music: Brad Mehldau so smart so good

I love Brad Mehldau’s solo “Blackbird” the most of all the recent jazz versions, his album of Beatles is wonderful, his own work is all over the place (Jacob’s Ladder and Finding Gabriel are intense), and this interview is solid gold.

The mystery of music

At 52:56: “More modal over pedal points,.. but he’s going to put some Giant Steps in there… it’s the blues but it’s something mixolydian”. It’s a delight to hear Brad Mehldau talk and play great John Coltrane musical phrases, but understanding what’s going on is somehow beyond me. I hear beautiful changes and evolution as he plays; I can read music notation, I know some music theory and even enjoy the physics and math behind, for example, a perfect fifth interval, I can get lost in Wikipedia articles about modal jazz and the mixolydian, I can laboriously pick out simple melodies… but I can’t grasp it. I hear the notes of achingly beautiful chords following one another, but am almost incapable of identifying them.

Instead of pitying myself, I took a basic music college course where we practiced singing simple scores and notating melodies we heard, and it was so frustrating: I could write down and sing the interval between two notes (there are cheat sheets that give examples of intervals in famous music), but my hearing of the third, fourth, fifth, … notes afterwards was so affected by what came before that I would get them wrong 80% of the time, and chords were impossible. I couldn’t believe I got an ‘A’ on the course. I suspect my brain only has one neuron available for music recognition, so notes all at once (chords) and sequences over time (melody) just overflow it. Back to pity.

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cars: Rivian R1S is an excellent big EV

Rivian R1S

We rented a Rivian R1S EV on Turo so seven of us could tourist around for the day in comfort; it happened to be in Forest Green with light Ocean Coast interior that I would spec were I to need a three-row SUV (I don’t! that’s why there are rentals!). It’s spacious, comfortable, high tech but usable, quiet, made in America, and gets 71 MPG equivalent. If you buy a gasoline-swilling CO2-belching Range Rover or bloated generic Audi/BMW/Jeep/Mercedes/Porsche Q7/Q8/X7/Wagoneer/GLS/Cayenne crossover instead of this or another premium battery-electric crossover, you should probably be ashamed of the choice you made.

Rivian recently announced a smaller R2 and unexpectedly a dinky even smaller R3 as well; the latter sounds like it would be perfect for us. The company is still losing money, but it has $9 billion in cash and the R1S was the 4th highest selling EV in the USA in Q1 2024. The combustion age is ending! 🔋🚗💪

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art: Serra “Band” broke me

I unexpectedly met Richard Serra’s Band again, at LACMA; surely one of his greatest. I was sad at the great man’s[*] death in 2024, but walking around and through its spaces one more time left me collapsed and sobbing.

Richard Serra's "Band" sculpture at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 12 feet high, over 70 feet long

Museum guard: Are you OK?

S: So much engineering and technical mastery focused on delivering such intense aesthetic senses of disequilibrium – solidity – mass – fear – intellectual puzzlement – and pure experiential wonder is bracing and makes life worth living, and for its arrogant dickhead orchestrator to be gone is heartbreaking. We need to be spiritually cared for by technology on this fragile garden planet, not exploited through its misuse by sociopathic techbros and corporations. It’s not OK! 😭

Museum guard: Uhh…

Previously on

I made the pilgrimages to DIA: Beacon which has several Serra sculptures (blog post) and to MOMA’s extraordinary Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years exhibition where I first encountered Band (blog post), then SFMOMA exhibited Sequence for years.

I could put up pictures of these but the more you see at once, the less any individual sculpture means. Yet another giant sinuous form made up of cold-rolled 12-foot Cor-ten steel plates, yadda yadda. By all means read about them, but the pictures are worth a thousandth of a single step. You have to experience these sculptures. Go!

The Great Man ??? theory

[*] It’s terrible that “man” subsumes “woman” in our language. Louise Bourgeois and Louise Nevelson are sensationally talented sculptors, and that’s just among people named “Louise.”

More pilgrimages

I’ll probably never burn the carbon to visit Bilbao and see The Matter of Time, eight sculptures (!) weighing 1034 tonnes (!!) in a 430-foot (130 m) by 80-foot (24 m) (!!!) gallery. It’s more practical to one day visit Michael Heizer’s so-beyond-monumental-there-aren’t-words City and Walter De Maria’s sublime gridscape The Lightning Field.

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web: sometimes it’s not a typo

Anomie & Bonhomie is an underrated Scritti Politti album, the rapping and scratching and turntable noises put some fans off. “Umm” is a phenomenal everything-but-the-kitchen-sink track, and “Tinseltown to the Boogiedown” just oozes style.

Don’t call me Shirley, Lee

Both tracks feature “Lee Majors” on backing vocals and rapping. Surely this can’t be the actor on The Six Million Dollar Man cheesy TV show, Lee Majors, who married Farrah Fawcett? Searching Wikipedia reveals that there is a Lee Major (no ending ‘s’) American hip-hop producer, so surely this is a typo? Someone “fixed” the Anomie & Bonhomie Wikipedia page to make this correction, and even cited a retrospective Tumbler review of the album’s reissue:

“Tinseltown to the Boogiedown” brings in Lee Major, who would go on to produce for Jay Z and others

Jennifer Kelly, confident but wrong

It seems the citation in a Wikipedia article settles the matter?! But why would all the credits of the album get this wrong and add an ‘s’? I even pulled out my CD to check the ^%$#@! illegible album credits printed in a tiny font behind the plastic shell for the CD, and it’s “Lee Majors” with an ‘s’. So I did some sleuthing (thank you Discogs) and there really is a Lee Majors-not-the-$6M-Man-actor: this Lee Majors is a Jamaican musician who was in an underground hip-hop trio called Da Bush Babees and was friends with Mos Def who most definitely raps on the Anomie and Bonhomie album.

1973 black & white photo of actor Lee Majors
Not the Six Million Dollar Lee Majors…
photo of hip-hop producer Lee Majors
not Jay-Z’s producer Lee Major…
photo of Lee Majors aka Babe-B-Face Kaos, hip-hop musician
… but Lee Majors aka Babe-B-Face Kaos, hip-hop musician

See see redirect

So, I reverted the well-intentioned edit to the Anomie & Bonhomie Wikipedia page and its citation of the well-intentioned but mistaken reviewer (whom I contacted). But… how to stop someone making the same mistaken edit in the future? Without changes, every few years someone will see “Lee Majors” on the page, thinks “The bionic actor never rapped!”, find the hip-hop producer, and “correct” the typo? So:

  1. Add a hatnote (short note at the top of the article) to the bionic actor’s page:
      For the hip-hop musician also known as Babe-B-Face Kaos, see Da Bush Babees.
    which already had a hatnote:
    For the music producer, see Lee Major.
  2. Turn the first mention of the Jamaican musician Lee Majors on the Anomie & Bonhomie page into a hyperlink to a new Wikipedia page titled “Lee Majors (hip-hop musician)”.
  3. Jamaican musician Lee Majors is not notable enough to deserve his own Wikipedia page, so create a “Lee Majors (hip-hop musician)” page that simply (if you know Mediawiki syntax) redirects to “Da Bush Babees”.

That was a fun hour fixing Wikipedia!

Not names, Q numbers

I blogged about four similar confusions in music: 1990s alternative rock supremos The Sundays vs. Japanese band SUNDAYS(サンデイズ), acid jazz Corduroy vs. Korean singer 코듀로이 (“corduroy”) (and it turns out a third Corduroy. with a period), Icelandic Casino vs. alternative rockers Casino (and it turns out various rappers named Ca$ino), and rock supremos Yes vs. mystery?? group named “Yes, Plis.” Google Now mistakenly brought albums by two of these doppelgängers to my attention because (before I got Google to not track my history between apps) it knows I love Corduroy and Yes.

As I said in that equally boring blog post, the fix for this is to refer to everyone across a semantically meaningful web with a unique identifier instead of relying on context or additional words in parentheses like (hip-hop musician) and (Korean singer-songwriter) to disambiguate. Nearly everything in Wikipedia and many other entities in the world have a “Q number” in Wikidata where facts about the entity reside; Q454088 is Lee Majors the actor and Q6514455 is Lee Major hip-hop producer. But Lee Majors the minor rapper isn’t in Wikidata, because he’s not notable enough for any Wikipedia. We would need to give a Q number to every person who’s referenced in any existing article, even if that person doesn’t have their own page… which will probably turn into hundreds of millions of items and a whole lot of “Is the John Doe the childhood friend of politician A the same John Doe who sang background vocals for musician B?”. I just found out that Discogs lists a “Lee Majors (3)”, a rapper/producer from Oakland, who probably is a third Lee Majors. Or fourth?

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web: spammers copying my pages

Someone found my post about my legendary Herman-Miller Levity standing desk and added a comment asking about operating manuals for it. When I searched (using DuckDuckGo) for manuals Herman-Miller "Levity standing desk", it returned my post, but also found bogus copies of it on random sites!

screenshot of DuckDuckGo results showing fake copies of my blog post
Hey weedround2, mantylahti, newenglandrunaway, kljiji: stop ripping me off!

I’m not sure why anyone would bother to copy content from my weak endeavor, the 3,000,000th most popular site on the Internet. If you look, the path part of the URL of the fake web pages is herman-miller-cubicle-instruction-manual, so maybe the spammers figured out people are looking for “herman miller instructions,” found my human text, and slapped up copies with a promising URL.

I visited one of these pages (don’t!), and the bastard spammer has badly and mechanically rewritten my page, probably so that search engines don’t detect that it’s a complete ripoff. My text

computers: my legendary Herman-Miller Levity standing desk
For months I tried to give my old adjustable desk to a museum, or at least to someone who has a use for it. It’s the Levity by Herman-Miller, an impressive piece of late 90s office design. It goes from

turns into

screenshot of one of the ripoff pages showing slightly different text

Levity → Frivolous, standing → stationary, months → period, desk → bureau, etc. But these automated crappy substitutions don’t appear in the heading and summary snippet that search engines display.

Death to spammers!

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music: questions and comments for Michael Omartian and Rick Beato

Rick Beato has a great interview with Michael Omartian, a funny thoughtful guest who’s a fine producer, arranger, and keyboard player.

At 50:00 Rick references “the SNL skit with Michael McDonald where he was singing on everything at that point.” It was an SCTV skit, not Saturday Night Live. Watch “SCTV 3 Gerry Todd and Michael McDonald“. (Then watch the Yacht Rock web series for more brilliant loving parody of the soft rock/AOR/Steely Dan confluence.)

I Really Didn’t Know about the song

At 51:02 Michael Omartian comments “I think there was another one or two things that he [Michael McDonald] did on that record”
Just one, the excellent “I Really Don’t Know Anymore”. McDonald’s “I really don’t KNOOOW” high note is electric (literally, it cross-fades into Larry Carlton’s desperate-sounding guitar solo), as is the delicious double-tracked harmonizing Michael McDonald does on the third chorus, reminiscent of his incredible “Peg” harmonies about which I blogged. I hope Rick Beato talks with Michael McDonald some day.

It took me years to track down “I Really Don’t Know Anymore.” I remembered the chorus and feel, but not the exact words, and was sure it was a Doobie Brothers recording (I don’t have the Christopher Cross album). One week I was listening to the first 9 Doobie Brothers records and realized it’s not on any of them, which motivated me to search harder and eventually locate it.

I wish Michael Omartian talked about “I Really Don’t Know Anymore” in Rick’s interview. The horns and overall sound are so compressed and claustrophobic until the wistfully uplifting chorus; was he consciously taking advantage of the sound of early digital recording? (Wikipedia: “[Christopher Cross (album)] was one of the first in popular music to be digitally recorded, utilizing the 3M Digital Recording System”). And 81 seconds into the song a great piano chord “escapes” from the constrained mix; I’ve always wondered if that was a happy mistake or planned.

@Rick Beato, @Rick, @hello, hello?!

I made similar comments on the video, but so did 1,793 other people. I wonder would Rick respond to me if I signed up for his Patreon or Discord channel or whatever? I don’t mind paying for access.

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there aren’t civilizations more advanced than us nearby

The Fermi paradox is brutal and sad. Civilizations in the Milky Way more advanced than us us seem vanishingly unlikely. The Milky Way galaxy is only 90,000 light years across. So any civilization that managed to reach our level on a planet orbiting one of the Milky Way’s 100M+ stars more than a million years ago has had more than enough time to spread across our galaxy. Which inexorably leads to the only good explanation for why nobody’s contacted us:

Stardate 10,000,000 BCE, alien Elon Musk: “I’m going to take my quadrillion credits and develop a self-replicating fleet of probes that will spread to all the stars in the Milky Way looking for biosignatures of life, which will then wait for techno signatures from each developing civilization. I need to bring the fruits of my vast intellect and insights on how civilization should be organized to every corner of our galaxy that harbors life.”
Stardate 9,999,990 BCE, alien Elon Musk: “Unfortunately I lost all my credits after purchasing the Zqitter social media network, and have canceled the program.”

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music: CHIC appreciation part 42

Great to see Jack Stratton acknowledging the Titans of funk R&B, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (RIP) of CHIC, in his Don’t Steal This Groove music production video. He recreates their chucking guitar sound and clear bass.

But I’ve been listening to Sister Sledge (try “Thinking of You” (below) and “You Fooled Around” before playing their hits) and… CHIC is on another level. Tony Thompson (RIP) is a rock drummer beast that Nile and ‘Nard kept on a tight leash, his feel can’t be matched by a drum machine, then they often brought in Sammy Figueroa on percussion (the tubular bells on “I Want Your Love“, the sleighbells on “You Fooled Around”, the congas on “Thinking of You”!!). Rob Sabino’s sparkling piano is 😘 on all those tracks and of course the killer “Spacer“; the piano fills on Vulfpeck’s “Disco Ulysses” are a sweet homage). Then CHIC could hand the chords to Nile’s rhythm guitar OR Ray Jones/Andy Schwartz on electric piano OR the neutron bomb weapon, the CHIC strings. And behind the lead singer, the twin female singers and the unheralded Fonzi Thornton singing those insistent choruses. As football commenters say, “So. Many. Weapons.” All while leaving more space than today’s 100+-track stems on a DAW, with that fabulous honeyed warm sound.

Another couple of days in the studio in 1979, god-tier results

On Sister Sledge’s Love Somebody Today album, Kathy Sledge’s great vocal on “You Fooled Around” is followed by “I’m a Good Girl” with a sensational great vocal performance by Joni Sledge. The way Nile Rodgers’ guitar tracks and interplays with their vocals is sublime.

I’m not pulling a tired “Today’s music cRap get off my lawn!” Vulfpeck isn’t just slavishly copying old school, they’re making their own good music; “Vulfpeck Live at Madison Square Gardens” is one of the greatest live show videos of all time. But, folks, listen to the people who inspired them. There’s gold in them thar vinyls.

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web: multimedia killed by far worse videos

Video now consumes most Internet bandwidth. But video is terrible for imparting information about… stuff on web pages, or for teaching me about music.

Videos that scroll through web pages

screenshot of Yannic Kilcher's YouTube video "Text Embedding Reveal (Almost) As Much As Text"
Forget about scrolling that PDF down to read the next paragraph, this is a 2020s video, not 1990s interactive multimedia

It is nuts that in order to read about, say AI news, I watch 12-minute videos wherein a good commenter like AI-Explained or Yannic Kilcher talks about recent announcements WHILE I WATCH THEM SCROLL UP AND DOWN through Xitter threads, other web pages, and PDFs. It’s a colossal non-interactive waste of bandwidth. What happened to multimedia apps?! I should visit their site and view their web page “2023-12-07 AI News.” As they talk (or as I scroll through their text), the different URLs appear in a nested frame. They can still highlight bits of text, but at any time I should be able to pause and read the source web page. Instead I have to pause the video, load the URL in another window, scroll to where the video was, continue reading, then return to the video. And/or, what happened to the various attempts decades ago to let people annotate arbitrary web pages, so that I could go on a guided tour of the various URLs and read the commentator’s take on each one? We have far more powerful interactive capabilities in web pages, but they’re only exposed in closed apps and (as I understand it) web sites like Brilliant.

Music is multimedia – nope, it’s more video

box art of Microsoft Multimedia Beethoven The Ninth Symphony, An Illustrated, Interactive Musical Exploration
Forget about an Illustrated, Interactive Musical Exploration 30 years later, but you can watch a non-interactive video instead

Similarly, I can’t enjoy an interactive analysis of a music track, I have to watch a video about it. When Adam Neely or Rick Beato talk about a piece of music, I should be able to seamlessly jump from them talking about a particular riff or chord to hearing it, or vice versa: as the track plays, their video and transcript jump to the relevant part of their commentary, and when they say “diminished B-flat over F sus,” I can pop up the music notation of the chord on a staff and click a play button. Years ago you could enjoy interactive multimedia explorations of Beethoven and opera made possible by multimedia authoring tools like Macromind Director. Now you have to start and stop a video and manually synchronize your own playback of the music. And imagine if, as the expert discuss chords, there’s an on-screen keyboard showing the notes that you can play. I guarantee there were multimedia CD-ROM apps that let you do this in the 1990s; an article about the Microsoft Home multimedia title shown above says

Multimedia Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony is the first of the titles to be available under the Microsoft-Voyager agreement. The package uses a mixture of sound, text and graphics and the user can delve into sections of the four movements of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, explore Beethoven’s life … have an in-depth look at the musical architecture of the symphony or review a measure-by-measure commentary.

Tech Monitor March 27, 1991

30 years later, we have computer a million times faster and much of the creative output of humanity digitized and available online through high-bandwidth connections, and we’re stuck watching VHS tapes, but with faster rewind and fast-forward.

Technical solutions got steamrollered by the easy monetization of YouTube videos constantly interrupted by ads.

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demise of the open web, yet again

More handwringing over how the web has gotten worse. There have always been lots of The Web is Dead articles – here’s one from 2010!, but Denny Vrandečić mentioned more recent ones in a great Facebook post, including Why the Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore, Cory Doctorow’s The ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok, Fixing Search, Google has sent internet into ‘spiral of decline’, claims DeepMind co-founder, The Dark Forest and the Cozy Web, …

If only publishing thoughts and images to your own web site had gotten as easy and good-looking before posting to social media sites took over; and Google had stuck with RSS readers and the iGoogle home page; and a federated identity program like Mozilla Persona had taken off (instead of having to create a login to each site); and search engines did a better job of indexing trackbacks/backlinks/pingbacks; and an easy way to identify your public and private posts (restricted to a particular group) had been established. Then Denny would have written this on his blog, I would have seen it on my iGoogle home page or feed, I would have replied on his site or written a follow-up post on my site (I did, this one, but Facebook will never acknowledge it), and search engines would notice and promote the interlinking because that’s the very essence of A WEB.

I kept hoping it would happen, I kept hoping ISPs would offer basic web hosting instead of leaving it up to commercial ad-supported sites, I hoped that when Google+ (circles!) failed, Google would have fallen back to heavily promoting the open web to fight the rise of Facebook, then Snapchat, then Instagram, then TikTok, …

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Thanks to anyone who still comes to personal web sites like this one!

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