"dead letters spell out dead words"

feb 26 - march 14, 2004.

[ this post was lost but found again ! back up ...! ]

"Dead letters spell out dead words" ... I read this intriguing 'phrase' while browsing the CD reviews in Dusted Magazine a while ago.
It's a name covering work by Thomas Ekelund, a young Swedish sound artist and designer, and a couple of collaborators. The title of the CD reviewed in Dusted: '11 instances of dead letters + words', recently released on the Swedish label Ideal Recordings.

CD cover

The name, and Mats Gustafsson's (the reviewer's) description of the music as a successfull blend of minimalistic drone, dark ambient, glitch and lowercase ("a loose movement," he explained, "that emphasizes very quiet sounds and the long, empty silences between them"), managed to make me pretty curious, and I felt something that I nowadays but rarely feel: an urge, a strong desire to possess, to own the object in question. I wanted to have and then hear what this was all about... yes ... I wanted these '11 instances of dead letters + words'!

So I surfed over to the label's website. The site has recently been updated, so you'll not be looking at the same thing that I found some weeks ago. It was barely more than a page then; but with an email address.
That was enough.
I struck up a deal with Joachim Nordwall, packed a certain amount of European Union money into an enveloppe, and shipped that off to Göteborg.

It worked.

I now own '11 instances of dead letters and words'.
And I'm glad I do!

'11 instances' is a very slow record, and even though most (all?) of the eleven tracks are in large parts based upon looped (electronic and concrete) sounds'n'samples, the ongoing 'drony' repetition never takes the upperhand. For '11 instances' is also, and maybe even foremost, a very melodic album - that is, if you are willing to agree that there is (or should be) more to the notion of 'melody' than simple series of 'notes' having a well-defined pitch and duration. And I even do but just ever so slightly here think of notions such as 'Klangfarbenmelodie' (succession of timbres / sounds), though here there are certainly nice examples of these to be found.

There are (snippets of) actual/conventional melody (melancholy) on the album [04 - the hills are alive, 08 - Bird, broken], but mostly melody is in the cracklings that pervade much of this album. Or rather: the melody is suggested by the cracklings, as much as it is suggested by the few samples of actual 'note playing'. Together they give rise to layers that are as clear as they are hard to grasp. (But then isn't it in its cracklings that a lot of the true meaning of this world resides?) [02 - realign, then fall, 05 - Settling dust, wonderfully proceeding to 06 - Notions of inanimate objects, that mixes cracklings with actual melody.]

Maybe evasive is a word that suits.

Much of 'dead letters' sounds as if it's coming through a haze, from behind darkish clouds, or from behind drawn curtains. 'Drony', yes, but it doesn't feel like 'drones'. Would that be a matter of volume? I listen to the album at volumes between 'low' and 'moderate', and I guess that simply turning down the volume could account for a gradual transition from 'dark ambient drone' to 'lowercase'. But lowering the volume alone can not be enough. The sounds have to be rich in texture. And 'dead letters' sounds are rich in texture.

The restricted, but coherent, use of timbre makes the album sound as if it were a single piece. Timbre, cracklings and slownless account for the bitter-sweet veil of melancholic mystery. The subtle variations from track to track - in color, density, rhythm, and speed - make the beast come alive; sounds opening up, and then closing in again, going overall somewhat faster, then slowing down again, they are like breathing. This accounts for the tension created at the beginning and faultlessly kept till the very end.

'Dead letters' made me think 'Tarkovski'.
Here's to a work of dark beauty.

back up

Saturday 6th, just back home from the second of two nights of 'Sonic Protest' at the Instants Chavirés (with fine performances by Jerôme Noetinger on friday, by Blood Stereo (Dylan Nyoukis, Karen Constance and Milch Grand) and the deliriously funny Déficit des Années Antérieures on saturday, and in rather high spirits (was it because I was wearing a brand new pair of glasses?) my too expensive portable Macintosh came down on me. It just froze, while opening a website in Safari. Couldn't bring up the application-killer, so I had no choice but to hit the power-button.
[Warning! Sort of long geeky rant ahead. Feel free to skip. I'm just going to air some of this week's frustrations here. Thanks you ... ]
Okay, I start up again. No system found... a horridly empty screen with a blinking question mark ... So I have to think a long time about where I put that bootable CD that came with the machine. Finally found it, C-start the Tibook, and run disk tools. Right. "Invalid B-tree node", and no repair. That's the point where I went to bed, only to find the problem still to be there in the morning. So I call the FNAC's 7/7 'assistance téléphonique micro-informatique' in order to make good use of my three year's worth of maintenance contract. A Mac-guy calls me back in the afternoon. And tells me to re-format the disk, then re-install the system. "If that doesn't work," he says, "it might be a hardware problem, and that's where we step in."
"Gees," I said, "but what about my files?"
"Well, I suppose you regularly backed up all that's important to you?"
I did. I used to. Sort of. But I'd been sloppy. In some fourteen years of using Macs I never ever lost data big time, never had a drive give up on me, never lost data because of soft- or hardware trouble. So one gets sloppy. One trusts. And that's where slowly I started to make the inventory of all that I never did copy. And casting sad glances in the direction of the near empty 120Gb FW-drive that's decorating my Digi001 interface. I had my one and only agenda on that machine. My adress-book. Bookmarks. The main part of my email correspondance, including the correspondents' adresses. Several gigas of pretty unique mp3-files (my mp3-dot-gone archive, all of Otis Fodder's 365Days project, obscure records, and lots of my own stuff). Worst of all, I kept my (private) journal on that machine. Which I've been doing 'electronically' ever since my first Macintosh computer. And which, of course, is something that I do back up. But I had done so for the last time end of august last year. Which for a moment made me feel as if someone had just cut six months out of my life. (That journal has gradually become sort of an add-on memory for me. I use it extensively to 'look up' things. To verify, and just plain to remember.) And more, of course. Including lots of stuff that's there, but that I do not necessarily miss nor think of now. But then, one day I will. There was I reason to stock...
Well. But then there's not so much one can do, is there? Let's get on with it, don't look back. But, no, I did not yet hit the erase button. But I had learned an important lesson. Back up. For one. And then I started thinking about that journal. It is private, and it should remain so. I will not consider a public 'general blog'. But what happened got me thinking. Servers do seem a safer haven that a home-based drive. So maybe this was the occasion to switch to a format other than just typing away in (sorry about that) MSWord?
Recently I came across a most charming little bloggin tool, and I remember that for a moment I seriously considered using it for this 'soundblog' (which, I should ... confess (?) ... is not database-driven but largely handcrafted, with javascript includes for the menus, AtomZ for the search, and some php-powered functionalities. But then I thought it too much of a hassle to - again! - make a switch. And I am pretty satisfied with the format I developed. It is pretty much a matter of 'type-and-publish', with only a little adjustment here and there. I can live with that. And I do have complete control.
But I thought I might give it a try for the 'non-public' part of my journaling.
It took me some time to find it again. I had forgotten how it was called, and forgotten where I had read about it in the first place. Of course I bookmarked the places. But the bookmarks resided on the unreadable drive. Obviously.
It didn't take to much time to find it though. Google's a man's best friend.
The tool is called blosxom. And it is amazing. I'd say it is a work of art. A simple perl-script as a core, a file-system containing only .txt files functioning as a 'natural' database, and endlessly extendible with whatever functionality one would desire using 'plug-in' scripts that one simply 'drops' in a 'plug-in' folder. The beauty and deep philosophy is in the use of the file-system. One simply organizes ones writings in a system of folders and files. The folders account for categories, sub-categories, et cetera. The entries are plain text-files residing in the folders. They are the leaves of the 'blosxom' file-system tree. Publishing an entry means nothing more (nor less) than dropping the corresponding text-file in the corresponding category's folder. It is so ... simple ... I had it up and running in no time.
So, there you go. I've got my server-side journal running.
First good thing resulting from saturday's crash.
It almost made me forgot that I still had a problem.
But I already had a second project to somewhat compensate for the loss. For if I had no choice but to erase the drive and re-install, I might as well use the occassion to upgrade to Panther. I'd try my best to safe at least some of the data. Then erase and upgrade.
That was on wednesday.
I went out and bought a copy of Panther, and a 'drive repair' program, TechTool Pro 4.
Unfortunately, though, my laptop refused to boot from the CD.
So I called the number on page 7 of the (French) manual. Just for the form of it, actually. I did not really expect to get any sort of answer. But I was mistaken. Not only was I not intercepted by a machine asking me to punch some numbers, then asking me to wait while annoying me with some tune or other, but by a very friendly lady, this friendly lady also immediately put me through to Jules, who listened attentively while I tried to explain him the problems I had. And then Jules started thinking with me, in order to find a solution.
Here's solution number one: "Use the CD to boot your desktop G4," Jules suggested, "and hook up the laptop as a Firewire drive. The drive will not mount, but the tool will see it."
I did just that. And the desktop booted, and the tool did see the drive. Of course it reported a faulty volume. But it did propose to try and repair. So I let it go ahead. It swung itself into a lengthy calculation, which went on for many, many hours. Giving me hope, mind you, and high spirits. Meanwhile I read the user's manual, and learned an awful lot about the Macintosh file system, and the Macintosh computer in general. Until, around midnight Techtool's calculation came to a grinding halt after having processed about 600000 of 1800000 elements. The machine froze, and nothing moved. So I did a hard re-boot and went to sleep.
Next day I called Jules again. For advice. Should I give up, and erase the drive?
Jules said no. He went through my desktop's specifications with me, to verify that the machine in principle had sufficient memory to carry through the process. It did. "Then just let it work! But do verify the drive's surface. It'll only be able to repair when it doesn't encounter any bad blocks."
So I verified the surface. Which also is kind of a lengthy process. Towards the end I laid down on the sofa in our living room and watched the last part of some horror movie. When I got up to check upon progress, to my astonishment the machine had re-booted into MacOS9. And I called Jules again. "Hmmm," he said. "That is strange ... But if the verification got almost to the end without any reports of bad blocks, I guess there aren't any. I propose you boot from the CD again and proceed straight to the volume repair."
And so I did. The machines went back to work. Until early in the morning, when I woke up to found all frozen to death again. At the very same spot. "So that's it," I thought. But I did call Jules. Just to make sure. Maybe this time he was just a tiny bit weary of hearing me again ... He did have another suggestion though. I should maybe try to run the tool from another drive?
I guess that is what I should have done in the first place. That would have saved time. And I do have an external drive, and I did just buy a brand new copy of Apple's brand new Panther operating system. So I installed Panther on a partition of my external FW drive. Then patiently sat through the automatic on-line update to version 10.3.2, and the updates for many of the applications. I then installed Techtool on the drive's partition with Panther, and booted without any problems whatsoever the laptop from the FW drive. Ran Techtool again. No hardware errors were reported, no bad blocks, and it spun into another attempt to repair. It took a long time again. But this time it worked. By the end of the day the software was ready to ask me whether I wanted it to replace the volume's directory by the one it had just re-built. Despite the many differences 'printed in red'? Of course, I said. Let's see what we get. Anything's better than nothing at all.
I tested the new structure of the volume. And felt kind of disappointed whenTechtool still reported errors. 'Bad leaves'. So it had re-created a directory. But apparently a faulty one. Bad luck. I decided not to try another repair round, but first to see whether now at least there would be a possiblity to save something. And the volume now did show up! With its 'name' (Quappi) that I - really - had forgotten. I launched the 'save data from repertory' option. Which froze when, halfway through the process, I wanted to open a log-window: appeared the 'coloured wheel of death' (just one of the geeky expressions that I learned this week while searching newsgroups and sites on Mac problems; kernel panic (screen) is another good one, as in "kernel panic all over the place"). But I could launch the application killer, and killed off TechTool. Then rebooted.
Now just imagine my surprise to see the laptop boot from its own faulty hard drive, and present me with my desktop the way I had left it one week before. It was all there. Everything.
Mind you, it was clearly not in perfect health. I did not manage to launch many of the programmes. Launching them results in an 'error in shared library'. But I have access again to all of my files. Music, text, everything. And seemingly undamaged.
Back up.
Thank you, Jules!

(And, of course, in view of last thursday's horror in the Spanish capital of Madrid, all of the above is blatantly insignificant.)

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