sǝıbǝʇɐɹʇs ǝnbıןqo

December 2, 2011

n.b. Don’t forget to check out Alexis del Palazzo’s “Breaking the Cycle” here.

I. – The Shuffle
In the not-too-distant past, I finally acquired a deck of Oblique Strategy cards.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Oblique Strategies, it is a deck of over 100 cards authored in 1975 by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Each card contains a short aphoristic instruction such as “Honour thy error as a hidden intention” or “Work at a different speed.”  Like many owners of the deck, I use it in somewhat of an oracular fashion, occasionally drawing a card at the start of an artistic endeavor or perhaps consulting the deck if I’m stuck within a particularly thorny creative conundrum. Interested parties can purchase a deck here. 

II – The Deal
In the much-more-recent past, I set about strategizing my initial essay for IPAP’s current series of responses and reactions to Listen To ThisAlex Ross’s recent collection of essays. My essay, as it had originally existed in my head, drew from the last three-and-one-fifth pages (from the bottom of p. 18 in the U.S. hardcover edition) of Ross’s “trumpet-blast manifesto” of a first chapter in order to sound a complementary call-to-arms.  It hoped to encourage performers to base their artistic identity in their instrument itself rather than in any specific repertoire and to move towards a type of pan-stylistic model of performative musicianship, using – as an example of one approach to this – the music of Janice Whaley, whose work we will be discussing here in the near future. To accomplish this, the essay would synthesize, among other things, the financial straits of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the role of improvisation in organ pedagogy, Michael Tilson Thomas, Marx’s mode of production, Deadmau5, Duke Ellington, David Foster Wallace, the Oxford comma, and Locatelli.

III – The Draw
As I was about to sit down and write, I decided to consult the deck and see what, if any, wisdom it had to offer regarding the above-described endeavor.  After cutting the deck several times (I never shuffle my deck), I drew a card that reads “Turn it upside down.” I thought to myself “Well, this one’s a dud,” put the deck away, and sat down in a red and black Ikea lounge chair to re-read Ross’s essay before starting my own.

IV – The River
Unlike my other readings of the essay, I was struck, this time, not by the breadth and scope of the writing but, rather, by its small details – its turns of phrase and finely-wrought word choices, such as the contrast between the ‘living art’ and the ‘spirit of Beethoven’; the “negative publicity” that “banishes” the music and its musicians “into limbo. A close reading of the opening sentences shows Ross adroitly positioning the contemporary classiscal musician into some bizarre liminal space between cultural life and death.

V – The Reveal
Suddenly, the wisdom of the deck revealed itself and I understood not only how to turn my essay upside down, but why I needed to do so. So, to make a long story short, instead of a grand unifying thesis based on the last three-and-one-fifth pages of Ross’s sweeping essay, you will instead be getting a set of modest and disparate reflections on the first three-and-one-fifth paragraphs of Ross’s phraseology.  You will get this on Tuesday.

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4 Responses to “sǝıbǝʇɐɹʇs ǝnbıןqo”


  1. I love reading about your process and can’t wait to come back Tuesday!

  2. wednesdaybizzare Says:

    Part IV was cool and interesting. I’ve read the book, but never really thought about how the writer was things instead of what he was saying. If I understood correctly, it’s also about the how someone says something says something too. In this case a sort of buried message the classical music is on life support. Do you think other parts of the book work that way?

  3. Jenson Says:

    I LOVE the Oblique Strategies (It was actually my ‘oblique strategies’ web alert that led me to this blog) and I’ve read Ross’ first book “The Rest Is Noise.” One interesting connection that I see is that Ross uses his writing to bridge the classical/popular divide and similarly Eno’s production work from the 70s used the oblique strategies to bridge the experimental/pop divide. Everyone knows about “Low” and the other Bowie albums but records like Robert Fripp’s “Exposure” are underrated gems that I wish everyone could know.

    BTW, I always shuffle my deck because I like that the creases and bends make my cards wholly unique to me and my process. It’s cool if you like to cut them though. To each their own. My favorite card is “What is the reality of the situation?” It seems to be cut from a different cloth than a lot of the others but when you ask yourself that question with true intention lots of things can become very clear.


  4. […] about what’s right in her essay, but I feel that I already pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch last time by writing more about Brian Eno than Alex Ross. I would hate to gain a reputation as the site’s […]


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