Shine on You Crazy Raga: Pink Floyd, Jazz Improv, and Indian Music

By Michael W. Harris

It has been a long while since I wrote anything about music, so I am going to dip my toes back into an idea I have had since the days of teaching World Musics-Asia back at the University of Colorado Boulder: Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” off their 1975 album Wish You Were Here, is a perfect Western adaptation of the Indian music raga form.

Hear me out. I will not argue that they consciously or deliberately did this, I have no proof of that nor do I believe they did. Pink Floyd wrote “Diamond” to be a raga with the same amount of purposeful thought that they wrote Dark Side of the Moon to sync up with Wizard of Oz. Rather, I would just like to lay out my reasoning why it is a great encapsulation of the form, albeit done through the lens of Western musical style and tonalities. Continue reading “Shine on You Crazy Raga: Pink Floyd, Jazz Improv, and Indian Music”

Random Thoughts about Life, Librarians, and one certain Tuesday

By Michael W. Harris

The interior-exterior of Pickler Library at Truman State University

I began, rather unknowingly, my career in libraries one afternoon in September of my junior year at Truman State University. At that time I still had my sights set on a professional trajectory in music, either as a performer or teacher, with bassoon as my stock-in-trade. I mainly began working in the Music and Media Library as a means to earn my work study dollars, and I had an in with the boss because my sister had worked there previously. I would continue to work there for the remainder of my undergrad.

The next three years. Continue reading “Random Thoughts about Life, Librarians, and one certain Tuesday”

chapter one {Prelude and Earth’s Death: Depression and the Apocalypse}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

Melancholia is a difficult movie…no…a brutal movie to get through. It is a punishing two hours and fifteen minutes in which all the moments of rest and humor come in the first thirty minutes. And this includes the eight-minute montage of slowly moving, beautifully rendered, pseudo living paintings that culminates with the end of the world, all of which is set to the strains of Richard Wagner’s Prelude from Tristan und Isolde. It is a hard movie to watch, and is even harder to recommend.

I guess the upside, if there is an upside, is that if you can’t get through the entire film, at least you know the ending: the world ends. But how the film gets there—how it slowly builds as all mirth and joy leaves its world, and the viewer and characters are stuck in a claustrophobic, opulent country castle as the world grapples with apocalyptic happenings (and yet, you see nothing of that outside world on-screen)—is masterful to watch. It just isn’t enjoyable to view. Continue reading “chapter one {Prelude and Earth’s Death: Depression and the Apocalypse}”

chapter one {We Were Just Listening: The Search for Connection}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

Yes, this is a picture from my trip in 2015. It was a beautiful day in the high New Mexican desert.

In March of 2015 I visited a dear friend of mine in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during my university employer’s spring break. I was almost two years out of my PhD and had started getting the acceptance letters back from the library school programs I had applied to after making the jump from adjunct teaching to library work. It was a great trip, but because of my friend’s job, there were a few days in which I was left to my own devices. On one of those days I made a trip to a place very familiar to many science nerds like myself: The Very Large Array (VLA).

Nestled in a valley and ringed by mountains to cut down on interference from other radio signals, the VLA is some fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, and is widely recognized for its appearance in the 1997 film Contact. Despite the 2 ½ hour drive from Albuquerque to the VLA, I still spent some three hours on site, walking the grounds, staring up at the massive dishes and trying to visualize the sheer scale of the array and the science conducted there: peering into the depths of our universe, searching for black holes and quasars, probing into the fundamental questions of creation, and, of course, being used in the hunt for intelligent, extra-terrestrial life. Continue reading “chapter one {We Were Just Listening: The Search for Connection}”

chapter one {Free of Time: Temporality, Memory, Love, Loss, and Choice}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

I knew I wanted to see Arrival from the moment I saw the first trailer. I wasn’t familiar with director Denis Villeneuve’s previous films, but Arrival promised to be a visually stunning, thoughtful science-fiction film. Something that has been sorely lacking in the genre, at least amongst the traditional mainstream fare.

For those in need of a “brief” refresher, Arrival is the story of Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, who is one of the world’s foremost linguists. The movie begins with what appears to be a flashback to Louise playing with a daughter, who is then absent for most of the film, the audience is led to assume the daughter is dead, except for apparent flashbacks, and we see “present” Louise in a very solitary and somber state. Quickly, world events take over as twelve alien ships arrive on Earth, and Louise joins a team of scientists trying to establish contact. The big twist is that the aliens, or heptapods they are called, communicate in a language in which their words appear all at once rather than in a linear string, as in human communication. The upshot is that because the heptapods communicate in such a fashion they it causes them to perceive time not as linear but all at once, via what is called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. And because Louise is learning to read and understand heptapod, she also begins to have the same perception. This is when we, the audience, understand that the daughter that we believe has been haunting Louise’s memories is actually the daughter of her and another scientist, Ian (played by Jeremy Renner), and this is the moment they meet. In other words, because of her newfound fluency in heptapod, she now perceives past, present, and future as one. However, she also now knows that her and Ian’s daughter is doomed to die from a rare disease, and yet still chooses to begin the relationship with Ian. The question lingering over the ending of the film, though, is if she actually has the choice in that matter or if our lives are fixed. Continue reading “chapter one {Free of Time: Temporality, Memory, Love, Loss, and Choice}”

chapter one {encounters with the Other} – an introduction

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

The ability to create an empathetic response in an audience member is one of art’s greatest powers. It forces a viewer, reader, or listener to consider something from a point-of-view other than their own and can even create a change in attitude within them. And if an artist can do this while also building sympathy with something alien to the viewer, creating empathy for something truly “other” to the viewer’s world, all the better.

Sometimes that something alien is literally an extra-terrestrial, or at least something so foreign it might as well be of another world. How we change after encountering the Other can only be described as “apocalyptic” in the literal sense of the word: an uncovering. While today we usually associate the word “apocalypse” with the end of the world, or some world altering event, it literally means a “revelation or disclosure,” such as the biblical Book of Revelation—or in Greek “Apokalypsis Ioannou,” John’s Revelation. As such, an encounter with the Other can be an apocalyptic moment because it can be revelatory about ourselves, both the audience surrogate on screen and our actual selves. For the sake of clarity, I will label these two types of apocalypses as either a revelatory or catastrophic apocalypses. Continue reading “chapter one {encounters with the Other} – an introduction”

It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens

By Michael W. Harris

The Sailor Pro Gear Slim Purple Cosmos. I love this pen, but it is probably the most FOMO purchase I have made.

It is hard to be a fountain pen enthusiast and be of modest means. Budgets are really tight and FOMO is strong with the endless parade of pretty limited edition pens in swirling colors. You naturally want to get ALL THE THINGS, but rational thought, your bank balance, and the crushing reality that you can only use so many pens and inks in a lifetime (and you cannot take them with you) will, hopefully, bring one back down to earth. So, what is one to do to keep the fountain pen/stationery passion alive and well when you cannot plunk down $900 on a new Visconti at the drop of a hat? How can the stationery junkie in search of their next fix get it while also on a budget?

Some find that rush in the form of cheap Chinese pens bought from Amazon, Etsy, or eBay. Fun to explore, easier on the wallet, and many times mimicking the hot trends of the larger or more expensive brands (looking at you PenBBS faux Conid), these can be a way of exploring different aspects of the hobby without breaking the bank. Continue reading “It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens”

chapter_0: haunted cinemas {part ii – hauntological foundations}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

Hauntology is a seemingly straightforward concept, yet it can be fraught with complexity and misunderstanding. As mentioned previously, French philosopher and deconstructinist Jacques Derrida first coined the term in relation to the fall of Communism in the early 1990s. In a piece for The Guardian, Andrew Gallix wrote that, “Derrida argued that Marxism would haunt Western society from beyond the grave.” The word itself is a play on the word ontology, which is simply the philosophical study of being and existence, and Colin Davis argues that, “[h]auntology supplants [ontology by]…replacing the priority of being and presence with the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present nor absent, neither dead nor alive.” Hauntology is literally that: the haunting of our present by that which came before, the past lingering on after it has passed. A ghostly apparition right behind us, in the corner of our mind’s eye.

While I generally hate the word nostalgia, especially in our current cultural age wherein I feel it is overused in reference to our wave of ‘80s themed/tinged shows, I think my favorite brief definition of hauntology, also coming from the Gallix piece, is that it is a “nostalgia for all our lost futures.” To me, this nicely sums up how hauntology works for me on both a personal and global level. When I reflect on the past, on choices, forks in the road, and what I had hoped my life to be and what I wished for the future of our world, my haunted sense comes from those “lost futures.”

For me, a haunted film might make me reflect on my own possible lost futures, or maybe those of humanity, much like my reaction to The Tree of Life I described in part one of this chapter. It came as I was deep in my PhD work and questioning and comparing myself to my grandfather. Would I ever start a family, or does my personality preclude that in an age so obsessed with outward performances of self. Regardless of the film, something about it rips me out of the moment and thrusts me into a ghostly otherworld of the specters of the past and future, like some sort of trippy Christmas Carol. Continue reading “chapter_0: haunted cinemas {part ii – hauntological foundations}”

chapter_0: haunted cinemas {part i – specters of futures passed}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

There is a feeling I get after watching some movies. It is a simultaneous desire to not only immediately rewatch the film, but also to never see it again. It is hard to describe, but it stems from how the movie has so thoroughly torn me down to my bare essence, laid bare all my thoughts and emotions, and caused me to examine that which I work so hard to cover up and ignore just to get through life on a daily basis. My reaction is one of raw feeling. I want to see these movies again because I long to better understand my reaction, and, in the process, understand myself. But at the same time, I never want to see them again because I am afraid of my reaction to them. I am afraid of what the film exposes, and I am afraid of what it might say about me.

These are films that linger in my mind long after I exit the theatre or hit stop on my remote. These are films that haunt me.

And it is time for me to go back to them and examine why I am haunted by them. Continue reading “chapter_0: haunted cinemas {part i – specters of futures passed}”

prologue < /life_out_of_joint> {part two}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

The Ritual Process. Image taken from Niven Ibrahim’s thesis project “Liminality in Architecture” from Ryerson University.

Cultural anthropologist Victor Turner theorized about what is called the “ritual process,” broken into three phases: separation, liminal, and reincorporation. Turner was building upon the work of many before him but did most of his work in expanding upon the idea of the liminal phase. For him, when one is in the liminal period of the ritual, they are in-between, in the process of becoming something entirely new. If we think of a ritual like the rite of passage into adulthood (such as a bar or bat mitzvah), when one is performing the prescribed rituals they are neither a child nor an adult. They do not belong to the society that they were formerly in, but neither do they belong to the new community that they are entering into. They are in a limbo state, or, put another way, they are “out of joint” with normal temporality and being.

In one of my early papers on film music written for a doctoral seminar on ethnomusicology, I used this three-fold ritual model to describe the process of seeing a movie, with the actual viewing as the liminal phase. You have been separated from society proper when you enter into the movie theatre (indeed, these days you have to be reminded to actually separate yourself from the outside and “silence your cellphone”), then you experience the ritual viewing a film, and when it is over you are reincorporated into society a changed person. You are different. You are now part of the group that has seen that film.

While most films we see do not leave a lasting impression, nor do they truly change how we see the world, a good film will have such an effect. A thoughtful film. A film that lingers and haunts you in the days and weeks that follow. Continue reading “prologue < /life_out_of_joint> {part two}”