Microthought: On Musical Means To Ends

There’s a man
who walks the subway train
each night asking for money
by way of wayward singing of a song.

“Fee-lings” he begins,
nodding to that old standard
but the riffs turn to his hunger:

“I’m hun-gry” in a monotone,

and then the proposed solution–
“I like chi-cken”

a single harmonica tone.

“I like chi-cken legs,
and chi-cken thighs.
I like fried chi-cken,
chi-cken and rice,
Chinese chi-cken”–
with another wheezing tone.

The song
hasn’t changed in years.
By now it’s a routine, and music
is nowhere to be found.

On Shameless Plugs: Evernote

For a long time I used the yellow note pad app on my Apple phone to write these blog posts. But every once in a while I deleted notes accidentally. The problem: that little trash can icon is right next door to the email icon! Touch the trash by mistake and your note is gone–without even a preventative “Are you sure you want to delete?” prompt. So I made some deleting mistakes. And then things got strange. A few times I deleted an old note and then other notes mysteriously deleted themselves as well. This past May was particularly bad in this regard: a whole month’s worth of notes vanished. Maybe the app was open while the phone was in my pocket and I mass deleted stuff? I just don’t know. I should have backed up the notes in the cloud you say? Yes, I should have, but alas I didn’t.

So, I don’t normally use this space to plug products (musical or otherwise), but I’ve been using an app that has been directly useful to the blog so I thought I would mention it.

The app is Evernote. It’s free. It’s simple, clean and green. And it’s hard to accidentally delete notes. In fact, I don’t yet know how to delete a note within the app. Useful for me, and maybe for you too.

Highly recommended. Evernote is here.

Notes On Music Distillations


Hieronymus Brunschwig’s The Book of the Art of Distillation, circa 1500. (Source: Wikipedia)

The music speaks for itself, yet I still feel a need to respond to it.

One way to respond is to copy it–internalizing the parts of the music that resonate with me and use them in my own work somehow.

Another more public way to respond is to translate the music’s most salient attributes into language. The sense of sounds suggest words, and words can be organized into soundful sense.

So for a while now I’ve been writing short haiku-length pieces on music I’m listening to.

But I don’t want to create a play-by-play translation. Instead, I want a snapshot distillation–as if the music was paused and gathered up into a single moment.

Click: got it.

Distillation is an ancient process of purifying a liquid through evaporation and condensation, reducing it to its essence.

Can music be distilled through a few words? If it can, then the value of these words may be that they point listeners back to the music itself.

Music distillations are engagements with sound, a trace of an encounter between listener and music, and an advocacy: I liked this and maybe you will too.

Together, engagement, encounter, and advocacy form a kind of poetic criticism, launching the reader through words back into the flux of music.

For more on the goals of critical writing about music, see my blog post on the excellent thoughts of Wire writer Tony Herrington here.