My itch for visceral musical experiences that don’t involve amplification or electricity or recording technology or guitars got a great big ol’ scratch this weekend at the Honk! festival. I can’t even try to explain what the whole Honk! thing is about, so if you want words, you should check out their website.

What Cheer? Monkey

Terri astutely pointed out that this is the only thing we’ve ever seen in the United States that approaches what the street festivals we’ve been to in Barcelona are like. There are probably more differences than similarities, and La Merce is on a much bigger scale and there are more different kinds of things going on. But they both are sort of these autumn things that happen in the street, where there’s drumming and dancing, where there’s no performer/audience split— everybody is a participant. They’re both sort of modern expressions of something much more primal.

Original Big Seven Social Aid & Pleasure Society (with members of other bands)

As far as I know, while there are over a dozen bands like this in the country, it’s the only festival of its kind. It’s definitely one of those things that make me happy to be living in Somerville.

What Cheer? Brigade

I shot some video. It’s crappy, but it’s slightly better than the photos for giving you the flavor. It’s still nothing like being live in the middle of a dozen people all playing REALLY LOUD instruments.

Overheard in Somerville, 06 October 2007

Walking home from the Honk! festivities in Davis Square today, Terri and I were chatting, and then we both suddenly fell quiet because we both started overhearing the conversation behind us. There were three guys, presumably on their way back to Tufts for a wacky Saturday night, and strategizing on the best combination of alcohol, interpersonal dynamics, and opening lines that they could use to start an orgy. I wish I had exact quotes here for you, but I don’t. The prevailing strategy, though, was that you needed a room with a large enough number of people, everybody had to be sufficiently drunk, it had to be sufficiently late at night, and then one couple might be able to start making out, and trigger a massive and simultaneous increase in hormones and decrease in social inhibitions among everyone else in the room.

Tufts freshmen are so cute.

Guys, I hate to disappoint you, but this is not a recipe for an orgy, it’s a recipe for vomit and people trying to figure out how to spend the next three years avoiding each other. Start small, like having sex with one person, and work up, OK?

QOTD: 4 October 2007

Second, to see what rate of progress one can expect in software technology, let us examine the difficulties of that technology. Following Aristotle, I divide them into essence, the difficulties inherent in the nature of software, and accidents, those difficulties that today attend its production but are not inherent.

The essence of a software entity is a construct of interlocking concepts: data sets, relationships among data items, algorithms, and invocations of functions. This essence is abstract in that such a conceptual construct is the same under many different representations. It is nonetheless highly precise and richly detailed.

I believe the hard part of building software to be the specification, design, and testing of this conceptual construct, not the labor of representing it and testing the fidelity of the representation. We still make syntax errors, to be sure; but they are fuzz compared with the conceptual errors in most systems.

— Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., in “No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering

In other words, good software depends on being able to faithfully and usefully represent reality.


So, in a similar spirit of embracing musical constraints, the other day I was vacuuming our room for the first time in … longer than I care to admit… and I was listening to the Robyn Hitchcock album Luxor. I bought it after we saw him at Johnny D’s in October 2003, which was probably one of the top 10 rock show’s I’ve ever seen. I’m not a big fan of his 80′s stuff (though “Balloon Man” does get in my head every time I’m near Bryant Park in New York). But I love, love, love Eye, Moss Elixir, and to a lesser extent Jewels for Sophia / A Star for Bram. But most of all, I love Luxor, which he recorded as a 50th birthday present to himself in one afternoon, just him and his guitar [shut up, all of you] in his backyard. And the finished product fits what I think he does when he’s at his best, sort of a folky, Syd Barretish, surrealist, word-driven, brainy pop, delivered with his unmistakeable crackling British voice.

[PS: His most recent album with the Venus 5 (some non-trivial fraction of R.E.M.) is a good example of him at his overproduced worst. The 2004 album Spooked, with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, is not too bad, though I have to say it did not live quite up to my high expectations for it. The more I delve into her catalogue, the more I love Gillian Welch.]

Tilly and the Wall

I have written long half-deranged screeds against the electric guitar here before, so I won’t bore you with a mere recap of my irrational and fairly hyporcritical invective once more. All I will recap is that I think electronic music is not a way out of the guitar-based pop morass; I write software for my day job, so outside of work I need something that is not programming, something that captures a performance, a more primal give and take between two or more human beings making some kind of organized noise (I’ve certainly heard electronic music that captures this spirit, but it’s a rare thing). And while I definitely get some energy from listening to classics of previous eras, like jazz and classical (I’m sorry, jazz people, give me a counterexample that jazz is not on life support, and I will gladly eat my words), I generally crave things that are more of the zeitgeist.

Anyway, part of what appeals to me about removing the electric guitar from modern pop is really almost just the exercise of doing something unfamiliar, like writing your name with your left hand (or right hand if you’re left-handed). So that is at least in part what attracts me to Tilly and the Wall. Rather than take out the guitar, they took out another central pillar of the heterodox rock platform: the drums. And replaced it with a miked tapdancer. Yes, the only percussion is tapdancing. It actually seems obvious in retrospect, like why did nobody think of this before, which is often the hallmark of total genius.

Terri bought their most recent album, Bottoms of Barrels, last year, and I liked a song or two, but lately, they’re all I can listen to.

Also, I forgive them for being part of the same Omaha milieu that spawned the loathsome Bright Eyes.

Also, they are staffed entirely by supermodels and dorky-looking guys, a formidable combination.

Also, I would include a youtube video of them on Letterman, but I can’t seem to get YouTube to come up right now, which is odd.