Synthesizers, controversies, critics
If you’re in recovery from an August slump, here’s an unimpeachable mix of deep cut disco tunes by Chicago house DJ Glenn Underground. Put it on and just try being in a bad mood.
Speaking of Chicago house, the latest album by Ron Trent, What do the stars say to you, is phenomenal. Though Trent is best-known for his dance tracks, from the machine music classic “Altered States” to his soulful later work with Chez Damier, this one borders on ambient. Ideal for when you want funk and texture but not necessarily beats. (Guest turn from Jean-Luc Ponty, lending unexpected jazz-rock nerd cred.)
I took a bit of a dive into New Age music recently, and the comparison to ambient music is instructive. The connotations are entirely different, even opposed. Ambient: intellect, technology, introspection, domesticity, modernity. New age: spirit, astrology, vibration, nature, crystals. The music is frequently indistinguishable.
If anything, the contradiction in New Age of invoking ancient tradition by means of advanced technology is all the more fascinating. To see how kooky the rhetoric can get, check out this short documentary on the composer Iasos, in which he describes having been inhabited by a celestial being named Vista. To hear how sublime the result can be, listen to his 1975 classic Inter-Dimensional Music.
This piece by Nathan Taylor Pemberton at The New Yorker describes the way the genre became a kind of folk art, with its own alternate economy and a canon of amateur productions. JD Emmanuel’s Wizards, discussed therein, has the rough elegance of a cave painting. I’ve also gotten a lot of out of Michael Stearns’s 1981 album Planetary Unfolding, in which I hear shades of Detroit techno (the same year as “Alleys of Your Mind”).
Jay Caspian Kang, in his newsletter, on a recent controversy in historical scholarship, is particularly interesting on shifting tides in journalism. These tend to be a step behind; fads among academics permeate mass media when humanities students graduate and enter the workforce, by which time a new crop of students is under sway of the next big thing.
Related to that cycle, a fine essay on Terry Eagleton and the world that made him by John Merrick at The Baffler. In my youth, Eagleton’s Literary Theory made a significant impression me, and then Ideology made an even greater one. His critique of contemporary theory can drift into get-off-my-lawn territory, but there is something to be said for making clear what was previously obscure, and turning a phrase in the process, and few do it so well.
This Marcella Hazan recipe, from her book Marcella Cucina, is ideal for a summer day. Her final instruction is a first-rate sentence: “If using another tablespoon of butter does not alarm you, swirl it into the pasta.”