Back to Work

This morning I was rolling in bed, wondering what to do about this blog, when I finally decided to resubscribe to my various services and resurrect it. I haven’t had it active for the last few years as you probably noticed, but the files corresponding to each of the lovingly crafted posts were still live on the server, even if there wasn’t a website to access them with.

So I “invested in myself,” and here I am again!

my face
My face

A lot has changed, yup! I’m living in a different state, working at a different job, and I have different friends. I’ve started a whole ‘nother music collection, this one on vinyl records, and in the past couple months I’ve begun to livestream myself playing music from my collection to the people who I’ve gotten to know from enjoying their livestreams. I’ve been posting my baking pics on instagram and thereby building my “social media presence.” But I’ve missed having a spot that is all mine; I pay for this blog so I can provide it to you for free, without any of the residual weirdness and marketing that you get on social media.

My original idea with the bicycle-advocacy posts was to write down what I thought were good arguments for what I believed, in the certainty that anthropologists from the future would see them in conjunction with the crummy arguments I’m trying to dissect. It’s a long game. After spending two years posting #ovenspring and #yeastpets on IG, however, it’s become obvious that IG is a terrible tool for collecting important insights and keeping them available as the contemporary becomes the past. IG doesn’t care about the past. I however am crucially interested in the past; this blog now comprises at least 15 years of thoughts, some of which I was really excited about at the time. And because of the blog’s simple date index and tag features, I can actually go back and reconnect with them.

I’ll stop this ranting now so you can flip through the posts and find the good ones; I can’t even remember myself which ones are the good ones.

Thank you!

Logitech Media Server, how to set up

I pulled my old Squeezebox Duet out of the closet today.

The previous installation was using its own Linux server kitted out with an external hard drive. That box seems to be a little difficult to access these days, but earlier today I realized I could use the spare household Win 7 laptop as the server and the external hard drive that I used for iTunes as the music library. (Unfortunately, I can no longer run iTunes on my computer because there’s some kind of weird memory issue.)

I downloaded the latest copy of Logitech Media Server from the logitech web site (LMS is the new name for Squeezebox Server) onto the server candidate PC.

I set up the internet connection options to use a static IP address so I could bookmark the server web access on different computers on my home network. The IP address is not in the range I use for DHCP on the router. I also adjusted the power settings to allow me to shut the lid without turning the computer off.

I plugged the Squeezebox Controller into the mains and let it charge up. I fussed with the networking settings to find the server’s static IP address, then picked out the name of the library that I set from the LMS setup screens.

Basically, there are three ways to listen to music with the squeezebox server system: either through the Receiver, which is plugged into my stereo system (into the Video/AUX port); through the controller, which has a small mono speaker and an audio-out line; or through the computer’s sound system using the SqueezePlay software (see ).

I pressed the big button on the front of the Receiver to reset it, then I got the controller to find and ‘pair’ with the Receiver by noodling around through the Controller’s networking and choose-player screens. It then went through a software update and started fine.

So now I can use the web interface for the LMS to find and direct the playing streams, or I can use the controller, or I can use SqueezePlay. The key to victory is setting up the server with the static IP address.

The sebene, that never-ending circular vamp that cues the women’s belly-shaking (soukous-music word of the day)


The Congolese guitarist Henri Bowane is reputed to have invented the sebene in the 1940s, but this kind of instrumental bridge, on which one or two musicians develop arpeggios in circular progressions while another improvises around them, has forever been common to music for Congolese harps, lutes, thumb pianos and xylophones.

Aha. I had been calling it the descarga, but I am always happy to learn a new, more appropriate word for the part of the song that cues the insanity: in Franco’s Azda, the repetition of the theme keeps the tension going throughout Franco’s solo; in other, less virtuosic performances, the sebene is the part where you, the listener, feel as if you’re diving into a huge pile of feathery guitar notes, like a woman in a music video.

In other, less abstracted videos, the sebene is the part where the women dancers move to the front and begin their undulations. The circularity of the music and the circularity of the movements are echoed in the circle shape of the navel, both in motion and at rest, as well.

The quote above (and bizarrely still picture) is from the surprisingly helpful National Geographic page on soukous music.

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Sister Suvi in concert wields the clarity, density, & menace of a falling chandelier

Sister Suvi, the trio of Merril Garbus, Nico Dann and Patrick Gregoire, in concert wields the clarity, density, and menace of a falling chandelier. At Bowery Ballroom Thursday night, Merril disavowed the “power trio” label, but really, what else do you call a three piece that works so hard to create space within their songs? There’s harmonic space, with lots of drones, revealing the compositional skeleton like a delicate chain drawing attention to its decolletage; there’s rhythmic space, with off-meter handclaps and tarantella-like drumstick beats that pull the emphases away from the ones and threes (and twos and fours) like a stuttering set of power drapes opening to reveal a puppet stage; there’s always space in the arrangement for another ukulele-powered surge. La Garbus gets more out of her ukulele than any recent performer I’ve seen, largely by committing her performance and songcraft utterly into its twangling, tinny, overprocessed care. It does for a guitar (not to diminish Gregoire’s guitar wrangling) but smaller, thinner, more vulnerable. And her voices: Merril’s alto just hovers in the air, like a giant gong reverberating in the silence of the arrangements.
I don’t want to make Sister Suvi sound like Merril Garbus plus two, but it was the promise of Tune-Yards that got me out to the show, and I think her many gifts make her the most natural starting point for the Sister Suvi initiate like yourself, dear Reader. Thao Nguyen came on after, and wisely featured both Merril and opening act Samantha Crain as backup singers. The sound of Merril’s gorgeously calm and centered voice settling over Thao’s bony and pinched vocals and arrangements was the layer of snow that reveals the classic cityscape underneath.

“Written description of how soukous women have their waist” in one word, undulating

(Every once in a while, Google Analytics’s list of keywords that bring you, Dear Reader, to my blog comes up with good ideas to write about. The scary thing is that converse of the truism that there is someone writing about pretty much anything on the Internet holds true: there is someone searching for pretty much everything on the Internet. Et voilà today’s post, inspired for you by the intrepid Googlenaut searching for “Writtendescription of how soukous women have their waist”. My blog was at no. 3 when I wrote this post; I should hope it rises somewhat.)

The Dany Engobo/Coeurs Brisés videos, where the mild and inoffensive zouk tunes clearly play a supporting role to the hypnotic tummy-shaking of the Coeurs Brisés (Broken Hearts) troupe of dancers, could be, if you took them lightly, campy as all get out, but I don’t see them that way. Instead, there’s something deeply serious about the attractiveness of lissome women moving hypnotically to the middle-aged male head of family. Strangely enough, watching such dance videos for an hour or so, or the length of a VHS tape, always proved relaxing, like a nice afternoon nap, rather than erotically stimulating.

A couple years later I met the guitarist Diblo Dibala after a summer concert at South Street Seaport. My buddy from work Rose was a friend of one of his two backup dancers, the older one. The younger one had managed to shatter boundaries by being a Brooklyn girl (bizarrely nicknamed Electra) who was touring the world as an African dancer. This only reinforced to me the complete inauthenticity of soukous music and soukous-dancing videos; these were products of late 20th-century cultural capitalism, not the honest and straightforward expression of prelapsarian village life that is the default approach to African cultural products. In other words, folks were watching these videos (and Diblo’s dancers) not because they had some kind of cultural relevance to the viewer, but because they liked the dancing, or the physiques of the dancers, or both. My interest was validated; I didn’t have to come from some Kinshasa faubourg in order to appreciate it.

Here are some examples:


DJ Dolores, “Ciranda Da Madrugada”

This is one of those songs that seems like it was assembled so
carefully. It’s in the electronica-pastiche mode, with a sultry female
vocal in Portuguese and a samba band playing behind it. It also has an
accordion, but the instrument is so tight on the beat that it sounds
much more like a sample of an accordion than a real accordion. The
real star of this song is the guitar line, which sounds harsh and
acrid and complements the vaguely Elza Soares–sounding woman by
reinforcing her air of menace.

 Meanwhile, because it’s a dance-electronica kind of record, it kind of
loses track after a chorus or two, in order to give the listener time
to really understand what’s going on. The bass keeps bouncing atop the
samba drums and below the woman, singing these long melodic lines, and
the sawing sound of the accordion.

 [Meanwhile, here at the air terminal, where I’m writing these reviews,
I look over at the television, and there is a woman in a
platinum-blonde wig driving evasively. It kind of goes along with the
tune, in a weird way.]

Compay Segundo, “Viejos Sones de Santiago”

Compay Segundo is one of the Buena Vista Social Club musicians. I
believe he’s the guitarist. This morsel has him playing (if it’s not
him, I do apologize) behind a set of female singers, kind of like a
Cuban Pipettes, real relaxed and on the beat. It’s a good salsa, for

 But in the end the guitar playing doesn’t go completely bananas, or
sound as if he just lit the axe on fire and is still playing it, the
way that Franco did with similar rhythms. I have to say, I prefer the
Lingala singing of Kékélé over the same rhythms and nearly the same
instrumentation. Lingala is truly the international language of love.

 This does have a nice little four-bar guitar solo, and then he chimes
in singing on the last chorus. Nice ending!

Serge Gainsbourg, “Là-bas C’est Naturel”

Oh boy, finally a real bomb of a song. There’s something about the
Gainsbourg approach, even beyond his French-lover persona, that makes
his music irresistible. This one starts out with a kind of
jungly-rhythm, then the female chorus pops in with the wordless
singing, le-le-le-le-le-le and so on.

 I think what it is about Gainsbourg is his willingness to submit to a
relatively narrow dynamic range, especially in the difference between
the verse and the chorus. It creates a sense of tension in the song,
that matches up with the clippity-cloppity beat and the crazy jungle
sounds. I’m waiting for the song to explode into something that Sly
and the Family Stone would do, and it never does. Fantastic.

Charanga Cakewalk, “Dirty Cumbia”

This sounds exactly like Forro in the Dark for the first half-minute.
It must be the accordion and the lilting rhythm. Once they start
singing, however, you can tell the difference. Forro in the Dark sing
in Portuguese, not Spanish like this one, and these guys are also much
less dynamic than Forro. They are kind of whispering along the verse.

 It actually sounds like the song from Triplets of Belleville,
but then in the descansa it changes around and sounds more
traditionally Latin American. I’ll call it so-so. Lyrics are bland,
also. Maybe better to hear it performed live in a dance club.