the actual physical performing of it irreducible to its mere sum of breathwork or body movements.

 

I think one of the problems I had in a music education is failing to understand the musical. Sure, one could learn chord progressions, fancy italian names for how to pluck a string or memorise key signatures, but where’s the musicality?

 

I take this question to be primitive and foundational. At the same time, it forms as a constituent in the background of more critical questions, such as the discussion whether to be sensitive to a musical text, or to take liberties at interpretation. Or whether to consider the appropriateness of use of instrument and acoustics for a venue in performance. Or specificities in the use of technique from embouchure to fingerings.

On having too much technology

Lately I have taken to the more serious suggestion that I need to immerse myself less with technology. The issue is not whether technology is a bad thing, or the appliances are no longer helpful; but how to effectively create an equilibrium between using appliances for convienience and utility against having to do so much work just to keep them that one is better off without them. Appliances, whether from a Firefox app to an operating system or even a hand blender in the kitchen are servants to ease human effort. Once we commit too much labour to an appliance we become slaves to them and no longer masters. At that point one should consider not using the appliance or removing it.

I shall consider some possible reactions to the overload of so many new applications about:

1. Convergence: When appliances converge, we have two or three devices less combined into one. I use my mp3 player, for instance, as a dictaphone, radio, portable hard disk drive, picture bank, and wireless podcatcher. Oh, not to mention an mp3 player. The iPhone is a good example of a convergent device. I would like to think that eventually we will not depend on so many gadgets but be so integrated into a unified appliance that we can have our pockets free for other things. I suppose another example of convergence is the swiss army knife.

2. Removal: I’ve been so inundated with twitter and google reader feeds at times; telling me useless news about celebrities, moral panics, or what stephen fry is doing for christmas; that I feel the inclination to just purge it from my life. Some RSS feeds are given a probation period where which I give them a chance to get me a nice and important feed, failing that, I drop them. A sometimes therapeutic approach is to imagine how life was before google reader, microsoft outlook, mozilla thunderbird etc; and take life in a different gear. Sometimes this gives us a good sense of perspective and questions whether we really need so many appliances. Being removed from technology helps us appreciate other things.

3. Limitation: because there are so many blogs about, and so many feeds with similar aspirations, one becomes slightly more critical. Choose feeds that say all the news that you want; avoid overlapping interest blogs that repeat stories. Perhaps getting rid of certain interest blogs altogether. There are many reasons why we may be convinced to remove a feed; time is one of them, having too many feeds to really appreciate in little time is a big reason for me. Another reason to remove a feed is that we may tire of the interest or agenda of the blog, or the agenda of the blog may change so radically that it loses interest. Of course, one may want as many feeds as possible, but this is at the cost of spending/wasting too much time looking at feeds or even not looking at them at all.

Concluding, there seems to be a certain kind of equilibrium between wanting to do so much that we have no time for any of it; and getting an efficient amount done. Our goals and desiderata may vary, of course, but the applications we choose are very much an issue of choosing one’s battles. It is unbecoming to see an uncritical use of technology with a lack of selective criteria. A related thought that I had was this: the only technology that the star trek officers normally have on their person at all times is a communicator/universal translator. Given all the applications of the 24th Century, they should choose to have no pockets and a minimal amount of tat. Perhaps that’s a utopia conception we should learn from.

Michael

Which individual do they remember?

Hitchens, in an address of the notion of death, appeals to Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’ notion. Throughout our life, we have transitions to different kinds of people. The person we were as a child may be unrecognisable to our selves of today. We are always going through different phases of life, and as one new phase begins, another dies. In that sense, many people have died many times over before our ultimate demise. Why is the physical death so ultimate and conclusive when we have died many times before? So the thought goes…

We have a habit of immortalising a single kind of person when an individual dies. Although we acknowledge their growth and change, we alays remember them in some singular, unitary kind of way. Michael Jackson escaped his negative press by his death, and became remembered for his career highs. Some, by contrast, will always be remembered for their death. This year, the actor David Carradine had died, few people remember him for his circumstances of his death (autoerotic asphyxiation), but more toward whatever production they remember him most fondly. Kill Bill, for example, or Kung Fu.

Sometimes people can be remembered as their youthful selves, perhaps those to whom it would benefit seeing them as the eternal young. Others, by contrast, may be seen in a moer sagely light as the elder. I recall a discussion about which picture of Brahms one should remember. While Brahms is most often remembered as the mature, bearded man; his career the highlights of his career span throughout his younger years as well. When we consider David Hume, we imagine his empiricist philosophy, and the man sporting a turban. It was a twenty-three year old Hume, however, who had written his Magnum Opus, the Treatise on Human Nature. Why should we not remember Hume in his glorious youth and at his most intellectually fierce.

The person we remember may tell us something of when we may talk of the ‘peak’ of their career. For many composers, we remember them for great works of music but ignore the horrid circumstances of their twilight years. Stephen Foster, composer of great American Folk tunes like Beautiful Dreamer died penilless. It may be seen as an appeal to remember those who had died young, considering how much more they could have done in their lives. The likes of Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin may have been saved of a life of mediocrity. There are many who age well, some who died agelessly young, and those who, by manner of their own poor dispositions, age terribly. Ironically, it is those who try to hark back to a past self.

Michael