Reviewing Music

I often write about new albums and songs, giving my subjective thoughts and opinions on the production, content, and presentation. When I write about a certain album, it’s because I have strong feelings about it that I can’t help but share, whether they’re extremely negative or positive. The result is a volatile review system, where it seems like I either love something or hate it, and more often than not it seems like I love everything, since I usually write best about the songs and albums that I love. I find myself overthinking this often, especially when I’m writing; I start to question whether or not the review is objective, and what makes a valuable review for the average reader. In examining these questions about music reviewing, I find myself turning to YouTube’s self-proclaimed “internet’s busiest music nerd” Anthony Fantano, who is notable for his frequent album reviews on his channel theneedledrop.

I only started watching Fantano’s reviews a few years ago, and hesitantly at first; I didn’t believe that music could truly be judged, since it is inherently subjective, and I often disagreed with his reviews of my favorite albums. However, there was something fascinating about his approach to reviewing, specifically the vast amount of musical knowledge and terminology he used when examining albums. He is able to fill a ten minute video entirely with thoughtful musical opinions, grounded in absolute reasoning. He certainly has biases (easily seen by genres he prefers), and always reminds his viewers that he is just sharing his opinion, but he always approaches new music and genres with an open mind. I still disagree with some of his final ratings (especially the 3/10 he gave Mac Miller’s Swimming), but I find it hard to argue with him; nothing he says is factually wrong, and at the end of the day it just comes down to a different taste in music. For example, he says that Mac Miller’s singing is off-key and mediocre, with a weak presentation, but I hear the same thing and find it intimate and endearing. It just comes down to a subjective interpretation of objective musical facts, and I find that relationship so fascinating in reviewing music.

After thinking about what makes Anthony Fantano such a fair and interesting critic, I narrowed down great music reviews to two important things: understanding and discussing music objectively, and being passionate about the review. With only objective facts you have a boring and generic review, and with nothing but passion you have an intellectually shallow review that offers no value to the reader’s understanding of the music. With these two thoughts in mind, I look forward to writing more music reviews in the future; thankfully there is no shortage of new and interesting music.

The Salt Wall — Prologue

“Inferiors revolt in order that they may be equal, and equals that they may be superior. Such is the state of mind which creates revolutions.”

— ARISTOTLE

“A superior man never fears death”

— KIM MAN-JUNG, The Nine Cloud Dream

 

P R O L O G U E

Summer

The gentle thrumming of acid rain could be heard between the sounds of screeching tires and shattered windows, and Porter could only watch quietly as blood soaked through Piper’s white dress shirt from a small wound, mixing with the rain and staining it a light pink. He studied her as she tied the small, opaque bag around the base of a large bamboo plant. The uprooted soil was already wet by the time she began to fix the potted bamboo back into place. The warm rain reflected a certain loneliness in her flax-colored eyes; the water droplets refracting like sparkling tears were an enchanting addition to her cool demeanor. Her jet-black hair that stuck itself to her face while she worked presented to him the image of a mother wolf peering through tall grass at unsuspecting prey.

Porter removed his dirty glasses to examine her more closely. She was beautiful in the rain.

The apartment room was sparsely decorated, neglect visible in various forms of debris. The roof was splintered open with blackened wood and frozen at a wicked angle, supported by charred stucco walls. With a sigh, Porter flopped onto the rusty bed frame beside the apartment’s broken window. He leaned backwards, letting himself fall through the space where a wall had once been, embracing the rain and letting it wet his face and body. He realized in this moment just how much his bones ached from the last few weeks. The pain went much deeper than bone. Above him, the ceiling was as high as the sky. He stretched his lanky arms toward the open gap in the building’s roof just as he had done in this exact spot many times before. Although the rain was coming down hard, he made no effort to shield his face or protect his vision. He relished the sting of acid in his eyes. Due to the clouds, the ceiling was lower than usual today, and he could nearly touch it.

What bothered Porter was not the stinging rain, the smell of sulfur melting the street, or the muted shouting on the horizon, but rather the pungent odor of charcoal flames and burning flesh which manifested itself only to him. With his eyes open, he smelled it in his mind. With his eyes closed, the scene recreated itself: the wall behind him was whole again, and behind that wall came a playful whistle, a golden laugh that could have tickled the heavens. He’d imagine himself standing before a pillar of smoke, a ball of fire. He’d imagine looking down at his wrists, zip tied to a stretcher. He could picture the California sun beating on the pavement, the stilled palm trees, and the gentle blue of a summer afternoon. When he opened his eyes again, the only sounds were rain and distant drums; the only sight a black, callous sky.

What Porter couldn’t have imagined is what Joel had said to him in that casual, offhand way he tended to do with his lazy eye trailing off in the distance. How quickly everything had changed. Fat chance, turning back now. Strangely, where once he felt anger and remorse now only felt like a calm surrender.

Piper kicked his foot, snapping him out of his reverie. “It’s time to get going.”

After one last glimpse at the flat horizon, purple as a bruise, Porter straightened himself and followed Piper out of the abandoned apartment complex, their footsteps squishing on the wet carpet. The dog was outside the door licking its nuts when Porter clicked his tongue, and it popped up immediately. Duke nuzzled into Porter’s good leg, his tail wagging nervously.

*    *    *

The flooding streets only added to the existing chaos; the city’s lousy sewage systems weren’t equipped to handle large amounts of water, especially not for the worst storm in its history. Summer break for the students of Bursa County High would not be the usual blunt and uneventful sunshine, but rather a swamp of rainy days in a budding warzone.  As the van edged closer and closer to the sound of distant violence, a growing number of dumpster fires began to speckle the early morning horizon like Christmas lights. Despite it all, the crew was chatting idly in the backseats, not seeming to comprehend the impossible pressure building within the city limits.

Porter leaned against the passenger window and propped his feet on the dash, watching the world drown as it whizzed past him. He noticed how everything seemed to shine more brightly in the rain. The reflections of red streetlights, fluorescent signs, and flashing police sirens on waterlogged roads painted the city with more color than he had ever seen. Electric neon lights stretched across the buildings and asphalt like bright oil pastels on a sheet of water. Arrays of backlit signs and the glow of West Bush Cinema’s vertical display streaked the dark empty street like a fever dream, fueling the city with a warm energy Porter thought had been lost long ago.

The first one went graceful and fast. The second not so much. Piper was laying in the trunk with Duke curled up beside her, pressing a rag to her gash when they arrived at Valenta Street. She propped herself up and winked in Porter’s direction, giving Duke a pat on the head. Duke whined and shifted uneasily on his front paws. Porter watched as she slipped wordlessly through the trunk and vanished into the darkness.

Cooper was already complaining before we pulled up to Asherton, but that was to be expected. “You know what we have to do,” said Porter dryly, tapping his wrist where a watch might have been. “It seems you are running out of moonlight, Mr. Hayes.”

Not without a mumble and a curse or two, Cooper hopped out of the car with a splash, loping around the corner with his backpack full of trinkets jingling and a string dangling loose behind him.

*   *   *

They finally arrived at Porter’s stop, a damp underpass. He wiped his glasses with the inside of his shirt out of habit. When he got out, Duke started whining anxiously.

“Don’t worry boy,” he said, rubbing the dog under its ears, to which it gave a loud bark. Porter smiled and pressed his nose to Duke’s. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

As the van drove off with a noisy dog in tow, Porter found himself alone with the rain as it fell over the archway like a watery curtain. He sat himself down on the cold sidewalk and hugged his knees, rocking back and forth, simply observing. It was a position he found himself in very frequently these days. To his mild surprise, he had been dropped off at Sunset Tunnel, a spot which provided convenient shelter from the rain, but more notably was home to years and years of colorful graffiti scribbled on its leisurely sloped walls. Illuminated by a nearby streetlamp, the torrential rain blended with the myriad of rainbow designs to give off a vaguely preternatural effect—words of hope, words of love, words of goodbye—some scuffed and some brand new, mostly tagged by people he had known at one point. A long time ago, Porter had tagged something of his own here, but he was sure it was covered by now and didn’t bother to look.

As a rule, Porter tried not to contemplate things too much anymore, but these moments lent themselves to the occasion rather nicely. In the span of a few days, the world he knew had fallen victim to the disease which had infected his own life on and off for many years. Though it seemed to have resurfaced only recently, it had been festering for much longer than that. By the time Porter caught the disease of this city, or at least when he had diagnosed himself, the time frame for an antidote had long since passed. He remembered a time when he hadn’t succumbed to the chaotic sickness and still lived untouched in ignorant bliss. He sometimes wanted to close his eyes forever and live only in those moments, asleep within his thoughts. But he steeled his nerves and inhaled the acidic rain-washed air. He must be forever watchful for the day when he’d get his chance to wake up from this beautiful, twisted dream.

Porter had only to look directly ahead to see the dream coming once again to pluck him from reality. This time it came in the shape of headlights, a familiar car rolling slowly to a halt beside him.

“Oh hello,” said Porter, smiling. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Ready for the World: The Only Option Pt. 1

On Monday, I had the joy of talking with Selene Yang, a senior majoring in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience with a minor in Creative Writing. It was one of those long conversations where we got carried away and explored some unexpected topics, so I’m splitting this interview up into two parts. This week is about Selene and her personal journey with creative writing. Next week, we discuss “Writing Twitter.” Stay tuned.

The Art of Translation

As a student of the classical Latin language, I often translate famous Latin prose and poetry that has withstood the test of time. Working with these historical pieces is wonderful in a variety of ways, but I find it particularly fascinating how different translations of the same passage can vary widely in both their structure and tone. I was recently discussing some of my thoughts on what makes a great artistic translation in my Latin class and I thought it would be great to share those thoughts with you, and hopefully peak your curiosity in the art of translation. To demonstrate what makes one translation fall short, and another translation stand out, we’ll look at two translations of the same passage from the Aeneid by Vergil, a famous passage in which the protagonist Aeneas tells of the infamous “Trojan horse” being found on the beach and the priest of Apollo, Laocoon, warning the Trojans of Greek offerings.

Then Laocoön rushes down eagerly from the heights

of the citadel, to confront them all, a large crowd with him, 

and shouts from far off: ‘O unhappy citizens, what madness? 

Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think 

any Greek gifts free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation? 

Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood, 

or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls, 

or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above, 

or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse. 

Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.’

– A.S. Kline, Poetry in Translation, The Aeneid (2002)

The first translation of the passage by A.S. Kline is interesting in how literal and linear it is; it follows the structure of the original Latin very closely, not adding implied or gapped vocabulary unless absolutely necessary for understanding. This leads to some sentences feeling unfinished, such as “what madness”, in which Kline decides not to include a main verb, making the sentence unintelligible in English. In contrast to his literal interpretation of the Latin, he does take liberties in his translations of adjectives and verbs. He shifts them around from the original Latin in order to paint a different picture that better fits the image that he wants to convey. It can be argued that these modifications of the original Latin are beneficial to the English reader, but it conflicts with his other literal translation decisions. It leads to this semi-modern translation that is choppy and lacks a consistent tone, while only being marginally easier to understand.

And now Laocoon comes running down

From the citadel at the head of a great thong

And in his burning haste he cries from afar:

‘Are you out of your minds, you poor fools?

Are you so easily convinced that the enemy

Has sailed away? Do you honestly think

That any Greek gift comes without treachery?

What is Ulysses known for? Either this lumber

Is hiding Achaens inside, or it has been built

As an engine of war to attack our walls,

To spy on our homes and come down on the city

From above. Or some other evil lurks inside.

Do not trust the Horse, Trojans! Whatever it is,

I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.’

– Stanley Lombardo, Hackett, Aeneid (2005)

The translation by Stanley Lombardo is different than the previous translation in a few significant ways: Lombardo does not follow the order of the original, he uses numerous adverbs that are not present in the original Latin, and he generally uses more idiomatic and figurative English to create a tone to the passage.  In doing so, he creates a more flowing and intriguing narrative, and overall I think that a large number of Lombardo’s additions are supported by the original context of the Latin, if not by the literal structures and vocabulary. By being more artistic and presenting his own interpretation, Lombardo conveys better in English what Vergil conveys in the original Latin. The result is a much more interesting narrative that is more imaginative and easier to read, even if it strays far from the literal structure of the Latin.

In conclusion, there is something to be said for both consistency and imagination. A quality translation has a specific goal in mind, whether it be to follow the original language strictly, present a more imaginative narrative, or to make the passage easier to read and understand, and then makes consistent decisions to realize that goal. As far as which goal is best, each has its merits and particular nuances that make them great; such is the beauty of translation.

In the Eyes of an Architecture Student: The Power of Writing and its Relationship to our Discipline

Hi Everyone! I know it’s a bit late, but bear with me! (Ahaha, this is the typical life of an architecture student)

I’m back again this week to discuss the topic: the power of writing and its relationship to our discipline!

I’m sure, no matter what age you are or what major in college you’re pursuing right you, you must’ve thought of English papers and all that unpleasant stuff seemed completely unreasonable and unnecessary to your discipline and life goals. I confess I’ve also had these thoughts at some point before when I took introductory architecture courses that required a ton of writing and I’d remember thinking to myself, “Ughhh I’m in architecture school, shouldn’t I be designing instead of writing all these boring papers‽‽
I do occasionally have these thoughts recurring as I continue to write papers, even as a fourth year in architecture. But I’ve finally grown to understand that writing and architecture are truly interrelated. As ridiculous as it sounds, let me explain.
In architecture, we use different drawing mechanisms as a language to convey our ideas visually. Although drawing seems to be the primary language present in architectural education, it is important to realize that it is still our thoughts and understanding of these thoughts that in turn inspire the abilities behind these drawings.

Let me rephrase more simply, I mean to say that if you cannot describe the idea in verbal language, then you cannot hope to understand the design well enough to effectively convey that idea visually through drawing. All this time, papers have been the root practice at structuring the way we think and understand ideas verbally as designers, but also serves as the universal method to communicate ideas with each other. To be a better writer directly correlates with being a better designer in that you are able to clearly understand what it is you want to highlight about your ideas in the representational drawings. To reinforce my point, these drawings and all your models are to be displayed at critiques reviews where you are expected to help your critics understand your project so that they can then give you feedback on what to improve in your representation, or even perhaps what to add to your design to further it’s successes. I canopy stress how important it is to understand our own work before we try to get others to understand it too. As expected, I’ve observed that my classmates who seem quite fluent in explaining their thoughts and ideas about projects are also quite fluent in representation as well, and they also make for quite amazing critics of our work as well.

So, bottom line: do the papers!! As boring as it seems, it’ll help you SO much in the long run, even just as a general human being in general. After all, humans were meant to communicate 🙂

Welp, that’s all I’ve got for tonight, but I’m so grateful for any one of you who’s still up this late and still reading my blog!

Ciao 🙂

Benefits to Sharing Your Writing

Sometimes, sharing our own writing—especially with other authors—can make us feel vulnerable. The process of writing can sometimes feel like a laborious job and an emotional roller coaster, let alone sharing it with others. We don’t want others to judge us or our writing in a negative way; however, sharing our writing can actually be beneficial for the craft and its process.

Good writing requires honesty even if the truth is not always what we want to hear. Even writing a blog post can be intimidating. I know not many people tend to comment on or read my posts, but the idea of others critiquing my thoughts and amplifying every small mistake I make is terrifying. Crafting an arts, ink. blog post is often a simple process of taking my thoughts on artsy things and expressing them in text. While it seems like a trivial matter, I’m still making myself vulnerable to judgment, criticism, and misinterpretation. With my creative writing such as short stories (or the poetry I occasionally dabble in, though I know nothing about poetry), the feeling of vulnerability is amplified.

With our own writing, it’s easy to become attached. While it’s great to be passionate about our work, it’s another thing to be so defensive we reject any possible critiques. On the flip side, perhaps a writer isn’t confident with their writing, and refuses to share in fear of rejection. Either way, sharing writing with others can be beneficial in gaining an outside view on the clarity and meaning of our words. It can be both a humbling and helpful experience when we are open to suggestions made by others. Maybe certain content makes sense to the writer but not to the readers; yet, there is no way of knowing this until getting feedback from others. Why does the character do this, or what did you mean when you said that? A fresh pair of eyes will be able to pick out flaws that the writer overlooked and note if the writing is convoluted or otherwise confusing. Overall, feedback can be extremely valuable in revealing what was good about the piece and what could be worked on.

I strive to grow in my writing skills and become competent at crafting creative works. It’s something I’m passionate about and would like to continue improving on after school. Why, then, would I readily subject the product of my blood, sweat, and tears to criticism? Well, writing is a balance between being critical in a constructive manner and submitting yourself to self-criticism. By sharing my writing, I’m letting others know what’s on my mind and in my heart, even if it’s through other characters or other worlds. The sharing process ultimately helps me with the examination and reexamination of my story ideas. Receiving feedback helps me discover the strengths and weaknesses of a piece in addition to the strengths and weaknesses I have as a writer overall.