Be gone, 2018

I don’t really consume a lot of current media1, and have accordingly joked that if I made a best-media-I-consumed-in-2018 list, it would just be re-reading Sailor Moon and a bunch of video games from the early 2000s. But, digging a bit deeper, 2018 was one of the rare years that I did consume slightly more current cultural artifacts. So, why the fuck not: let’s list off the best of the best that 2018 had to offer me.

NPR's 150 greatest albums made by women (external)

A phenomenal list that really hit home for me. While some of these albums are well off my radar, so many of them were the music I needed during my formative years. There’s a nice speckling of queer representation, but it would have been nice to see at least one trans woman on the list (I’m sure Transgender Dysphoria Blues has saved more lives than, say, Art Angels or Days are Gone), but those are the breaks. Interestingly, the write-up that precedes the list itself mentions the lack of Latinx artists and the dearth of jazz – hinting at some racial blind spots without acknowledging where the LGBT community was passed by. I was surprised at just how much Taylor Swift was on the list (not disappointed, but surprised), was shocked to see Beyoncé’s 4 but not… any other Beyoncé album save Lemonade, and was delighted to see Rumours actually considered an album made by women.

How not to write about trans folks

While looking for something entirely unrelated, I came across this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune about a new book on Wendy Carlos. I wouldn’t actually recommend reading the article, as it comes off rather vapid and hollow, and the Union-Tribune’s website is extremely user-hostile. A couple of things stood out to me, however. First of all, I do think journalists and their publications are generally getting a bit better about talking about trans folks. This article could have been much worse. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.

For one thing, the article casually deadnames Carlos for no reason. Throughout the article, they do refer to her as Wendy (and they never misgender her), but just once there’s a pointless little parenthetical with her deadname. I get that she released albums under that name, and I suppose this could be a point of confusion for some casual listener, but any further research by an interested reader would clear this up. In my opinion, there needs to be a very good reason to deadname a trans person, and this article sorely lacked one.

As I mentioned, the article is actually about a new book about Carlos (or, I suppose, about Switched on Bach). The author, Roshanak Kheshti, is a UC San Diego professor, and talks a bit in the article about diversity and intersectionality in the music scene, apparently a running theme in her coursework as well. What fascinates me is that, in an article that is simultaneously about a prominent transgender musician and a professor who teaches about the impact of marginalized groups on culture, gender identity is not mentioned once. I don’t know if this was a matter of Kheshti not bringing up (say) the struggle of transgender musicians, or if the paper simply plucked their quotations around it, but it’s a really strange omission.

I look forward to checking out Kheshti’s book once it comes out, and I have this article to thank for that. But as I mentioned above, it was a rather hollow read and could have done so much more to acknowledge the realities that trans musicians are dealing with. Now more than ever, the media should feel an obligation to lift up marginalized groups, and subtle deadnaming and inattention to their subjects’ realities does not an obligation fulfill.

The Classic Sound of the Moog Ladder Filter (external)

Great little article from nearly a decade ago about Robert Moog’s filter that shaped the sound of synthesizer music. Oddly enough, while the article mentions some of the Moog module’s prices, it doesn’t actually mention the price of the ladder filter. Having been researching lately exactly what Tangerine Dream would have been working with at any given moment on Phaedra, I happen to have the 1969 Moog price list (PDF) in front of me – $730 for the full-fledged 904 Voltage-Controlled Filter. That’s about $4,900 dollars today, nearly ten times as much as Moog’s current ladder filter. Bonus link: Robert Moog’s patent number 3,475,623: Electronic High-pass and Low-pass filters employing the base to emitter diode resistance of bi-polar transistors (PDF).

Playlist for a new turntable

After a bit of a hiatus, I’m re-entering the analog domain, though hopefully with a more manageable, pared-down collection exclusive to albums that I would actually want to sit through in their entireties. With that said, I know my first session or two will come of sporadic playlists, selected tracks that either mean a lot to me, make me happy for whatever reason, or challenge an audio system. Ten ideas for the inaugural spin-up:

Breaking Binaries (external)

Wonderfully written article about intersectionality catching up with feminism, particularly in the world of classical composition. What’s interesting to me is that that’s sort of the surface narrative here, but it’s really about marginalized groups trying so hard to get their voices heard, their tiny slices of power, that they forget other marginalized groups that are fighting alongside them. It’s kind of a refreshing article, as it’s not about TERFs or any sort of intentional exclusion necessarily… More the collateral damage of little wins, the ease in which we get caught up in them.

Site is behind some kind of paywall or something, so hopefully the reader hasn’t read two articles on ‘Van’ before. Not sure if that is in a month, or a year, or ever… pretty unclear. Just block cookies, I guess.

Musical numbers (external)

Music is, at its very core, mathematical. Harmonics are ratios; rich sounds are produced as a result of the interplay of fundamental frequencies and partials. Some, like Tom Johnson and Seth Horvitz, have been far more explicit in their use of mathematics as composition. While searching for something else on The On-line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, I was incredibly pleased to find the linked page, which generates a MIDI file from any of the OEIS’s sequences. Handful of curated sequences on the front page, but even beyond that it’s all great fun.