Thursday, May 20, 2004

Dot Matrix printers, metronomes, Kiss, Jingles and the visual pleasures of Judas Priest

Yesterday, I ordered a strange, hopefully good CD, to whit: [The User]: Symphony #2 for dot matrix printers .

The User is a couple of Canadian “sound sculptors” (eeeew) managed to put together a piece performed entirely by old stinky dot matrix printers on the appropriately titled Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers. Yes, believe it or not, these two composed enough text files to automate 14 dot matrix printers, much like the ones used to print giant “Happy Birthday Baby Grunt” banners on many sheets of computer paper, the kind with the Panzer treads on the side.

Granted, the concept seems limited, but I’ve heard snippets online and it's surprisingly harmonious. The thing that drives me kookoo thinking about is how they worked out the sequencing. It’s purely TEXT DRIVEN. They aren’t using sequencers, they are using they’re using word processing documents as punch cards, or more precisely, piano rolls.


I’m a sucker for tinkerer composers, though.

Take for example, Gyorgi Ligeti, the mad Hungarian responsible for the madness inducing Lux Aeterna (the creepy massed choral piece that launched a million bad acid trips during 2001: A Space Odyssey), also did a fun little ditty that plays in the same space as The User (stupid name, by the way). Poème symphonique, for 100 metronomes, 10 performers & 1 conductor is as loopy as it sounds. 10 dudes wind up 100 metronomes, set them at different speeds, and at the conductor’s cue, pop the collective clutches then stalk out of the room in silence. I am not sure if they are wearing tuxes. The piece ends when all the metronomes have died.

The effect would be a chaotic lump of ticking, literally winding down to a slow steady stutter of clicking, then silence. I guess technically this is an easier piece to pull off than the dot matrix dealie, since it’s process oriented versus orchestrated. BUT IT’S STILL FUCKED UP.

Probably closer to the printer piece is the work of Conlon Nancarrow. He’s a dead 20th century American composer that was endlessly vexed by the limitation of human musicians. He wanted tempo, more tempo, goddamn it, and banana fingered Homo Sapiens couldn’t HANDLE IT, RIGHT? So, taking matters into his own temporally limited hands, he turned to the only thing capable of doing what in his mind needed to get done: the player piano. Pre-preset Rhumba, this is what one did if one were to create machine music and didn’t have the necessary square footage to accommodate a vacuum-tube monstrosity. Some weirdos were of course futzing about with sine-waves and tape loops those day, but Conlon was a sucker for a nice melody, albeit one played at infernally whacked out time signatures.

Nancarrow managed to punch out 50 of these Etudes. The resulting pieces are actually very pretty, with a sort of Earl Hines feel to them. Earl Hines with severe aphasia.


After all this pointless meander, I’d like to turn to a startling realization I had yesterday walking home from the bus stop: Beth by Kiss is the dumbest song in the world.

For those not in the know, Beth is a song written by the cute member of Kiss, Kitty Cat (or Pussy) Peter Cris. This problematic on a superficial level as Peter Cris is of course the drummer. Drummers drum. Venturing beyond the drums has historically proved disasterous, if not for the drummer in question, then for the listening public, viz Phil Collins, Don Henley, the lyrical content of the entire oeuvre of the Ayn Rand gospel group, Rush, all of which was written by the braided rat-tail drummer Neil Pert.

So, acknowledging this historically deadly deficit, let’s turn our attention to the song content itself. Beth is about a guy who has to stay late at work. That’s it. The song is his keening wail of longing to his homebound wife/girlfriend, presumably over the phone:

“Beth I hear you calling/
But I can’t come home right now.
Me and the boys are playing/
But we just can’t find the sound.
Just a few more hours/
and I’ll be right home to you/
I think I hear them calling.
Oh, Beth, what can I do?
Oh, Beth, what can I do?”

So, here’s Peter, evidently working on some collaborative project with his peers, who suddenly freaks out because he’s going to be couple of hours late. He rushes to get on the phone with his wife to tell her (as he should). While he’s on the phone, Ace Frehley, no doubt wanting to leave as soon as possible himself, gives him a “Uh, Peter…” and points at his fantastically futurist space man watch. Pete then panics and starts blubbering: “They’re making me go back now. BETH! BETH, WHAT CAN I DO?”

The song goes on to talk about how their house just aint a home, mainly because his job as a drummer in a heavy metal band requires him to occasionally stay at the studio til eight to really get “Love Gun” in a place that all the guys feel good about.

I don’t want to get into the whole damn song, but the lyrics are written in such a way that makes it seem like a one sided conversation, the implication being that Peter Kitty Cat Man is filling up their voicemail inbox with this pathetic mewling. Meanwhile, Beth is no doubt doing her own thing as she should. Go Beth. And leave this clinging loser. (And if she leaves him, you just know he’s going to move into Gene Simmons’ place. “Vat did you need her for, anyways. You are Peter Cris, man. Stop with the blubbering already. I’m gonna get you laid, bubby.”)

Honestly, Beth could very well be a new puppy Peter has brought home to make his barely furnished crap split level ranch in Topanga Canyon a little less shotgun suckingly lonely. He’s yelling into the phone, hoping that wee Beth will here him over the Radio Shack answering machine’s tinny speaker. Meanwhile Beth has found some old M&Ms left over from an orgy, and is now squirting cake batter all over Cat Man’s Italian leather sofa.

Jesus. Either way, Peter Cris deserves our pity.


One more short bit about stupid lyrics. This time it’s a jingle for Ford Trucks. (I like easy targets. I can shoot them from the cab of my Ford Truck.

The commercial in question involves some New Country dolt yodeling about who his truck is an extension of his ethics:

“I’m a Ford Truck man.
That’s all I drive!
I don’t have no boundaries!
I don’t compromise!”

I don’t have (any) boundaries. I don’t compromise. I (greg) would say someone without boundaries is pretty much someone who compromises a lot, while someone who never compromises would have a very narrow definition of standards and thus, boundaries. Just a thought.

Returning to matters Heavy Metal, two of my favorite album covers are the duo that pretty much define Judas Priest’s commercial metal sound of the early eighties. I’m talking about of course, Screaming for Venegeance and Defenders of the Faith.

Why do I like ‘em? They are of course, on many levels, crap. But I appreciate how they take animals-of-prey-as-mechanical-dealers-of-violent-death theme you might see on a Dio album and some how make it cheery, almost Yellow Submariney. It’s like a collaboration between Peter Max and Boris Vallejo. And really, how rad would that be?

Considering the absolute dreck that the other giant in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden, saw fit to package themselves with.

Uh. Yuck. Of course, Judas Priest were always a little more fun than Iron Maiden. More in the mold of AC/DC than Anton LeVay.

That’s it for now. Kiss my ass.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't you EVER post a negative comment about RUSH or Neil Peart AGAIN...bastard.

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give this blog a...

3:57 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Although you dissed Rush and Neil Peart, I was dead impressed at how well you know Canuck pop culture...pretty clever for an American, aren't ya?

Your link to the dot matrix symphony is bad. This is a good link with all tracks available for listening...

You paid money for this?! Hmm...puts your credibility into question on your opinions about Rush and Kiss.

7:56 PM  

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