A Tom Wolfe quote

From The Bonfire of the Vanities:

In this little room full of people he was suffering the pangs of men whose egos lose their virginity—as happens when they overhear for the first time a beautiful woman’s undiluted, full-strength opinion of their masculine selves.

(Finally finished it, by the way.)

Moving

Close readers may be aware that I’m moving to a new place. Today we finally met Idiot Landlord (one day late) for keys and walkthrough. Apparently the dishwasher is purely decorative and the much-ballyhooed gas stove doesn’t have functioning electricity, so the oven doesn’t work and the stove only works if you light it manually. There was a Bic lighter on the counter.

I’m not sure why landlords think that owning a house near a university absolves them of providing functioning appliances or, for example, doors. Nor why some people seem to treat renting their house like a hobby more than a professional engagement, refusing to do things like keep appointments or respond to messages. Idiot Landlord seems to enjoy the Winnipeg landlord’s favourite pastime, playing games of Find the Asshole with tenants. The exact malice to incompetence ratio is not clear as yet, but I wish I could just pay my rent on time and not be bothered.

Moving in was fairly easy. The house has no stairs except down into the basement, so the moving complications were minimal (I’m sharing the master bedroom with my girlfriend on the main floor). It turns out I don’t own very much stuff; the hardest thing was the books (five boxes, with two bags still to go, plus library books and a couple of stragglers on my nightstand). There’s nothing else that really merits boxing up, and all I have left to move is my bookshelf, nightstand, desktop computer, clarinets and music, and “misc.” The bed frame went together with minimal intergenerational cussing and the mattress delivery went off without a hitch.

Mainly it was easy because I’m not taking up residence just yet. My girlfriend is working out of town and it’s still a couple weeks before she’ll be able to live full-time in Winnipeg, and I feel somehow it would be churlish if I christened the bed with all my bodily emanations two weeks before she moved in. The spirit of chivalry is not dead.

The house was not in bad condition, all things considered, especially compared to some of the cesspits we visited back in May. It’s got a good location, a lot of space, and parts of it are pleasant or even charming. But the kitchen is grimy. We scrubbed cupboards and drawers for hours and still our cloths turned brown. The cupboard doors have ancient metal handles with a horrid greasy coating. I scrubbed the edge of our slide-out cutting board for hours, and it’s still sticky.

For some reason Idiot Landlord didn’t think we would want to cook meals, so instead of repairing his broken oven he “installed” a toaster oven that looks like someone has been murdered in it. And sifting through the abandoned possessions of the previous tenants, I found the probable murder weapon: a knife handle with no blade, presumably because it was in somebody. There was rusty cutlery, a yellowed tetanus-inducing cutting board, and a greasy old George Foreman grill.

Through elbow grease, wax paper, and compromised expectations we eventually got the kitchen into something resembling shape. I unloaded some kitchen basics while one of my roommates made Kraft Dinner. Then I unpacked some of my books and began to shelve: one bookcase for music books and scores, one half-bookcase (the upper shelves look a little rickety and dubious) for reference works, compendia, and anthologies, and my current bookshelf (once it’s moved) will house novels, single-author collections, nonfiction, criticism, etc.

In other news, I recently turned 22, the oldest I’ve ever been. 1993 is in the sweet spot where the Taylor Swift song is not yet hopelessly passe. My girlfriend got me a nice dinner, a French press, and (most exciting) two bags of books from the Millennium Library sale. The bags are in transit now, so I can’t give a full list, but it’s a huge variety from Margaret Atwood to the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook. Somewhere in there is a novel by the late lamented Tom Piccirilli.

What I’ve been up to

Moving the Manitoban‘s website from one server to another. We recently discovered that we were paying $10 a month for the second-shittiest shared plan our Z-list web host offers. Since it’s the job of no one in particular to keep track of this stuff, nobody knew that we were paying a kid’s allowance for a service barely better than Geocities. And since our web traffic increased by an order of magnitude from 2012-2015, we were starting to bring our host’s feeble server to its knees. So it’s off to a dedicated server from a legitimate provider.

I might write some thoughts about the move here later. There just isn’t a body of knowledge on how to manage websites for student publications, which have problems that other organizations don’t have to contend with.

Speaking of things nobody knows how to do, I will also be helping the Eckhardt-Gramatté Music Library move from its current location to Tache Hall, the new-to-us music building that was supposed to be operational partway through my degree. It’s opening for real in the fall, of course, and many of the amenities are not yet complete (some aren’t even contracted). Apparently there is a body of literature on moving libraries—which, like everything, is a more complicated job than you’d think—but not on moving music libraries. As far as my supervisor is aware, it’s never been done before.

A side effect of the move is that the library is shedding material it doesn’t need anymore and the free bin is doing brisk business. I picked up a pile of scores—full scores to Haydn symphonies and two-piano scores to Mozart concertos—and books on the Kodaly method, opera, and Virgil Thomson. My arms are still sore, but it’s worth it.

I restarted Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism after finishing The Slap. The latter was all right but uneven and at times cringe-inducing. Frye is great as ever but I wish he’d summarize more; he has an Aristotelian hierarchical structure to his ideas but he goes on and on and is unscrupulous with his section headings. It makes it hard to keep track of where you are in the hierarchy, particularly if you take a break in the middle.

This week is the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, and the streets are crawling with theatre people. I decided back in June to sign up as a volunteer to keep myself busy and off train tracks, so I’ve been taking tickets for shows at Alloway Hall in the Manitoba Museum. In fact, I should be there right now, except I’ve come down with something and am sick enough not to feel up to dealing with the public without getting paid. The Fringe machine is ruthlessly efficient, and I’m told someone will be out to replace me.

Most importantly, after 22 years of sponging off my parents, I’ll be moving out to a house on Dalhousie near the university and living on the princely salary of a student newspaper copy editor. The thought that if I don’t make any money I’ll die is an imposing one, but I’m sure it will encourage me to get serious about something or other.

CMEA and things

This weekend I’ve been at the Canadian Music Educators’ Association conference at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, participating in some sessions as an extra player for the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble. The conference’s special guest was Frank Ticheli, who is well-known for his wind band music. He led a conducting masterclass and a seminar on his own compositions.

To my surprise, Ticheli is an excellent conductor. Bad conductors seem to cluster around the wind band world, perhaps because so many of them are school teachers for whom subtlety of gesture is not an important consideration. But Ticheli has an astounding fluidity of gesture, he doesn’t belabour his points, and even when his conducting strays from beat patterns it never becomes so absract as to be useless (many fourth-rate conductors will do this, and they will inevitably refer to it as “being musical”). At the very least, you always get a clear one. The group’s balance and articulation improved considerably when he was demonstrating.

Many people in music have no particular interest in being educators. But Ticheli is actually a gifted teacher; he always seems to know what to say to diffuse anxiety and gently lead students to conclusions through Socratic dialogue. He also has the rare ability to discreetly shut down stupid questions or to reinterpret them as better ones.

I was pleased to learn the story behind his “Loch Lomond” arrangement, which conflates the Scottish tune with “Danny Boy” at the climactic final statement. Apparently this is not due to American ignorance of world geography, as I had uncharitably thought, but was a discovery Ticheli had made while noodling at the piano—the two tunes fit together exactly. The cultural implications of juxtaposing the quintessentially Scottish song with the quintessentially Irish one occurred to him only after he had written it down and considered its contrapuntal implications. He called the band director who had commissioned the piece, who informed him that most Scots thought “Danny Boy” was a Scottish tune anyway, so it stayed in.

The final session was with some beet-red jerkoff in a purple jacket who rambled on about his method of teaching for eighty minutes and had the workshop band play for the last ten. The presentation was an ungrammatical string of the platitudes that are so easily accepted in the music world: inspiration, air support, no two notes the same, always make the phrase go somewhere, respect what the composer created. Some of it, like “style is more important than volume,” was pure gibberish.

The difference between him and Ticheli was staggering. Ticheli is an artist with a keen sense of how he does what he does and how to teach it to others. The second presenter rattled off load of bullshit, and blowhards like this are the reason Canadian music education is a joke and Canada is largely a musical backwater.

Speaking of which, it took us a long time to get ahold of our parts for the workshops, which probably explains some of the second presenter’s rambling. We did three sessions and at all of them there was some trouble in distribution of parts—and it was more or less the same music for all three sessions! This is music that every band teacher has: all the organizers, many of the audience members, and most of the players. It’s literally a matter of someone bringing a small stack of papers with them, but it just didn’t get done. And we were asked to sort parts at the end and assist in teardown. All this for what is allegedly a professional conference. Very amateur hour.

In other news, I was surprised to find myself with a little extra cash, so I stopped off at Nerman’s Books for some things that have been on my list for a while.

Rendezvous With Rama and Shakespeare’s Planet are both covered in C. N. Manlove’s book Science Fiction: Ten Explorations. I’ve read a little Clarke with mixed feelings, and never read anything by Simak, but Manlove’s essays have me tentatively convinced. Interestingly, the hardcover of Shakespeare’s Planet was cheaper than the paperback. I feel like I ripped someone off.

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is by Samuel R. Delany, an author I’ve been distantly interested in for a while, though so far I’ve only read his novella Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones. I have it on good authority that this is a good one, and if I’m lucky it might even have some weird coprophagic gay sex!

The Hugo Winners, vol. 3, is just another collection of short stories. I’m on a short fiction kick right now, bouncing back and forth between Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, The Treasury of American Short Stories, and my Norton anthology. This collection covers a period in the 1970s and looks to include a mix from George R. R. Martin to Harlan Ellison. It includes at least one story that’s a widely anthologized classic by Ursula K. Le Guin.

What Might Have Been and Houses Without Doors were the freebies. Nerman’s gives away a certain number of bargain books with purchases above a certain price, and I was forced to choose from a not very appealing set of options. Peter Straub is an author I’ve at least heard of, so that book popped out at me, and What Might Have Been appears to be a collection of alternate-history short fiction.

Not that I have any time to read right now. I’m halfway through two books as it is, and this weekend I’m copy-editing a long issue of the Manitoban and picking up my brother from the airport, in addition to everything else.

Of interest

Apropos of nothing in particular, here are some quotes from the introduction to Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism.

From p.3-4:

However, the fate of art that tries to do without criticism is instructive. The attempt to reach the public directly through “popular” art assumes that criticism is artificial and public taste natural. Behind this is a further assumption about natural taste which goes back through Tolstoy to Romantic theories of a spontaneously creative “folk.” These theories have had a fair trial; they have not stood up well to the facts of literary history and experience, and it is perhaps time to move beyond them. An extreme reaction against the primitive view, at one time associated with the “art for art’s sake” catchword, thinks of art in precisely the opposite terms, as a mystery, an initiation into an esoterically civilized community. Here criticism is restricted to ritual masonic gestures, to raised eyebrows and cryptic comments and other signs of an understanding too occult for syntax. The fallacy common to both attitudes is that of a rough correlation between the merit of art and the degree of public response to it, though the correlation assumed is direct in one case and inverse in the other.

From p.18:

The first step in developing a genuine poetics is to recognize and get rid of meaningless criticism, or talking about literature in a way that cannot help to build up a systematic structure of knowledge. This includes all the sonorous nonsense that we so often find in critical generalities, reflective comments, ideological perorations, and other consequences of taking a large view of an unorganized subject. It includes all lists of the “best” novels or poems or writers, whether their particular virtue is exclusiveness or inclusiveness. It includes all casual, sentimental, and prejudiced value judgments, and all the literary chit-chat that makes the reputations of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock exchange. […] This sort of thing cannot be part of any systematic study, for a systematic study can only progress: whatever dithers or vacillates or reacts is merely leisure-class gossip. The history of taste is no more a part of the structure of criticism than the Huxley-Wilberforce debate is part of the structure of biological science.

Laptop &c

Got my first ever laptop today. I seem to only buy computers in those odd moments where there is no good version of Windows available on the market. I got my desktop when Vista was brand new and Microsoft tried to push it by discontinuing XP. And this laptop runs Windows 8, which has an offensively perverse interface and tries to hard-sell you on touch screens, tablet computing, and cloud integration. All of which I hate.

With a small number of tweaks and the installation of one program (Start8), you can get it to some semblance of functionality. And, happily, this is the most powerful computer I’ve ever owned.

I’ve been using Richard Corbeil’s set of CDs Vocal Integration with the Feldenkrais Method. As a clarinetist I have a serious amateur’s interest in Feldenkrais; it’s helped me clarify the way the body organizes itself to play an instrument. And as a habitually nervous person with a tendency toward awkward dispositions of the body, I will probably have to keep it up for the rest of my life.

Anyway, the CDs are excellent, exactly like getting a real in-person lesson except you can pause, replay, and do it in your underwear. The lessons themselves are hard-hitting. Since they deal with aspects of vocal production there’s a lot of emphasis on the organization of the tongue, neck, and throat, which are very private areas. When you finish one, you feel almost like crying. It’s as if you’ve been smacked in the head with a 2×4 and resolved an anxiety dating back to childhood all at once.

Late spring roundup

Recital finished in April. The program was 1.5 hours and very physically demanding. Never doing that again. I finished all my coursework—including the final project for a course that meets so infrequently I forgot I was in it—and played an obscene number of other concerts. Then, because I hate myself and secretly enjoy seeing myself suffer, I decided to write an essay for a music pedagogy competition rather than take some time to recover. My rationale was it’s an easy $1000 if it happens to win, and I need either an E-flat clarinet or a saxophone. Probably it’ll never see the light of day outside of clarinet pedagogy circles, where it will be roundly mocked. But the joke’s on all of you because I had to give up the copyright.

This is a roundabout way of saying I graduated. I walked across the stage yesterday and now have my B.Mus. in clarinet performance. Now getting the distressing thoughts that everyone must get at this moment: how can I support myself without getting a job in the salt mines? The next year is pretty much set at this point but I can’t help but worry.

I had my first ever hard drive failure, and it happened to the newest hard drive in my computer: a 1TB Seagate, bought at a time when the $20 difference between a Seagate and a WD was insurmountable (Seagate has by far the highest failure rate). The old drive is still intermittently useable, so I didn’t lose any files even though I’m not very good about backing up data.

My new drive is a 3TB WD, which brings its own problems: apparently, as a way of coercing people into upgrading, Microsoft decided not to support 3TB volumes in Vista and 32-bit Windows 7. Since I still use Vista due to poverty and inertia, this means I can’t actually use a chunk of my hard drive space. Or at least I can’t use a 3TB bootable volume; I may be able to do something else with the remaining space.

I updated my resume and applied for a zillion new jobs, and have heard from maybe three of them. I’ve always had terrible luck with getting jobs. When I follow the conventional wisdom, printing out a load of resumes and hustling to various customer service-oriented places, I get a lot of fake smiles and never hear back from anyone. I’ve only ever been hired by or even interviewed for jobs I found and applied for online. Maybe this is because I’m not a very friendly person.

There also seems to be no logic to who hires me and who doesn’t—I had no trouble getting a job in the U of M Libraries, which pays quite well, but have never managed to get so much as an interview at McDonalds. Even call centres are a crapshoot. Anyway, I will be returning to the Manitoban for the coming year as copy editor and will likely be doing various other things as well, which means I still won’t know how to answer when someone asks me where I work.

I played Just Cause 2, which my brother introduced to me on a lark and which hooked me in minutes. It’s sort of like Infamous with a little more detail and a much more inviting sense of humour. You play as Rico “Scorpio” Rodriguez, voiced by a Serbian crack-addict doing a Pacino impression, and try to topple the communist dictatorship on the island of Panau by causing chaos—which amounts to breaking anything you can.

You have unlimited parachutes and grappling hooks, the latter of which can grab almost anything. The physics operate on cartoon logic—if you’re falling from a great height, you can use your grappling hook to pull you to the ground without injury. And the military hardware. Goddamn, the military hardware.

I’ve been busy with a musical project that I hope to reveal here in a couple days. It’s something just a little off the wall, and if I’m being honest the time spent doing it has been more valuable to me than the finished product is likely to be to anyone else. But I think it’s neat.

I also recently got round to Mad Max: Fury Road, which is absolutely everything you’ve been told it is. Interesting how the explicitly feminist slant of this movie fits into the overall slant of the series. It’s gruesome, and a lot more hard-hitting than anything I’ve seen in theatres recently. Themes of bondage and domination are closely bound up with body horror. Ultimately it’s an optimistic film.

Things move fast and some bits are as visceral as a punch to the gut, but Miller has a Brucknerian sense of pacing and architecture, and a loving craftsman’s sense of how to render the fantastic on screen. I recently rewatched The Terminator, which includes some primitive special effects and some rather unsubtle alternation between shots of Schwarzenegger and shots of a vaguely Schwarzenegger-looking dummy. But even with the stop-motion stutter of the fully revealed T-101 at the end, the robot still looks more realistic than today’s CGI creations. Miller appears to have gone light on the CGI in Fury Road; a lot of the movie was done at 60 MPH with cars that they actually built. And the payoff is incredible.

Escape to the Movies and The Big Picture have been cancelled

Bob Chipman, also known as Moviebob and the Game Overthinker, has been let go from the Escapist. His last video for the site appeared this week. The firing is pretty clearly connected to the closure of Joystiq and the firing of a number of other Escapist regulars—it seems like the video game newsmagazine format is not as profitable as it once was.

This is truly sad news. In recent years even the Zero Punctuation videos have begun to lose their sheen, and the main reason to go to the site was Chipman’s criticism in his articles and his two video series—Escape to the Movies, a weekly review series, and The Big Picture, a loosely formatted show that looked both critically and not-so-critically at pop culture.

Chipman has always been a rare breed—a critic well versed in pop culture and with an interest in the sleazy and cheesy world of science fiction and video games, but who has enough in-depth training in an art form that he can bring some intelligent, sensitive critical judgment to the table. When he agrees with the mainstream point of view, he always seems to go one further by stating his points more eloquently than others have. When he disagrees, he usually has an interesting point that others have overlooked.

It was through his shows that I was turned onto films like Cabin in the Woods, The Raid, ParaNorman, Detention—smaller movies I would otherwise never have heard of, let alone seen. If it wasn’t for his review it would never have occurred to me to take Michael Bay seriously enough to watch the astounding Pain and Gain. I believe his takes on the battles and blowups in pop culture criticism have more accurately and regularly captured the lay of the land than anything else, and his explanations of trivial comic book minutiae are always entertaining. The annual Schlocktober event has always been a great pleasure.

Even his misfires—his initial praise of Man of Steel, his mawkish review of Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, his incessant slamming on the beneath-contempt Sony Spider-Man movies—have left him looking pretty good over all. And this is saying nothing about his work on video games, with which I am less familiar (though I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen).

The loss of Chipman’s shows and column should come as a great blow to anyone who wishes to turn a somewhat serious eye to modern pop culture. While the Escapist has to do what they have to do, and Chipman will no doubt find some other outlet soon, one has to wonder about the strategic wisdom of firing the people who make the site worth visiting. Certainly the “journalism” there is largely worthless, and with the recent culling I have to say that the site is of considerably less value to the community than it was in its heyday, and I can’t imagine I’ll be visiting nearly as often as I used to.

Official announcements from Chipman can be found here and here. His site carries a PayPal tip jar for those so inclined, and he also has announced that he will likely be running a Patreon campaign in the near future.

Rituals

I like the air of mysticism surrounding an orchestral concert. The oboe’s first tuning A is a signal that the ritual has begun and we are about to embark on some occult communal experience.

I also like to play solitaire, and it occurred to me several months after first getting a smartphone that there are probably solitaire apps out there. It seems to me that it is a ritual celebration of the power of organization. There is some connection, whether it be sympathetic magic or confirmation bias, between my solitaire prowess and my effectiveness at accomplishing everyday tasks in an orderly fashion.

Sunday nights are a time for reflection. I have a light drink, fold laundry, watch Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and eat junk food. This is a high point of my week and I am severely distressed if events conspire to make me miss it. No other night works as a replacement. Maybe it’s the moon.

Some crazy shit

During the last week I’ve been dealing with auditions and organizational stuff and even found the time to be interviewed by the publication I used to write for. That, combined with the fact that I only use Twitter when I’m waiting at a bus stop and feeling morbid, means that I missed this sordid business. I am ashamed of but not surprised by it.

I sometimes wonder if these people realize how howlingly insane their antics look from the outside. And then of course the answer is obvious: they do know, but they think that for some reason conventional morality does not apply in this case. Galvanized by the illusion that shared appreciation of a consumer product creates quasi-familial bonds, they become dangerous radicals who might do anything when their “tribe” comes—or, as in this case, seems by some delusional moon-logic to come—under attack.

At this point all I can do is post a link to this old Nick Mamatas essay. I hope the affected people are staying safe and weathering the storm as best they can under the circumstances, because it is vanishingly unlikely that any of the perpetrators will see the social or legal repercussions they richly deserve.

More coverage can be found here, here, and here. Footage of Adam Baldwin being punched in the face can be found here.