Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Blargs!

It's been like four years and I really just don't enjoy working with blogger so two new blogs to replace it:

Oblique Construction, a linguistics blog about linguistics; and
Et In Arcadia, Aggro, a blog about keeping it real in Honolulu against all odds.

Also I redid the front page to the best it's been since this has been an world-wide-website. Really, I think it looks pretty good.

Anyway that's it. Read those other things! Tumblr allows a much better reading and writing experience in general than Blogger, though granted I think youz guyz that read this at all generally do so on a feed so whatevers. Anyway yeah, that.

Monday, January 04, 2010

2010 - Balls Out

Ever a fan of unofficial slogans for every day things, last year I proposed one for 2009. Unfortunately, it didn't catch on. But some of us out here in Seattle (where I am again, all too briefly) (particularly Ian) have proposed one for this year: 2010 - BALLS OUT. It is a slogan with a promise of getting shit done. Be unafraid, be awesome, be all you can be with your balls out.

  • In 2010 I'm going to have my second and third semesters - that is HALF - of my MASTERS in linguistics program. BALLS OUT.

  • In 2010 I'm going to try to go to the U of Wisconsin in the summer for an INTENSIVE Tamil language course. Tamil is the classical language of Carnatic culture and has an EXTENSIVE written tradition. BALLS OUT.

  • In 2010 I will be traveling to other ISLANDS of Hawaii besides O'ahu, maybe including the BIG Island. BALLS OUT.

  • In 2010 I will pay more attention to my FANTASY basketball team, and also support my local Rainbow WARRIORS. BALLS OUT

So happy New Year everyone. I hope that for everyone it is totally BALLS OUT.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

English Loans in Tuvaluan and Chichewa

My good buddy John in Namitembo wrote a post about English loans in Chichewa. English loans are something I happen to know just a tad about so I thought it'd be interesting to compare his list to some of what I found when I looked (however briefly) into English loans in Tuvaluan this semester. A lot of similar processes are going on.

Tuvaluan is a Polynesian language, so it has a fairly limited set of phonemes. Unlike Chichewa or English, it only allows voiceless stops (so while English and Chichewa has /b d g p t k/, Tuvaluan has only /p t k/). It also disallows any consonant clusters, but allows vowels to come in sequence (though not within the same syllable - the sequence /ai/ is two syllables, unlike in English). Vowel length is phonemic. Words and syllables must end in a vowel.

Chichewa is a language I know much less about, but it is a Bantu language and a few things are immediately observable from John's brief word list (and a quick look at the sound system via Omniglot). It does not appear that vowel length is phonemic, and it does not appear that vowel sequences are allowed without an interceding glide. Consonant clusters seem to be limited to nasal + stop or glide. Like Tuvaluan, words may not be consonant-final.

Interestingly, in Chichewa voiceless stops can be aspirated (like in English) or unaspirated, but only some English voiceless stops correspond to aspirated voiceless stops in loans:
book [bʊkʰ]* > bukhu [bukʰu]
cup [kʰʌpʰ] > kapu [kapu]

Another interesting point in the loans is the treatment of English /ɹ/. Now, in Tuvaluan - as in many Polynesian languages - English /ɹ/ and /l/ merge to a single sound - /l/ in this case. Chichewa (at least that of the Shire, Malawi) has, by current reports to me, allophonic lateral and central taps (/ɺ/ and /ɾ/) like in Japanese, and as was reported in early documentations of many Polynesian languages (Hawaiian in particular). Now, let's look at how this turns up in English loans:
labor [leɪbə]* > leipa [lɛipa]
retire [ɹɪ'taɪə] > lītaea [liːtaɛa]
cholera [kʰɒləɹʌ] > kolera [koɺeɾa]
newspaper [njuzpʰeɪpʰəɹ] > nyuzipepala [njuzipepaɺa]
computer [kʰʌ̃mpjuɾəɹ] > kompyuta [kõmpjuta]

Now the sort of inconsistency seen in Chichewa loans is of course par for the course with borrowing - different sources, different times, an imperfect understanding of the source language's phonological rules, and reliance on spelling for pronunciation information can do all sorts of things to how a language interprets words it borrows, especially when English is involved.

What really interests me comparing these two is the treatment of palatalization before the vowel /u/ in English. Compare:
ENG cucumber [kʰjukʌ̃mbəɹ] > TUV kukama [kukama]
ENG computer [kʰʌ̃mpjuɾəɹ] > CHI kompyuta [kõmpjuta]

Tuvaluan does not have a palatal glide as Chichewa and English do, nor does it have any other palatal consonants, so English palatalization is completely dropped. In Chichewa, on the other hand, this glide is used not only in this case but in this other totally cool way:
key [kʰi:] > kiyi [kiji]

The glide gets placed essentially between iterations of a lengthened /i/ as a way of avoiding long vowels.

Conclusion: languages do cool things when they get together and hang out.

*A non-rhotic variety is the assumed source for Tuvaluan borrowings

2009 and Wrap-Up

I have listened to a few good and great new albums this year (Devin Townsend released two more albums), but haven't really been paying particular attention to new music released to the general population (I've still only heard one song from Merriweather Post Pavillion). So for this one I figured I'd just pump some of the music that's been made by people I know this year.

Vigilante Santos and Her African Barking Spiders
Wah-Wah Exit Wound
Twilight Motel
And of course, very much of course, Colwyn (that's me)!

All great performers who did some excellent work in 2009.

So that is my recap of the past decade. I have been trying to make less a critical appraisal of the best of the aughts than a work of public nostalgia, so it would be wrong to include any top ten list to cap off the thing. More importantly, I'd just like to note that this decade has been an amazing one, as all decades tend to be, and there has been a great deal of good, bad, interesting, and terribly predictable music made. It is far too soon to evaluate what the real imprint of this decade in music and other culture will be in the long run, so instead I have been documenting how the years felt at the time. It's been a blast and I have had a great time recapping. Thanks for indulging me! Now let's see what we can do about this new decade coming up.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2008 - Hope and Other Crap

2008, we all thought we were such hot shit with the politics and the yes we can of it all. Really, it was generally pretty awesome times. And some good old music accompanied this.

The great thing about YouTube is it really made people appreciate high quality musicianship in a new way. All sorts of internet celebrities were made out of people just playin' some tunes radly. Andy McKee is probably the number one YouTube guitar player ever, and he made this great duets album this year with slap guitarist Don Ross. Very pretty and mellow and cool and everyone loves that.

Enslaved's Vertebrae is a hot contender for metal album of 2008. I really love the guitar sound on this album - more like a 70s prog album than a 00s black metal album. Being less crisp makes it more in the spirit of black metal than much of the overproduced stuff, but the production in general is not like a black metal record, as can be clearly heard here. A good mix of things come together to make a distinctly Enslaved work.

Land is a pretty ambitious Tyr album. They've really got the mix of the folk and the metal elements down pretty well, especially on this song which blends Grieg quotes with a sort of Metallica-like semi-ballad. I saw them this year and they used the opportunity to play a couple songs from the then-unreleased album and man, it was the highlight of the show. Radness all the way.

Fleet Foxes' self-titled album was much ballyhooed as the number one album of the year and there is a reason for that: it was really good. This of course is a highlight of the currently-still-happening resurgence of American folk in popular music, in Seattle and throughout the country. And why not? It's awesome! I really like the part where the piano kicks in in this tune. That's the sort of turnaround that really makes a song.

Opeth are Opeth and when they put out and Opeth album it is Opeth-level Opeth. Watershed was a kick ass album, the end.

2008 was the year when I played with Teapot Dome. We had so much good times. Recorded an EP (available at that there link). We rocked. Oh those were the days and etcetera.

Other albums: Earth - Bees Made Honey from the Lion's Skull; Jason Webley - The Cost of Living; Shugo Tokumaru - Exit; Wah-Wah Exit Wound - Earth Is a Cannon of Love; Jeff Loomis - Zero Order Phase; Magnetic Fields - Distortion

Finally: 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dude, 2007 Already?

Shoooot, 2007 was a rough year. Luckily there were some rad tunes to help me out.

Even when they're not singing in Welsh, Super Furry Animals put out some kick ass popular-style music. Hey Venus was a particularly fun, 60s-ish psychedelic romp. They probably just listened to Abbey Road a whole lot and then wrote a lot of somewhat silly lyrics about cards and coke and, I think this one is about having an STI? Anyway I dig this album lots.

Yeah yeah, more Devin Townsend. This year he decided to present us with a metal opera about an alien who wants coffee. How could anyone resist?

Icky Thump is a really excellent album. Very ambitious album by the Stripes. The first time I heard this song it was a little hard to believe it was them. If Jack White's voice weren't so distinctive, who would have guessed really? I bought a ticket to see them this year but the show got canceled because Meg had some manner of breakdown and also the ticket might have been fake.

The first Tuareg band to ever make an album using electric instruments just happened to totally kick ass. Tinariwen's Aman Iman was the "world" album (ie the album from the world) that everyone noticed in '07, and not without reason. The sound is just so cool. Every song sounds like a party. There seems to be a lot going on but it's all very simple and works together really cool like. And the language is rad.

If there's any one who dislikes Steve Martin I would like to meet them and have a long conversation about how they are wrong. In '07 he appeared on a couple tracks from the banjo duets album by Tony Trischka - a couple tracks which he wrote. The whole album is a lot of old time banjo fun. 2007 was, it just so happened, a year that I was way into banjos so this worked out well for pretty much everyone.

2007 had many more albums! Including: Rock Dream by Boris and Merzbow; Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective; You You're a History in Rust by Do Make Say Think; Awkward Annie by Kate Rusby; Xenosapien by Cephalic Carnage; Air by Agua de Annique; Solens Rötter by Vintersorg; Snakes and Arrows by Rush; Tervaskanto by Korpiklaani; and the DETHALBUM by Dethklok! Man, good year musically.

Oh and also 2008 is next.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Heavy Hitters Hit Heavily in '06

This crap is getting close to feeling recent!

You may have noticed the name Devin Townsend come up a couple times so far here. Well as it just so happens in 2006 our Devy was a very busy Devy. He put out a Devin Townsend Band album, a Strapping Young Lad album, and a minimalist ambient album. I have never listened much to the latter but let's discuss these first two because they were great and my 2006 had a Dev-like coloring.

Synchestra is one of Dev's most interesting and diverse albums. It features lots of folky elements (including a banjo solo and a tune that is largely an allusion to Wild Mountain Thyme), a guest solo by Steve Vai, a barely-audible sample of a Ravi Shankar piece, and several solid pop songs. And then there's the video for Vampira. All in all, while it's not strictly the best Devin Townsend album by all standards, it was a fantastic and more or less completely successful experiment.

Actually, this year was quite the endeavor in poppiness for Dev. The SYL album The New Black had a larger-than-usual number of catchy tunes, such as the above. The album seemed to have a theme of metal is awesome shut up pop singers, which I can't imagine is merely coincidental.
The upbeatness of the album was actually very well-timed for me this year as I was driving a lot between Seattle and Bellingham. Neat!

Yes! Another album by Blind Guardian came out in '06! And it had a song on it about Peter Pan! This is always a reason for a party. A Twist in the Myth is a solid album, in some ways not as ambitious as the previous couple from BG, but containing enough really great songs to make up for it. Plus they again played Seattle while touring on this one and it was even more amazing than the first time I saw them, even if we had to deal with the awful Leaves' Eyes as openers.

I love a good singer-songwriter, I love a good pop album, and I love when the former puts out the latter. Regina Spektor is a great singer-songwriter and Begin to Hope is a great pop album, so there you go. Her songs are really smart and sweet and poignant and fun. I think I got into her slightly after 2006 but hey that never stopped me before.

Around '05 or '06 I was turned on to James Kochalka, who is a total genius weirdo sociopath. And in '06 he put out Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly, an awesome half-family friendly half-typically-obscene album which I finally got around to buying this year, when I was able to do it right from him at Comic Con. He is just as awkward as I would have thought. The album is full of tunes about drugs and fun and rainbows and creepy old men and Britney Spears.
"Britney's Silver Can" was named one of the best songs of 2006 by Rolling Stone. I'd really like to have been the publicist who told Britney about that one.

Other things not to forget: Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain; Isis - In the Absence of Truth; Estradasphere - Palace of Mirros; My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade; Solefald - Black for Death; Waterclime - The Astral Factor; Lamb of God - Sacrament; Sunn 0))) and Boris - Altar

Aur 2007 bhii.

Friday, December 18, 2009

2005: And Then a Joke or Pun

Well look at this, we are halfway through the decade, and now we find ourselves in aught-five. Jesus I don't even know where to start with this year. There was a lot going on. I traveled throughout Great Britain (starting my long love affair with Wales), moved to Bellingham, recorded a bunch of music, and also saw a lot of huge shows live. Other musicians stepped up the rock just as much. Dig some of this shit.

This was the album that finally really sold me on the White Stripes. I realize that this was later than it should have been, but whatever. I've said it so many times, the best music is the music that takes a while. I like the balance of folky, bluesy, and heavy elements on this album. Get Behind Me Satan may be their best to date.

I always belied that songs did not need to have a big heavy guitar sound to be metal, that acoustic instruments could make metal. Enter Ravi Shankar's daughter Anoushka with her excellent album Rise and this intense track. Most of the album is more chill and meditative, but this one she positively shreds on. I mean really, listen to that solo and tell me this isn't a metal track.
You know, now I think of it, 2005 may have been the beginning of both my interest in Welsh things AND in Indian things. Huh!

Sunn 0))) doing what they do best: crushing everything. Black One is one of the most terrifying albums of all time. Just listen to Malefic's croaking voice. Man, I fucking love doom music.

Mars Volta are one of extremely few popular bands anymore who could be properly described as prog rock. Sure, this is their pop song, but Yes made I've Seen All Good People and Rush made Fly By Night; these things happen and they're not bad. Granted, a little something is lost in the four-minute mix, but a lot of the great things about the song and the band can be seen here. It makes me happy that this sort of stuff is still getting made even just four years ago.

Finally, a pair of albums which rocked my shit in five different directions that year:

Strapping Young Lad's Alien saw a lot of play in my car this year as I drove around Seattle, Bellingham, and the Olympic Peninsula, doing whatever crazy shit I was doing. An SYL album is always all about pounding craziness and screaming nonsense. Dev's always had this weird sense of humor, dropping barely audible chants of something or other into the background of songs (two different songs on two different albums have him mumbling something about Paddington Bear), which is a production stunt I always enjoyed greatly and can be heard a bunch on Alien. Zen here is the pop single style tune from the album, but it's actually one of my faves as well.

Opeth are gods, and that's all there is to it. This song is so heavy and glorious and perfect. Ghost Reveries is sort of a distillation of what was so awesome about what they do. I like that they added a little more keys on this album - the mellotron part in tunes like Beneath the Mire adds a lot, as does the organ here on Baying of the Hounds.

You know, now I think of it, the theme of 2005 seemed to be albums which distilled what was awesome about some awesome bands. Pretty good theme.

Oh yeah, here's the main thing I had to offer this year.

But wait! There was more! Pelican - The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (worst title ever), Common - Be, Demons and Wizards - Touched by the Crimson King, Gamma Ray - Majestic, Kamelot - The Black Halo, Nile - Annihilation of the Wicked, MIA - Arular, Ulver - Blood Inside, Sufjan Stevens - Illinois, Solefald - Red for Fire, Spoon - Gimme Fiction, The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema, Michael Manring - Soliloquy

Argh! This year almost hurts! 2006, you better impress (spoiler: it was also pretty good).