dendritic arborization • I like that phrase

disordered thought processes

hidden in the seeming chaos is beautiful, elegant order—at least, I hope that's true.

like a ladder to the sun

posted on May 15th, 2009

For a while, I couldn’t get the Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Zero” out of my head. The lyrics are pretty sparse, but people have come up with interesting interpretations. The idea of the song referring to a prostitute does seem to fit. But, maybe because the bass-line reminds me of an engine, or a propeller, “zero” makes me think of the Mitsubishi Zero, the mainstay of the Imperial Japanese air force during World War II, and of kamikazes.

“Ladder to the sun” leads me to think of Japan. “Get your leather on” also makes me think of fighter pilots. “Try to hit the spot/get to know it in the dark” (while more appropriate for a bomber rather than a fighter) and “better find out where they want you to go” also make me think of aerial combat. “Can you climb, climb, climb higher?” certainly fits the flying idea. “Shellshock” (while more of WWI term) also makes me think of that time period.

Or it could just be that the first time I heard this song, it was right after hearing “Enola Gay” by Orchestral Manœuvers in the Dark

a soundtrack for storming the castle

posted on February 15th, 2009

My oldest friend B had a Commodore 64 too growing up, and he was who I got a lot of my warez from, actually. One of the most addictive, most imagination-capturing games he lent me was The Bard’s Tale, a first-person party-based computer fantasy role-playing game, akin to the more established Ultima series and Wizardry series. God knows how many hours, how many sleepless nights I spent grinding through the cellars and the sewers, getting killed by animated statues and unending swarms of berserkers.

One of the more interesting character classes was the eponymous Bard, whose expertise was playing songs that had magical effects on the characters in your party. (The Bard was also the only character class that could use horns, which, in MMORPG speak, was an AoE attack that didn’t require mana spell points.)

And the song that I found myself ordering the bard to play a lot was entitled “The Traveler’s Tune”, the effect of which was to make your characters more dextrous and agile. I have this memory embedded of wandering the streets of the northwestern section of Skara Brae, trying to assault the guardians posted in front of Harkyn’s Castle.

Turns out, “The Traveler’s Tune” is actually Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, B 78: No. 7 in C Minor (which apparently was also included in the Civilization 4 soundtrack as a tribute to The Bard’s Tale according to Google.)

afraid of apple

posted on May 31st, 2007

Wow. This story has actually hit the mainstream media. The BBC notes that people are paranoid about all that personal information embedded in the DRM-free songs offered on the iTunes Music Store.

What’s the big deal? If you’re not going to pirate the songs, no one is going to have access to this information. And if you are going to pirate these songs, it seems pretty trivial to remove this information.

tempus fugit

posted on May 1st, 2007

My oldest friend whom I’ve known since we were in third grade is getting married to a wonderful woman sometime in 2008, and I can’t help but marvel. It seems like it was just last week we were playing Wing Commander II and listening to the Cure, the Smiths, Soft Cell, and Front 242, or walking up that godforsaken hill while playing some weird word game. There were all those hours spent in front of the Commodore 64 and the 8-bit Nintendo. There was Robotech. Voltron. Bastketball in my backyard. Junior high football. Watching movies at the AMC in Burbank. I could stop and reminisce for hours on end, and my memories may be astray. But it all goes by so fast.


It has been a year already since hope skittered across the ice in my heart, leaving as quickly as she came, or so it seemed. I lose track too easily. The hours melt into the days. The days quickly become weeks. Each time it hurts less, and I worry about that. It’s like frostbite. Or gangrene. When you stop feeling anything, when your toes are numb, that’s when you’re in trouble. But I won’t let that worry me too much. As Charles Bukowski said, “If you don’t have much soul left and you know it, you still got soul.” The days fade into twilight, then come alive again with the dawn.
How is it that a simple smile can make my soul roil? Knowing it means nothing, and trying to let it lie still. But in the suffocating, claustrophobic depths of my soul, there is still a part of me I haven’t killed yet that hopes beyond all hope.

That way lies folly. But still.

We spin around on this patch of soil, this little ball of clay that we call a planet, day in and day out. Each breath I take leads me closer to the grave. But I grow weary with the journey.

Will there be a day where I can stare out to the horizon from some lofty summit with my true love beside me, and think to myself, how far I’ve come! Will there be a day that is not a desperate clawing struggle to keep the shadows from dragging me down back into the darkness, where I’m not climbing with all my strength, all my might, for mere survival? Where I’m not gasping for air to breathe?

I just want a place where I can lie down and be still. Where I can rest and set aside this weary burden that is my soul, if only for a moment. Just one single moment of tranquility. Just an instant of time, where my mind is free from all care and worry.

Just once.

If I just had one single memory of joy untouched by grief, then I might not suffer so. But everything that I touch seems to crumble and fade, and the sorrows outweigh the happiness.

In my mind. And nailed into my hands. All the time. Killing what I fed. And everything I touch turns to stone. —Radiohead “Blowout”

aac

posted on April 5th, 2007

On Slashdot, there is a post about Apple’s deal with EMI to release non-DRM’ed music in AAC format may change how music is distributed on-line. While the conclusions drawn by this article may be suspect, I think there are aspects that are worth considering.

First of all, AAC is a standardized format that was devised by multiple industry players such as Dolby, Fraunhofer, AT&T, Sony and Nokia, and so it’s not completely proprietary like Microsoft’s WMA format or Real Audio. Given the open standard, the creation of a GPL’ed encoder and decoder for AAC was less fraught with licensing issues than creating one for the MP3 format. (For a couple of years, the LAME project, now GPL’ed, was only a patch to the reference code from ISO, which had a restrictive license.)

Secondly, distribution of AACs does not require a licensing fee (although you do have to pay for distributing encoders and decoders)

Thirdly, there are some technical merits for adopting AAC. At lower bitrates (at which most music is encoded), AAC is definitely better than MP3, and at higher bitrates, they are pretty much on equal footing.

Fourthly, DRM-free AACs would allow third-parties to take advantage of the iPod’s dominance of the market.

I would love greater support for open formats like OGG and FLAC, too, but this is probably farther from the horizon.

radiohead saved my life

posted on May 28th, 2006

I am currently watching Showtime where theye have Radiohead in concert (2004), and I am amazed at how the first few chords and guitar strums of their songs can evoke such vivid memories and even bring a smile to my face.

Now I’m sure everyone who was in their teens during the early ‘90’s is familiar with the (subtly parodic) song “Creep,” and both “High and Dry,” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” passed by consciousness thanks to KROQ, but it wasn’t really until OK Computer came out that I listened, really listened, to them.

I owe E to introducing me to the entirety of Pablo Honey, particularly the song “Thinking About You,” which itself is loaded with all sorts of murky memories and tangled history, but which mostly makes me think of barrelling down the I-5 at 80 mph, thinking of women, but I really owe M with making me listen to OK Computer repeatedly, over and over again.

I doubt that I would survived the trials and tribulations of my last year in college if not for the wondrous, anxious nihilism of Thom Yorke et al. OK Computer is a perfect soundtrack to a nervous breakdown.

I was probably destined to fall in love with the album just because of the title of one track, unarguably the best track on the album, and likely Radiohead’s magnum opus at least to date. I speak of “Paranoid Android,” which immediately evokes thoughts of Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even though there is no real connection between the song and the character. (Naturally as I talk about it, Radiohead begins to play it on TV.) The evocation of angst-ridden ennui, simultaneous with the depiction of not-giving-a-fuck, alternating with sense of complete alienation and even a thin shred of redemption, this is easily the most epic of their songs. Probably the strongest memory associated with it is driving down the Pasadena Freeway towards Downtown L.A., as I threaded my way through rush hour traffic to try to get to San Diego. The sky was a perfect, featureless grey-white, not really that much different from the front cover of OK Computer itself, and the wondrous sense of—I don’t know—communal soullessness and the bizarre feeling of loneliness amidst the massing throngs that characterizes rush hour traffic really just washed over me.

The last three of their albums evoke memories of my time in Chicago. I note that for some reason, the memories are always those kinds of things that are extremely depressing, and yet I still look upon them with fondness. “Idioteque” from Kid A seemed to prophesy the Fall of the American Republic (and especially the specifics of September 11th itself), and it reminds me of driving my dilapidated 1988 Ford Taurus down the Eden’s Expressway trying to rendevous with J. The entirety of Amnesia evokes my personally imagined sense of T.S. Eliot’s Unreal City, which in simplified form is the amalgamated mess of memories involving mostly pre-9/11 New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, all rooted in Los Angeles, which is the city of my birth, and was nominally Home. “The National Anthem” reminds me of waiting for the Radiohead concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater in the Bay Area with B, J, and R, evoking an Orwellian atmosphere. I fantasized of CIA operatives, of NSA spooks. The Agents that police the Matrix. It also reminds me of staring at the vast ocean and the seagulls milling about as me and B sat silently in an empty parking lot off of the Great Highway in S.F. And “Sail to the Moon” from Hail to the Thief reminds me of that melancholy day I wandered the streets of Chicago all alone (once again smarting from the ache of romantic rejection), using public transport to navigate to the Tower Records in Lakeview/Lincoln Park. Naturally, as I walked down Clark Ave, it started pouring rain, and it was just so clichéd and pathetic that I couldn’t help but laugh.

I didn’t really appreciate The Bends until quite late, not really realizing what a great album it is. It is perhaps unfairly eclipsed by OK Computer. Clearly the sensibilities are different, but certainly The Bends is more than simply the unformed nidus of what catapulted Radiohead to greatness. Still, in retrospect, The Bends mostly evokes in me trite, teen-ager like angst, about love unrequited, love lost, and the sad emptiness that is the aftermath. However, the sense of absolute bereftness, emptiness, and near-insanity caused by grief, the brutal alienation from the well-adjusted that is the warp and woof of major depressive disorder, is absolutely lacerating to the soul in “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” and if I’m in the right mood when I listen to it, it can drive me to tears. (It would perhaps be one of the songs I’d like played at my funeral, maybe.)

The other thing I can’t help ponder is how many words, how many lines and stanzas, how many sentences and paragraphs I’ve spewed forth onto the electronic ether using Radiohead as a subliminal soundtrack. I wonder if it would be possible to comb through my blog(s) and figure out which ones I wrote while listening to them. It is interesting how other pieces of art almost force you into responding in kind. I think (rather nerdily) of the dialectic between electricity and magnetism, about alternating sine waves not quite in phase, about natural cycles in the ecosystem that are not clear cut but intuitively seem linked in some fashion. I can’t even begin to count the number of hours I’ve spent under the inadvertant tutelage of Thom Yorke et al.

It is odd that, despite the fact that their songs frequently evoke the sense of profound alienation, of giving shape to the vast abyss that lies between me and normal, happy people, it nonetheless makes me happy. I don’t know if it’s simply masochism, or if there is something really healing, cathartic, and redemptive, about giving form to this hollowness that circulates within me and around me, and around Western Civilization in general.