Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Friday, February 24, 2006

Culture Shock

Today's show was Salif Keita, "The Golden Voice of Africa". "Master of West African rhythms... world renowned for his unforgettable live performances, soaring vocals and his emotionally-fueled songs." "Keita's circle of musical collaborators have [sic] included jazz legends Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter; guitarists Carlos Santana and Vernon reid; and divas Grace Jones and Cesaria Evora."

Salif Keita is in his 60s. He was dressed in what could have passed for a crumpled white kurta-pyjama. His band consisted of drums, congas and assorted percussion (staff of 3), two guitars, bass, two female backup singers, and one 6 foot 6 inch gent whose job it was to appear every third song dressed in newer and fancier Afro-kitsch costume, to jump, gyrate, and thrash around the front of the stage.

The music was largely a bunch of singing laid over the type of rhythm section that normally gets described as "polyrhythmic", "infectious", and "soul-stirring". At times, it was very good. Too often, it was the same vamp over and over again, getting louder and faster on its way to the inevitable crescendo. The crowd loved it. Especially the costume guy jumping.

I thought the musicians were ace. Every solo was brilliant. There were so few of them. It was awful to have to strain to hear the bass solo over the howls of laughter provoked by the guy monkeying around to the music. Pelvic thrusts were in abundance, each one greeted with greater delight. I felt weird that the music had to be debased by the performance in such a way, but maybe I was missing a cultural link. It was good if you could overlook the monotony of the polyrhythm (ooh) as long as the eyes stayed closed. At the end half the crowd got invited onto the stage to wiggle their bottoms in the spotlight.

A friend I went with left the auditorium before the encore to go to the restroom. On his way back in, he passed two Brit matrons making their way out. Overheard, "This one is *all* my responsibility."

Monday, February 20, 2006


Bright lights, colored clothing, pyjamas, exciting performances by players at the top of their game, and it is...

Shubha Mudgal and Abida Parveen in concert.

Not quite, though. This is one of those "space-bridge" programs where you have two groups of people sitting at either end of a satellite connection. So it isn't really a duet. Plus it's spoiled for me by the presence of moderators at both ends, and panels that insist on going on about how we're essentially one culture etc. (I fwded through those bits, so there may be more than a fair share of stunning insights and driblets of wisdom there -- let me know if so.) That said, the music parts of this clip are great viewing, especially the bits in which the two singers react to each other. I wish the producers had left in a few less vapid audience shots and a few more of these moments.

The first two links on the page are video part 1 and video part 2, the third is audio. Abida Parveen's performance, which was the highlight for me, starts at a little before 15 minutes into video part 2.

Alarming thought section: Abida-ji reminded me of an early 70s Garcia. With the vibe kind of different, of course.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Squashed wrists and aural salve

Just back from the Terence Blanchard Sextet. It's HK's annual Arts Festival, which means that there's a blip on the usually somnolent horizon of this cultural backwater. (Thought to self -- "wasteland"? No, backwater's more like it. The HMV store does stock decent stuff, as does HK Records, and once a year we do get some succour. To come round. We get some succour to come round. Get it get it?) Once a year we get some culture, and not being choosers, we lap it up with eyes closed.

I say that literally. I had never heard of Terence Blanchard before I saw the program schedule a couple of months ago. I had just blindly checked all the entries (i.e., both), in the "jazz" column of the program. I had never heard his music until today. The only person who I had asked about him had said, "Oh yeah, the vibraphonist, right?" I had said, "Possibly."

Turns out Terence Blanchard plays trumpet. He was tutored in high school by Ellis Marsalis, and replaced Wynton in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He's recently been taking tips from Shorter and Hancock (more on that below). Heh, some pedigree, ignoramus me. His sextet, not that you wanted to know, consists of Brice Winston, (age 35) on tenor and soprano saxophone (excellent phrasing and feel), Lionel Loueke (from Benin) on electric guitar and vocals (absolute genius on rhythm as well as lead, abstract angular jazz lines as well as melody), Aaron Parks (age 22) on piano (some wonderful compositions), Derrick Hodge (age 26) on bass, and Kendrick Scott (age 25) on drums (very nice touch but I thought he over-played a little at times). A really really young group.

Blanchard, who's apparently been picking up tips from Shorter and Hancock (who produced their latest CD "Flow" last year, and I'm certain I caught the Maiden Voyage theme at the end of the second number) at the Thelonious Monk Institute, said again and again that this group of musicians were really creative ("visionary"), and he commented on their youth as well. They certainly were a cohesive band, and when they stretched out they pushed and pulled in all kinds of crazy dimensions. I particularly liked a sequence where they started off a number, that the African guitarist had written, with all band members playing percussion on their various instruments, then the guitarist came in with some soft plucking, and suddenly his amp or something gave out. He knelt down to fiddle with the connections but the band continued on the rhythm, then amped it up a little when they saw he needed some time, and soon they were on a full-fledged jam that automatically receded into a vamp as soon as he stood up, and in the blink of an eyelid he was into his solo. Magic. Also noteworthy about that particular number was the vocal 'track' that he laid down, augmented with clicks and sounds a little like Bobby McFerrin. He also had a Keller Williams-like repeater box, so at one point he was making two sounds with his mouth (in real time), plus three sounds, plucking, slapping (like on a bass), and playing lead, on his guitar. All with a soft funk bass, brushes on the drums (LOVE that sound, every time), and minimalist piano impressions. Aah. The disks were all sold out in the foyer, but never mind, it goes on the list.

The music was great, but the really interesting thing about the evening's experience, however, was my wrist. Just about three hours prior to the show starting, my squash partner had managed to land a full-blooded follow-through on the bony knobbly part of my right wrist. By the time the show began, the area was nice and pink and swollen. (Hmmm...) It still is. And it's gotten chilly these days (or should I say a nip to the air), so I was certainly feeling it in the evening when I walked in to the auditorium. But, here's the thing, two hours later I realized I'd applauded several times during the evening. My palms were nice and buzzing. The bony pink swollen part was as pink and swollen as before. When I looked at it, it hurt. Still does. But for two hours, Terence and friends took it all away.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sidin's guide to the greatest Indian cricketers

Domain Maximus: Sidin's guide to the greatest Indian cricketers of all time especially that period between 4 and 6 pm last week

Sheer brilliance.

"Ravi Shastri was the heartthrob of millions of women in the late 80s and early 90s and was considered a great looker. This has now been found to be an error due to primitive TV broadcasting technology."

"Kapil Dev was also one of the first few cricketers to make it big in the world of advertising and synonymous with the caption: "Boost is the secret of my enema. Our enema. (Smile)"

"Kris Srikkanth was the quintessential South Indian in the team who rapidly learned Hindi while playing for India, leading to an average of well over 4 run outs per match in the process."

"If Akthar is the "Rawalpindi Express" then for many years Venkatesh Prasad, a key part of the bowling attack, was affectionately called "The Slow Bangalore Passenger That Is Currently Broken Down At Palakkad Station. Passengers approach ticket counter for refund please."

And much much more.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

God Rest Ye Merry Lumberjacks

More evidence that we pay for our sins.

I had left one entry off the setlist that I posted yesterday. The last thing we heard before switching to the Miles DVD was Garaj Mahal 5/24/02, with Nick Barron, doing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Poodle Factory. (A great show.)

I wake up this morning with the GRYMG theme playing in my head. With these words.

I chop down trees, I wear high heels...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Setlist for a Sunday

So this Sunday I had someone passing through town -- an old friend's new husband, a guy I'd never met. All I knew about him was that he works for a (famous) software company and "is as picky about his music as you are."

He called at 6:45 am from the airport, and was at the old doorstep less than an hour later. I, barely awake, opened the door. I had one of my "early morning disks" playing -- a set of Hancock and Shorter duets called 1+1.

As he walked in, he asked what it was. I told him. He expressed his appreciation, first for the music and then for the rig it was playing on. I began to warm to him (ah flattery). He said that a big drawback of a good system is that they bring out all the imperfections in old recordings. I said yes, but nowadays they're releasing some excellent remastered versions of these old recordings. I pulled out my brand new Fillmore West 1969 set. We sat and heard disk 1 through in silence.

The next few hours were a roller-coaster, as we pulled out disk after disk after disk -- I from off the shelves and he from within his laptop. It was an exciting morning -- like I told his wife when we called, "We're both having fun. No one's talking." This list is roughly the sequence in which things happened. The ones marked with * were his.

- Hancock and Shorter 1+1
- GD: Fillmore West 1969 disk1
- Wayne Shorter Quartet: Beyond the Sound Barrier
- Andy Summers: Peggy's Blue Skylight* (Mingus covers)
- The Persuasions: Black Muddy River
- Charlie Hunter: ?? (some tracks)*
- Steve Kimock Band: 10-01-2005, disk2 track1
- Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin: Spaces Revisited*
- Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey: Just Add Water* (drums and two bass)
- Hellborg / Lane / Sipe: Personae
- Prasanna: Ragabop*
- John Scofield: Still Warm*
and finally winding up the day with the Miles Davis 40 minute Isle of Wight set from the A Different Kind of Blue DVD, and as that finished we walked out and I dropped him off in a cab.

It's not quite true that no one talked. The conversation was good too. He told me about something called the marketplace for attention -- a new idea that's capturing a few imaginations around the tech world. We talked about my consumer-psych perspective on it. Maybe I'll follow some of the links he sent me, and think about it a little more.

Meanwhile, in case you're interested, there's this.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Selling your soul

So now a town in Texas is changing its name to that of a satellite TV company. Specifically, the Address Formerly Known As Clark, will now be known as DISH. In return, they will get free satellite TV for ten years.

I'm wondering what channels they show, and what if the good citizens don't like the programming. What if the reception is bad?

I'm wondering who Clark was (was it the Lewis-and guy?) and how his folks will take it. Any counter-offers? Ten years of Walmart coupons?

I'm wondering what happens after ten years.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sweden to go oil-free

Well well well.

Sweden to go oil-free. Read about it here.

Tangled Up In Brew

The war on coffee continues, teetering and tottering. Today I strike a low blow. Here's something I'd read about last year (in "Black Gold: A Dark History of Coffee" by Antony Wild -- also an airport bookstore acquisition) that came to mind recently. NASA got a bunch of spiders drugged / stoned / zonked out, and captured the evidence for posterity. Here's a sniff of what they got up to.

Web woven by a spider under the influence of caffeine.

The rest of the dope can be seen at, and many other places online. We will get by.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bait or switch? More fish.

Funny how these things happen. Of course, it's not as if there's some cosmic coincidence, it's just that having talked about it so recently just cast a subsequent event in a similar light. I guess this variety-seeking / optimal stimulation level theme is playing on my mind. (Pity that the PhD class doesn't get to the variety-seeking session until late March or so.)

Three hours in class, plus one hour wasted in desolate office hour solitude, and some forty-odd minutes back home watching the Pakistanis make tangri kababs of our bowling meant that I was pretty far gone by the time I tore myself away from the carnage and off to the local mall for the semi-weekly provision-stocking. En route, got overtaken by the urge for some Japanese dinner -- new restaurant and all. Waddled my way to said bistro, and, without thinking, elbowed through the swarming hordes to the girl at the entrance. She gave me a ticket that said A-31. There were three queues, A, B, and C. My nascent Cantonese told me, when the girl next spoke into her mike, that the current position was at A-17. "Aaaay-sup-chhat."

I could have walked away right there. Fourteen places weren't going to go vacant in a hurry, not at peak hour. My brain was dead, my legs were hurting, I had groceries to hang on to, it was crowded, and I had to get back and get to work, but no. I stuck it out.

Several times during the next 45 minutes and more, I asked myself -- why do I not leave? One part of me said -- inertia, or, sunk cost fallacy, one of the two. Another part was too tired to care. Around 8:30, I realized that by all rights I should have been back in office with a nice little bellyful by now. But no. I stuck it out.

Eventually, of course, I did get in. I stuck it out as the woman counted through the A-20s, and accompanying B's and C's. My muscles tensed up as she came to A-30, all set to spring forth when she called my number, and win friends and influence people with my amazing linguistic ability. But the woman was too smart. She'd remembered that this gweilo was A-31, and she had no inclination to let there be any misunderstanding. When my turn came, she didn't even call out the number, but headed straight for me. Deadly eye contact. No mistake.

Half an hour later, I walked out sated to the gills with a salmon hot pot with some yummy scallop sashimi on the side, all washed down with a little hot sake and some Japanese green tea that to my untrained eyes was nothing but brown. But all said and done, now I'm wondering -- why did I wait there for so long? What would Shantaram have done?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

How much constancy, how much change?

I just finished reading this 900+ word braindump of a book called Shantaram. It's about this guy who escaped from an Australian maximum-security prison in the early 1980s, and in so doing became one of the most wanted men in the world. He jumped ship using a fake passport, and landed up in Bombay. That's where the book begins.

In Bombay, he befriends a slum-dweller tour guide, and travels with him to his village ("natiwe-place") in the interior. Stays there for a few months, working alongside the locals. returns to Bombay and sets up in a shack in the Cuffe Parade slum. Gets round to becoming the local paramedic, with the aid of medicines procured on the black market from an axis of mysterious lepers. Gets thrown into prison, and brutalized for four months (his weight drops from 90 kilos to 45). Gets released without knowing how, and joins the underworld. Is a useful operative on account of his foreign-ness. Forges and runs passports as far abreast as Zaire and Singapore. The mafia don looks on him as a son.

Follows the don to Afghanistan, to fight the Soviets alongside the Taleban. Is one of only four people of the original party to return alive, after harrowing months as a fugitive. Resumes underworld activity. Is admitted to the mafia council -- the uppermost echelons. And as the book ends, it's 1989 or so, and he's contemplating going to Sri Lanka to join battle there.

It's a completely rumbunctious read, and what makes it absolutely unbelievable is that it is, as the NYTimes review put it, a "thinly disguised autobiography".

So how much of this actually happened? The forum is alive with the debate. My personal feeling is that a lot, if not all, of it did. In fact, it seems to me that the only parts that are not convincing are the romantic bits -- I'm pretty sure some of that isn't quite as it happened. But the more interesting aspect that's stuck with me is, details of this one particular life aside, it's funny how much variation there is in the amount of things that people do with their lives. This guy is clearly way off the right tail -- there were several instances during the story where he had the option to just stick to one particular thing, but he chose not to. Psychologists have studied "sensation-seeking tendencies" a lot, and in my line we talk about how variety seeking behaviors are linked to the "optimal stimulation level", but I don't think anyone's ever looked at variety seeking on this scale.

Kind of links back to a discussion I once had about people whose day jobs require "intelligence" vs. not, and the types of hobbies they prefer -- "intelligent" vs. not. But that's another can of worms.

PS. BTW, the Kolkata domestic airport bookstore is a killer. It's tiny, but somehow they always seem to have books that call out to me. Way way better than the WHSmiths and the Hudson Posts that seem to have their tentacles everywhere.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Random Thoughts Of A Demented Mind: A letter from Andaman Cellular Jail

Random Thoughts Of A Demented Mind: A letter from Andaman Cellular Jail

A fantastic post -- one for the ages.

There's so many aspects to this one -- the personal, the patriotic, the insights into human nature when one thinks about every player involved.

And it's bloody well written too.

Maybe not a thousand words

I sometimes get an urge to point a camera at things.

It's funny how carrying a camera makes you view the world differently. More "in it".

For the sake of it

Why blog?
Don't ask me.
Why open a blogspot account?
Hmm -- to post on other people's blogs.