Wednesday, May 28, 2014

For Maya, The Woman Who Lived

I don't know why I cry for Maya, but I do. She has had a long and difficult life, its beginning fraught with prejudice, it middle years of struggle; its end of peace. When I think of her, she is like a mixture of the three, and yet somehow towering above it, strong and wise, enduring. 

I don't know why I cry for Maya, the woman who lived. Perhaps there are some tears of joy for knowing her. Perhaps those are tears of sorrow for not knowing. 

Perhaps I cry thanks to Maya, the woman who lived. 


Love Liberates

The Detached - Maya Angelou {All Rights Reserved, taken from Poemhunter}
We die, 
Welcoming Bluebeards to our darkening closets, 
Stranglers to our outstretched necks, 
Stranglers, who neither care nor
care to know that
DEATH IS INTERNAL.

We pray, 
Savoring sweet the teethed lies, 
Bellying the grounds before alien gods, 
Gods, who neither know nor
wish to know that
HELL IS INTERNAL.

We love, 
Rubbing the nakednesses with gloved hands, 
Inverting our mouths in tongued kisses, 
Kisses that neither touch nor
care to touch if
LOVE IS INTERNAL.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Avoiding the Red Wedding

Apologies in advance for any potential ear-worms generated by this post.

Over the past few days I've been plagued by a particularly nasty ear-worm: the Game of Thrones opening theme. This might be a bit surprising considering I don't actually watch the show.

I know it's a high quality production and the original author, George R. R. Martin, is involved in its making. I read the books long ago so I should be really excited about watching it. Part of me is excited and longs to see Westeros and its people, not just in the way I imagined it to be.

But the greater part of me remembers the pain, anguish and cruelty associated with reading the books and their various intricate plots. I remember the deaths, disappointments, lack of vision and the overall sense of mindless futility of it all. And I don't want to experience the Red Wedding ever again.

Am I a milksop pacifist* who only accepts "happy endings" to be consumed? No. I know there are no "happy endings" in real life, particularly where I happen to live. Books and TV shows allow us to imagine outside of our immediate reality (under some built in constraints). But, sometimes, it just seems a little too extreme; a little too far.

Why, then, am I plagued with this incessant ear-worm, calling me to join Daenerys in her rightful quest to take back her throne? Or see how Jon Snow is doing beyond the wall? Is it a sign of anxiety? Just a matter of catchy, inspiring music? Or am I trying to tell myself something else?

Game of Thrones Main Theme by Ramin Djawadi {iTunes}



*I'm not implying pacifist are milksops. To be a pacifist, on many cases, requires more courage, principles and determination than to be a non-pacifist.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cats

My feelings towards cats are ambivalent, at best. Sure, you have the unavoidable internet cat, lurking behind every other web page or occasional tweet, being cute and irresistible, the unique predatory cat way. But then you have the real life cats, the ones who fight at 4 AM outside your window or return the favor of your kind pet and piece of cheese with a nasty scratch (that may or may not scar you in more ways then one).

And then there are those cats that stare at you seemingly blankly, smiling inwardly, as you wake up frantically from a nightmare that you could not quite recall, though you swear it was so vivid in your mind it could have left a mark on your skin. Or a scar.

So, cats. Evidently they can also make some pretty good music, a disturbing dark blend of electronics, rock and funk, with uniquely energetic and physically suffused elements. Almost predatory. Almost... like a cat.

Live (photo from the Facebook page)


These particular cats are a group of four good friends from Tel Aviv, working in the best of indie traditions of hard labor, the joy of creation and keeping to their own truth. They dedicate their new single "Disconnect" to their attempt to remove their own misconceptions and prejudices. 'Cause sometimes "the only thing to do is disconnect".

A Cat - Disconnect {iTunes}
They're also on Facebook and Soundcloud

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cosmic Exhilaration and Anxiety

I don't remember a lot from my childhood. Perhaps not a lot has happened then or maybe I choose not to remember. Many of us don't have full recollections, only memories of memories; it is how the mind forms and matures. One of the few memories in sight and sound I do retain is of Carl Sagan on his "Ship of the Imagination" exploring a starry space to the sounds of the opening theme of Cosmos. I did not understand much, perhaps nothing at all, but I do remember a sense of wonder, sincerity and a subtle urgent importance.

Years later, I have re-watched, or perhaps watched for the first time, the entire series, this time as an adult. Watching it has touched me deeply, perhaps especially with the half buried memories of it and with understanding and a framing of many contexts I could not do earlier (it is, after all, dubbed "A Personal Voyage"). Each time I play the opening theme in my mind I can still sense that feeling of wonder that was there, a special kind of innocence I strove to preserve, not always successfully.

I have been in the US these past few weeks as part of an assignment from work and so was fortunate enough to watch live the newly made Cosmos, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It will take decades to see how the present series affects the children and teenagers growing with it today. The times and the generations have changed, and I cannot say if the medium and the way the message was chosen to be delivered are the best for the current audience (I'll need to ask my nephews). But as part of the 'older' generation, who can't really avoid the comparison (the first episode in particular, it seemed, carries with in it more than a subtle homage for Sagan and the original series) I think it was very well done and look forward for the next episodes. Tyson is perfect for the job and I think Sagan would have been proud.

Funny enough though, as eagerly as I was waiting for Cosmos to air throughout the trip, my day started in church. I am not a christian or any sort of theist for that matter, though, again, my childhood had some affect on me in this matter. Still, I have a strange fascination with churches. Whenever I'm abroad I dedicate a few minutes to sit quietly in a church or a cathedral (New York's St. Patrick's is a favorite of mine), watch the people around and try to absorb the atmosphere. Today (Sunday) I decided to attend an actual service so I put on my least travel weary clothes (one dresses up for Sunday, or so I heard) and went to a church in Brooklyn. I wanted a taste of an actual gospel immersed service, passionate choir, heated sermon and a devout congregation as I imagined it.

And this is also what I had received: friendly, open and welcoming people, thundering music (yes, a joyous noise), a not too long a sermon that was not illogical (for the most part) and a unique experience to take with me and reflect upon. Oh, and also a two hour long panic attack; being in a large hall surrounded by hundreds of people is not easy for an agoraphobic. Yes, I have anxiety (and related depression) issues.

What brought that up, though, is the Scott Stossel article from The Atlantic, that I only fully read today. It is indeed long, but it is also something I could have almost as easily have written myself, with the exception of a few points:
1. I have not been formally diagnosed or treated.
2. I have not taken any medications to deal with it.
3. I don't drink, so that can't numb me.
4. I never met the Kennedys.

How does it all come together? Stossel concludes his story and say that maybe anxiety also has its positive sides, that without it he would have been a different person with a different life. Personally, I think the 'tortured artist' image is far more romanticized than it ought to be, and that there are moments I would do quite a lot to be just a normal, anxiety free (or reduced) kind of a guy. Would I be different? Yes, but isn't that also kind of the point? To try to make yourself better? More free?

As I'm writing this I can still hear the echoes of that opening theme of the original Cosmos. I am tired, tomorrow is my last day in New York, and I already feel the sleep deprivation caused headache. But I am also reassured that I am still on that personal voyage, that I know what I am not (a theist, among other things) though I can appreciate what comes with it and its costs; and that I am still anxious for the road ahead.

I highly recommend the original Cosmos (available on DVDs and probably unofficialy on YouTube)


And the new series (It is Past time to get going again)


And some good old gospel/soul music: Mahalia Jackson - Trouble of the World

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Boltzmann Brain walks into a bar

Have you ever pondered what it would feel like to fall into a black hole? Or wondered, as you observe a black cat turn the same corner twice, whether reality is really all it's cracked up to be? If consciousness involves such high innate latency (around 100ms), how do musicians play so perfectly, without a seeming conscious effort? How much can we really know about the world and ourselves and how much do we have to assume in order to begin to contemplate answering these questions?

An observable Cat {Wikipedia}

These and other questions were discussed at this year's FQXi (The Foundational Questions Institute) conference on the physic of information, held at the impossibly distracting Vieques Island (Puerto Rico). As a layman who's been exposed to a few snippets of it, I can regrettably say I understand very little of what was discussed. Quantum Physics, a known buzzword, now commonly weaved into the vocabulary of charlatans and quacks, is a mystery. As the great Richard Feynman put it, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't". And yet, it seems to be governing our existence in scales and ways we can barely imagine and produce ridiculously accurate test results.

The title of this post references an issue within physics about the possible emergence, through quantum fluctuations (in which particles seemingly spontaneously come in and out of existence), of something so complex as a brain, with its own unique thought patterns (see Wikipedia here and more advanced stuff here). This is similar, to some extant, to the idea of a room full of monkeys that randomly type the entirety of Hamlet. While extremely unlikely, it's not impossible that over a great length of time (longer than the average queue at the local post office, some say), such an endeavor can be completed. In this year's conference, however, it's been suggested that the underlying physics may not be so supportive of the emanation of floating disembodied brains in the vastness of space after all.

Whether we are brains-in-a-vat, souls trapped inside a frail body, a part of the greater consciousness of the universe or simply our bodies, we need to make sure to include in our basic assumptions, other than that that we can make sense of the world, that we want to. As we live and die we affect one another in more than the observable way. But sometimes, it seems, it would be easier to understand quantum physics than to understand your next door neighbor.

On the music front, and not completely unrelated, I've been listening to quite a bit of Johnny Flynn, whom I mentioned before. Flynn is about to start a big tour encompassing the US, Canada and Europe in support of his latest album, Country Mile (recommended).

Johnny Flynn - Einstein's Idea {from Country Mile}


Johnny Flynn - The Ghost of O'Donahue (Live)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Find Your Spot

This was a hell of a year for me. As in hellish, really bad. As the years progress you are expected to be wiser and more experienced. What is the nature of this mystic wisdom that is supposed to accumulate as time passes you by? I'm not sure.

They say that the basis of wisdom is "I do not know" or at least the recognition of that fact. If that is true, then I am wise indeed. I have re-learnt several important lessons this year (that I will probably revisit next year as well thanks to my amazing memory). One of them is the importance of context, how lack of information or the reliance on false and misleading presumptions can lead to cognitive and emotional errors and mishaps. The view of the world and its people is always partial and to judge according to this partial knowledge is to inevitably err. And yet, additional data will never be quite enough for a full and comprehensive picture. It is always limited to and based on your own flawed perspective.

What do I do then? If gathering additional data alone can't help, what will?
Patience. Empathy. Imagination. Compassion. Constant learning and developing. Interaction. Challenge. Being aware of the tendency to judge and jump into conclusions and instead trying to be open minded and perceptive.

The coming year will bring many changes and challenges: a new flat, possibly a new job, a possible trip abroad with its own opportunities, maybe even a new iOS (yeah, haven't upgraded yet). Looking back, I think I've acquired some important tools of thinking and skepticism this year, and I hope to put them to good use.

I can't say I'm optimistic. I know where I live and what some of my limitations are. But in the end, my life is my own (another important lesson I've failed to internalize). It is for me to choose how to use it.

It is past time I do.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I was going to write something a little different about music in this post, before I got carried away with the pseudo resolutions. I was listening to a recording of a concert by Nils Frahm on Youtube the other day. I got to it by the seeming randomness of life - one of Youtube's suggestions based on my previous listens.

The concert is made of several pieces and it was only in the second or so pieces that I got hooked or turned on. Frahm, it seemed to me, plays the piano with a sort of a strike, almost a hammering (though it's quite possibly the poor audio I had). It was an interesting technique, but somehow by that particular piece it had changed. I felt oddly connected, like I knew what he was trying to say and how. The technique seemed to flow and it wasn't hammering at all; it was a mode of music and feeling.

Today I listened to the same concert again and I wasn't able to pinpoint exactly where and when I got hooked. I still felt the music and enjoyed it, but the experience was different.

So what is it that gets us hooked on some of the times and not the others? The way we listen, open ourselves to it? The environment and technical parameters? Our state of mind? Is this the upside of jumping to conclusions that might have ended quite differently had I gave my first listen today instead of that other day? Will I now on future listens always look for that point in the track when I thought and felt "yes, this is it" (and thus ignore, to some degree, the present)?

What are we shutting our eyes to when we're looking for that one thing?

Take a listen. See if you can find that spot that works for you.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

Nils Frahm - Live @La Route du Rock 2011

Nils Frahm's web page and twitter.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Also, there were aliens.

Do you know how it's like when it's 02:30 am, you're waking up from another dream where you were going to die horribly and the house is almost too quiet for comfort? And then, just as you think it's safe to go back and fight your way back into sleep, there's that creaking on the roof that kinda sounds like human steps except the weight distribution is a little off? Or the feeling you get when you close the window that maybe there's someone on the outside looking in?

Oh, it's just me then.

The universe is stranger than we give it credit though. Even the slim parts we can explain with science (some would say especially those parts). The trick may be to keep calm and nod at the nice monster under the bed. Maybe it was you who have disturbed her dreams?

You can also use a soundtrack that is written with these unmentionable occurrences in mind. Take a listen to Blitz//Berlin (formerly Theset), a Canadian quartet of supposed human beings, making soundtracks, for movies and those deeply disturbing moments at night, inspired and laced with punk and hip-hop.

Pleasant dreams.

Blitz//Berlin - Drink {MP3}
Blitz//Berlin - Outside {MP3}

Blitz//Berlin is on Facebook & Twitter.