Sometimes progress diminishes

It’s not news to long-time followers of this blog that I love listening to virtuoso guitarists. Once, long ago in the 1980s I went to see a guitarist named Michael Hedges who astonished the crap out of me. The guy made sounds come out of a wooden flattop that were like nothing else on Earth.

Hedges died a few years later in a car crash, tragically young, and is no longer very well remembered. But I was on IRC yesterday taking music with a friend who mentioned a harmonica and a whistler doing Jimi Hendrix in a “laid back, measured, acoustic style”, and I brought up Hedges because I remembered his cover of All Along The Watchtower as an utterly amazing thing.

Afterwards, in a mood of gentle nostalgia, I searched YouTube for a recording of it. Found one, from the Wolf Trap festival in ’86, and got a surprise.

It was undoubtedly very similar to the performance I heard at around the same time, but…it just didn’t sound that interesting. Technically accomplished, yes, but it didn’t produce the feeling of wonder and awe I experienced then. His original Because It’s There followed on the playlist, and held up better, but…huh?

It didn’t take me long to figure this out. It’s because in 2015 I’m surrounded by guitarists doing what Hedges was doing in the late 1980s. It even has a name these days: “percussive fingerstyle”, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Erik Mongrain, Tommy Emmanuel; players like these come up on my Pandora feed a lot, intermixed with the jazz fusion and progressive metal.

Sometimes progress diminishes its pioneers. It can be difficult to remember how bold an artistic innovation was once we’ve become used to its consequences. Especially when the followers exceed the originator; I must concede that Andy McKee, for example, does Hedges’s thing better than Hedges himself did. It may take memories like mine, acting as a kind of time capsule, to remind us how special the moment of creation was.

(And somwhere out there, some people who made it to Jimi Hendrix concerts when they were very young are nodding at this.)

I’m here to speak up for you, Michel Hedges. Hm..I see Wikipedia doesn’t link him to percussive fingerstyle. I think I’ll fix that.

79 thoughts on “Sometimes progress diminishes

  1. I’ve thought the same thing when I hear about people who don’t understand what all the fuss was about regarding some classic old films. They’ll watch Birth of a Nation or even Citizen Kane and not understand how these films we different from what came before. “What’s so special about cross-cutting and deep focus and iris shots? Those are standard in films, or are clichés.”

    And there is a political aspect to this. People forget (or never know) history and take things for granted, which distorts their perceptions and leads them to advocate bad solutions. “Hey, we’re a rich country, so we can afford more government.” Well, maybe we’re a rich country in large part because we didn’t have more government earlier….

  2. I’ve often expressed this in many contexts as “Never hold the clichés against the ones who created them.” If, for instance, Sherlock Holmes is full of many clichés of the zany, brilliant detective, well…

  3. Saw him in the early 90s. Suffice it to say, my young, guitar-hero-fueled expectations were not met. He did a tongue-in-cheek cover of Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” which I found pretty amusing. The trippy flute interlude with heavy reverb under the blue lights made me wish I was on something (flash forward to Dave Matthews). Also, the seemingly “couples-only” seated audience threw me for a loop (flash forward to Josh Groban). All in all a fine show, but the one thing I couldn’t abide with his musicianship was beating the guitar top like a drum. Till this day, that sort of thing strikes me as extremely hokey. I just don’t get it.

    That being said, I knew people (older than I) who were completely mesmerized by this man’s muses. Now I know why. Thanks for the exposition!

    (Hear, hear on historical parallels!)

  4. Movies and music have already been mentioned above, but I can think of examples in comedy — Lenny Bruce pioneering the scatalogical satirical comedy adopted by Steven Wright, George Carlin, Richard, Pryor — and literature — Carroll John Daly dying broke while Mickey Spillane becomes a best-selling novelist.

    I suspect if you look at the history of most genres in any type of art, you’ll see a similar pattern — the pioneers are frequently surpassed by the next generation that masters the art form.

  5. I’ve seen a friend post something similar about reading Borges for the first time, and I had a similar reaction to some of Borges’ work. Early science fiction is like that, too.

    • >Early science fiction is like that, too.

      Oh, fuck yeah. It took me decades to understand what an astonishing achievement Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (1912) was. IMO, the first hard-SF story – but it’s difficult to evaluate properly because we see it backwards through the idiom that Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell created proceeding from it. Kipling’s rationalist use of imagination, imaginative use of rationality, his expository devices and narrative arc – these became the flesh and bones and soul of science fiction.

      It takes a huge effort of displacement even for me, a historian of SF with deep analytical knowledge of the evolved field’s idioms and forms, to even begin to see With the Night Mail as it appeared in 1912.

  6. “Never hold the clichés against the ones who created them.”

    In Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, he quotes a woman who saw Hamlet for the first time, and said, “What’s so special about it? It’s just a bunch of quotations strung together…”

  7. I’m sorry for your loss.

    Personally, I didn’t know Michael Hedges; but now that you’ve mentioned him, I visited the AllMusic page for his discography. They highlight an album called Aerial Boundaries, so I’ll add that one to my wishlist (unless you give me a different advice). Speaking of which, I’d like to ask you a few questions related to said list. Don’t worry: I do have a mind of my own. But you know how much I value your judgment. ;-)

    Now, the usual nitpicking: it’s “watchtower”, not “watchtowers”. Come to think of it, the plural form makes more sense; but you might want to stick to the canonical title. And, in the same paragraph, you wrote “Jimmy Hendrix”. You did write “Jimi” in the penultimate paragraph, though.

    Oh, and do you like the similarly ill-fated Randy Rhoads?

    • > They highlight an album called Aerial Boundaries, so I’ll add that one to my wishlist (unless you give me a different advice).

      Go with that. It’s a good album.

      >Oh, and do you like the similarly ill-fated Randy Rhoads?

      I wasn’t aware of him when he was alive to form a judgment.

    • >And, in the same paragraph, you wrote “Jimmy Hendrix”.

      Heh. Cut and paste error that I didn’t notice then – that was how my friend typed it on IRC. That’s why I got it right in the last paragraph.

  8. When I heard The KLF for the first time they blew my fucking mind. These days everybody does what they did in EDM — and more; and they are perhaps best remembered for adding fake crowd noises to their more uptempo tracks to make them sound “bigger” and like they were being performed live. When actually “Live from Trancentral” meant “recorded and mixed in the ramshackle house Jim Cauty squatted in”.

    The same is about to happen to female-fronted pop music thanks to Imogen Heap, a multitalented genius who writes, sings, and engineers most of her work, plays all the things, and is self-taught in all of it. Fifteen years from now what she’s doing will be standard issue radio fodder (if we still have radio). How do I know? Pop tartlets are lining up to collaborate with her and learn at her feet; Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande already have.

    In computing, Lisp. Smalltalk and the GUI. Unix. Nuff said. We take the things these systems introduced for granted, as if they’ve always been part of the essential fabric of computing; but nobody was doing what they were doing when they came out.

  9. >>Early science fiction is like that, too.
    >Oh, fuck yeah.

    The flip side of this is when something that old is sufficiently well developed to be able to pass for work a few decades after it’s time, Brigands of the Moon (aka. Moon Plot) by Ray Cummings is one such case.

  10. > Go with that. It’s a good album.

    Thanks.

    > I wasn’t aware of [Randy Rhoads] when he was alive to form a judgment.

    Well, TBH, I don’t think I’ve heard any of his work except Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. Nice song, and nice solo.

    On second thought, I’ve decided to postpone the wishlist-related questions in favor of one that’s – hopefully – more on-topic.
    Among the guitarists you like, there may be some who aren’t virtuosi but whom you like because of the textures they create or something like that (sorry, I know very little about music theory :$). In that regard, I quite like Andy Summers (The Police) and Johnny Marr (The Smiths). What say you?

    • >In that regard, I quite like Andy Summers (The Police) and Johnny Marr (The Smiths)

      Summers was occasionally very interesting. There was at least one Police single on which he did a solo that was completely atonal in the middle of a pop song and made it work. I admired that.

      I’m not at all familiar with Johnny Marr and The Smiths.

  11. You’re not familiar with the Smiths? Have you been living in a shack in Montana? I bet there are actually a number of songs of theirs which you actually know, but don’t know you know, #1 of which might be “How soon is now” https://youtu.be/hnpILIIo9ek They were insanely influential in the `80s.

    • >#1 of which might be “How soon is now”

      Oh, yeah. I remember that one. I thought it was wallpaper. Uninteresting.

      >They were insanely influential in the `80s.

      I’m guessing I wouldn’t like the bands they influenced much, either.

    • >Do you like anything in the Velvet Underground family tree?

      Some of it. There’s a legendary quote from some rock critic that only 5000 people listened to the first VU album, but all of them formed bands. Some of those bands were very good; others not so much.

  12. I must be getting old-timey when a reminiscence like this evokes a long forgotten (and very fond) personal memory such as yours. Mine is a Tuesday night in February 1978 at Tipitina’s in New Orleans listening to Patti Smith and her eclectic style of both music and vocals. She didn’t perform, she let you peek into her world voyeuristically. Unlike the recent covers, Because The Night in the original was angry and possessive and defiant. I still have my Heavy Horses vinyl album.

    Rumor has it that she is touring again this year. Now THAT is surreal.

  13. @ ESR

    > Summers was occasionally very interesting. There was at least one Police single on which he did a solo that was completely atonal in the middle of a pop song and made it work. I admired that.

    Hmm. Could that be “Synchronicity II”?

    > Oh, yeah. I remember [“How Soon Is Now?”]. I thought it was wallpaper. Uninteresting.

    OK, but do you like that tremulous guitar sound?

    • >Hmm. Could that be “Synchronicity II”?

      No. I searched; it was Driven to Tears from the Zenyatta Mondata album.

      >OK, but do you like that tremulous guitar sound?

      You know, it’s interesting that you pick out that detail, because listening to the track just now, I was thinking that was the only detail of the wallpaper I actually liked. I was thinking it deserved a better use than underpinning the singer’s irritating whine.

  14. Hmm, maybe. I don’t even like Jimmi (Jimmy? Jimi?) Hendrix that much, but every time I hear Purple Haze or America (or was it Star-spangled Banner?) I am struck by how innovative he was.

    @Ed I still like Nineh Cherry and Buffalo Stance too!
    @Foo I heard Lou Reed sing “Heroin” last year, for the first time! I was amazed at how good a song it is.

    Vivaldi e.g. Four Seasons, or even Fur Elise (that everyone seems to be taught as part of “Music Appreciation”) held up well. They get re-done, re-arranged, like a theme and variations. It is a source of delight for me and countless others, for decades and centuries. Movies like The Seventh Seal, Patton and Bladerunner are revelations, every time I re-watch them.

    ESR says:
    >I’m here to speak up for you, Michel Hedges. Hm… I see Wikipedia doesn’t link him to percussive fingerstyle. I think I’ll fix that.

    You’re doing the right thing. I’m proud of you. You are keeping his memory alive.

  15. > …it was Driven to Tears from the Zenyatta Mondata album.

    But that one wasn’t released as a single; that’s why I didn’t even consider it. Good song nonetheless. And I agree: the solo is unusual and works. :-)

    > I was thinking it deserved a better use…

    You could do that yourself, then. Seriously, man – I mean, you do play guitar. If you do it and upload the result, I’ll be happy to listen to it.

    > …than underpinning the singer’s irritating whine.

    I like Morrissey’s singing, but must admit it’s peculiar enough not to be everyone’s cup of tea. BTW, the Smiths are one of my favorite bands. :-)

  16. It is news to me, actually. I tend to categorize music as “skill based” vs. “composition based” and I was assuming you must like composition based music more. It is a programmer thing, being more interested in how music is written (composed) than played (skill). Structure over skill. Algorithm over fingerplay. I was assuming you are into this, it would be a typical programmer thing. I knew you like prog-rock, but I assumed you mean the Dream Theater type more composed types of rock. Or Ozric Tentacles, which is an almost symphonic level composition on guitars. Of course, it is far more doable in electronica, but everybody who lived through the seventies is obviously very attached to guitars.

    (I have the weirdest musical tastes of them all. Just percussion, just rhythm, no melody need apply. I.e. Le Tambours du Bronx, or when live konga players accompany techno DJ music.)

    • >It is news to me, actually. I tend to categorize music as “skill based” vs. “composition based” and I was assuming you must like composition based music more.

      You are right and I do, but the distinction is not very prominent in the case of the kind of virtuosi I am most interested in because they are mainly players of their own music. Someone like Michael Hedges composes by pushing at the edge of his own technical skill, and vice-versa.

      For the record, I like Ozric Tentacles quite a lot and am mystified that they remain almost unknown in the U.S. My feelings about Dream Theater are more mixed, as I dislike their vocalist and sometimes find their rock-opera pretensions rather silly. I much prefer listening to Dream Theater all-instrumental side projects like the Liquid {Tension|Trio} Experiment albums or Petrucci’s one solo album.

  17. That’s why when I watch Citizen Cane, or my kids watch Star Wars, we really don’t get what all the fuss was about. :>

  18. I guess this is the antithesis of Deadly Genius? The artists innovated in their respective genres, but nothing so drastically revolutionary that talent could not follow?

    As far is innovators that were surpassed by those that came after, I’m reminded of the time my dad pulled out his old Kraftwerk albums for a listen.

    > percussive fingerstyle

    So *that’s* what is is called.

    • >As far is innovators that were surpassed by those that came after, I’m reminded of the time my dad pulled out his old Kraftwerk albums for a listen.

      Yeah, that’s a good example. Groundbreaking in their day but left far behind since. I also find the opposite phenomenon interesting – innovation from long ago that that still sounds miraculously more fresh than it should considering how many have built on it since.

      My single favorite example of this is probably Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow from 1974. Enormously influential, endlessly imitated, and yet still sounds like it could have been recorded last week rather than 40 years ago. A few other jazz fusion albums from around then have that same quality; Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior might have been the best.

      >So *that’s* what is is called. [percussive fingerstyle]

      Yes. Wikipedia hints this is recent coinage. But it’s apt, descriptive, and crisp; I think it’ll stick.

  19. “Never hold the clichés against the ones who created them.” If, for instance, Sherlock Holmes is full of many clichés of the zany, brilliant detective, well…

    How did I get to the bottom of this thread and find that nobody mentioned Tolkien? :-(

  20. Imogen Heap, a multitalented genius who writes, sings, and engineers most of her work, plays all the things, and is self-taught in all of it.

    People like that leave me torn between feeling dreadfully inadequate, and wondering if they’re single and/or poly. Which they are not. :-(

    (see also: Indie game designers who do all their own programming, artwork, music, and sound effects)

  21. It’s not all doom and gloom – there are still plenty of recordings that sound as fresh and innovative as they did on the day that they were released, and haven’t been surpassed even by later material by the same artists, let alone their imitators. From my own (admittedly very mainstream) experience:

    “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia” by the Who – admittedly “Tommy” was the first and most acclaimed rock opera, but musically it was nowhere near as sophisticated as those.

    Tori Amos’ “Little Earthquakes” – haven’t yet found another female soloist managing to pack in so much angst (no, not even you, Alanis).

    The Electric Light Orchestra’s first album.

    Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” – the original, not the latest reworking.

    Various 1-hit wonders such as “Spirit in the Sky” and “In the year 2525”.

    You’ll guess from this list, however, that as far as I’m concerned the innovation ran out, at least as far as mainstream listening goes, at least two decades ago…

    • >“Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia” by the Who

      In general I think the Who’s stuff has aged remarkably well. They were my favorite of the British Invasion bands back when that was a thing; I liked them better than the Beatles and the Stones then, and still do.

      I found out decades after the fact that music industry marketers of the time thought of the Who as the British Invasion choice for bright people. Amusing in view of their leather-jacketed East-End tough-guy image, but yeah; they were more introspective than the Beatles or Stones.

      Much of the Beatles’ output still sounds pretty fresh. Can’t say the same for the Stones; part of the problem, I think, is that production on a lot of old Stones tracks was so tinny that they’d sound dated even if the musical ideas didn’t.

  22. @ ESR

    > Yeah, [Kraftwerk]’s a good example. Groundbreaking in their day but left far behind since.

    Didn’t know you were into electronic music. I’m not, but am open to it. In fact, I know and like a couple of instrumentals by Vangelis, and have been listening to Yellow Magic Orchestra in recent years. Any other act you’d recommend?
    BTW, do you know Meta-eX? They use Emacs to improvise electronic music live!

    > Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow

    Ha! I have Truth on my wishlist. Looks like there’ll be another Jeff Beck album there. ;-)

    > Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior

    You inadvertently keep giving me wishlist material! Bwahahahaha!

    • >Any other act you’d recommend?

      Not really, I haven’t been following electronica recently. But you give me a vague hunch that you might like Ozric Tentacles.

    • >I humbly submit the following for critique and comment:

      You guys are good players. There are interesting bits in there. But the pacing and macro-level structure are weak; too much wandering from one pretty detail to the next, not enough overall narrative arc or return to a signature thematic idea.

      When you do it again, shorten it by about 40%. Cut out the long intro and the filler. Wander around, yes, but always return to a recognizable version of the theme’s first statement. Record with a bassist who can play understated but solid rhythm, or possibly with a hand drummer. Have more dynamic variation, especially in the violin part.

      (Sigh. In another life, I would produce records. And I’d be good at it.)

      Oh, and by the way, kudos to you twice: once for having the cojones to cover McKee’s Drifting and again for not sucking at it. I was never that skilled – my ear would’ve been up to it, but not my hand technique.

  23. esr> Sometimes progress diminishes its pioneers.

    I had a similar experience recently after watching some Star-Trek episodes from the original series. I caught myself yawning and asked myself what I was missing, since everybody seems to love it so much. Then I thought to myself: This series was shot in the sixties, in the middle of the Cold War. The ship has an American captain, yet there is a Russian on the bridge, along with a woman and an Alien, and everybody works together just fine. Also, inter-racial kissing is cool, the American constitution exists to be used rather than put in a shrine and worshiped, and just because a book fell out of the heavens, that’s no good reason to accept its content as one’s moral code. All this must once have been daringly edgy. It just isn’t anymore. Hence my yawn.

    It’s good to know I’m not alone with this kind of experience.

  24. @ ESR

    > Amusing in view of [the Who’s] leather-jacketed East-End tough-guy image…

    Leather? That sounds more rocker than mod.

    > …but yeah; they were more introspective than the Beatles or Stones.

    So were the Kinks, I believe. I’ve yet to listen to their concept albums, The Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), both of which apparently express nostalgia for the British culture of yore. As an admirer of the United Kingdom, I find that theme appealing.

    > Much of the Beatles’ output still sounds pretty fresh.

    Phew! After you panned one of my favorite bands (the Smiths), I feared you might dislike my top favorite one: the Beatles. Sure, you’d written a filk parody of “Lady Madonna”, but it might have been mockery rathen than a tribute. Now I know it was indeed a tribute. ;-)

    > Can’t say the same for the Stones

    I like the Stones; I used to rate them as my second-to-favorite band. But nowadays, I’m not so sure. Still, they did create some admirable songs, such as the acoustic, waltz-like “Backstreet Girl”.

    > you give me a vague hunch that you might like Ozric Tentacles.

    Probably, but aren’t their albums hard to find?

  25. Well, I don’t think that progress has diminished JS Bach, even if his compositions were out of fashion now and then. Unfortunate that no sound recordings of his performances survived.

    Jorge – re Ozric Tentacles, and others, Amazon is your friend. At least until they conquer the world.

  26. “There are interesting bits in there. But the pacing and macro-level structure are weak; too much wandering from one pretty detail to the next, not enough overall narrative arc or return to a signature thematic idea.”

    Yup. It took me a long time to not let my technique get in the way. “What you leave out is as important as what you put in”, as they say.

    “Oh, and by the way, kudos to you twice: once for having the cojones to cover McKee’s Drifting and again for not sucking at it. I was never that skilled – my ear would’ve been up to it, but not my hand technique.”

    Y’know, it wasn’t nearly as hard to conquer it as you might think, but I could be suffering from a musical version of the illusion of transparency, given fact that I fall somewhere between ‘very gifted’ and ‘near-prodigy’ on the scale of musical talent. I eventually got it good enough that it was hard to distinguish from the original.

    I’d like to put out an album this year or the next. I’ll send it along when I do.

    • >Y’know, it wasn’t nearly as hard to conquer it as you might think, but I could be suffering from a musical version of the illusion of transparency, given fact that I fall somewhere between ‘very gifted’ and ‘near-prodigy’ on the scale of musical talent.

      Heh. So do I, actually. But you’ve obviously put more effort than I into practicing so your skill level matches the innate knack in your brain wiring, and more power to you for that. I was – not exactly lazy that way, but I allowed other kinds of skill development to be what I superinvested in, while in music I coasted shamelessly on my talent.

      I don’t exactly regret the choice; my ability was good enough to get me on a couple of albums, and be in some amazing jam sessions, and to pull chicks (which, let’s be honest, is what young men want out of it anyway) and instead I trained myself to be really, really good at programming.

      Both outcomes were quite satisfactory, but I’m aware that it could have been otherwise. With a few different decisions in my teens I might have become a heavyweight pro musician with an amateur interest in software.

  27. The OP lists a few excellent guitarists worth checking out.

    Here are others:

    Trevor Gordon Hall, in particular ‘Kalimbatar’ and ‘Outside the Lines’.
    Craig D’Andrea
    Daniel Schackinger, has a technique-driven style that manages to be tasteful
    Phil Keaggy, falls squarely in the category of transcendent guitarists who you later discover have incredible singing voices as well. Check out ‘Salvation Army Band’, prepare to weep like a little girl.
    Paul Wardingham An Australian instrumental metal guitarist. Think Meshuggah, without the screaming vocals and with Steve Vai on lead. “Futureshock” is probably the best introduction.

    • >Paul Wardingham An Australian instrumental metal guitarist.

      Impeccable technique and phrasing, but after four tracks I’m not hearing anything that makes him stand out from half a dozen other excellent shred stylists. (My current favorite in this category is Angelo Vivaldi, who brings a freshness to the form I haven’t heard in a while.)

      >Trevor Gordon Hall, in particular ‘Kalimbatar’ and ‘Outside the Lines’.

      “Kalimbatar” is cute but strikes me as more of an amusing stunt than anything else. I prefer the expressive fingerstyle playing on ‘Outside the Lines’; messing with the machine heads that way is a stunt, too, but IMO put to better use.

      >Craig D’Andrea

      Good players. Suffers by being heard right after Hall because he stays pretty much inside the lines. When I want this kind of feel I dig up a Tommy Emmanuel track I haven’t heard before.

      >Daniel Schackinger

      If it’s Steffen Schackinger, which is what my search found…Yes, very tasteful, I like it. Has some shredder chops without sounding mechanically timed in the way shredders often do. Kind of makes me think of a younger Larry Carlton – obviously has a very bright future as a session player if he wants it.

      >Phil Keaggy,

      Oh, very pretty. I like the dreamy Celtic-folk flavor of Shades of Green a lot. There is a very deep well of musicianship in this man, and possible the best deployment of a Paulverizer-like tape looper I’ve ever heard

      I think I like Schackinger best out of this group, especially when he’s playing towards the harder, more rock-influenced end of a jazz-centered range. The interplay between styles there is interesting. But Keaggy makes a strong showing.

  28. “I was – not exactly lazy that way, but I allowed other kinds of skill development to be what I superinvested in, while in music I coasted shamelessly on my talent.”

    Part of my devotion to guitar sprang from growing up in rural Arkansas. I had an almost religious collision with the awesome majesty of theoretical physics and mathematics when I was around 13; I read a Brief History of Time, borrowed Calculus books from a family friend, and pestered my brighter teachers incessantly with extra questions.

    Sadly, having non-numerate parents, no peers who shared my interest, and a complete lack of opportunity to explore on my because I didn’t have regular internet access until I was 20, I finally just gave up on all that.

    I didn’t know anything at all about programming until about 19. Since then I’ve learned some Javascript, python, and Ruby. I like to think that, had I had an earlier exposure, I could’ve been great at it.

    Tepid, uninspired teaching throughout high school helped seal an intellectual coffin that remained unopened until a few years ago, when an interest in Friendly AI obliged me to peek at the strange and unfamiliar ‘discrete’ variety of mathematics.

    So in my formative years, it was music into which I poured all my frustration, passion, and intelligence.

    • >So in my formative years, it was music into which I poured all my frustration, passion, and intelligence

      Heh. You’re my evil twin, or something.

  29. >> Phil Keaggy

    Oh, yeah! I forgot about this guy!

    Isn’t he the 60-70s guitar-hero equivalent to 80-90s Allan Holdsworth? You know, the go-to “don’t ask me” self-effacing enginou response for meteoric talents? (i.e. Clapton|Keaggy >> Van Halen|Holdsworth)

  30. @Trent

    >Since then I’ve learned some Javascript, python, and Ruby.

    Whenever I wander outside the rather walled-garden business programming I do at the job, I get the impression that this kind of mainstream programming is uncomfortably much configuration oriented, as opposed to my business programming which is more like just sit down and write because everything installed by default that you need for writing your code.

    For example I got interested in using the Pandas Python framework for data analysis. Install ActivePython as my work laptop is Windows based. Read a tutorial. pip install numpy. Okay. Pip fails because some pkg_resources is missing. Google it. Various solutions, all Linux based. None of them work. Even if I solve it the next question is what editor to use. So I figure mainstream programming requires a lot of hoops to jump through before you can finally just sit down and write the code. While in business walled-gardens often you have everything installed in one package, perfectly configured and all.

    I understand why elite hackers like it this way, they want to fine-tune their environment. But I think the idea of prepackaged distros should be used more extensively here, not in the sense of a full operating system, but for example it would be so neat if someone would make a Python for data analysis package, combining Python, all the prerequisites for Pandas and itself, and editor, perhaps examples, everything in one installer. Zero configuration, just sit down and write the code. That is how we typically have it in business oriented walled gardens.

    (I figure it depends on what you find easy. To me coding is not hard, it is more like clear writing, clear expression of ideas. Configuration, “IT stuff” I always found hard. My programming approach is more humanities based, primarily writing code for humans to read, less STEM based I figure.)

    To steer more ontopic, live-coding music with Emacs sounds super cool, http://meta-ex.com/, http://toplap.org/emacs-live/ but again packing Clojure, Emacs, Overtone, and the basic most often used sound algorithms into one installer would be pretty cool IMHO.

  31. > But nowadays, I’m not so sure.

    How much has “rock and roll” changed in the last fifty years?

    The Stones have been touring longer than that…

    I’m not a fan of theirs, but they’ve been at it long enough that four or five of their tracks would make it into my “Top 20” list.

    And some of the band’s founding members are still playing. Some bands have none of their founding members, but they’re still out there performing. Corporate entities can do that sort of thing.

    Heck, even individuals can. Elvis has been dead for nearly four decades, but even in my small town I can pick between several Elvi if I want one to perform for a party.

    > ping elvis
    elvis is alive
    >

  32. Any other act you’d recommend?

    You can’t talk about modern electronica without bringing up Daft Punk. I’m sure Maynard will back me up here given their very close and spot-on ties with the Tron franchise. But again — DJs like Zedd are already imitating their acid-jazz influences so future generations will wonder why Daft Punk are such a big deal when they sound like everyone else.

    Also, these days every trance DJ is tryna be Armin Van Buuren…

  33. > …the Who as the British Invasion choice for bright people. Amusing in view of their leather-jacketed East-End tough-guy image, but

    Well, they were from West London actually, and still are – Pete Townshend lives just a few miles away from here. Both surviving members are still going strong at nearly 70; saw them playing the whole of “Quadrophenia” a couple of years ago, and they could still blow most modern acts away with their energy. Even the support band they had were pretty decent.

  34. esrIn general I think the Who’s stuff has aged remarkably well.

    Speaking of The Who, how do you feel about the old incarnations of Dr. Who? Diminished or still fresh?

    • >Speaking of The Who, how do you feel about the old incarnations of Dr. Who?

      Amusing historical note: I was living in London in the 1960s and therefore probably saw first-run some of the lost episodes.

      I’ve always had very mixed feelings about that show. Sometimes it was actual SF, but sometimes just a bad parody of same that I fear had negative effects on peoples’ ability to get it about the real stuff.

  35. @Shenpen
    The current best practice workflow for for most languages is putting a list of all the libraries you want to use into a well known location in your project directory and to call the language specific package manager to install them. An important benefit of that is that when I clone a project that uses this I also just have to call the package manager to get all the libraries I need.

    One problem with using bundles of interpreter/compiler, libraries, and editor is that as soon as you want to mix and match stuff from different bundles they get in your way instead of helping you.
    Also using an editor that is provided by such a bundle feels to me like going hiking with shoes that were provided by the hiking trail I am walking on.

  36. Electronic music acts:

    I was into this in the nineties mostly, did not like the direction it went around 1999 or so (Paul Oakenfold becoming a superstar playing shallow sh*t and so on). One thing I should mention that electronic music is unusually sensitive to what equipment you listen on it. Rock is mostly in the middle frequency ranges, so I can play a record on a potato, but electronica often has high treble and deep bass which takes some decent speakers or headphones to give back properly. Also, no MP3s, or worst case 320K MP3’s not 128K. Best cheap compromise is quality DJ headphones and CD’s / .wavs. I have not tested .ogg yet. Or if hi-fi equipment, something like Onkyo, not Phillips. This does not matter much for rock, but for things like drum and bass does. Anyway what I remember from back then:

    – Future Sound of London Series, experimental, interesting, later imitated by other cities / countries, usually good stuff.

    – LTJ Bukem, basically anything. The genre is called “dolphin jungle”, with “jungle” (fast d’n’b rythim and high pitched tunes, sounsd better than this description does)

    – Infected Mushroom, a weirder kind of goa trance.

    – Astral Projection, sillier kind of goa trance but for me it is very calming.

    – Juno Reactor, another goa act

    – Sven Väth, hard techno, clever guy. Esp. the The Harlequin, the Robot, and the Ballet-Dancer album

    – Chris Liebing, similar hard techno as Väth, this sub-genre sometimes called schranz in Germany, I happen to like it, energizing, and it sounds roughly like that word does

    – The Orb, such as Fluffy Little Clouds, pretty much historical

    – Breakbeat Era, breakbeat genre, I liked the song Our Disease

    – drum and bass: Roni Size, DJ Krust, for me it was a bit boring as I did not smoke pot and I figure it is pretty much that kind of music where it does not hurt to, as it makes one more sensitive to deep bass

    – more experimental stuff: Aphex Twin, Autechre

    – more overlap with industrial: KMFDM

    – Post-2000, High Contrast is cool, I cannot find a link now but he had good mixes on the BBC Radio 1 website (a good place to explore electronic music). Also, maybe, Trentemoller.

    – not quite electronica, but close, industrial, and Spanish, @Jorge you will laugh your ass off, it is really funny in an unintended way: Hocico, such as the Odio Bajo El Alma album or the Signos de Aberración.

    • >– more experimental stuff: Aphex Twin, Autechre – more overlap with industrial: KMFDM

      I like what I’ve heard of Aphex Twin and i was a *big* fan of KMFDM. The rest of this is unknown to me.

  37. From the same time frame is Dominic Gaudious, he also had amazing finger work and some percussion while playing.

    Thanks fo the post, I have my stack of Hedges CD’s playing now. I think I kept the Windham Hills label alive for years with all my purchases

  38. >I’ve always had very mixed feelings about that show. Sometimes it was actual SF, but sometimes just a bad parody of same that I fear had negative effects on peoples’ ability to get it about the real stuff.

    I’m nodding at this.

  39. I usually find myself able to “control for time period” when I consume art. For instance, if special effects look amazing for 1950, or characterization is great from a 1930s pulp story, or if a work is unusually anti-racist for the 1950s, I recognize that fact and am able to adjust for it, so I can enjoy it the way I would have in the past. Even if it pales in comparison to modern works.

  40. @Ellie Kesselman

    >Vivaldi e.g. Four Seasons, or even Fur Elise (that everyone seems to be taught as part of “Music Appreciation”) held up well. They get re-done, re-arranged, like a theme and variations. It is a source of delight for me and countless others, for decades and centuries.

    Nothing can touch Pachelbel’s Canon in D for that. If you have not heard the “Pachelbel Rant” by Rob Paravanian you owe it to yourself to do so now.

  41. Listen to Suni McGrath. Hardly anyone has ever heard of him and te has almost nothing in print. “Cornflower Suite” is great if you can find it. And speaking of dead guitarists, John Renbourn passed away on March 26.

  42. I first saw Michael Hedges (with no hint as to who he was) at the Country Fair. I was standing right at the stage fence and I could see what he was doing to produce the sound he was. I remember thinking that if I wasn’t watching, I’d think this was a 3 or 4 overdub session at the studio.

    A couple of years later, he played a date at the Shnitz, and I dragged 4 friends along, raving about his technique. 3 of them were guitar players, and everyone was blown away by his technique. After the concert, we repaired to a local watering hole, and were talking about the concert, and my wife had the best line: “I don’t know how he does it. I just love the music.”

  43. > the “Pachelbel Rant”

    Lol, Monster! I just heard that for the first time about a month ago. It is hilarious! I listened to it again a few times after reading your comment :)

    You know, I’m getting really bored,
    Because all songs have the same damn chords.

    Punk rock is a joke,
    Cause it’s really just baroque…
    Pach-a-bel!

  44. @The Monster

    LOLZ on the Pachabel Rant. This is exactly true!

    One wonders how copyright lawsuits can even emerge in music, as the inherent information entropy in music–as demonstrated from this one song alone–almost always trends toward 0%.

    How did set theory just pass this one by? Surely it would have been “Centaurized” by now, as it is in chess.

  45. I also remember going to a Michael Hedges concert in 1986 or 1987 and also being awed by him. Listened to him through the 80’s and into the 90’s and hadn’t thought or heard of him since then. Am grateful you brought this up, ESR, he deserves recognition.

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