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mal waldron review at the nation

The Nation continues to be an excellent source of commentary on jazz. From a new article by Adam Shatz about the pianist Mal Waldron:

Waldron’s style is invariably described as “brooding”—almost all of his pieces are in a minor key—but it could also be described as analytical. Most jazz pianists work to create an effect of outward motion when they improvise. Swing, after all, is a musical analogue of dance, and its aim is to make the body more expansive and supple. Waldron’s music appears to work in nearly the opposite direction, burrowing ever more deeply into its materials: He seems to be on an inward journey. In “The Blues Suite,” for example, the slow, winding song that takes up more than a third of Meditations, there’s an extraordinary moment where Waldron plays a descending figure in the lower registers of the piano; as it recedes, a sample from the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” rises in its wake, suggesting a shadowy recollection, or the previously erased layer of a palimpsest.

Waldron “played every piece as if he were X-raying it,” as Edward Said once observed of Glenn Gould. He turned to music as a kind of mental exercise, a way of figuring out what he thought; his pieces were almost all “meditations.” “I want to be able to see what I am doing,” he explained, “and in order to be very clear in my mind where I am going I have to repeat it.” His search for what he called the “one note that goes for the entire piece” gives his music an almost uniquely obsessive sense of propulsion—the feeling of being in a trance.

The article also provides a great biographical overview of this beloved artist. Read the whole thing.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 24, 2017 at 12:01 am

friends don’t let friends do critical realism

Over at the American Journal of Sociology, Neil Gross, frankly, rips critical realism a new one in a review of two books (Douglas Porpora’s Reconstructing Sociology: The Critical Realist Approach and Margaret Archer’s book, The Relational Subject). First, Gross notes that critical realists don’t seem to have a grasp on what sociology is actually about:

Porpora’s argument for critical realism is that it can counter “seven myths of American sociology” (p. 11) that he sees as pernicious. The first is that “ethnography and historical narrative are only exploratory or descriptive. They are not explanatory” (p. 11). This is a weird claim. Most American sociologists see ethnographic and historical work as crucial for the elucidation of causal mechanisms, which is central to explanation.

How wrong is this claim? The AJS actually ran an entire issue devoted to inference in ethnography. Bro, do you even J-stor?

After showing that the warrant for critical realism  is lacking, Gross then gets to what critical realism is actually about:

Since most of these myths don’t amount to anything, I wasn’t sure why I should keep reading. In the end, though, I was glad I did, because Porpora offers a concise and engaging introduction to critical realism. As he describes it, critical realism is a “metatheory” intended to provide a critique of, and alternative to, covering law approaches to explanation, that is, those that understand explanation to mean accounting for facts by subsuming them under general causal laws of either a deterministic or probabilistic nature.

Ok, we have this meta-theory… how does it work out?

But what does this mean for explaining stuff in society—you know, the thing sociologists are supposed to do? Beats me. The book goes on and on with endless tables and charts and typologies, covering everything from “relational phases of the self” to connections between the “cultural system” and the “sociocultural system,” with about as much discussion of “morphogenesis” and “morphostasis” as you’d expect from Archer. The occasional attempts at empirical application fall flat. When I got to Donati’s chapter on the 2008 financial crisis—a chapter where he refuses to engage the impressive scholarship produced by economic sociologists, economists, anthropologists of finance, and others, preferring to give a theoretical account that loosely weaves together ideas of relational subjectivity with the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann—I gave up.

Finally,

The world is in flames. We need good, clear, accurate, and powerful explanations for what’s happening so that we can figure out how to smartly move forward. Maybe a sociologist will read some critical realism and get inspired to produce a brilliant explanation she or he wouldn’t have otherwise. I hope so. But neither of these two books makes a convincing case that critical realism is the royal road to sociological truth.

If you want to burn up your precious productive years writing this sort of stuff, go for it. But if you feel grumpy at the end, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 3, 2017 at 4:01 am

the most metal words of all time

At Degenerate State, there was an interesting post where someone applied natural language processing models to heavy metal lyrics. From the article:

To get the lyrics, I scraped www.darklyrics.com. While darklyrics doesn’t have a robots.txt file, I tried to be gentle with my requests. After cleaning the data up, identifying the languages and splitting albums into songs, we are left with a dataset containing lyrics to 222,623 songs from 7,364 bands spread over 22,314 albums.

Before anyone asks, I have no intention of releasing either the raw lyric files or the code used to scrape the website. I collected the lyrics for my own entertainment, and it would be too easy for someone to use this data to copy darklyrics. If people are interested I may release some n-gram data of the corpus.

So what do you find? A few tidbits  – the heavy metal word cloud:

Tag Cloud of All Metal Lyrics

Then, the most “metal words:”

Rank Word Metalness
1 burn 3.81
2 cries 3.63
3 veins 3.59
4 eternity 3.56
5 breathe 3.54
6 beast 3.54
7 gonna 3.53
8 demons 3.53
9 ashes 3.51
10 soul 3.40
11 sorrow 3.40
12 sword 3.38
13 goodbye 3.28
14 dreams 3.28
15 gods 3.24
16 pray 3.22
17 reign 3.15
18 tear 3.12
19 flames 3.12
20 scream 3.11

And the least metal words:

Rank Word Metalness
1 particularly -6.47
2 indicated -6.32
3 secretary -6.29
4 committee -6.16
5 university -6.09
6 relatively -6.08
7 noted -5.85
8 approximately -5.75
9 chairman -5.69
10 employees -5.67
11 attorney -5.66
12 membership -5.64
13 administrative -5.61
14 considerable -5.60
15 academic -5.51
16 literary -5.49
17 agencies -5.48
18 measurements -5.47
19 fiscal -5.45
20 residential -5.45

The bottom line? Academia, the law and administration are the least metal topics of all time. Who knew?

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Written by fabiorojas

April 19, 2017 at 1:46 am

let’s all just mellow out

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Written by fabiorojas

April 14, 2017 at 12:16 am

the one where we all discuss ‘get out’

Georgina

No, no, no… I think you’ll really like this blog.

I didn’t find Get Out to be funny. Nor did I find it scary. I’m not courageous – horror movies don’t deal with the things that truly scare me. But I did find Get Out to be engaging. I want to articulate a thought I’ve been having since I saw the movie. The movie deals with white racism, but I think there’s something bigger going on. It’s about American culture’s desire to live vicariously through it’s high achieving Black citizens.

A lot has been made about the film’s depiction of White liberal culture. But I think any reading of the movie that focuses only on White liberalism is incomplete. Why? White liberalism isn’t what causes the Armitage family to kidnap people. It’s a trick they use when they kidnap people. It’s a superficial aspect of the whole story. This leads to an interesting question: if white liberalism isn’t the main theme of the movie, then what is the main theme? I’d argue that the main theme is living (literally) through the talent and achievement of Black Americans.

Here’s the main evidence: the bad guys do not kidnap random Black residents, they only kidnap the exceptionally talented. Chris – the main character – is an accomplished photographer. Walter is a great athlete. Rose targets an NCAA recruit. The man kidnapped early on is a jazz musician. I don’t remember if the dialogue reveals Georgina’s story, but in her photo with Rose she is depicted as a young and vibrant person.

This suggests that the film goes beyond a critique of White liberalism. Rather, it is about how Whites view the talented tenth. In the world of the movie, the talented tenth is there to be farmed for spare parts, literally. Metaphorically, it’s about co-opting Black achievement into the mainstream culture, even if it ends up robbing it of its true soul and spirit.

Please use the comments for your Get Out interpretations!

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Written by fabiorojas

March 28, 2017 at 12:01 am

emperor concerto, no 5

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Written by fabiorojas

March 19, 2017 at 12:11 am

futbol >> football

It’s not just the names, it’s a philosophical issue. If two creatures fight for the same turf, there has to be a winner. Nature demands it. There can only be one and I side with “futbol!” Here’s my reasoning:

  • Accurate advertising: In soccer, the main way you play is by bringing your foot to the ball. In North American “football,” kicking the ball is rare.
  • Simplicity: Soccer’s a game where the rules are simple and short. Anyone can understand them.* In the NFL, you have bizarro rules like “the Tuck Rule” and the cryptic onside kick rules. And don’t even get me started on over time scoring rules.
  • Fake injuries: In soccer, it’s a big scam!!! Nobody is injured and the flops are part of the show. It’s a sport with some high school drama tossed in. People rarely get hurt. In football, people get injured for life. Very bad.
  • Excessive celebration: In the NFL, there’s a weird rule. You get a penalty for being too happy about scoring. In contrast, soccer players are encouraged to go nuts on the field. It’s part of the fun.

I will give the NFL one point. The scoring is optimal. The combination of 1, 2, 3, and 6 points plays seems to work fairly well. It avoids the NBA problem where the first 200 points of a game mean nothing and the soccer problem of low scoring games. But soccer even has an answer for this – indoor soccer. Faster, higher scoring and fun.

Match: Futbol.

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* Ok, ok, nobody gets “offsides.” I’ll give you that one.

 

Written by fabiorojas

February 22, 2017 at 12:26 am